Beyond Production?

Beyond production

I’ve been reflecting recently.

It’s been over a year now since Dave Wong and I took over the leadership of the worship ministry at Faith Community Church and it’s been an amazing journey so far. We’ve enjoyed building relationships, casting vision and seeing the ministry become more cohesive.

For me, one of the greatest achievements over the year has been the fact that our teams have improved musically. There has been a stronger focus on technical aspects and in improving our craft. Even in our working together with the multimedia ministry, our church services have become more tightly programmed and visually more polished.

But getting to this stage on our journey has not been without its challenges. We’ve had to pay the price of practising harder. Many have been stretched. Many have been stressed. We are still grappling with that darn metronome clicking away in our in-ears.

In the midst of this, we need to ask the following questions:

  • Have we become so good at production that we have forgotten how to produce worshippers?
  • Have we become skilled at creating experiences without facilitating encounter?
  • Are we just bringing about inspiration without seeing transformation?

These are sobering enquiries. And important ones at that.

Tim Hughes has this to say in July’s volume of Worship Leader Magazine (at 42):

Now I’m all for more creativity and excellence in the church. I long to see local churches becoming hotbeds of creativity, exploding with life and colour with great art breaking through to influence culture and society in profound and significant ways….

But in all of this, as a leader of worship, the question I keep asking myself is this, “Am I attempting to create an experience in worship or facilitate encounter?” There’s a big difference. I’ve attended numerous events where the production and creativity was exceptional. I got swept up in the emotion of it, but on reflection, it didn’t seem to make much of Christ, and it didn’t lead me to an encounter with Jesus. The truth is, an experience is fun, but an encounter will change you.”

I agree with Hughes’ point – we need to seek encounter, not experience. But the question is: what is encounter and what does it look like?

In 1 Kings 19, after triumphing over the prophets of Baal at Mt Carmel, Elijah fled Ahab and found refuge in a cave. There, God told him to stand on the mountain where he would encounter the Divine Presence. For Elijah, the presence of the Lord was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. It came in a gentle whisper.

In Genesis 3, a washed-up and worn-out Moses found encounter in the fire – a bush that was alight, but yet not consumed.

And in Acts 2, the encounter for the disciples was in a mighty-rushing wind.

Often, we think that encounter happens only when we strip away all the musical instruments and we peel everything back to the core of simplicity. For others, it might be in the midst of unrehearsed open worship, with ecstatic, spontaneous Spirit-inspired utterances and prophetic unctions. And for others still, it might be in the lights and sounds of electronica.

To be honest, I don’t really know the answer. But I believe God can and will encounter us no matter what the setting. He desires to do so more than we know. As worship ministers, we can only choose to minister faithfully. If we believe that worship is bigger than just the music we make (and it is), we must also say that creating excellent music (and backgrounds and stage props) is itself our worship.

We might say it this way: worship musicians shouldn’t come on Sunday to get their devotional fix. Instead, their worship on the Sunday is getting the music right so that we help others in the congregation to bring the best devotion they can. Put another way, our pursuit of God in worship should require us to bring our best in technical excellence for His glory.

The issue therefore is one of intent and direction.

Certainly, there are greater trappings that will try to derail our direction the bigger the production. But it doesn’t have to. As I’ve often said: why not both? In fact, if you think about the questions I posed earlier, the first part of the equation is our responsibility; the second part is God’s. We become both better at production, but God is the One who produces the worshippers. We can create the experience, but only God can bring the encounter. We can inspire, but only the Spirit of God transforms.

Recently, I led worship in our Sunday morning church service where there was a strong sense of the presence of God. It was a worship set that was high on production. Click below to listen to the recording.

Two days later, Luke and I led a quiet worship set for our Worship Ministry members. Just Luke on acoustics and me singing. It was so low on production that I printed out big lyric sheets and stuck them to the wall with BluTac. And in the midst of that time, we ministered in words of encouragement and prayed for each other.

Both times were precious with worship and encounter. And I believe that in both finest whispers and earthquake, God was there!

Worship Sunday 2014

Worship Sunday 1

I really love the direction that Faith Community Church has been heading in as Ps Benny has been leading us into the intentional disciplemaking blueprint. What I love about it is that we are culture-setting in a way which affects our own values and at the same time, seeing some visible changes in the way we do church.

The holy-moley Christians don’t like cosmetics much. They emphasise on heart. And to some extent, rightly so, because the Lord always looks at the heart first.  But heart usually expresses itself in outward appearances. So, as long as we get the order right, I say “why not both?”

We have been blessed in recent months with the appointment of an awesome couple, David and Mary Lynn, who are looking after media, production and Sunday services. These guys are consummate professionals who serve hard! Under their stewardship, our church services have been looking more and more, well, amazing.

So when it came to Worship Sunday, Dave, Susan and I sat down to brainstorm a creative way of carrying a worship-focused message. We decided to put together a special time of worship, where there would be no visible human worship leader, emphasising the point that Jesus is the ultimate worship leader and that each member of the congregation has a responsibility to bring their own offering of praise to God.

This morning’s service started with a video setting out different theological definitions of worship. The video finished with Paul’s powerful statement in 1 Cor 2:2:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

In verse 1, Paul says that “I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” In the context of a worship service, it could be said that we did not come with beautiful melodies and superior musical abilities. Instead, our focus was Jesus and Him crucified.

As the video ended, the piano faded in. And then, in the midst of complete darkness, a 3 metre-tall suspended cross was illuminated in the middle of the stage. Apart from the piano, there were no musicians.

Before the service started, six singers with mics were planted within the congregation, as a spiritual statement that indeed there was no worship leader in any position of prominence, but rather, there was only one giant thousand voice choir to bring a God-honouring sung offering as they were confronted with nothing but the cross. And so, we began to sing.

Even before the first song started, tears were already streaming down the faces of some of the people who had gathered. It was a holy moment, not because of the really cool-looking cross, but because we were taken in our mind’s eye to Calvary’s cross, on which our Saviour hung to redeem our worship for the Father.

I don’t think our church has ever sung louder than this morning. Sometimes, the band and singers can do all the worship for us. But this morning, as all the props of worship were stripped away, we were left with passionate hearts overflowing with love for God. Broken, imperfect hearts. But hearts hungry for His presence.

Even after we finished the last song of this opening set, there was a wave of spontaneous singing that washed over the congregation.

And then, after the offering was taken, Ps Benny came up to introduce our preacher, Dave Wong. Dave grew up in FCC, and at the age of 23, took up the role of Worship Director. I love that Ps Benny has a vision to raise up the next generation of leaders in our midst and even in the last year, we have seen more and more young leaders come up to take the pulpit.

Today was Dave’s first time preaching in the main service. Dave is a guy full of depth and conviction. He taught today that worship is not about the music (although music is part of worship) but about offering ourselves as living sacrifices. He said that right perspective makes for right worship; that worship doesn’t flow from a knowledge of God, but from a revelation of God.

When Dave was done, a full band came up on stage for an extended time of worship. When we get the emphasis right, putting on a full band is like adding fuel to the flame. It brings an added extravagance and bigness to our individual and corporate praise offering.

In putting together the band, I was mindful that it should be intergenerational, so I asked for worship leaders from different zones in the church to co-lead with me: Tae from Kinetics, Joe from Vibe, Diana from Young Adults and Ps Yoy from the Adult Zone. That richness of the different generations merging together exploded in passionate praise.

Not only were there tears, dancing, bowing, clapping and shouting, but I even heard a report of one person being “slain in the Spirit” and being instantly healed of a shoulder injury!

So why did we have such an awesome time of worship this morning? Yes, it was because we put together an interesting, confronting program. It was because the musos and singers worked hard to make sure we played and sang well. It was because of the beautiful staging. It was because the Word of God through our preacher brought forth revelation. It was because we had sown heart-felt prayers over the weeks into this morning. But above all, it was because of God’s presence sovereignly converging with all these elements. Each of these things built and encouraged faith in us to expect God to move and turned our focus to Him.

And God’s showing up made all the difference.

Here is this morning’s setlist:

Set One

// When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (D-E)
// Worthy is the Lamb (A)
// How Great Thou Art (A-Bb)

Set Two

// In Christ Alone Medley (C-D) (Diana/Yoy)
// You Alone (A) (Me)
// Jesus Son of God (A) (Tae)
// Christ is Enough (A) (Joe)
// You are Good (A) (Yoy)

Here are the recordings for Set One and Set Two.

I want to take this opportunity to thank and honour the leadership of FCC for entrusting us to do something different; to the amazing singers and band members: (Vocals) Yoy, Diana, Tae, Joe, Sunray; (MD) Luke; (Guitars) Luke, Kelvin, Mark; (Bass) Addie; (Drums) Caleb; (Keys) Delany, Sam Ng; (Sound) Senny, Sam Oh; and (AV) May; Ps Jon for his sensitive chairing; Dave Wong for his amazing leadership of the Worship Ministry; and of course David and Mary Lynn for the amazing production.

May God continue to take our worship to the next level as we encamp around His presence!