Weekend Ministry with Ray Badham

Ray Badham Photo

I had the honour last weekend of serving with Ps Ray Badham as he led worship at Faith Community Church. Ray is a music director and songwriter at Hillsongs and currently serves as principal of Hillsong College. One of Ray’s songs, “Magnificent” has gone around the world and was most recently re-recorded on Darlene Zschech’s album Revealing Jesus.

Ray led worship with Fantastic Team 3, a great bunch of humble and capable musicians.

Whilst the rehearsal was gruelling (even more gruelling I suspect for Ray who had just arrived in Perth a few hours earlier), I learnt a lot about the hard work that goes into the preparation phase. Because we went over a lot of the details of transitions and turn-arounds, the delivery of the set went really smoothly on Sunday and there was a powerful sense of God’s presence.

Needless to say, our team really enjoyed ourselves (even Caleb our drummer, who shouldered most of the load).

We also got to ask Ray a lot of questions under the guise of taking him out for dinner and lunch!

I am really grateful to Ray for his servant leadership and for our amazing team for supporting him so well.

Last weekend, we also saw the return of Ps Yoy Alberastine to FCC’s worship team. Yoy and I have been close friends for some time even though we had served in different churches, but we both had a heart to see churches connect together through worship. So when I came to FCC, I had always hoped to serve together with Yoy with the team. Unfortunately, around that time, Yoy had just begun his itinerant ministry. Yoy has been a defining influence in my own ministry after I had met with some 8 years ago, and we continued to serve together in various capacities in inter-church events. So I felt a real sense of joy when we finally got to share the platform together at our home church last Sunday!

On a sad note, last week was one of our vocalist’s last day with our team. Tim Loy has been serving with us for some time and was one of the individuals I connected really well with early on when I first joined the church. Tim has just answered God’s call to go to Kingsway Christian Church and help with the pioneering work. I really admire his courage and conviction for taking the step of faith, especially when he felt that a lot of things he had been praying and hoping for in FCC was starting to come to pass. I was told that when Timmy first joined the ministry, he was a bit of a “rascal”. But five years on, he is passionate in his pursuit of God, a ministry leader and a leader in the marketplace. It is a testament to how people’s lives can change when you believe in them! We are going to miss you Timmy!

A Fresh Perspective on Rehearsals

One of the things I really enjoyed from my time at Arrows College was hearing Ray Badham’s fresh perspective on things I had already known and read copiously about.  Such as how we approach rehearsals.

I come from a background where “worship” (in the narrow sense) was the primary call of the worship team: which means (for want of a better term) the worship team must learn to practise the presence of God before they practise music.  So for me, a good rehearsal means one where the musicians and singers at some point will “lose themselves” and “just worship”. (Actually for a team of musicians with varied skill levels, it’s ironically quite difficult to achieve this without the musicians flowing together, which in turn takes practice!)

Ray Badham’s perspective, on the other hand, is that if worship is all encompassing (as it must be), then our rehearsal is our worship. Put another way, our investment in getting the technicalities right (even at the cost of “losing ourselves in worship”) is our offering to God when we function as musicians.

Similarly on a Sunday, when we lead worship, “losing ourselves in worship” shouldn’t be our priority. We should be completely aware of the congregation, what is happening on stage and be continuously communicating with our fellow band members. Because in our function as worship leaders, our leading worship is our worship.

Presumably (and this goes for everyone, whether you are on a worship team or not), we can get lost in worship on our own time, rather than on the time of our team members or on the congregation’s time.

So do you agree? Is there a place for musicians to “get lost in worship” on a Sunday?


Why We Need Young Musicians in Our Worship Teams

Here’s a quote which Ray Badham shared from Ric Charlesworth (a well-known hockey coach) during the last week at Arrows College as he taught on team building:

Young talented players simultaneously threaten, inspire and awaken those who are too comfortable. They bring innocence and excitement and often possess skills different from those of established team members. They can help individuals and the group rediscover their passion and enthusiasm for the game. They are at once free of expectations yet, while they may have doubts, they seem less burdened by them than many senior players with whom they are competing. It seems they feel they have less to lose.

What they lack in finesse and subtlety, they make up in vibrancy, desire and willingness to learn and improve. They often play an important role in the rediscovery of these qualities by others in the team, and they remind everyone that nothing is certain or lasts forever.

What profound thoughts! This is why we need young musicians to serve side by side with older musicians. This is why worship ministry must model a multigenerational approach to ministry in the church.

What is Essential, Preferable and Can Be Developed

During the week at Arrows College, Pastor Ray Badham shared about building a worship team and he posed the question: in selecting your team members, what characteristics are essential; what characteristics are preferable; and what characteristics can be developed?

The students started brainstorming different answers for each category. Some people thought that it was essential that worship team members have a “heart of worship”. Others thought a “good attitude” was essential. Some students then said “attitude” was too wide a concept: perhaps certain traits like humility and teachability were essential whilst other traits could be deemed preferable.

Depending on your school of thought or ministry background, some also thought that skill was something that was essential; whilst others thought skill was only preferable.

“Availability” was also an interesting one. Some people thought that availability was essential; but others felt that availability was something that should be looked at depending on the season of life that a person was going through.

At the end of the day, all these characteristics are actually questions of degree. Ask yourself this: if having a heart of worship is an essential quality of a worship team member, what do you mean by a person’s having “a heart of worship”? If worship encompasses our whole life (and it does), then does that mean your ministry candidates must be fully sold out and surrendered to God? Less than completely sold out suggests that a person may only have a “partial” heart of worship. Quite possibly, the worship leader may not yet have this quality!

Some people thought maturity was “preferable”. But what level of maturity? How mature is mature enough? Can’t maturity be developed?

What about skill? Most worship teams desire to have musicians, singers and technicians with a level of skill. But ultimately, the leadership of the team must decide what degree of skill is acceptable. For example, if you are Lakewood Church, you would expect your musicians to have a high skill level – because you have that option and a huge pool of talent to work with. If you are a small local congregation, you may have to accept a much lower skill threshold.

Ultimately, I think there is only one requirement that is essential. It is a requirement on leaders of worship ministry – not on the candidates themselves. It is this: to exercise wisdom and to hear from God in the recruitment process. Leadership will need to consider their vision and goals and to formulate a policy as to what they would like to see in their worship teams, but then also exercise a great deal of flexibility in dealing with people on a case by case basis – because at the end of the day, there are no perfect people.

I remember one time a member of the worship team told the worship pastor, “I think I need to step down because I haven’t been doing my quiet time”.  The pastor simply replied, “Don’t step down – just start doing your quiet time!” What wisdom!

Another time, one worship team I worked with took in a member who had a difficult attitude and was only marginally skilled. The worship pastor sat down with this guy week after week to do devotions and Bible reading together; and the team spent time investing in this person’s skill.  Three years later (!) the guy had developed a much better attitude and became extremely skilled at what he did.

But it took the patience of the worship pastor to come alongside this guy and to journey with him.

Sometimes, the worship ministry can be an entry point into community for people who would not otherwise find a sense of life-giving community in a church. If we exclude these people from the worship ministry for, say, attitude or lack of skill, could we be jeopardising their Christian walk?

On the other hand, if we put someone on the team with very little skill, could we end up delivering a second-rate worship experience so that we value one person over the countless others in the congregation who depend on the worship team to lead them into worship?

These are all things which worship ministry leadership must grapple with and strike a suitable balance.

Here’s a final interesting thought. I put in the category of “can be developed” the item “a saving faith in Jesus”. It sounds pretty funny, but I think it’s possible for even non-Christians to be part of the worship team.

I came across this in a thriving church plant in Japan where to reach out to young unsaved musicians, these musicians were given the opportunity to serve in a worship band. This was because whilst young Japanese people may learn a musical instrument as a hobby, they seldom have the opportunity to play in a band setting. So the church picked up on this as an evangelistic possibility. Sure enough, within months, all the unsaved worship musicians became Christians as a result of being in God’s presence week after week and hearing the preaching of the Word.

Some great worship leaders of the contemporary worship movement started playing in the worship team when they weren’t yet Christians. Henry Seeley and Lincoln Brewster come to mind.

I heard another great story about a new church plant in a former Soviet bloc country. The church was started by the pastor and his wife. They had no one else. So they hired secular musicians to “perform” the worship leading function every Sunday. At the end of the message, they would give an altar call and over a period of months, the church began to grow. The worship team then finally fronted the pastor and asked “you have been inviting people to receive Jesus at the end of your message whilst we played. When do we get the chance to receive Jesus?” The band front person is now the senior pastor of that church!

Yes, even saving faith is not necessarily an “essential” in worship team building. It can be developed!


An Adventure in Missing the Point

Today Ray Badham taught about building a worship team at Arrows College.

We were asked to brainstorm along the lines of who the stakeholders were in our worship service.

One by one, the students called out ‘worship leader’, ‘musicians’, ‘vocalists’, ‘sound technicians’, ‘dancers’, ‘visuals’ etc. I thought I was being pretty savvy by calling out ‘senior pastor’.

Funnily enough, it took us ages before the three main stakeholders were identified – ‘God’, ‘the congregation’ and the ‘unsaved’. Suddenly there was a gasp of recognition.

Talk about the wood for the trees! At a time in history when the church is recovering ground on the arts, today was a timely reminder for us to realign ourselves with what’s important; to not get too caught up in music and production at the expense of true worship.

Going Back to (Worship) School

Today, was my first day back at school following my last exam at uni and after 12 years of working life. It was quite a surreal experience. I almost felt like I should have packed a piece of fruit and a muesli bar and 15% juice in a tetrapak. I also wondered whether the cool kids would want to sit with me.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but I was glad to be back studying again, even if it was just for one week at the Worship Module of Arrows College with Pastor Ray Badham of Hillsong College teaching on worship and songwriting.

The first thing that really amazed me was just how many students had set aside 10 weeks of their life to complete the Arrows course. There were people from all generations and all walks of life. I was really impressed by a young worship leader from Faith Community Church who decided to step out of the comfort zone of his job as an accountant in a Big 4 firm to pursue God’s call for his life in church ministry.

During the morning chapel time, Pastor Benny Ho shared an insight from John Maxwell about three zones that we can live in: the challenge zone; the comfort zone and the cruising zone. When we operate in the challenge zone, this is where we are stretched and stimulated, ultimately leading to our growth. When we are in our comfort zone, all we are doing is something we already know. The worst is when we fall into the complacency of the cruising zone. This essentially leads to stagnancy and death. Pastor Benny encouraged us to always reinvent ourselves and put ourselves back on the shelf of the challenge zone.

I feel that this year, God has really challenged me beyond the things I am used to – particularly in the context of ministry where I am stepping out to do more things within the city itself. I feel completely out of my depth but at the same time needing to rely on God all the more.

So there I was, sitting in a class of 30 or so students, hoping that God would somehow speak to me about this next phase of my journey. I didn’t come with much of an agenda, except perhaps that I was getting a bit tired of my day job and hoping that this will be a week of refreshing and re-firing and being receptive to whatever God would say to me.

Today was also about going back to school on the basics of worship.

Pastor Ray shared about what worship is: essentially making the point that it is a lot more than just what we do on Sunday.

I have in two previous posts, Defining Worship and Defining Worship Part 2 sought to define worship. Looking at worship in contrast to idolatry, Pastor Ray adopted Timothy Keller’s definition: “worship is ascribing ultimate value to something in a way that engages the whole being.” And Pastor Ray shared that the primal design and direction of our lives is to worship God. When idolatry comes in, it distorts our lives.

Martin Lloyd-Jones says this:

An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone… An idol is something holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention and money to it effortlessly.

The psalmist observes in Psalm 135:15-18:

The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them

We become like what or who we worship. And that is why Paul says in Romans 1:18ff that as a result of idolatry, God gave humanity over to futile and foolish thoughts and to the degradation of their bodies.

True worship on the other hand transforms us into the image of God. So worship transforms us in an upward spiral towards becoming more and more like Christ, from glory to glory, strength to strength. As Christ-followers, we don’t always engage in true worship, but when we do, transformation is always the result.

We often equate worship with music and singing, but it was great to be reminded about this foundational truth: Worship is much more than what happens on a Sunday. It is about ascribing God his true worth and in the process being changed to be more like HIm.

Blessings Reel – August 2012

Ephesians 1:11-12 says this:

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

The Message paraphrase puts it this way:

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

August has been a busy month, but it was entirely filled with God’s blessings.

First, there was the Israel and the Church Conference with Peter Tsukahira and David Davis. I am always dumbfounded whenever I hear people teach about Israel. I’m not a fan of those who teach about Israeli politics and somehow try to use the Bible to justify their stance, but it’s completely different when teachers take a biblio-historical perspective and show us how Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled right before our very eyes.

If anything, it makes me love the Bible more. Sure, people try to challenge the authority of the Bible in all sorts of ways, but frankly, I’m tired with apologetics and proof texts and all that stuff. Skeptics can argue about these things all they want. But when I see the heart of God for Israel, both in the Old and New Testaments, and see how current and historical events pertaining to Israel are fulfilling prophecy, you have no doubt about the divine authorship of the Bible, and God’s passionate heart for His chosen people.

You might say that before the foundations of the world, God had already predestined to reconcile Israel to Himself in conformity with the purpose of His will for the praise of His own glory.

Second, getting to see Cindy Ratcliff lead worship in Perth was pretty much a dream come true. Okay, so maybe there is a bit too much celebrity-ism in worship, but the take-home message was that God uses humble vessels like Ratcliff to entrust big visions and ministries. I was impressed by her voice, stage presence and songwriting skills, but above all, I was inspired by her lack of pretension; her love for people and her passion for God’s presence.

Third, a friend of mine for whom I was praying survived a job cull in his company. Even though 75 per cent of the team lost their jobs, my friend experienced God’s favour in being able to keep his!

Fourth, I finally signed up for Bible School. Well, sort of. I’ve always wanted to try going to Bible School, but it’s difficult to take such a big step. But I am grateful that Pastor Benny organised Arrows College and an impressive faculty to teach a 10-week course. I couldn’t arrange to take 10 weeks off work, but I am going to a one-week module on “Worship and Songwriting” being taught by Ray Badham.  I’m really looking forward to it.

Fifth, this blog reached 10,000 hits in August. It is only by God’s grace and I am trusting that it will grow from strength to strength. This month, as part of Faith Community Church’s Season of Prayer, my wife has forced me to “fast” (i.e. give up) checking up on my blog stats. I was quite obsessed with seeing how many hits the blog was getting each day, but I’ve decided to leave that issue up to God.

Finally, I was blessed to become part of Faith Community Church’s worship team. After having not served in a church worship ministry for over a year, it’s great to get back into a ministry which I feel God has made a life-long calling for me.

As Peter Tsukahira shared during the Israel and the Church Conference, based on Ephesians 1:11-12, before we were even born, God had already designed us with a destiny. When God starts restoring us to the dreams He had for us, this is “our calling”. And the Holy Spirit gives us gifts to support our calling – gifts which are more than just talents. This is called “our anointing”. The gifts and calling are without repentance, i.e. God does not change His mind on them.

When we align with God’s calling and anointing, we come into our inheritance and we begin to bear fruit.

Indeed, this is a year of alignment, and a year of Unceasing Fruitfulness! It is indeed “in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for!” Amen!