Converge 2015

About this time fours years ago, I had the honour of participating in Converge, a whole week of worship and prayer which was planned by the Commonwealth Prayer Initiative to coincide with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting taking place in our city.

At the time, I was in-between churches, and not heavily involved in a particular church ministry, so I had a bit more capacity to serve the wider body of Christ in the city. It had always been on my heart that the church should be more than any one congregation. Converge (and serving with Wendy Yapp) started me on this new trajectory.

So it is apt that I get the opportunity to be part of Converge this year, with a focus on praying for the persecuted church.

But even more exciting is that I will be accompanied by some of my amazing team from Faith Community Church (Pastor Dave Wong, Joe Wong, Lydia Ling, Sam Ng, Addie Choon, Joash Ang and Caleb Leong) as we walk this journey together of broadening our horizons.

Tim Keller was asked in an interview recently about why, as a Senior Pastor of a successful church, he spent so much time invested in unifying and equipping the church at large. He responded, “in the Body, church growth that does not benefit the rest of the Body is not biblical. In the human body, cells that only benefit themselves are called cancer.” Wow! How often we tend to just focus on our individual churches and ignore the rest of the body that is around us!

My team is excited to be anchoring a one-hour session from 3 to 4 pm this Saturday 7 November at Wesley Church, corner of Hay and William Streets in the city. Join us as we take the hour to fill our city with His praises and as we lift up His glorious name!

There will be stuff happening the whole day, starting at 9 am with different groups anchoring prayer each hour, culminating in a special two-hour Blow the Trumpet prayer event anchored by Perth Young Adults and United Prayer!

It’s going to be an awesome day!

A Renewed Unity: Our Worship Leadership Retreat 2015

We had the honour of having our first Worship Leadership Team (WLT) Retreat this last Australia Day long weekend.

So, on the evening of Friday, 23 January 2015, FCC’s WLT and our spouses/significant others drove down to a beautiful house backing onto Melros Beach for a weekend  of chilling, eating, planning, eating, relaxing, strategising, crabbing, eating and just hanging out together.

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Since Dave organised the weekend, crabbing was high on the agenda. After we all arrived, we were off to the estuary to harvest our supper. But first, it had been a long day, so dinner was on the cards. And since Dave organised the weekend, dinner was at his favourite restaurant, Hungry Jacks.

Lucy, our pug, came along for the trip (I did mention that significant others were included). We managed to sneak her into the children’s playground area of HJs using my large frame as a visual shield.

Burgers done, we were off for crabbing.

Senny is our head of sound and logistics, and true to form, we opened the boot of Dave’s car to reveal a fine collection of Senny’s high powered torches.

Crab nets in hand, we descended into deeper water. One of the girls on our team was scared of water but I had in mind the Bethel song that goes “You make me brave / You make me brave / You call me about beyond the shores into the waves.” Amen. The crabs must have been trembling a little too.

It was a pretty windy evening, so it was difficult to see too far below the surface of the water. I came out empty-handed and even the most die-hard of our team only managed to nab a few. Which was fine because through some inexplicable perversity, our bucket had mysteriously floated away so we couldn’t contain a large catch anyway.

Lydia, Caleb’s wife, showed her deft touch with the crab net, scooping up every crab that crossed her path, regardless of size or gender.

Dave managed to catch a stingray which itself is no mean feat given that all the stuff we read on the internet suggested that catching stingray was not worth the pain of being stung.

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It was then back to the house for our little crabs to get their steam bath before the hungry humans cracked their hard exteriors and consumed their sweet flesh.

The next morning, it was scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and truffle butter for breakfast. Truffle butter makes everything taste good. And Ling introduced us to Speculoos – butter made out of cookies. Which really means butter into cookies made into butter again. Sinful!

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After breakfast, Caleb led us in a great time of worship before we began to strategise for the year. Dave launched a bold new vision for our ministry in 2015. More on this in future posts. Needless to say, we are expecting great growth in our team this coming year.

Whilst we were attending to the nitty-gritties of the retreat, the girls were out in Mandurah town getting massages, pedicures and painted toe nails. Senny and I joined them – for lunch after! Some excellent fish and chips at Sharkeys and ice-cream at Simmos later; and then we were back at the house. By this time, Vinny and Mandy had arrived. We are grateful that they came just to hang with us and give us some input into our planning. It was good to have some fresh ideas from outside our team, especially given Vinny’s experience in Riverview.

And then it was time for dinner. Lukey and Delany spent the arvo making handmade ban mian and stock. A delicious way to start the night.

And since no one was around for Dave’s birthday on 31 December (which means he is actually one year younger than he looks!), we celebrated with cake. Dave was of course completely oblivious to the fact that we were celebrating his birthday, since it was nearly a month ago, so he happily sang the birthday song with us until it was increasingly apparent that the cake was heading in his direction. We also celebrated the fact that Delany had just gotten her permanent residency with a bottle of champagne.

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Dave’s birthday wish was to force us all to play Xbox Kinect. We obliged.

The next morning (Sunday), we had a little church service with Joe Wee leading us in worship. And then some more strategising.

Then some of the guys were off to the beach for a dip and me and Ling were off to get an assortment of pies from Miami Bakehouse for lunch. After lunch, we watched a DVD. Ling and I ducked off quickly to get some more groceries. When we came back, everyone else had nicked off to the beach with Lucy, leaving Dave asleep on the floor all by himself. Because we never abandon our leaders.

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After a stroll on the beach, it was time for a BBQ, with the centrepiece being Dave’s stingray and Lydia’s sambal paste.

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Not content with the haul of crabs from the previous night, Dave and Caleb were determined for another round of crabbing. Whilst we were all tired, somehow through pure leadership influence, they managed to convince Addie, Sharon, Pam, Lukey and Delany to go along.

Monday morning came around way too quickly. After doing some packing and cleaning, we watched our last DVD with a foreboding sense that our awesome weekend away was coming to an end. But not before a round of fish and chips at Ciccerellos and more Simmos ice-cream.

Psalm 133 says:

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,

Running down on the beard,

Running down on Aaron’s beard,

Down upon the collar of his robes.

It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the Lord bestows his blessing

Even life forevermore.

For me, more than the planning and strategising, the weekend away was about our team spending time together and enjoying each other’s company. It was apparent to me that we were truly “for each other”, championing our cause together and experiencing an unprecedented sense of unity.

In teamwork, unity is sacrosanct.

In this Psalm, David says that unity is like anointing oil that flows from the top down. Oil lubricates and reduces friction and makes things work. I believe that this year, the things that we have planned to do and the goals we’ve set will be achieved with ease because of the Holy Spirit’s anointing – an anointing that flows freely because of unity. Things which might take us three years will be able to be achieved in two years. Things which might take 12 months will only take 6 months!

David also likens unity to the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion. Hermon is the highest point in the north of Israel, the source of the Jordan river. Because its peak is often in the clouds, it is a rich and lush mountain. Zion on the other hand is arid. So the picture here is one of fruitfulness. Where there is unity, even the most arid of environments will become fruitful.

So, as leaders, clever and strategic programming is one thing. But beyond this, we must fight to protect unity. We need to guard each other’s back. We need to watch the things we say to each other, even if said in innocence. Because where there is unity, the Lord will command the blessing!

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Small Beginnings

Zechariah 4:10 says:

Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings? They’ll change their tune when they see Zerubbabel set the last stone in its place

Today is a day of small beginnings as four worship leaders and music directors got together in a small cafe to talk about the ‘warehouse sessions’ (dubbed by Ray Ong) – a gathering of musicians from different congregations worshipping together with no agenda, no platform, no secondary audience, no boundaries. Just a foundation of relationship and trust fuelled by a desire to passionately pursue God’s presence.

We don’t really know where it will take us, but I believe that step by step God will organically grow us. The potential is already there. We see even the possibility that worship leaders from small churches can join with us just to recharge their spirits. We see the possibility of a group called to serve the wider body in our city.

So we start small believing that with God there are no limits!

I can’t wait to see what evolves. Thanks to Darren Woon for stepping out in faith. I believe in you and your crazy ideas and the God who inspires them. It might just work!

Steppin’ Out: Reflections on Global Day of Worship

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It’s now the 364th day of the year (sorry I started writing this on 30th December and I’m only finishing it on the 31st).

Today, I was challenged as I went to New Creation Church (I’m in Singapore at the moment) for the final service of 2012. I was there during the first service of the year (watching it via livefeed in a movie cinema) on 1 January 2012 when Pastor Joseph Prince announced the theme for the year: Unceasing Fruitfulness.

Today, the challenge was from Psalm 90:12 – that God might teach us to number our days because there will be days that aren’t lived for God and which will be completely lost. God can (and does) redeem those days that were lost, but only in today’s terms.

I can say that 2012 has been a year filled with God’s fruitfulness in my life.

One of the highlights for me was the privilege of being able to organise Global Day of Worship for Perth this year.

The story was one of God’s orchestration, because frankly, I had never organised something like this before.

It all started a few months earlier as I was on Facebook posting a photo (as I often do) of something I was about to eat. At that moment, my friend Wendy Yapp Facebook-messaged me and joined me into a conversation with Global Day of Worship director, Eunice Barruel.

Within minutes of our chatting to each other (via the keyboard and my dessert’s subsequent melting) we struck a chord and Eunice asked if I could coordinate GDW in Perth.

I was hesitant at first.

I’m sure you’ve all had that feeling – when faith and doubt fight it out and you are left really not sure of what to do. So I said to Eunice that if I could get a team together, then I would do it.

When I said “team”, I meant “musicians and worship leaders”, which really was quite short-sighted of me. Not long after, it became quite apparent that the task was bigger than just getting musicians together to facilitate worship: there was venue hire, logistics, marketing and a whole lot of other peripheral (but important) things to organise too.

But within a week, some of the core group of musicians had agreed and so I guess I had to eat my words and commit to organising GDW.

One of the things I learnt was that sometimes we need to just step out in faith. Hebrews 11:8 says that “by faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

I think we seldom understand the gravity of what Abraham was doing. If you think about it, it was much more than a man going after God’s promise by faith. Can you imagine what Abraham must have gone through?

  • He was being asked to change his religion.
  • He was being asked to abandon his culture.
  • He had to leave behind his extended family and his property.
  • He had to move a lot of people and possessions; presumably he had to explain himself to a lot of people who were questioning what he was going to do.

And for what? The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham had no idea where he was going. He just knew that God had promised him a city with foundations whose architect and builder is God. And so, in faith, Abraham stepped into the unknown. In that same step, he also left everything that was known.

I’m not saying that I have experienced anything that dramatic, but organising GDW was a step of faith. I had no idea how it would work out. People used to ask me “how many people are you expecting to come?” and I would say, “I have no idea. I haven’t even really thought about it. I suppose, a hundred?”

But beyond just a worship event, and beyond the fact that we would be participating in a world-wide 24-hour continuum of praise, I believed that GDW had to be something which was also a step towards unity amongst worshippers in the city.

So part of the process of assembling the team was also about getting musicians and worship leaders from different churches involved.

We had some anointed worship leaders with whom I had worked in the past, but then more prominent worship leaders came on board, including Mel and Daron Crothers and Michael Battersby. In the end, there were musicians from 10 different churches on the team. This was only something God could have done!

And I believe that this is just a stepping stone to further expressions of unity amongst worshippers in our city.

As GDW drew near, I was re-reading some of my old posts, and I came across this in my very first post:

Even though we had doubts when we stepped out, like Peter we sensed the voice of Jesus steadying our steps and keeping us from sinking.

We’ve also felt the call to unite chuches in worship. Can it happen?

I didn’t know what to expect when I wrote that on 4 December 2011.  But just a year and 150 posts later, God showed me that it can happen!

I could not for a moment imagine that on the night of GDW, over 250 people from different churches would show up in passionate, rousing worship and intercession, inviting the rule and reign of God into our city.

It was more than the night of course: it was also the brothers and sisters from different congregations appearing out of the woodwork, offering help with planning, promotion, advice, logistical support and prayer cover. It was indeed a team effort!

If there was any doubt that God was a covenant-keeping God who is able to fulfill his pomises and plans, one of the worship leaders also shared with me before one of our rehearsals a passage of Scripture that (unbeknownst to her) had been a life theme that I had carried ever since I was baptised in 1991. It was from Jeremiah 1:5-10:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with youand will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

This passage was actually prophesied over me during my baptism by the mother of one of the worship leaders on our team 21 years ago. The next I heard it declared over me was in 2007 when I led a mission team to Japan to conduct a worship seminar. And now, here was the verse again. I knew that what we were doing with GDW was not only significant for the city, but it also significant for the nations.

To hear that Word released at such an opportune time was overwhelming – I sensed that God was reassuring me even in the moments when I was constantly asking the questions: who am I? and why am I even doing this?

I have a lot more to share about GDW, but I will probably leave it for another day.

But I will conclude with this: we are all on journeys and I have definitely not arrived by any sense of the word. But I’m glad that God often marks our lives with milestones to remind us that He has plans for us and that He will fulfill the dreams He puts in our hearts. Being part of GDW was one of those moments.

Here’s the video again if you missed the event:

Photograph courtesy of DTW Photography and Darren WoonVideo courtesy of Peter Liddicoat and Visual Reality Productions.

Confessions of a Dyed-in-the-Wool Worship Musician

Charlie Lim Band

I just got back from the Blu Jaz Club in Singapore, where I heard some really brilliant jazz music by the Charlie Lim Band. My thanks to Ben Ngooi for the invite!

I have to say, I was inspired. A number of things ran through my mind in the midst of the heady mix of a packed room, poor air circulation and half a bottle of Heineken.

When I was 12 years old, a pastor came through our house to do some “cleansing”. When she got to my room, she began to target some of the music I was listening to. Back then, even though I had very little technical musical knowledge, I was an avid listener of music. I tried to memorise the lyrics of every song that I liked. But that day of cleansing was quite course-changing. I was “convicted” or challenged (or whatever else you like to call it) to get rid of some of the “less-edifying” music.

After struggling with it for a few weeks, I drew the line in the sand and destroyed all my cassette tapes. (Okay, first confession: I kept my Michael Bolton cassette. Please don’t judge me).

Since then, I have devoted my music-listening to just church worship music. I’m sure that decision shaped a lot of who I am today. But I have always wondered whether things would have been different if I had been more open to the music that was going on “out there in the world”.

So today, I got to really indulge. Ben had invited me and Ling to listen to his friend Charlie Lim play. Apparently, Charlie is a Melbourne-based forrmer piano teacher, self-taught guitarist and jazz vocalist. Brilliant!

Now back to some of the thoughts that were going through my head as I basked in Charlie’s wonderful vocal renderings, which mainly had a lot to do with what church musicians (sans Heineken) could learn if we were to come out of our sheltered existence more and embraced some of the things that secular music had to offer.

So the first confession proper. I’ve treated worship music as a self-contained system, as if it were devoid of all influences outside of the church

Now, I’m not saying that all worship musicians are sheltered (or at least as sheltered as me). Some are real trendsetters and don’t shy from some of the innovations in music that’s out there (Delirious comes to mind). But let’s face it: most worship musicians are sheltered. Worship music is safe. The sounds are clean and unmanipulated. That’s part of the “purity” of worship (so we think).

I think worship musicians should be encouraged to go out to a jazz club and have a listen to what cutting edge musicians are doing. It should be a worship team-building exercise. It will inspire you.

Case in point: the opening act tonight was a young lady called Wweishh. I think that’s how she spelled it. She sang into what looked like a set of guitar pedals and delayed her own voice, looping each delay over each other and harmonising with herself before adding a beat with her voice. She was a one-woman acapella machine. Initially, I couldn’t see her above the crowd – I thought there were at least 4 singers on stage. But alas, it was just her.

I’m inspired to get me one of those pedal things and practise with it. Then if it works out, one day I’ll record a worship album called “Delayed Worship”. It will sell in the millions.

Charlie Lim also used an autotune voice-box type device that distorted his vocal sound. Pretty cool, I thought. I wonder whether we can use that in church. At least it might get rid of some of my pitching problems!

Second confession: i liked what I heard.

The church should embrace these new sounds, even if they are coming from secular sources. At the end of the day, God owns and initiates all technology. We can’t really afford to lag behind the world, so even if we have to bite the bullet, let’s start using some of what the world had to offer.

Jesus was in the business of redemption. So should we.

Thirdly, and more a confession of faith is this: there will come a day when the church will not only reclaim the arts, but will spearhead it. I believe that.

The arts communicates and shapes culture in ways we can’t even begin to imagine, and one day, the church won’t just be borrowing from culture, it will be forging the way and breaking new ground for the secular world.

The worship of David was a case in point. I can’t find the reference now, but the Bible says that David created his own musical instruments. As Joseph Garlington once put it, here was a man after God’s own heart who heard the sounds of heaven and found nothing on earth that could replicate them, so he had to invent his own instruments.

Fourthly, the church is crying out for unity but church musicians struggle to play in unity.

There is something wonderfully united about a jazz band. It is a true representation of 1 Corinthians 12: one body/band, many parts. Each playing a significant role.

Tonight’s band consisted of two vocals, two guitars, a keyboard, a bass and drums. You could hear every instrument distinctly. Which is much more than can be said about church worship music which often turns out like a mass of sound.

We can learn a lot from how the jazz musician plays, giving each other instrument the room to express itself, sharing different registers, parts and movements. Each instrument had a part to play, and play it did in unity with each other instrument. No instrument competed for attention. The worship band should be like this, and even more, so should the body of Christ.

Fifthly, we have pedestalised worship musicians for way too long.

Tonight’s setting was refreshingly democratic and familial. I think church worship should strive to be more like a jazz band in a small bar than a rock concert in a stadium even though for the good part of the last 10 years, the latter seems to have been our aspiration.

But in a small bar setting, there was performance without pretension. There was the sense that the musicians were at one with the crowd, that in fact, they were one of us even though we had come to watch them. Without pomp and ceremony, Charlie Lim took to the stage, then later brought Wweishh back to the stage to do a duet before bringing the rest of his band up. Before that, presumably, the musicians were just mingling and having a drink or two. They easily blended in without the sense of celebrity.

Charlie would talk about how he hoped the song would work, how they didn’t really get much time to rehearse beforehand, how a friend in the crowd would later come up and do a rap. I like this whole “let’s just figure it out as we go along” feel. It wasn’t a production. It was more like some passionate, talented people inviting the audience into their enjoyment.

I believe the church needs to move away from big-conference style, big-name worship leader-led worship. Often, that sort of worship is unnaturally hyped. God uses it, no doubt. But it’s so refreshing to see the musicians as your peers too rather than pedestalised celebrities.

So tonight, I’m inspired. I’m inspired to see what’s out there. I’m inspired to start experimenting more. We need to create safe spaces for our worship musos to push boundaries beyond the usual and the tried-before.

Next year, me and my friend Darren are going to get some worship musicians and worship leaders together, hire a rehearsal studio and just worship together. We will have a safe environment to try new things out and to enjoy God together. If it works out, we will invite the church into our overflowing enjoyment Hopefully, I’ll have my autotune pedal thingy by then.

Building a United House of Prayer

This Monday just past, 22 October 2012, I was invited to a dinner to honour those who have worked and forged the way for unity in the church of this city.

The setting was perfect: Frasers Restaurant in Kings Park. Frasers has a reputation for good food, and being a bit of a foodie myself, I couldn’t really resist accepting the invite. My first thought was that it would be quite intimidating going to a meeting where there would be some well-recognised leaders of the church, many of whom I did not know personally. But then I thought: hey, free meal at Frasers – why not? And as I sat there at my table, the sun just setting and the lights of the city coming on building by building, I thought, “wow, for a meeting to honour the leaders of church unity in this city, there is no better place.”

Pastor Candace Lahr of OneChurch opened the meeting by saying that this dinner was first and foremost about honouring those who had gathered; those who had worked tirelessly over many years and some (like me) who were newer to journey because somewhere along the line, Jesus’ prayer in John 17 had gripped us all:

I pray … for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

I think the profundity of that moment caught me off guard, and tears began to well up.

We all know to some extent that God honours us and esteems us – for no other reason than that He loves us. I have always thought, and you may have heard others say many times before, that there’s nothing we can do to make God love us more. It’s true.

But what struck me about what Candace said was this: in this moment, in this gathering of leaders, God was honouring us because of something we were doing!

Think about this: Jesus’ heart for unity was so important that it was one of the last things He prayed before He was arrested and crucified. In a sense, it was His last will and testament. And he linked it to the church’s credibility as far as the world was concerned: if we would be one, then the world would realise that Jesus was sent of God and that God loves them.

And yet, this prayer of Jesus for centuries to this day remains unanswered – held ransom to man’s will because God refuses to violate our free choice.

And I then realised that this moment was more than God’s honouring a group of people because they were His children and He loved them. He was honouring them because they were labouring to answer the cry of His heart.

Later on that evening, Pastor Candace shared about her God-given vision to establish a United House of Prayer Perth (UHOPP), where worship and intercession would take place 24/7 for the city and the nations, and recognising God’s destiny for Perth as an Antioch city to send missionaries and resources into the 10/40 window towards fulfilling the spread of the gospel back to Jerusalem.

I was reminded again of the pivotal verse in Acts 15 where James echoed the words of the prophet Amos: that one day, God will restore David’s fallen tabernacle – a place of continuous prayer and praise – so that the remnant of men may seek God’s face. When that day comes, Amos says, the plowman will overtake the reaper!

I was excited by Candace’s vision and what that would mean for the transformation of the city.

And I was even more amazed when Candace’s senior pastor Paul Botha challenged those who were gathered to give of their best to UHOPP project. He set the example by giving his best, a pastor on his staff roster, to the kingdom of God in the city.

I left the dinner that night feeling more excited and encouraged than ever before – that in this city, Jesus’ prayer can and will be answered in this generation: that we will be one so that the world will know….

Global Day of Worship: 12.12.12

I’m really excited to be part of Global Day of Worship 2012 on 12 December 2012.

Imagine this: at 7 pm on 12 December 2012 in every time zone, Christians will gather in unity to worship for an hour or more. Globally, this means that as the earth rotates, we will move from one group of worshippers to another in the next timezone so that essentially, for 24 hours, a continuum of worship will be happening across cultures, denominations and church backgrounds.

As we worship together around the globe, we are making a statement that the church is united around the famous name of Jesus. But beyond that, we are also inviting the rule and reign of Jesus onto this earth and into every sphere of society.

We are already getting a team of awesome musicians and worshippers together for this amazing event.

Spread the word! More details to come soon.

If you are interested in participating, please email me on lesterong@iinet.net.au.

Why the Church Needs to Embrace Change

People often ask me: wouldn’t world missions and evangelism be so much easier if Jesus would just show up in person like He did two thousand years ago? He would walk around, do miracles, perform signs and wonders and preach the Word. And wouldn’t His effectiveness be multiplied given that He can now access technology that He didn’t have all those years ago, like the internet and podcasts and Twitter?

I actually think the answer is “no”. If someone showed up in the flesh proclaiming themselves to be God incarnate, your cynicism would likely dismiss them outright. You would say “God wouldn’t look like that”. You would have a certain expectation of His appearance or His status.

It’s just like the Lakeland Outpouring. When I first saw footage of it, I thought: “God can’t be in this. Look at the preacher. He looks like a bikie. And is he punching some old guy in the gut when he should be praying for the guy’s healing?” And we think, “maybe it’s just all hype. Everyone is caught up in the hysteria of it all, but it’s not a real revival.”

In fact, didn’t Jesus face a similar type of opposition when He appeared on earth? The religious establishment had for a long time believed that (in their interpretation of Scripture) Jesus would come as a political figure to free the Jewish nation from Roman rule. They did not expect that a King could be born in a manger, let alone grow up as a carpenter. And then to die on the cross? No way! Jesus could not possibly have been the prophesied Messiah.

And yet (for those us who are born again), we realise that in hindsight, the religious establishment had got it all wrong.

I am reading my signed copy of Frank Viola’s Revise Us Again, a brilliant little thesis on why we need to revise the “Christian script” from which we live.

Here is a pivotal point that Viola makes: “The Lord Jesus Christ will end up coming to us in a way that makes it easy for us to reject Him.”

And Viola says:

We all wish to cling to the Lord that we know now. We all wish to hold on to the Christ that has been revealed to ustoday. But mark my words: He will come to us in a way that we do not expect – through people who we’re prone to ignore and inclined to write off.

Perhaps they don’t talk our religious language. Perhaps they aren’t theologically sophisticated. Perhaps they don’t use our vocabulary. Perhaps they don’t share our jargon or parrot our religious idioms.

And so we cling fast to the Lord that we recognise – receiving only those who talk our language, use our jargon, and employ our catchphrases – and all along we end up turning the Lord Jesus Christ away….

What then does our Lord do when we fail to receive Him when He comes to us in an unexpected way? He moves on. And the revelation we have of Hm ceases to grow.

We see through a glass dimly. No one has a monopoly on revelation. And revelation is just that: it is fleeing, momentary and time-bound. Once it is recorded, set in script and written about, by definition, it soon ceases to be a revelation. In due course, that revelation fades, just like the glory began to fade from Moses’ face.

Paul exhorts us in 2 Corinthians 3:13 that we should not be like Moses, “who put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away”.

So we need to learn to embrace others and the revelation of Christ given to those who are outside our circle. It takes the whole body of Christ (the entire church) to fully represent Christ on this earth. We cannot continue to ignore other parts of the body because they are different. We need them precisely because they are different and fulfill the functions which our part of the body cannot fulfill. True unity embraces our diversity.

And we need to keep in step with the Spirit, not camping around the wonderful theologies and methods of yesteryear, although they were good, but to pursue fresh revelation, fresh insights. That is all part of growing as a church, realising that what we have seen so far is only a part revelation, and that there is more to come. If we fail to embrace change, we will cease to grow; we will stagnate.

Jesus was a revolutionary and we need to capture that revolutionary spirit to advance His kingdom here on earth. We need to embrace change; lest Jesus comes in a way we don’t expect and He passes us by.

What Does Unity of the Church Look Like?

I’ve had a pretty inspiring weekend.

As some of you may know, I’ve been thinking long and hard about unity, particular in relation to how worship ministers can contribute towards God’s move in uniting the church in the city. Part of this includes my crazy idea of having people from different churches form a band to lead a worship event in the Perth Cultural Centre.

Of course, I am at once both excited and freaked out by the idea.

But I think God has been speaking to me to take a serious step of faith through the encouragement of others around me.

On a small scale, the process of my discerning the will of God in this has been a blessing of unity. First Corinthians 2:16 says this:

‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.

Admittedly, I’ve always skipped over this passage because the use of the pronouns confuses me no end. But could this passage mean this: “who (individually) can discern the mind of Christ? It is only we (plural, together) who have the mind of Christ.”

So what started out as a thought (which may or may not be the will of God, tempered by my own sense of insecurity and inadequacy) is confirmed by the company of believers as the will of God.  And at a macro level (since 1 Corinthians was written to the entire church in Corinth, not just one congregation), perhaps it takes the whole church in the whole city to discern and execute the will of God for the city!

So, as I was praying about the idea of bringing worshippers together, a pastor came up to me yesterday and encouraged me.  He told me that I should pursue the dream because, in his words, “I don’t want to die wondering”.

And this morning, during a Missions Forum at Faith Community Church, a missionary friend of mine was asked what concluding thought he would give the congregation, and he said (words to the effect of) “just go and do what God has placed in your heart”.

So now, I’m feeling all the more that pursuing the dream of uniting worshippers in the city is part of God’s plan and desire. I’m more and more confident of this.

As I was talking to the pastor yesterday (who by the way has helped prototype unity in cities before), he asked me what I thought unity amongst worshippers might look like.  Here are some of the thoughts I shared with him:

  • Worship ministers being able to support and encourage one another through the challenges of leading worship ministries in our own congregations;
  • Worship ministers sharing ideas;
  • Worship ministers sharing resources and joint training (in fact, I learnt this weekend that next year, Metrochurch is about to launch its Worship Academy to train worship ministers in the city!);
  • Worship teams from large churches being sent into smaller churches to help the smaller churches lift the watermark of worship and to develop self-sufficient teams in the medium term;
  • Worshippers gathered together from different congregations together to passionately exalt the name of Jesus in public places.

My pastor friend had more ideas to, including worship leaders exchanging platforms (that made sense, seeing that pastors sometimes exchange pulpits, so why not the worship leaders?).  He told me how he had seen this happen and I wondered what it would look like for an Anglican to lead a worship service in a Charismatic church for example.

And my pastor friend told me of even more examples of what unity might look like, such as congregations helping each other to pay off debt; the church in the city planting congregations (led by students and teachers) in every school in the city; intercessors being mobilised to pray 24/7 (this is already happening in Perth!) and youth groups coming together.

In Prayer Evangelism, Ed Silvoso said:

God did not give all His gifts to one person or one congregation in the city but distributed them all over the Church. This way its members would be required to interact and be interdependent in order to be effective.

In other words, it takes the whole church in the whole city to reach the entire city!

My prayer is that you will also dream big for the city. In the ministry God has called you to, what would it look like if the congregations in your city united together for Christ’s cause? What would it look like when intercessors across congregations get together? Or worshippers? Or teachers? Or youth leaders? Or community workers? Feel free to share your thoughts here.

Lessons I Have Learned From Converge

Last night, the various Converge facilitators and leaders met for a debrief. It was a great time reflecting on the highlights, things we could change and do better, but above all reflecting on God’s faithfulness in taking the church in the city one step towards fulfilling Jesus’ prayer for unity.

In that same reflective mode, I want to share in this post some of the things I personally learnt through my involvement in Converge.

1. God’s grace is sufficient

God’s grace redeemed us, and God’s grace continues to empower us! As I shared in my previous post, the grace of God strengthens us in our weakness and allows us to take our limitations in our stride.

Just a couple of days before the Day of Worship, I had taken the day off work to do a bit of last minute planning, only to wake up with the beginnings of a cough and sore throat! I mentally did the math and realised the worst of it was going to surface on Saturday itself – i.e. the Day of Worship! And then I did some more maths and figured out that I would have to sing for nearly five hours on the day! I didn’t like where this equation was heading.

As all good mature Christians do, I started freaking out. And then I started doing some positive confession. And then I tried to expel as much phlegm as I possibly could (perhaps that last point was a bit of overshare!). Despite all my efforts, I woke up early on Saturday morning with a bad cough and a clogged up throat.

What was quite amazing however was that whenever I sang, my voice held up. I didn’t cough and sputter throughout both sessions and during the entire 5 hours of singing. As soon as I stopped however, I started to cough again.

The fact that my voice held up could only have been by the grace of God. His grace truly was sufficient!

2. Great worship doesn’t depend on the best musicians; it requires competent musicians who can play well together and are united in purpose.

As we were sharing our thoughts post-Converge, Gabriel Tan (one of the worship leaders during the morning session) made an interesting comment. He was actually the only professional musician in our group. This is what he said:

We’re ALL not music superstars. Just adequate musicians who like The Beatles, somehow managed to work REALLY REALLY well together. I’ve played in worship bands full of killer church musicians (MDs, worship pastors) before, and trust me, those times were good but no where near where we were at yesterday. The want to just offer whatever little we have to God, coupled with zero egos, makes for a very powerful thing.

Amen to that! Which leads me to my next point.

3. God blesses our unity with His flow of life.

Psalm 133 says that when believers dwell together in unity, that is where God ordains eternal life!

One of the most amazing phenomenon that happened during the “Hear the Nations Worship” night was the number of people who came in off the streets to observe, and even, participate in our worship.

This was something I only found out about later. To be frank, I was on stage most of the night and feeling quite tired. We struggled with some of the musical elements so I felt a touch discouraged. But Wendy and Bobby who were standing at the door greeted streams of people who came in off the streets, drawn to the sound of united worship. Some even asked whether we do this every Saturday night!

In the mid-1990’s, Sally Morgenthaler introduced the idea of “worship evangelism”. Her thesis was that seekers were spiritually hungry. But the church was just rolling out worship that was tantamount to slick, consumer-focussed productions. She says essentially that when the church returns to authentic worship anchored in truth, then the seekers will come.

I had never had a real chance to test that theory, and I assumed that 20 years later, that thesis had simply “moved on” as a relic of worship theology. During Converge, I saw some substance to the thesis. Worship evangelism is alive and well! Seekers are still hungry for the presence of God, and it is for the church to be a royal priesthood, ministering and mediating God’s presence to a lost world.

4. You can never overprepare

Working with two different bands during Converge, I observed two staggeringly different phenomena. At the risk of oversimplifying, in one band, we rehearsed everything to a tee. We worked out the intros and outros, variations in the drum beats, “power pauses” etc. In the other band, everyone was happy to go with the flow.

I said to Clement our drummer that I was more used to just getting the feel of a song right, rather than trying to plan every single part of the song. Clem responded by saying that it was better to overprepare, so that at least if you needed to do something like an outro, you could – rather than to not prepare it and not be able to do it. That made a lot of common sense.

Put another way: if it’s not in your bag, you can’t pull it out and use it. By not preparing, we are restricting ourselves.

On Pentecost Sunday, I was invited to lead a 5 minute worship slot during the Global Day of Prayer. I was handed a runsheet that spanned over 10 pages. It was astoundingly brilliant, so much so that I have kept it as a souvenir to remind myself of the power of planning. The entire two and a half hours was planned down to the minute, with different stage managers ushering different prayer leaders onto the stage at just the right time and the video and projection all lining up perfectly.

I was really inspired to be a more thorough organiser!

5. You don’t get out of your depth, you just gain more height

All throughout the planning stages of Converge, I felt horribly out of my depth. I had never been involved in anything like this before, I was not even leading worship in my church, and yet I was asked to bring together worship ministries to deliver an entire day of worship.

(I still feel horribly out of my depth to this day!)

One of the things Wendy Yapp said to me was that I was never out of my depth, rather I had learnt to jump higher. There is such wisdom in that thought!

I have pondered this a lot more since Converge finished. I suppose what Wendy was saying was that our depth is what anchors us in the first place. Without depth of character, we would easily fall. But depth allows us to reach higher than we have reached before. And sure, we might feel a bit of vertigo, but ultimately, we are secure in God’s purposes.

6. From celebratory unity to functional unity to visible unity

One last thought: Converge is an essential move of God in this city because it operates at the level of functional unity.

For years now, the city of Perth has had an event called “Church Together” during which hundreds of different churches would gather on a particular day to worship together and hear a message. Beyond that however, very little relationship is formed (except perhaps between the people who work together “on stage”). This is a species of celebratory unity. Celebratory unity is important because it inspires us to dream big about the possibilities of unity. However, it is only a first step.

Converge occupies the important grassroots level of functional or relational unity. Most of us involved in Converge weren’t leaders in any churches, just ordinary Christians who felt called by God to be instruments of unity in this city. We worked at a relational level to span church, denominational and ministry boundaries.

I believe that one day, there will be a convergence of celebratory and functional unity to bring visible unity to the church in the city. Then the church will truly be an answer to Jesus’ high priestly prayer, that as we are one, the world will know that Jesus was sent of the Father. May that day come during our lifetime!