From the Archives: Worship’s Dirtiest Word

Tonight, our worship team is running a round of auditions and it reminded me of this post. In fact, when I look back over the year, I’m really proud of how far how worship ministry has come in putting in more effort into expressiveness and harnessing the power of performance. 

In recent posts, I have been ruminating about worship auditions. Over the years, worship ministries have accepted auditions as a completely legitimate way to vet and induct new candidates into the ministry.

But whenever you talk about auditions, you also bring up another concept, which to mention in the context of worship is virtually taboo. It is one of worship’s dirtiest words. It may not be the dirtiest, but it certainly is up there. So, please promise me that, after you read this post, you will go into your prayer closet and ask for forgiveness for even entertaining the thought (actually, “entertain” is also a bad word, so pray for forgiveness twice!)

Used in any other context, the word causes absolutely no offence. In fact, it has a neutral to positive connotation. Used in the context of worship however, it is downright obscene.
That word is “performance”.

It is such a provocative word that, in fact, the July/August 2012 edition of Worship Leader magazine devotes itself to what the editor calls “an ancient controversy”.

The question is this: should performance be part of worship leading?

Ask me that question 10 years ago and I would have given you a very different answer to what I would give you today.

The church’s aversion to performance in worship leading can be traced to how those of us who have been in worship ministry for a long time were trained and brought up. We were told to “let no flesh glory in God’s presence”. Performance is therefore “fleshly” and therefore “not of the spirit”. And true worshippers must worship “in spirit and in truth”.
In an article published years ago entitled “Worship vs Performance” (I can’t find its source now), Kelly Carpenter (a Vineyard worship leader and composer of “Draw Me Close to You”) said this:

Worship is not performance. Performance is not worship. They are mutually exclusive. If we keep that straight, then we will be able to properly give God His due. Problems develop when we turn worship into a performance. When we bring the performance mindset and pattern into worship, it becomes polluted.

Over time, my mindset has changed. I no longer think that worship and performance are exclusive. I believe that for a worship leader to truly lead worship, they must actually bring an element of performance into their craft. This requires musical excellence, the ability to connect and engage the congregation, appropriate articulation of instructions and exhortations and being able to pray inspiring prayers.

To what end? If this is to bring attention to ourselves as worship ministers, then we’ve probably missed the point. But we equally miss the point if we don’t “perform” and by failing to “perform”, we fail to inspire the congregation to bring their best praise offering to God.

This is not to say that the ultimate audience of our worship isn’t God. Worship leaders should understand this point well. But, without derogating from that principle, worship leaders also need to (whether they like it or not) appreciate that there is a secondary audience – the congregation. This is of course not ideal but you just need to look at how we set up our worship in churches all around the world week-in and week-out to know that this is true. There is a stage; the stage is raised; the seating arrangements have the stage as a focal point; and the lights point towards the stage. What are we all looking at? I can tell you now that God is not on stage (at least not visibly).

The only visible people on stage are the worship musicians!

Until we get rid of this set-up, we can’t deny that performance will play an important part of our worship leading.

When I lead worship in cell group (where we usually gather in a circle), I use a different approach to worship leading to how I would lead in a Sunday service. For example, I gravitate towards simpler, more melodic songs. I use different language. I tend to speak as someone within the company of gathered worshippers, rather than someone in front of them. I am usually more laid-back and my tone is more relaxed.

When I lead worship in a Sunday service, I appreciate that not everyone in the church knows me like my cell group nor do I know them like I do my cell group. I need to be more exacting in my use of language; I need to craft my prayers more deliberately; I need to make sure that I use the 25 minutes with which I am entrusted to bring as many people in the congregation to a place of encounter with God.

I had a friend years ago who used to lead worship in cell group as he would on the platform. So he’d stand there (in front of all 8 of us), put on a faux American accent (because back then, all the good worship albums came from the USA) and give the most rousing performance he could muster. We were able to move past it all and worship anyway, and we’d tease him later and laugh about it. But he probably didn’t need to impress us so much in a cell group setting.

So why are we so averse to performance anyway?

Musicologist Monique Ingalls says this in her article “Reclaiming Performance in Worship” (Worship Leader, July/Aug 2012):
We often use the word ‘performance’ to describe what happens when someone acts in a way that is inconsistent with the way they really feel or the way they are in ‘real life’. We impute questionable motives to their actions: ‘performers’ in this sense act with an intention to deceive or manipulate, like an actor adopting a persona.

Next, Ingalls continues:

In the context of congregational worship, ‘performance’ is used to negatively describe what happens when the focus is placed on the musicians onstage (‘performers’) while the congregation (‘audience’) remains passive and uninvolved.

Recognising the cause of our aversion is part of the way towards our healing. When we actually analyse those two causes, we come to realise that (1) when worship leaders perform, they aren’t necessarily being fake or manipulative; and (2) our performance isn’t to negate the congregation’s involvement in worship, but rather to inspire and enhance that involvement. In fact, I believe that a worship leader must perform well if they are to faithfully steward their anointing.

And I’m glad to say that in recent years, the church has begun to embrace “performance” as a legitimate skill to be deployed by worship leaders. Very much in the same way that we would like our preachers to be interesting and engaging.

Paul Baloche, in his article “A Leading Worship Performance” (Worship Leader, Jul/Aug 2012) says that musically preparing is important because it will “greatly affect the participation of the congregation”. Baloche goes on to say:

We have to acknowledge that leading worship has aspects of performance. It’s naive or dishonest to pretend there is no element of performance when we walk out onto a platform or stage in front of others.

In an interview with Israel Houghton in the same issue of Worship Leader magazine, Houghton talks about a big Easter event that Lakewood Church had put on:

We poured great effort into how the songs wold be structured, how we were going to go about it, we planned this big drum feature thing. I asked our team, ‘What if we did that every week?’ Just put it all out there every single week? Some would see that as the wrong kind of performance, but I would see it as caring for the people that are coming to hear from God.”

Properly motivated, performance is a powerful thing. As Houghton might say, if we want to honour God and if we care about our congregations, then we’d better put some effort into our craft and our delivery. Not because we want to bring glory to ourselves. Not because we seek the adulation of others. But because, as worship leaders who pastor our congregation into God’s presence, we want to maximise participation both in breadth (in the numbers of people who worship) and in depth (in terms of the quality of their encounter with God).

Maybe the worship team should think of themselves as the “support act” (oops, ‘act’ is probably another dirty word!). When God’s presence comes (the main event), we will get out of the way and join back with rest of the congregation in giving our praise and adulation to the audience of One.

Qualities to Look for in a Worship Leader

I believe that an essential, but often difficult, aspect of successful worship ministry is to “get out there” and see what’s happening outside our own church. It’s essential because we often risk getting too insular or tunnel-visioned ministering week-in, week-out at our own church without seeing the bigger picture of what God is doing in churches around us. It’s difficult because worship ministry is intense and demanding. Even with the best of intentions, worship leaders often don’t get much time to visit other churches and ministries (unless they are on holidays!).

Which is why I love what Ps Michael Battersby is doing with Metroworship Academy (MWA) – a space in our city for worship leaders in our city to gather together and learn together, all centred around the subject we love to study best – worship!

Yesterday, Dave Wong and I had the honour of facilitating one of the electives at MWA’s Worship Leaders’ Summer School.

Besides having the opportunity to impart the wisdom gleaned from our own ministry, it was great just to meet and network with other like-minded ministers in our city. Sometimes, even though you might think you are experienced, there’s always something new you can learn from others, a new perspective to glean, or even a tried and true principle that simply needs refreshing.

Metroworship Zac

Zac Gageler, Riverview Church’s worship pastor, gave the keynote address. He shared on some characteristics he looks for in his worship leaders. They were gold and I thought it’d be good to share them here, especially for those who didn’t get to attend the session.

Character 

  • Positive attitude
  • Committed
  • Dependable
  • Servant’s heart
  • Bold in their faith
  • Loves people
  • Humility
  • Teachable
  • Authentic
  • Student of God’s word
  • Empowered by the Holy Spirit

Competence

  • Strong vocal ability
  • 360 degree leadership (i.e. able to lead both the team and the congregation)
  • Attractional
  • Able to read a room
  • Responsiveness to the Holy Spirit
  • Able to lead without singing

Culture and Chemistry

  • An encourager of people
  • Able to release the gifts of others
  • Clear communicator
  • High level of emotional intelligence
  • Seeks and gives feedback

Essentially, what Zac was describing was really all the characteristics of a good, well-rounded leader. That sort of person is often hard to come by. If I measured myself against that list, I would have some glaring shortfalls. But I think the point is that, even if you’re not there yet (or the people you are working with aren’t there yet), we must be moving in the right direction towards developing those traits.

What other traits do you see are essential in your worship leaders?

The Metroworship Academy Summer School for Worship Leaders // 16 January 2016

Happy New Year friends.

Things had gotten a bit busy towards the end of the last year and it meant I didn’t end up writing as much as I would have liked.

I’ve just returned from holidays and I’ve just spent the last couple of days tidying up around the house, so everything is neat and orderly for the coming year. Why would I do such a thing? Because (whether it makes a difference or not) psychologically I feel that a neat and orderly environment gives you the best platform for success.

The same principle applies in ministry. When you start the year, you want to lay down the vision for your team; set out some strategies and goals; and make sure you have good procedures in place.

With this in mind, I want to invite worship leaders in Perth to kickstart their year at Metroworship Academy’s Summer School for Worship Leaders, happening next Saturday 16 January 2016.

As an alumni, I gained much from the tailor-made modules for those in worship ministry, but also from networking with like-minded, passionate worship ministers across our city.

The Summer School is a great appetiser for those who are looking to enrol in the full course.

But it will also be a great opportunity for those involved in worship ministry to learn from other leaders in the city and to see what others are doing in their churches. Being a worship leader in your church can often be a daunting task. I have personally found it helpful to get support from other worship leaders from other churches; to glean ideas from them; and just to have someone else from outside your church to be a listening ear.

The keynote speaker for the Summer School is Zac Gageler from Riverview. Dave Wong and I will also be leading an elective session on “Working with Your Senior Pastor”.

For more details and to register, read this: Summer School Invite

Looking forward to seeing you guys at the Summer School next Saturday!

6 Principles for Preparing an Effective Songlist

Hymbook

The first time I led worship was when I was 14 years old. I was in a small youth group with 6 guys and a token girl. The girl didn’t hang around for too long because all the guys ever wanted to do was play basketball.

Back in those days, worship cassettes were getting really popular. I had my copy of The Lord Reigns by Bob Fitts. It was my only worship cassette, so I learned every song on it.

One day, the youth leader asked me to lead worship. I was secretly thrilled, whilst maintaining all the air of humility expected of a good Christian.

The guys used to carpool (actually, van pool) to youth group and so I had my first and only rehearsal with the guitarist on the ride to the old Perth City Mission building, where the youth group met.   I gave him a list of 10 songs (all extracted from The Lord Reigns). I didn’t realise he didn’t know about six of those songs.

When I got up to lead, it didn’t turn out like anything on the cassette. We did a song a couple of times each, sometimes acapella because the guitarist didn’t know the song. I couldn’t even remember which song came next. It was a disaster, but it was a learning experience.

It’s been awhile since that first worship leading experience when I was 14 and with the 20 or so years that I have had the privilege to lead worship, once in a while I get the opportunity to teach on worship. One of the most common questions I am invariably asked is: “how do you choose the songs?”

I think a lot of people presume that the songs are found in a special room in my apartment called “the secret place” where I go “beyond the veil” to “download” the “songs from heaven”. Some people think that worship leaders only come up with songs after an extended time of prayer and fasting.

I hate to burst bubbles, but the process of song selection is not as mystical as some people think. In fact, it is quite a natural process.

Sometimes, I might come across a song that really speaks to me and I feel that it is the right song to be sung for a worship set and then I just start constructing a song list around it. Other times, I am worshipping at home on my guitar and a flow of songs just comes to me and that becomes my song list. On occasion, the worship session is rolling around and I’ve got nothing. So I just cobble a few songs together in faith and hope for the best! If I’m really desperate, I might pick up a songbook and skim through it to see what appeals to me.

At the end of the day, there is no “hard and fast” rule.

In this article, I want to share with you some of the parameters that I use to help me choose songs for a worship set, whether it’s for a Sunday service or for a cell group. The important thing to note is that half of the work of a worship leader is already done well before the actual worship set itself.

A well-constructed songlist can often “work itself out” so that the worship leader can almost step into the set and go on “autopilot”. That way, when the worship leader is actually leading, far less concentration is required to make sure the songlist is executed properly to more importantly focus on what the Holy Spirit might want to do during a meeting.

So here are some guiding principles to choosing good songlists:

1. Pray!

It might sound like a given, but so often, we take the process for granted. I remember when I first started worship leading, I used to put a lot of effort into praying and seeking God and worshipping before I could come up with a songlist. Looking back, I realised that I was being overly religious: going through particular motions in the hope of getting a particular result. My notions of God have changed since those days: now I believe that God wants to speak to me in every moment and in any place, so I don’t really need to go through a convoluted ritual to somehow “birth” a songlist. The risk in this approach, however, is to become so blasé that you don’t even involve God in the process.

A friend of mine utters a very simple prayer as he prepares: “Lord, what is it that you want your church to express to you this Sunday that will really bless your heart?” I love that childlikeness and I believe that God honours our approaching Him with boldness and simplicity.

Such a prayer also makes us think about the congregation or cell group and how to pastor them into God’s presence: something we need to remind ourselves of more and more as worship continues to risk crossing the line into consumerism, entertainment and a musical showcase.

2. It’s Not About Me! Sacrifice Personal Preferences

Quite often, we can construct a songlist around our preferences. We can become so conceited that we start thinking: “does this song suit my vocal range?”, “I don’t really like that song” or “this song will really show off my beautiful voice”.

We need to set aside those preferences. Often, I will do a song because I feel that it captures the heart of the people towards God in a particular season even if I personally don’t like the song or I don’t sound good singing it. My job is to capture the church’s expression of praise to God, not to show off or pander to my own likes and dislikes. In fact, worship shouldn’t be about me at all! That’s the furthest point we can be from the throne of God.

3. Focus on Flow

This is a lost art! When I started learning about leading worship, Hosanna! Music put out lots of worship cassettes which captured the flow of a worship meeting. Kent Henry used to record albums where the starting song flowed seamlessly through free worship, prayer, Scripture reading all the way through to high praise without interruption.

These days, worship albums are more about showcasing artists than capturing the atmosphere of worship.

We should approach a worship set like a seamless journey that tells a story of our approach to God. So for example, there should be thematic unity. God is so infinite and varied that we could never sing about every aspect of His nature in 30 minutes. So choose one or two thoughts to centre around, e.g. the love of God, intimacy, His power and might, His presence, comfort, healing etc. Just make sure that the themes aren’t diametric opposites because a sure way to kill the atmosphere is to go from “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” to “Mighty Warrior”.

Key selection is also important. Choosing songs in the same key allows you to move seamlessly into the next song without having to rely heavily on clever musical interludes. It allows the worship leader to have various entry points into the next song and to even move back and forth between two songs if necessary.

Once you have chosen the songs, you should be able to pretty much visualise the flow of the worship session from start to end. This also helps you to communicate better with your musician(s) during rehearsals so that you can plan your transitions well.

4. Create Tension and Release

Our culture is one of story and narrative. A good story starts with an introduction, followed by a complication, climax and denouement.

Similarly, a worship setlist should bring the congregation on a narrative journey. The songs should tell a story with increasing intensity before giving way to encounter and resolution.

  • Long, wordy songs (such as hymns) create tension. Short, simple songs bring release.
  • A new song brings tension as the congregants concentrate to learn it. A familiar song brings release as they close their eyes and sing without concentration.
  • Songs in a minor key create tension. Songs in a major key bring release.
  • A lot of structure creates tension, but creates a springboard for the release of free, open worship.

Too much tension creates stress; too much release leads to disorder. A right balance of tension and release in a worship set will engage and lead the congregation into a spiritual journey of encountering God.

5. Make Room for the Holy Spirit

We can be clinical and plan everything to a tee and then hope for the Holy Spirit to move. Or we can “plan to be spontaneous” by not overloading the set so that there is some inbuilt time buffer within which we can allow and expect the Holy Spirit to move.

When I first started leading worship, I thought that on average a song might last 3 to 4 minutes, so, for a half-an-hour set, I could probably fit about 7 songs in there easily. Boy, was that a mistake! I just ended up rushing through everything without giving anyone (let alone the Holy Spirit) any chance to breathe.

For a 25 minute set, I recommend about 3 to 4 songs (or at most 4 songs plus one short chorus to finish). Within that, allow for free worship; allow for times for the music to play; allow for the Holy Spirit to inspire you to give a word, exhortation or prayer.

6. Include Various Expressions of Worship

When I first led worship on a Sunday, I had a disdain for fast songs. I thought they were shallow and emotional. No, the real spiritual songs are the slow songs. That is when you really pour your heart out to God.

I have since realised that, in fact, all songs directed to God in worship are spiritual! The Psalms indicate that it is just as valid to worship God with dance, shouts and celebration as with intimate cries of the heart.

So now, I don’t shun fast songs. In fact, I think they are necessary and to not do them is to deprive the church of a very real expression of praise.

Further, fast songs are an important tool to engage and bring people with you, especially because when people first come to a meeting, they are not emotionally prepared to engage with God. A fast song will often help get them onto the same page before releasing them to express worship to God in their own way!

Of course, there may be times when you might feel God doesn’t want you to do a fast song, but I have the fast song on as a default setting unless directed otherwise.

So those are some of the parameters that guide me when I choose songs for a worship set. I hope they have been helpful! Remember, if you can put together a good songlist, half of the work is already done!

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!

Week 5 Chronicles: Acoustic Worship

Acoustic worship

Today, I want to start a new occasional series called “Week 5 Chronicles”. In my church, we organise worship teams in four bands. Band 1 plays on the first Sunday of the month, Band 2 plays on the second Sunday and so forth. Every three months, however, we have a fifth Sunday of the month for which no band is rostered. We’ve now been using Week 5 as an opportunity to experiment with different worship formats.

If you attend a contemporary church, chances are your worship will involve singing 2 fast songs and 2 slow songs, accompanied by a band situated on the stage, led by a worship leader. The size of the band will often depend on the size of your congregation, but the usual setup will include singers, guitar, keyboard, bass and drums.

The congregation would face the stage and stare at a screen on which the lyrics to the songs are projected.

There’s nothing wrong with this and it seems like it has been the preferred format for congregational worship since the advent of the praise and worship movement.

But you’ve got to ask the question: where in the Bible do we find such a description of the church’s worship? In fact, whilst the Bible informs and reveals principles of worship, the New Testament is almost deliberately silent on format. This, at least, suggests that there is an almost boundless freedom in the way the church today is able to express its worship, be it in the Charismatic “in-the-spirit-spontaneous” worship, indigenous chants or liturgical high church mode.

The Week 5 Chronicles series then is an attempt to bring you on our church’s journey in experimenting with different ways of doing congregational worship. We’re not compromising on principles, because the cross of Christ and God’s glory must always remain central to our worship. Hopefully, however, it will inspire you to see that worship can be done in different ways and encourage you to “mix up” your church’s worship expression.

Change is actually a good thing. I know of one church which deliberately changes the way it does its services, even when it’s working well. This teaches the congregation to be flexible and willing to embrace new things.

Last Sunday, we stripped it back a little and did an acoustic, chapel-style set. The stage was set up with a lit-up cross at the centre, and a small group of musicians (electric guitar, acoustic guitar, cajon, keyboard and singers) sitting in a semi circle around the cross. The set up had the cross between the musicians and the congregation so that cross was (in effect) in the centre of the gathering.

For a while, even as our music team has been growing in technical excellence over the last many months, I’ve wondered whether our church has really understood the real meaning of worship, of bringing their own sacrifices, that ultimately, it didn’t matter about the music. Paring back the music was an opportunity for the congregation to hear their own voices fill the atmosphere with praises to God. It was a reminder that, sometimes, we can mask our praises underneath the sound created by the few (the musos on stage) whereas God has always been after the heartfelt offerings of the many.

So here is our songlist from yesterday’s session:

// This I Believe (The Creed) (G)
// When I Survey The Wondrous Cross (G)
// Scripture Reading – Phil 2:5-11
// This is Our God (Chorus only) (E)
// Broken Vessels (Chorus only) (E)
// This is Our God (E) (Reprise)
// No Other Name (E)

And here’s the recording:

What other ways have you tried to do your Sunday worship services differently?

Recovering the Priesthood

I’ve just had a really massive weekend.

It started with the Shabbat Dinner on Friday night in the lead up to the “Unleashing the Elijah Legacy” conference; then starting at 6.30 am to set up for the Conference worship on Saturday, going the whole day, starting at 6.30 am on Sunday for worship at FCC, then another round of Conference in the evening. I think we finally left last night around 10 pm. I was exhausted! But it was worth every moment!

I had the privilege of serving in the Conference worship team with a team of amazing musicians.

One of the themes of the Conference was a new paradigm of the kingdom of God. Ancient Israel was the prototype of a nation that was ruled by God as her King.

It is interesting that in Exodus 19, when God was establishing His kingship over Israel and devising the nation’s laws and institutions, His intent was that Israel would be a kingdom of priests. Now, in the New Covenant, 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that God has called us, the church, to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation to show forth HIs praises!

As Peter Tsukahira shared during the Conference, for the church to move into the new paradigm of the kingdom, we must recover the priesthood of believers. Even though 500 years ago, Luther had signalled this as part of the Protestant Reformation, it was only in concept, rather than in practice and reality. If the entire church would only live out the priesthood of believers; if all of us would live out God’s calling in our lives in true sonship; if we would activate the gifting that God has designed and inbuilt into us; then the kingdom of God would surge forward powerfully in our generation!

It was significant that the worship team for the Conference consisted of worshippers from different congregations in our city. A house divided itself cannot stand, so how much more must the church be united!

Frankly, if the priesthood of believers was recovered, we would cease to talk about worship leaders. We would just have facilitators of worship, because every part of the body would not need to be led into worship. They would all come ready! But whilst we await that moment, worship leaders continue to serve this important role of helping people encounter God in worship.

Now, if we truly worshipped, then we would truly worship. I know that sounds elliptical and confusing, but let me put it another way. If we truly can come into God’s presence through praise (“worship” in the narrow sense), then we would understand how to truly offer our entire lives as living sacrifices (“worship” in the broad sense) so that we can truly live out His calling as priests. And we will then see the priesthood of all believers come to pass; and we would fulfill God’s agenda of being a kingdom of priests.

So this weekend,what the worship team did wasn’t just to provide musical preludes to great messages. We were prophetically modelling the fulfillment of God’s design for the church and facilitating the church in Perth’s journey towards recovering a powerful truth.

It was an honour to serve with some of the boldest and prophetic and technically excellent musos around (in that order!). I am so privileged to be part of what God was doing over this weekend and will continue to do until His kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven!

Elijah Legacy Worship TeamHere’s the team:

Worship Leader/Keys: Karen Davis (Carmel Assembly, Israel) | Music Director/Drums: Audrey Tang (Church of our Saviour Singapore) | Vocals: Stephanie Truscott (Mt Zion Aussie Indigenous Church), Lisa Palm (Kingsway Christian Church, Joel Lim (Nations Church), me (Faith Community Church) | Electric Guitar: Tamon Nishikawa (Nations Church) | Acoustic Guitar: Luke Tan (Faith Community Church | Bass: Johanan Ling (Kingdom Light Christian Centre) | Violin: Paul Jansz (St John Lutheran Church) | Sound: Ansen Soon (Faith Community Church) | AV: Mary Lynn Chee (Faith Community Church) | Coordinator: Mabel Chua (Kingdom Light Christian Centre)

Thanks guys for the amazing time we shared over the weekend!

And here’s the recording for the opening session.

Reducing the Element of Surprise in Worship

Most of us don’t like surprises. They can be difficult to handle precisely because we are not prepared for them.

This morning on my way to work the car battery went flat. And the car didn’t come with roadside assistance. I was flustered. I made a few phone calls to the missus. Then I decided I would abandon the car on the roadside and get it sorted out later. It was only after sitting down and regathering my thoughts that I decided to call the RAC. It wasn’t such a big problem after all!

Surprises can disorientate us.

And yet, when it comes to leading worship, I used to play my cards close to my chest. When people asked me what songs I was doing for the coming Sunday, I always answered “it’s a surprise”. I thought the element of surprise would enhance people’s experience of worship. Like when you go to a concert and the performer finally does their massive hit and the crowd goes crazy.

I don’t think I like this approach anymore. I’ve been telling my team these days that we need to remember and look out for the most important and biggest member of our band – the congregation! The more prepared the congregation is, the better the worship we will corporately offer to God!

One way we can better prepare the congregation is by helping them learn the songs beforehand.

In my church, we have a diverse congregational demographic, not only in terms of age, but also in terms of church tradition. One of the things we will need to work towards is a common church repertoire of songs that are reflective of the entire congregational spectrum. That task will take time and education. In the meantime however there’s no reason why we can’t send out the songlist to the whole congregation in advance so that each individual can get the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the songs before Sunday.

Fifteen years ago, that would have been an impossible task for a large congregation. But in this digital era of YouTube and Facebook, I say: why not? We are in a better position now to do this than ever before.

So, in my previous post, I already disclosed my songlist for this Sunday and also gave people a link to a new song I’m introducing. I’ve asked my FB friends to get the word out. Hopefully they do! And hopefully by Sunday the new song will have become a familiar one. No surprises. Except the surprises of the Holy Spirit.

Okay, so the mechanic is here to fix my car now. Hopefully I’ll be off soon!

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!

The Multiplying Power of Teamwork

As I reflect on this morning’s worship service, one thought which comes to mind is how much I love my music team. I feel so invigorated each time we serve together. It’s not that we always get the music and arrangements right. But it’s in knowing that it’s not so much about the results – it’s about the journey we share together.

I often tell my team that we aren’t the best musicians in the church. We have really good musicians, no doubt. But what I love about our guys is that we understand what it means to be a team, to bring together our individual talents and efforts and know that, when combined together, we become a lot better than what we could have been individually!

Today’s worship session was a great example of how our team works well together:

  • I’m not musical, but I reckon I’m pretty good at constructing a worship set and to make sure it flows and tells a story. So I communicate my vision to my music director, and he interprets my vision into something which our musicians can understand and follow.
  • My music director is brilliant. Like me, he goes by feel. So what he does is that he goes hunting on youtube for different links and points out to each muso what parts of different arrangements they can play and emulate.
  • Our musos then go off and learn their own parts before we have a rehearsal. I really value this. The preparation means that when we actually gather for our rehearsal, we keep momentum going and rehearsals are fun!
  • Our sound guy pulls it all together and makes us sound great! When the sound sparkles, our own confidence in our playing increases!
  • And our AV person rehearses with us on Sunday morning to make sure that the lyrics follow with the flow of the songs.

This week, we tried pushing the envelope a little by trying a pretty tricky version of “Trading my Sorrows” by Israel Houghton. We don’t normally play gospel. But our bassist spent hours learning to slap the bass; the drummer followed the gospel rhythms; one keyboardist had a computer program which allowed him to capture the youtube recording, change the key on the recording and slow it down so he could play the piano part exactly right; another keyboardist wrote her own charts! Our singers blended well together in three-part harmonies. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by how much ownership we all had of the worship set!

In his book Beyond Talent, John Maxwell says that teamwork multiplies talent! He sets out the following principles:

  • Teamwork divides the effort and multiplies the effect
  • Talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships
  • Teamwork is not about you. Maxwell quotes C Gene Wilkes who observed: “Team leaders genuinely believe that they do not have all the answers – so they do not insist on providing them. They believe they do not need to make all the key decisions – so they do not do so. They believe they cannot succeed without the combined contributions of all the other members of the team to a common end – so they avoid any action that might constrain inputs or intimidate anyone in the team. Ego is not their predominant concern.”
  • Great teams create community.
  • Adding value to others adds value to you.

It also so happened that Joe Wee Chuah ended up in my team this week! I’ve got a goal of training and releasing as many worship leaders as I possibly can! I tell people that I am trying to work my way out of the job by training others to replace me. Joe Wee is a great worship leader in the making. So I was really privileged when he agreed to lead half of today’s songs. (I’m actually harbouring 3 other worship leaders in my team!)

Here’s the recording of today’s worship (unfortunately, we missed recording the awesome introduction).

I’m really proud of what our team did today, and I’m generally proud of our team. I know that I can’t do much without each and everyone of them. But together, we can raise the watermark of worship in our church! So, here’s to more culture-defining gigs for 2014!