Music in Its Rightful Place: The Importance of Capacity and Context

In our last worship leader’s mentoring session, we talked about the role of music in worship. In the modern worship landscape, music and worship are almost synonymous. Of course, the more informed amongst us are keenly aware of the separation, but often struggle to articulate the difference or to hold the tension.

I posited seemingly disparate themes to the group:

1.  Music and the Heart of Worship

For many of us who were around in the 1990s, the role of music in worship was beginning to reach dizzying heights. The praise and worship movement which began with grassroots, organic musical expression began to mature until we got to the point where we began to exalt musicianship and excellence above heart. Musical servants gave way to worship artistes.

Against this background, Soul Survivor Church’s Mike Pilavachi wrestled with the idea that the church had become connoisseurs of worship, rather than participants in it. So, he sacked the band. Until  the church learnt how to bring its own offering of worship, there would be no musicians on the platform.

Out of this context, Matt Redman’s song “Heart of Worship” was born. It spoke out of, and to, a church in a particular season where worship did indeed become a spectator sport. Pilavachi challenged us to all be performers of worship – for the audience of One.

2.  The Power of Music

Music is inherently powerful, either within the context of worship or otherwise.

We all know this instinctively. When we watch a horror movie, the best way to dampen the suspense and sense of encroaching fear is to simply block your ears. Once that happens, the tension and stress of a scary scene is almost immediately lost.

Plato once said:

Give me the making of the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws, I will control its people.

Historians say that the music of the Beatles, broadcast from the West, penetrated the Iron Curtain and helped spark the collapse of communism. Mikhail Gorbachev said “it taught the young people of the Soviet Union that … there is freedom elsewhere.” The music of the Beatles catalysed a political and cultural revolution. This is the power of music.

Pioneers of church worship recognise this power, too. Lamar Boschman said:

Music is one of mankind’s most fundamental avenues of communication, and one of the most successful because it transcends the conscious mind and reaches the subconscious.

Music affects us; it moves us; and it stirs our emotions.

In the context of worship, the question is: where does the power of music end, and the power of God’s Spirit begin?

3.  Music and God’s Presence

We often hear worship leaders say something like this: “we enter into God’s presence with singing”; or “God inhabits our praises”; or “as we play and sing, the Holy Spirit is going to move in our midst”.

The suggestion is that somehow, musical praise might somehow bring down God’s presence.

We might ask the question this way: did the sound of the trumpet bring down the walls of Jericho?

Harold Best says:

Whenever we assume that art mediates God’s presence or causes him to be tangible, we have begun to trek idol territory. Our present-day use of music as the major up-front device for worship is a case in point. We need to ask ourselves if we, as worship leaders, are giving the impression that we draw near to God through music or that God draws near because of it. Is music our golden calf?

Can we worship without music, and if so, why don’t we? Why do we put ourselves in the way of temptation?

4.  The Scriptural Impetus of Music in Scriptures

Despite the inherent dangers of music and the risk of idolatry, it would seem clear that the Bible mandates the use of music to accompany worship and sacrifice, even if the Bible doesn’t clearly define the relationship.

We see example after example, such as Miriam’s celebration song after the Exodus; David’s establishing of musicians and singers to minister around the Ark; the use of musicians when Hezekiah restored temple worship; Paul and Silas’ singing hymns in the prison. Even the largest book which sits in the middle of the Bible is a collection of sung verses.

Holding It All in Tension

So, how we do hold it all in tension? We know that music is Scripturally-mandated. We know it has something to do with God’s presence. And yet, we know it is dangerous and can often steal our hearts. It causes us to mistaken emotional hype and sensation with God’s tangible presence.

Music must be given its rightful place. Worship is first and foremost about the heart. Music is a tool. But it is an effective tool.

Here are some thoughts:

  • Music gives structure. It unifies the gathered church to sing one melody to one rhythm; it moulds us together out of our disparate thoughts and focuses us back to God.
  • Music engages us. It beckons us and calls us away from our own burdened souls; it moves us emotionally and gives voice to our innermost cries.
  • Music affects us. It moves our faith beyond the realm of the intellect to something which is felt.

Ultimately, music is not the end of worship, God is. Music and the musicians are merely servants.

Good Music versus Bad Music

If music is an important tool (and I think it is), then the question is: what of good music and bad music?

In my church, we are blessed with a pretty decent group of some 50 or so musicians and singers and we are always pushing ourselves to only get better at our craft. You might say, well, if music isn’t the end game, should we care how excellent we are?

And what of the small church down the road with hardly any musicians, all of whom have plenty of heart but less so musical competence?

What of quality?

This is where, as my wife pointed out to me (because she always has lots of revelation) that context and capacity matter.

If music is used to serve the people, as no doubt it must, then we must ask: what people are we serving? If we are serving a church full of musicians in Nashville, then mediocre garage band quality might just not cut it. Even now, amongst our church musicians, some of them get easily distracted with the slightest hint of off-pitched singing or imprecise rhythm. (Thankfully, God has gifted me with musical dullness so I can’t hear all the imperfections!).

On the other hand, a small home group will be much more forgiving on the musical technicalities, and be easily led by a display of heartfelt (but off-tune) praise.

Capacity then looks at what you, as a church, can afford, and what level of skill, as an individual, you can offer. As worshippers, we ought to only give God the best offering we can. If you have more to give, then give more. If you can afford a more lavish set up, then by all means bring it before the Lord as your sacrifice of praise. Don’t skimp on quality or even expense. But be prudent about it. If your congregation can’t discern the difference, then you might be a better steward to deploy your resources to other ministries which serve the congregation better.

I like how Mike Cosper, in his book Rhythms of Grace thinks about the role of music in worship. He uses the catchphrase, “Worship: One, Two, Three”. He says:

  • worship has one author and object, that is God;
  • worship has two contexts, that is, worship scattered as we go about worshipping in our everyday lives; and worship gathered, whenever the church comes together to instruct and edify each other;
  • worship has three audiences: God, the church and the watching world.

When we think about worship with three audiences, instead of One, context and capacity becomes all the more important. We understand that our musical offering is first and foremost service unto God, but we must also hold it in balance as it serves and teaches our fellow brothers and sisters, and then as it draws the seekers amongst us. Seeker-friendly and Spirit-friendly are not mutually exclusive, but part of the one continuum.

Worship for the audience of One was right for its time, but I believe now, faithful musical offering requires us to balance capacity and context to serve three audiences.

Why We Need to Continuously Teach on Worship

As a worship minister, I feel that God’s call on my life is to go just beyond being a practitioner of worship, but also a teacher of worship.

And here’s why.

John Maxwell once said this:

Unless the why behind the what is taught consistently, unless we preach a standard and not just a method, then clarity, precision and most importantly, the original why, becomes distorted in all the doing.

Obviously, this goes beyond just worship ministry. But it’s a reminder that we can’t just keep “doing” the worship without going back to the roots of understanding what worship is all about.

Recently, when I was studying at Arrows College, one of the things a lot of the students said was how surprised they were at how much they enjoyed the Worship module. This was because a lo of them had thought that worship was a specialist subject and was relevant for only those in music ministry. But when they realised how worship, when correctly understood, encompassed all of our Christian life, manifesting itself in different expressions of service, they were inspired and enlightened – to the extent that even the most non-musical students happily participated in doing something entirely musical – songwriting!

If worship is so all-encompassing, then I think we owe it to ourselves to study worship in the Bible, and beyond that, also to teach worship regularly and consistently so that as John Maxwell exhorts, we never lose focus of the “why” in all that we are doing.

The Worship Team as a Mentoring Family

It is often said that worship ministry is one of the most important ministries in the church. But that’s probably not true: in my view, all ministries are equally important.

Worship ministry does, however, have some distinctives: one of which is its visibility – which is why the congregation tends to elevate its importance. Another is this: unlike most ministries, it is a seedbed for tension and conflict.

Have you experienced this? I certainly have. I remember once, many years ago, I had just started out back-up singing. Back then, no one really taught you how to do anything and I think I got into the team just because I sang really loudly (and because they wanted some of the youth to start serving in the team). So I just went all out. I wasn’t concerned at all about blending with the other singers (I thought blending was a culinary term) and I even tried singing harmonies (when I clearly couldn’t). The more experienced singer next to me didn’t give a moment’s hesitation before launching out in correction. He looked me in the eye and said “Look, if you can’t sing harmony – DON’T”. That got me to shut up for a while…

Then I became a better singer. Now, I could do harmonies, except the other guy had been in the team for a long time and he always gets to sing the tenor part. So sometimes, I launch straight into the harmony at the beginning of the song before he gets a chance to work the harmony in. So much for team spirit… And I was really despising the new singer who clearly didn’t know how to blend.

That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Through my many years of worship ministry, I’ve witnessed all sorts of emotional manipulation, bad attitudes, internal jostling, pride and criticism (the non-constructive type) – and I’m just talking about myself.

But of course, there are also the triumphs of musically “nailing a set”, the celebrating together, watching each other grow and achieving goals that make worship ministry thoroughly rewarding.

This sort of thing happens in every ministry, but moreso, I believe, in worship ministry. Because it’s so visible. So technical. And people are so passionate. And because it’s a team ministry right from the get-go.

Which is why I thought the following passage in 1 Chron 25:6-8 was really interesting in describing how David ordered his worship ministers and musicians:

All these men were under the supervision of their father for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God.

Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288. Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.

There are a few important principles we can draw from this.

The passage says “all these men were under the supervision of their father”. This suggests that worship ministry is a family affair.

I remember a few years back when my old church started rostering into bands. It meant that for a season, the same musicians and singers would have to serve together; get a sense of each other’s styles, strengths and weaknesses and also get used to each other’s personalities. A lot of us grew really close. Because there were a few young-uns on the team, Ling and I used to have to give them transport to rehearsals. Instead of just going to rehearsal, we made a meal of it – literally. We made it a habit to eat together before Wednesday night rehearsals. We got to not only make music together, but we shared our hopes, dreams, struggles and disappointments. Because our lives became more intertwined, a by-product was that we flowed better as a team.

So it became quite easy for me to say to our singers, for example, that we needed a bit more work. So we hired Stephanie Truscott and she came to tutor our singers for a few weeks. Okay, so we didn’t turn into a gospel choir, but we certainly learned how to blend a lot better.

Now, nothing irks you more than your family members. This is where the proverb “iron sharpens iron” becomes the most real. But as a result, we grow in character.

Developing the “family” idea further, here’s the crux of the passage: father and son served together. And this suggests mentoring!

Over the years in worship ministry, I’ve been mentored by some excellent worship leaders. I don’t know where I got my style from (because they all led worship very different to me). Perhaps it was through all the years of listening to Ron Kenoly CDs and my wanting to be a big black guy – well at least I achieved the first half of my goal.

One of my first mentors used to feed me new cassettes (yes it was that long ago) and articles on worship. (We were meant to pass the articles onto others, but I just hoarded them). By doing that, he was resourcing me. He helped me to learn new songs but also appreciate the theological anchor of worship.

He also gave me a lot of constructive criticism and correction. This was important as I began to learn to lead worship because until then, all I had to go by was the way worship leaders led on the different cassette tapes that I had and watching worship leaders during church services. Under this mentor, I was given insight into the nitty-gritty’s and nuts-and-bolts of worship leading. What he was doing was honing my craft. And of course, you don’t develop a good attitude by reading a book, so my mentor would give me a gentle rebuke where necessary.

Another mentor I had (my next worship pastor) imparted in me a heart for intercessory worship and revival. She would pray and well up in tears. She gave me fresh insight into the link between worship, intercession and the transformation of the nations. I still carry this burden to this day.

But she also released me into my potential, believing that I could be more than I imagined. She began pushing me out of my comfort zone and also began connecting me with others of the same heart and mind, including people who had beaten the trail before me. I still work with some of those people today.

And then I came across a psalmist, who inspired me to dream even bigger. He shared stories of massive gatherings in Singapore where churches would gather together in worship, regardless of background or denomination. And I started to wonder not when, but how soon, it could all happen in Perth.

In worship ministry, spiritual fathers and spiritual sons, mentors and disciples, serve together side by side to advance the kingdom of God.

What was the result? This passage says that they were “all trained and skilled”. You might say that high level skill was a prerequisite for their serving but I like to think that not all Levites were born with a timbrel in their hands. Rather, within their own families, the “trade skills” were passed on from father to son. And presumably so was the passion for God’s presence!

In this mentoring environment, we not only become better worship musicians and singers, our anointing increases and our spiritual sensitivity is sharpened. But a far more important result was that as worship happened 24/7 in the Tabernacle of David, the heavens were opened and the kingdom boundaries were broadened. The nation experienced unprecedented prosperity!

And this is why I enjoy worship ministry so much. There is definitely that amazing thrill I get when I see God’s people worshipping together and the presence of God fills a room. But I also enjoy it because it is ministry where “old and young”, “teacher and student” can stand side-by-side and minister together; where we get the opportunity to minister intergenerationally; where mentors can resource, correct, release, connect and inspire the next generation; and we can together, through worship, see our cities and nations transformed.

Cindy Ratcliff’s Insights into Worship Ministry

I just got back from an amazing evening at Metrochurch’s OneNight with Cindy Ratcliff, the Senior Worship Leader of Lakewood Church. I had always been a big fan of Cindy’s ever since I heard the album We Speak to Nations. That album was for me a return from an artist-centric approach to worship music back to the grassroots of home-grown church worship (albeit on a scale that most of us wouldn’t usually experience). There is an unusual sense of God’s presence particular in the medley culminating in the song “Show Me Your Glory”.

After hearing Cindy in person, I am now even more of a fan. I was impressed by the strength of her leadership in a ministry with people like Israel Houghton, Steve and Da’dra Crawford (from the Christian group, Anointed) and world-class vocalists and musos. But even more impressive was her transparency, humility and sensitivity to the Spirit.

Cindy shared insights into worship ministry in the context of her own journey to Lakewood and building a worship team which numbers about 1000 members today (that’s right, their worship team is larger than most churches!). I thought I might just quickly record some of her thoughts here:

// As worship ministers, we need to guard the condition of our hearts. The purity of our hearts displays the glory of God.

// What you do in private sets the stage for what you do in public.

// Submit to your leaders and champion their vision. Your ability to submit sets an example of how people should follow you.

// Choose to think the best of the people in your team, even though it’s much easier to think the worst of them. Doing this helps diffuse conflict quickly.

// Be yourself – be confident in who God has made you to be.

// The job of the leaders in the ministry is to provide a touchstone and sense of family for members of the team and to provide prayer support. They do not do counselling. For counselling, these are referred to trained counsellors in the church.

// Have accountability to people close to you (like your spouse – they are like your personal Holy Spirit!). They keep things from getting to your head.

// About worship musicians who play on the secular stage: they are not there to partake, but to impart. In other words, they are sent out as missionaries as positive influences in the secular arena.

Above all, from what I heard tonight, I think the secret to Cindy’s success in ministry is her reliance on the Holy Spirit. Worship ministry often throws up tricky questions like “how do you balance skill and heart?” or “do you allow non-Christians to play on your band?” Cindy’s response to these questions was about knowing what is right for your team in a particular season or situation. More than a prescription (on the one hand) or gut instinct (on the other), I am again reminded that effective leadership requires that we lean in and listen to what the Spirit is saying, just like how Jesus would only do what He saw the Father doing.

 

My First Audition

I did my first worship team audition ever last night. I was so nervous that when the guitarist told me to change key, my mind went blank and I couldn’t remember the lyrics to Beautiful Saviour’! And I went flat during some harmonies. Good thing the judges were nice.

Of course I’ve done lots of auditions before.

But last night was the first time I was the one being judged and evaluated. It was a scary thought actually.

I started in worship ministry 19 years ago. When I first joined, standards were much lower. If you could broadly hold a pitch, you were probably good enough to join the team. The ‘audition’ usually took the form of singing loud enough during congregational worship for the worship director to take notice! Things have changed a lot since then.

The whole audition thing was really humbling. I’ve had to practise hard in the last couple of weeks. I’ve tried singing the songs in different keys and in different ways.

And I think for me, it was a good process to go through.

Sometimes when you’ve been in ministry a long time, you get a sense of entitlement that ultimately leads to complacency. You stop learning, growing and upskilling because you feel you’ve already made it. When your place in the team is less assured, you try a lot harder.

Maybe worship teams should periodically audition existing team members regularly. That way we can give honest feedback to see where we can each improve and challenge each other to grow.

As for my audition, I’m waiting nervously for the result. At least the ‘judges’ didn’t give me three crosses – yet.

Next Generational Leadership

I was off work today, recovering from a cold, and I spent a good deal of the day devouring Ross Parsley’s new book, Messy Church. Yesterday, I suggested that everyone should get a copy of it. See my post here.

I’m about halfway through the book and what Parsley is advocating is to see the church and its mission through an entirely new lens: the church, not as a well-oiled corporate machine, but as family, where life reigns over structure, relationship reigns over protocol. And where there is life, there is usually mess. But it’s okay for church to be messy.

I couldn’t agree more.

Part of the appeal of this book is that many of the lessons learnt were forged in the context of worship ministry, when Parsley was the worship pastor of New Life Church. It is interesting to see how worship ministry is often the place where a lot of the issues of church are often played out most sharply.

As I read this book, I saw a lot of my own philosophies of worship ministry being articulated, and articulated well.

In 2010, when I was one of the worship ministry leaders setting up a new satellite service planted by my then church, one of the things I was keen to do was to involve and grow the next generation of leaders. My co-leader and I decided to establish what we called a “Think Tank”, a group of emerging leaders in the worship ministry who would bring fresh and innovative ideas into worship ministry, but who would also get the opportunity to work alongside, and to glean from, more seasoned leaders. I even challenged some of them that in two years’ time, they could take over my job and I would remain to stand alongside them, rather than to lead them.

Parsley presses the need for a multigenerational approach to ministry, which he calls the “family worship table”. The key is to invite the younger generation to the table, because freshness and innovation lay with that generation. He says:

“The family worship table” was a way to describe our multigenerational approach that would help every age-group embrace people at different points on the age continuum….

The commitment to use Sundays as a gathering place for the “family worship table” began when I started thinking about how to integrate fresh faces and young hearts into the leadership of worship at New Life Church. We made a shift in our church to remain musically relevant, and I struggled to get people to understand what we were doing. New Life had always been a charismatic church theologically, but our style and culture had stagnated. We were thriving spiritually but hadn’t progressed in our expression artistically or musically…. The church continued to grow, and we built the foundations of a successful worship ministry with strong musicians and biblical teaching, but we weren’t moving culturally at the speed we needed to. I recruited some young college graduates to inject life into our ministry and help chart the course ahead….

Slowly, we began to change and experience genuine multigenerational worship. New Life was a thriving and healthy church, but as we began to change musically and artistically, the process uncovered some poor attitudes and selfishness in some who had been there for a while. Some of the family did not want to invite the kids to the table. They wanted them to stay at their own kids’ table.

Parsley goes on to make a pretty bold claim: “Young people create the culture of our tables, our churches, and our country… Our job as parents is to raise them – to influence them and give them our hearts”.

My own experience agrees with this statement. The older I get, and the longer I have been in worship ministry, the more I realise how “uncool” I’m becoming. Even using the word “uncool” betrays my lack of “coolness”. Young people interact and integrate with, and influence, culture in a way I can’t even begin to grasp. Some of the guys in our “Think Tank” were actually “back seat driving” our worship culture by telling me to listen to new songs and to deploy them in our worship sets. In the end, our ministry owed a lot to the young people for pushing us all forward.

However, we are often like Eliab (David’s older brother) and Saul. When Goliath stood there day after day, taunting the armies of Israel, Saul was paralysed, with no new strategies for victory. In comes David the young punk to deliver some cheese to his brothers. And Eliab tells him (with a great deal of indignation perhaps), “Shouldn’t you be back home looking after the sheep?” When David finally gets to confront Goliath, Saul gives his armour to David: ill-fitting, heavy and speaking of old methods and paradigms. Instead, David rejects the old, and launches an assault that is completely innovative (but birthed by God): a sling and a smooth-stone to the forehead of the giant.

Many of us who have been in the game a long time are reluctant to hand control over to the young, because in our minds, they are tempestuous upstarts who lack credible experience. If we let them play, we become like Saul, forcing old paradigms and old wineskins in the hope of somehow containing the new flow of the Spirit and the new wine.

By the way, anyone who thinks that we don’t need to keep renewing our worship expression stands on dangerously tenuous ground. We simply can’t keep singing the songs that are 20 years old and expect the next generation to connect with them. Personally, I love the songs of the 90s because they were the songs I was first taught as a young Christian. But stylistically, they mean nothing to the present generation. They simply make the church look old and weary. Of course, there can be space for blending of old and new (I often like to throw in an old song into every worship set) but if we don’t keep moving forward, as they say, we are actually moving backward.

Parsley goes on to say:

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could take the maturity, wisdom and resources of age and put them together with the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity of youth? Our churches would be an unstoppable force in our communities….

Creating opportunities for young and inexperienced leaders is one of the most effective tools we have to continue to make the church dynamic and relevant in our culture. Helping young leaders is extremely challenging because it demands accountability, it involves some risk, and it can be downright messy; but it is indispensable to a church that is committed to longevity.”

I don’t think the question we should ask is whether our young people are ready. If we ask that, we will always conclude that they are not. The question is whether the older generation is ready to stand alongside the youth, to nurture them, to father them, to guide them and to create save spaces for them to take risks and push established boundaries.

So, this is a call for worship ministry leaders to participate in the “family worship table”, to build up the next generation of leaders of our churches and ministries.

Will it work? I believe that the results speak for themselves. New Life Church and Desperation Band, through Parsley’s leadership, remains one of the cutting edge forces in the worship landscape today, producing worship music that is relevant, edgy and yet congregation-friendly. And that sort of legacy can be ours too.

Are you an AV Projectionist or a Visual Worship Leader?

When I was a teenager, a few of my friends and I used to be in charge of the overhead projector.

Yes, an overhead projector.  For those of you who haven’t been in church past the last decade, the overhead projector was a machine that projected acetate slides onto a screen.  This was, in effect, the charismatic hymn book.  Instead of a bound volume that you held in your hand, the words of each song would be projected in big writing on the screen, thereby freeing up your hands to clap, raise, fist-pump triumphantly or clutch a tambourine.

I hate to boast, but I was really good at the overhead projector.  I used to suss out all the worship leader’s signals and anticipate when he changing songs.  Sometimes, I even knew what the worship leader was going to do before he did and I had the slide ready to go.  You would stand in the congregation and in the blink of an eye, the song had changed and you would wonder whether some little fairy had magically materialised the words on screen.

Things have changed since those days.

Recently, during one of the Converge sessions, I realised that no one was manning the AV projection so I went to the computer to be helpful, thinking “I can do this… I can easily do this”.  Boy, did I quickly realise that I was out of my depth.  I had to hit the right numbered key to go to the correct numbered verse; press a different button to blank out the screen during free worship; type up lyrics in real time; put new songs onto the playlist.

It was all very disconcerting.

I began to wonder whether there was indeed a special anointing to be an AV projectionist.

Here, I want to share a few thoughts I have for AV projectionists from the perspective of a non-practitioner trying to butt in and give advice which I’m probably not qualified to give.  Hopefully it’s helpful.

1.  There is a special anointing of AV projection

Yes, there is!  And it is what Benny Ho calls a “residential gift” – a gift of the Holy Spirit given to someone which that person can activate at any time.

In some churches, the AV job is usually given to someone who is new to the worship ministry, as if to test their character and staying-power with a good dose of suffering before allowing them to serve “on stage”.

I think that sort of attitude diminishes the very crucial function of the projectionist.

I have been in countless meetings where I’ve led worship and the congregation just stares back because the words aren’t on the screen yet.  The AV projectionist (like the sound guy) bridges the musicians on stage with the congregation off-stage and allows the entire church to engage in the worship experience.  Without the AV, we are left to rote-singing old short choruses like “I Love You Lord” and “I Worship You Almighty God”.

Our churches need skilled, gifted and passionate AV people to run the projector!

2.  The AV Projectionist Needs to Prepare

One of the things I realised in my lame attempt at doing the AV was how much preparation was really needed.  You can’t just show up as the worship is starting and expect to do the job well.  Just like musicians attend a rehearsal, I think it’s important for the AV person to go to the rehearsal, see how the worship leader is structuring the songs, familiarise themselves with a song’s entry point – generally, to get to know the songs and the worship set well.

Then it will be easy to anticipate transitions and even to get the words ready for times when worship leaders do that strange thing they like doing (i.e. messing around with, and changing, the published lyrics of a song as if they knew better than the original composer!)

3.  Consider how the Projection Can Contribute to the Worship Experience

Often, AV people just project what’s on the database.

But there are a few things under this point which a projectionist should consider, such as:

// are the words typed up correctly?  AV operators should check for typos and make sure the words of the correct version of a song are on screen (e.g. when singing “How He Loves” is the worship leader doing the “sloppy wet kiss” or the “unforeseen kiss” version?)

// are the way the lines are broken up logical, i.e. do they suggest a breather or flow rhythmically with how the song is sung; is there a sufficient musical pause for you to move onto the next page?

// can you add to the atmosphere through design and graphics?  In the olden days, we had stained glass windows, but these days, a lot of a church’s decoration comes from visual projection.  Can we project a graphic on-screen that will inspire worship?

// can relevant, inspiring Scripture be put on screen during musical interludes?

Recently, I came across the phrase “Visual Worship Leader” and then it clicked:  what the AV projectionist is doing is in fact leading the congregation in worship using the skills, anointing and tools given to him.  It may not be a wonderful voice or awesome shredding skills, but it can be just as creative and impacting.

It’s time for the church to really recognise the importance of the AV function, but it’s also time for AV operators to rise beyond the mundane of hitting a few keys on the laptop during worship.  The AV operators are the visual worship leaders of the church, and it is time for the visual worship leaders to arise!

Reflections on Worship Ministry from the Life of Bezalel

During Sunday’s message, Ps Benny Ho made an interesting observation. He asked “who was the first person in the Bible to be filled with the Spirit?”. The answer: Bezalel.

Here’s the reference in Exodus 31:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts…. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

Notice that the Bezalel was not only the first person in the Bible to be filled with the Spirit, but he is also a creative guy. So it got me looking at this passage a bit closer to see what lessons we can learn in the context of worship ministry.

First. Being filled with the Spirit is an essential element of worship ministry. If you were asked what is the distinguishing feature of worship ministry, it is that worship ministry (and in fact, all ministry to the Lord) is uncommon and therefore holyand sacred.

Second. Worship ministers minister with skill, knowledge and understanding. The temple furnishings weren’t only ornate, intricate and beautiful (thereby requiring great skill to produce), but I believe the crafters understood the underlying spiritual significance of what the ornaments represented. Musicians and worship leaders do more than just facilitate music and singing. They have a responsibility to represent God and His Word to the congregation and lead the congregation into a deeper knowledge of God and his ways. This means that worship ministers must not only be skilled in music, they must also be skilled in His Word.

Third. Bezalel is from the tribe of Judah (which means “praise”). The house of God is built with praise!

Fourth. Moses had the vision and blueprint from God to build the Tent of Meeting. Bezalel and his team used their skill to fulfill Moses’ vision. Worship ministers must stand alongside their leaders and support the vision to build God’s house!

Fifth. Bezalel means “overshadowed by God”. When the glory of God appears, the Bible says that it “overshadows” the worshippers. In Matthew 17:5, a cloud “overshadowed” the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration as the voice of God affirmed Jesus as God’s son. And in Luke 1:35, the angel told Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of God would “overshadow” her, leading to her conceiving the Son of God. When God overshadows us, we become pregnant with His purposes and destiny. Ultimately, Jesus is made known in all His fullness.

So there are five brief thoughts from the life of Bezalel. May it inspire us to continually seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit as we minister in worship.

The Church in Visible Unity

Last night, I was chatting to a friend of mine who is part of the worship ministry of a young thriving church.  He told me how he took a phone call from the worship coordinator of a small church who had a heart for worship ministry, but struggled with manpower and resources.

We were actually talking in the context of how excellence inspires growth in our teams.  The problem for this small church was:  how do we grow a team when you have very few people, let alone those who are skilled.

There’s obviously no easy answer for a small church, and I don’t think we could have solved the problem talking theoretics around the dinner table, no matter how good the wine was!

But it got me thinking:  what if larger churches shared their resources with smaller churches as a show of unity?

What I’ve found (and I could be wrong on this) is that most churches “hoard” their resources.  I don’t mean that in a mean or critical way.  But that’s just the way it happens.  Team leaders have to look after their members first.  Further, their members have signed up to serve God through their local church, and local churches have already set programs in line with the commitments of their personnel (or at the very least what they think is in accordance with their congregation’s volunteer capacity).  So for people to look beyond their own local congregation is difficult.

But I said to my friend that if I had a team say of three bands, I might free up one band to be a resource to smaller churches in need of help.

Have you ever been on a mission trip?  I’ve been on three now (not a massive record) but I’ve found that each time, it’s helped me to know the people on my team a lot better and also exposed my weaknesses a lot more.  Inevitably, you become vulnerable and authentic.  Being on a mission trip grows your character.

I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that those on the mission team are brought into focus around a particular purpose.  Contrast this to serving regularly week in, week out during Sunday services.  People begin to coast and start taking things for granted, including the need for personal growth.

What if every now and then, you send one of your bands out on a project to help another church build its worship team and gain some traction in its worship services?

It would help the smaller church to be sure, but ultimately, it also brings growth to your team in terms of character, attitude and skill.  As they say, the best way to learn sometimes is to teach.

Today at Faith Community Church, Pastor Benny smashed another sermon out of the ballpark.  It made me laugh and (nearly) cry all at once.  But one thing he shared at the beginning brought me back to my conversation with my friend last night.  For God to bring transformation; for Christ to reconcile all things to himself (in terms of spiritual, ethnic, gender, marital, family and marketplace reconcilation), the church must stand together in visible unity.  This is more than Christians saying they are united in spirit.   It’s more than just sharing the same beliefs and ethos.  I think it means Christians joyfully and practically working together to bring transformation in our communities.

I just think about worship and liturgy.  How many churches and denominations have split over things like infant baptism, communion, worship styles?  In the context of worship, what if instead of being divided, we started to unite and heal?  What if we overlooked differences in style (and dare I say even theology) and start working practically together towards the common cause of Christ’s glory?  And not just once a year towards one big event, but regularly?

If we had that mindset, my friend might have been able to say something like this to the small church worship coordinator:  “well, I don’t know how you will solve your problem in the long term, but what if I helped kick start the solution and send a team to help you, and in turn, inspire your church members to serve?”

That would be a show of visible unity.  Even if it’s doing it in only a small way.  Imagine if that happened all over the city of Perth – churches sharing resources with each other across different ministry areas, until one day, we all come to the realisation that there really is only one church in the city consisting of many congregations.