The Day I Joined Our Worship Team

As I was going through some old posts, I came across what I wrote below which I am re-posting today. It was just over six years ago when I first joined Faith Community Church’s worship team. Today, our church celebrated its inaugural service in our new 1400-seater facility.  The photo is of today’s team resting in the backstage area just before the start of the service. It has been an incredible six year journey so far, and I’m incredibly grateful to work with such a dedicated and talented team of worshippers, singers, musicians and techies. After the relief of moving into our new home, and reflecting on the day that was, the fact that we have such a facility is a great gift from God – a truly remarkable grace. And when I think about the magnitude of that grace, it’s a challenge for us as a team to respond accordingly; to give back to God all that He truly deserves. This will inform how we do ministry in the next chapter ahead – to be a truly innovative, ground-breaking, passionate, world-class worship team that brings glory to God, and to connect the lost in the act of encounter. I’m excited about what God will do in the next phase of Faith Community Worship.

Photo credit: Dennis Tng

I was really thrilled yesterday to get an email yesterday as follows:

Congratulations! You have been successful in the FCC worship audition. Welcome to the team!

It was a good thing my wife ordered me some in-ear earphones from Catch of the Day!

My joining the Faith Community Church worship team is significant to me for at least three reasons.

First, I believe that the church family is not only intended to be a source of support, encouragement and spiritual growth, but it should also play an important role in releasing you into your spiritual destiny.

Second, being part of a church ministry helps you get plugged into the life of the church and to tap into the heartbeat of the church. Since we’ve joined FCC, we’ve tried to get involved in as many different activities within the church as possible. But it’s ad hoc and different to actually being part of something ongoing where you can see see sustained growth, face challenges and share triumphs with a group of people with the same heart amd goal within a ministry.

Third, the skills and anointing of a worship leader can only be properly honed in the context of a local church. This is where worship is at its most raw and honest. There is no hype of a conference, or bright lights or inflated faith. Just real people going through the challenges of life and seeking to encounter God through joys, disappointments, triumphs and defeats.

By that same token, I’ll be rostered soon on backing vocals. I actually don’t believe I should be leading worship in the short term because to successfully lead worship in a local church, you have to get to know your congregation before you can pastor them into God’s presence. You need to know what makes them tick, what season they are going through and their corporate sentiments.

I’m looking forward to knowing FCC a lot better. For now, I’m really grateful to be part of a worship team again. Time to dust off those vocal chords!

Dirty Worshippers, Holy Worship – Part 1

In this two-part series, I explore the wonderfully reassuring paradox that imperfect, messed-up people get to use their gifts to serve a holy God; yes, even to serve on something as hallowed as the worship team. In this Part 1, I reflect on the question: who is qualified to serve? In the forthcoming Part 2, I will look at this issue from the theological perspective of how Jesus as our High Priest has made our offerings holy to God.

I believe that an apprehension and understanding of the grace of God will transform the way we approach Him in worship.

In this context, I want to pose the question: who is qualified to serve on the worship team?

In the olden days, we used to impose a high requirement of “holiness” (I’ll explain later why I’ve put this in quotation marks). Generally, a person wanting to join the worship team had to show some proficiency in music, although ultimately, it was mostly about character, faithfulness and a proven “track record”. One of the things we used to do to test a new recruit’s suitability was to put them on a so-called “lesser” duty (it should be apparent why I’ve used quotation marks here) such as operating the AV and see if they stick it out. This is even if the person was a complete tech-noob.

This created a couple of unexpected problems. Usually, the people on the worship team were seen as “a cut above” every one else, creating a culture of exclusivity, thereby breeding resentment amongst the rest of the congregation who were obviously second-rate in holiness stakes. The second problem was that some people on the worship team, whilst exhibiting loads of character, had very little musical or vocal skill. The lesser-skilled people invariable dragged down the musical quality as the team played to the lowest common denominator.

Yet, there is a third problem. And that is that those who were on the worship team felt a keen pressure to keep up appearances of holiness, making it difficult for them to live transparently and authentically.

An understanding of transforming grace changes the way we look at who is qualified to serve.

My former pastor used to say this: “No one is good enough to serve”. What he means is that, of ourselves, we are not worthy but we are made worthy through Christ. I prefer to look at it from the opposite angle and say “everyone is qualified to serve by the grace of God!”

If we look at it this way, standards of holiness should no longer be a measure of whether a person is good enough to be on the worship team. Rather, musical skill and ability become the main qualifying criteria.

You might ask: “doesn’t that create its own exclusivity problem?” And the answer is “yes”, but no different a problem to any other ministry. An usher in the welcome ministry should have a personality that draws people in and have a winning smile. That’s the usher’s gift. A preacher should be good at preaching. A teacher should be good at teaching. And a worship musician should be good at playing music.

Rather than elevate worship ministry above other more “menial” ministries (and in fact, in my view, no ministry is “menial”, it’s just that we have to change our perceptions a bit), we should elevate all ministry to its rightful place of worth. In that sense, I think that we should want worthy and holy people serving in all our ministries at church.

That leads me to the question of what it means to be “holy”.

Some people argue that the worship ministry, following the Old Testament model, requires a particular level of holiness. They point to the fact that the presence of God is so holy that the High Priest who has even a trace of sin will be struck dead in the Holy of Holies. They point to the story of Uzzah, who was struck down when he touched the Ark in 1 Sam 16 and the fact that David was only able to bring back the Ark when it was lifted on the shoulders of the Levites.

The way I see it, the new covenant of grace changes the system. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that where there is a change of the law, a change in covenant, there is also a change in the priesthood.

First Peter 2:9 tells us that all of us are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation”. This means that all of us are now holy. All of us are priests and ministers before God.

This brings me to the question of what it means to be holy. “Holy”, as I understand it, means “set apart” (hagios in the Greek). It is a particular posture and status, not a set of behaviours and actions.

That means we are all holy, no matter what we’ve done.

Think about it this way: if holiness consists of actions, then we had better make sure that all who serve on the worship team are 100% pure and without sin. We all know this is impossible. If this is in fact the requirement, no one would achieve it. This means that God will not inhabit the praises of His people; the unholiness will hinder the flow of the Spirit; worse still, those who purport to touch the Ark (the presence of God) will risk a sudden and untimely demise!

Holiness as a status is a different concept. We have done nothing of ourselves to attain that state. Rather, Jesus the Lamb without blemish took our place and his righteousness was imputed to us. So irrespective of anything we do, we are holy not by our own works but because of what Jesus has done.

What about the verse that says “Be ye holy, as I am holy”? Well, I think that is saying that as God is set apart, and as we are set apart, let us live up to the standard of being set apart. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are already holy. We just need to act it out.

There’s a verse in Exodus where God struck down the Egyptians with a plague. But the Bible says that the Israelites were spared and it says that God distinguished between his people and the unholy. Did Israel do anything to receive that protection or was it simply by virtue of their being God’s chosen people?

In the same way then, I want to suggest that all those who serve on the worship ministry are already holy. This is so even if they are still struggling with some very overt sins. (My only qualification to this is the verse where Paul warns us not to stumble others; so for that reason, I might not let everyone join the team. Even then, there are those who sing or play badly and they can stumble in a different way!)

Going to even greater extremes, the modern worship movement has several stories of now prominent worship leaders who began serving in worship ministry even before they had formally crossed the line of becoming a Christ-follower (that concept of when a person crosses the line is of itself worthy of exploration. I believe however that these people, by becoming part of the worship ministry, were already “on the way”). Lincoln Brewster and Henry Seeley come to mind.

I have heard Henry Seeley share on a number of occasions how he used to sit in the back of youth group utterly disinterested until Russell Evans got him to start playing the keyboard.

In one church I visited in Japan, they used to get the unchurched in to perform the music as a means of outreach!

I couldn’t say that in any of those cases, God’s presence was diminished because of the make-up of the worship team!

So then, what qualifications should we set? A good attitude is important because you want people who can work well in a team. But I think the main distinction remains one of musical ability. Let’s face it. The worship team is not more special than the rest of the congregation. Everyone should be worshipping anyway. The only difference is that they can play music, sing well or dance beautifully. When that becomes the defining qualification, then the quality, the excellence of the musicianship will begin to improve dramatically. Excellence will be the hallmark of the music team, coupled with the powerful sense of God’s sovereign presence responding to the praises of a group of holy people gathered to worship.

Originally published as Holy Worship Team, Batman.

From the Archives: The Worship Team as a Mentoring Family

So yesterday, one of the guys I was mentoring had a day off. Instead of just spending the morning running errands, or relaxing on his own, he decided to gather a couple of others just to chat and share life together. I think in every ministry, we need to cultivate a mentoring culture; of doing life together and learning together. 

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.

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.

Worshipping Generations

I shared the following thoughts with the band of which I am a part at Faith Community Church on 20 October 2012. We call ourselves “Fantastic Team 3”. Below I reproduce my sharing almost verbatim (with a few edits).

Lisa (the worship leader of our band) has asked me to do a 10 minute sharing with you and I asked what she wanted me to share. She said I could share anything I wanted – which actually is a bit dangerous.

But I think it’s important for us to every now and then get back to the roots of why we do what we do because worship is so much more than what we do here on stage once a month. It’s so much more than singing songs, playing music, dancing, even about getting into God’s presence, although all those things are important.

John Maxwell said this (quoted from Darlene Zschech’s The Great Generational Transition):

Unless the WHY behind the WHAT is taught consistently, that 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.

This is why for me, even though I love to be involved in worship, I am always trying to understand more about what the Bible teaches about worship, the foundational things.

In fact, I said to Lisa a few weeks ago, that it’d be a really awesome exercise to go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and study all the texts about worship.  That’s probably going to take a few years to get through!

Anyway, as I was thinking about what to share today, I thought about this team and the fact that you are all so young and vibrant.  I’ve been in Faith Community Church for about 7 months now and one of the things that drew me to this church was its worship and the sense of God’s presence when I first step foot into the auditorium.

When I joined the worship team, I was wondering which team I’d be put into and I was actually really really glad that I got put into the so-called Fantastic Team 3.  As I said, you guys are so young and vibrant and there’s always a great sense of excitement, but also a sense of unity.

So the thought came to me to share about worshipping generations.

Have a look at Psalm 145:3-7:

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The psalmist says that because God is great and worthy of praise (or in the Message, it says He can never be praised enough, there are no boundaries to his greatness”),  one generation praises His works to another.

There is a powerful principle of worship here: worship is never confined to any one generation.

Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with say Hillsong United, grungy, guitar driven worship. That’s something you may enjoy.  Nor is there anything wrong with Gaither Homecoming and old-style country gospel. These are really matters of personal preference (and things you’re used to as you are growing up!)

But if your worship is confined to one generation only, then it is incomplete.

Because of the greatness and transcendence of God, a God whose greatness has no boundaries, it takes the crossing of generational boundaries to fully express worship to Him.

So one generation commends God’s works to another.

Notice that there is no “chronology” to this.  We often read this and think: well the older people must pass on the baton and teach the next generation how to worship; to leave the right principles and to blaze a trail for the next generation to follow.

I used to think this.  In fact, at one time, I was so proud as to think that there had been a “degeneration” in our worship.

When I was growing up in the church, we used to have break out in spontaneous worship for extended periods; people would shout prophecies and tongues and interpretation of tongues, people would fall over in worship.  And the songs… Well the songs were so much more Word-based, theologically robust and yes, simpler to sing. None of this syncopation stuff and “fluffy” words with very little biblical references.  And I used to think “man, as I’ve seen how the worship of the church has developed in the last 20 years; it’s just not the same as the good ‘ol days”.

What the psalmist is saying that one generation will commend God’s works to another generation. There’s no sequence.  The old teach the youth, the youth will teach the old, the children will teach the youth, the youth will teach the children, the old will teach the children and the children will teach the old. One generation will commend God’s works to another.

And as far my worries about “degeneration” are concerned, once I began to understand this principle of generations standing side I side,  I realised that the next generation wasn’t degenerating; they were simply different and they ways they expressed their worship were different.

And in fact, sometimes when we reminisce, we often give our memories a good deal more force and gravity than they actually deserve. As an aside, music is particularly good at carrying memory. Recently, I was at a Chinese restaurant when (as they do) an old theme song from a Hong Kong television series was playing. I remember watching that serial when I was a kid and how wonderful it was; the great storylines; the intricate plot; the great acting. I suggested to my parents (with whom I was eating dinner) that it’d be quite fun to take out the DVDs of the old serials and watch them again. They categorically told me that it wasn’t worth it – those old serials aren’t as good as I remember them to be.

I think sometimes we need to recognise that our memories play tricks on us. Yes, the events of the past were great. But they were great for that time. What was great for then may not necessarily be great for now.

Anyway, back to our main thought. We must embrace the different generations and their different expressions, because it is when we can be united in our diversity that we can fully express a worship that’s due God and His unbounded greatness.

Lastly, notice the echoes of the Psalmist in verses 5 to 7.  They (the generations) speak of God’s glorious splendour, so I (personally) will meditate on His wonderful works.

They (the generations) tell of God’s power, and I (personally) will proclaim His great deeds.

Worship is at once an individual pursuit, but it is also a corporate one. And an intergenerational one at that!  Our collective worship inspires our private devotion.

So, that’s why I’m really glad to be in Fantastic Team 3. I’m glad that older ones like me can work side by side with some of you younger folks. And I’m glad that our songs reflect that intergenerational-ness.

Let’s continue to strive to be excellent worshippers in our generation, but also inclusive of the generations before and after us. Let’s be a generation of worshippers, but also generators of worship across the generations!

What is Essential, Preferable and Can Be Developed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

An Adventure in Missing the Point

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

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

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

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

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

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.

To Know the Exceeding Greatness of God’s Power

I’ve got quite a few thoughts to share today, and they are probably quite random. However, if there is to be a common thread, it is to be seen in Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesians 1:17-21:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strengthhe exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

Rev Margaret Seaward, an 81 year old missionary and church planter, shared on this passage during today’s service at Faith Community Church. She made two main points.

First, we need to “know” Christ. It’s not a head knowledge, but a knowledge rooted in experience. In the Message version, Eugene Peterson renders it as to “know him personally”.

Second, God wants us to experience his incomparably great power or (again as Peterson puts it), “God’s endless energy and boundless strength”. This is the same power which raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the heavenly realm. As Rev Seaward puts it, it is a power that defies the laws of nature, the laws and edicts of man; and the power of the demonic realm.

Rev Seaward preached a fairly simple and straightforward message, but it was peppered with loads of her own stories and experiences – and you could see that this was a woman of God who has personally experienced God’s power in her life. I was inspired to hear from a believer who had walked in the ways of God for decades. I hope that when I get to 80 years old, I would have had even half of the number of God encounters to tell to the generations to come after me.

Today was also significant because it was my first time back serving in a Sunday worship band in a church. I was actually quite nervous, not having been part of a church worship team since March 2011. In fact, I felt a little out of my depth.

But everyone on the band (known as “Team 3”) was really friendly and welcoming so I didn’t end up feeling too uncomfortable. A photo of the awesome Team 3 is above.

I was absolutely blown away by the size of the team; their heart for worship; and the quality of their musicianship. From a singer’s perspective, each of the singers on our team blended really well with each other and everyone could do harmonies too. It’s like being part of a dream team. And as we worshipped, there was such a powerful sense of God’s presence as we declared His greatness. It was a great start to my time in FCC’s worship ministry.

The only sad thing for me was knowing that the bassist Jon Teoh was about to relocate to Melbourne and that today was his final time playing in the band. I actually only met Jon in May of this year when he stepped in to play bass for me on one of the Converge teams I was leading. I was instantly struck by what a nice guy he was because after rehearsal, he asked if Pastor Yoy wanted to catch up with him and he was actually prepared to drive quite a distance to go have supper with Yoy. I quietly thought that Jon was a really decent person.

More than that, I had the privilege on being on another band with him and also found out that he does the interpreting for the Chinese congregation. This was a guy who was after God’s heart and served God with all he had. So, I was hoping to work with him more, but I guess our loss is Melbourne’s gain!

I share all of this in a way to say that these experiences are part of all our respective journeys in knowing and experiencing Christ more. Be it my own journey, or Jon’s or Rev Seaward’s, Christ is being revealed to us more and more. Again to quote Peterson’s paraphrase of verse 19: so that we can grasp “the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers” and “the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”

One final thought, and this one is funny. Last night, I was celebrating the birthday of a good friend of mine, Darren. I love sitting down and talking with him about life, worship, God and all sorts of other things. But in the midst of all the good food and the fun we were having, he started to share with me some thoughts on the Christian life which he gleaned from cellaring his expensive wines. I hope that he will guest blog these thoughts shortly, but one of the things he said went something like this:

Darren: have you ever thought about the verse “Ask and it will be given to you”? I know that God gives me all the little things, like I can ask for a car park spot and I’ll get it, but there are other things I ask for, bigger things, and it doesn’t seem like God answers. Maybe it’s like good wine. Maybe when you ask for these things, God has already given them to you; except that they are in your cellar. God knows that if you open it too soon, the wine won’t taste like what it could have had it been cellared for its full life.

What a profound thought, I said to myself. I also thought “I don’t remember God giving me a car park spot when I’ve asked…”

And then this afternoon, after church, a few of us were going to Fremantle Market after lunch in Ling’s car. She was wondering where to park and logically, I thought we should park in a big car park where there is ample parking. But Ling decided to turn into a very small car park right in front of the Market, and to me it looked full. Without batting an eye lid, she said “I’m going straight into that car park and park the car.” My immediate response was “how can you be so sure?” She drove into the car park anyway and just at that moment, a lady appeared out of nowhere and walked to her car. As Ling signalled, the lady reached into the car, walked over and without saying a word, gave Ling her parking voucher which still had 45 minutes of unexpired time left on it.

God not only supplied the parking spot, He also supplied the parking voucher!

And I was reminded again: if God did not spare his own Son, how much more will He give us all things!

In big things and in little things, we are experiencing God’s exceedingly great power! This is the immensity of the glorious way of life which God has in store for His followers!

Audition Success!

I was really thrilled yesterday to get an email yesterday as follows:

Congratulations! You have been successful in the FCC worship audition. Welcome to the team!

It was a good thing my wife ordered me some in-ear earphones from Catch of the Day!

My joining the Faith Community Church worship team is significant to me for at least three reasons.

First, I believe that the church family is not only intended to be a source of support, encouragement and spiritual growth, but it should also play an important role in releasing you into your spiritual destiny.

Second, being part of a church ministry helps you get plugged into the life of the church and to tap into the heartbeat of the church. Since we’ve joined FCC, we’ve tried to get involved in as many different activities within the church as possible. But it’s ad hoc and different to actually being part of something ongoing where you can see see sustained growth, face challenges and share triumphs with a group of people with the same heart amd goal within a ministry.

Third, the skills and anointing of a worship leader can only be properly honed in the context of a local church. This is where worship is at its most raw and honest. There is no hype of a conference, or bright lights or inflated faith. Just real people going through the challenges of life and seeking to encounter God through joys, disappointments, triumphs and defeats.

By that same token, I’ll be rostered soon on backing vocals. I actually don’t believe I should be leading worship in the short term because to successfully lead worship in a local church, you have to get to know your congregation before you can pastor them into God’s presence. You need to know what makes them tick, what season they are going through and their corporate sentiments.

I’m looking forward to knowing FCC a lot better. For now, I’m really grateful to be part of a worship team again. Time to dust off those vocal chords!