Building People of Substance for Works of Power
I know none of you have ever been ready to quit, but I sure have. After we left our first church with our tails between our legs, I was ready to call the whole ministry thing off. We were just broken. I took a good job at a hospital and was content to just help the folks there. Then one of my co-workers invited us to church. She was persistent, so we finally went. The Presence of God was tangible as we worshipped. As the choir sang “I’ve Got a Feelin’ Everything’s Gonna be Alright,” the power of God hit my wife and I simultaneously. We looked at each other with tears in our eyes as we felt hope for the first time in a long time. It saved our ministry, and probably our marriage.
That particular church had a very professional-level music ministry. Like most pastors, I tried to emulate that in our next church, but it just didn’t happen. Our worship was OK, but not professional grade. Then I went to Haiti. After a thrilling ride through the night in a leaky boat, followed by sleeping on the floor in a shack overrun with spiders, I preached in the local dirt-floor church. The pastor opened by singing acapella. Slowly, people wandered in and joined the “choir.” Then one adolescent boy began to beat a rhythm with a stick on the bottom of a #2 wash tub. The only other “instruments” were the clapping hands and bare feet of the congregation dancing. The Presence of God was tangible.
That worship went on and on. In a place so poor that I couldn’t imagine what life must be like on a daily basis, they were singing in Creole, “He’s good, He’s good, He’s good, He’s good to me.” He showed up. That service ended with 20 people filled with the Holy Spirit, even more were saved, and healings flowed. It was awesome!
When I got back in my home church, I had the sound system turned off except for one acoustic guitar and one vocal. The volume was turned down to a conversational level. We brought in a big basket with percussion instruments from the children’s department: bells, tambourines, sticks, triangles, tiny little drums, etc. We passed these around in the congregation. There followed one of the best worship services we had ever had (and we had some good ones). This service marked the beginning of a new era of powerful Presence in our midst. We learned to use instruments and amplifiers as a help, not a substitute, for worship.
Somebody said: To gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer. Martin Luther
Scripture Reading: 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:18-21
Here’s the point: You don’t need a band to have great worship. You need people with a heart to worship God and the willingness to be childlike in their exuberance. The power is in the Presence, not the soundboard. In fact, if quality sound equipment were necessary for great worship, then no one ever had that experience before the 20th century. I would go so far as to conjecture that if electricity and sound reinforcement are necessary for you to worship, then you haven’t known worship yet.
An old friend told me years ago that the goal of a worship leader is to connect with people as they come from the parking lot, guide them to the Throne Room, then leave them there. You can do that with no equipment whatsoever. Make sure your people know how to get there by taking them with you to the throne every week.
Pointers for participating in the Presence:
- Pastors, be involved in worship. Give the worship leader an idea of where you’re going with your message. If you have song requests, communicate them. The music is part of the pastoral ministry.
- You need worship leaders, not just musicians. They are not the same thing. You can’t take someone to a place you’ve never been.
- Avoid preaching between songs. When people’s focus has been turned to God, don’t bring it back to you. It causes a “Holy thud” as hearts and minds fall back to earth.
- Don’t beat the sheep; lead the sheep. Nothing kills a worship service as efficiently as berating and belittling the worshippers.
- If you don’t like how people are entering in, teach and demonstrate. Teach a bit on why we sing, then sing! Teach a bit on why we raise our hands, then do it, “Let’s just lift our hands as we worship our King…”
- Wait on God. Slow down and listen. If He’s there, He’s there for a purpose. Find it, follow it, don’t run past it.
- Camp out on the anointing – you know it when it comes. Don’t move until the cloud moves. As a pastor, be sure you have a way to communicate with your worship leader in real time. You are the leader in this service! (Worship leaders, ask your pastor to do this.)
- Volume: Loud enough that people feel part of something, soft enough that they can hear their own voice adoring their God.
- At some point in the service, cut the instruments and allow the people to hear their combined voices. This works best on simple, familiar choruses. Start with instruments then, when participation is good, cut them. Be sure to give the people an example to follow as the transition is made: You keep singing.
Don’t settle for music, a show, and a motivational speech. Push for the Presence. It’s free, and you don’t need an internet connection.
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Tucson, AZ 85741
For more on this subject, pick up a copy of “Is There an Interpreter in the House.”
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