The Eight Great Myths Of Worship
Three signs in the previous chapters marked my initial journey in re-designing my own church worship for God’s presence. In subsequent years I have realised there were many other mis-conceptions, myths and fallacies in my thinking that affected my worship ministry. Subtly they may infect all our thinking, dulling God’s blueprint for hosting his presence among us. Here are a few common myths that have evolved our worship into what it is today:
Myth No. 1 – God’s Order Is Like Our Order
Church can either be a mortuary or a nursery. Now while a mortuary may be clean, disinfected, tidy and orderly, it is a place of death. Life is messy – you can’t avoid that. A nursery is full of life: Noise, mess up the walls, brown stuff in corners, funny smells and big mistakes. But it’s life; wonderful life! People learning, growing, feeding, sharing and laughing. People developing, discovering, relating and searching.
We should not be trying to develop an “orderly” worship service where God’s presence has no room to move and no mistakes can be made. We should not be trying to be too tidy and polished in our week to week corporate worship. While I believe in excellence, God’s presence and the “smell” of Life is far more valuable. Be excellent, but be soft enough to let him overwhelm your excellent offerings with his power. That may be messy. Remember my dancing Mexican friends from the first chapter, who though excellent, were willing to be overwhelmed by God! That was one small outer sign of this church of 6000 that were experiencing a glorious revival.
Someone once said “The Church should be the training place for the market place”. It should be a place of learning and growth, like a nursery. Now I know you’re going to use that “God is not a God of disorder” verse on me, but you must understand that God’s order is not English or designed for your culture. God’s idea of order may be the day of Pentecost, with people looking drunk and babbling in tongues. His order may be like the temple, so filled with glory, that people are unable to do their work. God’s order can be loud and fervent – zealous to the point of throwing salesmen out of the House of God! You’ve only got to read a few pages of scripture to realise God overwhelms earthly situations with heavenly “order” at times. Does your blueprint for worship allow for the fact that God’s culture, and our culture, may be quite different? If you are seeking to host God among you, you must design for his Eternal culture, rather than our temporal culture. Man, once impacted by heaven, soon sees the shallowness of his own era’s demands. True temple’s of Glory are far more attractive to the world than any skilful imitation of the world’s pleasure centres.
Myth No. 2 – God Is Polite and Politically Correct
We live in a PC age. Everyone and everything has to be politically correct – But God might not be. Offence is a part of his Gospel. Remove its offence and you remove something of its power. It’s not meant to fit in. It’s not meant to soothe the world into heaven. The early Church brought fear to cities, looked a little drunk at times, yet saw thousands saved! Just read Jesus’ sermons and you discover his communication techniques included some extremely straight talking, dodgey mud packs and a fair amount of spitting! Jesus’ language was pretty rich, his disciples pretty raw, and his Holy Spirit’s outpouring pretty riotous!
On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up and proclaimed that he knew who the Messiah was (that’s the first reason why the thousands gathered could have killed him). In the next breath he’s telling this growing crowd that they killed their Messiah – The Son of God they had been expecting for hundreds of years (there’s a second reason for a good stoning!). Amazingly 3000 of those gathered were cut to the heart at his words, and surrendered their lives to Christ.
We must stop trying to impress the world with our songs and well ordered services. We must start to experience God’s powerful presence among us. We must move in signs and wonders and see, as great revivalists like the Wesley’s did, God move among us and shake the congregations and contents of our meetings. This will not be accomplished through polished music, polite messages and politically correct ministry. The Kingdom comes through the violent, zealous actions of a Church on fire for God.
Myth No. 3 – The Local Church Should be Like a Conference
One of the great, yet subtle pressures on church leaders today comes from our Church culture of camps and conferences. Once a year, many in our churches exodus to wonderful camps where thousands congregate. The greatest preachers preach and the worship (especially the music) is often outstanding.
While I love conferences, the subtle error that such conferences may teach us is that we need to re-create the conference at home – with amazing music and concert style worship in our local church meetings. While that may be a great blueprint for one-off events, special celebrations and camps, it should not be the “bread and butter” design of week to week church life. It breeds weak, entertainment centred Christians, who are quite happy to sing their way to heaven, yet rarely engage themselves in corporate prayer, body ministry, deep intercessions and other such necessary local church activities.
Myth No. 4 – If in Doubt, do What you did Last Week!
Many of us have a pattern of worship service. If God doesn’t speak clearly to us, we normally slip straight back into that pattern.
But I tend to think, if God doesn’t tell me to do something, I can do whatever I want. I can use my imagination and make a meeting interesting and exciting. I don’t have to fall back on what we already know. I can keep the congregation supple and expectant by being creative and interesting. God has made us in his image, and that means being imaginative and creative. We are alive, which means we should develop, change and grow. This should be expressed in our worship, as we use our entire God given faculties to lead the people of God to his throne.
Myth No. 5 – Better Music will mean Better Worship
I am regularly asked to speak to worship groups. The request usually comes from a church leader who sincerely wants to see an improvement in the area of worship in their church. On meeting most worship groups I often reach the opinion that the issue of improving worship lies not with the music, but with the congregation.
In many cases our worship may not improve by getting better at music or by increasing the spirituality of our worship teams. Better music will give us a better looking meeting, but may not actually improve the worship or the manifestation of God’s presence. We quickly reach a ceiling of what we can accomplish in church by becoming more musically skilful. There comes a point when we have to thank the music group for all their hard work, face the congregation and let them know it is they who need to grow. That will only come by teaching, training and leading the congregation to a new place in God. The congregation must go on a journey of worship, prayer and the presence together, where they learn to facilitate the glory of God as a family of believers, rather than expecting musicians to miraculously usher heaven to earth each Sunday.
Myth No. 6 – Our Worship Culture is the Right One
It is countries like the USA and Europe that spearhead the world’s most high profile trends in worship music today. It is these countries that have developed million pound businesses in worship music, created pop-star worship leaders for us to admire (which in some way we should of course), and churn out more worship resources than can possibly be bought! Many of these resources are outstanding, and deserve our gratitude and time, but that does not mean that everything these nations are propagating is God’s perfect blueprint for corporate worship today. It simply means they have the money and technology to create renown and fame.
In a recent visit to Kenya I ministered at a conference on worship where I taught many of the principles outlined in the early chapters of this book. As I taught, the congregation went bananas! Jumping up and down and shouting – “High Fives” and loud “Amens” were a-plenty!
After the conference I asked my host why this sort of message might be so important to Africans. I presumed that they would be far more into power, prayer and the more costly side of worship than my own country, and that my message might be less relevant.
The Kenyan minister told me that there was great pressure by worship ministries from America and England, to develop the “concert style” worship in their churches. I reassured them that although America and England had good musicians and a high profile, it was African nations, South America and parts of Asia that were experiencing revival, and they’d be far better off using them as a model! The very nations that propagate the current western worship scene are the very nations that are not in revival. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out the relevant connections!
I believe that as God moves on northern America and Europe in the next decades we will see a great change in our worship. Fervent prayer will become far more central. The worship will become far more exuberant, passionate and unpredictable. Meetings will be overwhelmed by God as our leaders learn to step aside and allow the Holy Spirit to lead our services, resulting in mighty outpourings of the glory of God. I pray that we would become more like our neighbours in revival, not they like us, with our skilful, yet presenceless programmes.
Myth No. 7 – We Have to Fill the Allotted Time
One of the greatest hindrances to worship is that we feel we have to fill an allocated time slot. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel that God has done all he wants to do in worship within fifteen minutes, but then we churn out a further 45 minutes of song because “it’s the worship time”, and someone, somewhere has said it needs to last at least 50 minutes!
The problem with long, dutiful worship times, when God is obviously not present in a manifest way, is that many in the congregation become bored. This leads to a lack of expectancy and excitement, which in turn leads to worsening worship times as the weeks go on.
I think it is far better to have great, short worship times, where we only “go on further” when God really turns up. This leads to greater excitement, and a sense that leaders won’t keep going if it’s not “happening”. After all, who said that worship has to last a certain length of time, or that it has to happen every meeting at all?
Of course, at times the lack of the sensing of God’s presence is due to a congregation’s apathy or understanding about worship, rather than the Spirit’s leading to stop. In this case, when a worship time is not “happening”, I recommend we stop and teach, through example and instruction, what is required from the congregation to follow the Spirit for that meeting. A willingness to stop, teach or deal with problems, rather than “wading through our song list” should mean we never have to endure a boring worship time.
On another side of the same argument, how often do we end a worship time just when it seems God is turning up. Sometime preachers feel they have to give what they have prepared, whatever the presence of God is doing. Some preachers preach “across” the anointing, instead of flowing with the Spirit of God.
I was hugely impressed by the renowned evangelist Don Double, who patiently hosted a large event in England, allowing many other ministers to speak while he sat to one side. He was scheduled to speak the final night, a task I’m sure he was itching to get into.
The final night arrived and I was invited to sing before Don came to speak. As I sang and people worshipped, God’s presence seemed to invade the auditorium. It was as though we were on the very brink of glory. Once my song was finished, I presumed Don would quieten things down and preach his message. To my delight and surprise he stood and simply invited us to go further into God. For the next hour we were engulfed in the wonder of worship, with many prostrate before the Lord, many healed and many touched by God. Don never did get to preach. We can all learn a lesson from that humble man.
Myth No. 8 – Well, it Works in “—” !
Imitation floods the ranks of the Church. Sadly, there are very few originals. There are very few who will seek God and find his blueprint for a life, church, meeting or ministry. We kick into “auto pilot” week after week, churning out what we’ve seen in other churches, camps and conferences. We must learn that the most powerful place to be in God is an original. Imitations can be good, but they are still only good imitations. Every time you take one step away from the original, the power of God decreases. People imitate styles, even down to dress sense, running orders and album covers. While imitation is flattering to the imitated, it can also show a remarkable lack of authenticity, a value close to God’s heart. He demands that we worship in truth, meaning “reality” or “authenticity” (John 4:23).
A friend of mine was ministering in Indonesia, where one church mimicked the complete running order of a well-known American worship album, right down to the ad-libs and the talking between the songs! The funny thing was the American is a big black Gospel singer, so it looked hilarious for a little Indonesian man to be impersonating him!
How on earth can God’s glory come to us when we are a mere facsimile of the real thing? God comes to real people, in real situations, offering real worship – no matter how feeble or skilful, polished or not! History shows us God comes to honest, authentic worship, whether that’s a cry in a desert or a heart felt wail of intercession. People who are imitating a well known worship leader or style are simply comic catastrophe’s, made for some kind of TV show where the public attempt to mimic their favourite pop idol! That’s pantomime, this is the Church of Living God.
Imitation reveals that we have a lack of relationship with God, and that we fail to dig wells for his wisdom in our lives. It is, after all, far “cheaper” to imitate, than to find God for yourself. It also shows that we are dissatisfied with ourselves, and that we perhaps consider other giftings and people of more value to God. Now I know I am far from the most talented singer or worship leader – but I must appreciate what I have been given. I must learn to run in that anointing and be myself, because I’m precious. I must overcome insecurities and jealousies and be content to be myself, with all my flaws and failings. God still has a plan for me. He still wants to use me – not me being someone else. It is Christ in me that is the hope of glory, not Christ in a pantomime!
I was ministering some years ago at a conference in Scotland. At one point in the day a dozen or more people gathered at the front for healing. Starting at one end of the line I laid hands on the sick and, looking and sounding as authoritative as I possibly could, I commanded the sickness to go. Nothing happened.
After about four people I finally admitted to God that nothing was happening and I didn’t know why. God whispered to me “You’re in auto pilot. You’re just doing what you’ve seen others do when praying for the sick. You haven’t asked me what I want you to do.”
Apologetically, I started again from the end of the line, and this time, instead of trying to look spiritual, I simply did what God told me to do with each person. With some it was a word. With another I was to blow on them (this worried me as I’d had garlic!). Others I laid hands on, some I commanded demonic influences to leave, while others I simply stood near by.
As I did just what God told me to do each time, the power of God came and touched lives. One woman fell to the ground and told the story of her healing afterwards: As she hit the floor she found herself moving down a tunnel to a bright light. She entered a garden at the end of the tunnel, met Jesus and he healed her of an incurable disease! Many others were also healed.
The most powerful place in God, is to be an original. You don’t impress God or woo him to your temple by saying “this is what we saw so-and-so do and you turned up”! No, he wants to give you his blueprint, for your temple! A one-off, intimate expression, written in God’s handwriting on your heart.
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