When Worship Ministries Cause More Harm Than Good?!
In 1993 I was a worship leader and elder at a church of a hundred or so people in East Yorkshire. Seeing the signs of weakness mentioned in the previous chapter, my Minister and I discussed at length possible solutions. My response was simple, if a little radical. I believed the solution for us lay with re-evaluating our use of the music ministry and in re-establishing a true “following of the Spirit” during our meetings. We had to remove the musicians for a time and learn to be “church” without them.
I remember like it was yesterday, teaching for the very first time on the mis-use of the music ministry and weaknesses in worship. I expressed my desire to truly follow the Holy Spirit and to see a church full of mature, prayerful, pro-active members. I presented to our church all the signs of weakness outlined in the previous chapter and went on to establish that when the following things happen, we are at risk of ignoring God’s blueprint for local church:
When Songs Replace Prayer
When we replace the New Testament dynamic of corporate prayer with music and the singing of songs, we turn our local churches from powerhouses to theatre houses. Only spectators go to theatres! Songs are great and biblical, but they have so overwhelmed the God ordained centrality of prayer, that our churches have lost the ability to pray.
When we hide prayer in a side room meeting and give out specialist tags to intercessors, we take prayer out of the church and make it the tool of just a few. That’s why most Christians can’t pray at home. They never learn in church what they need in order to pray at home. All most congregations do in church is sing songs and listen to sermons!
When Ritual Replaces Relationship
When we replace following the Spirit and listening to God’s voice (as Jesus ministered) with ritualistic meetings, we sink into powerless religion. God is alive and wants to lead our meetings by the guidance of his Holy Spirit. That will make us as unpredictable as the wind (John 3:6) and take us beyond the “fast song, slow song” worship formula currently followed by most churches.
When Entertainment Replaces Cost
Some leaders worry about making our main church services too challenging for most of the church. But Jesus didn’t worry about being “seeker friendly”. He spat, made mud packs, got angry and preached sermons many people didn’t understand! His Spirit’s outpouring was marked by people looking drunk and babbling in tongues. His early Church featured almost accusatory preaching, power that brought fear to cities and prayer that was loud and passionate.
Maybe if we took prayer and other such less palatable activities right into the centre of our church lives, we’d see the results that Jesus and the early Church saw?
Desert Island Worshippers
So we stopped all music and began a journey, discovering what prayer, corporate worship and public gatherings may have been like for the early Church. We actively re-designed our concept of worship from a spectatorship model, to a participatory model.
We did this by saying we were aiming to become Desert Island Worshippers, posing the question: If you were on a desert island, and had no CD player, no worship leader or bible reading plan, would you still worship, pray, hear God, follow the Spirit and meet with God easily? If not, why not? I wanted every individual worshipper in my church to be a Desert Island Worshipper, believing that God’s presence would be far more powerful among us corporately, if we were all engaging with God in prayer, worship and following the Spirit as individuals.
For three months it was hell! We taught and taught: How to meet God, how to come into the throne room, how to pray fervently, how to hear God’s voice, sing in tongues, overcome the feelings of the flesh and how to be an initiator instead of a spectator in worship. (Some of these lessons make up part two of this book). Congregation members begged me, on their knees, to play some music: “Please – just one little note to help us feel like worshipping!” they said. My resolve complete, we struggled on through the pain barriers to reach a new place in worship – and it was worth it.
The Mountain Top
After three months of painful growth we arrived at our first mountain top. We could now pray in the Spirit, crying out in intercessions for half an hour at a time on a Sunday morning. I remember seeing young children weeping, crying out to God for the lost. At times we had to shout out to guide the enthusiastic prayers, they were so fervent! I saw people saved right in the middle of our praying in tongues. I recall seeing a visiting leaders wife refuse to come into our building, kneeling in the entrance saying “The holiness of God is too strong in there – I can’t go in!”. I remember the congregation, children included, singing in tongues for over an hour at a time without musical backing. I remember a service when God said “No meeting; just fellowship together”, so we did.
I remember meetings that were an hour long; I also remember a nine hour service as God moved upon us. I remember seeing people healed as we sang; I recall people walking to the front in tears overcome by God’s presence – we had simply sung in tongues.
As far as we knew how, we let God lead our services. You never knew what could happen next; prayer, listening to God, team ministry, preaching, prophetic action, quietness, spontaneous song, teaching, dancing. Some meetings were all teaching; others all worship; others were family services or fun times. We made many mistakes, but that was covered in love and the fruit was worth it.
Revolutionised Prayer Lives
One amazing characteristic of this move of God was the effect on personal prayer lives. Within a few weeks congregation members began to tell me their prayer lives had been transformed, because they now did things in church that they could do at home. They knew how to pray, what to pray, how to hear God, follow the Spirit and overcome the apathetic feelings of the flesh that fight against true prayer and worship. Something that had been a mysterious discipline of the spiritually mature, had now become the corporate and personal joy of every church member, children included! Surely this is the same mountain top that every revivalist has seen prior to a great move of God?
Bringing Back the Music
The amazing thing was that for months not a note of music was played. Many would not have thought it possible in our culture. Yet there we were, in the 1990’s in Yorkshire, England, seeing a vibrant congregation of believers praying and following the Spirit like the early Church had done! Even today when I return to visit that church there is an unusual sense of passionate worship. Something had happened that can never be lost in the lives of the individuals involved.
After several months we added music back to our “new” worship. It was like petrol to a fire! The music ministry had become what I believe God intended it to be: A tool to enhance and accompany the worship of a powerful, prophetic, self-initiating, body of believers.
Do You Have the Courage?
Please do not read that I believe everyone should remove their musicians. That was simply our method for that time. I am not against music ministry in any way. Indeed I am a musician, singer and songwriter myself!
But I do believe we have so over emphasised programmes and music ministry that it has weakened the local church, making us entertainment centred and selfish. Music can be powerful, but it can also be a crutch, birthing high maintenance Christians, to whom revival would be alien, as revival is neither entertaining nor comfortable. I also believe we have under-emphasised prayer, resulting in a prayer-shy, western Church. We can attempt to re-dress the balance through many prayer initiatives, but nothing will equal the establishing of fervent prayer in the centre of our church services.
I believe we have become programme orientated. Tozer said “We replace presence with program”. How true! Is our current blueprint for Church welcoming to the presence of God? Have we built a temple for his presence, or our music, plans and performances? I believe many of us should question our design honestly before God and discover whether we are hosting him or an inherited Christian culture. While our Church culture may pay lip service to God and his presence, is it truly electrified by his Spirit’s approval? Are we ritualistically honouring God in a design that was once relational and Spirit led, but now God has moved on and is waiting to pour his glory into a “new wine skin”?
I believe many of us have become prayerless and powerless. We have become theatre houses, entertainment centres and intimidated by our modern society and its shallow post-modernism; a culture where immediate happiness is the god, “micro-wave” spirituality is fashionable and no-one has the right to challenge anyone else, as personal rights supersede any ultimate truth.
But I also believe we can go beyond that culture. We can re-establish the Kingdom in people’s thinking and become powerhouses of prayer and the presence once again. We can lead our people into the glory of God. We can follow the Spirit as great men of old have done. We can pray fervently in church on a Sunday, worship loudly and passionately, pray in the Spirit, walk in the unpredictable power of God and carry his presence so powerfully that unbelievers come running into our churches asking to be saved.
We can, if we have the courage to re-design our churches for the presence of God.
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