For Christians the modern battle of the church today doesn't seem to be reaching the world around us, but the style of worship we prefer. I have been guilty of this. Our pastor spoke on "Understanding Worship" this morning in church. He shared an interesting story about a church in London with a fantastic reputation for their awesome "worship" services. It tells of a church that lost their passion for true worship, how they got it back, and the touching song that emerged from the experience.
Pastor Mike Pilavachi, from London, tells the following story of a season in which his church wrestled with this very issue(worship):
"Since it began, Soul Survivor has always given plenty of time over to worshiping through music. Over the years, people have poured out their hearts to God through it, and there have been plenty of examples of great things happening as a result. However, there was a season when we realized that something was 'up' with our worship.
At first, it was difficult to put our finger on the problem. On the surface, everything was just fine: the musicians were tuning their instruments and the soundmen were getting out of bed on time. Each service contained a block of songs that focused on the cross and gave people the chance to get down to business with God. To make this easier, the music was (nearly) up-to-date, the chairs had disappeared and the lights were low - What better atmosphere for young people to worship God?
"Yet, we seemed to have lost the spark. We seemed to be going through the motions, but I noticed that although we were singing the songs, our hearts, were far from Him. Was it Matt Redman's fault? I listened. He wasn't singing any more off notes than usual. Then one day it clicked; we had become connoisseurs of worship instead of participants of it.
In our hearts, we were giving the worship team grades on a scale from one to ten: 'Not that song again,' 'I can't hear the bass,' 'I like the way she sings better.' We had made the band the performers of worship and ourselves the audience.
We had forgotten that we are ALL the performers of worship and that God is the audience. We had forgotten that sacrifice is central to biblical worship. We are called to offer our bodies as living sacrifices - this is OUR spiritual act of worship (Romans 12:1). We are called to offer our sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15).
We were challenged to ask ourselves individually, 'When I come through the door of the church, what am I bringing as my contribution to worship?' The truth came to us: worship is not a spectator sport, it is not a product molded by the taste of the consumers. It is not about what we can get out of it; it is all about God.
We needed to take drastic action. For a while, in order to truly learn this lesson, we banned the band. We fired Redman!
Then we sat around in circles and said that if no one brought a sacrifice of praise, we would spend the meeting in silence. At the beginning we virtually did! It was a very painful process. We were learning again not to rely on the music.
After a while, we began to have some very sweet times of worship. We all began to bring our prayers, our readings, our prophecies, our thanksgiving, our praises and our songs. Someone would start a song a cappella and we would all join in. Then someone else would take it on to another song. The excitement came back. We were not having Church; we were once again meeting with God. With all the comforts stripped away, we worshiped from the heart.
When we had learned our lesson, we brought the band back. It was at this point that Matt began to sing the song he had written out of this experience. I wept as we sang it for the first time. The words expressed exactly what was going on."
When the music fades,
All is stripped away,
and I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that's of worth
That will bless your heart
I'll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself
is not what you have required.
You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear;
You're looking into my heart.
I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about you
All about you Jesus.
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about you,
All about you Jesus.
King of endless worth
No one could express
How much you deserve.
Though I'm weak and poor
All I have is yours,
every single breath.
When I [Paul Martin] first heard this story, it nearly knocked the wind out of me! As a musician who had been very involved in worship training and recording for years, I regretfully realized that church had become more like a night out at the movies, an opportunity for me express my expertise, and to rank "how good it was."
If you are involved in worship at your church, I would humbly ask you to search for a balance between heart and sound. Yes, we are encouraged in scripture to "play skillfully" before the Lord. But this must always follow a heart that is yearning to bless Him.
Paul Martin is the Director of Soul Survivor-USA http://www.soulsurvivor.com/