One of my ‘go-to’ passages in the Bible for worship is John 4:23 – “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshiper will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” I’m often drawn to the ‘in spirit and truth’ part; I want to be a worshiper who offers everything to God. Someone who gives all that I am to worship him. But whilst this is a particularly important part of the passage, I have begun to realise that I’ve let another part of that go undetected – ‘they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ When we truly worship God, he connects with us. He communicates with us. For me personally, many of the times I connect with God the most is during a particularly powerful time of worship where we are led completely by the Spirit of God. This is ‘communicational worship’. And I believe there are 3 different levels of communicational worship in the 21st century church today:
Level 1 – Impersonal worship
I believe the first aim for a worship team should be to be able to play songs from start to finish competently enough that it enables a congregation to engage in genuine worship. However, this should only be a starting block. I liken this to writing a letter – you can say (and mean) all the right things and plan meticulously, but it will only reveal a moderate proportion of your true personality. If you can play a song from start to finish but can’t respond to a prompting from the Holy Spirit, you might see God move, but will be limited in worship. I find letters lack originality unless you really know who you’re communicating with, and the same can be said of a worship team who puts on a worship show rather than lead people in worship. However, it is important to note that if God wants to move, he will, irrespective of this!
Level 2 – Interactive Worship
The word ‘impersonal’ has many negative connotations associated with it, but I’m keen to highlight the restrictive nature of not being able to respond to the Holy Spirit. I need to also stress that in order to gain the most from an interactive worship of God, there needs to be a firm grasp of the impersonal. Words on their own have limited meaning, but using them in particular circumstances can evoke powerful emotional responses. It is like that with a song; if you know a song well musically (or impersonally), it can be structurally altered at points in response to what God is doing in a congregation for optimum impact and connection with the Holy Spirit – an interactive time of worship. Suddenly, worship can have a far greater impact. For me, this is like instant messaging and the social networking phenomenon. You learn far more about someone than you would had they written you a letter, but it still doesn’t convey their full personality.
Level 3 – Personal Worship
Worship is most powerful when it is a truly personal experience. You learn most about the people you love (and even the ones you don’t!) in face to face conversations. We all have unique identities and particular attributes that remain hidden in letters, and on the web. I believe that we can only really experience personal worship with God when there is a unique personality to a church or worship team. There is something special in singing a song that was born out of a preach by your own pastor or by experiences that the church has shared. When you worship God collectively as a community with a unique identity, responding to the Holy Spirit with lyrically and musically strong songs, you begin to enter a personal worship time with God.
All these things assume that the worship team has a true heart for worship, but I really believe that this is where we need to be heading as worship teams around the world. I’m in no way undermining the fantastic songwriters of today; I can only dream of writing songs that speak to people as much as theirs do. I am simply passionate about seeing people become followers of Jesus…and I think that will happen when we find a voice of worship for this generation – a personal, intimate voice of worship will be the change in this world.