Nick’s songs have encouraged a generation of worshippers - especially through the 2004 release of his album Blameless. Containing the songs ‘This Side Of Heaven’ and ‘Blameless’, it was...Nick Herbert
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I think one of the biggest challenges of being in worship ministry is not to become a settler. Perhaps we reach a place in our hearts through the 'scars and struggles' and the basic need to survive in worship ministry
over the years that has somehow made an agreement to settle for maintaining the status quo and accepting things like ‘this is simply what we sound like‘ and ‘this is simply what we expect the Spirit to do or not do in worship’.
When I was a student I moved to London from Birmingham and spent my first year living in Camden and I remember one day when I went to the local Sainsbury’s to pick out some ingredients that made up my staple diet at that time: 1 x pot noodle and 1 x bread roll. I’ll be honest, this was pretty much all I could ‘cook’ at the time and as I arrived at the checkout the lady there looked at me, looked at my choice of food, then looked at me again and with an exasperated sigh simply said, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way‘. And if you have settled for what you think is possible in your ministry then I want to encourage you – ‘it doesn’t have to be this way’- in fact our expectations can’t stay the same because even if we think they do, everything around them is changing anyway. The reality is we are not called to ‘pot-noodle’ Christianity but rather the deal with working with God is that it is a five-course feast and we are not only involved in the eating but also the preparation and cooking!
Even more than that our expectations and actions really can’t afford to remain settled. It seems like every style and stream of ‘church’ is now facing more challenges, more need for change and more choices than ever before in terms of what it means to put the Gospel at the centre of who we are and what we do. I heard it said recently in rather dramatic fashion that we may think of the UK as a Christian country but in fact Christians in this country are a remnant.
So what does this mean for worship leaders and worship musicians? How do we respond to the need to keep centralising the gospel? Well I think there are essentially two challenges and at the heart of them is a tension.
1. NEW SOUND To continue to connect with the culture around us and seek to bridge the gap between the music we listen to and enjoy outside the church and the music we listen to and play inside the church.
2. SAME SPIRIT To continue to take risks as we follow the Holy Spirit in our worship and pursue encounter at all costs - Confrontational Worship.
New sound, same spirit – the heart for the gospel and worship ministry. But how can we hold these things together? Where better to look than the book of Revelation to see what large-scale Christian worship should actually resemble and how it should fulfil Christ’s mandate: ’May it be this day on earth as it is in heaven’
The writer John is building an incredible picture of what he is seeing. The Throne & Thunder & Lightening, Colour & Creativity, Rainbows and strange beasts everywhere, new songs & new sounds, intimacy and awe, if nothing else this is a scene that is all about diversity and it completes the story of God in the Bible by hammering home the central theme that from first to last from cover to cover God is the creator and he is creative. It is the very first thing we know about him in Genesis 1 and the story closes in the book of Revelation in a creative whirlpool of worship. We of course are made in his image, made to create too. Yet at the heart of it all is the Presence of the Spirit – hovering over creation at the beginning and hoovering Saint John up into a heavenly vision.
So, a few thoughts on how we might break a settled cycle and pursue ‘New sound same Spirit’.
1. AUTHENTICITY IS KEY This is key and the thing people want to see most when they come through the door of the church. There are dangers with seeking to create a new sound – it's not about performance, and it’s not meant to bring glory to those involved other than Jesus. Worship is meant to help others get close to God and be accessible to all. As Mike Pilavachi points out, right at the heart of Revelation, in this scene of incredible creativity we are shown that Jesus is at the centre:
We don’t worship the worship, we don’t worship the creativity, we continue to worship the risen Jesus. Creativity in music and worship is about using everything we have to tell Jesus how great he is! (taken from Mike Pilavachi, 'Audience of One' pub. Regal Books 2005).
So, what is authentic to you, musically what tickles you when it comes to tunes? It doesn’t take a great mind to realise the way we listen to music has changed radically with iTunes, playlists, youtube and downloading because what has now become authentic for many is the expression of diversity and maybe a model for us is to think ‘playlist-worship’, every song treated with respect from where it is truly derived musically and we seek to make it interesting again. Who knows...?
2. ATTEMPT SOMETHING EPIC Recently I heard Matt Redman talk about songwriting and learning to enjoy living with the tension of the epic and the everyday. The desire we have to create something incredible but not really knowing how to go about it keeps us dependent on God. When asked if he wrote blockbuster films to a formula, James Cameron (Titanic/Avatar) said, ‘I have principles not a formula’. And we all know that there is no formula to creating a great piece of art.
Of course people in the Bible attempted the epic too, you only have to look at the massive celebration of worship found in 2 Chronicles where priests, singers and musicians all come together to sing about God’s faithful love and then experience the presence of the Spirit to see that, Noah’s ark could definitely fit the ‘epic’ bracket too, to name a few examples.
To do something epic, is slightly more costly than normal and it will take time but as one preacher once said, 'Never overestimate what you can achieve in two weeks. But never underestimate what you can achieve in two years'.
So, let’s keep on searching for something way above and beyond what we’ve already achieved, to live in that place of tension – it’s a good place to be: ‘I’m going to keep on going, never settle for what I’ve previously experienced. Always arriving, never arrived and stay true and authentic to who God has created us to be with His power in us forging the way ahead.’
New sound, same Spirit. Let’s not settle for anything less.