Ticketed Worship

An Offering of Worship

I suspect this will not be a very popular post but I think it is time for me to put in writing a trend I noticed in Singapore and even Asia – ticketed worship concerts where people buy tickets (with top priced tickets as much as over $100) to be in concert of international worship bands. I guess many will say what is wrong with paying for the tickets as there is cost in putting up something of this scale. I do understand there is cost, perhaps better than a regular consumer as I was a show promoter (event organiser who specialises in putting up concerts) of commercial music shows in Asia Pacific and I definitely understand the amount of financial investment involved in putting up a big show. I have never ventured into ticketing worship concerts even though I have been in worship ministry since I was 17 years old, not including years served in youth ministry as musician and worship leader. I could have “married” the commercial show promoter job with worship and put up worship concerts simply based on the skill sets I have. In an attitude of prayer and submission to the Holy Spirit, I present to you my conviction after years of struggle in prayer and studying of the Word.

UNDERSTANDING OF BIBLICAL WORSHIP

I will start from the basis that worship is not music, although music can be an expression of worship. I am not doing a word play here. Mark 7:6-7 quoted the Old Testament.

“And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” – Mark 7:6-7

As you can see from this scripture passage, clearly worship has been offered through their mouth, which can be prayer or songs, but it is not acceptable worship to God. It is the heart that God is after, not the outward appearance or audible sound. Biblical worship is a heart attitude and not a genre of music. Not just in Christianity, but humanity understands worship as offering something of value to please a supreme being to gain favour.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” – Romans 12:1 (NASB)

The New Testament in Romans 12:1 gives an imagery of believers coming before God and presenting ourselves as sacrifices before God. The world’s understanding of worship is to offer God something to get something in return. Biblically it is the opposite. We offer God ourselves in worship because God first reached out to us and blessed us. Romans 11:33-36 gives the reason why Paul wrote 12:1. Biblical worship is a response to God when we catch a glimpse of His greatness and know in the depths of our hearts that He is worthy.

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:33-36

Worship is sacred. Sacred not as in religious sacred that is bound by religiosity but sacred as in one that is set apart and precious. Our accessibility to enter God’s presence to worship cost Jesus everything by becoming the sacrifice. The price to worship is fully paid in Christ. The value and significance of worship founded in this act is more than sufficient to consider worship sacred. If someone gives you a gift that saved your life while costing his own, you will consider that gift sacred, of a completely different standing from your other gifts and things. This gift in your heart is set apart, precious and cannot be compared with anything else. Same for the work of Christ on the cross. Worship is something that money cannot buy as someone has paid the price that I can never afford.

So how does ticketed worship concerts align with Biblical worship?  I can see two major areas that provided sufficient conviction for me to not thread into this.

1. Heart Attitude

Ticketing worship is sale of worship. I understand that some Christian events, a nominal ticket fee is charged for commitment to attend to ease logistics and operations planning and is affordable to most, if not all. Here I am referring to ticket prices similar to a normal commercial concert ticket price, which then implies the decision of price is for profit as a commercial concert would. For ticket holders who paid commercial rates, it is no difference to a sale transaction as compared to a commercial concert. With the commercialisation of attending worship concerts, a mindset of consumerism is encouraged. Since I pay for it, I should get pleasure out of it. This heart attitude completely contradicts Biblical worship of coming to give to God rather than to receive. Of course there are individuals who attend worship concerts who genuinely wants to worship God and their heart attitude are to give to God. I am referring to a system that encourages and promotes a mindset of consumerism worship (if there is such a phrase as it is a complete oxymoron). Perhaps right now we do not see the effects, but 5-10 years down the road, Biblical worship will be further from the next generation than ever.

This part is directed to events organizers and spiritual leaders who are doing or want to do worship concerts. I completely understand and empathise the enormous financial investment in putting an event together similar to commercial shows where there is tremendous stress throughout the promotion until box office announces “sold out”. Even then, cost management is a huge priority. Biblically we teach people to tithe and give offering. Nowadays I hear worship concert organisers say that we need to educate people to pay for the worship concerts for you do not muzzle the ox that works for you. I truly believe that the sound and lights guys, and all the staff who are professionally putting in their time, effort and skills need to be paid. Yet worship is based on sacrifice and not a charge. Here we have a dilemma. This is where the Kingdom of God works differently from the system of the world! When the Lord graces His manifested presence to touch and minister to His people in a worship gathering, He will move the hearts of people to give sufficiently, and even more than expected, than what is needed to put the event together. This is the part where faith comes in and only through faith do we please God. The heart of David is such that he will not offer God anything that cost him nothing. As event organizers and spiritual leaders, may I challenge you that in your heart’s desire to bring the body of Christ together in worship, be the first to put that worship offering in front of the altar of God by trusting in His provision to pay for the sacrifice of worship that he has put in your heart, knowing that Jesus did it already? With this posture, the decision to do an event will be based on seeking God for His will and not based on popularity or financial viability.

2. Focus

A ticketed worship blurs the focus. My first question is who is the focus here, God or the worship band? The worship band may not have the intention of being worshipped and have their eyes on God, but the system has put the worship band right in the forefront to attract people to come for the event. The motivation to gather is not Jesus Christ, but the band. I believe the motivation says a lot about who is the focus of worship in a situation as such.

I heard testimonies of salvations from the concerts, and people have been more opened to Christianity. This openness is to the Christianity that was presented on stage in the glitz and blitz, but when they find out about the hard teachings of Jesus, will they still be open? Same for the salvations. It is no difference from a misrepresentation of the Gospel’s call to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. I, on the other hand, believe that God can turn their hearts around to genuine conversions as He is God who can turn everything and anything around. I rejoice in these salvations and God encounters during these events. Once again, hear my heart, I am pointing to a system that in itself distracts people’s attention from God and by no means downplaying what God can do.

I am going to reiterate that I do not discount the testimonies from worship concerts and I praise God for touching the lives of people. I am referring to a system that is counter Biblical worship and subconsciously instilling values and mindset that are not aligned to God’s. We may not see the effects now but we will see it in the next generation which might take a generation or more to be realigned.

Writing this on my blog is also a constant reminder to myself that I will keep worship sacred in my life and pray that this will be a checker lest I slip or deviate.

Changsha 长沙 2013 – Part 1/2

Three of us, Nic, Manson & Pauline, set off the Changsha on 31 August 2013 to conduct a summer worship camp for the students of Hunan Bible Institute (HBI). It was such a blessed time to see how the students have grown over the last 3 years. I didn’t plan to do any videos but thank God for the few who diligently videoed and passed us the videos. Such fond memories. Praise the Lord!

Worship Leading with a Message

worship hands

This is nothing new as most worship leaders training will talk about having a theme in your worship set. Some view the praise and worship time during a service as singspiration, as a warm up to the service, or time to help us focus on God before the real teaching or preaching comes forth. To me, God speaks and ministers to us throughout the worship service, even at the point of entering the church and shaking someone’s hand with the almost cliche weekly blessing to giving our tithes and offering. What more during the time of praise and worship when all focus is on God? The worship leader and/or the band are faciliators of worship and not the centre of focus which makes us totally different from a performance band. I love hearing about how God spoke and ministered to people rather than how well the band or myself did musically. The gauge of the effectiveness in worship leading is when the work of God in people’s lives has outshine the excellency of craft or skill. This is when we fade away and all glory goes to Him.

Every week when I prepare the worship set for the Sunday service, I ask the Lord what is His message to us or where does He want to bring us before I put together the songs. The music and songs are not the main focus here but the desire of God for the time spent with Him as a corporate body. Sunday worship is a very precious time where the body of Christ comes together to worship while eveyrone goes on their daily business for the rest of the week. Thus every moment of the corporate worship is precious to spend time to listen to, receive from and bless God as a united body in Christ. In my church, the worship leader and team are not given the sermon message topic or scripture references in advance. So I have to make it a point to practice waiting upon God to listen and act. There are weeks whereby the worship set and the sermon message are knitted so tightly that all we know that it can only be God! There are weeks when it is crystal clear and some weeks, a fuzz in the direction where the worship set is heading. I have learnt that it is not about knowing exactly where I am, but it is about trusting, putting my heart in His so that He can direct and lead freely. There are times whereby there are songs that I know must in included in the set before I receive any revelation of where God is bringing us to. It is in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit as none of us can dictate how and when God shows us His plans.

On the practical side, to have a message in the worship set needs disciple in building up one’s spiritual depth and resources. In spiritual depth, I mean the meditation of God’s Word in daily life and living in obedience to it. As one who has finished my Masters in Theology and a worship leader for about 15 years, I personally find the preparation of preaching or teaching a message is easier than that of the preparation of a worship set if I believe that God speaks to us during the time of worship just as He does during the time of a sermon. This means that I need a good grasp of the message of each song that I am planning to put into the set list, getting deep into the song in both the lyrics and music as each song brings us to a certain place of focus. The ability to grasp the message of the song also means the need to check its alignment to the Word of God. One thing I know from the weeks of ploughing, the deeper I go in this, there’s greater ease for God to take us higher. The process of getting deeper is like the strengthening of my wings and when the moment comes to soar, the Holy Spirit as the wind beneath my wings gives the lift and push. Because of the stronger wings, the easier is the lift and the greater the potential of going higher! Preparing for a worship set has another element, the music, to consider as compared to giving a message in speech too.

The other challenge to having a worship set with a message is also the songs selection. One of the other reason why it is more challenging to me in doing a worship set is because I am working based on songs that are already written while a message in speech is my own words and thoughts. It is the pulling together different songs by different songwriters from different time period to say a similar message. It takes a longer time to do a collage using materials from all sources to form a picture than to take a pencil and some colours to paint it according to what is in my mind. Yet, this is also the beauty of it all. The Holy Spirit is able to take the initimate experiences of different songwriters in their songs to create new ones for the congregation that is multiplied many times over! It is not just my voice or the songwriters’ songs that is coming through, it is God speaking. My song sets are hardly the same for each week and the songs can range from good old hymns to the latest released worship songs. Songs are a channel for God and thus the songs should not dictate where the worship is heading but God should. This means that resources is one thing that the worship leader needs to build up. Access to a good song database is one, but it is for the worship leader to seek out and worship with songs of different focus and of different songwriters in our personal time. These songs become part of me, although I do try to memorize which is quite a challenge, but they are in my spiritual bank. The Holy Spirit can pull the songs out when needed, but I do need to refer to the lyrics quite often though. I do understand the struggle between singing new and unfamiliar songs in congregational worship, and it is tough but possible to strike a balance with this.

Hope this rambling post of my own worship leading preparation process helps some of you out there! =)