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Singing Our Story

Neil Bennetts

So much of the worship culture that comes to us via social media is amazingly good. At this stage in history our worldwide worship community is writing great songs, producing brilliant recordings and delivering creative videos. For those of us who started out all those years ago with beaten up classical guitars, rainbow straps and 'Jesus loves you' stickers could probably never have imagined back then we would travel so far, so swiftly.

For most of us, however, worship in church on Sunday looks very different to what we watch on Youtube or Instagram. People turn up late, the PA system creaks and looks like it is about to give up on us. Come to think of it - some of our team come across that way too. The bass player has a violent allergic reaction if you put a chord chart in front of them, the drummer puts a Phil Collins fill in every few bars, and the electric guitarist just stands with his back to the congregation, staring at his amp with a confused look on his face totally oblivious of what everyone else is doing.

For even more of us we have scarce resources – particularly when it comes to musicians or other leaders. We serve week in week out, often with hardly any breaks or holidays, worried that if we are away we will let down our church, our pastor, even God himself. To top it all off, the only enthusiasm the members of the congregation seem to show is in delivering their verdict on the worship at the end of the service.

It is not hard to see how the dream presented to us by social media and large vibrant worship ministries can taunt us from afar, and maybe even rob us of the joy of ministry. To be honest, I have lost count of the times that I have sat across the table drinking coffee with a worship leader who is exhausted and despondent because they feel unable to fulfil all the expectations (often self inflicted) placed on them – expectations to provide something spectacular for their local church: something like ‘them’, something like ‘that’: someone else is singing a better song and we feel we are missing out.

I remember being in a church speaking one Sunday, and it felt to me that the worship leader was trying to re-create a mega-church type of worship experience for the forty or so people gathered there. Unsurprisingly most of them looked like rabbits caught in the glare of car headlights. Reflecting on it afterwards, one of my team said that she had seen one lady in the corner of the church who was dancing, almost oblivious to the drama on stage in the worship and pretty much hidden from the rest of the church. My friend said that she thought the church needed to start there in its worship: start with the unique thing that God is doing in their community; start to sing their own song; start with the lady in the corner dancing in the shadows.

You see, only we can sing our own story. And if we don’t sing it, no one else will. Any journey of worship starts with what is uniquely us – not only with the people who are in our community, but with the unique story of what God is doing in our own community. Comparison with any other church will only ever suck the air out of our lungs. It kills creativity, putting a barrier between us and the life of the Spirit we were uniquely created to enjoy.

We all want to improve our skills, our organisation and our technical systems. We want them to be as good as they can be. I’m not knocking that, and would encourage everyone to work at those things. Yet if this results in perfectionism, it will almost certainly defeat us in the end. It’s better to celebrate passion above perfection. Start with those who have passion for Jesus, and passion for worship. And then see what happens.

For me, the key to becoming a healthy, vibrant worshipping community does not come through our emulation of other people’s stories, however beautiful and life changing they have been. It comes as we recapture the art of simple, beautiful, dangerous worship that is full of Jesus, sustained by the wildness of the Holy Spirit and the raw energy of the imperfect voices that are uniquely us; worship that embodies and celebrates our own story.

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