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In early October, I, with a friend, had the opportunity to attend a worship conference in Nashville.
After an afternoon of travel, we entered into the lobby, full of people with coffee cups in hand, standing and networking and talking and laughing and wondering. There were book tables and, in the lobby, a baptistery, with a large glass window which viewed the large courtyard to the back of the campus.
As the sanctuary doors opened, we walked inside and found the auditorium which, with pews, could seat well over two thousand peoples, but instead of pews or chairs, it was filled with tables and chairs, and the thousand or so which came to the conference found their places and waited.
The worship leaders took the stage, an a capella group, with around a dozen singers, and the first note of the first song was angelic. The room erupted into praise from ministers and worship leaders eager to be filled during a worship assembly, a stark departure from spending Mondays virtually emptied from leading hundreds in worship on Sundays. I was one of those people, and found myself in a room of raw emotions and needful people, and could not sing, for my voice weakened, and my emotions softened, and the worship experience, though very subtle without musicians or bands or instruments, was simply remarkable, and easily the most transforming moment of worship I have ever attended.
The night of worship was such a feast for the soul. Great worship songs led into an emotive and energetic and intelligent speaker, which then gave way to another time of worship. That led to a video montage of several movie clips, which had most of us laughing, which then gave way to another moment of speaking. We then engaged into a community activity with those sitting around our table, and then were led again in a moment of worship. The two hour event moved fast, and was a true sensory feast. At the conclusion of the event, I was simply overwhelmed.
And it wasn’t because the quality of the worship leaders or the speakers was any greater than what I see, and in which I participate, every Sunday. It was just the careful and simple planning to ensure that you can connect with God in every single sensory way, from singing to listening to writing to watching to talking.
Traditional churches find this thought very revolutionary, with static schedules of worship. But a teacher in a classroom of second graders understands that if you want students to learn, and you want your learning environment to be a true learning experience, you need to ensure that your students can learn in a variety of ways, by surrounding them with varying angles of the same message.
Yesterday, in the church where I worship and work and lead, was a day very similar to the conference described above. The worship schedule included a brief moment of worship, then a presentation, followed by a longer period of singing. Our church then shared communion, and, before the offering, watched another presentation. We prayed for those who have been saved, and then heard a message on giving. After, we witnessed a baptism of one of our students, but the comments made by her father were just overwhelming and moving. I saw one of our church members at lunch, and he told me that the morning was just great — and that we only made him cry three times.
He is not alone. Great moments of humility typically follow genuine encounters with God. Isaiah, the prophet, could not speak when he saw the cherubim of God, and heard His voice. The face of Moses glowed after speaking with God on a mountain, but that was well after God approached him in a bush glowing with fire, but never quite burned. Elijah heard God in a whisper. Peter and Andrew and James and John, and others, saw God as a human, and watched him heal the withered legs of a crippled man. And they were soon given the same power to heal.
Moreover, all of those stories attest to the fact that God has no one favored way of approaching humanity, but, in fact, approaches us in a variety of ways, because we have varied ways of sensing and feeling and understanding. I believe we have every right, and every capability, to find and worship God with every emotive response we possess, for we are created that way.
We again tested this idea last night, when we hosted a more contemporary worship event, targeted for teenagers, with a sensory worship environment, that included, of all things, a painter, painting a scene from the crucifixion. With the lights dimmed, the schedule was again broken into parts, which alternated between moments of speaking and singing, and watching. It wasn’t variety, for the sake of variety, but rather, a genuine, honest attempt to reach a new generation of seekers, whose lives are filled with multiple tasks at once. They expect their experiences to be total and complete and surrounding. Others don’t, but find God in new ways when they engage in worship like this.
It was a worship of surrounding, with people finding God in layers of emotions and responses and experiences. It was truly a feast.
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