Encounter or Experience?
It was a question that unsettled me, asked by someone I deeply respect: Does our high level of production, at times, hide Jesus? It immediately reminded me of the challenging words of A. W. Tozer, “The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.”
Created to Appreciate
Now I’m all for more creativity and excellence in church. I long to see local churches becoming hotbeds of creativity, exploding with life and color with great art breaking through to influence culture and society in profound and significant ways. I think of songs I’ve heard, visuals I’ve watched, and paintings I’ve reflected upon, that have reduced me to tears in awe at the depths of God’s love and mercy. Let’s not forget we are creative beings, made in the likeness of a Creator God. Just look at our bodies; we are designed to appreciate beauty and wonder. The human ear can hear around 300,000 different tones, whilst our eyes can distinguish between eight million color differences; we have been created to enjoy the brilliance of God’s creativity. So in our gathered worship we should embrace all forms of art that enable us to communicate something of the magnitude and mystery of God, leading us to gratefully respond, and lights, visuals, dance, drama, and film can all be part of that.
Experience to Change
But in all of this, as a leader of worship, the question I keep asking myself is this, “Am I attempting to create an experience in worship or facilitate an encounter?” There’s a big difference. I’ve attended numerous events where the production and creativity was exceptional. I got swept up in the emotion of it, but on reflection, it didn’t seem to make much of Christ, and it didn’t lead me to an encounter with Jesus. The truth is, an experience is fun, but an encounter will change you. Only Jesus can bring life in all its fullness.
Less to Find More
I’m thinking a lot about how we disciple and encourage people in their worship. Living in a consumer-obsessed world, one of the great challenges in our worship is to remind people about the role of sacrifice and offering in worship. The congregation I’m a part of in the heart of London has just embraced a season of stripping everything back in worship. Just one acoustic guitar and vocal. The reason for this is that we want to see people being stretched in their worship, not becoming reliant upon big drums, powerful electric guitars, smoke, and lights. We long to see people opening up their hearts and contributing to our gathered times of worship. Sometimes we’re guilty of inviting our congregations into spectating rather than responding. We also want to create space for people to encounter God in a way that changes them from the inside out. It’s been really exciting to see the response in our stripped-down worship services. It’s been exposed, raw, honest, with people choosing to engage beautifully in worship.
In everything we do, all the multi-media we embrace, in the ways we plan and design our Sunday services, we need to ask the honest question, “Are we simply entertaining and creating an experience in our worship, or are we making space for God encounters?” An experience might create a buzz, but an encounter with the living God will change someone forever.
Tim Hughes runs Worship Central with Al Gordon, which is a school of worship, with a vision to encounter God, equip the worshipper and empower the local church. Visit: www.worshipcentral.org.