Worship Manifesto

Around the country in Asian churches, on any given Friday night there are dozens of “praise nights”, revivals, and retreats, but although “a life of worship” may often be the rallying call, worship itself is often an afterthought, a gimmick, an attention-getter for the young generation. Musical worship is the “opening act”, or in some cases, a talent showcase, or at worst, a church bragging rights contest. But if I might be so bold…worship is something sacred, where the deepest part of me cries out to the Deep. So while I don’t consider myself a worship leader who has the right to offer these suggestions, I do consider myself a worshipper.

  1. Stop singing Chris Tomlin / David Crowder / Matt Redman / Hillsong songs (or whatever songs you always sing) for a few weeks. What would you sing that is not part of the contemporary Christian worship industry? “Sing a new song…”
  2. Write your own worship songs with talented people in your midst. Write from your heart and your story. What has God done in your life, neighborhood, community? Sing that for Sunday worship. Can you imagine an Asian American church that actually offered worship that was particularly written from our hearts? Wouldn’t we sing about growing up latchkey kids who now have keys to the Kingdom? Or how our pursuit of success and security is a chasing after the wind, not the breath of life.
  3. Unplug — quit trying for that electric sound. These aren’t performances, these are collective prayers. Imagine a sanctuary that is filled with pure, unamplified, unadulterated praise.
  4. Don’t practice the music, practice the heart. Too many praise teams work on timing, transitions, chorus buildups, and harmonies, but the real work of worship happens before an instrument is ever picked up. Asians love to get organized and ordered, but let’s be honest, you can’t schedule a true revival and you can’t pinpoint a move of the Spirit either, so if you think practice is going to take you there, you’re almost all wrong.
  5. Never add an instrument unless it enhances the worship. Remember, worship is a response not to the worship leader, but to God. Don’t add drums, electric guitar, another vocal, or a tambourine just for the sake of adding someone to the praise team to “fill out the sound”. Never exchange musicality for “better-sounding” worship — you’ll never profit.
  6. Tell the story behind the worship. Where did these words come from scripturally? or historically and experientially? What exactly am I singing here? How can these words that someone else wrote for me to worship to become my song? For Asian Americans who have a sense of cultural amnesia, or who tend to live in the “now”, this is extremely important for us to recover a sense of what Christ means throughout the centuries. We are benefactors who didn’t know that we could have easily been orphans.
  7. Re-imagine worship in your church. Perhaps the worship should be led from the back of the sanctuary instead of the front, so the focus is taken off the leaders and it communicates that worship is less of a performance. Perhaps instead of worship leading to the sermon, how about a sermon that leads to worship? Worship re-imagined is not a rekindling of hymns, it is the life we are to live. There is no formula for “good” worship except an open heart who seeks God. If ever your church worship becomes dull — for God’s sake, shake things up.
  8. Give people the permission to sing their own words spontaneously. Some of us make a distinction between song and prayer, but I think that they are two parts of the same thing. Some people need to sing their prayer without feeling out of place. Give them permission and the accompaniment to do so. Why is it that people in the pews are silent when the same people won’t let go of the mic at a karaoke bar?
  9. One of the first things you learn in jazz is, hearing someone play too much is like hearing someone talk too much, or in the context of church, preach too much. If God inhabits the praise of his people, would he step all over you? Would he beat you down? Or would that time of worship be like Him wooing you back? Drawing you under the shadow of His wings? C’mon Asians, no more guilt — where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
  10. Worship is not a side show, it is not an “opener”, it is not “warm-up”. It is a big deal, perhaps the biggest spiritual discipline there is. Yes, discipline. Sure, music moves people, but the mark of success is not how many people clap or lift their hands, it’s how many people worship when they leave. Ask the tough questions, challenge them to worship outside the church walls. Not practice, but discipline.
  11. Tell the stories of our worshippers — Watchman Nee, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Brother Yun, and others. Worship is an intimate thing, make it personal. Make confession something that is open and flowing within the boundaries of worship. If you have a mic, use it for more than singing your part — show your heart or show me the heart of someone who inspires us. The tears of the saints demand it. If there are a cloud of witnesses, then as a worship leader, you are a meteorologist.

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Comments

  1. John says:

    At least half of these – 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7 – have been on my heart for a while. Thanks for making me thing about the other half.

    You’re not the only one out there, brother.

  2. Josh says:

    ditto.

  3. I hope that one of the regrets we will have as a generation is how we have limited the act of worship to singing.

  4. elderj says:

    Awesome post… truly worship is something that means a lot to me and what you say is broadly applicable not just in the AA church, although I see the near idolatry of perfectionism often crowding out true praise

  5. Gordon says:

    Thanks for the reminders. Definitely something we should think about and not just go on singing.

  6. T Muse says:

    A spot on post my Brother. Thank you. A most excellent exhortation- even loving rebuke. Well done.

    Hope to see you in the village when you get the chance. The stammtisch is still on for most weeks.

    Thom

  7. T Muse says:

    Oops…sorry about the incorrect link. It should work now.

  8. Jason says:

    Whoa… I just googled for the words “worship” and “remember”. I’m doing a study on how an important aspect of worship is remembering who God is and what he has done in the past. And I find myself here at your blog. What a small internet. Though unrelated to my original query, you raise a lot of good points. Thanks for posting this!

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  1. […] to like more organized and structured worship. i think that relates to one of the points in your worship manifesto […]

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