Monday, November 26, 2007

Accessibility - experiencing intimate worship together

Brian Doerksen

In my last article, I looked at intimacy; my highest value in worship. Intimacy at it's simplest means we sing to God. We do that because the cry of our hearts has always been- 'When can I go and meet with God?' When can we linger in His presence and just be with Him?' This time I would like to take a brief look at the second main value I hold dear as a worship leader.

Let me confess something. A couple of years ago I would not have written what I am about to write. And I would not have believed it if God didn't give me the precious gift of my wife to walk and learn with.

In the past few years, our societies have made huge strides to make public places more accessible to those with special needs. People with wheelchairs, hearing difficulties etc. can enjoy a lot more events and places than ever before. I think that is great. Sometimes as a worship leader I need to ask some of the same questions that brought about change for access in the places we live. Is our worship accessible for all, is it accessible for those who are not primarily artistic or mystical?

I remember one worship experience very clearly from a few years ago. My wife and I and several friends attended a special night of worship. The leader and the band were leading us in worship through some quite abstract sounds and songs. I was having a great time; all the innovative, creative sides of my personality were being stimulated. After a while of 'closed eye ecstatic worship' I opened them and looked beside me to my wife. She looked up at me with a look that seemed to say, 'Can we go now?'. I haven't forgotten that moment. What was meaningful for me (and the worship leader and musicians) was not necessarily meaningful and accessible to all those present. Many of you are just like that. You want to meet with God. You love to worship but unless someone leads you into some songs that you can sing and find meaningful, you will potentially be left on the outside.

That means sometimes we need something called restraint in worship. I know that's not a popular word . . . . a few years ago, after the film 'Braveheart' came out, one of the cool things to do was to shout 'Freedom' in worship . . . . sometimes I want to shout out in the middle of worship . . . . . Discipline . . . . Restraint!!! Don't worry, all you passionate people out there. If we had the time, we could have a long discussion about the need for more passion in our lives and in our worship. In fact to have real worship, you have to have both passion and restraint, and to make worship music, you're nowhere if you don't have both. But we have got to look closely at restraint. Restraint is the backbone of making music that others can follow and enter in to. Let me pause here for a moment and give a few tips to worship leaders about restraint in worship.

- Restraint is picking songs that will say what the majority of the people gathered want to say to God.
- Restraint is the discipline to not play or sing all the time. (This is also especially for all members of worship teams - if you fill all the spaces with your 'stuff' the music doesn't breathe and the congregation feels overwhelmed)
- Restraint is the realization that the notes you don't play (and the words you don't sing) are just as important as the ones you do.
- Restraint is sticking to the song as written without always adding tons of embellishments that other people can't follow or sing.

And so often we need to choose songs and music that is not necessarily musician's music (those of you who are musicians will know what I mean). At times that involves some pain and sacrifice on the worship leaders and musicians part. There have been times when I have sensed we need to sing a particular song, and inside of me rages an unseen 'tug of war'. 'There is no way I am singing that simple overused song again . . . Lord what do you want? Usually I find that the satisfaction of sensing people connecting with God is more precious than doing what I wanted to do. I am not saying restraint in worship is easy, I am not saying it will even always feel good to you as a worship leader. What I am saying is it's right. If we lose accessibility, we will eventually lose the people, and maybe even the precious experience of gathered intimate worship.

Let me say one more key thing about accessibility; something that we can easily forget. If worship is meeting with God, we need to remember that God wants to take an active role in our time together as well. And so we need to give Him room to break in, to speak a word to the gathering or an individual. Maybe He just wants to come with His presence and let us rest in it. I love the stillness and quietness when God is there. What more could we as sons and daughters, created in the image of God want? But let's not leave people outside the 'door', like someone in a wheelchair who couldn't enter a building because we didn't care enough to make it accessible for them.
Let's make a way for everyone to experience intimate worship together.


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