Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Praise Against the Machine (The Presence-Driven Church)

Worshiping with the women of Nightlight Bangkok.

I was recently involved in a discussion that began with this question: "Should our church's worship team use click-tracks while leading on Sunday morning?"

My immediate answer was: No.

"Why not?"

A Presence-Driven church (as I am writing about it in my book) would not use click tracks while leading worship because their primary concern is keeping in step with the Spirit, not with a machine. The Spirit cannot be pre-set, and the Spirit's ways are not the worship band's ways. Attune to the beat of God's Spirit. This can be taught to people. (See, e.g., my book Praying.)

During practice the machine can be helpful. I have practiced guitar using a metronome - many times. I encouraged my guitar students to do the same. A click track is like a metronome. In a band the musicians all wear an earpiece and hear the set click tempo. It is helpful in practice, keeping the musicians on the same rhythmic page. 

But, ultimately, it is inflexible. And that is precisely the point. A click track locks us into a predetermined tempo. Maybe a Calvinist who affirms double predestination would like it. But if we desire our worship to be driven by the Spirit of God, then after practice we will lay our click tracks down. 

The Holy Spirit cannot and will not be pre-set. The Spirit is essentially nonprogrammable and unpredictable. A Presence-Driven Church experiences this all the time. We're following the fire and the cloud, not the track of the machine.

Like this past Sunday at Redeemer. I was playing guitar on the worship team. During one song it was clear that God was leading us off the direction we thought we were going in. Our worship leader flexed, and the worship team and the people flexed with it. It was God-led, and beautiful.

When I think of the greatest worship experiences I have ever had, none of them were about the tightness of the band. In many of them there wasn't even a band (I've had some beautiful campfire worship experiences under the stars - one guitar, many untrained voices). All of them - every one of them - was about the palpable, experienced presence of God. But of course, right? For example...

I was in Bangkok with Jeff and Annie Dieselberg and Nightlight International. I was at their morning worship service with the women who had been rescued out of the bondage of sex trafficking. The worship was led by one of them who played guitar (she was just an average guitar player), and another one of them who sang and led us (I don't remember her voice). I was in the back row and could hardly contain myself. Tears flowed down my face as we sang unto the Lord. I thought - "This is what real worship looks like and feels like." 

This happens a lot in Presence-Driven churches. The question is, who is really leading our worship times, the Spirit or the machine?

One more time, with highlights...

Heart of Worship

When the music fades

All is stripped away

And I simply come

Longing just to bring

Something that's of worth

That will bless your heart

I'll bring you more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what you have required

You search much deeper within

Through the way things appear

You're looking into my heart
I'm coming back to the heart of worship

And it's all about you,

It's all about you, Jesus

I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it

When it's all about you,

It's all about you, Jesus
King of endless worth

No one could express

How much you deserve

Though I'm weak and poor

All I have is yours

Every single breath

I'll bring you more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what you have required

You search much deeper within

Through the way things appear

You're looking

(Perhaps a worship team could use the machine and unplug it when the Spirit moved. If this happened a P-D Church could employ click tracks, as needed. But for me this is still too technology-driven. My idea of worship includes playing our best for the Lord, but not perfectly. Precise digital syncing and ultimate band tightness and technical precision are not needed for true worship. The hyper-focus on precision might be more about the musicians than it is about Jesus. Or it could be - we just want to play as excellently and together as we can for Jesus. OK. That's a good heart.

I admit the drummer could be greatly helped by the click tempo. But if the heart of worship is really "all about You," then we can encourage our musicians that God is not displeased or freaked out by our musical moments of imperfection.

Listening for the click could overwhelm listening to the Lord, in which case - not good. Having been a musician, I know that the quest for musical perfection can override a heart of worship. Here are the priorities: First - cultivate a heart of worship. Second - work on community. Third - be part of the church family that you are leading in worship (no floating musicians on Sundays, please! I've seen the "traveling musician for the Lord" thing before. This is disconnection from your people.) Fourth - work on your instrumental and vocal chops.

Worship leaders - train your musicians to play together without using click tracks. Surely that is superior, correct? The less crutches, the better one can walk. The less dependence, the more freedom. (Think of the countless live performance cds made when the click machine didn't exist.)

At Redeemer our emphasis has always been primarily on cultivating the hearts of our worship musicians, which means keeping in step with the Spirit rather than the metronome. This is what has given us a spiritual unity, which to me is beautiful. (We don't want to burn out our worship musicians.)

BTW - I started playing steel guitar at age 5 and my teacher was the legendary Kay Koster. I switched to electric and acoustic guitar around age 10. I taught guitar at Nielsen's Music Studio (guitarist Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, and his father). I played with John Michael Talbot, Steve Camp, led worship once with one of Quincy Jones's bass players, jammed and worshiped a lot with Dug Pinnick of King's X, played once with one of the world's best harmonica players (Joe Filisko), led worship in a thousand different places, and played a lot and learned a lot with the best guitarist I know, Jeff Jaskowiak (thank you, my friend). Plus, I have a two-year degree in Music Theory.)

I'm now writing my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.

My book of prayer is: Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.