Unplugged: what is the substance of your worship?

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It’s Sunday morning. Ominous clouds roll in. Flashes of lightning break the rhythm of patterned rain while contrasting sky from steeple. Hurried feet under umbrellas enter the sanctuary of the church. The congregation settles into their seats as the worship band takes to the platform. Electrified air raises the hair on your arms. CRACK. Flash of white, then total blackness. No lights. No soundboard. No electricity. Unplugged.

If you find yourself in this situation and need a humorous moment to recover, try quoting 2 Samuel 22:13, “Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth.”

What would worshipping “unplugged” this Sunday expose about those things on which we depend for worship? I recently asked worship leaders from around the nation to consider this question. Here are some responses:

  • We go unplugged on occasion, resulting in outstanding worship.
  • We used our grand piano, acoustic guitar, old hymnals from the closet and had church! It was a refreshing experience.
  • When we shine lights and use projectors weekly, it’s nice to sometimes have some visual and creative silence. I look for moments where we can do this. Reducing the fixtures used, just projecting white text on black background. This is a way to “unplug” from all the technology we constantly use. Just because we have tech, doesn’t mean we should always use it.
  • My voice counted in the congregation, it could be heard.
  • There’s a sense that when the music doesn’t overtake the room, every person’s voice matters. Worship falls greater on the collective voices than just the leaders.
  • It’s a uniquely shared experience when you don’t have control over the circumstances.
  • My own heart’s preparation is what matters, whether full band or a capella.
  • It would show that we don’t need the stuff we have come to rely on to worship God. And it would probably start a nation-wide revival.
  • It would heighten the reality that there is a presence on which we must rely: The Holy Spirit.

As people prone to pattern, we often find ourselves going through the motions, not checking our underlying motivation. This is certainly true of worship. When we strip away the excess we glimpse the true focus of our attention. Are we worshiping as those made alive in Christ?

In Colossians 3, Paul directs us to set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things. “Earthly things” are not all evil, but some of them are. Even things harmless in themselves become harmful if permitted to take the place that should be reserved for the things above. In order to set our hearts and minds on things above, we must be seeking things above. Paul beautifully illustrates this seeker as one removing the “old self with its practices” and putting on “the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).

True worship comes from hearts and minds that are fixed on heaven. The life made alive in Jesus is directly connected to heaven where he is enthroned now. In this act of putting on the new self we are being renewed – a continuing progress to the completion of the perfect nature. How much more so when we are worshipping Him?

If we’ve convinced ourselves that certain conditions need to exist for corporate worship, what is the substance of that worship? If worship requires more than Christ alone, we ought to unplug. At its core “worship recites God’s saving activity in history,” said Robert E. Webber. When we sing (recite) worship songs we are setting our minds and renewing our hearts to the truth of God’s story.

Colossians 3:16 explains, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Again Paul emphasizes wisdom, akin to mind, and the heart’s connection to the Spirit. This variety of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs suggest God’s delight in creative, spontaneous worship. The emphasis is more on variety than on strict types or styles. So the focus is that the word of Christ might dwell in us so richly that it finds spontaneous expression in worshipful praise in our gatherings and at home.

So, what would worshiping “unplugged” this Sunday expose about those things on which we depend for worship? I’m not suggesting churches remove the sound system this week or for a season. (Unless you need to. Read about Matt Redman’s Heart of Worship story.) I ask this question so we might mindfully reflect and evaluate the source of power from which we are drawing. Historical church fathers have told us practices in the church are formative to our faith. So choose wisely.

Worship is reciting God’s story of being made alive in him. The life made alive walks in the Word of God and in worship with other believers. May we be hidden that Christ Jesus may be glorified. Could unplugging enable us to plug into the Spirit, the source of our song? 

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Professional collaborator. Amateur chef. Being made new. Creative director @wesleyanchurch. I believe in simplicity and the power of transformational stories. Working in the world of non-profit design and brand strategy. Creating collaborative environments where worship and art dangerously expose hearts to receive God’s love.

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