Thanks to Mat Reames for sharing these thoughts after traveling to and ministering in Nepal and India this summer.
Its 9:59 on a Sunday, the band is tuned up, the lights have been turned down, the countdown video is in its last few seconds, the guitarist has his foot tapping in the tempo of his dotted eight delays, and we are ready to begin worship.
The service begins loud as we introduce that new song that everyone will be talking about next week. People have their hands raised high, unless they are attempting to clap to the rhythm. But the key is, people are engaged.
Then you begin to see them. As your eyes adjust to the lower lighting you begin to notice the people who aren’t engaged. They are scattered around the room. You feel the frustration. Week in and week out you spend hours preparing for this service, choosing the songs, ordering the lights and videos, you have labored to prepare an atmosphere of worship. But with all the time, money, and of course blood, sweat, and tears, there are still people who just will not engage. As a worship leader this is one of the most difficult things to deal with….
Let’s talk about a different service…
Its 9:59 and its hot. You had the fan going, but the power went out again. Now the fans are gone and the sound system is useless. The people are beginning to filter in. There really isn’t a set time they show up because most of them walk and depending on the weather it could take a while…
But its monsoon season and suddenly a torrential downpour comes out of nowhere. Now you are thinking about the people who are still walking and hoping that they do not have too much further to walk.
Those who are here are seated on the floor, because the church doesn’t have any chairs. The pastor comes up and greets those who made it out today with a hearty ‘God Bless You’ and ‘Hallelujah.’ You have your guitar in hand ready to lead the church in worship.
The pastor finishes prayer and its time to sing. You strum that first ‘G’ chord, which actually sound like a muddled G#, but what can you do, the ridiculous humidity has thrown your 30 dollar guitar out of tune, and those strings have to last you a few more months until you can head up to the city and get new ones.
There is no light, no amplified sound, no lyrics being projected onto a wall; just you and your out of tune guitar. But the joy hasn’t left your face because even though there are now 50 of you crammed into this little bamboo hut, everyone is singing and praising the Lord. You are on the last song when tragedy strikes, a string breaks. You keep going because its worship and you don’t stop just cause of a broken string, but in the back of your mind you know you will be without that string for a while…
I know, this seems a little extreme, but we need to see the differences between the services and difficulties we have here in America, and those of the rest of the world. Recently I spent time ministering in Nepal and India. Among other things, I was training worship leaders at a school of worship.
We had managed to get a guitar, bass, drum kit, and a key board for the school. It took some searching but local churches had enough to supply us that much. In all reality we probably didn’t need all of it. Most of the churches in Nepal only have an out of tune acoustic guitar. A few have a set of drums, usually hand drums like bongos. But, we were there to help these worship leaders become better at their craft, so we wanted to give them every tool we could find.
As much as I educated them on Biblical principles of worship, God was educating me about my heart. After two weeks with them, I realize just how first world my problems were.
As I sit at my computer and check facebook, I see some of my worship leader friends discussing their guitar rigs. Some of them are impressive; $2000 for a guitar, another $2000 for an amp, and at least another $2000 on the pedalboard. Then they will go to their church where they have a good sound system, full worship team, lights and a projector so the congregation can see the lyrics.
But when the time to worship comes, will their church worship any harder, or with any more passion than my new friends in Nepal? Probably not. We are so blessed to live in America where we have access to almost anything we want. Our budgets are huge. Our McDonald’s meals cost the same as a dinner for four at a nice restaurant in Nepal (I am not saying this is a bad thing, just pointing out our blessing).
So while I am with them, I am getting a huge heart check. How much do we invest into world missions? Into helping our brothers and sisters in foreign nations reach the lost? EVERY CHURCH I went to in Nepal and India is growing. Every day Hindus and Buddhists are being converted and brought into the family of God. And all of this is happening with almost no resources.
One of the churches is looking to get a new building. They have about 100 people in an 8 x 15 bamboo hut, and they are having several services to accommodate. So, they acquired some land to build a bigger building, almost triple the size. Its going to be a concrete floor with bamboo latticed walls and a tin roof. When all is said and done the entire new church will cost less than the guitar rig I mentioned earlier.
God was refocusing my heart. He was reminding me that worship is not about the best gear, nor is it about having the coolest service or latest songs. Worship is about a passionate pursuit of Jesus. It was about engaging the congregation and the city around you.
Worship is about doing what Jesus told us to do. In that respect, I wonder how well we do in worship. I am by no means trying to disrespect any church, or ash anyone who has nice things. I am proud to be an American who is blessed by God with resources. The message here is that as Spider man would remind us, “With Great power comes great responsibility.” We had so many advantages, what are we doing with them?
In other countries they have almost nothing, but they are still advancing the kingdom of God, worshiping in spirit and truth, and making disciples of all the nations around them. As I spent time with them teaching them the Bible, God was teaching me my heart.
It wasn’t an easy trip physically, it was near 100 every day, and since it was monsoon season it was almost 100% humidity. I had heat rash for over a week. Since electricity is not a guaranteed thing there was little relief from the heat.
At the end of my time there I was able to witness the gradation ceremony for this school of worship leaders. I was a guest lecturer so I didn’t attend the whole time but was there for the last week and a half. My heart was overjoyed as I watched 30 students receive certificates that showed that they had done everything required for the course.
But beyond that, the students from the school got a hands on final. We took them as our worship team for our Large Outreach. They lead worship in a service with over 1200 people (even I have yet to do that) The service was full of Hindu’s Buddhist’s and others who hadn’t received Christ, and when the word was preached and the invitation was sent out, hundreds gave their lives to Jesus. I never got an exact count because we hooked the people up with the Local pastors to let the local pastors get them connected with local churches.
The experience was different from anything I had done before because I was on the other side of the world. It totally restructured my heart and shaped me.
So I want to leave you with this challenge: How engaged are we? If we didn’t have all the gear and technology, how different would our worship services be spiritually? I don’t come from a mega church, but even in my tiny church I am blessed far beyond what I need to worship God.
Mat Reames is a worship leader and intern in Lawrence, KS and blogs at www.matreames.tk.