I was recently asked over a dinner conversation about my most meaningful worship experience.
This can be a loaded question depending on who you're talking to.
Examples of variables here: How does this person define worship? Are they generalizing music and production into the word? Do they mean at church? Do they mean with other people? ... The list most definitely goes on.
Regardless of those variables, the answer has been the same for me for about 8 years now.
In 2008, I traveled with some friends to do some extended Katrina relief work in New Orleans, Louisiana. This was my second trip to the city after the hurricane.
We were traveling with some other folks from our church, lots of college-aged people like myself at the time. We teamed up with a wonderful organization down in NOLA called The Gathering. In so many ways, it was a great trip. Click HERE to learn more about The Gathering!
One of my dearest friends was the lead pastor on the trip. His name is Kevin Heckathorn and he is now the Senior Pastor of Johnstown Presbyterian Church in Johnstown, Oh. Click HERE to find out more about them!
We happened to be on our trip during Holy Week. We hadn't really planned any kind of service, but come Maundy Thursday... Kevin offered up an opportunity for us to worship and hear scripture together.
We were staying in an (for lack of a better term) abandoned school that was stripped down to the studs and concrete (for the most part), and converted into short-term lodging for groups like ours. The school campus had an old-timey, detached gym that was its own building entirely. The gym had no electricity. The floor (which I'm assuming was once covered in hardwood) was just dirt. It was huge and full of echo. This is where we opted to have our worship gathering.
It was optional, nobody was forced to come. A few of us with guitars and chord-books (pre iPad days) set up some folding chairs with flashlights to serve as our little bandstand.
The vast room was lit with a few candles, and a couple stray flashlights.
There was no set list. We just kind of played and sang... We'd point to whatever song seemed right in the book, and kept going with music. There were no bulletins, lyric sheets, projection screens... Frankly, you had to walk to another building to even use a restroom.
Kevin gave a message. He and others read scripture. We sang. We prayed. There were times that words got so lost in the echo of the room, but you felt their meaning, even if you couldn't pick out every word.
I don't remember exactly how many people were there... Or how good our made-up-on-the-spot-harmonies were. What I do remember is that time stood still. The nearness of the Spirit was a presence so thick that was mixed in with the muggy NOLA air, the smell of dirt, the sound of praises and passages and prayers.
I often pray with my worship team that we, and all who are coming to worship with us, would be free of any expectation other than meeting with the true, real, living God. You may come to expect fancy lights, a printed liturgy, HD screens, concert quality audio, the best choir, the most amazing guitar solo, the most charismatic pastor... and it's wonderful that so many churches have the ability to do all of those things... but those things are by no means a necessity for worship. Can they help engage? Sure! But your tastes are not mine, and mine are not yours... our expectations as a church are constantly aligning and contrasting on an elusive venn diagram.
I think the reason that "happening" in NOLA impacted me so deeply, was because I didn't have room for any lofty expectations on form... and thus, I was focused on function.
In my opinion, Darrell Evans is like the godfather of modern contemporary worship. A couple years ago, around the time of his "Awesome God Is He" album release, he was interviewed by Alex from Jesus Freak Hangout about "struggling" to be "in the audience" during worship. He gave an excellent response that fits right in line with my NOLA experience...
Darrell: I used to struggle with sitting in the crowd and thinking about song selection, flow of ministry, and the musicianship. I've gotten over it because Jesus is worthy of my worship regardless of any of that stuff. In the end, I should be able to engage in congregational worship if the worship leader is playing the spoons and singing "Kumbayah." (read the whole article by CLICKING HERE)
Each time we gather to worship... it's an amazing opportunity that we should treasure. Don't let lofty expectations take that away from you.