Dress to impress… Who?

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As a worship leader in my church, I was recently approached by some of the members who were concerned about what I wore (usual t-shirt and jeans). They said it’s not the best way to represent an ambassador of Christ – which we are all called to do according to 2 Corinthians 5:20. I know that they have a good reason for this, but at first I didn’t understand why. But after doing some research, I think I have a better understanding on what the scriptures say on it.

It is interesting to see that the Scriptures mostly talk about how women should dress in church. Such as:

Deuteronomy 22:5 (ESV) “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.

1 Timothy 2:9 (ESV) “Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,”

But what I find interesting is in 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 “ but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.  For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.”

This is actually quite interesting because there are still churches in different countries that follow this and some don’t. Particularly in the Middle-east Asian church, where I see women covering their heads with a head scarf when praying or singing hymns to God. Should it be applied to everyone no matter what culture? To what extent are Biblical Scriptures suppressed by culture? Do we apply our culture to Biblical Scriptures or do we apply the Biblical Scriptures to our culture? (Anyway, that’s another topic to look at which also relates to my previous blog about kingdom culture).

Going back to the discussion, how important is the appearance of worship leaders and the worship team? There are verses in the Bible where it says that the Lord does not look at outward appearances but He looks at the heart. Does that mean that we can wear anything? Yes and No. Firstly, yes because I believe we are free to wear anything we want. But also no, because we should not wear something that would attract and distract the congregation; clothing that would draw negative attention to the people is inappropriate. We should make sure that what we wear draws attention to the surpassing greatness of God’s glory in Jesus Christ.

Having said that, here is a list of what every worship leader/musician should wear. It’s also one size fits all:

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Meekness
  • Patience

These are the things which were taken from Colossians 3:12 that are most important when leading the congregation to worship our Lord. May God bless you all, brothers and sisters.

 

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Back to basics: Worship 101

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Musical instruments are heavily used in western culture when it comes to worship. The modern church will usually have a worship band that consists of a keyboard player, a guitarist, a drummer, bassist and vocals. However, it doesn’t stop there. Nowadays, they’ll use a laptop to plug in to their instrument to either play with a metronome or a backing track and all sorts. As the church gets bigger, stage lights are installed and more technology is inputted. And the list goes on and on. I guess my point is – are these instruments and gadgets and technologies important in order for us to encounter God? Do we need stage lights for the Holy Spirit to move?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not against the use of instruments and tech, but what I want to find out is if it’s biblical or even essential. From what I’ve noticed, there are more chances of technical difficulties as more technology is being used. As a result, it ruins the whole vibe of the worship. Even the worship team will have to think about how to get it right rather than focusing on worshipping God.

If we look back at the story of Paul and Silas on chapter 16 of the book of Acts, we see that they were in prison. They were just praying and singing hymns to God and then suddenly, there was an earthquake which shook the foundations of the prison and their chains fell off! – There were no instruments or stage lights. I don’t even know if Paul and Silas had the right technique when singing, but God definitely heard them. They encountered God and they felt His power.

We see the same thing in the east; underground churches in China seem to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit more than the western church. Nowadays, the churches rely on technology and instruments too much. To the point that if the guitarist or keyboard player is missing without a replacement, the whole vibe of the worship has changed. Suddenly there is a barrier in between our worship and God’s throne. If the musicians are not skillful enough, it hinders the congregation from worshipping properly. Or even if the band is great and there’s a lot going on visually (such as stage lights) then the people get distracted and are overwhelmed by the skills of the band rather than focusing on worship.

Maybe it works in a different context, like a worship concert. A place that provides an environment which is open to all sorts of people. Recently, I attended a Christian festival called the Big Church Day Out, where various Christian artists from all over the world come together to perform on stage – or should I say that it provides an environment of worship on a bigger scale? As I was watching, I was definitely impressed by the lighting, their skills as musicians and the way they interacted with the crowd. Even though this was the case, it was still hard for me to focus on worshipping in a place where the Christian artists were seen as celebrities and that there would rarely be an opportunity to see them perform in your hometown.

I should emphasise once again that I’m not against the use of instruments and technology, but I believe there are more important aspects which brings down the presence of God while worshipping. Any thoughts?

‘Out with the old, in with the new.’ Should this be true?

Forms, style and content of corporate worship are hardly talked about in the New Testament. Maybe it’s His plan to leave this matter to the judgment of our spiritual wisdom – as Dr. John Piper puts it:

“… not to our whim or our tradition, but no prayerful, thoughtful, culturally alert, self-critical, Bible-saturated, God-centered, Christ-exalting reflection driven by a passion to be filled with all the fullness of God. I assume this will be an ongoing process, not a one-time effort.” He came up with a way to describe the differences in how people approach worship by speaking in terms of “fine culture” and “folk culture”.

“Fine culture” describes the pattern of life that focuses on intellectual and artistic expressions that requires deep understanding in order to be appreciated. “Folk culture” describes the pattern of life that focuses on expressions of the heart and mind that pleases the average people and helps them easily understand. Hopefully it makes sense, because I’m going to expand on it a bit more.

To give you a better understanding, it can be considered to be the difference between traditional hymns and contemporary music. Hymns do not necessarily attract people with one listen but the lyrical content is powerful and contains deep meaning that may speak to the heart. Contemporary Christian music however, has very catchy tunes that will attract the young and old generations but sometimes has short repeated lyrics and is built up by the instruments to give more impact to the song. No matter how vast the differences however, we shouldn’t be passing judgement on either culture.

There will obviously be advantages and disadvantages in both cultures, but it would be better to distinguish each weakness and try to improve from it.  By recognising the strengths, we can build each other up through it. Fine culture and folk culture will have vulnerabilities to sin but it can also be used by God for His glory. Instead of trying to discard one or the other, they can be combined for they are both redeemable.

One weakness that can be seen in fine culture is that it can raise the pride of a person. By demanding high levels of skill and understanding, it can boost the ego of those who are used to it and they may look down to on culture with simpler achievements. Nonetheless, the positive potential of fine culture is the safeguarding of the mind. Fine culture has the potential to touch some emotions that folk culture will not touch. It emphasises on things which are rare like some emotions that belong to God; those which are profound can only be expressed and awakened by fine culture.

Folk culture’s vulnerability could be laziness to achieve more than what they are really capable of. It sometimes prevents from thinking deeper for more biblical understanding and just settles for mediocrity. However, folk culture has the potential to communicate to numerous people who may have no understanding about worship for example. It helps to appreciate the ordinary beauty.

There are a lot of things in church that we do that falls in between fine and folk culture. From the way, we worship, we dress and even preach. It is important to know both weaknesses and strengths and in doing so, we find ourselves participating in order to honour the excellence, truth and beauty of God. All the while however, this is not a one-time effort but it should be an ongoing process.

Culture Clash

Psalm 150:4 “Praise Him with the tambourine and dancing; praise Him with strings and flutes!”

This verse is one of many other verses where it shows us how to praise the Lord. There are different ways such as lifting our hands in worship, clapping, singing, and even shouting. Although these are all biblical ways of worshipping and praising the Lord, I have seen different styles that are implemented by different churches. Some churches do not dance, some do not shout and some don’t even clap their hands. Music styles are also different depending on the race and culture of the church.

During my stay in Libya, the African church that we attended as a family was my first experience of church. It was loud and very energetic! The volume of the microphones the worship leader used seemed like it was maxed. They line up and start to march around the church while singing praises to the King of Kings. The whole church building was a dance floor! There were people in the congregation who brought their own tambourine so they could play it while singing – and they were always on beat. The instruments usually consist of a keyboard or an organ, bass and drums. The style of singing was with catchy lyrics and call-and-response chants. Worship time was free flowing and could end in 20 minutes or an hour depending on the moving of the Holy Spirit. It was an actual celebration!

In the Filipino church, it was a different type of celebration. Yes, there was dancing and singing but they had a group of tambourine dancers in uniform at the front, dancing with choreographed moves. It did feel calmer than the African church but it still brought joy to my heart seeing the effort that was put in choreographing a dance every week for the Lord! The style of music is a lot simpler in terms of chord progressions and rhythm.

When I moved to the UK, we looked for a born-again church to attend. We found one which was predominantly a British congregation. This is when I experienced a culture shock. I thought that every church which is ‘born-again’ is the same as what I experienced back in Libya, but actually it was totally different and not what I expected. Worship songs were somewhat catchy but very much stripped down instrumentally. The songs were led by the pastor with an acoustic guitar and just the drums to accompany it. The people stood by their seats and sang – it was in tune but definitely held back on how loud they could potentially sing. It was very reserved. Some were clapping, a few were lifting their hands up; but no one danced. No marching around the church. The songs were sung exactly like the track. There were no repeated verses or choruses. Praise and worship lasted for 30 minutes every Sunday! Yes it was different. Definitely not what I was used to but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t working in that church. They were genuine Christians with great testimonies of how God worked in their lives. It was just a different culture in comparison to what I’ve experienced.

1 Corinthians 12:6 “God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us” (NLT).

God is not concerned about the traditions and culture we practice, but more importantly, He cares about our heart of worship. Not just with our lips, but to focus on worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth.

Kingdom Culture

There are many forms in which we can worship. Churches are done based on culture which is not necessarily bad but does it reflect the culture of the kingdom of God which is naturally our aim as Christians?

postWorship is not just central to the Christian faith; it is the heart and pulse of the church. It is where Christians gather and celebrate God’s gifts of creation and His salvation to us all. For those who enjoy worship as much as I do, it is an act that strengthens us Christians to live in response and obedience to His grace. Acts of worship are not limited, but can be expressed through music, art, preaching and many more forms of serving in the church congregation.

Having been born in Libya to a Pakistani father and a Filipino mother, then migrating to the UK with my family at the age of 11, I have been exposed to numerous cultures and the difference in the way they worship. This has helped me realise that culture is a key influence in how Christians from different nations worship the Lord. Culture is one of the most challenging part to change in our lives because we grow up with it. Essentially, we were raised by it. This cannot be recognised until we experience and try to understand first-hand what it’s like to serve the Lord in a different country with their own culture. Whilst growing up in Libya, my mother wanted to find a church where she could be “blessed”. I never knew what that really meant as a young boy but whatever church we went to, we went as a family. I remember attending an international church there with people of different nationalities, but the majority of the congregation were Africans. I could easily tell that the culture of that church was mainly African, especially from the style of music they used to worship. Although we enjoyed the energy in that place, we still ended up moving to a Filipino church. We felt more at home. We related a lot more to the language, hospitality and culture.

Now, I noticed that culture is something that is implanted in us and we take it with us wherever we go. Churches all over the world are mainly of the same race because it’s difficult for us to separate from it.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new’ (NKJV).

Every time I read that verse, I look at the part of being a “new creation” and I think of it as being transformed to a totally different being, similar to a bird transforming into a lion. Different creatures, different habitats, different features… Totally different!

So if we are in Christ, we are new and completely changed from our old selves. This also includes culture. We have to be able to conform to the culture in the Kingdom of God, rather than forcing Him to conform to our own. The kingdom of God is unshakeable and we will never succeed as Christians if we do not submit to it.

Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”