Saturday, March 5, 2005

Cold, Rain, Mud, and the Real Thing

In the summer of 1992, I took a crew of youth leaders and youth group members from Vancouver Island over to the Mainland for a week-long "Worship Festival" put on by the Langley Vineyard. 

Our youth ministry had been enjoying a growing edge of worship, after the initial discouragement in our first year of ministry of constantly hearing the youth complain "we hate the stupid singing -- give us more game nights".

It took a year and a half, but suddenly the youth began to "get it", and the group would eventually become known for it's passionate pursuit of God through worship and the arts. It was worth the tough sledding of the first 18 months, when we finally began to see the fruit of the emerging generations connecting with God through worship and the Eucharist.

During the Worship Festival, it rained almost every day. This was a problem, since the venues were all outdoors. But that didn't stop us from standing in the rain with 4000+ other worshippers, entering His presence in worship. College friends from Winnipeg were also there, sitting as a group inside a dome tent they'd brought along to keep themselves dry -- quite comical to see the tent literally bouncing off the ground during some of the celebratory songs!

During one of the evening worship concerts, as we stood in slippery, muddy grass while rain pattered on our baseball caps, Brian Doerksen (the worship leader that evening) called on us to sing some of the songs as intercession over the nearby city of Vancouver.

Being a typical youth pastor, I broke the rules -- "hey everyone, let's sing instead for Victoria" -- since that was the city we were from.

As we began to sing Remember Mercy, all of us were gripped with an awesome sense of God's holiness and our own (and our city's) sinfulness. Suddenly I found myself face down in the muddy grass, as the rain continued to fall, praying and singing with great intensity for our city. When I looked around some time later, I saw that our entire youth group was similarly prostrate in the mud and pouring rain -- singing, praying, weeping. It was a holy moment. I'll never forget it.

I just came back on Friday from a conference at a mega-church. Some of the messages that were preached there really touched my heart, and were "the word of the Lord" for me. But the worship caused me to pause, and recall that rainy, muddy night in the Lower Mainland over a decade ago.

The worship was very professional in both places, from a musical and technical point of view. The mega-church had the edge when it came to technology -- huge LCD screens, lots of trendy video backdrops during the music, coloured "mood lights" that grew brighter or dimmer depending on the mood of the song.

But the whole thing -- although I believe that the worship teams were genuinely worshipping and seeking to lead us in worship -- came off a bit too polished, too predictable, too slick, and (to a degree) too hyped. I'm trying to not be too harsh or judgmental, but when I thought back to that night in 1992, everything at the mega-church -- no matter how polished and professional -- paled drastically by comparison.

In the cold and the rain, kneeling in the mud, wracked with a devastating awareness of a Holy God and our very sinful city of Victoria, we had all we needed to truly and deeply worship God. No big LCD screens, no artifically-adjusted mood lighting, no comfortable cushy chairs, no video-and-lyric backdrops. It was a very real and raw encounter with God that we talked and prayed about together for days and weeks afterwards.

It was the Real Thing. Sans hype or manipulation. I'd choose that cold, wet, muddy night's encounter with God any time, without hesitation or question.

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