As I ponder the ebb and flow of the movement of God’s Spirit in churches today, my mind is drawn to an email I received a few years ago. I had spent several days teaching a South African congregation about the presence of God, and then experiencing something of God’s glory with them. I left on Easter Sunday and the church gathered once again to meet God. Several days later I received this email from John Gardiner, then editor of South Africa’s most successful Christian magazine:
“On Easter Sunday the presence of the Lord was so strong that the entire church were lying face down in the dust (they meet in a tent). They have a number of illegal bars in the area, and they became aware that all the activity and noise had stopped in these places – and when they looked out, the people in the bars were also lying face-down towards the church meeting place!”
The glory of God had hit the church, then spilled out into the illegal bars around it. The illegal bars (called ‘Shebeens’), where locals take drugs, get drunk and find prostitutes, became a runway for God’s glory, and he knocked them off their seats!
In these days when it seems you either have to choose to go ‘contemporary’ or ‘charismatic’ in your worship model (why not both?), there is a great challenge to discover true Spirit filled worship once again. But what can you do as a worship leader or pastor to bring greater levels of glory into your church, whilst avoiding the self-indulgent failures of some, so called, Spirit filled services? Here are five of my ‘must haves’ if you are seeking to increase God’s presence in your church:
Must Have No. 1: A Vision for Glory Filled Church
Sadly, many churches these days are very content to use a “four fast songs, three slow songs” model for worship, preach the word and engage in social action. Sadly, the power of the presence, miracles and healings are often missing in these places.
But when a pastor longs for glory, a worship team hunger for presence, and a congregation rise up to seek God’s face, miraculous moments like those in South Africa can take place. I have been in churches where bodies lay in the street as I’m leaving the venue, such is the presence of God. Where people in wheelchairs get up and dance as God’s presence arrives. Where the unsaved ask “what must I do to be saved?” after falling to the floor under God’s power! All because the leaders, band and congregation are hungry for the glory of God.
Seek God about your church. How does it line up against the glory filled church in the book of Acts? Have you stepped back from the big vision of seeking God for miracles and overwhelming presence, because the slick, concert imitating, social orientated church is easier to build? Have you been tricked to think that yours is the only model that can bring the ‘numbers’? In actual fact millions of unsaved people are waiting for the true, supernatural church to arise. Our own church has grown by over 60% in 18 months as we increased our hunt for God’s glory.
Must Have No. 2: A Place to Adventure
Once you have a vision for glory in your church, how are you going to bring it about? In real, local church life, there are many other things that need to happen. Baby dedications, announcements, presentations, communion, pastoring and a clear preaching of the word of God. In my own church we recognise the need for basic church necessities. Sunday School, care for people, teaching, organisational and legal commitments; the list goes on!
So we have found we needed to find a safe place, a home, for adventure and experimentation. A place where seeking God’s glory is the priority. Some pastors try to do this in Sunday morning services, but they can be the hardest place for this. There’s often a different ‘expectation’ on Sunday mornings, that works against thoroughly relaxing and trying new things.
We have found that our places of experimentation and adventure are Sunday evenings, home groups and conferences. If you were to come to our church on a Sunday morning you may, at times, think we’re a pretty normal charismatic church. Our two morning services last a little over one hour, are pretty ‘shallow’, fun and family orientated.
But if you came to the evening (which we call ‘Deeper’), you would find we don’t watch the clock, it can go on for hours, with worship, ministry, teaching and powerful moves of the Spirit. The presence of God is evident; miracles take place and new things are experienced. It’s our place to adventure.
Where is your place to adventure? It may be Sunday evenings like ours, or once a month on a Saturday night? A mid week evening or a home based group. It all depends on your church size, busyness and even the specific gifting of your leadership.
It can be so powerful to start in a home with a passionate group, moving to a monthly main meeting as things develop. Eventually you can build up to a weekly place of adventure with a large percentage of your church involved. I dream that one day, like the early church, we will have a daily place of adventure, with God’s Spirit rushing through the church like a mighty wind!
We have found that, over time, the freedom of our adventure meetings begins to spill over into all the other meetings, and the supernatural begins to flow through the whole church. I’ve even found our Sunday School children, flat our on their backs, being filled with God’s presence and hearing his voice!
Rather than confront your whole church with a brave vision of the supernatural, why not find a place to adventure? Gather a small group who are passionate, and begin a journey that will ultimately infect your whole congregation?
Must Have No. 3: ‘L’ Plates
In England, learner drivers have to attach ‘L’ plates to their cars, to signify to others their inexperience. I can vividly remember, in my juvenile pride, longing to rip them off so I could no longer be identified as a beginner. I longed to look experienced!
I spend much of my time in church encouraging people to put their spiritual L-Plates back on. We need to be open about the fact that we are learning and be real about the mistakes we make. As long as we seek to love and serve, no great harm can be done.
Once again I prefer to have a set place where experimentation and adventure take place, aside from our larger Sunday morning services. A safe zone where we can all learn together. The prophetic, the miraculous and free worship are often discredited by inexperienced learners, trying hard to be Spirit-led and barraging head long into main services with disastrous results. This does so much to harm the moving of the Spirit and the rising desire for more supernatural in the hearts of the congregation.
Creating safe zones of learning enables worship leaders, pastors and congregation members to learn how to bring prophetic songs, prophecies, pray for the sick, think creatively and engage in new worship expressions. Once we learn what works for us, this can easily spill over into other areas of church life, with little harm done.
For this reason we also encourage prophetic song, musicianship and experimentation in our worship practices. If a band can’t do things in a practice time, then never ask them to try in main services, as the result will only discredit the band, or even worse, the Holy Spirit.
Must Have No. 4: Friends to Inspire You
Keeping things fresh and Spirit-filled in our churches takes creativity and ideas. While I know much of this comes directly from the throne room of God, as we encounter him, God has also given us each other to inspire us and make us think.
I changed radically when I heard my friend and Prayer Minstrel Godfrey Birtill lead worship (actually prayers in song) for the first time. He made all sorts of noises as he sang, wrote songs you could hardly sing and followed God’s Spirit against all church culture! But there’s an awesome presence around him. At one of our conferences, as he led, people felt God’s presence as they passed by in cars outside.
I have many friends who inspire me, challenge me, and release me from my own religiosity (Please don’t tell me you’re not religious. I don’t believe you!). I also attend conferences where different things are taking place, things that stretch my mindset and practices.
Many people also travel to our events where they experience God in new, deep ways. We always have a stream of letters after our annual Prophetic Worship Conferences and Encounter Conferences of worship leaders still drunk in the Spirit days later, remarkable worship times taking place and new gifts and new ideas pouring into church life. That inspiration is worth more than gold in local church life.
Do your utmost to find friends that want the same thing, and dig for the gold of inspiration.
Must Have No 5: Lots and Lots of the Holy Spirit!
Finally, and most importantly, if you do none of the above, make sure you do this: Have lots and lots of the Holy Spirit in your life, in your church and in your meetings.
Ephesians chapter 3 tells us we can “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”. That’s an amazing amount of fullness! You can be filled to what measure? The measure of the fullness of God!
He is your creativity, he is the worship leader, he is the prophetic Spirit, the miracle worker, the one who warms hearts and the one who leads meetings.
Every day, in every meeting, in every worship practice, in every possible way, ask for God to fill you with His Spirit. Get your people to look heavenward, that your worship would be an encounter, and not a song service. A supernatural embrace of divinity and humanity. A kiss of honour against the cheek of an invisible Saviour.
If you have the Spirit, you will have all you need. So be drenched, overwhelmed, overcome and under girded with Him. You will never, and can never, be the same again.