COVID-19 has disrupted a lot of things. Workspace, minimal movement, budget restructuring, social distancing, pay cuts, you name it. The modus operandi these days. Personally, it has also affected one of the things I love dearly.
I miss church. I miss the fellowship of fellow believers gathered together. I miss being part of a congregation spending time in worship, prayer, and hearing the word that would edify our souls.
Clearly, there are things we may have taken for granted for a long while. I can only imagine what struggles Christians face in countries where there is no freedom of worship. I don’t want to ever take the privilege I’ve had for granted. Certainly.
I miss leading worship, I miss singing songs of praise alongside others. There is something powerful about communal worship. There is energy, there is power and encouragement. As a worship leader, I miss asking congregants to turn to their neighbors and tell them something. Yeah, I know the introverts are now enjoying their peace. Funny.
Certain Christians have been accused of being euphoric, bordering on madness in fact, due to the form of worship experienced. At times, it is considered noisy and a pain to many a number. This is especially for those churches situated in residential estates; the loud testing of microphones… “one, two..one, two…”, the high pitched soprano who happens to lead most of the songs or that infamous keyboardist who gets the key of the song at the very end. Many wonder, is this torture or what they call a joyful noise unto the Lord? (emphasis on noise)
Onto the other side of the spectrum. One wonders whether you are attending a concert or not. Everything is coordinated. There’s that wow factor! The best song selection consisting of latest hits, the best of song leaders and instrumentalists, the well-orchestrated sung worship, and the dressing, oh my! You’ll be dazzled for the first few minutes before you get singing.
But COVID-19 has played havoc with all that. Churches were among the first casualties when the pandemic hit home. Their doors had to be closed to the public, their sound levels came to a silence. And with a number of churches having not invested in digital platforms or technology, they were caught flat-footed. No one was streaming in, there was no longer a congregation to come to.
Not everyone is unhappy though. Some people are getting wonderful sleep at night in certain neighborhoods, what with ‘keshas’ (overnight prayers) no longer happening especially on Fridays. On the other hand, there are no ‘hype-men’ (that’s how some congregants view worship leaders) to lead us in sung worship.
A lot has happened. A lot will change.
Our church has an online presence, and we’ve had the privilege to reach out during this season. I had such privilege a few weeks ago. Leading songs in front of a camera is something else, especially if you are used to engaging human beings. You know me experiencing that goofy moment when I realize I couldn’t say ‘turn to your neighbor’, or knowing that probably the guys I was encouraging to sing were still in their pyjamas in the comfort of their homes (I’m guilty as charged too, though one of my sisters ensures the family is dressed up as if heading to church).
And so I ask. As worship leaders, are we ready for the change that is already here with us? Are we reflecting on some of the good practices that we will carry on and those that we’ll need to leave behind? Are we embracing technology positively and preparing for the digital church, and embracing telemediated worship?
Are we also assessing the opportunities that come with recording wholesome music from different locations? Look at some of the gospel artists, it’s quite uplifting to see them either recording songs or setting out concerts from their living rooms. What has been amazing is that in many of these instances, it would have been almost impossible to gather the number of people who participated in live online concerts at particular venues.
Many of us have had the liberty to church hop during this season. The internet has opened our eyes to the manner in which other churches conduct their services. Leaders, please don’t be offended by such. It is okay for people to participate in other churches. (I’ve been looking for a biblical verse to back this up but can’t get one, sorry).
I was watching one David Kuria on his YouTube channel speaking on whether churches are getting the online format right. It was interesting to hear the insights. It is now a fact that churches around the world are providing the most content online. Clearly, this is an opportunity to have an impact during this period.
As worship and church leaders, have you started thinking, praying and considering how to conduct worship in the future? Are you reflecting on how the ‘physical’ church was conducted and applying it in the current online formats? Are you listening to the feedback that congregants are giving because, for the first time in a long while, congregants are offering real-time feedback on sung worship and preaching?
A hard question to ask is whether the online church wants to participate in sung worship or whether they are looking forward to the sermon only, to hear the Word and how it applies to their current situation. And when the church doors finally open to the public, will we have a chance for sung worship? Will this part of our services be considered as an accelerator to the spread of coronavirus?
If churches opt not to have sung worship, will they be accused of not having enough faith to trust that God is able to heal? A number of churches in the West are already considering not having sessions of communal singing. And does sung worship have to happen only in sanctuaries? How about we all re-learn how to worship and sing praises to God in our own spaces?
This I ask yet again, are we ready for change? Could we consider limiting the number of music leaders leading songs, including band members, or pre-recording the songs when the churches open? I know it sounds weird, but…
Are we ready for a new normal?
My prayer is that God is doing a new thing in many of our hearts. I pray we can use this time to assess the state of our hearts – are we worshipping God with sincerity of heart? What encourages me though, and should encourage all of us, is that despite the pandemic, despite the circumstances and changes we find ourselves in, despite the uncertainty surrounding the future, the Name of God is being lifted up across the world.
May His Name be praised!
God is Spirit, and His worshippers must worship in the spirit and in truth. John 4:24
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