worship with your ears open

Do I listen when I worship?

This question is haunting me. A good kind of haunting. A haunting that is stopping me dead in my tracks, and arresting my attention like a concerned friend grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me from my slumber.

Sure I listen. I listen to the sermon, listen to the songs, and listen as best I can to the other programming that is on the service order for the day. If I’m on the platform serving as a part of the worship band, I’m certainly listening. I’m listening to the other musicians. I’m listening to how my parts blend with what those other musicians are doing. I’m listening to make sure things are in tune. I’m listening to make sure our timing as a band is good. And when all is as we desire it to be, I’m listening to the vast sonic soundscape pumping through my wonderfully engineered in-ear monitors, which are really just glorified, expensive headphones for live musicians. But still, the question haunts me…

Am I listening?

The ’70s & ’80s are a gold mine of worship history, especially when it comes to unearthing the history of contemporary worship. During this period, a man named John Wimber comes on the scene. After attending a Quaker meeting and becoming a Christian in the early ’60s, John becomes increasingly active in the Yorba Linda Friends Church, which eventually leads to the formation of a home meeting that becomes a local congregation known as the Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda. Calvary Chapel is considered the epicenter of the Jesus Movement, a surge of people, namely hippies, in the late ’60s that sought to be countercultural by following the teachings and life of Jesus. During this period, two parallel streams of church history converge, and Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda joins the Vineyard Fellowship of churches, which also started in the late ’70s, becoming the Anaheim Vineyard pastored by Wimber.

These two church movements, Calvary Chapel, and the Vineyard Fellowship were instrumental in pioneering the industry of contemporary worship music. They made space for the music playing hippies who were now saved to use their gifting to honor and glorify the Lord and serve these newly formed congregations Eventually, these musicians who were writing their own music released albums of worship songs and paved the way for the worship music industry that is still booming today. In particular, the influence that the Anaheim Vineyard has had on contemporary worship still endures today. For example, most services of worship in contemporary churches today utilize musical “sets” of worship songs being presented by way of modern instrumentation. The songs are often simple songs of worship that are sung to the Lord as opposed to simply about Him. This is undoubtedly a ripple effect of what was birthed out of the Anaheim Vineyard.

John Wimber, a professional saxophone player for the Righteous Brothers, valued good music, but more than this, he valued people experiencing the life-changing presence of the Living God. Wimber did not want people to experience good music, he wanted people to experience what communing with God was like. God doesn’t waste our history, and God used John Wimber’s Quaker experience to shape much of how he did ministry with Vineyard. There was a high priority placed on simply listening to God and responding to Him.

As a worshipper and one who helps lead gathered congregations in worship, this challenges me to the core. This shouldn’t be so earth-shattering, yet it is. And back comes that lurking, haunting question…

Am I listening?

I serve and lead in a fairly systematized church where everything is planned out and given a time-stamp. Once the plan is in stone, or on a tool we utilize called Planning Center, we rarely deviate from it. Because production is involved, calling an audible mid-service would throw off the production and possibly cause what would seem like a train wreck in the flow of service. Our worship through music is a product of the early influence of the Vineyard movement, and we think in terms of musical sets of songs that work in tandem with the rest of the service elements to hopefully produce a flow of events that facilitate an undistracted environment for people to connect with God. With this as our aim, we listen for and trust the Holy Spirit to speak in our planning, but I’m challenged by what should be the natural continuation of this: leaning on and listening for the Holy Spirit’s leading in the midst of our executing the perceived plan. Why wouldn’t the Spirit be speaking in our midst as much as He was speaking in the planning? Yet I don’t know if I can honestly say that I directly depend on the Holy Spirit during the flow of services, and that stings to write. This is a hard, honest evaluation. More often than not, I think I’m relying on the planning done rather than the Spirit’s active guiding and leading in the present moment. This has challenged me to ask myself, “How will I respond if I sense the Holy Spirit directing in an unplanned way?”

Am I even listening, or am I on autopilot?

What if the congregation that was gathered in Antioch that we read about in Acts 13 had not been listening to the Holy Spirit? Would Paul and Barnabas have gone where they were supposed to go?

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” - Acts 13:2

What might the Holy Spirit be saying while we are worshipping the Lord? Are we listening for His direction?

Now there is a certain degree of tension that we inherit here. Especially if you worship in the midst of a larger gathering of people, there undeniably has to be a strong semblance of order. We see in Scripture that things should be done “in decency and order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). But this balance of relying on the Holy Spirit in the planning, as well as relying on the Holy Spirit in the moment is a fine dance that must take place. Do we have hunger and expectancy in our corporate gatherings that God will speak? Are we worshipping with our ears open?

Let’s engage with this together. Leave a comment below and let us know how you navigate this tension. What does it look like to listen to the Lord in our services? Is there space in your services for silence and waiting? Is this even possible in our culture that is so attuned to a constant soundtrack of noise?

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If you are interested in learning more about the history of contemporary worship, and in particular the story of the Anaheim Vineyard, I would highly recommend reading this book, Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard: The Emergence of Contemporary Worship.