Bonding to God. Bonding to Others.
In college I was part of our student government. Before the beginning of every school year our Associated Student Body (or ASB) would go on an outdoor team-building trip called NIKO. We spent several days in the Oregon forest. To keep it a surprise for anyone who might go, I’m not allowed to talk about everything we did. But we did hike. We hiked a lot.
The longest hike day challenged our navigation skills. Each group was given a map, a compass, and a staff leader with a radio. Their job was to keep us from getting too lost, but to let us find our own way. My dad, who was our ASB faculty advisor, led my group.
Our goal was to navigate the trail we were assigned, and get back to base camp before dark. Of course there would be bragging rights for getting there first. Throughout the long day the radio would squawk with other staffers checking in on each group’s location.
As the afternoon wore on the good cheer leeched out our shoes. In my impatience I made myself the de facto scout, running ahead to see what was next, but really I just wanted to be done. We all did. Word came over the radio that the first group had reached base camp-then the next. By sunset our whole group was stretched along the trail, quiet and dejected.
My dad, who had led many NIKOs saw what was happening. He called me back, and collected the group. He said, "We should sing as we go into base camp." You can imagine my response. What tired, pouty, college-age guy thinks his dad has any good ideas? But I kept my mouth shut (I think) and we started to sing as I fumed.
Slowly, the mood thawed. I grudgingly accepted that yes, team-work is good, and yes, my dad was right. By now it was dark, but as we saw the fire from base camp we raised our voices and rolled in- as a team. Hm, so that’s what NIKO is about.
I’ve heard it said leaders who focus on process build lasting cultures.
Leaders who only demand outcomes poison theirs.
In the case of my hike, the outcome was arriving at base camp first. Had my dad not stopped the sadness train before we finished, the failure is all I would have remembered. In his wisdom he focused on the process. The process was our becoming a team. The whole NIKO experience was about team, not about hiking. That process of working together and treating each other with love carried on into the school year through our meetings, misfires, and successes.
In last week’s blog we learned about God’s desire for attachment. He kept Israel out of the Promised Land for 40 years, not because He couldn’t get them there sooner, but because He needed Israel to trust Him. The old generation was too attached to Egypt, slaves though they were. A new generation, fed with manna from Heaven every day, camping around the pillar of fire and cloud, knew who was in their center. They learned to attach to God- to love Him.
In the New Testament, God needed to teach the Jews and Gentiles to attach to one another under Christ. God used the signs of the Holy Spirit to destroy generations of hatred and misunderstanding. Everyone needed to learn that this new covenant wasn’t Jews-only. A new tribe had been created.
God hasn’t changed the first two commandments. We must love, or attach to, our God. We must also love, or attach to, our neighbor as ourselves.
So how are we doing in the church? Do the structures of our Sunday mornings lead us to attach to God and to each other, or do they provide incentives for something else?
Playing in a band is one of the most fun things you can do with other people. Everyone is listening to and attaching to one another. But when we put in in-ear monitors and force everyone on to a click, what do we incentivize? Getting it right. We all attach to a machine, and judge our musicianship by how well we attach to it. This robs young musicians of an important process: learning to listen to one another. There is an art to locking in and playing together. That includes covering for the failings of others, being flexible, and keeping eye contact. That’s a process. Instead we have chased the outcome of a more polished sound.
I can already hear the response, “But it’s not about the band. It’s about the congregation’s worship. Why shouldn’t we do whatever we can to make it easier for them to 'enter in'?”
Worshiping with a congregation is a fantastic experience. Ideally the leader listens to both the Holy Spirit and the congregation to know when to pause, when to shift gears, and when to let people worship in their own way. But in the name of more polish the band is surrounded by multi-tracks that are cumbersome to speed up, slow down, or vamp. I realize this technology is getting more sophisticated, but even the use of it discourages freedom of flow because it incentivizes the wrong goal. If you have ever played with a click and spoken roadmap cues, you know that you aren’t free to listen or wait or “feel the room”. You have to impose your agenda or you’ll get a train wreck.
Worship leaders spend a great deal of time preplanning the rise and fall of songs to get the waves just right, like an indoor water park. But what if God wanted to make waves? Would we yield our agenda? Or would we miss His wave in the hustle to have our desired outcome?
Your mission statement about yielded worship doesn’t matter much if you reward perfection and squash spontaneity.
A church team can achieve a sense of legitimacy from perfecting their outcomes: The tight transitions, seamless video cues, and prayers from the lead singer in between songs that are just long enough. But when everyone huddles onstage before service to ask God to “fill this place”, that doesn’t compel Him to do so.
We cannot force God’s participation or His blessing. We can only invite Him and make a space attractive to Him. That space is people, and people are a process not an outcome.
To learn more about attachment, I highly recommend this sermon by Dr. Jim Wilder on "Attachment Love."