We have all been to some pretty amazing Christian concerts and some not so memorable Christian shows. Often a bad experience is influenced by the technical details of poor sound systems or equipment malfunctions. Once in a while the musicians simply put on a poor quality show. But after we get past the worst case scenarios, there are far too many Christian concerts that leave us feeling, well… meh, un-impacted, un-influenced, un-inspired. So, what is the difference between the times when we leave the venue feeling that the concert has changed us—that we have really connected with God—and the times the show just falls flat? What can we do to make sure our fans experience God at our shows?
Back in the day, people used to say things like “God came down”, “the anointing was there” or describe a moment as a “holy hush”. Whether we use those terms or not today, they describe an experience that most have us have had—a time when we felt like God was very close to us, almost tangibly. It changed our lives and brought us closer to Jesus. We don’t want to get into the variety of doctrines about what the Holy Spirit does or does not do here. We simply need to define the kind of moment, or experience with God, which we hope our fans will have at our concerts. This experience will result in changed lives that are growing closer to Jesus—the goal of music ministry. For the sake of this discussion we will call this ‘experiencing the presence of God’.
We can probably all agree that we are in music ministry to bring people closer to Jesus. We would all love to have the audience experience the presence of God at every single one of our shows. Some of us notice this happening once in a while, but not always consistently. We wonder, ‘What does it take to experience the presence of God consistently at every single concert?’ ‘What am I doing wrong?’ ‘Can we do anything to create those moments?’
I am going to preface this part of the discussion by saying that I am not an expert on the presence of God. Scholars have studied these questions for hundreds of years and at the end of this article I’ll recommend some books written by them for those of you who want to go deeper. I do, however, have some unique insights for music ministers based on my experience.
One of the first things people generally look to when defining a Christian concert is the lyrics of the songs. Certainly good quality, Biblical lyrics contribute to a Christian concert. But is writing and/or performing Christian lyrics enough to experience the presence of God?
What would happen if an atheist stood on stage and performed only Christian song lyrics? Would fans experience the presence of God? All people, whether they believe in God or not, are created in His image so of course God could work through anyone. There are many examples in the Bible of God using unbelievers to do His work. But most often those examples are exceptions, which is what makes them noteworthy.
We have all heard the stories and have probably experienced non-Christians claiming to be a Christian band or playing on a Church worship team and performing Christian songs (Let’s not get into semantics or the discussion of ‘How can a band or a song be Christian?’ – you know what I mean by ‘Christian band’ and ‘Christian song’.) Think back to those shows, were they the concerts where you experienced the presence of God? My experience has been that for the most part, while God can use anyone to present His message the most effective messengers have more than just Christian lyrics going for them.
Christian lyrics are definitely a part of a Christian concert, but Christian lyrics are not the ONLY criteria for experiencing the presence of God at a Christian concert.
Anyone can sing Christian lyrics. Anyone can learn to produce a high quality show that moves people emotionally. But a high quality, technically correct, emotionally moving show with Christian lyrics is not the same as experiencing God’s presence.
Often, the first place people look to try to figure out why an audience did not experience God at a concert is sin in the lives of the performers. Sin comes in all shapes and sizes, what may be sin to one person may not be to another because sin truly starts as a heart sickness. There are the ‘big’ sins that defy the Ten Commandments, the socially acceptable sins (for example: not claiming all your income on your taxes), and even sins of omission (not doing all that we could do).
To be sure, sin in the lives of music ministers offends God. We should all be striving and improving on living a more holy lifestyle. We should apply the guidelines in Timothy for deacons and overseers to ourselves as ministers. There are certainly times when we should step down from ministry until we have corrected some sin issues. But we will never be completely sinless until we reach heaven. So, we all must rely on God’s grace every time we take the stage because we are not worthy or holy except through Jesus.
Is experiencing the presence of God dependant upon the sinless lives of the performers? Many people from other religions live a more moral lifestyle than most Christians—if they sang Christian lyrics on stage would the audience experience the presence of God? Certainly God could work through them, but it makes sense that He would prefer to work through His own people.
While rebellious, intentional sin in the lives of performers can negatively impact the experience of Gods presence at a concert, sinless performers cannot be a requirement for Gods’ presence because they do not exist. How sinless do we have to be? How good is good enough? Perhaps the key lies in our hearts attitude toward God and growing closer to Him. It’s not as much about our actions as it is about our relationship. If we seek relationship and reject rebellion towards Him, our actions will change as our relationship grows closer.
Christians carry the presence of God with them at all times. Sometimes that presence is not so evident because of intentional, rebellious sin. But most often, when the presence of God is not evident, it is because of neglect in our relationship with God.
Treat God as would treat a person
you really wanted to be your friend.
If there was a person you really wanted to impress and have them acknowledge you as a friend (use the famous or influential person of your choice to make this example personal to you) you would treat them in a specific way, giving them whatever they liked best. If you knew they loved Thai food and hated hamburgers you would not invite them to a burger joint. Instead you would find the best Thai restaurant you could and then pay for their meal. If you invited them to a burger joint you would not expect them to show up. This is simple common sense, if you want to be someone’s friend you pay attention to them and do what they like to do.
Somehow we forget to do this with God. Is it because we have become so familiar with Him that we forget who He is? Do we place doing something for Him (ministry) as a higher priority than spending time with Him?
Remember the story of Martha and Mary. Jesus was at their house and Martha got busy cooking an exceptional meal. Mary spent time with Him. Martha complained because she was doing all the work. Look how Jesus replies:
But the Lord said to her, “Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her!”
Luke 10:41-42 NLT
Do we make this same mistake in our own ministry? Are we more concerned with feeding everyone an outstanding meal than we are with hearing from Jesus? Do we try to introduce our audience to Jesus before we ourselves have taken time to know Him better?
Just as Martha was not wrong to prepare a meal for everyone, we are not wrong when we do our best to meet the needs of our audience. It is not an all or nothing extreme. Cultivating the awareness of the presence of God is a matter of importance and priority—experience your love relationship with God as the highest priority and then demonstrate His love to people.
One of the very best ways to cultivate a closer relationship with God is through daily devotions. The two books I most highly recommend are:
When we are daily, consistently growing in relationship with God, we bring an acute awareness of His presence to each gig. We are completely focused on Him and doing our mission.
What then are we to think when we have done all this and the audience is still not experiencing the presence of God?
What about the times when some people experience God and some feel nothing at the same concert?
Even in Jesus’ ministry there were times when He could not heal, when people could not receive His message. Why? Their reasons and excuses may have been different but in the end, they simply were not ready to believe. Some people believed in Him later, others never did.
The audiences’ experience of the presence of God is not completely reliant on the performers. As a Christian music minister, you can present the message, you can demonstrate the love of God and even bring His presence to their attention. But the individual people in the audience must have hearts that are open and ready to respond to Him. Preparing those hearts is the job of the Holy Spirit.
Music is one of the very best tools we can use to help people open their hearts to our message because it bypasses the brain and causes us to communicate heart to heart and spirit to spirit. CLICK HERE to read and important article about the Ministry of Art. It is our job to be the very best we can at using music to present the message. It is our responsibility to live the very best life we can in relationship with Jesus. It is not our job to change other people—that is between God and the other person.
Ultimately, the presence of God can be experienced by anyone, anywhere, and at any time. Christian music ministers help people experience God by drawing awareness to the fact that He wants to be in relationship with them and by creating an environment in which people feel comfortable to do so.
Practical Steps We Can Take to Help Our Audience Experience the Presence of God:
1. Eliminate equipment issues that will distract the audience and annoy the performers. Buy the best equipment you can reasonably afford and then learn to use it well.
2. Learn to consistently produce a good quality performance. Don’t let your poor performance distract the audience from the message. Instead learn how to use great performance skills to engage your audience in the message. Become so confident in your performance that you do not have to be concentrating on it when you are on stage. (Tom Jackson has some great resources to get you started. CLICK HERE for his YouTube channel.)
Eliminating performance issues by doing those 2 things will allow you to focus on the ministry. It will be much easier to move on to the more important things…
3. Cultivate the presence of God in your own life. Spend time daily with Him as a higher priority than anything else in your life, including your ministry.
4. Bring an awareness of the presence of God to each gig. Don’t be in a hurry both on stage and off—give God as much time as He needs to do whatever He wants to do in your music, every conversation, and within yourself. Relax and allow Him to control the event.
5. Consistently pray for your audiences’ hearts to be prepared to experience Gods life-changing presence. Our audience is our mission field, as much as any other missionaries’. How do you expect the missionaries in third world countries to pray for their people? We must to do the same.
There are always extremes that we need to avoid in music ministry. In this case, the ditches on either side of the road are not focusing too much on making people comfortable or being too spiritual. The ditches are doing whatever it takes to make our career in music ministry successful and being too religious. It’s not about being a well known music minister or convincing people that our specific doctrine or way of doing things is correct. It is all about doing whatever it takes to bring people into an experience of the presence of God—dying to ourselves to help bring people closer to Jesus.
In conclusion, we must learn to do all we can do and at the same time learn to walk in the knowledge that ultimately the ministry of changing hearts is up to God to accomplish. It is it is time to stop blaming ourselves and pointing fingers at each other when our ministry is not all that we think it should be. It is also time for self examination and reflection. Are we truly doing what God has called us to do, the way He wants it done, and in the timing He has for us to do it? Are we close enough in relationship to God to be able to accurately answer those questions? If not, let’s make the appropriate changes. If so let’s continue on, dying to ourselves, pressing toward the goal and allow God to do His work through us in any way He chooses to work to bring people closer to Him. Our job is to do His work. The results are up to Him.
For those of you who want to study this further, here are the best selling classic books on the Presence of God:
The Practice of the Presence of God
Experiencing the Presence of God: Teachings from the Book of Hebrews
Experiencing The Presence Of God
The Practice Of God’s Presence
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