Tornado Warning – A Praise Atmosphere

Tornado Warning – A Praise Atmosphere
Carlton L. Coon, Sr

Jack Cunningham teaches a great lesson on the traits of growing churches. He declared, “Growing churches are always praising churches.” I agree wholeheartedly. Having a “revival church” that is not a praising church will not happen.

Recently, a collection of my heroes have fallen by time’s wayside. However, the exuberant celebration of Jesus’ goodness that flowed from the stately dignified C. M. Becton and J.T. Pugh’s declaration of his unwillingness to be left out of praise will always resonate. Personal praise of the Lord Jesus was not an option for them. Neither man needed to have a microphone in hand to be fully engaged in praise. Praise leaders are praise leaders whether on the platform or in the pew. God must protect us from platform praisers.

Diverse Approaches to Praise

Effective approaches to lead people to praise are as diverse as the churches and their culture. The journey of praise is not the main thing; the One being praised is! Let me explain:

Recently I was in a church where almost every song was from the red song book. The worship leader talked between each song. In some ways it almost seemed a throwback way to having church. Yet the service was effective and a relatively young audience (I might add: led by a pastor at least 15 years younger than me) was led to exalt and celebrate Jesus Christ. That day, two received the Holy Ghost and in the altar service there were people dancing before the Lord. People were led to praise effectively. Was it all to my preference? Not really, but effective nonetheless.

Another weekend was at a church plant where the music came from a “boom box.” It was as well done as “boom box praise services” can be. The choruses were contemporary with the words projected for the audience of mostly new converts to sing. As those new converts sang along, you could sense their exuberance over what Jesus had done for them. There was real praise. That young church is alive and growing. The altar was full. This young church will soon launch their first daughter church. A perfect situation? Hardly perfect, but effective!

At Apostolic Bible Institute on a cold Wednesday night, excellent musicians led the congregation in a diverse array of sounds. As the audience was led to praise God, the Holy Spirit began ministering in the audience. My little discourse was a word of encouragement, but already God’s Spirit had been allowed to minister. Again effective.

I’ve described praise services that are as different as can be imagined, but each was effective in its own right. What was consistent? In each instance, the singer was not more important than the song; and in no instance was either song or singer as important as the Jesus they celebrated.

Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper cannot happen where there is not praise. Since this is an absolute non-negotiable, let’s talk a bit about leading people to praise. It begins with you being comfortable with who you are, and working with what you have. There were no apologies from the fellow with the boom box service, and there should not have been. Never let limitations limit praise.

Choose Your Church’s Atmosphere

I’ve witnessed good music and good praise, excellent music that led nobody to praise, and poor music with deep praise. Which would you rather have? No brainer good music and good praise gets 100% of the votes. But if you can’t have both good music and good praise, which would you rather have? We all know what the answer should be, but is that answer what we practically apply?

Revival can come to a place with mediocre music and real praise. Revival cannot come where Jesus is not being exalted to His rightful place. I’ve learned you can’t make people praise the Lord, but you can lead them to praise the Lord. Leading means you are ahead of the group. Anyone who will lead others to praise has to have arrived there before anyone else. Praise leaders can never take people to a place they are not already at.

Contrary to some thought, an effective praise service is not the destination. Instead praise creates the right conditions. These conditions move people to give, to worship, to receive the preaching/teaching of the Bible, to be converted, and to move beyond their personal struggles.

In the Midwestern US, we are familiar with the National Weather Service declaring a Tornado Warning. A Tornado Warning does not mean a tornado has touched down; instead it means that atmospheric conditions are ideal for a tornado to occur. An effective praise climate accomplishes something similar: conditions are ideal for a sovereign move of God.

In leading a church to praise and worship, every leader has two choices. People are either entertained or led toward worship. How do you know the difference? When the audience never loses sight of what the worship leader is doing, they are being entertained. Things can happen where people are being entertained, but it will have more emotion than dimension. It is a mile wide and an inch deep. In entertainment, the celebration stops when the music stops.

A second option is to lead people to a deep move of God by encouraging and allowing the audience to enter His presence. When people enter His presence, they are directly connected; there is no middle-man. People become oblivious to whether or not there is music from a boom-box or a 100-voice choir. In this setting there is an unexplainable move of God. The move of God continues even when there is no music. Actually, moving on to another song or to a different thing can hinder. Be comfortable with the quiet. The quiet may well be the lull before the storm.

How Do We Get There?

For many years, my sweet wife served as our music director. She trained others who would follow her into the role. Norma’s goal was to lead people to praise Jesus Christ. I’m not talking about emotion and expended energy, but rather to progressively and intentionally lead people toward the presence of God. It was her preference to move a service to the point where worship was taking place: that “on your face in His presence” atmosphere we too seldom discover. She was effective in my biased opinion, extraordinarily so. For years she could not enunciate exactly how she did what she regularly and repeatedly did. We’ve talked about it quite a bit and arrived at some thoughts that may help.

Norma’s observation: For those who lead praise and are involved in music, prayer is nonnegotiable. I often prayed that God would help me always be aware of my ego and personal ambitions. It was more than, “Use me, Oh God,” but also, “Lord, let me know when the showman in me is taking over.” Every praise leader has a bit of showmanship or you would not be leading; yet that showmanship can easily get in God’s way.

This personal prayer was prayer time other than my husband’s non-negotiable 30 minutes of prayer prior to church. I also prayed for sensitivity to what the people were experiencing. Being aware of the people sitting in front of me by knowing where they were in life was helpful. This takes time plus mental and spiritual energy on the leader’s part. There is more to it than talent.

Creating an effective climate includes several things. What has been written earlier about prayer cannot be ignored or set aside. A revival church will always be a praying church. What seemed to be an easy topic has expanded. The next Communiqu will talk about “how” to get the atmosphere right for your Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper. This revival travels on praise, so let’s stop a bit to evaluate your church.

Checking the Tires at Your Church

When it came to horses, old timers used to say “No hoof, no horse.” The idea was that the tallest and stoutest horse was only as strong as the condition of his feet. Likewise, for a car the tires are where the rubber meets the road literally. You can drive a car with low or uneven tire pressure, but it will not perform at its potential. It’s important to periodically check your tire pressure.

I use this analogy because praise is the foundation in our church service that welcomes the presence of God for Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper. If a church is running on low tire pressure, it will never break into a dimension of God’s presence where He does what our efforts cannot.
So how is the level of praise in your church? Take some time to observe your services and the people involved. Here are some questions to honestly assess the atmosphere:

* Do our services effectively invite the presence of the Lord?
* When was the last time people moved into an “on our face before Him” level of worship?
* Do those involved in music lead the people by example?
* Am I leading the people by example? Could I be perceived as a platform praiser?
* Are our services free of showmanship that would take the focus off of Jesus Christ?
* Do we have the kind of services I would be content with if I were a visitor desperately in need of a miracle?

This article ‘Tornado Warning-A Praise Atmosphere’ by Carlton L. Coon, Sr. was excerpted from Director’s Communique magazine. January/February 2011. It may be used for study & research purposes only.