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FIRST-PERSON: When all is stripped away

EDITOR’S NOTE: David Johnson is executive director of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.

PHOENIX (BP) — In the late 1990s, Matt Redman wrote a song called, “The Heart of Worship.” It was written on the heels of a painful chapter in the life of Soul Survivor Church in Watford, England.

The pastor, Mike Pilavachi, felt that the church was too focused on the musical outpouring that was prevalent in the worship revival of that era and made a radical decision. He decided to get rid of the sound system and the band for a season and rely only on voices. He said they had lost their way in worship and the way to get back was to strip everything away. ()Song Story: Matt Redman’s “The Heart of Worship”).

At first, there was an embarrassing silence, but eventually people broke out into a capella singing and heartfelt prayer. The words of the song reflect the experience that Redman tried to capture for his own life.

When the music fades, all is stripped away, and I simply come / Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart … I’m coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about You, Jesus / I’m sorry, Lord for the thing I’ve made it / When it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

That story resonates with me as we emerge from the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. What will the focus be as we come back together? Will it be the fellowship we have missed? Will it be the music we long to experience? Will it be the setting of the church building rather than our homes? Will it be the opportunity for the pastor to speak to real people rather than empty chairs?

It seems to me that we have been through a time when everything has been stripped away. When that happens, it usually reveals something about our hearts just as it did in Matt Redman’s church. Sometimes we find that we may have been focused on something other than what is most important. It is not that these things are not good or have their place, but we may be guilty of giving them a larger place than what God intended. We can easily make idols out of people, places or things and find ourselves gathering for all the wrong reasons.

Churches have made heroic efforts and amazing advances in these last few months to worship online, teach and preach the Bible on the internet, minister to their congregations in new and effective ways, and reach out to their communities. We have seen how God works in and through His church way beyond our limited human efforts. This has been a painful and confusing time in many ways, but the Body of Christ has emerged stronger and more resilient from it.

As the church gathers again, it is clear that things will not be the same. It would be easy for us to focus on the novelty of meeting together again or the inconvenience of social distancing or even the debate about what should or should not be happening in the culture around us. In reality, it is not about any of that. It’s about what Matt Redman wrote when his church emerged from a time of brokenness, “I’m sorry, Lord for the thing I’ve made it, when it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus.”

    About the Author

  • David Johnson