“It happened during the middle of a song. One minute I was worshipping , the next minute I was being ripped out of the presence of God. My wife says I was violated, but to me that seems too harsh of a word.”
I don’t remember what church I was in. I know that it wasn’t one I was employed with or regularly worshiped at. Even to this day I don’t know the name of the individual who “violated” me. I do remember that it took place at a church leadership event. It was of those things where pastors, pastors wives, elders, deacons, sunday school teachers and other lay leaders would get together for a target goal where we discuss and are educated on how to do ministry more effectively. Honestly, I don’t enjoy these too much, but for some reason this one seemed different. This is likely because it was one of the first “conferences” I attended with Jillian, although I don’t remember whether or not we were married at the time. However, one person would become the catalyst that diverted me from worshipping God into spiritual warfare.
Physical boundaries were most definitely crossed and not by accident. An individuals intentional act of preference evolved into internal spiritual warfare for me that I’m still healing from to this very day. Looking back, I recognize what happened may not be that big of a deal, but that doesn’t negate the fact that at that moment I felt like I was in a losing battle for my spirituality. Over a period of about 5 seconds, I went from having a moment of personal worship to being ripped out and away from the presence of God. For the rest of the service I tried to just move past this personal encroachment and return to that state of beautiful ardent worship. Unfortunately, I never returned. The internal battlefield that was preventing me from possessing a heart of worship was the reality that I had already sinned and was refusing to forgive. Luckily, my sin was still internal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if those around me could tell that I was physically seething while standing in the pew. I was desperately trying to prevent my secret sin from being externalized into aggression. I was furious, and in my heart, I hated the individual who had done this.
I recognize that I haven’t been clear as to exactly what happened, and that is intentional. The summary is simple, a person wanted me to stop worshiping the way that was natural to me because it was an inconvenience to them. This was not a big conference with edgy progressive leaders and contemporary worship. In fact, I believe it was an associational conference with maybe 100 in attendance who all came from small local Southern Baptist Churches in our region. A generous estimate would hold that I was in the 5% of < 50-year-old church leaders in attendance. In fact, I could probably represent on one hand the 20 somethings in the room not counting Jillian and myself. Most conferences, including this one, have a time of worship. Sometimes it is between sessions or at a designated time at the beginning to kick off the service. At this conference, local music pastors from smaller churches had come together to form a quartet and they were leading the congregation in corporate worship. For some reason that I can not explain, I quickly entered into worship. I remember that the words to the hymns were on the screen but I didn’t need them since I had most of the hymns already memorized and I began to gently sway as I was caught up in the worship of such a Holy God. (For those of you who are wondering, I wasn’t dancing. My hands weren’t raised and I wasn’t a distraction for those sitting next to me. Maybe I’m ADHD, maybe I just can’t stand or sit still, I don’t know. When I worship and sing in church, I tend slowly sway as I shift my weight back and forth from one leg to the other.)
The thing I remember the most was the ghostly chills that ran down from my shoulders to my stomach. I had a nauseated sickness that had overcome me and I could feel an emptiness in the pit of my stomach and my knees were locked in place and shaking violently. I remember feeling confused and lost. Almost as if I was in a 5-second coma and I just come back into consciousness. Before long, I noticed my feet were firmly planted and it was as if a temporary paralysis was preventing me from even moving slightly. This all occurred after two firm hands, from an elderly woman standing behind me, were on my arms affirming that she wanted my motion to cease. I remember contemplating to just quietly sit down or simply walk out and go stand in the back. I also remember silently turning my head to try catch a glimpse but stopped before I got a good look. Reason ran out the door and before the hymn was over, I had fallen into full force hatred toward this woman. Luckily I had not seen this woman’s face when I looked and now didn’t want to because I didn’t want to internalize a hatred upon an image of her. My wife didn’t see all of this take place, but I think the Holy Spirit in her discerned that an evil was growing in her presence. She looked at me and in a whisper asked what was wrong and I silently informed her. We were both at a loss of words.
All of that was to say this;
“True worship is a beautiful expression of being caught up in the presence of God”
I was truly worshiping, and apparently, my worship prevented this woman from being caught up in God’s presence for herself. So her worship “preference” resulted in unintentionally ripping me out of God’s presence so that she could be comfortable in her pseudo-worship experience. I know that it seems harsh to say that her worship wasn’t genuine, but that is truly how I interpret it. In reason, I can understand that maybe my movement was preventing her from seeing lyrics or maybe my movement was cause her to become dizzy and these are reasonable concerns for her, but if those were the case then was I not deserving of an explanation? How many times to we act on a “preference” and that “preference” results in us doing to visitors, the hurting, the desperate, the lost in our congregations what this woman did to me? Luckily I have a strong walk with God, that can’t be affected by a one time bad experience. Since then I have moved past and forgiven this woman and myself, but if a persons first impression of our church fellowships results in them being the victim of a personal violation like I experienced here, they may never cross the threshold of our church again.
Have you ever had an experience like this? What are some ways we “violate” another persons worship experience due to our personal preferences on how we think worship should be? How does our local church make the worship experience a pure non-invasive atmosphere for the lost, hurting, or visitors in our congregation? These are all questions that our local church identities must ask themselves otherwise they risk falling into empty and obsolete ritual.