The Animate experience was a clear reflection of the new realities of how people collaborate and communicate globally. Our online exchanges ended up going offline by us hopping on a plane to be in Dallas in a few hours. Our hosts, Allen and Laura Gower, connected to us via Facebook and had stopped in Amsterdam for lunch past summer on their way to a conference in St.Petersburg. And my wife was in Vienna for the weekend with the wife of the guy who was with us as a visitor.
We all have pictures in our minds of what events will look like and who will attend. I'm not sure what everyone else's expectation was, but mine was a bit of a dusty blank slate - since I had never been at a conference with Christian worship teams. In fact, I'm not even a worship leader and the last time I was part of a worship team was so long ago that the dust had already settled securely on the images in my aged brain.
The positive side of lack of preparation is that you don't have time to develop an opinion until the facts hit you square in the face. So I was unprepared and lacked any context. A sort of David showing up at the battlefield with no context of the troop movements, timetables, tactics and equipment utilized to face a massive battle. I can recommend it.
I had been praying that God would show us how we could help a guy who asked me to spiritually mentor him. We are studying the Bible to help him gain vision for himself and what God had in mind for him. He's a product manager for one of the fastest growing startups in Amsterdam and made it clear that he was dreaming for God to use him in a great way. Not limited by conventional wisdom and expectations (not too big of a challenge for me, haha). He had been talking about joining efforts with global impact as a focus. "Small thinkers: Do not apply" so to speak.
So the worship leader of the Amsterdam church, myself, and our friend decided to invest in a trip to Dallas. Not generally a tourist destination (certainly not compared to Amsterdam), but a spiritual enrichment destination. Not for selfish gain, but for godly gain, so we could grow and be inspired to change and become more like Jesus for the benefit of the Amsterdam church and all those beyond, who God could help us touch. Given that Amsterdam houses people from more cultures than New York City, it stands to reason that we could have a vision that God could use this.
Three lessons I learned in Dallas at the Animate conference.
1) Unity is not uniformity
Meeting needs means adjusting our approach.
Gifted artists are not known for uniformity, so this may seem an obvious one. Indeed, our first 30 minutes at the conference venue made us realize how diverse the people present really were, from clothes to hairstyles (and my balding lack thereof). On a deeper level, as the weekend unfolded, we heard and saw such a hugely diverse approach to worship that it quickly became clear that the days of "standard" worship and cookie cutter music styles were solid history.
It was not a display or reflection of artists' individual tastes and opinions however. No, it was truly a diverse approach to worship, clearly based on local needs. Everyone was vocally and pragmatically united in their conviction that the worship service was a means to help the whole congregation draw closer to God as well as draw closer to each other.
We heard anything from country and hip hop to a cappella. It was amazing and incredibly uplifting.
Jesus' mission was to compassionately serve us. He was willing to "take the form of a human being" to do so. We saw this in action at the Animate conference.
2) Harmony is not hierarchy
Super-gifted disciples who humbly let others sing and worship.
Anyone who ever had a passion to accomplish something has most likely had to deal with putting themselves central instead of God. As a result we start seeing others as hindrances to our mission and forget that we are here to serve as Jesus did. "Not my will...."
The temptation for super-gifted disciples to perform can quickly result in a form of hierarchy. We have seen this in the past in the church, where gifted and passionate disciples were elevated without consideration for the damage they caused by trying to control those who performed less or made them look bad. It was amazingly refreshing to hear these gifted disciples acknowledge their need to let go of their worldly patterns for control. Instead, they humbly wanted to step back and support those who were less experienced or even less gifted.
They clearly created an atmosphere of harmony, not hierarchy.
3) Globalization is not centralization
Freedom to take a friend from a small church in Amsterdam to experience God's family.
Young people and those of us who operate in similar divergent ways, take advantage of the access they are afforded to their celebrities, leaders and resources. They are used to being individually "heard" and seen and have direct access to anything they deem important. The beautiful thing is that it also allows us to stay "decentralized" while impacting our local communities while being completely connected globally.
Thanks to the Austin "Tribe", God sent an intern to Amsterdam who had a weekend conference a few months ago, but asked if she could stay for two months to help. She worked with our campus group and one of the recently baptized disciples was so encouraged that she looked for a way to be trained in the US. A collaboration between Austin, Dallas, Atlanta and Amsterdam emerged. Not organized by "leaders", but just by disciples with a passion to make a difference. Bring it on!
Where in the past, leaders had to centralize efforts to communicate and create effective "distribution" methods, we see how local initiatives and individual discoveries can be celebrated and taken advantage of by anyone. We used to have Americans come to Europe who had no idea that the culture and approach to reaching people was different. The common thought used to be that if it worked in the US, everyone should just do it that way. There was little to no awareness of local culture and a centralized, cookie-cutter approach caused a great deal of ineffectiveness, frustration and unhappiness. Fortunately the new realities of direct access and organic group assembly (online to offline) helps us bypass old style centralization with its trappings.
Let's go for more!
We can't wait to see how God will use these events and our ability to fluently and openly communicate as well as start initiatives to reach people in our neighborhoods and cities. Our friend who came with us saw the unity, the harmony and the globalization of God's work displayed in front of him and has caught a much greater vision of what God can do with his life.
The experience was great and the message was clear and simple. Allow God to work in each group of Christians regardless of size or location, through unity, harmony and globalization!
Thank you Austin, Dallas, and all the other worship teams who were present for showing us worship in every way imaginable. We are inspired and called higher to do the same in Amsterdam.