"I saw you in the main field. You were playing around two enormous feet – Abba Father’s feet."
A good friend volunteering at the Christian festival David's Tent told me this shortly before I arrived as a first-timer at the rural estate near Worthing, Sussex. The picture stayed with me through the three days. At first I was more aware of the enormity of our father in the heavens, with earth his footstool. On the Monday morning I was surprised to sense myself lying on one of Abba’s feet, resting, maybe about to move, carried on his foot.
6,000 people, mostly charismatic Christians, came to David’s Tent this year. The majority were young adults, although when the over-50s were asked to raise their hands, we saw a good few reach up. The mix of white and black festival-goers was refreshing.
I wasn't alone in finding David’s Tent a good place to receive prophecy and to pray. When I asked a few people for their highlight of the weekend, all said they had received an accurate word of prophecy - whether from those ministering or from fellow festival delegates.
Everyone at David’s Tent seemed keen to be engaged – in worship, in friendly fellowship, in Holy Spirit ministry. The willingness and ability to flow in the Spirit was impressive. The estate owners have a similar spirituality. They welcomed their fellow Christians with enthusiasm, delighted to have worship taking place on their land.
David’s Tent has a simple programme, meaning there's no anguished trying to decide between four enticing seminars all happening at once. Instead, in the big tent, worship is led by various people continuously for 72 hours, while a prayer tent holds smaller gatherings and a break out tent relays the big tent worship.
The technical teams were excellent, the engineering was swift and the changeovers between bands were smooth. Among the worship leaders were some ‘big names’ – Martin Smith and Noel Robinson, plus many American worship leaders connected with Bethel Church in Redding, California.
Bethel-influenced worship dominated. For me there was too much telling people what to do – to sing more loudly, to shout out, to raise hands, to not ‘partner with apathy.’ People who wanted to be more reflective could easily have felt guilty. The general implication was that we were worshipping a God far away in heaven and we needed to be loud enough for him to hear. Despite much talk of being intimate, as children of God, there was little worship of Jesus our brother, with us always, and no mention of Abba Father.
Many of the songs had formulaic words which were much repeated: "We exalt you", "We lift you up", "Worthy is the Lord". We needed more words helping us to grasp why we would want God to be a bigger part of our life and what makes him worthy. On the Monday morning Elle Limebear’s words "Hello, Maker of the Moon. You knew me in my mother’s womb," were water to exhausted souls.
More worship without words would have helped. The musicians were of a high standard and could have played and improvised much more while the vocal lead stepped back. Instead we had too much ‘prophetic worship’ with the vocal leaders telling everyone what they thought God was saying – a succession of mini-sermons breaking up the flow.
Worship leaders are gifted people who have found worship to be important and helpful in their lives. Every gift has it dangers, and worship leaders can sometimes exaggerate the importance of worship. For example, we heard that worship itself can heal people and the land. Granted, worship creates a good atmosphere for healing prayer, but when was worship part of Jesus’ healing ministry?
Worship appeared to be defined as putting ourselves fully into the experience. Little mention was made of walking in obedience. How do we make the connection between proclaiming Jesus as our King and King of our world, and obeying his royal commands?
The organisers stressed that they were not giving people a good time, but seeking the Kingdom of God in our lives and our world. They urged people to carry with them the flow of the Spirit strengthened at David’s Tent. I wonder whether we needed more indications of how to do this. Maybe a Christian event which only focuses on worship is unbalanced? Other festivals offer a mixture of worship and teaching. It felt odd to have had so much singing with no reading from the Bible and no explanation of how what we were experiencing in that tent connects with our real world experience.
Overall, the event was a great success. Everyone I talked to left more enthusiastic than they came, and I left delighted with a greater awareness of Abba Father with and above and under me, through the wonderful picture of his feet touching our earth.
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