How our church found God in the midst of tragedy

We have gunshots in the building!" people cried as they burst through the door from the hallway. I quickly ran through the children's department on the second story of our church, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., hearing gunfire in the main hallway directly below me.

Three days later we gathered as a church family to mourn the loss of two beautiful girls, Rachel and Stephanie Works, and to find our way through the shock and the grief of a bitter tragedy. That evening in December 2007 was full of emotional pain that gave way to unmovable faith.

I have never been in a worship service like it, even though our church was no stranger to trauma. Just 13 months before we had endured a scandalous dismissal of our senior pastor, Ted Haggard. But this experience revealed something greater in us. Our church embraced a holy defiance that came from a deep conviction in our hearts. Worship was not just our response; we were learning that it was at the very core of who we were and what we believed. God was being revealed to us in our moment of crisis and pain.

In an age of consumer-driven, programmed and packaged worship services, the need for churches that understand what worship is has never been more important. Worship is not magical pixie dust we sprinkle over ourselves to escape the world and its harsh realities. It isn't a drug to be consumed for the buzz or an opiate to soothe our sadness. Worship is and always has been a revelation that consumes us!

That revelation can come at the strangest moments. Consider Isaiah 6, when, during the national tragedy of a king's death, God reveals Himself and His plan to Isaiah the prophet. Look at Psalm 73, in which the psalmist wrestles with his own anger over hardship but suddenly understands eternity at the moment of entering the sanctuary. Or witness the overwhelming revelation of the Lamb of God to the apostle John in Revelation 4-5. God is revealed in worship, especially, it seems, during moments of weakness, tragedy or disappointment.

Acts 16:22-34 finds Paul and Silas chained in stocks, singing hymns and praying after having been beaten, bloodied and bruised. Were they singing because they were convinced God was going to break them out of jail? I don't think so. They sang because they had found a deep, rich, abiding confidence that God was still on the throne. His presence was with them in that jail cell, for they had decided to put their trust in Him long before their boldness landed them there.

The true essence of worship is found in the crisis, in the trying of our faith, for it is only there that we decide whether or not we will trust him! We make him "Lord" in that instant. We decide right there in that moment if we are indeed worshipers.

We must treat worship as more than just a church-growth strategy. It's not enough to appeal to our many felt needs. Worship is the affirmation that God is big enough and strong enough to walk with us through a crisis and make something beautiful out of it!

Our church knows this better than we used to. Our newfound perspective comes from confidence gained as we worshiped our way through the darkness of our doubt. And through our journey, we've discovered God's profound strength and His redeeming purpose for us as an overcoming community, shining the light of God's presence for the world to see.

Ross Parsley is the worship pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and president and founder of the New Life School of Worship, which trains and equips young men and women to lead worship in local churches.

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