Jesus Is... Tour '06, Bristol concert review by Ben Lilford
It's finally stopped raining for the day on this small back street of Bristol. Even on a sunny day Jamaica Street where the Elim Bristol is based still looks frankly threatening, but it's here that Hillsong London have pitched their tent for the night. Despite the rain and the coincidence of the European Cup final, Hillsong still receive a good turnout of about 600 people. The age demographic is surprisingly wide, with the youth being quite out numbered by the 40+ bracket. The denominational spread is also quite wide, taking in Baptists, members of the Salvation Army and about 30 members of a local young offenders institute. There isn't quite enough time for anticipation to really reach any sort of pitch since the event starts 30 minutes after the doors open.
Styled in the same way as Hillsong's regular Sunday services, and led by the slightly Pete Hughes-looking worship pastor Pete Wilson, the band crank things up pretty much the way they intend to stay for the duration of the event. Blasting through with a couple of Hillsong United favourites "Salvation Is Here" and "Tell The World" and into songs of more meatier content, the Matt Redman co-written "Greatest Gift"' and anthem of the moment "How Great Is Our God", Pete Wilson's band definitely hit the ground running.
After a quick 10 minute sermon by Hillsong London's senior pastor Gary Clarke advocating the virtues of praise (which I'm not too sure is necessary, but at least gives a chance for older members to catch their breath and the rest of us some focus as to the theme of the night) we are off again. This is the main set and is much more gruelling. Cracks start to appear in lyrics. The same sentiment seems to be expressed song after song in that relentless, absolute kind of way which possibly Hillsong should copyright since they use it so often. Songs like "All Day" and "Only One" really throw me out of the worship mindset as I'm not sure I'm ever brave enough to say to God "Forever I Will Sing", "All I Need Is You" or "You Are Everything To Me" as I'm quite sure God can always spot a blagger. Thankfully, however, most of the material from the "Jesus Is..." album focuses more on the absolute nature of God rather than us.
Just as my mind starts to wander from what has up to this point seemed more of a song showcase than a worship event, Pete strikes up a series of refrains from various songs starting with the chorus and bridge of the Tim Hughes standard "Here I Am" through the chorus of their own "Above All" and landing in a surprisingly good United song "From The Inside-out". This serves to revive a couple of the older folk who'd sat down a couple of songs ago out of apathy.
Ending the main set with "Jesus Is..." senior pastor Gary Clarke takes to the stage again, this time for a longer and more captivating sermon/alter call which he splits into four distinct parts. The first is to do with what needs people have and why they are here. The second is possibly the best and most direct alter call I've heard in a long time, using the tried and tested "is your life at peace with God?" approach to full effect. Part three is a commission to tell the world about Jesus, "starting where you are...," and the final part serves as a ramp up to the final worship session using the theme of expectancy in God and that he can do all things.
All the way through the sermon the music ebb'd and flowed, reaching peaks with the points made. This aspect is really interesting to watch as Gary Clarke is incredibly good at orchestrating the music with his body movement and his voice pitch, both of which give the band a good idea when he is about to strike a point or when he wants them to launch into a song. The chorus "In My Life" segments the sermon into its different parts. This form of subtle interaction with a speaker is a definite testimony to the band's overall confidence and strength to be conscious of one another and work as a team.
Overall, however, the event was a mixed bag. There were a couple too many songs done in quick succession with no real interaction with the congregation in between. This left little room for reflection and people's own proclamations of praise which I always find vital for building people's confidence in God. I would say however that a good two thirds were really into this style of worship. This was evident across the rather wide age group present. From the younger guys jumping around at the front, to the 60 year old woman who was standing right in the sweet spot for the bass, really giving all she had in praise to God. Whether this same crowd would enjoy this kind of event week in week out, that's hard to tell. I ask this question because that was definitely one of the things promoted here tonight, the Hillsong brand of worship. Most likely the age range would shrink down to a younger core but with an orator such as Gary Clarke at the helm it would be in for a good season.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.