5 Questions Before Considering A Ministry Move

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Questions

If the choice to stay in your present ministry position or leave for another one is within your control, then you should be asking some fundamental questions before considering a move.

  • Has God released me from my call here?

Another place of ministry may seem more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding. But until God releases you to go there…stay here.

  • Am I running from something?

God didn’t promise that you’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed. So if you are running from ministry or relational dysfunction that isn’t resolved here, what makes you think it wouldn’t follow you there?

  • Am I running to something?

If you are interested in another ministry just because it’s bigger, better, more prestigious or prominent, then your motivation might be ego instead of calling. If greener grass or several rungs up the ladder is the new you are running to, then you’ll inevitably be disappointed and so will they.

  • How might it impact my family?

Only considering your own ministry desires, needs and wants without recognizing how it might affect your family is not a calling, it is conceit. If your ministry frequently moves your children away from their friends and foundations, then how can you expect them to even like church when they are no longer required to attend?

  • Am I ready to leave well?

If you go out swinging when you leave here it will follow you when you get there. Leave with Ephesians 4:29 on your lips: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

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Worship Leader Envy: The Tall Poppy Syndrome

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tall poppyTall Poppy is a pejorative term used in Australia and the U.K. to describe the resentment, jealousy or envy for those whose accomplishments seem to elevate them above their peers. Tall Poppy Syndrome is the social phenomenon that occurs when others try to achieve parity not by being satisfied with or improving themselves, but instead by trying to bring the other guy down to their own level. So the tall poppy must be criticized, attacked and cut down to size.

The potential for worship leading envy is high since we don’t have to look very far to find another leader who is younger, plays guitar better, gets more recognition, has an edgier band, has a larger choir, gets called to a bigger church, sings with more passion, has a healthier relationship with his/her pastor, writes better songs or has a better platform presence.

Sometimes instead of trying to improve our own worship leading skills or being willing to champion the worship leading successes of our colleagues, the Tall Poppy Syndrome causes us to assume and even publicly claim that the success of others must only have been possible through stylistic superficiality, musical adulteration or theological compromise.

Worship Leader envy is irrational and covetous discontent as the result of another’s perceived superior qualities, advantages, achievements and successes. Arthur Chapman wrote, “Envy is like a fly that passes all the body’s sounder parts, and dwells upon the sores.”

Envy is like looking to the left or right while running on a treadmill…your feet follow your eyes and usually cause a fall. Contentment, on the other hand, runs the race by fixing its eyes on Jesus.

“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow’s blessings instead of your own.” Harold Coffin

 

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5 Reasons Worship Leaders Are Losing Their Jobs

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reasonsChristianity Today recently published an article indicating that nearly one-fourth of all active ministers have been forced out at some point in their ministry. It is true that staying in a current ministry position may not always be within our control. But what if we are or aren’t doing some things that are contributing to our positional demise? Aren’t we called to do everything we can here instead of just hoping it will be different when we move there?

Relational instead of musical deficiencies seem to be at the root of many forced worship leader terminations. And yet, most worship leaders continue to spend the majority of their time just trying to get better musically. We’ll never be able to learn and teach enough new songs to make up for relationship and leadership failures.

5 Reasons Worship Leaders Are Losing Their Jobs

They equate leading music with leading people

Meaningful relationships develop as we place more focus on people than projects. What will our congregants remember most…how we led them musically on the platform or how we treated them to and from the platform?

 

They aren’t learning anything new

Ageism often gets the blame for this one. Even though ministry ageism is theologically suspect so is not learning anything new. A lifelong learner is one who understands it is never too soon or too late to learn. What we once learned is not enough to sustain our entire ministry.

 

They’ve confused calling and convenience

What is compelling us? Convenience responds with, “This is what I like to do.” Calling responds with, “This is what I was created to do.” If we lead worship just because we love to play and sing, because we need to supplement our income, because we enjoy being up-front or because we aren’t trained to do anything else, then our compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling.

 

They can’t get along with their pastor

Even when we win a relationship conflict with our pastor, we lose. The relationships exemplified by the Acts 2 church as they spent time together, had everything in common, broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts is often foreign to pastors and worship leaders. What could occur relationally if we resolved to buy-in to our pastor’s leadership as long as it wasn’t immoral, illegal or unethical?

 

Their family isn’t their ministry

Scripture reminds us to love God first, then our neighbors as ourselves. Our closest neighbor is our family. We must never sacrifice family for ministry since they are our ministry. Instead, we should first ask how something might impact our family before ever asking how it might impact our job.

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Want Multicultural Worship? Speak Their Language!

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multiculturalImagine your church filled with people of all colors, nationalities, economic levels, generations and even political ideologies all worshiping God together! The problem with this scenario is that most of us imagine how great this could be as long as they worship the same way we do.

Early missionaries went to other countries and attempted to teach indigenous tribes and tongues to worship by singing western songs with western notation and western rhythms only to realize that those indigenous people were not connecting with a deeper biblical and theological understanding of worship. It wasn’t until the missionaries encouraged the use of native dance, tonalities, instruments and rhythms that the various tribes and tongues were able to understand worship in spirit and truth.

We often make the same mistake in our own American churches. We try to create homogenous worship without considering the various cultures and generations of those present and those not present yet. And then wonder why they aren’t grasping a deeper understanding of worship renewal.

Why are we so understanding and accepting of cultural diversities around the world but not across the aisle? And why do we call it missions when we embrace cultural influences on worship internationally and call it compromise when we embrace those influences domestically? If we really want to understand and encourage multicultural worship, maybe it’s time for worship leaders to become ethnodoxologists.

Ethnodoxology is the theological and anthropological understanding and application of how various cultural groups might use their unique and diverse artistic expressions appropriately to worship God. It recognizes God is present in and reveals Himself to other cultures.

The term finds its source in 2 Biblical Greek words…Ethno from the Greek word ethne meaning peoples or people groups; and Doxology, from the Greek word doxos meaning glory or praise.

Ethnodoxologist Worship Leaders…

  • Stop trying to fix everything with music. Music is a universal language as long as you live in my cultural universe. So when music is the solitary driver of multicultural worship it will get the solitary blame if it fails.
  • Discover and assimilate the heart languages of those who are here and those who are not here yet. Heart language is the mother tongue in which we first learned to express our joy and sorrow.
  • Help congregants understand worship as a life to be lived together before considering it as an event in which to participate together.
  • Lead and model for their congregations how to live multicultural instead of monocultural lives. How can congregations expect to have multicultural worship when they segregate in everything else during the week? Learning to love, respect, understand and defer to each other outside of the worship service can’t help but positively impact multicultural worship inside the worship service.
  • Look beyond Americanism as having a corner on worship understanding and expression. We must look at what God is doing around the world and agree that no single country or culture offers the only acceptible way to worship.
  • Base multicultural worship on the understanding that earthly worship should reflect heavenly worship. “And there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb…And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne.’”
  • Promote multicultural platforms. Being a multicultural church means more than just singing international songs. It means that the people who plan and lead worship must also represent a variety of cultural and ethnic groups. Few people will believe we desire multicultural worship until we also have multicultural leadership.
  • Don’t undervalue diversity by assuming worship is homogenous and therefore eliminates all differences. Multicultural congregations understand that the gospel brings unity amidst our diversity, not in uniformity.

If we are not meant to be segregated by our cultures and generations as we worship in Heaven, then why are we so segregated as we worship here on earth?

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The Arrogance of Inviting God to Show Up

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invitationWe’ve all heard or maybe even said…”As we worship this morning we are inviting God to show up and show off.”

We seem to have forgotten that, “The Father is seeking (He is initiating) the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23).

How arrogant then is it for us to assume that what we sing or don’t sing or how we sing it or don’t sing it determines if God shows up in our worship services.

He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). God calls…we declare.

We can acknowledge His presence but we can’t generate it. We can respond to His presence but we can’t initiate it. We can celebrate His presence but we can’t create it.

We often take credit for instigating God’s presence when in reality He started the conversation, was present long before we arrived and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him.

Swiss theologian Karl Barth stated that when people assemble in the house of God they are met with expectancy greater than their own. Worship doesn’t invite God’s presence…it acknowledges it.

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Event Spectators or Worship Participators?

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spectators
If we never involve our congregants as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive event spectators into active worship participators?

Spectator

Someone who attends or watches an event or game; An onlooker or observer; A member of an audience; A spectator could be a fan or foe depending on who is playing and what is being played; and Spectators think they are in the game because they are in the stands.

Participator

Someone who is involved or makes a contribution to; Related to something larger than oneself; One who invests in, takes part in or shares in; A participator is engaged and involved; and Participators are in the game because they are always on the field.

Reasons Churches Have Event Spectators Instead of Worship Participators

  • Leaders are doing everything for them.
  • Worship is a weekly event instead of a daily life.
  • Singing is the only participatory option given to them.
  • Various artistic expressions aren’t encouraged or allowed.
  • Worship space and technology encourages audience observation.
  • Worship is a noun instead of a verb.
  • Worship is regard for religion instead of response to revelation.
  • Worship is man perceived instead of God conceived.
  • Just showing up is the only preparation expected.

William Willimon wrote, “Many of the Sunday orders of worship consist of the pastor speaking, the pastor praying, the pastor reading and the choir singing, with little opportunity for the congregation to do anything but sit and listen . . . When the Sunday service is simply a time to sit quietly, hear some good music and a good sermon, sing a hymn, and then go home to eat dinner, no wonder many of our people get confused into thinking that Christ only wants passive admirers rather than active followers.”[1]

 

[1] William H. Willimon, Preaching and Leading Worship (Philadelphia PA: Westminster, 1984), 20.

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Worship Service Secret Shopper

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EvaluationSome congregations evaluate the theological depth of their worship but never consider how shallow their worship service logistics are. Guests often visit our churches with little or no understanding of theological worship. They do, however, understand excellence, cleanliness, the safety of their children and their own comfort or its absence.

So maybe it’s time for churches to also evaluate their worship logistics including what occurs before, during and after the service.

Since it’s easy to overlook what we have gotten used to, it is more beneficial to secure an outside evaluator for a greater degree of unbiased and unprejudiced objectivity. A friend from another congregation, an acquaintance from the community or even your favorite coffee shop barista could be enlisted as a secret shopper. For the minimal expense of presenting them with a restaurant gift card you could invite one or several guests to visit and complete an evaluation questionnaire.

We often assume the theological depth of our worship service will encourage visitors to return and even stay. And that might actually be true if they could ever see past our logistical blind spots.

Secret Shopper Evaluation Questionnaire
  • Was it easy to get into the parking lot and convenient to park?

Observations:

  • Was it clear where you were supposed to go once you arrived?

Observations:

  • Was the property in good repair and grounds well kept?

Observations:

  • When were you first greeted, if ever?

Observations:

  • Did the attitude of the greeter make you feel welcome?

Observations:

  • Were you offered coffee and was it excellent, mediocre or bad?

Observations:

  • Were the foyer colors and decorations outdated?

Observations:

  • Did it seem like people were happy to be there and glad to be together?

Observations:

  • Were the handouts timely and of excellent quality?

Observations:

  • Was the restroom clean and odor free?

Observations:

  • Did you feel safe leaving your child in the children’s ministry area?

Observations:

  • Was the worship space interesting and pleasing to the eye?

Observations:

  • How did you figure out where to sit?

Observations:

  • Did you feel conspicuous when you entered the worship space?

Observations:

  • Was the worship center seating comfortable?

Observations:

  • Was there enough light?

Observations:

  • Was the temperature at a comfortable level?

Observations:

  • Did anyone dress or look like you?

Observations:

  • How was the volume of the speaking and music?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders use language you didn’t understand?

Observations:

  • How was the service flow and pace?

Observations:

  • Did the service seem too long?

Observations:

  • Was the worship service order easy to follow or confusing?

Observations:

  • Was it easy to participate musically?

Observations:

  • Was the music presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Was the music culturally relevant for the people present?

Observations:

  • Were the video projection elements presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Did you feel welcome to participate in all worship service elements?

Observations:

  • Was the sermon easy to follow and meaningful?

Observations:

  • Did any of the service elements make you feel uncomfortable?

Observations:

  • Did anything in the service distract you?

Observations:

  • How did you know what to do when the worship service was over?

Observations:

  • Did anyone speak to you after the service?

Observations:

  • Were the members friendly, unfriendly or disinterested?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders seem approachable?

Observations:

  • Any additional observations?

Observations:

  • Would you come back based on your observations?

Observations:

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Fleeting Worship: The Esau Syndrome

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fleetingPaul wrote to the Corinthian Church, “I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (I Cor. 9:19-20 NIV). “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Cor. 9:22 NIV).

Becoming all things to all people sometimes requires us to adjust systematically. It doesn’t, however, mean that we should compromise our biblical, theological or even historical worship foundations just to accommodate cultural inclinations.

Compromising our worship foundations just to accommodate culture embraces the Esau Syndrome. Esau was willing to trade history, traditions and a significant inheritance just to satisfy his short-term appetite (Heb. 12:14 MSG).

Biblical worship is not fleeting. It remembers the past, led us to the present and anticipates the future. So its foundation has never been about just trying to appeal to the whims of culture. It instead sings, tells and enacts God’s story from its beginning to end.[1]

So trying to re-create worship just to appeal to short-term appetites means the fleeting worship we try to reach culture with is the fleeting worship we will reach culture to.

 

[1] Adapted from Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 40, 44.

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Two Worship Killers: Nostalgia and Novelty

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nostalgiaPlanning worship just to perpetuate past feelings or promote future ones are both worship killers.

 

Nostalgia is sentimental remembrance of previous times or significant events that continue to stir happy or meaningful personal recollections. Nostalgia in reasonable doses can provide a sense of comfort. But too much can have a negative effect perpetuating the belief that an earlier time is preferable to present day conditions.

Excessive nostalgia as it relates to worship can cause a congregation to romanticize, idealize and even embellish past worship practices in an effort to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past for future generations.

Nostalgically extending previous practices has the potential to limit a congregation to its past performance, potentially killing present and future worship efforts. The end result is worship that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the idealized emotions that were originally stirred.

Novelty is the quality of being new, original or unusual just to be new, original or unusual. A novelty entertains for a short period of time until another novelty surfaces. College freshmen enjoy the novelty of independence until they have to do their own laundry. A child’s birthday present is novel until he opens the next one.

Novelty as it relates to worship can cause a congregation to over innovate, over stimulate and over imitate. Each Sunday then becomes an exercise in surpassing the creativity of the previous Sunday. So when excessive worship novelty occurs our focus is often on the creative instead of the creator.

It looks as if those who lead worship believe people can be lured by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications and complications. Novelties such as these are often inserted for their entertainment value. But worship is not about entertainment. The charge to Peter was feed my sheep; not try experiments on my rats, or even, teach my performing dogs new tricks.[1]

 

[1] Adapted from C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (San Diego: Harvest, 1964) 4-5.

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Worship That Wastes God’s Time

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KairosOur English language has only one word for time. But the ancient Greeks used two different words to distinguish between chronological time and theological time.

We can’t create theological time or God moments through our song selections, emotions or orders of worship. That holy time doesn’t originate from our own innovations, desire for relevance or by following a recipe for worship success observed in other churches.

Chronos is sequential time that is orderly, rhythmic and predictable. It is time that is externally controlled, can be measured by a clock and is quantitative.

Kairos is the time not measured by the clock, but the moment God has chosen. It is time that could disrupt the normal flow of tradition, habits, methods and ways of thinking. Kairos is qualitative and cannot be humanly manipulated or controlled.

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes understood this Kairos time when he wrote, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4). When Jesus’ brothers failed to understand who he was, he tells them, “My time (Kairos) has not yet arrived, but your time (Kairos) is always at hand” (John 7:6).

Fr. Ken Kulinski communicates a deeper understanding of Kairos:

Kairos time is the moment of undetermined length in which the eternal (God and His story) breaks into the temporal (me and my story), shattering and transforming it, and prepares the temporal to receive the eternal. It is in this moment in which the conditional cancels itself out and makes itself the instrument of the unconditional.[1]

In a Chronos approach to worship planning and implementation, a congregation asks God to enter its story or the story of its own making. In a Kairos approach, the congregation is asked to enter God’s story. Kairos might occur in the first approach but has already occurred in the second one.

Here is the question as we plan and lead worship this week: Are we missing Kairos moments in our efforts to manufacture creative worship services? God has provided Scripture, prayer and the Lord’s Supper as Kairos opportunities for us to join His story. So in our efforts to be creative and innovative are we minimizing His time (Kairos) in order to give more time (Chronos) to other service elements of our own making?

[1] adapted from Fr. Ken Kulinski, “Kairos-God’s Time.” CowPi Journal, 9 October 2003. Database on-line. Available from http://cowpi.com/journal/2003/10/kairos_gods_time.html.

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Worship Experience…An Oxymoron

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Experience

We don’t experience worship, we experience God. Our response to that experience is worship.

 

Experience is an event or occurrence. We can experience a fine meal. We can experience a baseball game or Disneyland. It is something done to us or for us. It is an encounter. Worship, however, is something we do.

We can experience the many facets of God inside or outside a worship service but the experience or encounter is not worship, our response is. So a worship service built on an experience alone is shortsighted if it never allows us an opportunity to respond.

Depending on an experience alone can cause us to be satisfied with the feelings elicited by that experience. Consequently, we might select and sing certain songs or even styles of songs because of how they make us feel and then never move beyond those feelings to worship. And if those songs don’t create and recreate that same feeling each week we can leave a worship service believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

God’s revelation (experience) is when He offers us a glimpse of His activity, His will, His attributes, His judgment, His discipline, His comfort, His hope and His promises. Our response is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes prepared reply to that experience…worship.

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Building A Wall And Asking Senior Adults To Pay For It

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wallSenior adults are probably not as averse to church change as much as they are to feeling marginalized through those changes. Their opinions are no longer needed or considered and their convictions seem to be overlooked as antiquated. I can imagine some seniors view change as building a wall to separate what was from what will be.

It appears that the price paid through their years of blood, sweat, tears and tithes is now being used to build a wall that will sideline or keep them out completely. When your horse dies…stop riding it may be a great adage to challenge congregations attempting to reach an ever-changing culture with never changing practices. But it doesn’t offer much comfort for the pain and grief of those who loved the horse.

Change is sometimes necessary when a church considers the culture and context of those present and those not present yet. But in an effort to initiate change, some congregations push to do anything different than what was done in the past.

Congregations often change their worship and discipleship styles and structures without ever evaluating their existing people and practices. That lack of planning and reflection can often cause unnecessary transitional pain as a result of the depreciation of what was.

Since change is often essential in order for churches to progress, the automatic assumption is it will always require incorporating something completely new. It is possible, however, that the only new necessary for congregational health and growth is to do what you are already doing…better.

Chip and Dan Heath wrote, “We rarely ask the question: What’s working and how can we do more of it? What we ask instead is more problem-focused: What’s broken and how do we fix it?[1] Maybe the change most of our congregations actually need is not a revolution but instead a reevaluation.

A revolution forcibly overthrows an existing system or structure in order to substitute another. It replaces what presently exists without considering what might still hold value. And in a revolution one side always loses.

A reevaluation, however, considers or examines something again. Reevaluation allows a congregation to consider change by rethinking, revisiting and reinvestigating. It systematically and selectively preserves valuable elements for re-use.

Most of us like to blow things up, so our initial response when things don’t seem to be working is to completely destroy existing practices for the prospect of future success. Maybe a reevaluation instead of a revolution would allow us to tear down those walls between our generations. And maybe church change conversations should begin with how we can prayerfully add to rather than arbitrarily take away.

“Any change can be approached as either a threat or an opportunity, either a cause for celebration or a reason to despair.” Craig Satterlee

 

[1] Heath, Chip and Dan Heath, Switch:  How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 55.

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Worship Service Blocking and Tackling

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blocking and tacklingRenowned Green Bay Packer coach, Vince Lombardi once said, “Some people try to find things in this game that don’t exist, but football is only two things…blocking and tackling.” Without blocking, the offense cannot score. Without tackling, the defense cannot stop the offense. Success is not possible until the foundations are covered.

Music often serves as the only recognized worship expression for many congregations. It is indeed an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it is not the only or even primary expression. In fact, music is a supplemental not foundational act of worship. Until we get the worship foundations covered, music is just music.

Instead of beginning our worship conversations with what we are singing we should begin those conversations with the blocking and tackling elements of Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.

Scripture
We defend the Bible as foundational to our theology and practice yet rarely read its text in our public services of worship.

Worship must begin with the Word. Scripture must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. Biblical text must organically yield our sermons and songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language.

Prayer
Instead of a profound conversation with the Father as an act of worship, prayer is often used as a final breath of fresh air before a long service section, to break up a song set when keys or styles are not relative or to discreetly move the worship band to the platform.

Worship service prayer has been relegated to the role of a service utility infielder. It is often plugged into worship service holes as a musical connector rather than a divine conversation that actually gives us a reason to sing in the first place.

Lord’s Supper/Communion
The tradition of observing the Lord’s Supper quarterly, when it will fit into the sermon schedule, in response to the local church calendar, or just because a congregation hasn’t observed it recently has contributed to the minimization of this foundational ordinance.

Eleanor Kreider challenges congregations to consider the Lord’s Supper as a foundational element of worship by stating, “Churches will be renewed when the Lord’s Supper, graced by God’s presence and Word, oriented to the living Lord and empowered by the Spirit, is fully restored to the place it had in the early centuries-as the central communal Christian act of worship.”[1]

Two worship actions and interactions are available at the Table: the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion of believers unified in identity and relationships at the Table.

Considering Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper as foundational instead of supplemental to worship could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict. Worship can happen without music but cannot happen when foundational biblical and theological worship elements are only offered as convenient add-ons.

 

[1] Eleanor Kreider, Communion Shapes Character (Scottdale: Herald, 1997), 15.

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Small Churches: Sitting At the Kids’ Table

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Kids' TableIt happens every time families gather for their holiday meals. There’s never enough room at the well-appointed dining room table for everyone so the children are relegated to the kids’ table. There they eat on paper plates with plastic utensils at a flimsy card table covered with a plastic tablecloth and sit on rickety chairs that didn’t sell at the last garage sale.

The adolescent children long for the day when they too can join the adult table where it seems like the conversation is always more substantial and the table appointments are always more abundant. Even though the food is exactly the same, the kids’ table is often a mediocre representation of the adult table.

Smaller churches and their leaders are sometimes separated along the same lines of demarcation from larger churches. Adult table wannabe’s.

Church statistical information, however, indicates that 95 percent of American churches average 350 or less in worship and 75-80 percent of those congregations average 150 or less. And according to a new study from the Hartford Institute, more than half are under 100. So smaller churches are actually the norm or largest majority of churches nationwide, not just a mediocre or irrelevant representation of larger churches.

Every church, no matter how small or large should be developing distinctly and becoming uniquely the congregation God has called them to be where they are with what they have.

Smaller church leaders could learn from secret agent, Angus MacGyver, the main character in an action-adventure television series that ran for seven seasons beginning in 1985. MacGyver was able to find clever solutions and solve complex problems with everyday materials at hand. If he wanted to survive each week, he couldn’t wait until all the people and pieces were in place to begin.

Offering what is available even with some of the smaller church limitations is not settling for the mediocrity of the kids’ table. It’s also never a license for laziness or a lack of preparation since loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors isn’t contingent on congregational size or abilities.

Smaller churches must continue to pray that God would send more people, stronger leaders and greater opportunities to influence their communities and the world. But like MacGyver, they are called to create something unbelievable with what they have available now instead of just biding their time until they get to sit at the adult table.

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Crowdsourcing Our Worship Evaluation

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crowdsourcingCrowdsourcing is an intentional process of obtaining ideas, creativity and evaluation from a large group of people.

The principle of outsourcing to a larger crowd is that more heads are better than a few. In other words, canvassing a larger and more diverse crowd of people could encourage a superior quality of idea generation and content evaluation.

One of the premier examples of crowdsourcing is Wikipedia. Instead of hiring writers and editors to create an encyclopedia, Wikipedia offers a crowd the opportunity to create and moderate information on their own. The result is a backless encyclopedia.

Those of us who plan and present worship usually determine its success or failure solely on our own observations. If congregants attend, move their lips, lift their hands and don’t often complain about the songs or sound, then we assume the worship was good. So worship evaluation and our response is based primarily on their presence and perceived participation.

But if the structure and content of our worship service is always determined by the evaluations of the same select few of us, then our worship reality is limited to our assumptions. And those sometimes-shallow assumptions can blind us to worship that may not actually be occurring.

Involving our congregation in worship evaluation is only possible if we have enough humility to admit we love God and the church more than we love unfettered control. Evaluation is already occurring in our halls and parking lots. Crowdsourcing lets our congregations know we too value those assessments in our worship planning, preparation and presentation.

Worship leaders need to get off their assumptions and ask for congregational input

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1 Corinthians 13 for Worship Leaders

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1 Corinthians 13 for Worship Leaders

 

love

If I sing like my favorite worship artist, but do not have love, I am just a loud kick drum or cheap crash cymbal.

If I have the gift of creative verbal transitions and understand the mystery and knowledge of chord charts and choir scores, and if I have the faith that can move the emotions of an entire congregation, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give the old sound system to a poor congregation, install the new one all by myself, and then post it on Facebook so all my friends will know, but do not have love, I won’t get any likes.

Love is patient with a congregation that is slow to change,
Love is kind to the tech team.
Love doesn’t envy the size of another church,
It doesn’t brag during the worship pastor’s lunch meeting,
It doesn’t incessantly promote itself on YouTube.

It doesn’t publicly complain about its players or pastor,
It doesn’t use its present ministry just to climb the ladder toward a future ministry,
It doesn’t lose its temper when the lead guitarist misses the bridge,
or keep track of the times it has happened before.

Love is not happy with worship team spiritual apathy
so it encourages a culture of mutual accountability.

It always protects confidentialities,
always trusts the team members,
always hopes biblical worship is central,
and always rehearses just one more time.

Love never coasts.
But where there are creative verbal transitions, they will cease;
Where there are beautiful voices to sing amazing songs, they will be silent;
Where there is musical knowledge, it will pass away.

For we kind-of know and can kind-of talk about worship,

But when perfect worship occurs, the kind-of will disappear.

When I was a child, I sang childish songs.
When I became a man, I traded childish songs for adult songs…but still just songs.

For now we see hazily, as through the mist of a fog machine.
But soon the haze will evaporate and the room will be completely clear.
Now I kind-of know; Then I will fully know, even as I am fully known.

Until that time, until we fully know, we must do three things:
Have Faith that God will help us.
Hope that we are getting it right.
And love God and each other.

As a worship leader, love often seems to be the hardest…but it is also the greatest.

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Getting Older: The Worship Leader’s Third Rail

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third railAgeism has impacted or probably will at some point impact most of us serving in worship leadership. Churches seem to be on the lookout for a younger platform presence or fresher image from those who lead.

Forced termination or demotion as a result of the ageism epidemic reminds us that where we serve is not always ours to control. What we can control, however, is that we are prepared to continue to serve even if it is no longer here.

So what if we find ourselves only prepared to lead a ministry that no longer exists? What if what we once learned is not enough to sustain us through our entire ministry? What can we do that will allow us to continue?

Learn Something New – The end of learning new is the beginning of leading old. A lifelong learner is one who understands it is never too soon or too late to learn something new. Famed basketball coach John Wooden stated, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” So if you haven’t yet learned the language of capos and cajons, it’s not too late. Eric Hoffer wrote, “It is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

Extend Your Shelf Life – Shelf Life is the length of time items are given before they are considered unsuitable for use or consumption. It is the time in which the defined quality remains fresh, acceptable, viable, usable and effective under normal or expected circumstances. Increasing our shelf life encourages us to recalibrate or fine tune for the potential of a new reality. It necessitates a rededication or recommitment to our base call to ministry instead of focusing solely on our present position. And it often calls for a reboot or restart that will reawaken our drive.

Get A Real Job – What if you were asked to step aside from worship ministry and opportunities were no longer available for you to lead worship full or even part time? Some of us have found ourselves in a similar situation only to realize we aren’t trained or training to do anything else. Getting a real job means we are prepared vocationally to take care of our family and financial needs even if we need to step aside from leading worship. Learning additional marketable skills either inside our outside the church doesn’t compromise our calling. In fact, retooling can enhance that calling by expanding our influence beyond choirs and chord charts.

Agreeing that worship ministry ageism is unjust or theologically suspect doesn’t change its reality. So we can choose to live in a constant state of lament or we can proactively prepare in case it does occur. Like the third rail, how we approach ageism has the power to propel or terminate our future ministry.

Death is inevitable but decomposition before then is optional

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Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

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golfWhen the British colonized India in the 1820’s they also introduced the game of golf. A unique problem was quickly discovered, however, after building the first golf course in Calcutta. Monkeys in the trees surrounding the course would drop down, snag the golf balls from the fairways and then carry and drop them in other locations.

In response, officials tried building tall fences around the fairways and greens but the monkeys climbed right over them. Attempts to frighten them just seemed to amuse and entertain them. Workers even tried to capture and relocate the monkeys only to have others appear.

A stellar drive down the middle of the fairway might be picked up and dropped in the rough. A hook or slice producing a terrible lie might be tossed back into the fairway. So golfers quickly learned that if they wanted to play on this course they couldn’t always control the outcome of the game. Resilience finally helped the officials and golfers come up with a solution. They added a new rule to their golf games at this course in Calcutta…Play the ball where the monkey drops it.

The elasticity of resilience is also a great characteristic for worship leaders to learn and develop. It encourages recovery with grace instead of overreaction in anger when the service doesn’t go as intended. Resilience averts relational catastrophe when people don’t do or plans don’t go as well as we prayed and practiced for them to. Even though worship leaders have the responsibility to prepare with excellence they must also learn how to present with pliability since the outcome of the service is not really theirs to control.

So the next time the organist and pianist begin a song introduction in different keys; the next time the lead guitarist forgets to move his capo; the next time the tech team doesn’t turn on your microphone or forward the text to the next slide; the next time the soprano section comes in too soon; the next time your bass player misses the first service because he forgot to set his alarm; or the next time your pastor cuts a well-rehearsed song right before the service to provide more sermon time…Play the ball where the monkey drops it.

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Playing Hurt: Leading Worship Through Pain

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playing hurtSuck it up. Shake it off. Take one for the team. These are adages we often hear from sports coaches and fans. Publicly acknowledging an injury can sideline a player and even threaten his/her future with the team. So players continue to play through their pain with the reality that it’s often easier for a team to replace than rehabilitate them. This same pattern of expendability is also evident in church culture. To save face, favor and financial security, worship pastors often sense a profound pressure to perform even when they might not feel like it. To secure their position, they often play hurt.

Most church members don’t realize the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual demands required to serve as a worship pastor. They may be aware of the investment their worship pastor has made in their own lives. What they don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy those investments require when multiplied by the entire population of their congregation.

Worship pastors often serve as personal counselors, mentors, leaders, friends and spiritual advisors. They are usually the first ones called to musically and technologically marry children or bury parents. When the families of worship ministry participants are in crisis, the worship pastor is often expected to referee, repair and reclaim.

Additionally, serving as a worship pastor doesn’t necessarily mean you are immune from the personal struggles of life such as depression and anxiety, physical health issues, marital conflict, rebellious children and financial strain. With all of these personal and professional stressors, how can we not expect pain to eventually take its toll?

Church culture doesn’t often put safeguards in place to protect ministers from ministry. So if you are beginning to feel a slight twinge you might want to consider putting your own guardrails in place before the pain becomes chronic. The following questions might offer a place to begin:

  • How often do I engage in personal prayer or Bible study not related to the role or function of ministry?
  • Have I ever considered a sabbatical, ministry hiatus or leave of absence?
  • How often do I participate in worship when I am not the leader?
  • Do I listen to music for personal inspiration in addition to professional preparation?
  • Have I enlisted a confidential friend, mentor, coach or counselor with whom I meet regularly for processing and prayer?
  • Do I participate in an accountability group other than my church staff or personnel team?
  • How many days off do I take each week?
  • Do I take all of my vacation? Do I take church-related phone calls and respond to texts and emails while I’m on vacation?
  • How much time is reserved for home life? (Four nights a week? Two nights? Saturdays? Rarely?)
  • For married worship pastors: How often do I have a “date night” with my spouse?
  • For single worship pastors:Do I spend time with friends or family members on a regular basis?
  • Do I have friends who are not members of my congregation? Do conversations always circle back to my church activities?
  • Do I have an annual physical?
  • How often do I engage in physical exercise lasting at least 30 minutes? Am I heavier than my recommended weight?
  • How balanced is my diet?
  • Do I have interests or hobbies outside the church? Do I set them aside when I get too busy?
  • What would I willing to change or do to stay in ministry for the long haul?[1]

In his book Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeiro used surfing to illustrate how ministry longevity is possible. He wrote, “Veteran surfers possess an uncanny sense of the ocean’s currents and how waves behave. Their intuition tells them which ones to catch and which ones to let pass. They seem to discern which waves will carry them in and which waves will do them in! But one of the true marks of a veteran is not how he catches a wave, but whether he knows when and how to get off the wave.”[2]

 

[1] Some of these questions were edited and adapted from Jill M. Hudson, When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st Century Church (Herndon: The Alban Institute, 2004), 42-43.

[2] Wayne Cordeiro, Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009), 28.

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Worship Is A Hard Habit To Break

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bad habits

Consider those daily activities or behaviors we no longer need to think about to accomplish. Brushing our teeth, tying our shoes and even driving to work have become such routine tasks that we no longer need to engage our thoughts or emotions to perform them.

A habit is a recurrent, often unconscious behavioral pattern acquired through repetition. It is something we do or have done so often that we are able to perform it without having to think about it. We have all developed habits, some good such as brushing our teeth and some bad such as always arriving five minutes late.

Worship seems like a good habit to develop. We have been called to worship in spirit and truth. We are encouraged to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice as our spiritual act of worship. So with these and other exhortations wouldn’t habitual worship be considered a good thing?

The sticking point of worship as a habit is the second part of the definition of habit… “often unconscious behavioral pattern.” Maybe our worship has become so routine that we can go through the motions without having to think about it. Maybe habitual worship is one of the reasons why congregations struggle with worship renewal and continue to be handcuffed to traditionalism.

Going to worship, being a worshiper or participating in worship without having to think about it are all good habits to develop. But the actual act of worship as an unconscious behavioral pattern is a habit we must break.

If the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and his mercies are new every morning, then our response to that love and mercy…worship can no longer be habitual. It too must be new every morning. A bad habit is only a bad habit until we acknowledge it, then it’s a choice.

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Pastor, Could You Work For You?

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Pastor, Could You Work For You If…

  • opinions different from yours were seen as disloyalty?
  • collaboration meant everyone just listened to and implemented your ideas?
  • shared ministry threatened your control?
  • your ministry initiatives were always the non-negotiable ones?
  • you never owned any deficiencies contributing to staff relationship issues?
  • your leadership default was autocracy instead of advocacy?
  • you were a gatekeeper instead of a liberator?
  • you had outgrown the need to learn anything new?
  • other ministries were seen as competition instead of complementary?
  • all other ministries were evaluated except for yours?
  • friendship with other staff members was not an option?
  • you considered yourself as the only one qualified to lead?
  • you wouldn’t work with others because they work for you?
  • your expectations were assumed but never clarified until they were unmet?

angry bossLeading a ministry culture of healthy communication and collaboration requires a level of sacrifice and trust that cannot be guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. It publicly and privately acknowledges the calling and competence of others and is not afraid of transparent dialogue. And it openly embraces and shares unified goals and the responsibilities for fulfilling them.

Pastor, don’t you realize what you are missing by disregarding intentional, significant conversations about vision, hopes, dreams and goals? Aren’t you longing for staff relationships built on trust, loyalty, respect and friendship? Wouldn’t you love to pray and plan together with ministry teams as partners instead of puppets?

How fulfilling could it be to minister in a place that constantly conveys an attitude of mutual spiritual and relational development with no ulterior motive? It is never too late to realize that the final word doesn’t always have to be yours. When that occurs your ministry relationships and your church will never be the same.

For we are co-workers in God’s service (1 Cor. 3:9)

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Daily Resolutions

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resolutionMaking resolutions for the New Year is a tradition in which people promise to do, act or be something different or better than they were before. A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who make a resolution for a New Year fail. The most common reason given for failure is the setting of unrealistic goals that can’t be managed or maintained for an entire year.

Those who recorded resolution success achieved those results by breaking down those resolutions into measurable and attainable shorter-term goals. The cumulative effect of incremental goals usually resulted in greater success.

In his book, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, Henri Nouwen challenged us to live each day as a new beginning. So as we consider new ideas, initiatives, ministries and missions for 2016, Nouwen’s words could serve as attainable daily resolutions instead of perpetual fails with our annual ones.

A new beginning! We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises.

Imagine that we could walk through the new year always listening to a voice saying to us: “I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it! Imagine! 
Is it possible that our imagination can lead us to the truth of our lives? Yes, it can! The problem is that we allow our past, which becomes longer and longer each year, to say to us: “You know it all; you have seen it all, be realistic; the future will be just another repeat of the past. Try to survive as best you can.”

There are many cunning foxes jumping on our shoulders and whispering in our ears the great lie: “There is nothing new under the sun … don’t let yourself be fooled.”
 When we listen to these foxes, they eventually prove themselves right: our new year, our new day, our new hour becomes flat, boring, dull, and without anything new.

So what are we to do? First, we must send the foxes back to where they belong: in their foxholes. And then we must open our minds and our hearts to the voice that resounds through the valleys and hills of our life saying: “Let me show you where I live among my people. My name is ‘God-with-you.’ I will wipe away all the tears from your eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone”

We must choose to listen to that voice, and every choice will open us a little more to discover the new life hidden in the moment, waiting eagerly to be born.[1]

 

[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now: Living in the Spirit (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 16-17.

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50 Worship Leading Tips Rookies Should Learn and Veterans Should Relearn

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fifty tips

  • Learn more people’s names than new songs.
  • Take a Sabbath every week.
  • Make deposits in younger leaders and withdrawals from older leaders.
  • Pray for and defend your pastor even when he doesn’t deserve it.
  • Leave more things at the office when you go home.
  • Ask how it might impact your family before asking how it might impact your job.
  • Learn more theology than musicology.
  • Welcome divine interruptions in your routine.
  • Surround yourself with those to protect you from your own stupidity.
  • Place more focus on people than projects.
  • Stay longer.
  • Celebrate the Lord’s Supper more often.
  • Begin all worship planning with Scripture and Prayer instead of songs titles.
  • Drink more coffee with senior adults and students.
  • The original song key may not be the best key for congregational singing.
  • Practice leadership as much as you practice your guitar.
  • Cast vision for the future without denigrating the past.
  • Not all thoughts that enter your mind have to exit your mouth.
  • Don’t feel threatened when someone else gets the credit.
  • Affirm volunteers in public, correct them in private and pastor them in both places.
  • Don’t randomly blow things up without considering where the pieces might land.
  • Help grandparents and grandchildren worship together.
  • If you don’t guard yourself spiritually, emotionally and physically no one else will.
  • Public worship will never succeed without private worship.
  • Understand the difference between knowing you can and deciding you should.
  • Never stop being a student.
  • Always err on the side of grace.
  • Build bridges from the platform to the pews.
  • Turn house lights up and volume down occasionally to see if they are even singing.
  • Don’t determine the worship language of your congregation based on how you might appear to other worship leaders.
  • You’ll always sing too many or too few hymns or modern worship songs for someone.
  • Filter songs theologically before musically.
  • Wake up every morning feeling unqualified in your own power to do what God has called you to do.
  • Keep your focus on where you are instead of where you wish you were.
  • Spend as much time on relationships as you spend on ministry job placement sites.
  • Not all staff problems originate in someone else’s office.
  • There are lots of other churches but you only have one family.
  • Your attitude may be the only change necessary.
  • Scripted, explainable and rational aren’t always worship prerequisites.
  • If you try to succeed alone you’ll also fail alone.
  • Setting boundaries ahead of time gives you the resolve to say no.
  • What you once learned is not enough to sustain your entire ministry.
  • The worship service you prepared may not be the most important worship that occurs this week.
  • Just changing the music won’t grow or kill your church.
  • Not every worship song is appropriate for congregational singing.
  • Leading music doesn’t necessarily mean you are leading people.
  • Worship even when you aren’t the leader.
  • Your musical talent may help you secure a position but leadership and relationships will help you keep it.
  • Don’t lead worship just because you don’t know how to do anything else.
  • If you’re saving your best for where God might call you next, why would He want to?
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Falling Up: Depression and Corporate Worship

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DepressionDepression affects 14.8 million American adults in any given year. 11% of adolescents have a depressive disorder by the age of 18. Based on these statistics, about 7 – 10% of our congregants are depressed on any given Sunday. If it’s not you individually, then it is a family member or friend sharing your pew or platform.

The 16th century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic Priest, Saint John of the Cross referred to this season as The Dark Night of the Soul. Even Mother Teresa wrote, “I am told God lives in me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”

We’ve conditioned our congregations through happy songs, sermons and clichéd platitudes to believe that a positive façade is somehow less threatening to God and our faith. So our public worship actions often convey to those struggling with depression that all must be well with everyone here except me.

Worship that never addresses those dark seasons is dishonest as it publicly communicates two messages: either you must not feel that way or, if you feel that way, you must do something about it somewhere else – but not here.[1]

Authentic worship is the freedom without stigma to publicly admit that we can’t handle the circumstances and struggles of life alone. Admitting to God and others that we can’t do this on our own is in itself a profound act of worship.

So if our Sunday worship is to be truly authentic, it can’t ignore the arid darkness occurring in the lives of those with whom we worship. If congregants are expected to walk through those dark seasons outside of the gathered worshiping body, how can we expect them to walk with that gathered worshiping body once they reach the other side?

Martha Freeman wrote, “Tears can enhance our vision, giving us new eyes that discern traces of the God who suffers with us. There is comfort in those tears. They bring fresh understanding that God is nearby, sharing our humanity in all its bitterness and all its blessedness.”[2]

 

[1] Walter Brueggeman, “The Friday Voice of Faith,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 15.

[2] Martha Freeman, “Has God Forsaken Us?” The Covenant Companion (November 2001): 8

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Worship Announcements: Measure Twice, Cut Once

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announcementsWorship that occurs outside of the service is just as vital as worship that occurs inside. And yet, during our worship services we often announce those outside worship opportunities of ministry, service and justice on the fly. Little or no prayer or preparation is given to announcements that let the church know how they can be the church when they leave.

Measure Twice, Cut Once is a woodworking idiom that not only makes sense literally, it also makes sense figuratively. It encourages us to plan and prepare for something of value in a careful and thorough manner before taking action. In other words, think before you speak; don’t shoot from the hip; set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips (Ps 141:3 NIV).

The result of ill prepared verbal announcements is often a long-winded circular discourse of verbosity, clichés and topical detours. Successful worship service announcers have studied the flight plan and know how to land the plane before taking off.

Those with announcement responsibilities could learn a valuable lesson from microblogging sites such as Twitter. Its success is based on sharing succinct but also persuasive information. Users get in, get out and get on with it. The limitations of 140 characters forces users to formulate a mental outline of what is essential to say and how it needs to be said before saying it. They measure twice before cutting once.

Successful tweeting synthesizes information based on what the audience needs to know and do. In his book, Viral, Leonard Sweet wrote, “It takes more work to distill thoughts into two sentences than it does into two pages. In the best of Twitter, the language is distilled, restrained, made to be sipped rather than quaffed.”[1]

Meaningful worship service announcements are marked by a clear, succinct economy of words. Concise verbal eloquence requires preparation and practice. Maybe if we spent as much time praying over and rehearsing our worship service announcements as we spend praying over and rehearsing our songs, those announcements could contribute to rather than detract from worship.

The Shaker philosophy of furniture making offers great measure twice, cut once wisdom to apply to our worship service announcements:

Make every product better than it’s ever been made before. Create the parts you cannot see with as much care as the parts you can see. Use only the best materials, even for the most everyday items. Give as much attention to the smallest detail as you do the largest. Design every item to last.

 

[1] Leonard Sweet, Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2012), 66.

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