Why Can’t We Be Friends?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

FriendsSenior pastors sometimes adhere to the adage that familiarity breeds contempt when it comes to their relationship with their worship leader. Some of those myopic perspectives were taught by and learned from well-meaning ministry preparation professors and mentors. But if Jesus is our model for ministry and he called the disciples with whom he ministered his friends, then why shouldn’t pastors do the same.

John Maxwell has concluded that over 70% of pastors have no close friends at all. So how can they possibly model for their church what it means to live in community when they are personally living in isolation? Part of Jesus’ Great Commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Beyond our families we should have no closer neighbors than those with whom we partner in ministry.

Those concerns with losing respect and maybe even control have created a working relationship that is often professional but not very personal. But Jesus’ close friendships didn’t keep him from exercising instruction or discipline when necessary. Peter overstepped his bounds and Jesus corrected him. And Jesus rebuked James and John when they wanted to call down fire to destroy an entire village. So having to exercise authority when necessary didn’t seem to jeopardize the intimacy of their relationships.

Anecdotally, it appears that relational divides are one of the main reasons for short-tenured senior pastor and worship leader partnerships. So how can we expect the worship of our church to be healthy when the relationship of the two primary worship leaders isn’t? And those relationships will never be healthy as long as being right is more important than being right with each other.

Most worship leaders long for a culture of transparent communication with their pastor built on trust that isn’t guarded, territorial or defensive. They crave a close friendship and ministry partnership but don’t often realize the job security to initiate it. So consequently, it will probably never occur unless and until the senior pastor initiates it.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Sing Them Out

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

sendingSING THEM OUT 

 

When we spend all our time leading church services as an act of worship, we can neglect to lead our church in service as an act of worship. In other words, if our entire focus is on singing them in, then we have nothing left to sing them out. So it doesn’t matter how good those worship songs are in here, they’re still incomplete until they also impact who we are out there. Service is the action we take to ensure the songs we sing when we gather are embodied when we scatter.

Most congregations can answer affirmatively when asked if they welcome outsiders to their worship services…all are welcome if or when they come. Singing them out, however, is when a congregation changes its culture in order to be intentionally welcoming to those out there. Welcome focuses primarily on the needs of the congregation, but welcoming includes the needs of the world. So welcoming loves my neighbor even when my neighbor is not very lovely.

Singing them out is when we are so awakened by God’s purpose in the world that we can’t wait for the service to end so we can actually share it.[1] When this awareness occurs, our singing is no longer focused just on consuming as we gather but also offering as we disperse.[2]

Once we commit to sing them out, we can then enthusiastically say, “The songs we selected for the worship service may not be the most important worship that occurs this week.” And we’ll stop investing all our resources on our weekly gathering to ensure we have enough left for what should be a daily occurrence.

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 13.

[2] Ibid., 21-2.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Songs When We Can’t Find the Words

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

despairWhen we can’t possibly find the words, we are reminded that a text has been prepared for us. When disaster threatens to consume us, the psalmist has written words to express our deepest despair. When our hymns and songs fall short with clichéd platitudes, those songs framed in biblical text communicate for us.

So when we are faced with an utter loss of words and an oversupply of volatile emotions, we best rely not on our own stuttering speech, but on the reliable and profoundly relevant words of the Psalms.[1] When we ignore these emotions, we are communicating two messages: you must not feel that way, or you must not feel that way here.[2]

If authenticity is a goal of our worship, then we must honestly and publicly admit we don’t get it. We must honestly and publicly admit our hopelessness. We must honestly and publicly admit events can shake our faith. We must honestly and publicly admit that a façade of superficiality is disingenuous. We must honestly and publicly admit that not honestly and publicly admitting those feelings is dishonest. And we must honestly and publicly admit that God expects this language and is not threatened by it.

Martha Freeman writes, “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.”[3]

 

[1] John D. Witvliet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis,” Reformed Worship 44 (June 1977): 22.

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

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

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Worship As A One-Sided Conversation

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

monologueHow can we expect meaningful worship responses on Sunday if we aren’t listening for God’s revelations the rest of the week? In other words, a singular focus on worship is a one-sided conversation without discipleship.

Monological worship tends to monopolize the conversation, potentially causing us to miss the voice of God. Discipleship is intentionally becoming more like Jesus through a daily life of faith and obedience. So if we get too absorbed in our singing to God we can miss the discipleship of hearing from Him. And we can’t hear from Him if we aren’t regularly spending time with Him.

A dialogical discipleship and worship conversation, on the other hand, consists of a healthy balance of revelation and response. It is a meaningful interactive exchange built on our familiarity with God.

We often rely on worship words to manage the conversation. But silence that causes us to listen is one of the deepest spiritual disciplines because it frees us from that need to control.[1] That silence allows us then to hear those healing and comforting words such as “I am with you; well done; and you are forgiven.”

Discipleship encourages us to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:8). So since God began the conversation and graciously invited us to join Him in it, our worship is incomplete until we stop trying to dominate that conversation with responsive noise only.

 

[1] Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 68.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Worship with Room for Doubt

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

doubtIf doubters are expected to resolve their doubts outside of our worship services, then why would they want to attend those worship services once they do resolve them. And if our public worship is not the place for that intimate soul and spirit transparency…where is?

Three days after Jesus had been killed and buried, friends of the eleven disciples went to the tomb and found it empty. They encountered an angel who told them Jesus had been raised from the dead. The angel instructed them to meet Jesus in Galilee. So the disciples traveled to the mountain and when they saw Jesus, they worshiped, but some doubted (Matt 28:16-20).

The text doesn’t say, “some of them worshiped and others doubted.” They doubted even as they worshiped. And it was obvious that those doubts were not held in secret since Matthew recorded them. So their doubts didn’t preclude or exclude them from the public worship of Jesus.

So how did Jesus respond to their worship and doubts? The text says “Jesus came near.” He didn’t just come near to those who had it figured out. He didn’t set aside the others until they got it figured out. He just came near. Then he commissioned them…all of them to go and make disciples. And he ended his commission by reminding them that he would be with them, obviously with or without their doubts.

Many of our congregations have been conditioned to believe it is somehow more spiritual to avoid rather than express doubts. But if some of the disciples could worship the risen Lord face to face and still doubt, then how can we expect not to. If our worship is truly authentic it must embrace and walk with the various seasons of people’s lives. Jesus came near when that occurred and so must we.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Why Your Worship Doesn’t Measure Up

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

successThe worship in some of our churches will never measure up because of what we are trying every Sunday to measure up to. To measure up means to be as good as, to have the same qualifications as, to reach a certain standard as, to be of high enough quality for or to compare with something or someone else.

Instead of keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, we often focus on how we compare to other worship ministries we consider successful. So we imitate their worship habits, methods, styles, song selections and even attire in an effort to measure up to a perceived standard of success.

Most of our attempts to replicate, however, forget that every church should be developing distinctly and becoming uniquely the congregation God has called them to be where they are and with what they have.

Trying to measure up to the worship of another congregation every week can be like running on a treadmill. As long as we keep our eyes focused ahead we can log miles safely. But when we look to the left or right, our feet usually follow our eyes and cause us to fall.

Comparing ourselves to others means we are trying to measure up to a standard God has called them to, not the one He has called us to. And He obviously sees the value of our calling even when we don’t. So keeping our eyes on Jesus instead of others means we lead worship with contentment, not comparison. It’s a discipline that is not always easy but it produces a harvest of righteousness when we are trained by it (Heb 12:11).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

We Can’t Usher Worshipers into the Presence of God

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

usherThe need for an earthly mediator to facilitate our encounters with God or dispense His grace to us was set aside with the advent of the gospel. Now Jesus serves as our intercessor sitting at the right hand of the throne of God.

So worship leaders and the songs they sing can’t usher us into the presence of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus already has. When we ascribe that power to earthly leaders, we begin to see their leadership as something that is meritorious or efficacious, meaning their actions are praised for what they can produce.[1] Those worship actions can indeed prompt, exhort, encourage and remind us of God’s presence but they can’t generate it or lead us into it.

In the old covenant, access to God was limited. Only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies one time a year with a blood offering (Heb 9). But in the new covenant the earthly priest was no longer required; the sacrifice was complete; Jesus’ blood was offered; and the way is open to worship Him without an earthly intercessor.

God’s presence isn’t a physical place we attend or an emotional plane we achieve so we don’t go to it, sing it into existence or usher people into it. Instead, we have confidence to enter that holy place only by the blood of Jesus. And as our usher, He then is not only the object of our worship but also the facilitator of it.

 

[1] Adapted from D.A. Carson, ed., Worship by the Book, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 50.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

The Relentless Split: Either Hymns Or Modern Songs

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

dividedA false dichotomy is the belief that if one thing is true, then another one can’t be. This comparison is typically used to force a selection between one thing or another by making the assumption that there are only two opposing positions. So these either/or options are usually initiated in order to elevate one side over the other or to coerce participants to choose.

Even after a couple of decades, opposing or contrasting views are still being openly expressed and written about when it comes to hymns and modern worship songs. Those dialogues perpetuate either/or dichotomies by attempting to elevate one at the expense of the other. The use of all encompassing statements such as “modern worship songs are trite” or “hymns are archaic” continue to perpetuate the conflict. And those 7-11 monikers and old time religion epithets that are neither funny nor accurate are exacerbating the right/wrong and good/bad worship comparisons that are still dividing churches.

Defending one by criticizing the other is actually an act of self-defense so it’s usually personal, not theological. Attempting to protect our favorite hymns or modern worship songs by vilifying the other can actually have the opposite effect of marginalizing the one we are trying to protect. If they really need our feeble attempts to prop them up, then are they actually viable options? If, however, they can stand on their own merit as many of us believe they can, then they will endure in spite of our criticisms and defenses.

We have a tendency to compare and contrast God’s artistry based on our own musical history, practical experiences and preferences. So limiting art to only what we know and like assumes He only likes what we know. False worship dichotomies discount God’s calling for us to create and offer new art in response to His diverse revelations. And since those callings are so unique to our contexts and cultures, how can our new art responses be contained in one generation or genre?

Modern worship songs and hymns and what follows them are here to stay. So instead of defending one by maligning the other, we should be praying that the peace of Christ would keep them and us in tune with each other. That unity instead of theological and stylistic aspersions could lead us to places way beyond our previous identities and imaginations.

Hymns and modern worship songs aren’t mutually exclusive. So as long as we are filtering them according to theology instead of partiality they can both live in harmony and compatibility as worship allies instead of adversaries. And when they do we’ll discover what it means to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one mind and one voice (Rom 15:6).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

If Only Is Holding Worship Hostage

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

if onlyWe use if only statements to express a strong desire for things to be different. Those two words are sometimes uttered to nostalgically hold on to the past in order to place stipulations on the present. And they are also used just as often to discount or disparage the traditional in an attempt to elevate the modern.

So when it comes to worship, these two words are often voiced to selfishly hold a congregation hostage until certain demands are met:

If only we would sing more or less hymns.

If only we had a younger worship leader.

If only the songs weren’t so trite and repetitive.

If only we still had a choir.

If only our services were more creative.

If only we had a better worship band.

If only the volume wasn’t so high and lights so low.

If only the attire wasn’t so casual or formal.

If only we were still holding a hymnal.

If only they would let my granddaughter sing a solo.

If only we were like that other church.

If only we still had special music.

If only the song sets and sermons weren’t so long.

If only the people looked and spoke more like us.

If only we talked about money less and politics more.

If only the text and tunes weren’t so archaic.

If only our present leader was more like our previous leader.

If only worshipers can hold a congregation hostage to styles and structures by constantly pointing the conversation back to themselves. What they need, what they like, what they want, what they deserve or what they’ve earned often determines their level of participation. But when if only stipulations beyond the revelation of God must be met before congregants are willing to engage in worship, what they are actually worshiping may be their own selfish desires.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Songs That Teach and Admonish

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

teach and admonishBy precept, example and experience, teaching proclaims or makes something known. It exhorts, exposits, affirms, corrects, advocates, instructs, responds and applies. Teaching communicates to us and through us.

Admonition urges us to do our duty. It reproves, advises and counsels. Admonition seeks to correct our thinking and right what is wrong to improve our spiritual attitudes. It instructs in order to re-direct our thoughts or actions.

According to Colossians 3:16, the Word impacts us deeply by implementing these principles through our psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

Our worship songs should teach and admonish us by quickening the conscience through the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God and devoting the will to the purpose of God.[1]

So if the worship songs we select aren’t complementing, resonating and emulating these same principles, we probably need to select different songs.

Songs That Teach and Admonish…
  • Connect the Word of God to the people of God.

Scripture is foundational, not supplemental to our worship songs. Consequently, we must always ask if our song text is theologically sound and if it affirms Scripture as central. The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed and we respond. The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. So songs that do not contribute to this dialogue are songs we shouldn’t use.

 

  • Speak the Gospel.

Every song we sing must invite the congregation and guests to be a part of God’s story through Jesus Christ. Our songs should help us understand what God is up to in and through our lives in the name of Jesus. Those songs must sing of the ongoing and enduring work of God through his Son. And they must constantly remind us that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.

 

  • Are easy to follow and understand.

If congregants can’t follow and understand our songs, then they will have a hard time being taught and admonished through them. We can’t be influenced and moved to respond to something that we can’t decipher. So archaic or colloquial text should be filtered and melodies should be evaluated for singability.

 

  • Are sung with integrity.

Songs that teach and admonish communicate biblically, theologically and doctrinally. So our songs must be sung externally from conviction that begins internally. It must be evident that our songs reflect what we believe and practice. Singing with integrity means our lives replicate the texts we sing even when we aren’t singing them.

 

  • Engage more than emotions.

Scripture encourages us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Songs that just stir the emotions are incomplete; Songs that do not begin from the depth of our soul are often trite; Songs that don’t require us to think are shallow; and Songs that don’t ask us to use our bodies as a living sacrifice in acts of service are selfish.

 

  • Encourage action.

Songs that teach and admonish not only inspire us through hearing but also challenge us in our doing. They must not only inform the congregation but also engage them. Songs that teach and admonish should cause us to ask what we are going to change or do as a result of singing them. So singing our songs in here is not enough until they also impact who we are out there.

 

[1] Adapted from a quote by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-44.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

10 Signs You’re Having an Affair with Worship Ministry

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

affairWhy are worship leaders finding it so difficult to balance family and ministry responsibilities? It’s possible those demands and expectations are church or church leadership imposed. But it’s also equally likely they are self-imposed. Some of us are willing to sacrifice almost all waking hours away from our spouse if it means we will have the largest choir or most renowned worship band. Our biblical call to lead others to be a living sacrifice will never ask us to sacrifice our marriage. Doing so would be a sign we’re having an extramarital affair with worship ministry.

10 Signs You’re Having an Affair with Worship Ministry
  • You always ask how something might impact your worship leading before asking how it might impact your marriage.
  • You find more in common with worship team members and consequently, compare your spouse to them.
  • You expect your spouse to have the same passion for your worship leadership as you do.
  • You attend worship conferences in exotic locations but never have enough time for a romantic weekend getaway.
  • Most text messages are to/from band members instead of your spouse.
  • You spend your evenings on YouTube, Spotify and Planning Center so you’re not really home emotionally and relationally even when you’re home physically.
  • You assume leading worship is a higher calling than what your spouse is called to.
  • You have a different spiritual persona on the platform than you do at home.
  • The newest song text instead of the name of your spouse is on your lips when you go to sleep.
  • The affirmation you get from leading worship feeds you more than the affirmation you get at home.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

No Wonder Our Worship Seems Shallow

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

shallowChildren usually respond to surprise with wide-eyed wonder. Adults seldom do. It seems we’re no longer wowed, amazed or awed anymore, especially in our corporate worship.

God’s revelation should cause us to be fascinated, surprised and captivated. But we contain our responses to a scheduled event that is explainable, rational and controlled. Consequently, our worship services are sometimes shallow.

So how much deeper could those services go if we instead viewed them like we were gathering to encounter God for the very first or last time?

God is transcendent. He is beyond, above, other than and distinct from all. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts.[1] So God’s infinite revelation can’t be completely contained in our finite understanding and response.

We’ve lost our astonishment. We say we believe in Jesus but are no longer amazed by Him. When we are no longer surprised we are left with dry and dead religion; when we remove mystery we are left with frozen or petrified dogma; when we script awe we are left with an impotent deity; and when we abandon astonishment we are left with shallow worship.[2]

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways![3]

 

[1] Isaiah 55:9

[2] Adapted from Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 23-28.

[3] Romans 1:33 CSB

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Is Music Killing Your Worship?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

musicMost worship leaders have some level of formal or informal musical training. Consequently, music is usually their default when it comes to worship planning. So even though they know worship and music aren’t exclusively synonymous, they usually begin their worship preparation each week with the songs.

Music is indeed a valued expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only or even primary worship expression. In fact, music is a supplemental not foundational worship element. Worship can’t occur without hearing from God through His Word and communicating with Him in prayer. So until we get those worship foundations covered first, then music is just music.

Scripture

We defend the Bible as foundational to our theology and practice, yet rarely read its text in our public services of worship. Doesn’t its limited use convey a lack of trust in the very Word from which our music must spring forth? Our songs will have new life when worship begins with the Word.

Prayer

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

Lord’s Supper/Communion

Some of our church cultures limit the Lord’s Supper as a foundational worship element, believing its frequency can encourage monotony. But maybe in our infrequency we are missing two worship actions and interactions only 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.

As we plan, prepare and lead worship we must freely and strongly say, “There is more, far more.” Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep.[1] And when we do, those foundational elements will alleviate the pressure on music as the primary driver of worship renewal and diminish its blame for worship demise.

 

[1] Adapted from Harold M. Best, “Authentic Worship and Artistic Action,” an address to the Calvin Institute of Worship, 2005.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Sunday Worship: Starting a Fire from Scratch

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

CastawayYou’ve probably seen the 2000 movie Cast Away featuring Tom Hanks playing Chuck Noland, a lone plane crash survivor on an uninhabited island. Early in the movie, Noland realized he couldn’t live without fire. So in the following scene he offered us a glimpse of his resolve, despair, anger and even humor as he labored over trying to start a fire from scratch.

Worship leaders can experience similar emotions when they are expected to light a fire each Sunday with the opening song. And even though congregants might not have done anything to help stir those embers during the week, how easily they can blame the music or musicians when the spark is not there.

If we are not careful, our actions can imply that time and place worship is the primary, if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.[1] Consequently, every Sunday can end up being a frustrating exercise in trying to start a fire from scratch.

Because of the laborious task of fire starting, ancient nomadic people began to use earthenware vessels called fire pots. They would carry embers or slow-burning fires in these pots with them as they traveled from one location to another. Just by adding small quantities of kindling for fuel they could keep those mini fires alive, enabling them to quickly ignite larger fires when they united as a group for their evening camps.

What if we had that same understanding of worship and saw it not as a fire to start each week, but a flame that can be taken with us? Then it could continue as we leave the service. It could happen in our homes, at our schools and through our work. It couldn’t be contained in a single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. Consequently, instead of depending on our worship leaders to start the fire from scratch when we gather, they could just help us fan those flames that already exist.

 

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1).

 

[1] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 9.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

20 Timeless A.W. Tozer Worship Quotes

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

TozerAiden Wilson Tozer was an American pastor, author, editor and mentor. Most of the more than 60 books that are attributed to A.W. Tozer were compiled after his death from sermons he preached and articles he wrote. At least two of Tozer’s works, The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy, are regarded as Christian classics.

Most of Tozer’s words, including these selected quotes on worship, impress on the reader the necessity for a deeper relationship with God.

 

“Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”

 

“Christians don’t tell lies they just go to church and sing them.” 

 

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” 

 

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.”

 

“The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.”

 

“I can safely say, on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored and turned off by worship is not ready for heaven.” 

 

“Sometimes I go to God and say, “God, if Thou dost never answer another prayer while I live on this earth, I will still worship Thee as long as I live and in the ages to come for what Thou hast done already. God’s already put me so far in debt that if I were to live one million millenniums I couldn’t pay Him for what He’s done for me.” 

 

“Millions call themselves by His name, it is true, and pay some token homage to Him, but a simple test will show how little He is really honored among them. Let the average man be put to the proof on the question of who or what is ABOVE, and his true position will be exposed. Let him be forced into making a choice between God and money, between God and men, between God and personal ambition, God and self, God and human love, and God will take second place every time. Those other things will be exalted above. However the man may protest, the proof is in the choice he makes day after day throughout his life.” 

 

“Did you ever stop to think that God is going to be as pleased to have you with Him in Heaven as you are to be there?”

 

“The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has not done deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.”

 

“I remind you that there are churches so completely out of the hands of God that if the Holy Spirit withdrew from them, they wouldn’t find it out for many months” 

 

“The believing man does not claim to understand. He falls to his knees and whispers, ‘God.’ The man of earth kneels also, but not to worship. He kneels to examine, to search, to find the cause and the how of things.” 

 

“We are saved to worship God. All that Christ has done in the past and all that He is doing now leads to this one end.”

 

“Without doubt the emphasis in Christian teaching today should be on worship. There is little danger that we shall become merely worshipers and neglect the practical implications of the gospel. No one can long worship God in spirit and in truth before the obligation to holy service becomes too strong to resist. Fellowship with God leads straight to obedience and good works. That is the divine order and it can never be reversed.”

 

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.”

 

“If you’re not worshiping God on Monday the way you did the day before, perhaps you’re not worshiping him at all.”

 

“Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”

 

“It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God.”

 

“I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the church, the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the public service which now passes for worship among us.”

 

“We must never rest until everything inside us worships God.”

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

7 Ways to Get Rid of Worship Volunteers

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

volunteersDo you have a hard time retaining worship volunteers? Is it possible the reason they aren’t staying isn’t their lack of commitment or conviction, but instead something you as their leader are or aren’t doing? If you want to regularly replace volunteers in your band, worship team, choir or tech team, then try some of the following.

 

  • Compare them with others

Are you critical when volunteers can’t imitate a worship model you consider successful? Is it evident you are disappointed when they don’t measure up to your expectations? How well would comparisons like that work in your marriage?

 

  • Come to rehearsals unprepared

Your lack of preparation indicates either laziness or arrogance. Both reasons convey that your time is more valuable than theirs. And being an artist and a leader doesn’t give you permission for either one.

 

  • Treat them like backup musicians

Why wouldn’t they assume expendability if you treat them like they are the undercard to your main event? You might have enough talent to succeed alone, but that is not what you have been called to do.

 

  • Consider them as just volunteers

Serving as a worship volunteer is their response to a divine invitation. Since volunteers serve because of calling they should never be treated as just volunteers filling a vacancy. Your worship volunteers are instead ministers fulfilling their mission.

 

  • Never affirm them publicly or privately

Yes, it’s true their service is for God, not you. But they still need you to affirm them regularly, intentionally and meaningfully. They need to know their contributions are fulfilling expectations, are valued multilaterally and are making an eternal difference.

 

  • Never give them a break

Don’t forget volunteers also have jobs and families when you are scheduling them for multiple services every week and rehearsals that always run long. Enlist a large enough pool of volunteers for a rotation to give them a break.

 

  • Make all worship decisions for them

Leading like you alone have the ability, creativity and even right to be the sole worship proprietor means you are guarding your status, not leading others. Entitlement and control may achieve compliance for a short time but rarely the buy-in of a long-term commitment.

If worship volunteers aren’t validated in the ministry you lead, then they will look for another ministry where they are.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

10 Skills Worship Leaders Should Rehearse More

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

skills
Musical ability may help you get a worship-leading job but relationship skills will help you keep it. So since most derailments have more to do with leadership, relationship and communication failures than musical ones, maybe it’s time to rehearse some of the following skills as much or more than you rehearse your music.

  1. Learning more new names than new songs.
  2. Welcoming interruptions.
  3. Appreciating what could be without depreciating what was.
  4. Putting your guitar down long enough to communicate.
  5. Offering grace even when it’s undeserved.
  6. Filtering responses theologically before musically.
  7. Changing your attitude before changing the music.
  8. Making more deposits than withdrawals.
  9. Collaborating, uniting, communicating and then repeating.
  10. Spending more time scripturally before leading musically.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

When Ministry Is Hard…Remember

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

RememberWhen ministry feels like being caught in the force of a riptide that pulls you away from the safety of the shore; When the current drags you under again and again and rolls you around on the sandy bottom; and When it seems to take longer each time for the undercurrent to release its grip and allow you to gasp for air…Remember that He reaches down from heaven, takes your hand and pulls you out of deep waters. (Psalm 18:16)

When you worry if your children will even like church when they are no longer required to attend…Remember that Jesus loves your children too and wants them to inherit the Kingdom of God. (Lk 18:15-17)

When your ministry shelf life seems to be moving quickly toward the expiration date…Remember to run this ministry endurance race by fixing your eyes on Jesus since He is the source and perfecter of it. (Heb 12:1-2)

When congregants target your family because they are upset with you…Remember the Lord is your strength and defense so you don’t have to be. (Ps 46:1)

When you are tempted to quit every Monday morning…Remember to be strong and don’t give up, your work will be rewarded. (2 Chr 15:7)

When you have to schedule your family vacation after the youth mission trip, children’s camp and Vacation Bible School, but before the fall kickoff…Remember to learn from Jesus’ example of rest by wearing his yoke, not your own. (Mt 11:28-30)

When the senior adult potluck dinner is the only date night with your spouse…Remember that New Testament church leaders were required to first demonstrate faithfulness at home before being considered for ministry. (1 Tim 3:1-13)

When you are the latest forced termination victim…Remember to be confident and courageous since the Lord will be with you wherever you go. (Josh 1:9)

When it seems like no one is holding your rope, standing in the gap or watching your back…Remember you have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding you. (Heb 12:1)

When you are always the first one to arrive and last one to leave…Remember you are doing it in His strength, not your own. (Isa 40:29)

When your creativity has been exhausted and burnout is causing you to coast…Remember that He is the potter and you are the clay so it’s the work of His hands, not yours. (Isa 64:8)

When you are attacked for initiating much needed change…Remember the Lord hates those who stir up conflict in the community. (Prov 6:16-19)

When you don’t have the resolve to take care of yourself spiritually, physically and emotionally…Remember that He renews your strength when you are worn out and increases your drive when reserves are depleted. (Isa 40:29-31)

RememberSince we have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:1-3)

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Is Hallmark Planning Your Worship Services?

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

hallmarkSome congregations and even entire denominations have not embraced the Christian Calendar as foundational to their worship planning and implementation out of concern that it is too rigid, routine or orthodox. So in their desire to be non-liturgical they have in fact created their own liturgy framed by Hallmark or denominational and civic calendars.

The desire for worship creativity has caused some congregations to look elsewhere, believing annual celebrations promote monotony and conformity. But Timothy Carson wrote, “Exactly the opposite may be true. Because it has stood the test of time, it may be sufficiently deep to allow me to swim more deeply in it. Because it is repeated, I have another chance, today, to go where I could not go yesterday.”[1]

In the Middle Ages the church calendar was filled with such a multitude of saint’s days that the value of festivals like Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost were lost. Some of the Reformers such as John Calvin, in response eliminated the entire church year. Other Protestants responded similarly and in the sixteenth century the Puritans rejected even Christmas as a festival day.[2]

As Protestant congregations began again to commemorate special days they focused on cultural and denominational calendars instead of the Christian one. So as the antitheses to what was considered Catholic, these civic days were given as much or more credibility as the days of the Christian calendar. But as some of these congregations avoided the Christian calendar they were at the same time affirming some annual observances whose foundations were not always biblically grounded.[3]

God has placed each one of our congregations in a unique cultural and national context. So worshiping while giving consideration to those contexts is one of the exciting challenges for a modern church. As long as Christian worship is our starting point it will provide us with the opportunity to take up that challenge without compromising our biblical and theological foundations.[4]

So why couldn’t we celebrate Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day in the same seasons as Ascension Day and Pentecost? Without ignoring one or the other, it is possible to converge holidays significant to our civic and denominational calendars with those Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom.

 

[1] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship, (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 57.

[2]Barry Liesch, People in the Presence of God: Models and Directions for Worship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 223.

[3] Carson, Transforming Worship, 56.

[4] Robert E. Webber, ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship Vol. 5, “The Services of the Christian Year” (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 82-83.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

10 Awkward Worship Meet and Greet Handshakes

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Can you imagine a baseball announcer encouraging the fans to greet one-another after singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame?” Or can you visualize the orchestra concertmaster asking you to find someone you don’t know to shake hands with after the second movement of a Mahler Symphony? How about asking worshipers to shake hands after the opening song at church?

The worship service Meet and Greet can cause anxiety sweats and heart palpitations for first time guests and congregational introverts. Some see that service element as shallow, contrived and intimidating. So have you ever wondered if it’s actually serving its purpose? What do you think most people are really thinking during this service ritual? These ten awkward handshakes might just give it away.

 

sweatyThe Sweaty Palm

What he might be thinking: We’re getting ready to sing a Tomlin song in its original key.

 

 

 

crusherThe Crusher

What he might be thinking: I should’ve gotten the solo on the opening song.

 

 

 

queenThe Queen

What she might be thinking: I got the solo on the opening song.

 

 

 

dead fishThe Dead Fish

What he might be thinking: I’d rather be golfing so I’m saving my grip for 18 holes after the service.

 

 

 

PoliticianThe Politician

What he might be thinking: Maybe I can get him to serve on the building and grounds committee.

 

 

 

 

stiff armThe Stiff Armer

What she might be thinking: Don’t ask me to serve on anything.

 

 

 

pullerThe Grip and Puller 

What he might be thinking: I haven’t forgotten about your hard slide in the softball game yesterday.

 

 

 

huggerThe Hand Hugger

What she might be thinking: A non-verbal “bless your heart,” meaning I know your sins better than you do.

 

 

 

BroThe Bro

What he might be thinking: I still have Larry Norman and Stryper in my play list.

 

 

 

fist bumpThe Fist Bumper

What he might be thinking: I didn’t see a lot of hand washing at the pre-service restroom meet and greet.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

5 Things Worship Music Isn’t

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Five Things

Worship

Music

Isn’t 

It isn’t music theory

The purpose of our worship isn’t to teach musicianship or make great music. Learning to sing parts, follow a melodic line and internalize rhythms are all skills that can enhance our worship. But those skills are a means to the end, not the end.

The theoretical study of the elements of music including sound, pitch, rhythm, melody, harmony, time and notation can enrich our worship. But understanding those elements isn’t necessary for worship to occur. So worship service music that focuses on theory alone without moving to the application may be great music, but not worship.

It isn’t necessary

The sole emphasis on music as our only worship offering may have actually hindered our worship understanding and exacerbated our worship conflicts. Music and worship aren’t exclusively synonymous. One is mandatory, the other isn’t.

Music is an artistic expression given to us so that we might offer it as a gift to God. But it isn’t the expression. So considering additional artistic options could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

It isn’t a substitute

Kairos or God moments might occur in our song selections but they’ve already occurred in Scripture, Prayer and the Table. So why are we reading, petitioning and gathering at the Table less in order to sing more?

Biblical text must be the foundation from which our songs spring forth. Prayer is not just a song connector; it is a divine conversation that gives us a reason to sing in the first place. And two relationships we try to create with our song sets are available at the Table: The vertical communion with Christ and the horizontal communion with each other. So music is an addition to, not a substitute for these Kairos moments.

It isn’t an inviter

He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). If God is calling and we are declaring, then the invitation to show up is from Him not us.

Our music can acknowledge His presence but it can’t generate it. It can respond to His presence but it can’t initiate it. It can celebrate His presence but it can’t create it.

It isn’t a starter or stopper

If our worship starts when we sing the first song and stops when we sing the last one, then what are we doing the other 167 hours of the week? Loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength and also loving our neighbors as we love ourselves means worship must be continuous.

Worship can’t be contained in a song set, single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. So it doesn’t matter how good our worship is when we gather, it is incomplete until it continues when we scatter.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Worship Leaders Must Be Sherpas

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

everestYou may have read or heard stories of expeditions to the summit of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. If so, you’ll recognize the names of Sir Edmund Hillary or George Mallory. Because of their Everest ascents, these men have been recorded as some of the greatest climbers in history.

But the names of Tenzing Norgay, Temba Tsheri, Pemba Dorje or Lhakpa Gelu are probably unrecognizable to most of us outside the Everest climbing community. These men and others like them have in fact made the most and fastest ascents at the youngest ages.

Hundreds of climbers attempt to reach the summit of Everest every year with the help of guides from the ethnic group of people known as Sherpas from the mountains of Nepal in central Asia.

Sherpas prepare the route, fix the safety ropes, carry the supplies, set up the camps and then help the climbers attempt to reach their goal of conquering Everest. Without the assistance of the Sherpas most climbers would probably fail to reach the summit.

The Sherpas are so successful because they understand the mountain themselves before attempting to assist others. They are local people who know the mountain, know the culture, know the people and consequently, know the potentials and limitations.

These Sherpas are the most skilled mountain climbers in the world but their names aren’t often known because their job isn’t about the notoriety of their own success, it is about helping others succeed.

As worship leaders, we have the sacrificial and not always noticed responsibility to help others with less skill, less training and often less knowledge. Some of them will be experienced, some won’t. And some of them will have been hurt in previous climbs and will be trying to find the courage to climb again. So like Sherpas, our worship leading success will not be evaluated just on how well we reached the summit ourselves, but how we assisted others to reach the summit too.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

An Open Letter to the Potential Pulpit Bully

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

bullyingDear Potential Pulpit Bully,

When Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit,” he observed that his position of influence as president gave him a unique platform from which to persuade, exhort, instruct and inspire. Roosevelt famously used the word bully as an adjective meaning great, superb, excellent or wonderful.

As a pastor, you have been given a similar position of influence from which to speak out, advocate and encourage. Your unique bully pulpit gives you a platform for persuasion, exhortation, instruction and inspiration. It is dangerous, however, if you choose to invert that bully pulpit from a place of influence to a position of control. Transposing from advocacy to autocracy will degrade your platform from a bully pulpit to the platform of a pulpit bully.

There is no virtue in bullying disguised as righteous indignation. So pastor, if you give in to that temptation you’ll believe all problems originate in someone else’s office. You’ll reject cooperation, compromise and kindness in order to guard territory and filter information. You’ll outgrow the need to learn anything new. You won’t share ministry because accountability will threaten your position of authority. And collaboration will always be suspect because you’ll view those with different perspectives as insubordinate.

Once you adopt an attitude of entitlement and invulnerability you may achieve compliance from others but rarely buy-in. So even those within your so-called inner circle will submit to your leadership out of fear not friendship, out of caution not loyalty, out of submission not conviction. As a result, your position will also be one of profound loneliness.

So pastor, is being a pulpit bully really what God intended when he called some to be apostles, some to be prophets and some to be evangelists? Maybe giving in to that temptation is just the fear of losing control of something that was not yours to begin with. So it’s still not too late to realize that the final word doesn’t always have to be yours. There’s time to pray and plan together with others as partners instead of pawns. It’s never too late to pastor with an attitude of mutuality with no ulterior motive. And when you do, your church and staff relationships will never be the same.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Not Enough Easter

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

EasterIf our churches affirm Easter as the most important celebration of the church year and the foundation of our hope for the future, then why do we limit its observance to a single Sunday? Remembering the resurrection only on Easter is like remembering your marriage only on your anniversary.

Easter in the early church was much more than a one-day event. They not only remembered and celebrated that Christ died and rose again, they also remembered and celebrated that He appeared following His resurrection, that He ascended, that the Holy Spirit descended and that Jesus promised to return again.

In their great joy the early Church began celebrating with Easter and continued for fifty days. Seven weeks of remembering would allow our churches to go much deeper into the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost instead of trying to cram it all into one Sunday so we can move on to the next sermon series.

Limiting it to a single day can give the impression that its observance is routine instead of righteous, chronological instead of Christological. It can appear that we are giving lip service to the Christian Calendar so we can move on to the Hallmark calendar of Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day.

Laurence Hull Stookey wrote, “The explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[1] So revisiting the mystery over an extended period of time could encourage a deeper understanding of redemption, sanctification, salvation, renewal and victory.

If we are indeed Easter people, then protracting our celebration could help us remember that the transforming resurrection of the past also transforms our present and future.[2] And we’ll never fully grasp that truth in a single day.

 

[1] Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church,  (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 53.

[2] John D. Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding: Windows into Christian Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 290.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

20 Paradoxologies

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

paradox
A Paradox is a statement that contradicts itself or a situation that seems to defy logic. A Doxology is a liturgical action or expression of praise and worship to God. When the two are combined the result is a Paradoxology or liturgical action or expression that contradicts itself or seems to defy logic.

20 Paradoxologies

  1. Opening worship song.
  2. A song’s age determines its worship relevance.
  3. God showed up.
  4. Passive worship.
  5. Attire dictates worship success.
  6. Less Scripture and prayer gives more time for worship.
  7. A sermon follows the worship.
  8. We didn’t like worship today.
  9. Explain worship mystery.
  10. Worship music is always louder when you don’t like it.
  11. Recreating a worship experience.
  12. Worship without sacrifice.
  13. Consider musicology before theology.
  14. Implementing a worship formula.
  15. Changing worship will grow your church.
  16. Pretentious worship.
  17. How to market your worship.
  18. Planning evangelistic worship.
  19. Culture influences worship.
  20. Patriotic worship service.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Calling Worship Songs Up for A Cup of Coffee

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

coffeeMajor League Baseball is preparing again for a new season as spring training is in full swing in Arizona and Florida. And thousands of minor league players are competing for a chance to prove their abilities at the major league level.

Since its inception over 140 years ago, Major League Baseball has had almost 19,000 players who’ve run up the dugout steps to play on a major league field. Approximately 1,000 of those players have been called up from the minor leagues for just a single game.

In baseball jargon, those players called up for a short time are referred to as “cup of coffee” players. The etymology of the idiom is that a player was only in the major leagues long enough to drink a cup of coffee before being sent back down to the minors. So most of the other roster players didn’t even have enough time to get to know them.

Congregations have literally hundreds of thousands of songs and hymns from which to choose for singing in their worship services. And since new songs are being written and added to the list every week, maybe the pressure to sing all of those new additions is actually causing congregational disharmony. Maybe we aren’t giving congregants the necessary time to resonate with and internalize new songs before we’ve already moved onto the next one.

The argument is not if we should sing new songs since we have a biblical mandate to do so. The argument is when we sing new songs; let’s give them enough time to become a part of our shared worship language. Let’s call them up for more than a cup of coffee so we can all easily remember, revisit and reaffirm their worship value for future services. And then maybe those new songs will live in our hearts, not just on our lips.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Not Our Kind of People: 6 Intercultural Worship Musts

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

InterculturalSome of us can imagine our church filled with people of multiple colors, nationalities, economic levels and political beliefs all worshiping God together. The problem with that scenario is that most of us imagine how great that vision would be as long as those various cultures, tribes and tongues are willing to make adjustments to worship like we do.

Not in my style may really and truly mean not my kind of people, except when it comes time for the yearly youth group trip to Mexico. We are willing to go outside the church to diversify but failing miserably to do so within.[1] So why are we so ready to defer when we travel around the world but not across the aisle?

In chapter 7 of Revelation, the multitude of God’s people are standing before the throne of God sheltered by His presence. John’s vision of every tribe and tongue worshiping together as one is a heavenly prophecy of intercultural worship.

So if we aren’t meant to segregate as we worship in Heaven, then why are we so divided as we worship here on earth? Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in this nation.” Not much has changed since his original statement 50 years ago so maybe it’s time to try something beyond just adding a few ethnically diverse songs.

1.  We must stop trying to fix it with music.

We believe music is a universal language just as long as everyone else lives in our universe. It’s impossible for intercultural worship to begin with a common musical style, so it must instead begin with a common biblical content. And when it does, music won’t get the blame for what only theology can fix.

2.  We must become ethnodoxologists.

Ethnodoxologists encourage unity in the heart languages of those who are here and those who are not here…yet. Ethnodoxology looks beyond Americanism as having a corner on worship understanding and considers the vast work God is doing around the globe and across the tracks.

3.  We must be mutually inconvenienced.

Mitch Albom wrote, “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.” Our worship success will not be judged solely on how well we did it ourselves but also what conveniences we were willing to sacrifice as our spiritual act of worship so other tribes and tongues could do it too.

4.  We must stop living monocultural lives.

Monoculture originated as an agricultural term that means the cultivation and growth of a single crop at a time. How can we expect to have intercultural worship on Sunday when we segregate monoculturally in everything else during the week?

5.  We must have intercultural platforms.

Inserting the occasional international song is disingenuous when the people who lead those songs are homogenous. Harold Best wrote, “It is a spiritually connected culture that takes cultural differences, works through the tensions that they may create and comes to the blessed condition of mixing and reconciling them and of stewarding their increase and growth.”[2]

6.  We must become uncomfortable with injustice.

Politicizing justice is the fear of losing control of something that was not ours to begin with, including the cultural preferences of our church. It is theologically incongruent to embrace cultural worship differences internationally while ignoring them domestically. American exceptionalism may be welcomed politically but it can’t be justified biblically. So worship that doesn’t act justly, love mercy and walk humbly by considering the voices of the marginalized is a worship God rejects.

 

[1] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 181.

[2] Ibid.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Some Worship Leaders Should Just Quit

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

QuitChristianity Today recently published an article indicating that nearly one-fourth of all active ministers have been forced out at some point in their ministry. These termination statistics remind us that the choice to stay is not always ours to make.

But what if we are or aren’t doing some things that are contributing to an early ministry departure? Aren’t we called to do everything we can possibly do 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 spend the majority of their time just trying to improve themselves musically. The reality is we can never learn and teach enough new songs to make up for relationship and leadership failures.

So it’s time to quit doing or not doing those things that might be contributing to your discontent or the discontent of those to whom you are accountable.

Quit…

  • Coming in late and leaving early.
  • Blaming others when you drop the ball.
  • Using artistry as an excuse for laziness.
  • Depending on music alone to fix relationships.
  • Assuming all problems began somewhere else.
  • Trying to pastor from the platform alone.
  • Looking for shortcuts or excuses and pay the rent.
  • Coasting at the beginning of the week and scrambling at the end.
  • Coming to rehearsals and meetings unprepared.
  • Trying to make changes without seeking buy-in.
  • Expecting others to change first.
  • Viewing relationships as artistic interruptions.
  • Holding volunteers to a bar you aren’t trying to reach.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

A Modern Parable for Worship Leaders

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

matthewThe Master Worship Leader called three novices with various gifts, passions and capabilities to lead worship in three churches with distinct characteristics and needs.

To the first novice worship leader the Master gave a worship band that included five stellar players on rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, drums and keyboard.

To the second novice worship leader the Master gave an aging rockabilly guitarist and a high school cajon player.

And to the third novice worship leader the Master gave a long-retired kindergarten teacher who played hymns as long as they weren’t in sharps.

So The Master entrusted the three novices to fulfill their unique worship callings in equally unique and sometimes challenging church settings.

The first novice realized his church wouldn’t be able to begin more services or plant additional churches until new players were trained. So he encouraged his original band members to give lessons to younger players so they’d be available for new plants and as substitute players throughout the year. He also began a school of the arts to cultivate younger players so his church could share some of those players with several smaller churches in their community.

The second novice quickly realized rockabilly didn’t fit the worship voice of his congregation so he used some of his worship budget to invest in more nuanced worship guitar lessons for his rockabilly guitarist and one of his rockabilly band associates. And since the high school cajon player would graduate in a year, he was asked to train a younger middle schooler to serve as his replacement upon graduation.

The third novice coasted, surfed ministry placement sites, went to conferences with his resume in hand and waited for the Master to call him to a more favorable position.

The Master checked in with the three novices to see how they were responding to His unique call in their unique settings.

The novice with five players showed the Master how he had doubled the number of players originally entrusted to him. So the Master commended him: “Good work! It’s obvious you are not just a musician but also a leader of worship and worshipers. You are a worthy ministry servant that can be trusted with more.”

The novice with two players showed the Master how he had invested in the skills of existing players and trained younger players for the future. So the Master celebrated with him: “Great job! It’s obvious you aren’t doing this alone and value the calling and gifts of others. You are a model of servant leadership ready for additional responsibilities.”

The novice with one player said, “Master, I know you have high worship standards and are not pleased with poor musicianship. And since no other players here at my church can live up to those expectations, I have been doing it all myself. I’ve been waiting for you to call me to another church with more skilled players who appreciate my musical prowess.”

The Master was angry and disappointed at this response so he asked the third novice two final questions: “If you knew I was after high worship standards, then why haven’t you been trying to achieve them where I called you with what I gave you? And if you haven’t been giving your best to this place where I called you now and have been saving it for where you hope I will call you next, then why would I want to?”

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

40 Worship Alternative Facts

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

forty

Worship Alternative Facts

  1. Worship bands trivialize it.
  2. Orchestras make it archaic.
  3. If newer it is relevant.
  4. When older it is stale.
  5. Music is a requirement for it to occur.
  6. If it’s louder it’s better.
  7. It requires noise.
  8. Original artist keys are its purest form.
  9. Older guys can no longer lead it effectively.
  10. It’s more relevant with a younger leader.
  11. It can’t occur without a leader.
  12. A woman can’t lead it.
  13. It’s not possible multigenerationally.
  14. It should be segregated by affinity and cultures.
  15. It has to be rational and explainable.
  16. It’s only relevant when mirroring present culture.
  17. Evangelism is its goal.
  18. It’s a Sunday event only.
  19. It starts and stops with opening and closing songs.
  20. A hymnal is necessary for it to occur.
  21. Most modern worship songs are trite.
  22. It can’t happen with a choir.
  23. It is passive with a worship team.
  24. It can be created with song selections.
  25. One style of it is preeminent.
  26. It’s a warm-up for the sermon.
  27. Changing it will grow your church.
  28. Changing it will kill your church.
  29. It’s always happy.
  30. It causes Jesus to show up.
  31. It is something done for us.
  32. Singing or playing is its only participatory option.
  33. It is a noun.
  34. It is based primarily on feelings.
  35. It requires no congregational preparation or participation.
  36. Technology distracts from it.
  37. Technology is a requirement for it.
  38. It can be imitated or mimicked.
  39. Its songs have a short shelf life.
  40. Attire determines its success or failure.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

20 Things Pastors and Worship Leaders Should Say to Each Other More Often

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

twenty

Things Pastors and Worship Leaders
Should Say to Each Other More Often

 

  1. I’m glad we’re in this together.
  2. If we don’t get along, then we can’t expect our church to.
  3. I’m praying for you.
  4. Let’s plan the service together.
  5. I’m not threatened when you get the credit.
  6. I need your help.
  7. If we blow it up, someone will have to pick up the pieces.
  8. I’ve got your back.
  9. Let’s go get a cup of coffee.
  10. I value our friendship.
  11. Tell me about what you are reading.
  12. I am interested in what you think.
  13. I’ll take care of that so you can spend time with your family.
  14. I apologize.
  15. Feel free to disagree.
  16. I trust your leadership.
  17. I’m never too busy to meet with you.
  18. Let’s attend that conference together.
  19. If it will threaten our relationship let’s not do it.
  20. I love you, my friend.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

You’re A Worship Leader, Not A Cheerleader

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

cheerleaderIf you’re familiar with cheerleading, then you understand its purpose is to generate spirit. It is scripted, coached, practiced and performed in order to rally enthusiasm, create energy and spawn excitement.

Cheerleading includes a variety of synchronized routines such as songs, dances, chants and stunts. The cheerleaders implement these various actions with 3-4 minute routines to work-up or generate the spirit of the spectators. Some cheerleaders even admit their exuberance isn’t necessarily something they actually feel but instead something they put on, much like their facial makeup.

To motivate their congregation, worship leaders can sometimes display similar cheerleading traits.

But…Worship leaders are not cheerleaders.

Worship leaders can’t generate the Spirit of God through their synchronized actions and song selections. Those actions might prompt, exhort, encourage or even prod more response to the Spirit but they can’t create it.

He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father is seeking the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23). We are responders to God’s calling and seeking, not originators of it.

So as good as our various worship routines might be, they will never work-up enough enthusiasm, energy and emotion to create a Spirit that can only be recognized and responded to. We can acknowledge the Spirit but we can’t generate it. We can respond to the Spirit but we can’t initiate it. We can celebrate the Spirit but we can’t create it.

Theologian Richard Foster wrote, “Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit touches our spirit.”[1]

 

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1978).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Preemptive Strike: Evaluating Worship from the Inside

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

evaluationSome worship leaders don’t consider evaluating their worship services until they receive complaints about something they are or aren’t doing or singing. Consequently, their responses are usually defensive rather than evaluative.

A preemptive strike is an action that is intentionally initiated to keep another inevitable action from occurring. It is preventive and proactive in order to deter a more unfavorable action or attack from transpiring.

Evaluation is already occurring in the halls and parking lots. So why wouldn’t we want to preempt those conversations with a process that encourages worship renewal instead of just as a response to worship conflict?

Evaluating worship from the inside is an internal process of enlisting individuals and groups from within your congregation to regularly evaluate present worship structures and practices.

Inside or internal evaluators already understand the culture, doctrines and personnel assets or liabilities that frame your worship preparation and implementation. So they have a vested interest in the process and results since it too is their church.

One area of caution, though, is since the evaluators have a more personal interest there is sometimes the danger of ideological evaluation. Those evaluations can be based on likes, dislikes and styles instead of biblical and theological content. But the benefits definitely outweigh the risk of encountering the occasional ideologue.

Implementing a process of internal evaluation requires a level of humility and sacrifice from leaders. Those leaders who willingly and selflessly share the responsibilities will no longer receive all of the credit for successes but they also won’t receive all of the credit for failures. Consider some of the following preemptive evaluation suggestions:

INTERNAL EVALUATION SUGGESTIONS

  • Develop an evaluative team for worship planning and follow-up evaluation. Include musicians, theologians, technicians, artists, etc.
  • Video the platform personnel (including the pastor) as an evaluative tool for the team. Look for: genuineness, preparedness, idiosyncrasies, platform presence, vocal clarity, language clarity, etc.
  • Video the congregation before, during and after worship services to evaluate how or if they are participating.
  • Enlist multi-generational and multi-ethnic congregants to respond to questions regarding the relevance of worship to their generation or culture.
  • Ask evaluation team members to sit in various places during worship services to consider volume, balance, pace, flow, content, congregational participation, etc.
  • Enlist non-musicians to respond to musical questions.
  • Ask an educator to evaluate language and grammar usage of platform leaders.
  • Encourage non-technical congregants to respond to projection, sound, lighting and other technical/logistical questions.
  • Implement platform personnel peer-to-peer evaluations.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t attempt to evaluate too much at a time.
  • Design evaluations to minimize the focus on style and personal preferences. Avoid “I like” or “I don’t like” questions.
  • Ensure evaluations aren’t used to manipulate or provide justification for biases.
  • Evaluate strengths as well as weaknesses.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Improving Evangelical Curb Appeal in 2017

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

curb appealMost potential homebuyers decide if they will check out the interior of a house or take it seriously as a home prospect based on its curb appeal…how it looks from the street. Statistics show that a positive curb appeal brings more people through the front door and gives them a healthy first impression. Conversely, poor curb appeal excludes certain people from looking further and those who actually do look will automatically discount its value.

We evangelicals lost much of our curb appeal in 2016. Instead of acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly we filled our social media news feeds and public conversations with religious condescensions and theological concessions. Consequently, the view from the street was that we were like the grouchy old man who constantly yelled “get out of my yard!”

There is value in healthy religiopolitical debates as long as those dialogues begin with biblical theology instead of political ideology. If, however, we continue to start with politics, then our curb appeal will depreciate even more and cause culture to drive on by in 2017 and beyond.

10 Ways We Lost Our Curb Appeal in 2016
  1. We united around what we were against rather than what we were for.
  2. Politics determined our theology.
  3. Formerly inclusive guardrails became exclusive litmus tests.
  4. We blurred the lines between commandments and amendments.
  5. We claimed theologically and philosophically to be racially diverse, yet still segregated relationally and practically.
  6. Politicism superseded evangelism.
  7. We no longer encouraged or even allowed critical thinking.
  8. Friendly fire contributed to our net loss.
  9. We hated the practices of culture more than we loved the people in it.
  10. We justified meanness in the name of guarding religious territory.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

The God We Worship Looks A Lot Like Us

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

mirrorWe are created in God’s image, not He in ours. We should, therefore, step into His story instead of expecting Him to step into ours. When we worship we must acknowledge that we aren’t starting the conversation. Instead, He began the dialogue and is inviting us to join Him in it. So if we create worship just to accommodate our needs, then the god we worship looks a lot like us.

Our worship proclaims, enacts and sings God’s story.[1] So if our worship is truly in spirit and truth it must reflect who God is, not what we want. When we focus on what we need, deserve and prefer, the attention is always on us. But when we focus on what He desires, the attention is always on Him.

Fortunately for us, we still occasionally see God even when our worship is focused on our own selfish desires. But how much more profound could our worship be if we moved beyond just seeing Him to actually seeing by Him. In his essay “Meditation in A Tool Shed,” C.S. Lewis illustrates the difference between just seeing something as an outsider and actually seeing by or looking along something as an insider.

I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.[2]

When we stand outside of the beam and expect it to move where we are, the god we worship looks like us. We believe it is there for our sake instead of we there for its sake. Then the object of our worship (God and God’s story) is transferred to an object of our own choosing (us and our story). Harold Best wrote, “Idolatry is the difference between walking in the light and creating our own light to walk in.”[3]

But when we step into the beam and look along that beam we don’t just see God, but now see by Him. Then our worship is no longer shaped by what we want or feel like we’ve earned, but instead by who God is and what He has done.

 

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 39.

[2] C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 212.

[3] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 165-6.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Can’t Hear Them Singing? Dial It Back A Notch!

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

decibelMost of us can’t imagine operating a lawn mower or power tools without hearing protection. Yet we regularly operate our worship sound reinforcement systems at a comparable decibel level.

We all know volume complaints are more prevalent when the musical style is one the complainant doesn’t particularly like. But before you write this post off as another stylistic rant from an old guy, remember that decibel levels are no respecter of ages or musical styles.

An organ, choir and orchestra, rhythm section or southern gospel quartet all have the same potential to hover around elevated or even damaging volume levels. In fact, some studies have shown that incidents of hearing loss are slightly higher in classical musicians than rock musicians. So even if our volume preferences may be subjective, the potential effects are not.

Worship leaders often use the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decibel scale to determine acceptable levels. Although a helpful resource, it is often used reactively rather than proactively. In other words, leaders use this scale to defend existing levels in response to complaints.

Proactive use of the OSHA scale can instead help a congregation consider not only acceptable levels but also appropriate levels. Acceptable levels are subjective…Appropriate levels are objective.

Experts have written that based on the length of time of exposure vs. the intensity of exposure, every 3 dB drop reduces the risk by one-half. In the noisy environment of a worship service with numerous instrumentalists and vocalists playing and singing simultaneously, a 3 dB drop of the band or orchestra would be imperceptible to most people.[1] So slight volume adjustments could foster significant progress toward more appropriate worship music levels.

Most worship leaders lament the fact that their congregations are no longer singing. Elevated volume levels could be contributing to this passivity. So being sensitive to the need for minor sound adjustments could encourage expanded participation in congregational singing. Kenny Lamm wrote, “If our music is too loud for people to hear each other singing, it is too loud.” Check out the following link for his helpful commentary on why congregations are no longer singing: 9 Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship by Kenny Lamm.

As leaders, we can rationalize higher decibel levels because it feels better, because it fits a certain genre or because we personally prefer it at those levels. And yet, we often vilify congregants who make those same claims about their own preferences. So it’s really just a matter of our responsibility and accountability as leaders to fulfill our obligation to steward the platform musicians and congregants we have been entrusted to lead.

[1] Marshall Chasin, Hearing Loss in Musicians: Prevention and Management, (San Diego: Plural Publishing, 2009).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Uptight Worship Leaders Need Fartleks in 2017

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

runningFartlek is not a middle school bodily function joke. It is an actual running term of Swedish origin that literally means “speed play.” Running fartleks involves varying the pace throughout your run, alternating between sprints and slow jogs.

Unlike traditional interval training that involves specific timed or measured segments, fartleks are intentionally unstructured. Adding them to your training plan is a fun way to give new life to monotonous distance runs as well as rigorous speed intervals. Fartleks offer a runner the opportunity to experiment with various paces, ultimately increasing your speed and stamina.

Most worship leaders just ended another year of busyness that culminated in a flurry of seasonal rehearsals, presentations and extra services. And since ministry often sanctifies busyness instead of freeing us from it, we probably ended this hectic worship season by immediately starting another one. So some of us are undoubtedly wondering if we have enough left in the tank to do it all again. The question we need to ask as we begin 2017 is, “am I ready to run a healthy race that also includes margins of recovery between those seasons of going all-out?

Jesus said, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matt 11:28-30, The Message).

So if your 2016 worship leadership seemed joyless and you were constantly frustrated when those you led seemed to lag behind, then maybe it’s time to lighten up. Add some speed play to your rigorous schedule so you and those you lead can again experience the joy of worship leadership and have enough endurance to still be in the race at the end of 2017.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

The Attention A Worship Leader Craves

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

RelationshipsMost worship leaders hunger for the investment of and healthy communication with their senior pastor. But they don’t always have the freedom to initiate that relationship or those conversations until the senior pastor starts them. Consequently, planning, preparation and evaluation is often by trial and error that can be discouraging to the worship leader and frustrating to the senior pastor.

Worship leaders crave the attention of a senior pastor who values and creates a culture of healthy communication, sacrifice and trust that isn’t guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. In other words, worship leaders long for the relational bond of shared ministry with a senior pastor who is confident enough in his own abilities and limitations to humbly admit publicly and privately that he can’t get it done alone.

The Pastor’s Attention A Worship Leader Craves

  • A collaborative spirit that is complementary, not competitive.
  • Grace that welcomes disagreement without fear of retaliation.
  • Approachability, availability and accountability.
  • Respect for the calling and leadership of others even when radically different from their own.
  • The capacity to affirm in public; correct and coach in private; and pastor in both places.
  • Enough humility to acknowledge that shared ministry doesn’t threaten but instead strengthens.
  • A desire to initiate significant conversations about vision, dreams, expectations and evaluations.
  • A yearning to invest in the personal and spiritual development of others with no ulterior motive.
  • Loyalty, trust and respect.
  • The confidence to acknowledge the sermon may not always be primary.
  • The resolve to work toward a common philosophy of worship.
  • A prayer intercessor for and with ministry colleagues.
  • Authentic transparency and vulnerability.
  • An appropriate sense of humor.
  • Full engagement in worship, spiritual disciplines and family.
  • True friendship.
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Planning Worship for Likes

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

LikeMarketing is an intentional process of identifying who the consumer is, determining the wants and needs of that consumer and offering a product that satisfies those wants and needs in order to secure their loyalties.

Social media has created a marketing culture where our posting success is determined by the number of likes, shares, retweets or comments we receive. So those of us who are social media aficionados have learned how to market our posts to encourage more favorable responses. Some of us plan worship the same way.

Planning worship for likes means we are intentionally selecting our songs and service elements in response to positive, negative or no feedback. Designing worship for affirmation can even cause us to hedge theologically, biblically and musically.

So if we are catering to worship tastes just for the positive feedback, what will we offer when those tastes change or are too diverse to accommodate? Preferences change, biblical and theological content doesn’t. So the worship we reach them with is the worship we’ll reach them to.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

20 Ways to Pray for Worship Leaders

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

twenty

Ways to Pray for

Worship Leaders

 

 

  1. Pray that they never sacrifice their family for ministry since their family is ministry.
  2. Pray for them to prepare for Sunday by focusing on worship as primary and music as secondary.
  3. Pray that they will help us focus more on the creator and less on their creativity.
  4. Pray that Scripture and Prayer instead of song selections frame their worship preparation.
  5. Pray for healthier ministry staff relationships.
  6. Pray that their days off and vacations provide rest that is free from church responsibilities.
  7. Pray for their spiritual, physical and emotional health.
  8. Pray that they’ll be able to sift through the many responsibilities that compete for their attention and focus on the ones God wants them to do.
  9. Pray for them to wake up every morning feeling unqualified in their own power to do what God has called them to do.
  10. Pray Ephesians 4:29 over them, “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.”
  11. Pray for them to daily recommit to their call here instead of dreaming about what it might be like to be there.
  12. Pray they never confuse leading music with leading people.
  13. Pray for them to have enough humility to engage us as participants instead of audiences.
  14. Pray for the protection of their marriages.
  15. Pray for trusted leaders to hold them accountable and protect them.
  16. Pray for their almost insurmountable task of trying to stay current musically, technologically and culturally.
  17. Pray for a great cloud of witnesses to surround them so they can fix their eyes on Jesus and run with endurance.
  18. Pray that they will have the courage to ignore the loudest voices if not God’s.
  19. Pray for their wisdom to select old and new songs that will help us respond to God’s revelation with biblical, theological and doctrinal integrity.
  20. Pray that they will have patience and persistence when it seems like none of us are completely happy with their musical selections.
  21.  

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Worshipers…Watch Your Step!

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

cautionIt is recorded at the beginning of chapter five of Ecclesiastes that we should guard our steps as we go to the house of God and listen instead of offering the sacrifice of fools who don’t even know they are being foolish (Eccl 5:1).

Understanding the necessity of individually preparing for gathered worship is radically different than expecting our worship leaders to generate our worship for us when we get there. We sing our songs as an act of worship, not to create it.

It’s not enough to sing “Your praise will ever be on my lips” on Sunday if I’m not living it on Monday. So if we aren’t prepared on Sunday to respond to God’s countless blessings that occurred all week, how could our worship leaders possibly lead enough songs to prepare us?

Richard Foster wrote, “Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the Father. It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit touches our spirit.”[1]

Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell offer some suggestions to help us prepare for worship. It requires:

  1. Internal preparation of heart: Each worshiper carries the responsibility for personal preparation of his/her heart. If God calls us to worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), then we must constantly ask questions about the state of our spirit and readiness of our hearts.
  1. Pre-arrival preparation: We can learn from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown the evening before. So our Saturday night and Sunday morning activities before we gather have a formative affect, positively or negatively, on our readiness for worship.
  1. Pre-service preparation: That short period of time between our arrival at church and the beginning of the worship service is also critical. How we interact with others reminds us that we are here as part of a body. Intentionally quieting our spirits before the service begins will also enable us to set distractions aside and again focus our corporate attention on God.[2]

And since worship does not start when we enter the worship service, it should not stop when we leave. So with that understanding I would recommend a fourth suggestion to add to the previous three.

  1. Post-service continuation: Worship should continue as we leave the service. It can happen in our homes, at our schools and through our work. It can’t be contained in a single location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. So it doesn’t matter how good our worship is when we gather, it is incomplete until it continues when we scatter. Post-service worship then leads us in a continuous circle back to step 1.

Worship begins in our hearts, not on our lips.

 

[1] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1978).

[2] Malefyt, Norma deWaal and Howard Vanderwell, Database online. Available from worship.calvin.edu.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

5 Worship Oxymorons

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

cemeteryCall to Worship
A call to worship that reminds congregants to set aside their distractions in order to respond again to God’s revelation that occurred during the week is not an oxymoron. But when a call to worship or opening song is used like the Indy 500 announcement, Gentlemen Start Your Engines, it is.

If our worship only starts when we sing the first song and then stops when we sing the last one, what are we doing the other 167 hours of the week? Loving God with heart, soul, mind and strength and also loving our neighbors as we love ourselves means worship is continuous, not just something called at the beginning of our Sunday song set.

Scriptureless Worship
A limited use of Scripture in our worship services conveys a lack of trust in the very Word professed to be foundational to our worship. And by limiting its text to a single reading prior to the pastoral exhortation we are implying that a higher level of credibility is found in the exhortation than in the Word itself. If Scripture can’t stand on its own, then we can’t possibly prop it up with our own superficial words.

Scripture must be foundational to our worship songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions and the Table. When that biblical text organically yields our sermons and songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived worship language, we will leave in here worship with the text in our hearts and on our lips for continuous worship out there.

Worship Experience
We can experience the many facets of God inside or outside a worship service but the experience 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.

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 (worship) is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes prepared reply to that experience.

Passive Worship
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 worship spectators into active worship participators? Passive worship is worship that is done for us.

Participative worship, on the other hand, taps into the collective talents, resources and responses of the entire congregation. It is intentionally collaborative and is not guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. Encouraging participatory worship leverages and trusts the involvement of all in planning, preparation and implementation. Participative worship is worship that we do.

Worship Announcements
A worship announcement doesn’t have to be an oxymoron, but usually is. Worship 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. The result of ill prepared verbal announcements is often a long-winded circular discourse of verbosity, clichés and topical detours that has little to do with worship.

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.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

12 Ways to Get Rid of Your Worship Leader

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

twelve

Ways  to  Get

Rid  of  Your

Worship  Leader

 

  • Target his family because you aren’t happy with him.

  • Insist on worship service musical style quotas.

  • Constantly compare her with your previous worship leader.

  • As an act of civil disobedience stop singing when he introduces new songs.

  • Don’t accept his limitations, vulnerabilities or transparency.

  • Expect the worship music to increase church attendance or reduce church conflict.

  • Depend on her alone to generate or create worship every week.

  • Demand intergenerational worship that doesn’t require you to sacrifice.

  • Expect her to lead multicultural worship without changing anything.

  • Require him to always plan and lead worship with your preferences in mind.

  • Institute ageism and physical appearance guidelines.

  • Never view worship as more than a service starter, stuffer or stopper.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Stop It with All of the Happy Worship Songs!

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

unhappyWorship Leader, if you really want congregants to be transparent, vulnerable and real in their worship, then stop it with all of the happy worship songs.

It’s not just inconsiderate…it is also dishonest.

A façade of musical superficiality may seem innocent and economical, but it is actually very costly. When we consume a steady diet of happy worship songs it alienates those of us who are suffering, broken, marginalized, angry, depressed or mourning. The appearance that all is well with everyone else in the worship service exacerbates our hopelessness instead of helping it.

One-dimensional singing about how happy we should be can condition us to believe it is more spiritual to avoid expressing our deep-seated emotions of grief and pain. Worship that never addresses those realities often communicates that we must not feel that way, or at least not here.

If you really want our worship to be authentic, then our singing must reflect authentic life. That reality means we need a safe venue to publicly cry out to God in despair as a therapeutic act of worship.

We are asking you to facilitate an atmosphere of acceptability and permission for us to voice our pain corporately. We are encouraging you to add songs to our repertoire that will help us sing our emotions of lost jobs, cancer, miscarriage, broken marriage, death and other dark nights of the soul. We are asking you to help us not just with our thanksgiving and praise but also our confession, contrition, petition, lament and yes, even our anger.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing…not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.”

So Worship Leader, as our friend who cares…please help us to ask God why in our singing. It is not a language that He is threatened by so we shouldn’t be afraid of it either. In fact, our authenticity actually demands it.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

8 Reasons To Stop Attending Worship Conferences

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share
8 Reasons To Stop Attending Worship Conferences
  • stopIf envy is the first emotion you experience when encountering other worship leaders…you should stop attending worship conferences.
  • If contempt for the accomplishments of others causes you to publicly claim that their success must only have been possible through stylistic superficiality, musical adulteration or theological compromise…you should stop attending worship conferences.
  • If your post worship conference pattern is to imitate and implement everything you see without considering how or if it might fit in the culture or context of your own congregation…you should stop attending worship conferences.
  • If congregants dread your return home after a conference since it always means you are going to immediately change something…you should stop attending worship conferences.
  • If you are critical of your worship volunteers when they can’t imitate what you observed and experienced…you should stop attending worship conferences.
  • If you always return home disappointed in the place God has called you now and long for the place He will call you next…you should stop attending worship conferences.
  • If you question your calling because it seems like everyone there was younger, played guitar better, got more recognition, has a larger choir, has a better platform presence or has a more collaborative pastor…you should stop attending worship conferences.
  • If you are constantly looking to the left or right to see how your context measures up with the context of others instead of toward the God who called you…you should stop attending worship conferences.

If, however, you can attend worship conferences and filter the valuable insights through the worship language of your own uniquely positioned and distinctly designed congregation; If you implement what you observe out there only after determining how it might complement the gifts of those you already have in here; and if reevaluation instead of revolution and contentment instead of covetousness are your post-conference defaults; then by all means attend as many of those worship conferences as your budget and calendar will allow.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

A Letter To My Younger Worship Leading Self

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

letterDear Younger Worship Leading Me,

In a few decades you are going to look back at your years of worship ministry with a desire for a second chance to handle some things differently. You will think about certain services, special events, entire seasons of ministry or strained relationships and long for another opportunity to make some adjustments.

The reality is that it will be impossible for you to go back and make corrections to most of those situations. But with a little humility, resilience and resolve now, you have an opportunity to get some of them right the first time. So here are a few things you are going to learn.

Surround yourself with people who will stretch your thinking and actions but also hold you accountable. Taking necessary risks might cause you to make some mistakes but the discernment of others will help protect you from your own stupidity. It might be exhilarating when you succeed alone but it won’t be when you fail alone. And you will sometimes fail.

People will always remember how you treat them when you’re off the platform more than how you lead them on the platform so know more people’s names than new songs. Consider their interruptions as divine appointments instead of distractions. Drink more coffee with senior adults and ask their opinions before initiating change. Be more patient with needy people and chronic takers. And remember to thank those who make sacrifices to invest in you, your family and your ministry.

Be on the front end of learning newer musical and technological languages. But don’t assume it’s always appropriate to be an early adopter of them. Being conversant in a language doesn’t mean it should be used when it doesn’t fit the voice of your congregation. Learn more theology than musicology and practice leadership development more than you practice your guitar.

Always ask how something might impact your family before asking how it might impact your worship leading. Leave more things at the office when you go home and be home when you are home. Taking a Sabbath each week will not only help your spiritual and physical health, it will also help the relational health of your family. Stay longer instead of bailing for a new place of ministry every couple of years. 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?

What you know about worship leading now won’t be enough to sustain you through your entire ministry. So read more, study more and ask more questions. Be a lifelong learner who understands it’s never too soon or too late to learn something new.

Finally, I know it is sometimes overwhelming to balance the stresses of ministry and family. So when leading worship is discouraging; when it seems like no generation is ever completely happy; when you can’t sing too many or too few hymns; and when you wake up on Monday morning and wonder if this is really worth it; you can rest assured that you’ll also be able to look back at those decades of ministry and acknowledge with certainty that it was.

Sincerely,

Your Older Worship Leading Self

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

DIY Worship

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Do It YourselfWorship is something we do, not something done for us.

The conviction that a priest must mediate to God for us was set aside through the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer. But even if most evangelical church worshipers theologically embrace that doctrine, they often function practically as if they don’t.

When worship leaders act as priestly worship gatekeepers, they can hold a congregation captive to style, tradition, form and structure. They have a tendency to direct, regulate, contain, moderate and restrain. The result is worship determined hierarchically and disseminated corporately, meaning it can only really occur in a controlled setting that they lead.

Abdicating our individual worship responsibilities continues when only a select few are encouraged or even allowed to read, speak, pray, testify, lead, sing, exhort, offer communion, baptize, lament, confess, bless, praise and thank.

There is no question that worship leaders are called and we often need them to facilitate, prompt, remind, exhort, prod and encourage us to a deeper worship understanding. But they are not called to mediate for us.

Do It Yourself Worship, on the other hand, relies on the collective cooperation from all to plan, prepare and implement the worship systems of a congregation. DIY Worship sets congregants free. The gate is always open. It helps them realize that worship can’t be contained in one location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. Even though it can be messy, DIY Worship is freeing in that it reminds us all that worship is not just something we do on Sunday but also who we are during the week.

The author of the book of Hebrews points out that the old covenant limited access to God. Only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies one time a year with a blood offering (Hebrews 9:3, 6-7). So the place where God’s presence was most revealed was not available except through the high priest and only at certain times.

But in the new covenant in which we live, Jesus became the mediator serving as the intercessor for the people of God. An earthly priest was no longer required; the sacrifice was complete; Jesus’ blood was offered; the veil was torn in half; and the way was now open for all to worship Him without an earthly mediator.

We will never completely understand worship as something we can do ourselves, instead of something that must be done for us until we embrace with confidence our individual worship freedom to “enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19).

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Thoughtless Worship

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

thoughtlessWe often wait for the song set to stir our emotions before joining in worship. But if we ever hope for deep calling unto deep worship it will also require us to engage our minds. Worship that doesn’t require us to think is superficial.

Jesus’ greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength and also love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi and us was that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy or worth our worship…we should think about such things (Phil 4:8).

Worship or love of God and others must be continuous or it becomes self-serving. And it can’t be continuous unless we think about it, consider it, process it, meditate on it, study it and learn how to get better at it in order to teach it.

We could learn a lot from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown. Then our activities and the things with which we fill our minds the night before we gather could determine our worship attitudes as we gather.

Our daughter was five years old the first time our family vacationed at Disney World. After months of planning and days of travel, the final preparations for and anticipation of the first day at Magic Kingdom was almost too much excitement for her to contain.

Like a firefighter, she selected and laid out her clothes the night before so she could jump into them the next morning. Sleep eluded her with the anticipation of what was to come. She awakened early, quickly dressed and inhaled breakfast so she would be ready to depart hours before the park even opened.

All conversation traveling from our resort to the park entrance centered on what she would observe, experience, eat, participate in, enjoy and then take home at the end of the day. She had been thinking about it, dreaming of it, planning, preparing and longing for it. Her mind was so filled with it she couldn’t contain the anticipation.

Worshiping with our mind allows us to approach worship with knowledge, insight, reason, memory, creativity, inquiry, imagination and even doubt. So if we offer our prayers superficially; if we read and listen to Scripture texts mindlessly; if we gather at the Lord’s Supper Table hastily; and if we only sing our songs emotionally; the end result is often thoughtless worship.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Treating Worship Sickness Before A Diagnosis

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

treatmentTrying to fix worship by randomly changing the songs is like a physician arbitrarily treating an illness before a diagnosis. Worship health and consequently its renewal will only occur by evaluating our worship principles first before we ever consider changing our worship practices.

Diagnosis is the process of determining by examination and evaluation the nature and circumstances of a diseased condition. Treatment is the administration and application of remedies once the diagnosis has been determined. We seem to continually invert these two processes.

So instead of evaluating our worship health based on biblical foundations, theological tenets and historical precedents, we often attempt to heal it through song selections, stylistic adjustments and personnel firings or hirings.

Intentional evaluation before indiscriminate implementation can provide a constructive process for a congregation to verbalize foundational worship principles. Once those deeper biblical and theological principles are solidified they can then set treatment goals for their worship practices in response to the actual diagnoses.

Trial and error treatment focused on style and service mechanics will continue to consume the energy of worship planners and leaders unless an organized diagnostic plan is put in place. The end result is often exacerbated worship unhealthiness that is much more contagious. But if instead we ensure that our diagnosis always precedes the treatment, our worship renewal prognosis can’t help but be more hopeful.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

Worship Has Left the Building

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share

exit

If our worship services convey that worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it; if we expend all resources and energy preparing for and leading a single hour on Sunday and have nothing left for worship the other hours of the week; if we aren’t exhorting our congregations and modeling for them how to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse; then we are leading worship as an event that occurs only when we gather in the building.

Worship is a daily conversation, not a weekly event. Harold Best wrote, “If those of us who lead gathered worship are not careful, our actions can imply that time and place worship is the primary, if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.”[1]

Worship can’t be contained in one location, context, culture, style, artistic expression or vehicle of communication. It doesn’t matter how good it is when we gather in here, it is incomplete until it includes who we are out there. So worship success will never be completely realized until we can say, “Worship has left the building.”

 

[1] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 9.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle+Share