Stop It with All of the Happy Worship Songs!


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.


8 Reasons To Stop Attending Worship Conferences

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.


A Letter To My Younger Worship Leading Self


Younger MeDear 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.


Your Older Worship Leading Self


DIY Worship

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).


Thoughtless Worship


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.


Treating Worship Sickness Before A Diagnosis


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.


Worship Has Left the Building



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.


Open Letter To Pastors Who Choose Not To Sing


letterDear Non-Singing Pastor,

We depend on you as the primary worship leader of our congregation. We agree that your leadership centers more on worship through the Word and Table than through the music. And we understand and affirm that worship can’t be contained in one expression such as music.

But it is evident from Scripture that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 63:5; Eph 5:19: Col 3:15-17). When writing about the future of Jerusalem, the minor prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

When the circumstances of life discourage us from verbalizing our songs, the Father surrounds us with songs of deliverance (Ps 32:7). And when we can’t find adequate words to express our love to the Father, Jesus as our worship leader sings with us (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). So if the Father is singing over us and Jesus is singing with us, we have to ask how you can keep from singing?

When you choose not to sing it causes us to wonder if you really view the musical worship elements as an optional appetizer before the main course or the warm-up band before the headliner. And when you study sermon notes during the service instead of singing it gives us the impression you are unprepared, reminiscent of a freshman cramming for a final exam.

Pastor, we long for you to teach and model for us what active and fully engaged worship through singing looks like. We desire worship that is a continuous conversation with a variety of worship expressions instead of our stand-alone elements of music and preaching.

So in humility we ask that you join us in full-throated singing so that all of our voices, including yours, might unite in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament and response. And when this occurs our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that it can’t possibly be silenced (Ps 30:12).


Your Worship Musicians and Congregation


7 Questions We Must Ask of Our Worship Songs


questionsInstead of asking what musical styles our church should sing, we must ask if our songs are connecting the Word of God to the people of God. Until we begin to ask worship questions based on biblical and theological tenets rather than preferential ones, we’ll continue trying to create worship renewal through aesthetics and improvisation alone. If we want to discern and discover worship renewal in our church, then we have to begin by asking better questions.

  • Do our songs reflect and respond to biblical text?

We must constantly ask if our song texts are theologically sound and if they affirm Scripture as foundational. Songs that do not provoke us to respond to and reflect on the Word must always be suspect.

  • Do our songs connect the Word of God to the people of God?

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation then causes the people of God to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with each other. When this dialogue occurs our songs are communally uttered conversations with God.

  • Do our songs 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 doing in and through our lives in the name of Jesus. Those songs must sing of the ongoing and enduring work of Jesus. And they must constantly remind us of the great mystery of our faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.

  • Are song texts easy to follow and sing?

If congregants can’t follow and sing our songs, then how can we expect them to respond through them? Archaic or colloquial text should be filtered. And biblical texts should be evaluated for their healthy marriage with melodies that are accessible and singable to various generations, tribes and tongues.

  • Are we singing our songs with integrity?

Songs must communicate biblically, theologically and doctrinally. Those songs must be sung with the integrity of adequate external preparation and presentation that springs forth from internal conviction. It must be evident that our songs reflect what we believe and practice. So our lives must replicate the texts we sing even when we aren’t singing them.

  • Do our songs 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. So our songs must be sung from our entire being.

  • Are our songs encouraging action?

Our songs must not only inspire us through hearing and singing but also challenge us in our doing. They must not only inform the congregation but also engage them. Singing our songs should cause us to ask what we are going to change as a result of singing them. Singing in here is not enough until our songs also impact who we are out there by challenging us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.


Scriptureless Worship



A worship service without the reading of Scripture may not be worship at all.



Why do churches that so passionately defend the Bible rarely read its text in public worship services? Does its limited use convey a lack of trust in the very Word professed to be foundational to our faith, doctrines and practices? And by limiting its text to a single reading prior to the pastoral exhortation are we 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.

Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Worship wrote, “We are nourished in worship by Jesus Christ, who is the living Word disclosed to us in the Scriptures, the written Word of God. In spite of all the emphasis we evangelicals have placed on the importance of the Bible, there seems to be a crisis of the Word among us.”[1]

Congregations continue to struggle in their understanding of spirit and truth worship by maximizing music and depending on it alone to encourage worship renewal. At the same time those congregations often minimize the very foundational text from which our songs must spring forth.

John Frame offers two truths that highlight the value of God’s Word in our worship: “First, where God’s Word is, God is. We should never take God’s Word for granted. To hear the Word of God is to meet with God himself. Second, where God is, the Word is. We should not seek to have an experience with God which bypasses or transcends His Word.”[2]

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation causes worshipers to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 2:12-15; I Thess 1:5). The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. This dialogue develops a community that congregations have been desperately trying to create through their songs alone.

John Burgess offers the insight that, “When Scripture is read, when it is explicated in preaching, when it is incorporated into prayers of thanksgiving and lament, when it frames the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, Scripture becomes a means by which Christians are gathered into the body of the living Lord.”[3]

Scripture must be foundational to our songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions and even announcements. It must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. And when the biblical text organically yields our sermons and songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language, we will leave in here worship with the text in our hearts and on our lips for continuous worship out there.


[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 113.

[2] John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996), 90.

[3] John Burgess, Why Scripture Matters: Reading the Bible in a Time of Church Conflict (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1998), 41; as quoted in Leanne Van Dyk, ed., A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), 66.


10 Signs We’ve Created Worship in Our Own Image


10 Signs We’ve Created Worship in Our Own Image

mirror1.   God hates the same styles of worship we hate.

2.   Inspiration begins and ends with one music genre.

3.  What we deserve and have earned are worship planning yardsticks.

4.   We can plan, control and explain everything that happens in worship.

5.   Our worship always requires someone else’s sacrifice.

6.   What we sing or how we sing it determines God’s presence.

7.   Worship is planned to perpetuate past feelings or promote future ones.

8.   Musicology instead of theology is our starting point.

9.   Preparation and presentation centers on the creative instead of the creator.

10. Worship starts and stops with our opening and closing songs.

“Arrogance is when the image of the Lord has been replaced by a mirror.” Jorge Luis Borges

Cheap Worship


cheapTerry York and David Bolin wrote, “We have forgotten that what worship costs is more important than how worship comforts us or how it serves our agendas. We should not lift up to God worship or any other offering that costs us nothing. If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[1]

When Jesus engaged the Samaritan woman at the well the conversation moved from the physical…thirst, to the spiritual…living water. She attempted to change the subject back to the physical of the where and how of worship, but Jesus turned the conversation again to her spiritual condition and the who of worship. “God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

Once the woman encountered and acknowledged Jesus, she joined his conversation instead of expecting him to join hers. This encounter inspired her to sacrifice the self serving agenda that originally brought her to that place. She left her water pot and went into the city and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done” (v. 28-29).

She was not only willing to sacrifice her agenda; she was also ready to sacrifice comfort and preference. She knew where to find the men of the city since she’d had an intimate relationship with many of them and “all the things I have done” probably included many of their names. Yet, she was willing to set all fear of embarrassment and maybe even livelihood aside in order to sacrifice because of an encounter with Jesus.

The Samaritan woman continued to offer her body, though now it was as a living sacrifice to God as her spiritual act of worship. The result of her worship response was that “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (v. 39).

King David responded to God’s command to build an altar to the Lord so that the plague on the people of Israel might be stopped (2 Sam 24:21). At no cost to David, Araunah offered his threshing floor, his oxen and even the wood from the oxen yokes for the burnt offering. The king replied, “No, I insist on paying for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:21-24).

Cheap worship asks, “what’s in it for me?” Costly worship asks, “what’s in it of me?”


[1] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 112.


Top 10 Worship Service Questions


top ten

  • If some of our music is “special” does that mean the rest is just ordinary?

  • Is “older white guy” a biblical qualification for serving as an Usher?

  • Shouldn’t we have tested those white baptismal garments in water before determining they inspire thoughts of purity?

  • Wouldn’t churches be healthier if worship leaders were required to take the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm?”

  • Is the opening song supposed to feel like “Gentlemen, start your engines?”

  • Why aren’t we still singing the Charles Wesley hymn text, To me, to all, Thy bowels move?

  • Can a worship leader wear a man-bun with a camp shirt?

  • Is “but Jesus preached in sandals” really a valid argument for wearing flip-flops in the worship team?

  • Does it seem like more people complain about the volume when they don’t really like the musical style?

  • When skinny jeans are no longer in style will worship leaders be able to lead songs in lower keys?


5 Keys To Avoid Worship Change Buyer’s Remorse


buyer's remorseBuyer’s Remorse is the negative emotions or feelings of regret after making a major purchase or costly decision. The buyer may have felt pressure from others to buy or buy-into a product before he/she was ready. The high price of the new often seems extravagant and is sometimes seen as inferior or unnecessary after acquiring it.

In an effort to initiate worship change, leaders often rush into doing anything different than what they think is not working now. And failing to initiate worship change when change is necessary can cause a congregation to get stuck. But initiating those changes without appropriate preparation could cause congregational buyer’s remorse. Consider the following keys to avoid the inevitable regret of impulsive worship change.

Select the Appropriate Score

Score: A tool used by a composer, conductor or analyst that shows all the parts of an ensemble, enabling the experienced reader to “hear” what the composition will sound like.

Selecting the appropriate score for change requires preparation, prayer, discernment, study, observation and buy-in before actually initiating a change. Andy Stanley wrote, “Designing and implementing a strategy for change is a waste of time until you have discovered and embraced the current reality. If you don’t know where you really are, it is impossible to get to where you need to be. What you don’t know can kill you.”[1]

The score is the focus, outline, containment and limitations of the considered change. Even though a score has framework limitations it is still open to the interpretation of the conductor and players.

Rehearse Before You Perform

Rehearsal: The practice of something to be performed, usually to test or improve the interaction between participating people, or to allow technical adjustments.

Rehearsing a change is actively soliciting buy-in from congregants with unique gifts, perspectives and abilities. The pain of transition is amplified when leaders discount congregational members as uninformed, as incapable of grasping the theological implications of change or by assuming that they are so rooted in their old identity and behavior that they are unwilling to think in new ways.

Rehearsing change creates an environment where individuals realize their wisdom is an essential part of what is being created. Shared vision allows a congregation to consider the various perspectives and molds them within the framework of the score. It then creates a unified ensemble ready for the final presentation.

Peter Senge describes shared vision as, “creating a relational child, a unique future that will only emerge with shared dialogue and cooperative implementation.”[2]

Set A Healthy Tempo

Tempo: Tempo is the relative speed at which a composition is to be played. Rehearsal gives a congregation time to set the proper tempo for change. What might appear to a leader to be the quickest and most direct route may seem reckless to those members of the congregation who have the same goals but are more comfortable taking safer or slower routes.

Ignoring signals of caution can create conflict, sabotage trust, leave those we lead in our wake and cause us to re-trace our steps. What was intended to accelerate the pace may in fact lengthen it. The tempo established during rehearsal can kill a composition or it can encourage its success.

Utilize Modulation in Key Changes

Modulation: The process of moving from one key to another. The essential word in the previous definition is process. Change is a process, not a one-time event.[3]

Modulation offers a congregation a less painful transition by allowing time for them to come to terms with their identity change. Jumping from one key to another without the process of modulation is abrupt and jarring, leaving the listener stunned and frustrated.

Ironically, one of the key components of a successful modulation is dissonance. Dissonance will occur in the change process and cannot be ignored or it will surface again. Resolving dissonance in the modulation process releases the tension of moving from the previous to the new. Transformation takes time and the process is just as important as the end result.

Perform – Initiate the Change

Performance: The act of presenting; of doing something successfully; using knowledge as distinguished from merely possessing it. In his book, The Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley highlights the story of how in the early days of the Civil War; northern generals were so focused on avoiding casualties and embarrassing losses that they would miss strategic opportunities. They spent more time exercising the troops than they did engaging the enemy. Stanley wrote, “Simply recognizing the need for change does not define leadership. The leader is the one who has the courage to act on what he sees.”[4]

Leadership is not about making change decisions on your own but it is about owning those decisions once they are made. Stanley also said, “While the average man or woman fears stepping out into a new opportunity, the leader fears missing out on a new opportunity.”[5]

Initiating worship change without planning and serious reflection often causes unnecessary buyer’s remorse. Faithful leaders, however, successfully open their congregations to new concepts by accenting what they are now doing well, by giving those congregants time to consider what they might do better and by involving them throughout the process.

“The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything…or nothing.”  Nancy Astor


[1] Andy Stanley, The Next Generation Leader (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003), 75.

[2] Peter Senge in Brad Berglund, Reinventing Sunday: Breakthrough Ideas for Transforming Worship (Valley Forge: Judson, 2001), 11.

[3] Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (New York: Broadway Books, 2010), 290.

[4] Stanley, The Next Generation Leader, 50.

[5] Ibid., 51.


5 Questions Before Considering A Ministry Move



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

  • Has God released me from my call here?

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

  • Am I running from something?

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

  • Am I running to something?

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

  • How might it impact my family?

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

  • Am I ready to leave well?

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


Worship Leader Envy: The Tall Poppy Syndrome


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

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

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

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

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

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



5 Reasons Worship Leaders Are Losing Their Jobs


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

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

5 Reasons Worship Leaders Are Losing Their Jobs

They equate leading music with leading people

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


They aren’t learning anything new

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


They’ve confused calling and convenience

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


They can’t get along with their pastor

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


Their family isn’t their ministry

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


Want Multicultural Worship? Speak Their Language!


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethnodoxologist Worship Leaders…

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

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


The Arrogance of Inviting God to Show Up


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Event Spectators or Worship Participators?


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


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


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

Reasons Churches Have Event Spectators Instead of Worship Participators

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

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


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


Worship Service Secret Shopper


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


  • When were you first greeted, if ever?


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


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


  • Were the foyer colors and decorations outdated?


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


  • Were the handouts timely and of excellent quality?


  • Was the restroom clean and odor free?


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


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


  • How did you figure out where to sit?


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


  • Was the worship center seating comfortable?


  • Was there enough light?


  • Was the temperature at a comfortable level?


  • Did anyone dress or look like you?


  • How was the volume of the speaking and music?


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


  • How was the service flow and pace?


  • Did the service seem too long?


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


  • Was it easy to participate musically?


  • Was the music presented with excellence?


  • Was the music culturally relevant for the people present?


  • Were the video projection elements presented with excellence?


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


  • Was the sermon easy to follow and meaningful?


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


  • Did anything in the service distract you?


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


  • Did anyone speak to you after the service?


  • Were the members friendly, unfriendly or disinterested?


  • Did the leaders seem approachable?


  • Any additional observations?


  • Would you come back based on your observations?



Fleeting Worship: The Esau Syndrome


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

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

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

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

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


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


Two Worship Killers: Nostalgia and Novelty


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Worship That Wastes God’s Time


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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Ken Kulinski communicates a deeper understanding of Kairos:

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

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

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

[1] adapted from Fr. Ken Kulinski, “Kairos-God’s Time.” CowPi Journal, 9 October 2003. Database on-line. Available from


Worship Experience…An Oxymoron



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


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

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

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

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