Nov 28 2022

If I Had a Ministry Mulligan

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In informal golf, a Mulligan is an extra shot or do-over after a wayward or errant shot. It is a second chance at a better outcome that then doesn’t count against your final score.

As ministry novices or aging veterans, we’ve all looked back at certain decisions, sermons, services, events, relationships, or maybe even entire seasons of ministry with a deep longing for a second chance to do things differently.

The reality is that it’s impossible for us to go back and make corrections to most of those situations. But considering how we might handle things differently if we did have a do-over might not only help us get it right next time, but also encourage other ministry friends who haven’t yet but probably will face similar decisions in their future. Here is my list:

If I had a Ministry Mulligan…

  • I’d make more mistakes because I’d take more risks.
  • I’d take a complete Sabbath day of rest every week.
  • I’d drink more coffee with senior adults.
  • I’d make more deposits in younger leaders.
  • I’d pray more for church members even when they are mean.
  • I’d leave more things at the office when I go home in the evening.
  • I’d ask a lot more questions before making decisions.
  • I’d get way more buy-in before initiating change.
  • I’d spend more time thanking church members for loving my family.
  • I’d have more patience with needy church members.
  • I’d develop more hobbies outside of the church.
  • I’d welcome more interruptions in my planned schedule.
  • I’d surround myself with more people to protect me from my own stupidity.
  • I’d celebrate Communion more frequently.
  • I’d work harder at getting grandparents and grandchildren to worship together.
  • I’d have more “can you imagine” than “do you remember” conversations.
  • I’d have more ministry friends outside my denomination.
  • I’d focus more on people than projects.
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Nov 14 2022

Ministry: Convenience or Calling?

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What is compelling you to do ministry vocationally, bivocationally, or covocationally? Are you ministering because you love to prepare and present; because it is a great way to supplement your income and provide for your family; because of the notoriety of being on the platform; because you have a ministry degree; or because you don’t really know how to do anything else? If these are reasons why you are in ministry, then it’s possible your compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling.

God’s call gives us a task that is more than a role or a job. It involves our entire being, not just our gifting or talent in service to the Lord. So, it is a call to being as well as doing.[1] None of us alone in our own talent can claim to possess such commitment to God and compassion for others; such knowledge of faith and the ability to impart it through our ministry leadership; and such maturity in godliness and wisdom in guiding others. Only Jesus gives that Spirit in full measure to those who are called.[2]

We don’t have a call to ministry that was not first a call to Christ.[3] Ministry leadership is not given to us for our talent to be elevated. Our talent is given to us for Christ to be elevated.

Convenience may fit well with a person’s plans or abilities. It is comfortable and readily accessible. And it is suitable and favorable to one’s own needs, so it can often be accomplished without divine assistance. Convenience is a vocation or occupation in the meantime.

Calling, on the other hand, is a personal invitation from God to carry out a unique task. It is a strong inner impulse prompted by a divine conviction that often requires sacrifice. Calling is ministry or mission for a lifetime. Consequently, it’s not always convenient.

So again, what is compelling you to do ministry? Convenience responds to that question with, “This is what I was trained to do, like to do, and am good at.” Calling responds with, “This is what I was created to do.”

 

[1] Edmund P. Clowney, Called to the Ministry (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1976), 10.

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Ibid., 5.

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Sep 11 2022

12 Ways Pastors Help Their Kids Hate Church

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12 Ways Pastors Help Their Kids Hate Church…

  • Always ask how something might impact your ministry before asking how it might impact your family.
  • Move to a new church every couple of years.
  • Consider unscheduled phone calls or visits from church members as divine interruptions, but unscheduled phone calls or visits from your children as disrespectful intrusions.
  • Never remove your pastor hat to wear your parent hat.
  • Attend out of town conferences at prime locations but never have enough time for family vacations.
  • Miss ballgames and concerts to attend church stuff that you scheduled.
  • Don’t protect them from unfair and unrealistic church member expectations.
  • Have a different spiritual persona at church than you have at home.
  • Use them as sermon or teaching illustrations without their permission.
  • Express your disappointment or embarrassment when they act like regular kids.
  • Never show them affection at church.
  • Expect them to have the same passion for your calling as you do.
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Sep 2 2022

Cheap Church Attendance

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Cheap Church Attendance asks,

“What if I don’t know or even like the songs?”
“What if the pastor doesn’t preach my politics?”
“What if I’m expected to do something, give something, or lead something?”
“What if I’m not recognized or acknowledged?”
“What if I am recognized or acknowledged?”
“What if the music is too loud, lights too low, or temperature too high?”
“What’s in it for me?”

Costly Church Attendance asks,

“What’s in it of me?”

We seem to have forgotten or maybe ignored over the last couple of years that being part of the body of Christ often requires sacrifice. So, instead of focusing on the cost, we’ve demanded comfort. Instead of being selfless, we’ve been selfish. Instead of propriety, we’ve demanded preferences, preconditions, and politics. Constantly asking, “What’s in it for me?” has shifted the object and topic of why we gather (God and God’s story) to an object and topic of our own choosing (me and my story).

Paul wrote in the twelfth chapter of the book of Romans, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship” (Rom 12:1).

Sacrifice is that willingness to surrender for the sake of something or someone that is not me. It is the act of giving up, offering up, or letting go. A baseball bunt is a sacrifice for the sole purpose of advancing another runner for the good of the team. Executing this sacrifice is called laying down a bunt. Our rhetoric and responses over the last few years in church life and on social media have given evidence that we’ve forgotten how important it is to lay down our selfishness for the good of the team.

Maybe asking some of the following questions will help us remember again.

  • Am I looking not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4)?
  • Am I seeking my own good, or the good of my neighbor (1 Cor. 10:24)?
  • Am I responding from rivalry or conceit, or in humility am I counting others more significant than myself (Phil 2:3)?
  • Am I bearing the burdens of others, and so fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)?
  • Am I causing quarrels and fights among us? Are my passions at war within me (James 4:1)?
  • Am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength and also loving my neighbor as I love myself (Mark 12:30-31)?
  • Am I presenting my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is my spiritual worship? Am I conforming to this world, or am I being transformed by the renewal of my mind (Rom. 12:1-2)?
  • Am I walking in love, as Christ loved me and gave himself up for me, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2)?
  • Am I acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God (Micah 6:8)?
  • Am I gathering with unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Pet. 3:8)?
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Aug 28 2022

Dear Non-Singing Pastor

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Dear Non-Singing Pastor,

We depend on you as a primary worship leader for our congregation. We agree that your leadership centers more on worship through the Word and Table than through the music. And we also 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).

The psalmist reminds us that God protects us from trouble and surrounds us with songs of deliverance (Ps 32:7). And when we can’t find our own adequate words to express 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 you and Jesus is singing with you, 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 appetizer before the main course, the warm-up band before the headliner, or the undercard before the main event. And when you study sermon notes instead of singing it gives the impression you are unprepared, reminiscent of a freshman cramming for a final exam.

Pastor, we desire worship that is a continuous conversation with a variety of worship expressions instead of just stand-alone elements of music and preaching. So, we long for you to teach and model active and fully engaged participatory worship instead of passively giving permission to others not to sing too.

Therefore, we humbly 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 you do, our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that it can’t possibly be silenced (Ps 30:12).

Sincerely,

Your Singing Congregation

 

The above post is adapted from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

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Aug 26 2022

Why Your Pastor Is Flat Worn-Out

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Many pastors would agree that the last three years of ministry have been the hardest of their entire ministry career. Oh, it wasn’t the unprecedented hassle of having to do church online or balancing a hybrid of online and in-person ministry that made these years the most difficult. In fact, most of our pastors stepped up to and handled those logistical and technological crises like the pros they are.

Instead, what made this season of ministry the most challenging for them was trying to figure out how to respond to our selfish demands as church members without completely derailing the mission of our church. Even when those pastors have prayed faithfully and sought wise counsel regularly, we are still beating them up from one side or the other and sometimes even both sides at the same time.

Our pastors are and should be held accountable to God and our church for decisions they make and initiatives they propose. So, wouldn’t it seem only right and fair that we as church members should also be held accountable for how we respond(ed) to those decisions and initiatives? But instead of trusting their prayed through and collaborative leadership, some of us threatened to or actually did leave to attend somewhere else that better met with our expectations.

Some of our churches wouldn’t have survived during the last three years if our pastors and church staff hadn’t stepped in the gap for us. So, maybe we should consider some of the following suggestions to help us help our pastors as we all continue trying to figure out how to do ministry together.

  • Before labeling every decision our pastors made or will make as nefarious or politically motivated, we should pray through those decisions as diligently as they have.
  • We should stop expecting our pastors to preach our politics. When we mix politics with preaching, we usually get politics.
  • Give them the benefit of the doubt. We seem to have forgotten that these are the same pastors we previously trusted to bless our marriages, baptize our children, and bury our parents.
  • Give them a break. They’ve been busier this season than ever before so we need to make it easier for them to take a Sabbath or get out of town.
  • We should pray for and defend our pastors even though we might not always agree with every decision they have made or will make.
  • Seminary didn’t prepare them for this kind of ministry. So, we need to give them grace when they don’t get it right every time.
  • Pastors need adequate study and preparation time to accurately present the Word of God each week. If we are filling their time trying to mollify us, then how can we not expect their sermon preparation and presentation to suffer?
  • If we do have valid concerns with the decisions or directions of our pastors, then we should talk to them instead of about them.
  • Our pastors have faithfully offered emotional, spiritual, and relational encouragement to us through this difficult season. Have we offered the same to them? And if we haven’t, then who will?
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Aug 8 2022

I Like to See You Eat

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My grandparents farmed in Tennessee for sixty years. Even after retirement they continued to live the farming meal schedule of a huge breakfast way before daylight, a smaller lunch, and then a large dinner. My grandmother was a great cook, especially for breakfast. So, even when we intended to enjoy restful vacation visits, we arose early each morning to eat breakfast too because we didn’t want to miss it and it was always worth it. 

Breakfast included country ham (salt-cured), scrambled eggs, homemade biscuits, red-eye gravy, homemade blackberry jelly, and strong coffee. Red-eye gravy will clog your arteries, but it will also change your life. It always seemed like my grandmother loved to prepare those breakfast feasts just for us. In fact, one of her regular responses to our breakfast compliments was, “I like to see you eat.”

Jesus as our host invites us to the Communion Table as his guests. He is saying to us, “I have prepared this feast for you. Come eat and drink. This act of communion is a picture of my body broken and blood spilled for you. Remembering me at the table can offer healing for your hurts, it can provide hope when life seems hopeless, it can encourage reconciliation when relationships have been broken, and it can give rest when you are flat worn-out from the struggles of life. So, I (Jesus) am inviting you here because I like to see you eat.”

According to the riches of his glory we’ll be strengthened with power in our inner being through his Spirit, and Christ will dwell in our hearts through faith. We will be firmly rooted and established in love, and we’ll be able to comprehend the length, width, height, and depth of God’s love. We will know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. And we will receive far beyond all we need, could ask for, or imagine (Eph 3:16-20). Once we grasp that magnitude of what our table host has prepared for us, we won’t want to miss it and it will always be worth it.

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Jul 25 2022

Pastoring in the Death Zone

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Death Zone is a mountaineering reference to the altitude above a certain point where the oxygen level is no longer high enough to sustain human life. It has been generally recognized as any altitude above 8,000 meters or 26,000 feet.

Spending time in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere can cause climbers to make irrational decisions due to the deterioration of their physical and mental capacities. An extended stay in the death zone without the proper safeguards will ultimately lead to a loss of consciousness and death.

Pastoring in the death zone is attempting to sustain an elevated level or pace that has the potential to jeopardize your family, your ministry, and your health. How can you expect to lead others to a place you no longer have the spiritual, emotional, or physical resolve to go yourself? 

Recognizing and acknowledging the following warning signs can help establish safeguards before you no longer have the capacity to replenish your reserves. Pastoring in the death zone may be a slow death, but it’s still terminal.

You’re Trying to Do It Alone

You probably have enough talent to succeed alone for a time. But there will come a time when the risks of trying to succeed alone will cause you to fail…also alone.

You’ve Stopped Taking Care of Yourself

To sustain effective pastoral leadership, you must learn to take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically. If you aren’t doing it for yourself, no one else will.

You’ve Started Ignoring Your Family

Loving your family means spending time with them. Don’t ignore family in the name of ministry since taking care of your family is ministry. You’ll never recover those missed opportunities with your spouse and children. 

You Aren’t Setting Appropriate Boundaries

Boundaries are those spiritual, familial, professional, emotional, physical, mental, ethical, and relational counter measures or limits. They are precautionary gauges put in place to ward off impending dangers before they occur. Boundaries give you permission to say no.

You’ve Stopped Learning Anything New

Pastors that ignore steps to recalibrate in order to actively increase their spiritual, physical, and professional shelf life often find themselves only prepared to lead a church or ministry that no longer exists. What you once learned is not nearly enough to sustain you for future ministry.

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May 31 2022

Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Clash of Ministry Calling Versus Contentment

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Most of us don’t begin a new ministry position believing we’ll only stay for a few years. We have noble intentions to plant our lives for the long haul. But then Covid hits and we get beaten up from one side or the other and sometimes both sides at the same time. Or, we get bored, our leadership gets stale, our congregation gets restless, and we get busy looking for another place of ministry.

Forced termination reminds us that the choice to stay is not always ours to make. In fact, several years ago, Christianity Today published an article indicating that nearly one-fourth of all active ministers have been forced out at some point in their ministry. But when staying or going is within our control, then we should be asking some fundamental calling vs. contentment questions to help us discern if we should stay or if we should go.

  • 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 and rededicate your focus and energy here. Instead of constantly dreaming about there, restart every morning like it is your very first morning here.

  • Am I running from something here?

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

  • Am I running to something there?

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 rungs up the ladder is the new you are running to, then you’ll inevitably be disappointed and so will they.

  • How might a move there impact my family?

Only considering your own desires, needs, and wants without recognizing how it might impact 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?

  • When it’s time to go there, am I ready to leave here well?

If you go out swinging when you leave here, then it will always follow you there. Leave, instead, 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.”

God’s calling is a personal invitation to carry out a unique and sometimes difficult task. And it’s a strong inner impulse prompted by conviction, that is not always convenient. So, instead of focusing on ministry job placement sites when ministry gets hard, we should keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s a discipline that is not always easy but it produces a harvest of righteousness when we are trained by it (Heb 12:2, 11).

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May 18 2022

12 Post-Pandemic Worship Service Questions

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  • If worship should be participative instead of passive, then how can we encourage and measure both virtual and gathered worship participation?
  • Intergenerational worship occurred spontaneously when we worshiped from home. How do we leverage what happened at home to continue intergenerational worship at church?
  • Since prayer is foundational to worship, how do we keep people from checking out during service prayer times when worshiping virtually.
  • Worship actions that seem natural in gathered worship often feel contrived or conspicuous from home. How do we help virtual worshipers to feel more comfortable participating in those worship actions?
  • The season of completely virtual worship caused us to revert back to a few leading while the rest of us watched. So, how can we involve virtual and gathered worshipers as more than bystanders?
  • Is there a biblical and practical way to observe Communion both physically and virtually?
  • How can we emphasize the offering as a sacred action of worship if most gifts are now given electronically?
  • Worship distractions can be managed easier in gathered worship than virtual worship. So, how can we help virtual participants manage those distractions?
  • Worship space elements such as icons, art, colors, and lights can contribute symbolically to our physical worship. Is there also a way they can contribute symbolically virtually?
  • Is it possible for virtual guests to feel welcomed as a part of this gathered body of Christ when they have no physical connection to it?
  • Most churches realized that it was necessary for online worship to be simpler and less contrived, so how do we keep from falling back into our previous practices of over-innovating and over-stimulating in gathered and virtual worship in the future?
  • Some of those previous worship service elements we thought we couldn’t live without, we did. So, how do we determine what we should or shouldn’t reintegrate again in the future?
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Apr 29 2022

If, Then Worship Conditions

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A conditional statement is one that is put in the form of if A, then B where A is designated as the premise, hypothesis, or antecedent and B the conclusion or consequent.

If…then statements are used extensively in the form of logic referred to as deductive reasoning.

Can we determine if spirit and truth worship is actually conditional using this form of logic? And if it is conditional, couldn’t we then develop a universal recipe for worship success? The short answer is yes but our premises and conclusions are often flawed.

The universal hypothesis and the place where worship conflict often originates is in our reasoning that if we sing it and play it in a certain way, then worship will occur. If hymns, then worship; if modern songs, then worship; if organ…if guitar…if casual…if formal…if scripted…if spontaneous. The antecedents are endless.

If the certain way will cause worship to occur, then that same reasoning would also cause us to conclude, conversely, that if it is not sung or played in a certain way, then worship will not occur. Some of us have read recent articles making this claim.

If how we sing and play our music is necessary for worship to occur, then music has devolved into a tool for worship preparation only. So, instead of offering us a way to express our worship it serves as a rehearsal for our worship. If we are leading worship with this premise, then at what point does our music evolve from worship preparation to actual worship?

Worship is indeed conditional but the conditions are not of our own making. God offers us a glimpse of his activity, his will, his attributes, his judgment, his discipline, his comfort, his hope, and his promises. Our response to that revelation is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes premeditated reply, worship. 

So, the conditions have already been met…Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. If we affirm this mystery of our faith, then how can we keep from singing? If worship is our response to how these truths have been and will continue to be manifested in our lives, then worship will occur in spite of what we sing and play or how we sing and play, not as a result of it.

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Apr 22 2022

Worn-Out Pastor…He Is Able

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Pastors, many of you over the last two years have gone through or are still going through your hardest season of ministry ever. It wasn’t the unprecedented situation of trying to do ministry in new ways that killed your spirits; instead, it was the selfish responses from faithful church members.

Even though you prayed diligently and continued to seek wise counsel regularly, many of you are still flat worn-out from trying to discern that healthy balance between the sacred and the scared. And still, some of those previously faithful congregants threatened to or actually did attend somewhere else that better resonated with their expectations.

If you are still struggling and trying to catch your breath after that hard season, remember to take courage in the assurance that He Is Able to do above and beyond all that you ask or think according to the power that works in you (Eph 3:20).

Remember…

  • When you are getting beaten up from one side or the other or maybe both sides at the same time…He is able.
  • When your ministry shelf life seems to be moving toward its expiration date because they think you are no longer young enough or relevant enough…He is able.
  • When it seems you are always a step behind technologically or culturally…He is able.
  • When you are tempted to quit every Monday morning…He is able.
  • When you wish you served anyplace else…He is able.
  • When you are always the first one to arrive and last one to leave…He is able.
  • When needed change is never well received…He is able.
  • When you feel like no one is holding your rope or standing in the gap as you start to slip…He is able.
  • When date night with your spouse is the senior adult potluck…He is able.
  • When you feel like you are missing out on your children’s lives…He is able.
  • When your creativity has been exhausted and burnout is causing you to coast…He is able.
  • When you don’t have the resolve to take care of yourself spiritually, physically, and emotionally…He is able.

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 1:24-25).

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Feb 27 2022

Real Men Don’t Sing: A Lie Some Guys Believe

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Forty years ago, author and humorist, Bruce Feirstein wrote the book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche: A Guidebook to All that is Truly Masculine. The author intended the book to be satirical that real men only eat steaks, wear flannel shirts, and never share their feelings. The result was that many men failed to recognize the satire and consequently, quiche consumption fell nationally confirming the stereotype.

Men choosing not to sing in worship services suggests that even Christ following men are sometimes willing to ignore likes, responsibilities, and even a biblical calling in order to conform to a more masculine identity.

The psalmist wrote, “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts” (Ps 145:4). So, it is the duty of every generation of Christ followers, including men, to see to it that the next generation hears of the mighty acts of God and responds to those mighty acts in worship. One of the ways we proclaim those mighty acts is through our singing together as a church.

The responsibility of our generation is not just to teach the next generation how to worship, but instead praise His works to the next generation. In other words, we are to praise Him (God) so continuously that the next generation gets it. Our calling is to model for the next generation how to worship. Men, husbands, and dads aren’t exempt from that responsibility. So, with that understanding, are we modeling for our children that real men don’t sing or that joyful noise singing is unreservedly what real men do?

Singing badly is not an excuse not to sing. When I was a child, the melodies I heard my dad sing in church weren’t close to the melodies the rest of our congregation was singing. But my dad was modeling for me and those seated near us that it wasn’t for us he was singing. And even though his tunes really were a joyful noise, they were sweet music to the ears of the Father. Refusing to publicly proclaim God’s praises through singing because of our lack of musical ability is pride.

Scripture is clear that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 34:1; 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). If the Father is singing over us, then how can we keep from singing?

When we can’t find adequate words to express our responses to God’s revelation, Scripture says Jesus as our worship leader worships with us (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding on our behalf. If Jesus is worshiping with us, then how can we keep from singing?

Theologian, evangelist, and leader of the revivalist movement known as Methodism, John Wesley said this about singing, “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually.”

With biblical and practical instructions such as these, as men we should be joining in full-throated singing no matter how well or poorly we’re able to sing. And when we do, our voices will unite with the voices of others in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament, and response. 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). And, consequently, the next generation will get it too.

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Feb 14 2022

Ministry Conflict: Confusing Principles and Practices

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Church conflict often arises when we confuse ministry principles and practices. Practices, or how we do ministry often changes. Principles, or why we do ministry doesn’t. If our why isn’t certain, then our how will always be conflicted.

Principles are the fundamental and foundational truths as to why we do what we do.

If biblical, theological, and doctrinal principles aren’t the foundational roots of all church ministries, then protecting practices often takes precedence. A principle is true regardless of the circumstances. And principles are contextual and culturally independent.

Practices, on the other hand, are the actual performance or application of the principles. We practice our principles. A practice manages the available resources within the parameters of the principles. A practice can change according to circumstances. So, practices are often contextually and culturally dependent.

When our ministry practices change, and they often do and should, they don’t minimize or negate the principles as long as the principles aren’t being marginalized. The divide occurs when we conflate those practices with principles. Dissension will usually surface when we hold on to previous practices as if they were principles. Ministry principles are fundamental, ministry practices are supplemental. Style is a practice, content is a principle. So, guarding ministry principles is biblical, but guarding ministry practices is often preferential.

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Jan 26 2022

Cleaner Restrooms = Better Worship

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My ministry responsibilities often require me to regularly drive the same roads around Kansas and Nebraska. So, I’m pretty familiar with the rest stop and convenience store restrooms along those routes. I know the ones I’ll stop at again because of their cleanliness and the ones I’ll never return to again because they’re always filthy, never have the necessary supplies, and have archaic or broken plumbing fixtures.

We don’t usually talk about broken toilets and dirty sinks in most worship conversations. But the restroom is usually the last place many first-time guests and regular attenders stop before they are asked to join in singing the first worship song.

We are often good at considering how to engage people during the service but don’t always think about some of those distractions that might be derailing worship before the service even starts. We assume the theological depth of our worship service will encourage participants to engage and return. And that might actually be true if we could see beyond some of those blind spots of mediocrity we seem to have gotten used to.

So, in addition to focusing on worship service sermons and songs, churches should also consider their spaces and structures. We’ve all heard the adage about only getting one shot at a first impression.

Considering restrooms might seem shallow compared to spirit and truth worship. But first-time guests often visit with little or no understanding of theological worship. They do, however, appreciate excellence, cleanliness, and their own comfort or its absence. So, wouldn’t it be worth a little effort and expense to remove some of those distractions that could be preventing them from going deeper?

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Jan 17 2022

Post-Pandemic Church: Think Leaner Not Smaller

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Churches are lamenting the numerical losses they have realized during the last two years of the pandemic. Most are beginning to accept the reality that 2022 numbers are not coming back to 2019 numbers. So, instead of wishing for things to get back to normal, where they are now is normal.

So, with that realization, what if instead of trying to figure out how they can possibly do all their previous ministries while smaller, those leaders and congregations instead moved forward with an attitude of doing those ministries while leaner.

Smaller means less than, not as significant as, or not as important as. Lean means healthily thin or not carrying unnecessary fat. Lean is a term often used in the business world to describe an organization that creates greater value in what they are trying to accomplish while using fewer resources to do it. Consuming lean meat reduces the risk of developing chronic illness. Fat is nonfunctional weight, so too much of it can be detrimental to your health.

Is it possible that some of our congregations didn’t realize how weighted down they actually were with numeric and programmatic fat prior to the pandemic? And that the excess fat was not only not contributing to the mission, but actually slowing it down and threatening its long-term health. If that is true, then even though we wouldn’t have chosen this lean season, embracing it could actually lead to a healthier future church.

Loving the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor is not contingent on the size or abilities of our congregation. It is instead offering all we have at that time and all we are in that moment. The calling of our congregations hasn’t changed even though its numbers have.

As our churches try to lead leaner we could learn a lot from MacGyver, the main character in an action-adventure television series that ran for several seasons in the 1980’s. The show followed secret agent Angus MacGyver as he solved complex situations with everyday materials. Using common items on hand, MacGyver was able to find clever and often unbelievable solutions for seemingly unsolvable problems.

Offering what we have is not settling for mediocrity, nor is it an excuse to coast or wait until things get back to normal. We still need to pray that God would send more people, stronger leaders, and greater opportunities to expand ministries that will impact our communities and the world. But like MacGyver, we can’t wait until all of the people and pieces are in place to respond. Instead, we have to create something unbelievable with what God has made available even though it might be leaner than it was before.

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Dec 29 2021

Ministry Prayer for 2022: Lord, Deliver Me From Myself

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Humility is one of the most difficult qualities for those of us in ministry to embrace and sustain. It is always a challenge to be both up-front and unassuming. In the name of excellence we are often unwilling to take a secondary and supportive role. Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Arrogance is when the image of the Lord has been replaced by a mirror.” And that kind of arrogance can even suggest that what we lead and how we lead it holds more value than whom we lead. 

So, for 2022, instead of a desire to be recognized, revered, or rewarded, maybe our ministry prayer should instead be, “Lord, deliver us from ourselves.” In his book, Humilitas, John Dickson defines humility as the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources, or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. We certainly haven’t seen much of that attitude in church life these last two years.

Author, John Fischer refers to setting aside our ego and placing others first as looking out for number 2. Investing in others before us or in people before presentation understands the difference between just doing ministry and actually being a minister. 

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), the Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius wrote the following Litany of Humility that can serve as a reminder for us in 2022 when we assume our efforts are indispensable to God or that he can’t get it done if we don’t do it for him.

 

Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

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Dec 13 2021

The Peasant King Oxymoron

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Adding punctuation to our projected worship song text offers road signs and symbols that help frame the rhythm, flow, and phrasing of the story or poem we are singing. Most of us learned and have followed these non-verbal cues since elementary school.

A comma can tell singers where to pause for emphasis, but also indicates when a statement or question is not yet complete. A period shows singers when a verse, chorus, or phrase has ended. Additional punctuation helps singers emphasize or deemphasize certain words that might elevate or minimize theological implications. Singers might miss some of those spiritual emphases without those markers. Consequently, how would they know if what they are singing is asking a theological question or answering a doctrinal statement?

Since many of us are singing Advent and Christmas Carols in the coming weeks you’ll see below a couple of examples of how adding or deleting punctuation can change the theological understanding of familiar carols:

So bring Him incense gold and myrrh

Come peasant king to own Him

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come, peasant, king, to own Him;

Without punctuation we are left confused with the peasant king oxymoron. With punctuation we understand that Christ is available to all, including peasants and kings.

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

Rest you merry was a Shakespearean idiom that expressed good cheer or peace. Without punctuation it appears that the gentlemen are already merry. But with the appropriate punctuation the plea is actually for God to bring the gentlemen peace so that nothing will dismay them.

The argument that many of our songs are poetry, and consequently shouldn’t be expected to follow the same strict punctuation guidelines as prose is a valid one. But poetry doesn’t usually eliminate punctuation altogether, it instead uses it artistically to highlight the text.

Some worship leaders might be able to direct us vocally and instrumentally when those road signs are missing, but not all possess those abilities. And if we are truly trying to lead our congregations into participative instead of passive worship, then wouldn’t it make sense for leaders not to do for congregants what they already learned to do for themselves at a young age?

It is certainly easier not to add punctuation when we are preparing song slides for our worship services. But is ease what we are called to when we’re trying to encourage our congregants to leave with those texts and tunes in their hearts and on their lips for continuous worship. Punctuation can help them take those formative lyrics home with biblical and theological accuracy.

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Dec 6 2021

Why God Deserves Our Worship

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God deserves our worship because he formed the foundation, fixed the dimensions, stretched a measuring line across, and laid the cornerstone of the earth while the morning stars sang together.

 

God deserves our worship because he enclosed the sea behind doors when it burst from the womb, determined its boundaries, and declared, “You may come this far, but no farther; your proud waves stop here.”

 

God deserves our worship because he gives orders to the morning and shows dawn its place that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it.

 

God deserves our worship because he has traveled to the sources of the sea, walked in the depths of the oceans, seen the gates of deep darkness, and comprehended the expanse of the earth.

 

God deserves our worship because he knows the road to the home of light and where darkness lives; he has entered the storehouses of snow and hail; and he knows the way to the place where lightning is dispersed and the east winds are scattered over the earth.

 

God deserves our worship because he cuts a channel for the flooding rain to satisfy the parched land, causes the grass to sprout, and gives birth to the dew and frost of heaven.

 

God deserves our worship because he fastened the chains of the Pleiades, loosened the belt of Orion, brings out the constellations in their season, knows the ordinances of the heavens, and establishes their rule on the earth.

 

God deserves our worship because his heart has wisdom and mind understanding to number the clouds and tip over the water jars of heaven when the dust hardens like cast metal and the clods of dirt stick together.

 

God deserves our worship because he hunts prey for a lioness to satisfy the hunger of her young lions at the same time he provides the raven’s food when its young cries out.

 

God deserves our worship because he knows when each mountain goat gives birth and watches as deer deliver their offspring at the same time he creates the wild donkey to roam free while the wild ox helps us harvest grain.  

 

God deserves our worship because even though he created both the ostrich and the stork as large, winged, and feathered birds, only one of them has wisdom, only one can fly, and only one can run.

 

God deserves our worship because he gave the horse its strength, clothed its neck with the beauty of a flowing mane, allowed it to strike terror with its proud snorting, and created it to paw the ground with fierceness and rage with the anticipation of charging into the fray of battle.

 

God deserves our worship because it’s obvious from these examples that he is God and we aren’t.

 

(Adapted from Job 38-39)

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Nov 22 2021

Some Church Members Are Losing Their Minds

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Jesus’s greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and also to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30- 31). Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi was that if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. And what you have learned and received and heard and seen in him – practice those things (Phil 4:8-9).

Congregants who use their minds are able to approach their church relationships and ministries with humility, discernment, and grace without compromising knowledge, insight, reason, creativity, inquiry, doubt, and imagination.

We could all learn from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown. Then the activities and things with which we fill our minds (including social media and opinion journalism) the night before we gather could better frame our attitudes as we gather. What we do, whom we spend our time with, what we watch, and what we think about can negatively or positively influence our relationships as we gather.

My daughter was five years old the first time our family vacationed at Walt 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 on it, and preparing for it. Her mind was so filled with it she couldn’t contain the anticipation.

If loving God and others is not something with which we fill our minds, it can become self-serving. So, unless we are pondering it, considering it, processing it, meditating on it, studying it, keeping our minds fixed on it, and learning how to get better at it before we gather together, then we’ll have a hard time suffering together when one member suffers and rejoicing together when one member is honored as we gather (1 Corinthians 12:26).

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Nov 15 2021

Pastor, Who Is Holding Your Rope?

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free soloingFree solo climbing or free soloing is climbing without safety ropes, harnesses, protective gear, or the assistance of other climbers. The free soloist relies only on his or her own strength, ability, and mental determination. Before he died in a climbing accident, British free solo climber Derek Hershey told the New York Times: “Observers think [I’ve] got a death wish. But there’s nothing else that makes me feel so alive. . . When you’re free soloing, you can’t afford distractions. You concentrate on the flow from move to move to move. You exist only in the present.”[1]

Most pastors couldn’t imagine taking the personal risk required to participate in such an extreme sport as free solo climbing. And yet, they continually lead church ministries depending only on their own strength, ability, and talent. As a result, the personal risk for themselves and their church could be just as catastrophic.

Physical and mental stamina alone can’t protect the free soloist from the inherent risks of loose rocks or sudden changes in weather. The dangers associated with this form of extreme climbing can’t be controlled completely by the abilities of the climber. When a mistake is made or outside forces intervene, free solo climbers rarely get a second chance. Experts have indicated, however, that most deaths attributed to free solo climbing could have been avoided by the use of safety ropes and climbing partners.

The term belaying refers to a variety of techniques used in climbing to exert friction on a climbing rope so that a falling climber does not fall very far. A belayer is a climbing partner who secures the lead climber at the end of a rope and belays out rope as needed. When a lead climber loses his or her footing the belayer secures the rope, allowing the climber to regain a secure foothold to continue the climb.

The reality is that most pastors are so talented they can succeed alone…for a time. The reality is also that their talent will only take them so far. And the time will come when the inherent risks of free soloing in their ministry leadership will cause them to fall…also alone.

The author of the book of Ecclesiastes wrote, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

 


[1] Available from http://www.rock-climbing-for-life.com/free-solo-climbing. Accessed 16 May 2011.

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Nov 9 2021

Your Church Staff Deserves a Raise

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Most church staff members would agree that the last eighteen months have been the hardest of their entire ministry career. It wasn’t the nightmare of having to create online church on the fly or transitioning to a hybrid of online and in-person ministry that made this season the most difficult. In fact, most of those faithful staff members sacrificially stepped up to and handled those logistical and technological crises like the servants and professionals they are.

Instead, what made this season the most challenging for them was trying to figure out how to respond to our selfish demands as church members without completely derailing the mission of our church. Even when our staff prayed faithfully and sought wise counsel regularly, they still got beat-up from one side of our church or the other and sometimes even both sides at the same time.

As our church staff tried to discern a healthy balance between the sacred and the scared or what is spiritually and biblically best for the whole, we often demanded what was preferentially or politically best for us. Instead of trusting their prayed through and collaborative leadership, we threatened to leave or actually did leave to attend somewhere else that better met with our expectations.

It is a valid expectation that our church staff should be held accountable to God and our church for decisions they make and initiatives they propose. But, wouldn’t it seem only right and fair that we as church members should also be held accountable for how well or poorly we responded to those decisions and initiatives?

Some of our churches wouldn’t have survived during this hard season if our church staff hadn’t stepped in the gap. So, maybe it’s time to recognize how much we appreciate that sacrificial leadership by budgeting for a monetary salary increase or at least by considering some of the following suggestions to give them the honor they deserve.  

  • Before labeling every decision our church staff made or will make as nefarious or politically motivated, we should first pray through those decisions as diligently as they have.

 

  • We should stop expecting our staff to preach our politics. When we mix politics with preaching, we get politics.

 

  • Give them the benefit of the doubt. We seem to have forgotten that this is the same church staff we previously trusted to bless our marriage, baptize our children, and bury our parents.

 

  • Give them a break. They’ve been busier and more stressed this season than ever before, so we should make it easier for them to get out of town for a vacation or sabbatical.

 

  • Pray for and defend our church staff even though we might not agree with every decision they made or will make.

 

  • Seminary didn’t prepare them for this kind of ministry. So, give them grace when they don’t get it right every time.

 

  • If we have valid concerns with staff decisions or directions, then we should talk to them instead of about them.

 

  • Our church staff has faithfully offered emotional, spiritual, and relational encouragement to our church members through this difficult season. Have we offered the same to them? If not, then who has?
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Nov 3 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 1 2021

Pastor, Who’s Your Timothy?

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Nearly four decades ago when I began my first full-time local church ministry position, Paul Williams served as one of the pastors of another church in our city. In my first week or two of this new ministry, Paul stopped by my office and didn’t ask, but instead told me he was going to pick me up the following Saturday to attend a ministry conference with him. This wizened ministry sage (he was probably 40) invested in a 24-year-old ministry novice not for what he could get from me, but what he could invest in me.

My first position was one of those hard seasons of ministry that many of us have endured. Paul knew the history of our congregation and the challenges I would face way before I figured it out. He never offered platitudes when I was questioning whether I missed God’s calling or wondering if I could stay. He just became a friend who graciously listened, encouraged, and was available every time I needed someone to coach me.

Even when I moved to a different state, Paul continued to send me new ministry resources every few months with a humorous note of encouragement and a loving message for my family. I’m sure others received similar packets and notes from Paul since my relationship with him was not unique. He just had the ability to make each person feel that way. I’m not certain I’d still be in ministry today if Paul Williams hadn’t taken the time to invest in me then.

Our success in ministry will be judged not just on how well we did it ourselves, but on how well we helped others do it too. If we expect our churches to have great ministry leaders in the future, we need to be investing in not-yet-great ministry leaders in the present. And when we do, they will guard what has been entrusted to them, hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that they heard from us, embrace the good deposit through the Holy Spirit who lives in them, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and be thoroughly equipped for every good work (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2 Tim. 2:1; 2 Tim. 3:17).

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Oct 27 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 25 2021

Ten Things Pastors Wish We Knew

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Most of us don’t fully realize the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual demands required to serve as a pastor. We are often aware of the investments those in ministry have made in our own lives. What we don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy those investments require when multiplied by the entire membership population of our congregation.

We depend on our pastors as personal counselors, mentors, leaders, friends, and spiritual advisors. They are the first ones we call when we need someone to bless our marriages, baptize our children, or bury our parents. When our families are in crisis we expect our pastors to referee, repair, and reclaim. And yet at the same time we expect them to challenge and encourage us with great sermons every Sunday.

If all of us have the same expectation that our pastors will willingly respond to our every need, then how can we not expect the stress of that responsibility to eventually take its toll? So, maybe in addition to providing our pastors with a gift card for pastor appreciation month we should also be sensitive to some of the following things they wish we knew.

  • They wish we knew they are often discouraged and usually flat worn-out.
  • They wish we knew how hard it is for them to find time to take a sabbath each week.
  • They wish we knew they often face the same struggles in life we do.
  • They wish we knew how much they worry if their kids will even like church when they are no longer required to attend.
  • They wish we knew how lonely they sometimes are.
  • They wish we knew how mean some church members can be.
  • They wish we knew how demanding sermon and worship service preparation is every week.
  • They wish we knew how often they get approached about menial things right before they lead, speak, or preach.
  • They wish we knew that it often feels like church members are holding them to a higher standard than even God does.
  • They wish we knew how much it would mean to them and the health of our church if we prayed through ministry decisions before criticizing them.
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Oct 18 2021

We’re Talking about Practice

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Worship that continues after we leave the Sunday service is always easier when things seem to be going our way. It’s easy to worship when we have a job we love, when our family is healthy, when we’re living in our dream home with a stable family, and when our finances are secure. But what about when the daily circumstances of life overwhelm us? Worship is our response to God’s revelation in the past and God’s continuous revelation in the present. God’s revelation is perpetual, meaning it doesn’t start and stop according to the various circumstances of life. So, consequently, our responses shouldn’t either.

In an often-replayed press conference, basketball superstar Allen Iverson responded to questions from reporters about his team, the Philadelphia 76ers losing to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. When asked if the focus of a closed-door discussion with his coach Larry Brown occurred in response to his habit of missing practice, Iverson responded with: “Hey I hear you, but we’re talking about practice man, we’re not even talking about the game, when it actually matters, we’re talking about practice.” Iverson repeated the word practice twenty-two times.

A reporter followed up with this great question, “Is it possible that if you practiced you could help make your teammates better?” Iverson responded with, “How in the (expletive) could I make my teammates better by practicing?”

In the seventeenth century at the age of twenty-four, Lawrence of the Resurrection, born Nicolas Herman, joined the Discalced Carmelite order of the Catholic Church in Paris. Brother Lawrence was an uneducated monk serving as a cook in a French monastery. The recorded words in his journal reflect his understanding of practicing the presence of God when he wrote, “The time of action does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”[1]

Practice is repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. It is learning through repetition, which then be-comes habit. Brother Lawrence wrote, “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”[2] He was not frustrated with manual labor. In fact, he found himself in God’s presence while peeling potatoes as well as when he was kneeling in prayer.[3]

If worshippers habitually practiced the presence of God throughout the week, then what could occur when they got to practice God’s presence together on Sunday? Although our verbal response to practicing the presence of God during the week may not be as overtly profane as that of Allen Iverson, our actions often convey the same disdain. We aren’t practicing God’s presence when we think our times of prayer are different from other times because we are as strictly obliged to cleave to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer.[4]

Our singular focus on Sunday worship may be communicating that worship begins and ends with our opening and closing songs. Is it possible that if we practiced worship during the week we could get better and also help make our teammates better? Continuous worship stems from lives of continued prayer since worship is an ongoing conversation with the one who lives within us.[5] When we understand that kind of practice, then what occurs on Sunday will be an overflow of what has already occurred during the week with the added benefit of getting to then practice it with others.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How are we modeling practicing the presence of God during the week?
  • What are some indicators that we are placing too much emphasis on Sunday worship at the expense of worship during the week?
  • What would Sunday worship look like if it were an overflow of a congregation practicing the presence of God?
  • How will we actually know when our congregation has embraced an attitude of practicing worship as a continual conversation with God?

 

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), 97.

[2] Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 42.

[3] Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, xii.

[4] Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 18.

[5] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 99.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Oct 13 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 22 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 20 2021

8 Reasons to Stop Attending Ministry Conferences

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  • If envy is the first emotion you experience when encountering other ministry leaders…you should stop attending ministry conferences.

  • If contempt for the accomplishments of others causes you to publicly claim their success must only have been possible through stylistic superficiality or theological compromise…you should stop attending ministry conferences.

  • If your post 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 ministry conferences.

  • If congregants dread your return home after a conference since it always means you are going to immediately change something or start something new…you should stop attending ministry conferences.

  • If you are critical of your ministry volunteers when they can’t imitate what you observed and experienced at the conference…you should stop attending ministry 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 ministry conferences.

  • If you question your calling because it seems like everyone there was younger, more recognized, more gregarious, and well-spoken…you should stop attending ministry conferences.

  • If you are constantly looking to the left or right to see how you measure up instead of fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith…you should stop attending ministry conferences.

If, however, you can attend those conferences and filter the valuable insights through the context 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 ministry conferences as your budget and calendar will allow.

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Sep 15 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 7 2021

Maybe Worship Needs Less Passion and More Purpose

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Passion is caused by intense excitement from the outside, purpose is caused by convictions from the inside. Purpose is intentional, passion is situational. Passion occurs when we feel good, purpose occurs even when we don’t. Passion focuses on what we do, purpose focuses on why we do it. Passion is fleeting, purpose is continuous. So, maybe our worship needs a little less passion and a lot more purpose.

Worship based on passion waits for feelings to be stirred externally. So, if those feelings are not stirred because congregants don’t know or particularly like the songs, they can even leave the worship service believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

When passion is foundational to our worship, we are tempted to re-create divine moments, events, or even complete seasons based almost completely on the feelings originally stirred so we can elicit or feel that passion again.

Worship based on purpose, however, responds to a relationship that already exists internally. So, we respond not because of what our songs do to us, but instead, because of what Christ has already done in us.

So, worshiping with purpose means it occurs from the inside out, not the outside in. Thomas a Kempis said it this way, “A good devout person first arranges inwardly the things to be done outwardly.”

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Sep 1 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 25 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 23 2021

Congregational Lament

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The language of lament is found in more than half of the psalms but is largely absent in much of the Protestant culture. Lament is that healthy, open expression of pain, complaint, sorrow, anger, frustration, and grief directed to a God who understands. If congregations are to experience renewal of the biblical understanding of lament and its appropriateness in their worship culture, they must consider how to implement this communal response as a regular part of their liturgy. The following list is not an exhaustive one but is a place to begin the conversation.

  • Leaders must model lament.

Modeling will require leaders not just to preach, teach, and sing about the psalms of lament, but also to live them with their congregation. In response, congregants must allow their leaders the freedom to express their own vulnerabilities without fear of reprisal. When leaders introduce lament to a worshiping community through the articulation of common experience, the sorrow worshipers and leaders share validates those expressions.

  • Read all of the Psalms.

It is ironic that our worship culture so rabidly defends the Word as foundational to our faith and practice, yet limits its use only to palatable text that does not offend. John Witvliet reminds us that “when 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 laments of the Hebrew Scriptures.”[1]

  • Pray the Psalms.

A meaningful approach is to pray a lament psalm corporately in response to a specific lamentable situation. Psalm praying gives voice to the timid and unity to the lamenting body. Praying psalms of lament can take us deeper much quicker than we are often able or comfortable going on our own. Eugene Peterson in Answering God reminds us that, “left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us . . . the Psalms train us in that conversation.”[2]

  • Incorporate lament beyond contrition.

If we have participated at all in lament in our public and private worship practices, it has been as a response to sorrow and despair over our sinful nature. We are often more comfortable with contrition, since we can admit that our struggle is something we caused and there is no one to blame but ourselves. This alleviates our discomfort and fear of the appearance of faithlessness by questioning God in our lament language. Contrition in response to our sinful nature is indeed a necessity. But we must also admit that lament in response to circumstances beyond our control is also necessary.

  • Sing songs of lament.

Until recently, the writers and composers of hymns and modern worship songs were not publishing many songs to help a congregation express the language of lament. Even those texts that leaned toward lament were often set to catchy tunes in major keys. Since the ongoing tragedies of life cannot be ignored, however, more composers and lyricists are offering song selections to help congregations express words of pain, grief, sorrow, and even anger.

  • If not here, then where?

If our churches are not a safe place to express despair, pain, grief, and anger, then where is a safe place? Since this language is so prevalent in the lives of our congregants, we must offer them a venue to express those emotions or they will look for another place more excepting of that kind of language. Walter Brueggemann suggests that “in a society that is increasingly shut down in terms of public speech, the church in all of its pastoral practices may be the community where the silenced are authorized to voice.”[3]

 

[1] John D. Witvliet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis,” Reformed Worship 44 (June 1997): 22.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco: Harper, 1989), 3.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, “Voice as Counter to Violence,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 25.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Aug 11 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 9 2021

Want Healthier Worship on Sunday? Gotta Serve Somebody on Monday!

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Sunday worship is both the culmination and commencement of the worship week. Commencement means a beginning or a start and culmination means an end or an arrival at a final stage. When considering these definitions with regard to Sunday worship, what seems mutually exclusive is actually collectively exhaustive. Is the Sunday worship service the commencement of the worship week? Yes! Is the Sunday worship service the culmination of the worship week? Yes!

As a commencement, the Sunday service sings our congregations out. The worship when we gather may be great, but until it impacts those we come into contact with when we disperse, it’s incomplete. As a culmination, the Sunday service sings our congregations in. Gathered worship is then a continuation and celebration of the worship that has already been occurring during the week through sacrificial acts of service. So, Sunday is the day we both gather them for worship and disperse them to worship.

A couple of decades ago I was conducting the last Saturday morning rehearsal before our choir and orchestra presented their Christmas music the next day in our services. We needed six hours of rehearsal but only had three, so the stress was high and levity low. Right in the middle of rehearsing one of the songs, a man entered the worship center behind me, distracting the players and singers. I stopped the song to address the interruption and regain control of rehearsal.

It was obvious from his appearance that this man’s needs were benevolent ones. He was there to request help with food for his family, fuel for their car, and firewood to heat their home. Since he had recently lost his job, he was also hoping our church could help with Christmas gifts for his children. I responded to his request by saying, “We’re in the middle of preparing for a special Christmas worship service tomorrow at church, so we won’t have time to help you right now. But if you’ll come by our offices on Monday, we’ll see if we can get you some assistance.” He never returned.

Mark Labberton wrote, “Worship can name a Sunday gathering of God’s people, but it also includes how we treat those around us, how we spend our money, and how we care for the lost and the oppressed. Worship can encompass every dimension of our lives.”[1] I often wonder how much more impactful our Christmas worship services on that Sunday evening might have been if I had taken a few moments to serve as an act of worship on that Saturday morning.

We sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs as an expression of our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus who looks a lot like us. Despite God’s word to the contrary, we think that we can say we love God yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.[2]

Serving others reminds us that the sermons we have prepared and songs we have selected may not be the most important act of worship this week. Serving others is one of those actions we take to ensure that worship continues when we leave our services. We spend so much time leading church services as an act of worship that we often neglect to lead the church in service as an act of worship too. Worship as service will never be completely realized until we can say every Sunday, “Worship has left the building.” God is looking for a worship lifestyle that rights wrongs, cares for the poor, rejects injustice, and embraces generosity. Worship that comes from a community that doesn’t model those characteristics turns the beautiful melodies we’ve just sung into something discordant.[3]

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What could occur as we lead gathered worship on Sunday if we have served together as a team during the week?
  • How can we better balance our time between our worship services and worship as service?
  • In what ways can we ensure the songs we sing on Sunday are also evident in the lives we lead the rest of the week?
  • What service ministry might we adopt together as a team?

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

[2] Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 71.

[3] David Ruis, The Justice God Is Seeking: Responding to the Heart of God through Compassionate Worship (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2006), 29.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Jul 28 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 26 2021

20 Ways to Pray for Your Pastors

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  1. Pray they never sacrifice their families for ministry since family is ministry. 
  1. Pray that congregants will talk to them instead of about them.
  1. Pray for perseverance when they feel like their ministry shelf-life is speeding toward its expiration date.
  1. Pray that scripture and prayer instead of politics and popular culture is the foundation for their sermon and songs.
  1. Pray for healthier ministry staff relationships.
  1. Pray their days off will provide sabbath rest free from church stressors.
  1. Pray for their spiritual, physical, and emotional health.
  1. Pray 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.
  1. Pray for the humility that causes them to wake up every morning feeling unqualified in their own power to do what God has called them to do.
  2. 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.”
  3. Pray for them to daily recommit to their call here instead of dreaming about what it might be like to serve there.
  4. Pray they never confuse leading programs with leading people.
  5. Pray for them to engage congregants as participants instead of audiences.
  6. Pray for them during those difficult seasons of ministry when they are getting beat-up from all sides at the same time.
  7. Pray that other trusted leaders will walk with them, hold them accountable, and protect them.
  8. Pray for their almost insurmountable task of trying to stay current technologically and culturally.
  9. Pray for a great cloud of witnesses to surround them so they can fix their eyes on Jesus and run with endurance.
  10. Pray they will have the courage to ignore the loudest voice in the room if not God’s.
  11. Pray that the Lord will give them rest when they are weary, strength when they are weak, and restoration when their reserves are depleted.
  12. Pray that before criticizing their ministry decisions, congregants will pray through those decisions as much as those pastors have.
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Jul 14 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 12 2021

Is Hallmark Planning Your Worship Services?

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Some 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. In their desire to be non-liturgical, however, some 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 saints’ days that the value of festivals such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost was lost. In response, some of the Reformers 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 started again to commemorate special days, they focused on cultural and denominational calendars instead of on the Christian calendar. 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 some congregations who avoided the Christian calendar were affirming annual observances whose foundations were not biblically grounded.[3]

I love, appreciate, and revere my family. I am grateful I get to be their husband and dad. I think about them often and can’t imagine life without them. Our story is something I enjoy celebrating and telling others about every chance I get. As a result of that gratitude, what if I used the worship service this Sunday just to exalt my family? Instead of worshipping God that day, what if I planned the entire service to celebrate and sing the praises of my family?

If idolatry is extreme devotion to anyone or anything that isn’t God, then replacing the cross with our mothers, fathers, graduates, or the flag as the primary symbol of our worship on any given Sunday could cause us to stray into idol territory. God’s story and our response to that story transcend cultural and denominational calendars.

Harold Best wrote, “There is one fundamental fact about worship: at this very moment, and for as long as this world endures, everybody inhabiting it is bowing down and serving something or someone—an artifact, a person, an institution, an idea, a spirit, or God through Christ.”[4] Best continued with, “All worship outside the worship of God through Christ Jesus is idolatrous.”[5]

God has placed each one of our congregations in a unique cultural and national context. Worshipping 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.[6]  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.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What days or seasons in the Christian calendar haven’t we been observing that we could add to our worship calendar?
  • How can we incorporate cultural, denominational, and Christian calendar observances within our worship service?
  • How can we move away from observing holidays that are causing us to take our focus from the worship of God, while still being sensitive to the emotional connection those days have for our congregation?

 

[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] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 17.

[5] Best, Unceasing Worship, 163.

[6] Robert E. Webber, ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship, vol. 5, The Services of the Christian Year (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993), 82–83.

 

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Jun 23 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 21 2021

Worship Leader: You’re an Usher, Not the Bride

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Most Protestant churches have rejected the old covenant practice of recognizing priests as a special class of religious hierarchy. Even though some congregations have retained the title, their priestly function is often a pastoral role as ministers rather than as interceders. The belief that someone else must mediate our relationship with God for us or dispense God’s grace to us was set aside through the foundational doctrine of the priesthood of every believer.

If worship leadership is always done by a select few, then we may be continuing to feed that priestly misconception. Those who lead worship should instead take on that responsibility like an usher in a wedding. The duty of a wedding usher is to help others find their place in the wedding ceremony. They accomplish this task without coercion or force by offering their arm as an encouragement for participants to accompany them.

Ushers always move at an appropriate pace as they guide and exhort friends and family to their proper locations. It is often necessary for ushers to arrive early and stay late since they have just as much responsibility before and after the ceremony as during it. And the best ushers are those who are friendly, genuine, and welcoming without needing to be acknowledged, honored, or credited.

Even though ushers play a key role in the wedding ceremony, they must have enough humility to acknowledge they aren’t and won’t ever be the bride. Leading worship like an usher with an attitude of humility is one of the most difficult qualities for a worship leader to embrace and sustain. In the name of a higher calling we are often unwilling to take a secondary and supportive role.

Scripture offers Jesus as “a priest in the holy place, which is the true meeting tent that God, not any human being, set up” (Heb 8:2). In this place of ministry, Jesus became our liturgist and serves as our mediator. As the tabernacle and its elements are described, the author 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 (Heb 9:3, 6-7). The place where God’s presence was most realized was not available except through the high priest and only at certain times of the year.

In the new covenant, however, Jesus became the mediator and serves as the intercessor for the people of God. An earthly priest was no longer required; the sacrifice was complete; Jesus’s blood was offered; the veil was torn in half; and the way was now open for all to worship God without an earthly mediator. Most churches embrace that shift theologically and doctrinally but sometimes continue to function with leaders who are still serving as earthly high priests.

Worship leaders’ calling is to invest in, not intercede for, our congregations. That responsibility is Jesus’s alone, not ours. The death and resurrection of Jesus reminds us that all may enter into the presence of God with boldness not available in the restrictions of the old covenant. Our responsibility is to serve our congregations like an usher by exhorting them to an understanding that “we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, and we have a great high priest over God’s house” (Heb 10:19-21).

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How might our worship-leadership habits be causing us to appear as the bride instead of an usher?
  • What would leading like an usher look like each Sunday in the worship culture of our congregation?
  • How can we hold one another accountable if we are to start moving toward leading worship on behalf of instead of with our congregation?
  • If we only have a limited pool of qualified worship leaders, then how do we keep from giving the impression that worship can only be led by a select few?

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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Jun 9 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 7 2021

The Anxiety of Ministry on the Other Side of a Pandemic

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Those of us who plan and lead church ministries each week entered 2021 with mixed emotions of both hope and apprehension. We were hopeful that we might again fire up our favorite ministries but apprehensive about which ones actually survived the hiatus.

This last year required us all to make some radical adjustments to how we planned and led ministry each week. As a result, most have realized that how we will lead those ministries in the future will never again be exactly how we led them before the pandemic, and probably shouldn’t be.

So, like the Israelites, we are getting ready to cross our own Jordan River to a place of uncertainty and anxiety. As we consider the comfort on this side of the river and anxiety on that side of the river we need to be reminded that ministry principles on both sides are the same even though our practices on one side or the other might vary. Practices change. Principles don’t.

If God has called us to our present places of ministry, then he has called us to such a time and place as this…even when we aren’t certain what this is. So, like Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan River, we too need to be strong and courageous for the Lord our God is with us wherever we go (Josh 1:1-9).

The Israelites didn’t have any idea what might await them on the other side of the Jordan, nor do we. So, even if our favorite ministry practices aren’t firing back up quickly enough…be strong and courageous. If after crossing the Jordan we no longer recognize the ministry territory…be strong and courageous. If crossing the Jordan requires adding new leaders to help us move forward…be strong and courageous. If crossing the Jordan requires us to lay all those previous ministry practices on the table to determine which ones are still viable on the other side…be strong and courageous.

Joshua told the Israelites to consecrate themselves because the Lord was about to do amazing things among them (Joshua 3:5). He didn’t show them what those amazing things were until they were willing to prepare themselves spiritually, break camp here, and then cross over there (Josh 3:14). Our initial response to something new and uncertain that requires us to leave here and cross over there is usually, “But I like it here. So, I’m going to try everything I can to keep us here or get us back to the way things were here.”

Some of us have been camped here for so long we are even willing to say, “I don’t care if God is leading us there, I am staying here.” But staying here when God has called us there may cause us to miss some amazing things. So, as painful as it might be to no longer get to lead from some of those previous sweet-spots of ministry, wouldn’t it be worth it to experience amazing things on the other side of the river and no longer wander around in the wilderness?

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Jun 2 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 19 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 17 2021

The Narcissism of Worship My Way

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We are created in God’s image, not God in ours. When we worship we must acknowledge that we aren’t starting the conversation. Instead, God began the dialogue and is inviting us to join it.

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

Conversational narcissism is what sociologist Charles Derber calls the constant shifting of the conversation away from others and back to us. Derber wrote, “One conversationalist transforms another’s topic into one pertaining to himself through the persistent use of the shift-response.”[2] Shift-response is taking the topic of conversation initiated by another and shifting its focus to our own selfish interests. We’ve all been involved in those conversations that have been hijacked by someone who makes their own story seem more dramatic, humorous, or emotional than all others. A conversation that originally began with others ends up being focused on them.

Conversational narcissism is manifested in worship when we take the topic and shift its focus to a topic of our own choosing. Instead of worship focused on God and God’s story, it is focused on me and my story.[3] Shifting the topic of our worship can also shift the object of our worship. When those shifts occur, the conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshipped but instead on the worshipper. In his essay “Meditation in a Toolshed,” C. S. Lewis illustrated the difference between just seeing something as an outsider and actually seeing 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.[4]

When we stand outside of the beam and expect it to move where we are, the god we worship looks like us. We believe that the beam is there for our sake instead of our being 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.”[5] But when we step into the beam and look along that beam, we don’t just see God, we also see what God wants us to see. Then our worship is no longer shaped by what we want or feel like we’ve earned, but instead is shaped by who God is and what he has done.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we help our congregation step into God’s story instead of expecting God to step into ours?
  • Since we get to select what occurs in worship each week, how can we make sure we aren’t selecting worship elements just to accommodate our own needs?
  • Are there any recent examples where it seems like we asked God to move the beam where we are?
  • What worship elements could we introduce to help our congregants transform from selfish to selfless worshippers?

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

[2] Charles Derber, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979), 26–27.

[3] Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 231.

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

[5] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 165–66.

The above post is an excerpt from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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May 12 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 10 2021

Worship Leader…When Is Your Sabbath?

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The following is an excerpt from my upcoming article in the June 2021 edition of Reformed Worship. David W. Manner, “Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath; We Aren’t: Helping Worship Leaders Find Rest,” Reformed Worship, June 2021, 46-48. Reprint by permission from Reformed Worship © 2021 Worship Ministries.

Congregations should put guardrails in place to invest more deeply and meaningfully in the lives and future ministry of their worship leaders. One way to encourage and refresh leaders is by offering an extended period of rest through sabbaticals. Sustained time away every few years beyond their vacation weeks allows worship leaders to step aside completely from their daily responsibilities to renew their bodies, refresh their souls, and reaffirm their calling to God and their church.

Those ministry sabbaticals can give worship leaders permission to rest, heal, and recharge without carrying the weight of the preparation and accountability for those weekly rehearsals, meetings, and services. Offering worship ministry sabbaticals can give a congregation the unique opportunity to practice stewardship of those leaders God has entrusted to them. Sabbaticals are a great investment in the health and future of worship leaders. But churches will also be the beneficiaries of new ideas, challenges, and vision from worship leaders recharged and refreshed for the next season of ministry.

Even if a congregation doesn’t provide an extended time away for rest, worship leaders are called individually to observe a sabbath. The rest Jesus refers to in Matthew 11 can be translated as “refreshment.” To refresh means to renew, revive, or reinvigorate. Refreshment is not idleness. It isn’t an escape from responsibilities, or laziness, or a free pass. It is instead an intentional, deeply calming physical and spiritual peace or time of respite in the midst of one’s responsibilities.[1]

But how can worship leaders begin to observe a sabbath when it hasn’t previously been part of their weekly rhythm of life? As with any new exercise, it might require adding elements incrementally before committing completely. Sabbath is acquired. It must be learned or developed over time in order for it to become a practice. Just a few sabbath moments throughout the day can remind leaders that worship is a response to God’s revelation, not a generator of it. Expanding those moments to a sabbath hour or a portion of a day each week will require more intentionality. Setting aside an hour at the beginning of the day could preempt some of those worship-leading stressors that threaten to derail ministry during the day. Scheduling an hour of rest at the end of the work day could protect worship leaders from taking some of those ministry frustrations home.

Taking a sabbath from social media sites and worship technology platforms by occasionally turning off devices can say to leaders and those they lead: please, rest. A constant social media presence shows little sign of practicing God’s rest.[2] Worship leaders could also learn from observant Jewish people, who believe Sabbath begins at sundown the evening before gathering for worship. The activities and things with which worship leaders fill their time the night before worship could better refresh and prepare their physical, emotional, and spiritual dispositions during worship.

Worship ministry is never complete. So, it tends to sanctify busyness rather than free us from it. We often value motion and noise as a sign of significance, believing our efforts indicate our level of worship relevance. And even if worship leaders have a scheduled day off each week, they often hold that day in reserve to complete the list of things that didn’t get done during the week. Consequently, worship leaders’ tanks are constantly drained with no opportunities to refill them, especially during busy seasons of the church year. Expanding to a full day of sabbath rest won’t occur until it is not only scheduled, but also protected.

Jesus says in Matthew 12 that he is Lord of the Sabbath. We aren’t. So, observing sabbath rest and taking sabbaticals every few years can offer worship leaders intentional margins for recovery that will encourage them to take up Jesus’ yoke instead of constantly bearing those stressful burdens of leadership, sometimes even of their own making.[3]

 

[1] David W. Manner, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 2020), 130. ©2020 Abingdon Press Used by Permissions. All rights reserved.

[2] Adapted from Paul David Tripp, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 11-12.

[3] Manner, Better Sundays Begin on Monday, 130.

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