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 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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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 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 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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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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Oct 13 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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Aug 11 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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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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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 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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Apr 28 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 12 2021

Worship Leader Ageism: Stick the Landing!

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Ageism has impacted most of us serving in worship leadership. Churches seem to be on the lookout for a younger platform presence or fresher image from those who lead. Forced termination or demotion as a result of the ageism epidemic reminds us that where we serve is not always ours to control. What we can control, however, is that we are prepared to continue to serve somewhere. What we once learned is not enough to sustain us through our entire ministry. So, what can we do that will allow us to continue?

A gymnastic competition can be won or lost in the landing. Even if you flip, vault, tuck, and twist well during the routine, it isn’t a success unless you also stick the landing. Halftime is over and some of us are well into the last quarter of our worship-leading career. We’ve accumulated decades of knowledge, experience, and practical application so we know how to work smarter. But just working smarter isn’t helping some of us finish well. How can we stay viable, battle ageism, and keep from coasting in order to stick the landing?

  • Learn a new language.

Even though we might be fluent in previous worship languages, we also need to learn the musical and technological vernacular of newer worship languages and what might follow them. When we lose the resolve to learn, we lose the resolve to lead. It’s never too soon or too late to learn something new. The end of learning new is the beginning of leading old.

  • Force quit.

Computer programs sometimes become unresponsive. Selecting Force Quit reboots and reinstates the original well-functioning settings. Quitting doesn’t mean we stop doing worship ministry or have to leave our present position. It just means rebooting for a fresh start where we are now.

  • Extend your shelf-life.

Shelf life is the length of time items are given before they are unsuitable for use. It is the time in which the defined quality remains fresh, acceptable, viable, usable, and effective under normal circumstances. Increasing our shelf life encourages us to recalibrate or fine-tune for the potential of a new reality.

  • Get another job.

Agreeing that worship leader ageism is unjust or theologically suspect doesn’t change its reality. We can choose to live in a constant state of fear in the last quarter, or we can proactively prepare in case ageism does occur. Learning additional marketable skills doesn’t compromise our calling; it actually enhances that calling beyond choirs and chord charts. Retooling could help us stick the landing where we are now or maybe where God will call us next.

Some of us enjoy running, cycling, or other exercises to help us extend our shelf life physically and to relieve stress as we age. A few years ago, I ran the Kansas City Marathon with my daughter. Leg cramps at mile twenty-one seemed to seize up every muscle in my legs. Marathon runners call this “hitting the wall” or “bonking.” If I hadn’t trained and fueled properly before the race, I would not have been able to complete it. After massaging those muscles and walking some I was able to continue the race with the help of my daughter’s encouragement. Even though my time was not as good as I had hoped it would be, I was still able to cross the finish line.

Distance runners have to push themselves beyond their level of comfort to log the miles necessary to compete. If they haven’t done the roadwork ahead of time, the minute the pace quickens, the incline increases, or the terrain gets treacherous, they will be tempted to quit.

Many of the stressors of ministry have little to do with our lack of skill, but instead result from a lack of preparation. Scripture challenges us to stick the landing this way, “No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. So, strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees! Make straight paths for your feet so that if any part is lame, it will be healed rather than injured more seriously” (Heb 12:11-13).

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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Mar 15 2021

Playing Hurt: Pastoring Through Pain

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Shake it off. Take one for the team. Those are adages we often hear from sports coaches and fans. Publicly acknowledging injuries can sideline players and even threaten their future with the team. So, those players play through their pain knowing that it’s often easier for a team to replace rather than rehabilitate them. This same pattern of expendability is also evident in church cultures. Pastors often sense a profound pressure to perform even when they might not feel like it. To secure their positions, they often play hurt.

Serving as a pastor doesn’t mean you are immune from the personal struggles of life, such as depression, anxiety, physical health issues, marital conflict, or financial strain. Most congregations don’t fully realize the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual demands required to serve as a pastor. Individuals are often aware of the investments their pastors have made in their own life and the lives of their family members. What they don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy those investments require when multiplied by the entire membership population of a congregation.

Pastors are often seen as personal counselors, mentors, leaders, friends, and spiritual advisors. When families are in crisis, their pastors are expected to referee, repair, and reclaim. At the same time, they are required to challenge their congregation with stellar sermons and songs every Sunday. If all congregants have the same expectation that their pastors will willingly respond to every need, then how can we not expect the stress of that responsibility to eventually take its toll? 

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 many pastors are so talented that they can fake it in spite of their pain and succeed without others holding their rope for a time. But, the reality is also that their talent will only take them so far, and the time will come when the inherent risks of trying to lead through pain on their own will cause them to fall alone. If their congregation is not willing to put safeguards or belayers in place to secure and invest in their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health as pastors, then maybe it is time for them to consider another congregation that will. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes said it a little more tactfully: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up! Also, if two lie down together, they can stay warm. But how can anyone stay warm alone? Also, one can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance. A three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap” (Eccl 4:9-12).

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Why have churches created a culture that requires its pastors to fake it when they are wrestling with some of the normal struggles of life?
  • What processes should we put in place to rehabilitate leaders instead of replacing them?
  • How will we know if someone is ready to serve again?
  • How might our congregations be healthier if pastors could openly model leading through pain?
  • If we haven’t put safeguards in place to offer physical, emotional, and spiritual healing and hope for our pastors, then who will?

The above post is adapted 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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Feb 24 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 22 2021

When Worship Ministry Is Hard

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Many of us just completed another designated Sabbath, or day of rest, which included numerous online and in-person worship services, virtual meetings, leadership responsibilities, and rehearsals only to be reminded on Monday morning that Sunday comes again this week. Spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical resources are again completely depleted. And this last year of strange ministry hasn’t made it any easier as most would probably agree it has been their hardest season of ministry ever. Someone once said that leading worship is like having a baby on Sunday only to realize you are pregnant again Monday morning.

If your worship-leading schedule constantly feels like being caught in the force of a riptide that pulls you away from the safety of the shore; if the swift current regularly drags you under, rolls you on the sandy bottom, scratches up your elbows and knees, and fills your swim trunks with sand; if it seems to take longer each time for the current to lose its strength, release you, and allow you to swim to shore, then you’d better look for restful waters to restore your soul before you no longer have the resolve to kick to the surface and gasp for air (Ps 23:2).

Leading worship every Sunday can sanctify busyness rather than free us from it. Our church culture often values motion as a sign of significance, believing our efforts are essential to God’s success in his mission to the world. The stress of preparing multiple services each week and the demands of congregants, teams, and staff constantly vying for our time and attention may be exhausting our reserves. If this is true for you and your team, how can you expect to lead others to a place you no longer have the strength to go yourselves?

In his book Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeiro uses surfing to illustrate how ministry longevity is possible. He writes, “Veteran surfers possess an uncanny sense of the ocean’s currents and how waves behave. Their intuition tells them which ones to catch and which ones to let pass. They seem to discern which waves will carry them in and which waves will do them in! But one of the true marks of a veteran is not how he catches a wave, but whether he knows when and how to get off the wave.”[1]

  • When worship ministry feels like being caught in that riptide, remember that God reaches down from on high, grabs you, and takes you out of that water (Ps 18:16).
  • When you worry if your children will even like church when they are no longer required to attend, remember that Jesus loves your children, too, and wants them to inherit God’s kingdom (Luke 18:15-17).
  • When your worship leadership shelf life seems to be moving quickly toward the expiration date, remember to run this ministry endurance race by keeping your eyes on Jesus (Heb 12:1-2).
  • When congregants target your family because they are upset with you, remember God is your refuge and strength in times of great trouble (Ps 46:1).
  • When you are tempted to quit every Monday morning, remember to be strong and don’t lose heart, because your work will be rewarded (2 Chron 15:7).
  • When you have to schedule your family vacation after the youth mission trip, children’s camp, and vacation Bible school, but before the fall kickoff, remember to learn from Jesus’ example of rest by putting on his yoke, not your own (Matt 11:28-30).
  • When the senior adult potluck dinner is the only date night with your spouse, remember that New Testament church leaders were required to first demonstrate faithfulness at home before being considered for ministry (1 Tim 3:1-13).
  • When you are the latest forced termination victim, remember to be brave and strong since God is with you wherever you go (Josh 1:9).
  • When it seems like no one is holding your rope, standing in the gap, or watching your back, remember you have a great cloud of witnesses surrounding you (Heb 12:1).
  • When you are always the first one to arrive and last one to leave, remember you are doing it in his power, not your own (Isa 40:29).
  • When your creativity has been exhausted and burnout is causing you to coast, remember that the Lord is the potter and you are the clay so it’s the work of his hands, not yours (Isa 64:8).
  • When you are attacked for initiating much-needed change, remember the Lord hates those who cause conflict in the community (Prov 6:16-19).
  • When you don’t have the resolve to take care of yourself spiritually, physically, and emotionally, remember the Lord gives you power when you’re tired, revives you when you’re exhausted, and increases your drive when reserves are depleted (Isa 40:29-31).

Remember, we should throw off any extra baggage and the sin that usually trips us. We can run with endurance this race that is laid out in front of us by focusing on Jesus. He endured for the sake of the joy out in front of him and modeled what it means not to grow weary and lose heart (Heb 12:1-3).

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Are we as leaders modeling a healthy balance of ministry responsibilities, or are we sanctifying busyness?
  • How can we make sure our worship-team members aren’t sacrificing their families because they are too busy with ministry responsibilities?
  • How can we know if a team member might be close to burnout and needs a break?
  • What spiritual practices are we exercising together so that we aren’t trying to do this on our own and are fixing our eyes on Jesus?

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

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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Feb 17 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 8 2021

Worship That Crosses the Rubicon

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Instead of fulfilling the Great Commission by tapping into the unlimited creativity available from the creator, some of us continue trying to reach the culture by offering a mediocre musical imitation of what that culture already has. We play it safe by impersonating the language, structure, dress, and music, usually a few notches below in quality or a few steps after culture has moved on to something new. Offering a weak impersonation of the practices of a culture that doesn’t know what it needs to try to reach a culture that doesn’t know what it needs can’t be the best we have to offer. Maybe it’s time for our churches to cross the Rubicon.

In 49 BCE, Julius Caesar led a single legion of troops across the Rubicon river on the way to Rome. This bold move was considered an act of insurrection, since Roman generals were prohibited from bringing troops into the home territory of the Republic. If Caesar and his men failed to triumph, they would all be executed. But they determined that this point of no return was worth the risk. Their boldness ultimately protected Rome from civil war and also ensured the punishment for their actions would never be necessary.[1] The idiom “crossing the Rubicon” now refers to an individual or group willing to radically commit to a revolutionary and sometimes-risky course of action when playing it safe will no longer suffice.

When king David and his men brought the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem, he was so focused on responding to God’s blessings that he danced right out of his robes. With complete disregard for previous worship practices or what others might think, David danced with all his strength in complete humility before the Lord (2 Sam 6:14). David’s wife and Saul’s daughter, Michal, was not nearly as enthusiastic about his new worship practices. In fact, scripture says, “Michal was watching from a window. She saw King David jumping and dancing before the Lord, and she lost all respect for him” (2 Sam 6:16). Michal’s traditionalism caused her to miss participating in a profound response to God’s revelation. Her primary focus was on how David worshipped.

David admonished Michal that it wasn’t for her or her father that he danced. Instead, he was celebrating before the Lord, who chose him over her father and his entire family (2 Sam 6:21). His primary focus was on why he worshipped. He was willing to cross the Rubicon because of the why even though it meant changing the how. Crossing the Rubicon should never cause a church to compromise biblically, theologically, or doctrinally but will often require it to make worship adjustments in order to accommodate culturally, contextually, and systematically. The conviction to fulfill the Great Commission and the collaboration to do it together are the unifying factors that inspire leaders and congregants to go all in and refuse to retreat. A unified commitment can give us all the resolve to cross the Rubicon even when the end result is uncertain.

Leaving here to cross over there means churches can’t continue to dance to the same tune of what they prefer. They can’t stay here when they are called to go there, even when here is more certain and comfortable. It will certainly require entrepreneurial innovation instead of routinized imitation, or becoming artisans instead of assembly-line workers. But being willing to cross that Rubicon may also then mean that our churches will “speak to and among the surrounding culture in a voice so unique, authentic, and unified that it turns heads: ‘what was that? It sounded like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I’ve never heard anything like that around here.’ Even though those responses from the culture will often come as ridicule, they might just as often come as inquiry. Either way . . . the church will be influencing culture instead of just reflecting it.”[2]

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How might our worship look different if we tried to impact the culture instead of just imitating it?
  • What is the worship Rubicon our church needs to cross but hasn’t because of the fear of conflict?
  • How can we know when it’s time to actually cross our Rubicon?
  • What processes might help us mitigate the inevitable pain of leaving here when we are called to move there?

_____________________

[1] Fernando Lillo Redonet, “How Julius Caesar Started a Big War by Crossing a Small Stream,” History Magazine, National Geographic, March/April 2017, https:// www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2017/03-04/julius-caesar-crossing-rubicon-rome/.

[2] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 39.

 

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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Jan 27 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 6 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 4 2021

Leading Worship in 2021: More Questions than Answers

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Those who lead and plan corporate worship each week are entering 2021 with mixed emotions of both hope and apprehension. Most of their churches are offering a hybrid approach of both gathered and virtual services that will continue well into the new year and beyond.

When those churches had to meet completely virtually for a season it required some radical adjustments to how they planned and led worship each week. As a result, most have realized that how they will lead worship in the future will never again be exactly how they led it in the past.

Having to learn new and shelve old worship concepts and delivery platforms surfaced numerous questions that will need to be answered as churches consider their corporate worship in the future. Many of those questions don’t yet have answers. So, if those churches are going to continue leading worship well in 2021 and beyond, they have to be ready to ask and answer hard questions while still considering the uniqueness of their individual church contexts and cultures.

Questions to Consider

  • If worship should be participative instead of passive, then how can we encourage and measure virtual 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 person often feel contrived or conspicuous from home. How do we help those worshiping from home to feel more comfortable participating in those worship actions?
  • How can we incorporate worship arts beyond music that will communicate in both physical and virtual locations?
  • Virtual worship caused us to revert back to a few leading while the rest of us watched. So, how can we involve virtual worshipers as more than bystanders?
  • Is there a biblical and practical way to observe Communion both physically and virtually?
  • Should congregations wait until they are able to meet without distancing to baptize? How do we better engage online worshipers in that ordinance?
  • How can we emphasize the offering as a sacred action of worship if all gifts are given electronically?
  • Is it possible to employ all five senses in virtual worship?
  • How can we encourage our congregation to connect with each other during worship when they aren’t in the same room?
  • Worship distractions can be managed easier in the worship center than from home. 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 guests to feel welcomed as a part of this community 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 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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Dec 30 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 23 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 16 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 14 2020

Awful Worship

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Awful [aw – fuh’l] – 1. solemnly impressive; exceedingly
great; inspiring awe. 2. full of awe; reverential.[1]

Awe is the act of worship in response to the mystery of God. It causes us to respond with, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces” (Isa 6:5). Moses understood awful worship when he was instructed to take off his sandals as he was on holy ground, causing him to hide his face because he was afraid to look at God (Exod 3:5-6).

God is transcendent, both unknown and unknowable. He is beyond, above, other than, and distinct from all. Isaiah prophesied, “My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans” (Isa 55:8-9). Consequently, a faith such as ours rooted in the infinite cannot be contained in our finite understanding. The paradox, however, is that this transcendent, unknown, and unknowable God is constantly revealing himself to us and seeking our worship. The unknown seeks to be known and acknowledged. There is certainly something awful about that.

Our culture, however, has responded by demanding the reduction of God’s mystery to something we can explain. We have transformed our response to the awe, mystery, and transcendence of God into a scheduled event. When we take surprise out of worship, we are left with dry and dead religion; when we take away mystery, we are left with frozen or petrified dogma; when we script awe, we are left with an impotent deity; and when we abandon astonishment, we are left with meaningless piety.[2]

A.W. Tozer wrote, “We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper ‘mystery.’”[3] But then Scripture again reminds us of his mystery, “God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths! Who has known the Lord’s mind? Or who has been his mentor? Or who has given him a gift and has been paid back by him? All things are from him and through him and for him. May the glory be to him forever. Amen” (Rom 11:33-36).

My doctoral thesis advisor wrote, “The teacups of our thinking and language have not yet approached the capacity of holding the ocean of divine truth.”[4]

So, mystery is not just our limited capacity to understand and explain the entirety of God’s story; it is also the incomprehensible awe and wonder at being included in that story. That can’t always be scripted. If the awe and wonder of God can be contained in and explained in our limited understanding and expressions of worship, then he is a god who does not deserve that worship.

Michael Yaconelli wrote, “The critical issues today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment.”[5] He continued by stating, “The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed. Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness; He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted souls.”[6]

Contemplating the depth of God must include the mystery of God creating, the mystery of God incarnate, the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, the mystery of God’s presence in the church, and the mystery of Christ’s return to claim lordship over creation.[7] If the gravity of that mystery doesn’t continually inspire us with awful wide-eyed wonder, then no songs we select ever will.

Changed from glory into glory,
till in heav’n we take our place
till we cast our crowns before Thee
lost in wonder, love and praise.[8]

 TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How is it evident in our sermons and songs that we aren’t comfortable with mystery?
  • How do we keep from scripting awe out of our worship?
  • When was the last time our congregation was lost in wonder, love, and praise?
  • What should we be doing differently to make sure our worship services are well planned while still leaving room to be surprised by God?

 

[1] “Awful,” Dictionary.com, accessed April 21, 2020, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/awful?s=t

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

[3] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper Collins, 1961), 18.

[4] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12-21, The New American Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 104.

[5] Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder, 23.

[6] Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder, 24.

[7] Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 87.

[8] Charles Wesley, “Love Divine All Loves Excelling,” Hymns for those that Seek, and those that Have Redemption in the Blood of Jesus Christ (London, 1747).

The above post is an excerpt from my new 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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Dec 9 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 7 2020

Worship Farm Teams

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Congregations tend to plan and implement in the moment since Sunday comes every single week. So, thinking about keeping younger players or finding future players, singers, or even a primary worship leader is rarely a consideration until a vacancy occurs.

“Player development” is what Major League Baseball calls the grooming of younger, less advanced players in their minor league system. The so-called farm teams provide mentoring, training, coaching, and practical experience for younger players with the expectation that as those players mature, they will advance to a higher level of play and responsibility.

The genius of the farm system is that players get better by playing regularly in smaller venues instead of just waiting for an opening to play in the major leagues. Teams are intentionally investing in younger players for the future. A major-league team with a weak farm system may have success for a time but will rarely carry that success into the future.

The value of worship player development is realized when a congregation attempts to fill a vacancy in their worship-leading team. What most find is that the pool of potential replacements out there is often very shallow. Those who are available are sometimes unknown and don’t always resonate with the culture of the searching congregation.

Implementing a farm-team model of grooming or developing younger, less advanced players from in here can offer a trusted and familiar resource pool for future players, singers, or primary leaders. Investing in those who already understand the culture, personality, worship language, and mission of your church has a far greater potential for future success.

Our success in worship ministry will be judged not just on how well we did it ourselves each Sunday, but on how well we helped train others to do it too. If churches want great worship leaders in the future, they must invest in not-yet-great worship leaders in the present.

Imagine then, one of those congregations so effectively implementing this player-development model that they are able to groom more worship leaders than they actually have places for them to serve. Then imagine the kingdom value of that congregation getting to farm-out those trained leaders to other congregations who were not as prepared to fill their own vacancies.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What system do we presently have in place to secure players, singers, and tech substitutes when team members are absent?
  • How are we encouraging younger artists to develop their skills for potential worship leadership in the future?
  • Within the limitations of our budget, leadership, and facilities, how can we implement a formal or informal training process for younger worship leaders?
  • What opportunities do we have or can we create for younger leaders to use their gifts publicly before they are ready to lead in the primary worship services?

The above post is an excerpt from my new 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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Dec 2 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 25 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 23 2020

Worship Leader: Throw Your Cap Over the Wall

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Our calling to lead others in worship during this strange season of ministry hasn’t changed even though how it had to be manifested has. Now that some of those worship leading strengths or sweet-spots we so depended on and were revered for may no longer be available in the near future, how are we going to continue to lead? Maybe it’s time for us to throw our cap over the wall.

In his 1961 autobiography, Irish author, Frank O’Connor gives an account of his childhood when he and his friends were out in the Irish countryside. They would come to an orchard wall that seemed too high and difficult to climb, especially if it was one they hadn’t attempted to climb before. So, to continue on their journey, they would take off their caps and throw them over the wall. Since their caps were valuable they had no choice but to follow them.

In an address in San Antonio on the day before he was assassinated, John F. Kennedy referred to this same story before declaring, “This nation has thrown its cap over the wall of space, and we have no choice but to follow it.”

Throwing our cap over the wall during this season meant that some of us had to learn new skills to help us fulfill our calling. It meant that what we once learned in college or seminary was no longer enough to sustain our ministries. Throwing our cap over the wall meant we couldn’t be ones who shrink back and are destroyed…but those who are sure of what we hope for and certain of what we can’t see (Heb. 10:39-11:1).

Throwing our cap over the wall as uncertainty continues in the future may require us to take risks, not biblically or theologically but certainly systematically. It will require us to be entrepreneurs and innovators instead imitators. And it will mean we have to become artisans instead of assembly line workers.

We don’t know how or when this difficult season of leading worship might end. We would all love for God to allow us again to lead from those sweet-spots of ministry. But if he doesn’t, we need to continue throwing our cap over the wall even when what’s on the other side is uncertain. Uncertainty doesn’t change our call to worship and lead others in worship. How it occurs may continue to change…that it occurs shouldn’t.

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Nov 16 2020

Restarting Ministries? Don’t Overdrive Your Headlights.

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Overdriving your headlights is when you are driving so fast that the stopping distance is farther than you can see down the road with your headlights. Moving faster than you can see can also cause you to miss or misread important road signs.

Some churches are moving quickly to determine when they might fire up all of those pre-pandemic ministries again without slowing down long enough to ask if they should. They’ve realized during this season that those ministry programs they previously thought they couldn’t live without, they actually could. So, before restarting all of those ministries, maybe they should first reevaluate to potentially repurpose them.

Reevaluate
Reevaluating is the contemplation or examination of something again in order to adjust or form new opinions about it. Reevaluating helps us audit what we did in the past while considering the circumstances of our present for potential adjustments in the future. Reevaluation reinvestigates and revisits.

So, before moving too quickly ahead with a ministry, we should first ask if it is going to help us fulfill our new mission. If the answer is yes, then we should proceed at a safe speed. If the answer is no, then we should ask if it could help us fulfill our new mission if we were able reevaluate and repurpose it. If the answer to that second question is no, then why would we consider starting it again.

Repurpose
It is popular to reclaim and repurpose old wood for new building projects. Reclaimed wood has a rich history and character that newer wood products haven’t yet earned. The beauty of its durability and seasoned strength tells a story that only time can replicate. Using reclaimed wood keeps the past alive even when rebuilding in the present is necessary.

As churches are considering the future in light of our strange present, they will inevitably need to renew and reimagine the past. In doing so, the assumption is that it will require incorporating something completely new. But it is possible by reclaiming and repurposing what we were already doing that the only new necessary will be to do what we were already doing better.

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Nov 11 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 26 2020

But Even if He Doesn’t

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Because of the pandemic we have been in an unusual and unpredictable season of trying to figure out how to continue leading music and worship well. We’ve had to make some difficult and not always popular decisions. And for the foreseeable future we’ve had to cancel or at least suspend some of those music and worship ministries that may have taken decades to build.

For months we have been praying for, hoping for, and believing that God will deliver us soon from these circumstances that have handcuffed so many of our ministries. We’ve implored God to return things to normal or at least some kind of normal in which our ministries can thrive again. But even if he doesn’t, what must we do?

In the third chapter of Daniel, it is recorded that King Nebuchadnezzar commanded the people of every nation and language to bow down and worship a golden statue. The penalty for not worshiping this created idol and continuing to worship God was certain death in a furnace of blazing fire.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had to choose between bowing down to a false god and living or bowing down to the one true God and dying. They responded to the king, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to and we believe will deliver us from your majesty’s hand. But even if he doesn’t, we will continue worshiping the creator and not the idol you have created.

We don’t know when or how this difficult season will end. We would all love for God to again allow us to lead from our sweet-spots of worship and music ministry. He is able and we believe he will at some point. But even if he doesn’t, we are still called to worship and lead others to worship. How it occurs may continue to change…that it occurs shouldn’t.

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Oct 7 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 5 2020

Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

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golf

The following is an excerpt from my new 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.

When facing difficulties in life, some of us are able to adapt and others get stuck or give up completely. Resilience is that ability to make adjustments when things don’t go the way we hoped they would or planned. Those of us with resilience have the ability to amend our agendas, dreams, and desires by creating a new plan. Resilience doesn’t mean we don’t still feel the weight of our situation. It just means we look for available opportunities to make the best of it so we can continue to move forward. What a great challenge for us during this season of uncertainty and rapid change in worship preparation and implementation.

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

Thomas Merton wrote, “When humility delivers a man from attachment to his own works and his own reputation, he discovers that perfect joy is possible only when we have completely forgotten ourselves. And it is only when we pay no more attention to our own deeds and our own reputation and our own excellence that we are at last completely free to serve God in perfection for his sake alone.”[1]

When the British colonized India they introduced the game of golf. After the first course was built in Calcutta, the monkeys in the surrounding trees would drop down, snag the golf balls from the fairways or roughs, and drop them in other locations. Golfers quickly learned that if they wanted to play on this course they couldn’t always control the outcome of the game. Resilience finally helped the officials and golfers come up with a solution. They added a new rule to their golf games at this course in Calcutta: play the ball where the monkey drops it.[2]

None of us individually has enough creativity, insight, or endurance to plan, prepare, rehearse, and lead intergenerational, multisensory, and intercultural worship services in multiple styles week after week, year after year without making some mistakes. The psalmist wrote, “Sing to him a new song! Play your best with joyful shouts” (Ps 33:3)! We are indeed charged with playing and singing with skill and excellence. But excellence never means that we should leave relationships in our wake while moving toward the end result. The process with people is just as important as the destination.

So, the next time the organist and pianist begin playing a song in different keys, the next time the guitarist forgets to move his capo, the next time the tech team doesn’t turn on your microphone or forward the text to the next slide, the next time the soprano section comes in too soon, the next time your bass player misses the first service because he forgot to set his alarm, just play the ball where the monkey drops it.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What is the difference between a culture of rigidness and one of resilience? Where does our team usually land?
  • How do we encourage resilience without sliding into the acceptance of mediocrity?
  • How is it possible to strive for excellence without leaving relationships in our wake?
  • In what ways can we involve the entire team in evaluating a healthy balance of expecting excellence but also offering grace?

 

[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New Haven: Abbey of Gethsemani, 1961), 58.

[2] Tara Branch, “It’s Not What’s Happening, It’s How You Respond,” Life. Huff- Post Plus, May 3, 2013, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/acceptance_b_3211053.

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Sep 30 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 28 2020

How to Help Our Pastors in This Hard Season of Ministry

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Many pastors would agree that the last 6 months of ministry have been the hardest of their entire ministry career. Oh, it wasn’t the nightmare of having to do church online or balancing a hybrid of online and in-person ministry that made this season the most difficult. In fact, most of those pastors stepped up to and handled those logistical and technological crises like the pros they are.

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

Pastors are and should be held accountable to God and their churches 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? Maybe some of the following suggestions could help us help our pastors as we all continue trying to figure out how to do ministry in this hard season.

  • 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 did.
  • We should stop expecting our pastors 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 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 get out of town.
  • We should pray for and defend our pastors 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, 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 their decisions or directions, then we should talk to our pastors 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? If we haven’t, then who will?

Phillip Yancey wrote, I wonder how much more effective our churches would be if we made the pastors spiritual health, not their efficiency our number one priority?

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