Aug 26 2019

Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

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

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

A stellar drive down the middle of the fairway might be picked up and dropped in the rough. A hook or slice producing a terrible lie might be tossed back into the fairway. So golfers quickly learned that if they wanted to play on this course they couldn’t always control the outcome of the game. Resilience finally helped the officials and golfers come up with a solution. They added a new rule to their golf games at this course in Calcutta…Play the ball where the monkey drops it.[1]

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

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

 

[1] Adapted from Tara Branch, “It’s Not What’s Happening, It’s How You Respond,” Life, HuffPost Plus. May 3, 2013. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/acceptance_b_3211053. (accessed Monday, August 27, 2019).

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Aug 7 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 5 2019

Worship Leader: Performer, Promoter or Partner?

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Worship is something our congregations do, not something that is done for them. So if we never involve them as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators?

Can you imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so they can watch you eat? Even though they are sitting at the table while you intimately experience and even skillfully explain each course with mouthwatering poetic language, they are still hungry passive observers. As good as the food might be, they aren’t eating it. A performer presents for or to an audience. Worship leading performers eat while others watch.

Or can you imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so you can watch them eat? You have planned and prepared a feast all week long so their hunger might be satisfied. Even though you aren’t eating, you are content in knowing you are feeding them. A promoter is a facilitator who helps others achieve their objectives while remaining neutral. Worship leading promoters facilitate while others eat.

Now imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so you can all eat together. You have planned and prepared a feast because you are all hungry. You encourage them to eat and they encourage you to eat. Your hunger isn’t satisfied until theirs is and vice versa. Partners are united or associated with others in the same actions, activities or purposes. Worship leading partners eat together.

As worship leaders we are not proxies, surrogates or intermediaries. We do indeed facilitate, prompt, prod, remind and encourage congregants to worship more, but we can’t do it on their behalf. So worship leadership is not what we do to or for our congregation; it’s what we do with them.

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Jul 22 2019

Stop Blaming Music for Worship Conflict

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One Trick PonyWe often blame music for what only a healthier biblical theology of worship can fix. The sole emphasis on music as the primary worship offering may have actually hindered worship understanding and exacerbated worship conflicts.

The origin of the idiom “One Trick Pony” goes back to the days of the traveling circus. A trained pony or small horse was used as a main circus attraction. Without any other acts or animals, these small circuses were often criticized as only offering a one-trick pony.

The idiom is now used to identify a person or organization that only does one thing. And it often suggests an inflexibility or inability to learn or consider anything else.

Music has devolved into worship’s one trick pony. We’ve dressed it up, dressed it down, changed its direction and adjusted its speed. We’ve even tried a younger rider for the pony. But it’s still the same trick. Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only expression.

Scripture

Worship begins with the Word, not our song set. Scripture must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. Biblical text must organically yield our songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language.

Prayer

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

Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist

Congregations try to create community in their song sets that already exists and is waiting for them at the Table. Observing this ordinance as supplemental instead of foundational might cause us to miss the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion with each other unified in our identity and relationships only present there.

The Arts

Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a venue for creatives to express art beyond predictable musical expressions will lose them to places that will. Art beyond music is often seen as an extra offering meant for those who can resonate with it, rather than something essential to the shaping of our faith and worship expressions.[1]

As worship leaders we must be willing to educate, enlighten and exhort our congregations to move beyond music as our only worship contribution. And when we do, maybe it will alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the solitary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

 

[1] Adapted from Robin M. Jensen, The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 2.

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Jul 10 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 1 2019

Reclaimed Worship

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It is en vogue 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 is necessary.

As churches consider the future they sometimes realize the need for renewing and reimagining their worship. In doing so, they often assume it will require incorporating something completely new. So instead of reclaiming and repurposing older methods and practices they instead use the finesse of a wrecking ball to swing wildly at existing practices. The result is often the complete destruction of the worship structures and relational foundations that took decades to build.

So instead of just asking, “what’s broken and how do we fix it” congregations should also be asking, “what’s working and how can we do more of it.”[1] Maybe the worship changes most of our churches need should not occur by demolishing and discarding our existing practices, but instead by deconstructing or reclaiming some of them.

Demolition is the most expedient method of tearing down an existing structure in order to ensure that the ensuing structure bears no characteristics of the original structure. It takes what was and completely destroys it.

Deconstruction, conversely, is the systematic and selective process of taking a structure apart while carefully preserving valuable elements for re-use. It saves those materials within an existing structure and repurposes them for a new life. Deconstruction reclaims some of those elements that still have value for the future.

So reclaiming worship means that even when change is necessary we take the time to recognize those foundations and practices that still have value so we can repurpose them as useful building materials for the future.

 

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

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Jun 26 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 17 2019

Childish Responses to Worship Change

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When the disciples asked Jesus who the greatest is in the kingdom of heaven, he responded by calling a little child and asking him to stand among them. Then he said, “Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest” (Matt 18:1-4).

When churches start discussing worship change the humble character of the congregants is often one of the first things to go. Character is the outward manifestation of our inward nature or qualities. It isn’t innate so it must be learned and practiced or it’s easily forgotten or ignored, especially when we don’t get our way. Character indicates who we really are even when conflict arises.

The character of children could help the rest of us remember and relearn some of those forgotten traits when we’re facing worship change that is not always our preference.

Wonder – Worship should cause us to be curious, fascinated, surprised and captivated. Children radiate these characteristics, we seldom do. Wide-eyed worship wonder has been replaced by the controlled and scripted. We are rarely wowed, amazed or awed. As adults we have transformed the wonder of God into a scheduled event that is explainable and rational.

Cooperation – Children learn early that always expecting to get your way, being a bully, not resolving conflict with kind words, not considering the needs of others and not seeing things from another’s point of view are not an option. When our worship practices move too quickly or not quick enough toward change we’ve forgotten how to share and play fair.

Tolerance – Children seem to have a higher capacity to accept differences than we do. They learn intolerance from us. Churches need to invert that practice. Worship intolerance is often manifested musically and stylistically. Tolerance doesn’t cause us to compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often asks us to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically.

Resilience – Resilience is that childhood elasticity that allows them to recover quickly from radical change. It’s the willingness to give things a try with an attitude of flexibility. Worship resilience averts relational and theological catastrophe through a culture of pliability. Pliability allows worshipers to weather change without getting bent out of shape.

When considering how we’ll respond the next time our worship changes we just need to be reminded what we once learned as a child. And when we do, it will certainly give us new meaning to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6).

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Jun 5 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 13 2019

20 Worship Service Irrefutables

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Worship Service Irrefutables

  1. It isn’t trivial just because you use a worship band.
  2. It isn’t archaic just because you use an orchestra.
  3. The opening song doesn’t start it.
  4. The closing song doesn’t stop it.
  5. An older expression doesn’t imply it’s stale.
  6. A newer expression doesn’t imply it’s fresh.
  7. It’s not theologically profound because you use hymns.
  8. It’s not theologically trite because you use modern songs.
  9. A younger leader doesn’t cause it to be relevant.
  10. An older leader doesn’t cause it to be passé.
  11. Changing it won’t automatically make your church grow.
  12. Keeping it the same won’t inevitably make your church decline.
  13. Using technology can complement it.
  14. Using technology can distract from it.
  15. It’s not participative just because you’re leading it with a choir.
  16. It’s not passive just because you’re leading it with a worship team.
  17. Dressing up for it doesn’t make it sacred.
  18. Dressing down for it doesn’t make it irreverent.
  19. Music isn’t a necessity for it.
  20. Music can certainly enhance it.
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Apr 23 2019

Not Enough Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Apr 1 2019

Take Courage Worship Leader…He Is Able!

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he is ableWhen worship ministry feels like being caught in the force of a riptide that pulls you away from the safety of shore; When 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; When it seems to take longer each time for the current to lose its strength, release you and allow you to swim to shore;

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).

Take Courage…

  • When no generation is ever really happy musically…He is able.
  • When your ministry shelf life is moving toward the expiration date because you are no longer young enough or trim enough…He is able.
  • When you are always a step behind musically, technologically and culturally…He is able.
  • When you are tempted to quit every Monday morning…He is able.
  • When you wish you served someplace, anyplace else…He is able.
  • When you are always the first one to arrive and last one to leave…He is able.
  • When no amount of rehearsal can make your group presentable…He is able.
  • When staff collaboration actually means silent obedience…He is able.
  • When needed change is never well received…He is able.
  • When you feel like no one is holding your rope as you start to slip…He is able.
  • When date night with your spouse is the worship team potluck…He is able.
  • When you feel like you are missing out on your children’s lives…He is able.
  • When you have been terminated for any or no reason…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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Mar 25 2019

Is Serving as a Worship Leader Really Worth It?

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Several years ago, the website CNN Money posted a story titled:  Stressful Jobs that Pay Badly. The article listed fifteen of the most overworked and underpaid professions. Number 5 on the list…Music Ministry Director. The stress level of this position was only surpassed by jobs such as social worker and probation/parole officer.

Worship leaders live under a tremendous pressure to perform. The demands and stress of the position can lead to relational conflict, burnout, family crisis and even forced termination. At one time or another (or perhaps every Monday morning) all of us have asked the question…Is worship leading really worth it or should I consider doing something or anything else?

Is it really worth it…

  • When you’ll always sing too many or too few hymns or modern worship songs for someone?
  • When the only time available for family vacation is after the student choir mission trip, VBS and camps but before the fall ministry kick-off?
  • When you worry if your children will even like church when they are no longer required to attend?
  • When the Christmas season can’t begin for your family until after multiple programs and the Christmas Eve service?
  • When congregants upset with you take it out on your spouse and children?
  • When worship conversations circle around what people want, deserve, prefer or have earned?

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9

Yes, it is really worth it…

  • When one generation discovers that loving another generation more than they love their own musical preferences is an act of worship.
  • When the troubled teen that got involved in your student choir now serves as a worship leader.
  • When your grown children are faithfully serving in ministries and missions.
  • When Christmas programs break through those spiritual barriers like no previous services have.
  • When congregants realize that how they treat their leaders is also an act of worship.
  • When worship conversations circle around what God wants, deserves, prefers and has earned.

Let us lay aside every weight…and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross…for consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

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Feb 25 2019

Steeplejacking Worship

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steeplejackingSteeplejacking is a coined term that describes the attempt to infiltrate, influence and take-over an existing congregation. In the corporate world steeplejacking could be compared to a hostile takeover. It is often initiated by marginalizing what a congregation has done or is presently doing in order to coerce it into making radical changes.

It is irrefutable that adjustments to worship practices are often necessary as a church considers the cultures and contexts of those present and those not present yet. But in an effort to initiate some of those changes, leaders sometimes push to do anything different than what is being done presently. The consequence is those who have been around for a while feel as if they are losing the church they have known and loved. So even when change motives are pure, it still seems like their church is being steeplejacked.

Many of those congregational veterans are probably not that averse to all worship change but are just feeling sidelined as those changes are being considered without them. It seems to them that their opinions are no longer considered and their convictions are overlooked as antiquated. So their decades of blood, sweat, tears and tithes are facing foreclosure and eviction.

The automatic assumption is that worship change always requires incorporating something completely new. So churches are often good at asking revolutionary questions like, “What’s broken and how do we fix it?” But maybe they should also be asking reevaluation questions like, “What’s working and how can we do more of it?”[1]

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

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

Prayerfully adding to existing worship practices instead of arbitrarily taking them away could allow churches to initiate needed changes without the unnecessary pain of steeplejacking. Then it’s possible those changes would be approached by all as an opportunity instead of a threat or a cause for celebration instead of a reason to despair.[2]

 

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

[2] Craig A. Satterlee, When God Speaks through Change (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2005),

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Feb 18 2019

Sunday Morning Karaoke

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karaoke

Karaoke singers are provided with a microphone, sound system and projected text for the purpose of imitating a familiar song originally recorded by a popular artist. They are even judged on how well (or poorly) they imitate the original artist and his or her songs.

Karaoke happens in our worship services too when we imitate the worship habits, methods, styles and even attire of other artists or congregations without considering our own gifts and calling or the calling and abilities of our players, singers and congregants.

Obviously, not all congregations are gifted with musicians who can create original songs and therefore must use the songs created by other artists and composers. The difference between using and imitating, however, is taking the time to interpret those songs through the lens of your own congregation.

Instead of imitating the worship style of other congregations, we should be trying to discover our own unique worship voice.[1] Finding the voice of a congregation is not just following a recipe for the success of other artists and congregations.

The voice of your congregation “is found by listening to its overtones. It is the voice heard and shared when the congregation prays together, eats together, cries and rejoices together. It is the voice heard and shared when a congregation works out its differences, blesses its children, buries its saints, and sings its carols of love and hope.”[2]

Sharing those events impacts the formation of the unique worship DNA of each congregation. So just imitating the worship voice of another congregation marginalizes those shared experiences for both the congregation who imitates and the one being imitated.

If God has entrusted us with the worship position and people to which He has called us, then imitating or mimicking other worship contexts marginalizes that calling. So is that really what God intended for us and the best we have to offer Him and His church?

 

[1] Constance Cherry, in Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 9.

[2] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation, 9.

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Jan 21 2019

Not Our Kind of People

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intercultural

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

  1.  We must become ethnodoxologists.

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

  1.  We must be mutually inconvenienced.

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

  1.  We must stop living monocultural lives.

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

  1.  We must have intercultural platforms.

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

  1.  We must become uncomfortable with injustice.

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

 

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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Jan 7 2019

Jump in the Deep End

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Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only expression. So why do most worship conversations continue to circle back to a binary discussion of hymns and modern worship songs only?

Just considering those two worship options means we’re satisfied with our congregation swimming in the shallow end of the pool. We must, instead, be willing to educate, enlighten, and coax them into the deep end.

To go deeper we need to add the following to our worship vocabulary:

Worship is vertical, horizontal, meditative, reflective, sacrificial, celebrative, scriptural, prayerful, intergenerational, intercultural, global, local, personal, and corporate.

It’s theological, visual, tactile, iconic, aural, verbal, instrumental, artistic, dramatic, aesthetic, imaginative, spontaneous, painted, danced, quoted, recited, sculpted, read, dressed up, dressed down, scripted, printed, and filmed.

It emotes through confession, invocation, supplication, intercession, meditation, celebration, lament, thanksgiving, anger, sadness, contemplation, joy, grief, despair, hope, pain, amazement, surprise, happiness, sorrow, shame, regret, hurt, peace, relief, satisfaction, fear, and love.

It remembers symbolically and sacramentally as an ordinance or rite through Communion, Lord’s Supper, The Eucharist, and Baptism. Its prayers are fixed and spontaneous.

It remembers the past, impacts the present, and challenges the future. It serves by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly. It includes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It gathers, exhorts, preaches, teaches, blesses, dismisses, and sends out. It is continuous. And it also plays and sings psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

If we are to expand our worship vocabulary it means every worship leader must become the lead mentor and lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action. The art of our worship must point beyond itself. It must freely and strongly say, “There is more, far more.” Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep.[1]

 

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

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Dec 3 2018

Homegrown Worship Leaders

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baseballCongregations tend to plan and implement in the moment since Sunday comes every. single. week. So thinking about 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 a player matures he 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. So they are intentionally investing in younger players for the future of the team. 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. What most find is that the pool of potential replacements out there is often very shallow. Those who are available are often unknown and don’t always resonate with the culture of the searching congregation.

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

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 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.

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Nov 21 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 22 2018

Feckless Love

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Feckless

Most worship leaders love using their creativity to lead worship. Creativity, however, can be a smoke screen for laziness. Sometimes a love for leading can be feckless, meaning it lacks the strength of character to move beyond creativity to hard work.

Feckless worship leaders love leading worship musically but don’t have the resolve to do the heavy lifting biblically, theologically, relationally and even physically. Consequently, they depend solely on their love for playing and singing on the platform and disregard diligence off the platform.

Thomas Edison said, “People don’t work hard because in their conceit, they imagine they’ll succeed without ever making an effort. Most people believe that they’ll wake up some day and find themselves successful. Actually, they’ve got it half right, because eventually they do wake up.”

Wilson Mizner said, “Work, work, work…the gent who wakes up and finds himself a success hasn’t been asleep.” So your love for leading may help you get that worship job but hard work is going to help you keep it.

Symptoms of feckless worship leaders

  • They spend more time searching files for previously used worship service orders than it would have taken them to create a new one.

 

  • Their song sets are determined exclusively by scanning CCLI’s Top 100, What’s Hot on Praise Charts or the Hymnal.

 

  • They aren’t willing to communicate in newer and older languages of chord charts and choir scores or hymns and modern songs even when the culture of their congregation calls for it.

 

  • They spend Monday through Thursday pondering their creativity but then have to scramble on Friday morning to actually harness it into a worship service for Sunday.

 

  • They imitate the worship sounds, habits, methods, styles, presentations and even attire of other artists or congregations without considering the unique voice of their own congregation.

 

  • They don’t see the need to attend conferences, read books, take additional lessons or dialogue with other worship leaders.

 

  • They don’t take the time to invest in the lives and ministries of younger leaders or train those who will come behind them.

“So much attention is paid to the aggressive sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy and laziness, which in the long run can have a more devastating effect.” Eleanor Roosevelt 

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Sep 19 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 10 2018

20 Things Worship Leaders Should Say More Often

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Twenty things

20 Things Worship Leaders Should Say More Often

  • Let’s select song keys with a comfortable singing range for the congregation.
  • The band is too loud when we can’t hear the congregation sing.
  • I love studying theology.
  • Let’s sing fewer songs this week to allow more time for Scripture and Prayer.
  • We’ve learned enough new songs for a while.
  • It’s time to learn some new songs.
  • I love my pastor and pray for him daily.
  • We don’t sing songs that aren’t biblically accurate or theologically sound.
  • I can’t do this on my own.
  • Please remain seated if that is more comfortable for you.
  • I am interested in what everyone else thinks.
  • No, that is my family time.
  • That’s too pretentious.
  • Let’s get some feedback from the senior adults.
  • We need to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently.
  • Instead of making changes, let’s get better at what we are already doing.
  • It’s Monday and the worship service is already planned.
  • I never want what I wear to distract or detract from worship.
  • I love it when the house lights are up so I can see their faces.
  • Not every great worship song is great for congregational singing.
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Aug 20 2018

8 Ways Nostalgia May be Killing Your Church

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memoryNostalgia is sentimental remembrance of previous times or significant events that continue to stir happy or meaningful personal recollections. It can be a healthy time of reflection as long as its primary purpose is to remind how the past laid the foundation for the present and future. If, however, those remembrances result in an excessive yearning and compulsion to return to the “good old days,” then nostalgia may be killing your church.

The word nostalgia is derived from the two Greek words: nostos, meaning homecoming, and algos, meaning pain. The medical professionals who coined the word in the late 18th century were describing an emotional and physical condition, not the current meaning of wistful thoughts of earlier times. In its original definition, nostalgia was viewed as a crippling condition that rendered sufferers incapacitated by despair or intense homesickness.[1]

Nostalgia was considered a legitimate reason for voluntary release from military service even until the 1860’s. If a soldier became too overwhelmed by thoughts of home or the life he left behind, his abilities for service could be compromised.

Nostalgia in reasonable doses can provide a sense of comfort. But too much can have a negative effect perpetuating the belief that an earlier time is preferable to present day conditions. Getting caught up in feelings about a more ideal past can make the present seem unfulfilling by comparison.[2]

Excessive nostalgia can cause a church to romanticize, idealize and even embellish the past in an effort to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past for future generations. Consequently, extending those previous practices can limit a congregation to its past performance, potentially killing its present and future efforts. The end result is a church that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the idealized emotions that were originally stirred.

8 Ways Nostalgia May be Killing Your Church

  • Attempts are made to canonize one particular style or genre of music.
  • Conversations begin with Do you remember instead of Can you imagine.
  • An inordinate amount of time is spent planning and preparing reunions and anniversaries.
  • Much more time is devoted to protecting old practices than praying for and considering new ones.
  • Leadership vision seems to look in the rearview mirror for the way things used to be instead of out the window for the way things could be.
  • Budgets are absorbed on the physical and organizational institution without considering its mission.
  • Leaders are selected or dismissed according to how they can best represent and perpetuate the past.
  • Resurrecting or recreating older actions to reflect former generations always takes priority over newer actions to impact future generations.

Nostalgically designing the vision, practices, procedures and future of your church to replicate the Good Old Days usually succeeds in getting it half right…it is old.

 


[1] Adapted from http://www.wisegeek.org

[2] Ibid.

 

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Aug 13 2018

Why Worship Leaders Should Get A Real Job

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jobNow that I have your attention, leading worship is indeed a worthy calling and vocation that requires preparation, education and skills. And yes, it is a real job. But what if opportunities were no longer available for you to lead worship vocationally?

What if you needed to voluntarily or were forced involuntarily to step aside from vocational worship leadership for an interim or extended period of time? Or if you’re a student preparing for vocational worship ministry, what if you don’t immediately land a position after graduation? What would or could you do in these instances to provide for your family while still responding to God’s call? Some of us have found ourselves in similar situations only to realize we are not trained or are not training to do anything else.

Statistics show that 95% of churches average 350 or less in worship and that 75-80% of those churches average 150 or less. Forced terminations, unhealthy staff relationships and ageism are all unfortunate realities. Church planting movements have amplified the need for additional volunteer and part time worship leaders. And even larger, more established congregations are no longer realizing the need for full-time worship and music staff as they try to stretch their financial resources to accommodate their various generational, cultural, ethnic and multisite needs.

With those statistics in mind, the present and future reality seems to indicate that the need for full-time music and worship leaders is on the decline. In other words, it appears there are and will continue to be more prepared full-time leaders than full time places for them to serve. So reality dictates that while preparing for worship leadership we should also be learning additional marketable skills.

For this to occur, we must first acknowledge that a call to bivocational ministry is not a mediocre calling but is in fact a call to full-time ministry that just happens to occur not only when we gather at church but also when we disperse to the marketplace. We must also encourage our Christian colleges and seminaries to more actively challenge students preparing for worship ministry to also learn other vocational skills. We must agree that it is never too soon or too late to learn something new. And we must affirm that learning an additional skill doesn’t compromise our calling but in fact enhances it by allowing us to communicate in other worship languages beyond choirs and chord charts.

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Jul 30 2018

Worship Tourists or Travelers?

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touristsAre we worship tourists or travelers?

Travelers willingly immerse themselves in cultures even when they are radically different from their own. They adjust instead of expecting others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a traveler is never inconvenient because it encourages discovery. Travelers always dig deep and ask who and why.

Tourists sample other cultures as long as they aren’t too different from their own. They expect others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a tourist is always inconvenient because it discourages pleasure and preference. Tourists only scratch the surface and ask what, when and how much.

Tourists go where the map takes them, are there to experience the sites, aren’t willing to stray from their native language and always ask “what’s in it for me.”

Travelers go where the road takes them, are there to understand the sites, attempt to learn new languages and always ask “what’s in it of me.”

The ultimate destination for tourists and travelers may be exactly the same. But the connection for the tourist is usually shallow and fleeting. And the connection for the traveler is always deep and continuous. The tourist endures the journey in order to reach the destination while the traveler values the journey as part of the destination.

So what if we approached worship as travelers on a continuous journey instead of tourists visiting a site for pleasure?

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Jul 9 2018

Jumping Off Worship Bandwagons

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bandwagonThe bandwagon effect occurs when the application of beliefs, ideas, fads or trends increases the more others have already adopted them. Churches even have the tendency to espouse certain behaviors, styles or attitudes just because it seems like everyone else has. The implication being that since it is right for so many others, it must also be right for us.

During the 19th century, an entertainer named Dan Rice traveled the country campaigning for President Zachary Taylor. Rice’s bandwagon was the centerpiece of his campaign events, and he encouraged those in the crowd to “jump on the bandwagon” and support Taylor. The campaign was so successful that Taylor was elected president, prompting future politicians to employ bandwagons in their campaigns in hopes of similar results.

Jumping on the bandwagon explains why there are fashion trends. During sports championships it is evident in the increase of fans. In health it shows up in the latest diet or fitness craze. In social media it is obvious in the number of app or platform downloads. In music it is measured by iTunes rankings. And in worship it is usually apparent in the song set.

The theological implication of a church that jumps on the latest worship bandwagon is that it sometimes ignores or overrides its own beliefs, cultures or contexts just because others are doing it. So instead of encouraging spirit and truth worshipers it creates liturgical lemmings.

Congregations often need to and should be making regular worship adjustments. And some of those changes might actually include the latest songs, styles or technological tools. But instead of immediately jumping on the newest worship bandwagon because it seems like everyone else is, congregations should instead discern and determine their worship adjustments through praying together, reading Scripture together, coming to the Lord’s Table together, mourning together, rejoicing together, sharing ministry together, playing together and then singing their song sets together.

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Jun 18 2018

15 Questions for Every Worship Song Set

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questions  for Every Worship Song Set

 

  • Will it encourage passive spectating or active participating?

 

  • Does it include a healthy balance of familiar and new?

 

  • Does it include expressions that are both celebrative and contemplative?

 

  • Are its texts theologically sound and do they affirm scripture as foundational?

 

  • Is it culturally and generationally appropriate for those who will be present?

 

  • Does it include not only our words to God but also God’s words to us?

 

  • Will acceptable physical actions be articulated or implied?

 

  • Will it give participants an opportunity to connect with each other?

 

  • Will its musical or technological elements direct our attention away from God?

 

  • Are its melodies singable and ranges accessible?

 

  • Will guests be able to participate in it without confusion?

 

  • Will it speak and teach the Gospel?

 

  • Will it engage more than just emotions?

 

  • Are we giving it too much responsibility for the entirety of our worship?

 

  • Will it encourage participants to be doers of the word and not just hearers only?
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Jun 4 2018

5 Questions Before Considering Another Worship Job

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questionsMost of us don’t begin a new worship ministry position believing we will only stay for a few years. Our intentions are noble to plant our lives for the long haul. But after exhausting our good ideas we often get bored, our worship gets stale, our congregation gets restless and we get busy looking for another ministry opportunity somewhere else.

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

  • Has God released me from my call here?

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

  • Am I running from something?

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

  • Am I running to something?

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

  • How might it impact my family?

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

  • Am I ready to leave well?

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

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May 29 2018

10 Tips to Help Your Congregation Dislike Hymns

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top 10

 

  • Modernize, genericize or blend all hymns in order to reach younger people. Because all young people like singing hymns that sound like Air Supply.
  • Always bookend a hymn between two really popular modern songs. It’s kind of like hiding unappetizing vegetables in your mashed potatoes.
  • Admonish your congregation regularly with how unspiritual they are to focus on personal preferences (This one doesn’t apply to you, of course, since you pick the songs).
  • Lead hymns like you’re recording a hostage video. Blink twice occasionally to indicate you’re leading them to satisfy the deacon imposed quota.
  • Play all hymns with a boom chuck guitar strum; country walking bass line; and train beat drum rhythm. Be sure to add a fish-shaped tambourine on hymns about heaven.
  • Use only hymns with archaic texts such as Ebenezer, hither and shouldst without ever explaining their poetry. It might also help to revive the Charles Wesley text, “To me, to all, Thy bowels move.”
  • Frequently use psalms like “Sing a new song” or “He put a new song in my mouth” to justify limited or no use of hymns.
  • When you have to sing a hymn introduce it with “here’s an oldie but a goodie.” Or only use them as novelties for homecomings, old-fashioned singings or fifth Sunday sings.
  • Convince your congregation that hymns and modern songs aren’t compatible by using “no one can serve two masters” or Pepsi vs. Coke to illustrate their mutual exclusivity.
  • Don’t spend any personal devotional time internalizing the hymn texts and tunes before you lead them. Because if you ever start to love them, you’ll never convince your congregation not to.
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May 8 2018

Using Worship Style As A Hook

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loss leaderloss leader is when a retail chain or business offers goods or services discounted at or below cost in order to draw consumers in. The strategy is that drawing them in will hopefully then lead them to buy additional items at a higher cost.

Some congregations employ this same practice of depreciating or changing their worship style as a hook to get new consumers in the door. This marketing ploy often discounts their existing worship foundations. And their unique worship DNA’s are thrown out in order to secure the loyalties of new customers.

Consequently, instead of planning worship to respond to God’s revelation they start planning it to respond to cultural affirmation. And just trying anything to get them in the door will sometimes cause a congregation to hedge theologically, biblically or musically.

So what will those congregations offer when consumer tastes change again and they’re too diverse or costly to accommodate? And when those new consumers are no longer new and realize that worship is going to actually require something from them, what methods will congregations initiate to keep them? How will they express deep calling unto deep worship when loss leader worship is all they’ve known (Ps 42:7)?

What worship costs is more important than how it comforts us or serves our agendas. If worship is just fashioned to meet our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.[1]  So if you’re still trying to get them in the door with loss leader hooks such as traditional, contemporary, classic, modern, casual, or even coffee, then those hooks you are attempting to reach them with is probably all you’ll ever reach them to.

 

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

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Mar 19 2018

Scratching the Ministry Move Itch

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dream jobMost of us don’t begin a new ministry position believing we’ll only stay for a couple of years. We have noble intentions to plant our lives for the long haul. But after we’ve exhausted our two-year recipe of ideas we often get bored, our leadership gets stale, our congregation gets restless and we get busy looking for another ministry somewhere else.

If you are itching for another position just because it’s bigger or 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, you’ll inevitably be disappointed again after a couple of years and so will they.

Another place of ministry may seem more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding. But until God releases you to go there, he expects you to stay here. His calling is a personal invitation to carry out a unique and sometimes difficult task. And it’s a strong inner impulse prompted by conviction, not convenience.

God never promised we’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed. He did, however, promise he wouldn’t leave or forsake us. So instead of focusing on ministry job placement sites, 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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Mar 5 2018

Dancing Out of Our Robes of Worship Traditionalism

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David DancingWorship traditionalism begins when we take a good thing (how we worship) and make it the only thing. Tradition embraces and shares the foundational tenets that formed it. Traditionalism bypasses or has forgotten those tenets and lands on the tradition alone. So traditionalism starts with how we worship and tradition starts with why we worship.

Tradition lives in a conversation with the past, while remembering we live in the present. But traditionalism presumes that nothing should ever be done for the first time. So tradition evolves into the living faith of the dead and traditionalism the dead faith of the living.[1]

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 might in complete humility before the Lord.[2]

David’s wife Michal was not nearly as enthusiastic about his new worship practices. In fact, scripture indicates that Michal “looked down from the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart.”[3] Michal’s traditionalism caused her to miss participating in a profound response to God’s revelation. Her primary focus was on how he worshiped.

But David admonished Michal with a reminder that it wasn’t for her or her father that he danced. Instead, he danced with reckless abandon for the Lord.[4] His primary focus was on why he worshiped.

Traditionalism means we’re only dancing to the tune of what we prefer, what we’ve earned, what we like or what our past demands. Tradition, on the other hand, has carried our past into the present and will challenge our future by always considering the why before the how.

 

[1] Pelikan, Jaroslav, “The Vindication of Tradition.” Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, Washington D.C., 1983.

[2] 2 Sam 6:14.

[3] Ibid., 16.

[4] Ibid., 21.

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Feb 19 2018

One Another Churches

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one anotherA reciprocal pronoun is used to indicate two or more people carrying out an action of giving and receiving mutually. We have only two reciprocal pronouns in the English language, “one another” and “each other.”

According to those who have counted, one another appears in the New Testament 59 times. So if it’s that important scripturally, shouldn’t it be that important relationally as we plan, implement and sometimes need to change our church policies and practices?

“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world…but the church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set for one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is what it means to be the body of Christ.” N.T. Wright

One Another Churches call for unity

  • Be at peace with one another (Mk 9:50)
  • Stop complaining among one another (Jn 6:43)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Rom 12:16, 15:5)
  • Accept one another (Rom 15:7)
  • Don’t provoke or envy one another (Gal 5:26)
  • Forgive one another (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13)
  • Don’t criticize one another (Jas 4:11)

One Another Churches call for love

  • Love one another (Jn 13:34, 15:12, 17)
  • Love one another as brothers and sisters (Rom 12:10)
  • Serve one another through love (Gal 5:13)
  • Bear with one another in love (Eph 4:2)
  • Overflow with love for one another (1 Thes 3:12)
  • From a pure heart love one another constantly (1 Pet 1:22)

 One Another Churches call for deference

  • Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
  • Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10)
  • Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  • Carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
  • Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)
  • Consider one another more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thes 5:11)
  • Pray for one another (Jas 5:16)
  • Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Pet 5:5)
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Jan 15 2018

Segregated Worship: Not Our Kind of People?

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Segregation
Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in this nation.” Well not much has changed since his original statement over 50 years ago.

Most congregations welcome those who don’t look like them. All are welcome if or when they come. But they are still segregated because they’ve never made adjustments in order to be intentionally welcoming to those who don’t look like them. They might even imagine how great it would be if their church was filled with people of all colors, nationalities, economic levels, generations and even political ideologies. The impasse in this scenario, however, is that they imagine how great this could be as long as they are willing to worship the same way we do.

Why are we so accepting and accommodating of racial and cultural diversities when we do missions around the world but not across the aisle? Welcoming worship means we are willing to adjust culturally, contextually and systematically not only there but also here.

Welcoming worship is not just what we do when we gather on Sunday, it’s also who we are and how we treat others on Monday. Welcoming intentionally considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored. Welcoming worship agrees that, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31).

Welcome worship is passive
Welcoming worship is active

Welcome is occasional
Welcoming is frequent

Welcome is accidental
Welcoming is deliberate

Welcome is comfortable
Welcoming stretches

Welcome controls
Welcoming unleashes

Welcome waits
Welcoming initiates

Welcome tolerates
Welcoming embraces

Welcome hoards
Welcoming gives away

Welcome is preferential
Welcoming is sacrificial

Welcoming agrees that those who don’t look like us didn’t get less of the image of God. So welcoming worship loves, honors and praises the Father by loving all of those He loves. Could worship be any more profound?

If we are not meant to be segregated when we worship in Heaven,
then why are we so segregated when we worship on earth?

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Nov 20 2017

Please Stop with the Worship Revolutions!

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Revolution

In the rush to do something new and fresh or in an attempt to imitate another congregation, worship planners and leaders sometimes radically change the worship practices of their church. With total disregard for the foundations that framed their existing practices they arbitrarily blow up their worship without considering where the pieces might land.

Worship change by revolution always causes unnecessary pain and relational conflict. So maybe if adjustments are indeed necessary, what most of those congregations actually need is not a revolution but instead a reevaluation.

Revolution is the forcible overthrow or renunciation of an existing system or structure in order to substitute another. It is the repudiation and thorough replacement of what presently exists without considering what still holds value. This radical and pervasive change most often occurs suddenly without giving consideration to the potential fall-out. And in a revolution…one side always loses.

Reevaluation is the contemplation or examination of something again in order to make adjustments or form new opinions about it. It offers a congregation an opportunity to consider how they can prayerfully add to rather than randomly take away. Reevaluation gives them time to change or get better at what they are presently doing through a unified process of rethinking, revisiting and reinvestigating. And in a reevaluation…all sides are considered.

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Nov 6 2017

Facing Worship Leader Ageism…Stick the Landing!

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gymnasticsA gymnastic competition can be won or lost in the landing. So even if you flip, vault, tuck and twist well during the routine, it isn’t considered a success unless you can also stick the landing.

Halftime is over and some of us are even 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 doesn’t seem to be helping some of us finish well. So how can we stay viable, battle ageism and keep from coasting in order to stick the landing?

Learn something new – When we lose the resolve to learn, we lose the resolve to lead. Depending only on what we once learned means we’re only prepared to lead a worship ministry that no longer exists. So it’s never too soon or too late to learn something new. Eric Hoffer wrote, “It is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

Force Quit – Computer programs are sometimes slow or can even freeze up and 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 recalibrating for a fresh start where we are now.

Study a foreign language – Famed basketball coach John Wooden stated, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” So even though we might be fluent in previous worship languages, we also need to learn the musical and technological vernacular of modern worship and what might follow it.

Get another job – Agreeing that worship leader ageism is unjust or theologically suspect doesn’t change its reality. So we can choose to live in a constant state of fear in the second half 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. And retooling could allow us to extend our shelf life and stick the landing where we are now or where God might call us next.

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Oct 16 2017

Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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

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

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

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

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

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Aug 21 2017

If Only Is Holding Worship Hostage

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

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

If only we would sing more or less hymns.

If only we had a younger worship leader.

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

If only we still had a choir.

If only our services were more creative.

If only we had a better worship band.

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

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

If only we were still holding a hymnal.

If only they would let my granddaughter sing a solo.

If only we were like that other church.

If only we still had special music.

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

If only the people looked and spoke more like us.

If only we talked about money less and politics more.

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

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

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

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Aug 7 2017

10 Signs You’re Having an Affair with Worship Ministry

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

10 Signs You’re Having an Affair with Worship Ministry
  • You always ask how something might impact your worship leading before asking how it might impact your marriage.
  • You find more in common with worship team members and consequently, compare your spouse to them.
  • You expect your spouse to have the same passion for your worship leadership as you do.
  • You attend worship conferences in exotic locations but never have enough time for a romantic weekend getaway.
  • Most text messages are to/from band members instead of your spouse.
  • You spend your evenings on YouTube, Spotify and Planning Center so you’re not really home emotionally and relationally even when you’re home physically.
  • You assume leading worship is a higher calling than what your spouse is called to.
  • You have a different spiritual persona on the platform than you do at home.
  • The newest song text instead of the name of your spouse is on your lips when you go to sleep.
  • The affirmation you get from leading worship feeds you more than the affirmation you get at home.
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Jul 3 2017

7 Ways to Get Rid of Worship Volunteers

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

 

  • Compare them with others

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

 

  • Come to rehearsals unprepared

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

 

  • Treat them like backup musicians

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

 

  • Consider them as just volunteers

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

 

  • Never affirm them publicly or privately

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

 

  • Never give them a break

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

 

  • Make all worship decisions for them

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

If worship volunteers aren’t validated in the ministry you lead, then they will look for another ministry where they are.
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Jun 12 2017

10 Skills Worship Leaders Should Rehearse More

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

  1. Learning more new names than new songs.
  2. Welcoming interruptions.
  3. Appreciating what could be without depreciating what was.
  4. Putting your guitar down long enough to communicate.
  5. Offering grace even when it’s undeserved.
  6. Filtering responses theologically before musically.
  7. Changing your attitude before changing the music.
  8. Making more deposits than withdrawals.
  9. Collaborating, uniting, communicating and then repeating.
  10. Spending more time scripturally before leading musically.
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Jun 5 2017

When Ministry Is Hard…Remember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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May 1 2017

Worship Leaders Must Be Sherpas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 28 2017

20 Paradoxologies

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

20 Paradoxologies

  1. Opening worship song.
  2. A song’s age determines its worship relevance.
  3. God showed up.
  4. Passive worship.
  5. Attire dictates worship success.
  6. Less Scripture and prayer gives more time for worship.
  7. A sermon follows the worship.
  8. We didn’t like worship today.
  9. Explain worship mystery.
  10. Worship music is always louder when you don’t like it.
  11. Recreating a worship experience.
  12. Worship without sacrifice.
  13. Consider musicology before theology.
  14. Implementing a worship formula.
  15. Changing worship will grow your church.
  16. Pretentious worship.
  17. How to market your worship.
  18. Planning evangelistic worship.
  19. Culture influences worship.
  20. Patriotic worship service.
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Mar 20 2017

Calling Worship Songs Up for A Cup of Coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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Mar 13 2017

Not Our Kind of People: 6 Intercultural Worship Musts

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.  We must become ethnodoxologists.

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

3.  We must be mutually inconvenienced.

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

4.  We must stop living monocultural lives.

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

5.  We must have intercultural platforms.

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

6.  We must become uncomfortable with injustice.

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

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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Mar 6 2017

Some Worship Leaders Should Just Quit

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

But what if we are or aren’t doing some things that are contributing to an early ministry departure? Aren’t we called to do everything we can possibly do here instead of just hoping it will be different when we move there?

Relational instead of musical deficiencies seem to be at the root of many forced worship leader terminations. And yet, most worship leaders spend the majority of their time just trying to improve themselves musically. The reality is we can never learn and teach enough new songs to make up for relationship and leadership failures.

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

Quit…

  • Coming in late and leaving early.
  • Blaming others when you drop the ball.
  • Using artistry as an excuse for laziness.
  • Depending on music alone to fix relationships.
  • Assuming all problems began somewhere else.
  • Trying to pastor from the platform alone.
  • Looking for shortcuts or excuses and pay the rent.
  • Coasting at the beginning of the week and scrambling at the end.
  • Coming to rehearsals and meetings unprepared.
  • Trying to make changes without seeking buy-in.
  • Expecting others to change first.
  • Viewing relationships as artistic interruptions.
  • Holding volunteers to a bar you aren’t trying to reach.
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Jan 23 2017

Improving Evangelical Curb Appeal in 2017

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

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

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

10 Ways We Lost Our Curb Appeal in 2016
  1. We united around what we were against rather than what we were for.
  2. Politics determined our theology.
  3. Formerly inclusive guardrails became exclusive litmus tests.
  4. We blurred the lines between commandments and amendments.
  5. We claimed theologically and philosophically to be racially diverse, yet still segregated relationally and practically.
  6. Politicism superseded evangelism.
  7. We no longer encouraged or even allowed critical thinking.
  8. Friendly fire contributed to our net loss.
  9. We hated the practices of culture more than we loved the people in it.
  10. We justified meanness in the name of guarding religious territory.
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Jan 9 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan 3 2017

Uptight Worship Leaders Need Fartleks in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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