A Letter to Pastors and Worship Leaders in Conflict

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conflictDear Pastor and Worship Leader in Conflict,

You’ll never convince your congregation to live in community as long as the two of you continue to live in isolation. If Jesus as your model for ministry called those with whom he served his friends, then shouldn’t you be doing the same?

It might seem like you’re high functioning now by depending on your own strengths and gifts alone. But even when you realize some success alone there will come a time when you will fail, also alone. So maybe it’s time to figure out what’s contributing to your conflict. Maybe it’s time to admit all your strife didn’t originate in someone else’s office. Maybe it’s time to spend as much time on your relationship as you’ve been spending on ministry job placement sites. And maybe it’s time to stop expecting the people in the pews to be unified when the people on the platform aren’t.

Maybe you are in conflict because you’re always willing to pastor the members of your congregation, but not each other. None of us are immune from the struggles of life such as depression, physical or mental health issues, marital conflict, errant children or financial stress. So if the two of you aren’t willing to pastor each other when you’re facing similar issues, who will? And pastoring each other will help protect you both from your own stupidity.

Maybe you are in conflict because you don’t love or really even like each other that much. Scripture reminds us to love God first, then our neighbors as ourselves. Your closest neighbor beyond your family should be those with whom you serve in ministry. So what might occur if you learned to love each other more than you loved getting your own way?

Maybe you are in conflict because you aren’t praying for each other. Praying that God will call one of you to another ministry is not praying for each other, it’s selfishly praying for yourself. Praying for each other requires communication, vulnerability and trust. Interceding for each other may not change your ministry colleague but it can sure change you.

Maybe you are in conflict because you never share ministry together. Just because your ministry position allows you to have the last word doesn’t mean it has to be your word. Shared ministry publicly and privately affirms the calling of each other. Sharing means you are no longer guarded or territorial since you’ll both get the credit and blame. The result is that successes are maximized and failures minimized.

Maybe you are in conflict because you never play together. You encourage your congregants to develop communal relationships of fellowship and fun, yet the two of you won’t even grab coffee or play golf together. In the Acts 2 church they spent time together, had things in common, broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. Those relationships are often foreign to the two of you.

And finally, just maybe once you’ve worked through some of these conflicts you’ll realize it’t true that two are better than one, because you’ll have a better return on your labor. And you’ll also realize that if you fall, someone will be beside you to help you up (Eccl 4:9-10).

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Songs God Doesn’t Like

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AmosThe psalmist points out that God takes pleasure in the praise of his people through music… “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people” (Psalm 149:3-4). Zephaniah wrote, “the Lord our God is with us and rejoices over us with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

So if the Father takes pleasure in our praise and sings over us, are there certain musical genres in which he takes more pleasure or conversely, doesn’t like? Many of us assume the styles we like and don’t like answers that question.

Scripture, however, speaks to the issue of worship that is or isn’t pleasing to God on several occasions. The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

Amos criticized music that is ego driven when he wrote, “I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me? Do you know what I want? I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want” (Amos 5:21-23 The Message).

The book of Isaiah indicates which songs God doesn’t prefer when the author writes, “The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13).

So claiming to know what music God likes because he surely likes what we know isn’t what pleases God. Scripture reminds us that his pleasure is not contingent on what we sing at all, but instead the condition of the heart from which it is sung.

May the words of Paul be our prayer then as we sing our various styles of songs together, “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ – the Message – have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God” (Colossians 3:15-16 The Message)!

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Communion: Please, Sir, I Want Some More

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CommunionOliver Twist and scores of other orphan boys toiled in the miserable existence of a workhouse. They labored long hours subsisting on three paltry meals of gruel, a watery food substance of unknown character offering little nutritional value.

On one occasion, the boys drew lots to determine who would represent them to ask for more food. Oliver was selected and timidly moved forward with his bowl in his hands to make the iconic request, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

One of the caretakers shrieked, “What? More?” And Oliver and the other boys were chased around the tables by a band of well-fed caretakers.[1]

Our understanding of symbolism at the Lord’s Table has degenerated into a substance of unknown character offering little nutritional value. We know we have a spiritual mandate to regularly observe it, yet often wonder if this is all there is.

So why couldn’t we ask for more within the parameters of our doctrines and denominations without being chased around the Table by a band of well-fed doctrinal caretakers?

For many congregations, observing Communion has become so routine that it no longer calls forth the reality it symbolizes. So there is a need to discover it again with such freshness that it would be like experiencing it for the first time.[2]

Asking for more might cause us to grieve and weep, but it also might cause us to celebrate and shout.

Asking for more means the remembrance is rarely manifested in the same way twice. And that’s why we return often.

Asking for more means we mourn Jesus’ death and burial, but also celebrate his resurrection and promised return.

Asking for more not only remembers how his sacrifice impacted our past, but also how it will influence our future.

Asking for more means that it’s not just Jesus’ story but also our story as we’re invited to step into his story.

Asking for more means we must actively engage, not passively observe.

Asking for more doesn’t change the physical characteristics of the elements, it changes us.

Once we grasp the magnitude of that symbolism at the Communion Table we’ll never again have to ask if this is all there is. In fact, we may actually receive immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

 

[1] Oliver Twist is the second novel written by author, Charles Dickens and was first published as a serial from 1837-39.

[2] Adapted from Kenneth Chafin, “Discovering and Preaching the Ordinances Again for the First Time,” in Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, ed. Walter B. Shurden (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), 129.

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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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10 Worship Service Disruptors

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disruptors
Nostalgia
Nostalgia can cause a congregation to romanticize, idealize and even embellish past worship practices to coerce present generations to perpetuate that past. The end result is worship that attempts to re-create divine moments, events or even seasons based almost completely on the emotions that were originally stirred.

Greeting
The worship service Meet and Greet can cause anxiety sweats and heart palpitations for first time guests and congregational introverts. Some see it as shallow, contrived and intimidating. So what is intended to welcome can sometimes alienate.

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

Passivity
Spectators attend or watch an event. They could be fans or foes depending on who is playing and what is being played. And it seems like they are in the game just because they are in the stands. But if worshipers are never more than bystanders while others do it all for them, then how can we expect them to transform from spectators into participators?

Localism
If we aren’t exhorting our congregations and modeling for them how to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse; then we are leading worship as an event that occurs only when we gather in our building. Worship is a daily occurrence, not a weekly locale.

Traditionalism
Worship traditionalism begins when we take a good thing (how we worship) and make it the only thing. Traditionalism has forgotten the foundational tenets of why we worship and landed on how we worship. Traditionalism always begins with what we prefer, what we’ve earned, what we like or what our past demands.

Cheerleading
Cheerleaders generate spirit and rally enthusiasm. To motivate their congregations, worship leaders can sometimes display similar traits. But worship leaders are not cheerleaders. They can’t generate the Spirit of God through synchronized actions and song selections. Those actions might prompt, exhort, encourage or even prod more response but they can’t generate the revelation.

Egocentrism
We are created in God’s image, not He in ours. We should, therefore, step into His story instead of expecting Him to step into ours. Our worship acknowledges a conversation that he started and invites us to join. So if we create worship just to accommodate our needs, then the god we worship looks a lot like us.

Announcements
Little or no preparation is given to announcements that let the church know how to be the church when they leave. The result is a long-winded discourse of verbosity, clichés and detours that have little to do with worship. Maybe we should spend as much time praying over and rehearsing our worship service announcements as we spend praying over and rehearsing our songs.

Experientialism
We can sing certain songs or even styles of songs because of how they make us feel but never move beyond those feelings to worship. And if we don’t experience certain feelings because we don’t know or like the songs, we can leave the service believing worship didn’t occur. We don’t experience worship we experience God.

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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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Worship Without Justice Is Dishonest

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justiceJustice has been culturally and religiously politicized as the involuntary redistribution of something we’ve earned or deserve. But its politicization is really just the fear of losing control of something that Scripture says was not ours to begin with. And that attitude is actually just the opposite of worship that offers our bodies as a living sacrifice.

Godly justice diminishes those political overtones by reminding me that loving my neighbor as I love myself is also an act of worship, even if my neighbor is not always lovely.

Amos criticized the shallow and even dishonest worship evident in the worship practices of the Israelites. They were more concerned about what they brought to their worship than where they took their worship. So Amos wrote, “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).

Singing our songs to express our love for Jesus on Sunday without also expressing our love for others on Monday is at least disingenuous, if not dishonest. So it really means we are hungering for worship that isn’t leading us to have a heart for the hungry.[1]

God is looking for something beyond the activity of our worship at church, beyond our corporate expressions alone. God’s word constantly reminds us that we can’t say we love Him (worship) and ignore our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner and ignore the oppressed. Because when we do, our worship becomes a lie.[2]

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 38.

[2] Ibid., 71.

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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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Why Are We Praying Less and Singing More?

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prayerPrayer has been demoted to the role of a worship service starter, stuffer, and stopper. Instead of a profound conversation with the Father as a primary act of worship, it has been plugged in as a transitional appendage.

So it serves as the seventh inning stretch before the sermon; it breaks up the song sets when keys aren’t relative; it moves the worship band on the platform; and it allows the pastor to discreetly make his way up the aisle to shake hands after the service.

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because our worship service prayers are not that deep. Song texts have been parsed, prayed over, and practiced, while our prayers are often played by ear. The spontaneous prayer may be sincere, but it’s often not very profound. Spontaneity needs to be supported by an intense prayer life. It’s hard to go where you haven’t been.[1]

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because prayer is an easy language to fake. We can pretend to pray, use acceptable words of prayer, practice forms of prayer, assume postures of prayer, acquire a reputation for prayer, and never really pray.[2]

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because we actually require our soloists, choirs, orchestras, worship teams, and bands to rehearse ahead of time. So if worship service prayer preparations were as stringent as those for our musical offerings, then maybe we’d consider singing a little less in order to pray a little more. Then maybe our worship service prayers would again be considered foundational instead of supplemental.

 

[1] Hughes Oliphant Old, Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 5.

[2] Eugene H. Peterson, as quoted in Harold M. Best, Dumbfounded Praying (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), xii.

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Worship that Doesn’t Stop and Start

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Harold BestHarold Best wrote, “While it is currently popular to say that all of life is worship, there seems to be little thought given to a theology of worship that makes comprehensive sense out of this statement.”[1]

A theological foundation of continuous worship, therefore, must be found in the understanding that if God continually outpours and we are created in his image, then we too should be continual outpourers. But since our outpouring is fallen it needs redeeming or it will outpour on false gods. So salvation is the only way continuous biblical worship is possible.[2]

So with that theological foundation to frame our understanding of worship that doesn’t stop and start, consider the following Harold Best quotes from Unceasing Worship.

“We are, every one of us, unceasing worshipers and will remain so forever, for eternity is an infinite extrapolation of one of two conditions: a surrender to the sinfulness of sin unto infinite loss or the commitment of personal righteousness unto infinite gain.”[3]

 

“Once we place emphasis on specific times, places and methods, we misunderstand worship’s biblical meaning. Worship may ebb and flow, may take on various appearances and may be unconscious or conscious, intense and ecstatic or quiet and commonplace, but it is continuous.”[4]

 

“When we sin, worship does not stop. It changes directions and reverts back to what it once was, even if only for an instant. Repentance – the turning from and (re)turning to – is the only solution.”[5]

 

“Outpouring surpasses measuring out or filling quotas, even to the extent that it does not matter if some of it spills over in gracious waste. I think of Mary’s caring carelessness when she anointed Jesus’ feet. The room would not have been filled with such abundant fragrance had she merely tithed it out. It was the waste (both a Judas word and holy word) that was so magnificent and intoxicating.”[6]

 

“Whatever character or attribute God inherently possesses and pours out, we were created finitely to show and to pour out after his manner.”[7]

 

“We worship by faith. Worship is no more started up because we have pushed the faith button than our faith is started because we have pushed the worship button. Saving faith is not a different kind of faith than continuing faith. We do not step into or out of faith, nor do we step into or out of worship. Therefore, continual worship is not a different substance than worship that takes place at a set time and in a certain place.”[8]

 

“We do not go to church to worship. But as continuing worshipers, we gather ourselves together to continue our worship, but now in the company of brothers and sisters.”[9]

 

“When we place the responsibility for worship outside ourselves and not inside, where Christ is, we miss the biblical point of ongoing worship.”[10]

 

“Continuous outpouring demands continuous intaking, as long as it is not the “I wonder if I’ll get fed today” type. This is not intaking but spiritualized laziness.”[11]

 

“Oh, that we would stop creating the menus and let the Lord feed us out of the plentitude of his continuous outpouring till we entered the paradoxical condition of hungering while being filled.”[12]

 

“Lives of continued worship cannot but be lives of continued prayer, since continuing worship is itself a continued and continuously varied conversation with the One who lives within us. It should be an unbroken continuum, a breathing in and out, a full articulation of all that we are in Christ throughout all our days.”[13]

 

“It is erroneous to assume that the arts, especially music, are to be depended on to lead to worship or that they are aids to worship or tools for worship. If we think this way, we fuel two untruths at once. The first is that worship is something that can start and stop, and worse, that music or some other artistic or human device bears the responsibility for doing the starting or the facilitating. The second is related to the first: music and the arts have a kind of power in themselves that can be falsely related to or equated with Spirit power, so much so that the presence of God seems all the more guaranteed and the worshiper sees this union of artistic power and Spirit power as normal, even anticipated.”[14]

 

“Continuous outpouring is above all a personal responsibility and only then a corporate one. It is therefore of fundamental importance that all authentic worshipers be sure that they are so firmly rooted in Christ that their individuality is never lost in the rush of spiritualized sameness. It is further important that every authentically worshiping assembly find its local and unique place in the kingdom, not glancing over its shoulder, looking here and there for an outside stimulus to inspire and steer it.”[15]

 

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

[2] Ibid., 10.

[3] Ibid., 17-18.

[4] Ibid., 18-19.

[5] Ibid., 19.

[6] Ibid., 20.

[7] Ibid., 23.

[8] Ibid., 28.

[9] Ibid., 47.

[10] Ibid., 61

[11] Ibid., 65.

[12] Ibid., 72.

[13] Ibid., 99.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., 209

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Sunday Worship Tailgating

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TailgatingThe Eagles and Patriots will face off this Sunday in the 2018 Super Bowl. Just as it has every Sunday of the NFL season, tailgating will inevitably be a major part of the pregame activities. These intentional events merge family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers in the common objective of preparing for the game that will follow.

Most participants will select their clothes the night before so they can jump into them like firefighters the next morning. They’ll probably awaken before dawn and inhale breakfast in order to depart early enough to get a prime spot. All conversation traveling to the event will certainly focus on what they’ll observe, experience, participate in, be challenged by and remember at the end of the day.

So what if our preparation for Sunday worship resonated with even a hint of that kind of anticipation and excitement? Pre-service preparation is radically different than just abdicating that responsibility to worship leaders to accomplish during the first song.

It’s not enough to sing, “Your praise will ever be on my lips” as we gather on Sunday if we haven’t even thought about it on Saturday. So if we aren’t prepared on Sunday to respond to God’s countless blessings that occurred during the week, how can we expect worship leaders to ever lead enough songs to prepare us?

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

1. Internal preparation of heart. Each worshiper carries the responsibility for personal preparation of his/her heart. If God calls us to worship him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), then we must ask questions about the state of our spirit. Yet, how often do we even ask ourselves if our hearts are ready for worship?

2. Pre-arrival preparation. We may want to call it “pre-Sabbath” preparation. We can learn from the Jews who believe Sabbath begins at sundown. Our activities on the evening before worship will have a formative affect, positively or negatively, on our readiness for worship on Sunday morning. Also, our personal schedule between rising and the beginning of worship on Sunday morning will have a great deal of influence on our readiness of spirit.

3. Pre-service preparation. The short period of time between our arrival at church and the beginning of the worship service is also critical. Our interaction with friends reminds us that we are here as part of a body in relationship with others. A few moments to quiet our spirits might also enable us to leave some distractions behind and center ourselves in God. A time of reflective prayer could open our spirit to engage in a conversation with God. Even the visual appearance of the worship space will have an impact on our readiness. So how conscious are we of these critical minutes?[1]

Since worship does not start when we enter the worship service, it should not stop when we leave it. With that understanding I would recommend a fourth suggestion to their previous list:

4. Post-service continuation. Worship continues as we leave the worship service. It continues in our homes, at our schools and through our work. This final step leads the worshiper in a continuous circle back to step one. Harold Best calls it “unceasing worship”[2]

An old proverb states, “We only prepare for what we think is important.”

 

[1] Malefyt, Norma deWaal and Howard Vanderwell, Database online. Available from http://www.calvin.edu/worship/planning/insights/13.php.

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

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How Will They Remember Your Worship Leadership?

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legacyThere will come a time when God calls you to a new worship ministry position; you’ll be forced out of your present position; you’ll voluntarily step aside for a season; or you will retire from worship ministry completely.

So if or when one of these scenarios occurs, what will your church remember more about your worship leadership?

Will they remember…
  • How many new songs or new people’s names you knew?
  • How you uplifted or undermined your pastor?
  • How much you loved playing with your kids or playing your guitar?
  • How much theology or musicology you knew?
  • How you strived for harmony or sowed dissonance?
  • How you were too busy or welcomed divine interruptions?
  • How obsessed you were with fixing broken relationships or wrong notes?
  • How you controlled or empowered worship?
  • How you were a lifelong learner or didn’t need to learn anything new?
  • How you were threatened by evaluation or thrived on collaboration?
  • How you treated them as passive spectators or active participators?
  • How you planned and led with them or your next place of ministry in mind?
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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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10 Signs You’re a Worship Leading Pharisee

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PhariseeScripture classifies the Pharisees as the strictest of all the Jewish religious sects. Literally set apart from others, they clung to their laws and traditions even at the expense of God’s law. Jesus rebuked them numerous times for their hypocrisy, pretension and self-righteousness.

It’s easy as worship leaders to fall into that same trap of sanctimonious arrogance. We can lead from the impression that we alone have the ability and even right to be the sole proprietors of worship. When this pretentiousness occurs we care more about elevating ourselves and our own agendas than helping others in spirit and truth worship.

It’s true that worship leaders are usually the most talented in the room, so it’s always a challenge to be both upfront and unassuming. But if in the name of excellence or musical purity we start suggesting that what we lead and the style in which we lead it is the only tenable option, then we too can slide into Phariseeism.

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

10 Signs You’re A Worship Leading Pharisee

 

  • Worship service selections are determined by your favorite style instead of biblical and theological content.

“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9).

 

  • You disappear when it’s time to set up or tear down.

“They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt 23:4).

 

  • You lead “Your praise will ever be on my lips” in the service and then berate the tech team after the service.

“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt 15:8).

 

  • Your audience is not an audience of One.

“For they loved human praise more than praise from God” (John 12:43).

 

  • You accuse any ministry more successful than yours as being stylistically superficial, musically adulterated or theologically shallow.

“All the crowds were astounded and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’ When the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man drives out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons’” (Matt 12:24).

 

  • You canonize or criticize either hymns or modern worship songs.

“When the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonders that he did and the children shouting in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these children are saying” (Matt 21:15)?

 

  • You measure your level of artistry and spirituality against others.

“See, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath” (Matt 12:2).

 

  • You’ve made dressing up or dressing down a worship prerequisite.

“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long” (Matt 23:5).

 

  • You’ve created the false dichotomy that if your style is virtuous, then theirs can’t be.

“God, I thank you that I’m not like other people” (Luke 18:11).

 

  • Your mic must be a little hotter and your spot a little brighter than all others.

“They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues” (Matt 23:6).

 

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

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Reasons A Worship Leader Shouldn’t Take A Vacation

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vacation

Reasons A Worship Leader Shouldn’t Take A Vacation
  • Worship might actually occur without you.
  • Your substitute leader might do too good of a job.
  • The last word won’t be yours.
  • You’ll have to encourage and empower others to lead.
  • Church members won’t see your car parked at the church at all hours.
  • No one else can hold the musicians and tech team accountable.
  • Your identity will be shaped by your family instead of your work.
  • You might actually get some rest and renewal for a new season of ministry.
  • You won’t have an excuse for not reading and learning something new.
  • People at your vacation destination probably won’t recognize or revere you.

Most worship leaders just ended another year of busyness that culminated in a flurry of seasonal rehearsals, presentations and extra services. And since worship ministry often sanctifies busyness rather than freeing us from it, the end of one hectic season probably led immediately to another. So some of us are probably wondering if we have enough left in the tank to do it all again in 2018.

But 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 instead of planning to work your days off and shorten your vacations, maybe it’s time to schedule and guard those 2018 away days now. Your church will survive and thrive if you take that time off, but you and your family might not if you don’t.

Scheduling margins of recovery won’t endanger your worship ministry it will extend it.

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2 Worship Leading Achilles’ Heels

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AchillesThe legend is told that when Achilles was an infant, his mother dipped him into the river Styx to make him immortal. But since she held him by one heel, that spot didn’t touch the water so it remained mortal or vulnerable.

An Achilles’ heel is now idiomatic for a point of weakness or deficiency in spite of an overall strength. So if ignored or disregarded, that weak spot could potentially lead to failure.

As worship leaders, we’re not immune from our own Achilles’ heels. Relational instead of musical deficiencies seem to be at the root of most of those vulnerable places. And yet, we often invest the majority of our time and attention trying to improve musically only.

Arrogance and Aloofness are two of those Achilles’ heels that if ignored could lead to conflict or even failure.

Arrogance
Instead of a desire to be exalted, maybe our worship leading prayer should be instead, “Lord deliver us from ourselves.” Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Arrogance is when the image of the Lord has been replaced by a mirror.”

The worship leader who leads from the impression that he/she alone has the ability and even right to be the sole proprietor of the worship service often cares more about elevating him/herself than helping the congregation participate in spirit and truth worship.

So if you alone are holding onto the worship process as an arrogant gatekeeper that receives all the credit when something works, just remember that you’ll also receive all the credit when something doesn’t.

Aloofness
Aloofness is a state of being distant, remote, withdrawn and even unapproachable. The word probably originated from the Dutch word loef, meaning “the weather side of a ship.” It was originally a nautical order to keep the ship’s head to the wind to stay clear of the shore or some other object. So the term has evolved to mean someone who is set-apart, cool, uninvolved, disinterested or indifferent.

Worship leader aloofness can give the impression we are more concerned with how we lead than whom we lead. So it’s difficult to convey a deeper worship understanding to our congregations if we are trying to lead them from that set-apart artistic zone. Taking time to invest in the lives of others, however, can model a level of worship leadership that song selection and platform presence may never achieve.

Worship leaders should spend more time thinking about how they lead off the platform than how they look on it.
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Let’s Limit Sermons to Once a Quarter

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MoreCould you imagine the outcry from pastors and parishioners if sermons were limited to once a quarter or only on special occasions? We would obviously never hear such a suggestion in response to the Verbal Word of a sermon but often hear it in response to the Visual Word of Communion.

Our argument for the infrequency of Communion is so that it doesn’t become too ritualistic or repetitious and therefore, insignificant. But that is exactly what it has devolved into as we’ve continued to observe it as supplemental instead of foundational.

Communion has become so mundane that it no longer calls forth the reality it symbolizes. So maybe it’s time to discover it again each time with such freshness that it would be like experiencing it for the first time.[1]

We must stop being afraid of making too much of the Table that we keep making too little of it. Because observing it actively instead of passively or foundationally instead of supplementally doesn’t change the physical characteristics of the elements…it changes us.

Repeating Communion frequently doesn’t minimize its value, it enhances it. Repetition allows us to go this time where we might not have had the resolve to go last time. Because this ordinance is sufficiently deep, it allows us to swim more deeply no matter how many times we step into it.[2]

Communion reminds us not only what Jesus did but also what He continues to do. Each observance gives us another chance to recall the story of His life, the sorrow of His death, the joy of His resurrection and the hope of His return. So we can’t possibly go that deep when we limit it to one time a quarter.

 

[1] Adapted from Kenneth Chafin, “Discovering and Preaching the Ordinances Again for the First Time,” in Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, ed. Walter B. Shurden (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), 129.

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

 

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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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Large Church Worship Leader Wannabes? Um, No!

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Big ChurchBrent was recently called to serve as the full-time worship pastor for a large church. He is responsible for multiple worship bands, multiple choral groups and multiple services.

Brandon was recently called to serve as the volunteer worship leader for a small church. He is responsible for a keyboard, cajon and whatever singers he can recruit each week for a single service.

Brent and Brandon have both responded to a divine calling to lead worship. So who’s calling is more significant?

The usual perception is that a bigger church is always better or size determines significance. So smaller church leaders are often viewed as mediocre representations of larger church leaders, as worship leaders in waiting, as juniors to their senior counterparts or as large church wannabes.

But church statistical information doesn’t agree with that perception. Actual figures indicate that 95 percent of American churches average 350 or less in worship and 75-80 percent of those congregations average 150 or less. And according to a recent study from the Hartford Institute, more than half are under 100. So instead of being second-rate, those smaller church worship leaders actually represent the norm or largest majority of churches nationwide.

Small church worship leaders are often like Angus MacGyver, the secret agent in an action-adventure television series in the ‘80s. MacGyver was able to find clever solutions and solve complex problems with whatever he had on hand. If he wanted to survive each week, he created something unbelievable with what was available.

Worship leaders in smaller churches have realized that loving God and their neighbors is never contingent on congregational size, resources or abilities. And they are usually accomplishing successful worship ministry every week while holding down a full-time job outside the church. So instead of large church wannabes, they are worship leading heroes and models for ministry success who daily respond to God’s call to use what they have where they are.

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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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Signs Your Worship Is Out of Tune

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tuning forkA tuning fork is a u-shaped acoustic resonator made from an elastic metal. Its tines vibrate at a constant pitch by striking them against a hard surface. Once struck, a tuning fork emits a pure musical tone that is used as a standard to tune a variety of instruments.

A standard is defined as a conspicuous object such as a flag, banner or emblem used to mark a rallying point in battle. It is the basis or model to which something else should be compared. And it is something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, value or quality.

A.W. Tozer wrote, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow.”[1] So what is the standard to which your worship is tuned?

Your worship is out of tune…
  • If what’s in it for me is your standard.
  • If coat and tie or untucked shirt and jeans is your standard.
  • If hymns or modern worship songs is your standard.
  • If the habits, methods, styles and practices of another congregation or artist is your standard.
  • If musical excellence alone is your standard.
  • If worship band, orchestra, choir or worship team is your standard.
  • If when and where you worship is your standard.
  • If fixed or free liturgy is your standard.
  • If the creativity of novelty or the comfort of nostalgia is your standard.

But if your standard is instead who, why and in what power we worship…the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then your worship will always be perfectly tuned.[2]

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.

 

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Vancouver, BC: Eremitical Press, 2009), 90.

[2] Ibid.

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10 Powerful N.T. Wright Worship Quotes

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N.T. Wright

 

  • The closer you get to the truth, the clearer becomes the beauty, and the more you will find worship welling up within you. That’s why theology and worship belong together.
  • When we begin to glimpse the reality of God, the natural reaction is to worship him. Not to have that reaction is a fairly sure sign that we haven’t yet really understood who he is or what he’s done.
  • You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.
  • True worship doesn’t put on a show or make a fuss; true worship isn’t forced, isn’t half-hearted, doesn’t keep looking at its watch, doesn’t worry what the person in the next pew is doing.
  • Worship is love on its knees before the beloved; just as mission is love on its feet to serve the beloved.
  • Worship is the glad shout of praise that arises to God the creator and God the rescuer from the creation that recognizes its maker, the creation that acknowledges the triumph of Jesus the Lamb. That is the worship that is going on in heaven, in God’s dimension, all the time. The question we ought to be asking is how best we might join in.
  • The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world…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 one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.
  • We cannot worship the suffering God today and ignore him tomorrow. If we say or sing, as we often do, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,” we thereby commit ourselves, in love, to the work of making his love known to the world that still stands so sorely in need of it. This is not the god the world wants. This is the God the world needs.
  • Worship is humble and glad, worship forgets itself in remembering God; worship celebrates the truth as God’s truth, not its own.
  • True worship is open to God, adoring God, waiting for God, trusting God even in the dark.[1]

 

[1] All quotes are taken from the writings of Nicholas Thomas Wright. Wright is a leading British New Testament scholar, Pauline theologian and retired Anglican bishop. He has written extensively about the relationship of theology and the Christian life and is the author of over 70 books.

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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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Sing Them Out

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sendingSING THEM OUT 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid., 21-2.

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Songs When We Can’t Find the Words

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

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

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

Martha Freeman writes, “Tears can enhance our vision, giving us new eyes that discern traces of the God who suffers with us. There is comfort in those tears. They bring fresh understanding that God is nearby, sharing our humanity in all its bitterness and all its blessedness.”[3]

 

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

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

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

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Worship As A One-Sided Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Worship with Room for Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Your Worship Doesn’t Measure Up

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

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

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

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

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

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We Can’t Usher Worshipers into the Presence of God

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

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

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

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

 

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

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The Relentless Split: Either Hymns Or Modern Songs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Songs That Teach and Admonish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

  • Speak the Gospel.

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

 

  • Are easy to follow and understand.

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

 

  • Are sung with integrity.

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

 

  • Engage more than emotions.

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

 

  • Encourage action.

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

 

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

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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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No Wonder Our Worship Seems Shallow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

[1] Isaiah 55:9

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

[3] Romans 1:33 CSB

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Is Music Killing Your Worship?

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

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

Scripture

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

Prayer

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

Lord’s Supper/Communion

Some of our church cultures limit the Lord’s Supper as a foundational worship element, believing its frequency can encourage monotony. But maybe in our infrequency we are missing two worship actions and interactions only available at the Table: the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion of believers unified in identity and relationships at the Table.

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

 

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

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Sunday Worship: Starting a Fire from Scratch

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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20 Timeless A.W. Tozer Worship Quotes

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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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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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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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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Is Hallmark Planning Your Worship Services?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

[3] Carson, Transforming Worship, 56.

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

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10 Awkward Worship Meet and Greet Handshakes

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

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

 

sweatyThe Sweaty Palm

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

 

 

 

crusherThe Crusher

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

 

 

 

queenThe Queen

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

 

 

 

dead fishThe Dead Fish

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

 

 

 

PoliticianThe Politician

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

 

 

 

 

stiff armThe Stiff Armer

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

 

 

 

pullerThe Grip and Puller 

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

 

 

 

huggerThe Hand Hugger

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

 

 

 

BroThe Bro

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

 

 

 

fist bumpThe Fist Bumper

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

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5 Things Worship Music Isn’t

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Five Things

Worship

Music

Isn’t 

It isn’t music theory

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

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

It isn’t necessary

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

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

It isn’t a substitute

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

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

It isn’t an inviter

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

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

It isn’t a starter or stopper

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

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

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An Open Letter to the Potential Pulpit Bully

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bullyingDear Potential Pulpit Bully,

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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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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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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A Modern Parable for Worship Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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