Sep 2 2022

Cheap Church Attendance

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Cheap Church Attendance asks,

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

Costly Church Attendance asks,

“What’s in it of me?”

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

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

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

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

  • Am I looking not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4)?
  • Am I seeking my own good, or the good of my neighbor (1 Cor. 10:24)?
  • Am I responding from rivalry or conceit, or in humility am I counting others more significant than myself (Phil 2:3)?
  • Am I bearing the burdens of others, and so fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)?
  • Am I causing quarrels and fights among us? Are my passions at war within me (James 4:1)?
  • Am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength and also loving my neighbor as I love myself (Mark 12:30-31)?
  • Am I presenting my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is my spiritual worship? Am I conforming to this world, or am I being transformed by the renewal of my mind (Rom. 12:1-2)?
  • Am I walking in love, as Christ loved me and gave himself up for me, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2)?
  • Am I acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God (Micah 6:8)?
  • Am I gathering with unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Pet. 3:8)?
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Aug 26 2022

Why Your Pastor Is Flat Worn-Out

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

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

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

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

  • Before labeling every decision our pastors made or will make as nefarious or politically motivated, we should pray through those decisions as diligently as they have.
  • We should stop expecting our pastors to preach our politics. When we mix politics with preaching, we usually get politics.
  • Give them the benefit of the doubt. We seem to have forgotten that these are the same pastors we previously trusted to bless our marriages, baptize our children, and bury our parents.
  • Give them a break. They’ve been busier this season than ever before so we need to make it easier for them to take a Sabbath or get out of town.
  • We should pray for and defend our pastors even though we might not always agree with every decision they have made or will make.
  • Seminary didn’t prepare them for this kind of ministry. So, we need to give them grace when they don’t get it right every time.
  • Pastors need adequate study and preparation time to accurately present the Word of God each week. If we are filling their time trying to mollify us, then how can we not expect their sermon preparation and presentation to suffer?
  • If we do have valid concerns with the decisions or directions of our pastors, then we should talk to them instead of about them.
  • Our pastors have faithfully offered emotional, spiritual, and relational encouragement to us through this difficult season. Have we offered the same to them? And if we haven’t, then who will?
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Apr 22 2022

Worn-Out Pastor…He Is Able

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

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

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

Remember…

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

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

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Feb 14 2022

Ministry Conflict: Confusing Principles and Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan 17 2022

Post-Pandemic Church: Think Leaner Not Smaller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 29 2021

Ministry Prayer for 2022: Lord, Deliver Me From Myself

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

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

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

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

 

Litany of Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 15 2021

Pastor, Who Is Holding Your Rope?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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Nov 9 2021

Your Church Staff Deserves a Raise

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

  • Our church staff has faithfully offered emotional, spiritual, and relational encouragement to our church members through this difficult season. Have we offered the same to them? If not, then who has?
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Nov 1 2021

Pastor, Who’s Your Timothy?

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

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

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

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

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Sep 22 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 20 2021

8 Reasons to Stop Attending Ministry Conferences

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

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

  • If your post conference pattern is to imitate and implement everything you see without considering how or if it might fit in the culture or context of your own congregation…you should stop attending ministry conferences.

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

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

  • If you always return home disappointed in the place God has called you now and long for the place He will call you next…you should stop attending ministry conferences.

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

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

If, however, you can attend those conferences and filter the valuable insights through the context of your own uniquely positioned and distinctly designed congregation; if you implement what you observe out there only after determining how it might complement the gifts of those you already have in here; and if reevaluation instead of revolution and contentment instead of covetousness are your post-conference defaults; then by all means attend as many of those ministry conferences as your budget and calendar will allow.

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Aug 11 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 28 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 26 2021

20 Ways to Pray for Your Pastors

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  1. Pray they never sacrifice their families for ministry since family is ministry. 
  1. Pray that congregants will talk to them instead of about them.
  1. Pray for perseverance when they feel like their ministry shelf-life is speeding toward its expiration date.
  1. Pray that scripture and prayer instead of politics and popular culture is the foundation for their sermon and songs.
  1. Pray for healthier ministry staff relationships.
  1. Pray their days off will provide sabbath rest free from church stressors.
  1. Pray for their spiritual, physical, and emotional health.
  1. Pray they’ll be able to sift through the many responsibilities that compete for their attention and focus on the ones God wants them to do.
  1. Pray for the humility that causes them to wake up every morning feeling unqualified in their own power to do what God has called them to do.
  2. Pray Ephesians 4:29 over them, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
  3. Pray for them to daily recommit to their call here instead of dreaming about what it might be like to serve there.
  4. Pray they never confuse leading programs with leading people.
  5. Pray for them to engage congregants as participants instead of audiences.
  6. Pray for them during those difficult seasons of ministry when they are getting beat-up from all sides at the same time.
  7. Pray that other trusted leaders will walk with them, hold them accountable, and protect them.
  8. Pray for their almost insurmountable task of trying to stay current technologically and culturally.
  9. Pray for a great cloud of witnesses to surround them so they can fix their eyes on Jesus and run with endurance.
  10. Pray they will have the courage to ignore the loudest voice in the room if not God’s.
  11. Pray that the Lord will give them rest when they are weary, strength when they are weak, and restoration when their reserves are depleted.
  12. Pray that before criticizing their ministry decisions, congregants will pray through those decisions as much as those pastors have.
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May 5 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 3 2021

Creating Worship Tourists

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tourist photo

In Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard wrote, “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? The tourists are having coffee and doughnuts on Deck C. Presumably someone is minding the ship correcting the course, avoiding icebergs and shoals, fueling the engines, watching the radar screen and noting weather reports radioed from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things.”[1]

If we never involve our congregants as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition, and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators? Aren’t we really creating worship tourists who select their destination based solely on their impression of the platform tour guide and excursion offered rather than worship travelers on a continuous journey?

Tourists, on the one hand, sample other cultures as long as they aren’t too different from their own. They expect others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a tourist is always inconvenient because it discourages pleasure and preference. Tourists only scratch the surface and ask what, when, and how much. They only go where the map takes them, are there to experience the sites, aren’t willing to stray away from their native language, and always ask, “What’s in it for me.” Worship tourists are onlookers or observers, much like they would watch an event or game. They are audience members or spectators who might be a fan or foe depending on who is playing and what is being played. And they think they are in the game because they are in the stands.

Travelers, on the other hand, willingly immerse themselves in cultures even when they might be radically different from their own. They adjust instead of expecting others to adjust to them. Inconvenience for a traveler is never inconvenient because it encourages discovery. Travelers always dig deep and ask who and why. They go where the road takes them, are there to understand the sites, attempt to learn new languages, and always ask, “What’s in it of me.” Travelers are involved in the game because they are contributing to it. They relate to what is going on because it is larger than them. As participants they are engaged and involved in the game because they are actually on the field and not in the stands.

Leaders facilitate participative worship not by just depending on their own strengths and abilities but also by investing in the strengths and abilities of other congregants who are willing to subordinate their individual interests to the corporate concerns of the entire congregation. The leader who promotes participative worship taps into the collective resources and talents of others by affirming their value to worship health.

Participative worship is intentionally collaborative and is not guarded, territorial, or defensive. It trusts the creative abilities and resources of the whole in the planning, preparation, and implementation. Consequently, participatory leaders are not threatened when someone else gets their way or gets the credit. Participatory worship is a culture, not a one-time event.

Will Willimon wrote, “Many of the Sunday orders of worship consist of the pastor speaking, the pastor praying, the pastor reading, and the choir singing, with little opportunity for the congregation to do anything but sit and listen. When the Sunday service is simply a time to sit quietly, hear some good music and a good sermon, sing a hymn and then go home to eat dinner, no wonder many of our people get confused into thinking that Christ only wants passive admirers rather than active followers.”[2]

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we move our congregants from passive spectators to active participators?
  • What are we presently doing that may be discouraging or encouraging participative worship?
  • What are some of those worship-leadership elements we should be asking congregants to do so our leaders aren’t doing everything for them?
  • How will we know if we are accomplishing our goal of more congregational worship participation?

[1] Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 52.

[2] William H. Willimon, Preaching and Leading Worship (Philadelphia: West- minster, 1984), 20.

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

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Mar 15 2021

Playing Hurt: Pastoring Through Pain

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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Mar 10 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 22 2021

When Worship Ministry Is Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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Feb 15 2021

A Letter to the Younger Worship Leading Me

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Dear Younger Worship Leading Me,

In a few decades you are going to look back at your years of worship ministry with a desire for a second chance to handle some things differently. You will think about certain services, special events, entire seasons of ministry, or strained relationships and long for another opportunity to make some adjustments.

The reality is that it will be impossible for you to go back and make corrections to most of those situations. But with a little humility, resilience, and resolve now, you have an opportunity to get some of them right the first time. So here are a few things you are going to learn.

Surround yourself with those people who will stretch your thinking and actions but also hold you accountable. Taking necessary risks might cause you to make some mistakes, but the discernment of others will help protect you from your own stupidity. It might be exhilarating when you succeed alone, but it won’t be when you fail alone. And you will sometimes fail.

People will always remember how you treat them when you’re off the platform more than how you lead them on the platform, so learn more people’s names than new songs. Consider interruptions as divine appointments instead of distractions. Drink more coffee with senior adults and ask their opinions before initiating change. Be more patient with needy people and chronic takers. And remember to thank those who make sacrifices to invest in you, your family, and your ministry.

Be on the front end of learning new musical and technological languages. But don’t assume it’s always appropriate to be an early adopter of them. Being conversant in a language doesn’t mean it should be used when it doesn’t fit the voice of your congregation. Learn more theology than musicology, and practice leadership development more than you practice your guitar.

Always ask how something might impact your family before asking how it might impact your worship leading. Leave more things at the office when you go home, and be home when you are home. Taking a Sabbath each week will not only help your spiritual and physical health but also help the relational health of your family.

Stay longer instead of bailing for a new place of ministry every couple of years. If your ministry frequently moves your children away from their friends and foundations, then how can you expect them to like church when they are no longer required to attend?

What you know about worship leading now won’t be enough to sustain you through your entire ministry. Read more, study more, and ask more questions. Be a lifelong learner who understands it is never too soon or too late to learn something new.

Finally, I know it is sometimes overwhelming to balance the stresses of ministry and family. When leading worship is discouraging, when it seems like no generation is ever completely happy, when you can’t sing too many or too few hymns or modern worship songs, and when you wake up on Monday morning and wonder if this is really worth it, you can rest assured that you’ll also be able to look back at those decades of ministry and acknowledge with certainty that it was.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What worship-leading situation or relationship failure that occurred in the past would we handle differently if we had the chance?
  • What safeguards could we put in place to make sure the same situation doesn’t occur again?
  • How successful are we at stretching one another’s thinking and holding one another accountable?
  • With our limited time together to get ready for Sunday, how can we continue to learn new worship principles and practices in addition to new songs?

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

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Feb 8 2021

Worship That Crosses the Rubicon

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

_____________________

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

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

 

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

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Jan 25 2021

Sing Me Into Heaven

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The purpose of our worship-service music isn’t to prepare our hearts for something else. It doesn’t just set the table for the sermon. Paul exhorted the saints at Ephesus to be filled with the Spirit by speaking to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19). It doesn’t sound like Paul thought worship music was only a supporting role.

Teaching proclaims or makes something known by precept, example, and experience. It exhorts, instructs, exposits, and applies. And it communicates to us and through us.

Admonition urges us not just to hear but to do. It reproves, advises, and counsels in order to correct our thinking. It encourages us to right what is wrong in order to redirect our attitudes and motives.

Our worship songs won’t be seen as just service starters if they quicken the conscience through the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God, and devote the will to the purpose of God.[1] The theology we sing is not just an appetizer before the main course when it teaches and admonishes us to be doers and not just hearers.

Several years ago I attended a memorial service for a godly friend and former volunteer music minister. “Sing me into heaven” was his final request as his musical family gathered around his hospital bed in his last hours of life. That grieving family honored his wishes by recalling and singing every sacred song they could remember. What a comforting way to enter into eternity.

Hope can be found when we realize we are never singing those sacred songs alone. The prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17). And Scripture tells us that Jesus as our high priest is seated at the right side of the throne of majesty and is interceding for us (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). So, even when our songs are choked with emotion God is singing over us and Jesus is interceding for us.

Darryl Tippen wrote, “Without music we are left with talk. The trouble with talk is that it tends to position the speaker in a place of power. It puts one in charge, which can border on a dangerous conceit when it comes to reporting on the Almighty. A different, humbler posture of spirit emerges in worship and song. When we are singing, there is a sense that we are not in charge.”[2]

Singing is a language that allows us to embody our love for our creator. It is a means God has given us to communicate our deepest affections, to have our thoughts exquisitely shaped, and to have our spirits braced for the boldest of obedience.[3]

Our bodies, emotions, and intellect are mysteriously connected when we sing. Christian songs are effective because they implant the truths of the faith in our hearts, not just in our heads. They rehearse the stories of Scripture. In word and sound we experience Gethsemane, the cross, and the resurrection. We remember our sinfulness, our need for redemption, our duty to our neighbor, and the promise of eternal life.[4]

With that understanding, “sing me into heaven” becomes not only a final request but also an ongoing challenge for worship leaders and congregants each time they align their spirits and voices in congregational song.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What can we do differently in our worship services to help our congregation understand music as more than an appetizer before the sermon?
  • According to Scripture, who is actually our worship leader?
  • How do we evaluate our songs to ensure they are faithfully rehearsing the stories of Scripture?
  • How can we move our song sets from just communicating to us to also communicating through us?

[1] William Temple, “Temple on the Definition of Worship,” The Institute for Biblical Worship, December 28, 2016, http://biblicalworship.com/wqotw/2016/12/28/ temple-on-the-definition-of-worship.
[2] Darryl Tippen, Pilgrim Heart: The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life (Abilene: Leaf- wood, 2006), 148.
[3] Reggie M. Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 14.
[4] Tippen, Pilgrim Heart, 150.

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

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Dec 16 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 7 2020

Worship Farm Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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Nov 25 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 23 2020

Worship Leader: Throw Your Cap Over the Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 11 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 19 2020

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 to play 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. 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?”

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

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Oct 7 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 5 2020

Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

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golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

 

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

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

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Sep 30 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 28 2020

How to Help Our Pastors in This Hard Season of Ministry

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

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

Pastors are and should be held accountable to God and their churches for decisions they make and initiatives they propose. So, wouldn’t it seem only right and fair that we as church members should also be held accountable for how we respond(ed) to those decisions and initiatives? Maybe some of the following suggestions could help us help our pastors as we all continue trying to figure out how to do ministry in this hard season.

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

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

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Sep 23 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 21 2020

Cheap Worship

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

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

Once the woman encountered and acknowledged Jesus, she joined his conversation instead of expecting him to join hers. This divine encounter inspired her to sacrifice the self-serving agenda that originally brought her to that place. She left her water pot and went into the city and said to the people, “Come and see a man who has told me everything I’ve done! Could this man be the Christ” (John 4:29)?

The result of the Samaritan woman’s worship response was, “Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s word when she testified, ‘He told me everything I’ve ever done’” (John 4:39).

In the book of Romans, Paul focused on the divisions by which we segregate ourselves. In the twelfth chapter he wrote, “So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service” (Rom. 12:1). Sacrifice is surrendering for the sake of something or someone. It is the act of giving up, offering up, or letting go. A baseball bunt is a sacrifice for the sole purpose of advancing another runner. Executing this sacrifice is called laying down a bunt.

We go to great lengths and personal expense to make sure our children and grandchildren have the best clothes, schools, lessons, and coaches. We begin economizing and genericizing the moment they are born in order to save money and set it aside for the best of college educations. We surrender our own personal wants, preferences, and even needs so that they will have everything necessary for a successful future. In fact, most of us would literally give our own lives for our children and grandchildren because no sacrifice is too great—except maybe when we’re asked to sacrifice our worship music preferences.

Sacrificing our preferences often requires us to adjust generationally and relationally. Terry York and David Bolin wrote, “We have forgotten that what worship costs is more important than how worship comforts us or how it serves our agendas. If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[1]

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What are we as worship leaders willing to sacrifice as our spiritual act of worship?
  • How might the way we select and lead songs be contributing to an attitude of worship comfort instead of cost?
  • How can we make sure we are not asking the same generations or cultures always to be the ones who sacrifice the most?
  • How do we keep the cultural attitude of entitlement out of our worship services?

 

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

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Sep 16 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 7 2020

Songs That Preach

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released next week on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Preaching is the act of publicly proclaiming, teaching, or making something known. It exhorts, exposits, affirms, corrects, advocates, instructs, responds, and applies. The act of preaching communicates to us, for us, and through us.

A sermon is preached to address and expound on the biblical, theological, doctrinal, and moral issues that impact every generation of every congregation each and every day. And this connectional discourse is intended to challenge those congregants not only to embrace these truths individually but also corporately.

So if the worship songs we select aren’t complementing, resonating, and emulating these same characteristics, we probably need to select different songs. In other words, our songs must also preach.

The Preaching Characteristics of Our Songs

  • Our Songs must reflect and respond to biblical text.

Scripture must organically yield our songs instead of just fertilizing our own contrived language. We must constantly ask if our song text is theologically sound and if it affirms Scripture as central. Songs that do not provoke a response to the Word don’t preach.

  • Our Songs must connect the Word of God to the people of God.

The dialogue of worship through our songs is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation causes the people of God to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. Our songs are the communally uttered words of God.

  • Our Songs must 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, Jesus Christ. And they must constantly remind us that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

  • Our Songs must be easy to follow and understand.

If congregants can’t follow our songs, then they have difficulty finding value in those songs and consequently can’t be influenced and moved to respond to them and through them. Archaic or colloquial text should be filtered and melodies should be evaluated for singability. Songs that are difficult to follow contribute to ineffectual song sermons.

  • Our Songs must be sung with integrity.

Songs that preach communicate biblically, theologically, and doctrinally. Our songs must be sung with the integrity of adequate external preparation that springs forth from internal conviction. It must be evident that our songs reflect what we believe and practice. Lives must replicate the texts we sing even when we aren’t singing them. Songs sung with integrity engage and express biblical text with inspiration and conviction.

  • Our Songs must engage more than emotions.

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

  • Our Songs must encourage action.

Songs must not only inspire us through our hearing but also challenge us in our doing. They must not only inform the congregation but also engage them. Singing our songs should cause us to ask what is going to change as a result of singing them. Singing in here is not enough until our songs also impact who we are out there. So the songs we sing in our worship service must lead us to acts of service as worship.

“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.” Colossians 3:16

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Aug 3 2020

You Smell Like Grandpa!

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When my daughter was much younger the aroma of my cologne often caused her to exclaim, “You smell like grandpa!” I was initially offended that she wasn’t able to differentiate between my high-end department store cologne and my dad’s low-end big box store aftershave. And then I realized the value of the fragrance didn’t really matter to her. Instead, her focus was on the meaningful recollections stirred by those olfactory memories of a grandpa who loved her unconditionally.

Fourteen years ago at the age of seventy-five my dad contracted and nearly died from West Nile Virus. His road back to health was a rigorous one as he spent more than one-hundred days recovering in the hospital. Occupational and physical therapies were both necessary to combat the muscle weakness and pain as a result of the encephalitis that invaded his nervous system.

The treatments allowed my dad to recover quickly mentally but the physical recovery eventually came to a stopping point. Consequently, he was no longer able to walk and was confined to a wheelchair. But instead of living the rest of his life being bitter, angry, and resentful, my dad decided to live as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2).

Paul wrote that through us the aroma of the knowledge of Christ is spread in every place. So my dad assumed spreading that aroma included hospital rooms and rehab facilities from his wheel chair. Consequently, his goal was to be the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing (2 Cor. 2:14-15).

My dad died a week ago just three months short of his ninetieth birthday. But even at an advanced age and despite trying to manage constant pain, he continued to offer his body as a sacrificial sweet-smelling aroma that was well pleasing to God (Phil. 4:18). He constantly modeled for me what it means to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). So at the end of my life if I prove to be half the man my dad was, then my life will have been a success. And for me to smell like grandpa is now no longer an affront, it’s an aspiration.

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Jul 8 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 22 2020

Worship and the Racial Divide

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Imagine your 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 imagined how great it could be as long as they made the needed changes to worship the same way 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. Why are we willing to go outside the church to diversify when we are failing to do so within?[1] 

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

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’

All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen’” (Revelation 7:9-12)! So if we are not meant to be segregated as we worship in Heaven, then why are we so segregated as we worship here on earth? 

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] Maybe if we could first learn to love, respect, understand, and defer to each other outside of the worship service it could impact our worship inside the service as well.

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 for us to try something new.

Worship and the Racial Divide is the title of a breakout I will be teaching for the Resourcing Worship Virtual Conference, August 1. The main sessions speakers and worship leaders include: Keith Getty, Matt Redman, Shelly Johnson, Mike Harland, Matt Boswell, and Veritas. Over 60 breakouts are scheduled for all areas of music and worship ministry. Registration cost is only $15 per person and if you register 5 or more the cost is $10 per person. Registration cost also includes a 90 days all-access pass for you to continue viewing the virtual breakouts and main sessions. Click the link in this paragraph to register.

 


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

[2] Ibid.

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Jun 8 2020

Singing in Regathered Worship: Want or Need?

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Want is something we desire, hope for, or wish for. Need is something essential to survive. We want to sing both congregationally and chorally in our worship services as we regather but we don’t need to sing for worship to occur. So even if we want to sing and can’t or can’t as much, we still need to find other ways to worship. 

Singing is an expression given to us so that we might offer it as a gift to God in worship but it certainly isn’t the only expression. So considering additional worship responses could alleviate the pressure on singing to serve as the primary driver of regathered worship.

Clayton Schmit wrote, “In most traditions, music holds the central place as, to use Luther’s term, the ‘handmaid of the Gospel.’ Whether Christians sing hymns, settings of the psalms, spiritual songs, anthems, or praise choruses, music is the principle artistic form that shapes Christian worship. But, many others are involved. We gather in architectural structures, we enter rooms sunlit cobalt and ruby through stained-glass filtered light, we sit in well-fashioned furniture, we listen to literature of the Scriptures, we hear aesthetically crafted messages, we move in processions, and we view images of the symbols and historic figures associated with our faith. When we gather for worship art is all around us, and even within us.”[1]

Because of limited space and congregational demographics, however, some churches will determine it is best not to sing chorally or maybe even congregationally for a while. Worship leaders in those churches will, consequently, have to educate, reeducate, enlighten, and exhort their congregations that worship without singing doesn’t have to be inferior, it just has to be different. 

Robin M. Jensen said, too often other worship expressions are perceived as a kind of extra offering, meant for those of us who can appreciate them or want to be involved in them, rather than something essential to the shaping of faith and religious experience.[2] So when introducing those new worship expressions beyond singing, leaders will need to take risks through Holy Spirit inspired entrepreneurial innovation instead of routinized imitation. They’ll need to become worship artisans instead of assembly line workers.

If your church can’t sing or can’t sing as much for a season, then consider expanding some of these responses: Scripture, prayer, drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, sound, lighting, staging and props, and many others.

Harold Best offers this challenge that can serve as a reminder of our responsibilities as leaders in this new season of regathering, “It is the solemn obligation of every artistic leader to become the lead mentor, the lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action. The art of our worship must thus point beyond itself. It must freely and strongly say, ‘There is more, far more.’ Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep. Engage your whole being. Live in the first days of creation when nothing had precedent; when everything was a surprise; when shattering reality, not sameness, ruled the day; when bafflement and surprise danced the dance. Go to the empty tomb and find out what resurrection means to the shriveled mind and the uncurious heart. Go to Pentecost and learn of a new, ingathering strangeness, a purification of Babel and a highway to glory: spiritual glory, societal glory, artistic glory. Seek and find; knock and it will be opened.”[3]

 

[1] Schmit, Clayton J., “Art for Faith’s Sake,” in Theology, News, and Notes, Fall 2001.

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

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

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May 27 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 20 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 13 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 4 2020

5 Unintended Consequences of Worshiping from Home

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Unintended consequences can be positive or negative outcomes in response to unforeseen or unplanned events or experiences. We certainly didn’t choose this season of worshiping from home. But most of us have unintentionally learned some valuable lessons that should influence how we do gathered worship on the other side of this crisis. Here are five unintended consequences of worship from home:

  • Sermons are shorter, yet more profound

Most pastors have realized that attention spans online are much shorter so they have intentionally left more of their sermon notes on the cutting room floor. What they have discovered is that a succinct, refined, and consolidated message offers their congregations less information to synthesize but more spiritual truths that can actually be internalized. Preparing and presenting messages with an economy of words is a practice that should continue since attention spans are probably not that much longer in person.

  • Worship is simpler and less contrived

Most worship leaders have realized when trying to program a remote worship service that less is always more. Before this season of dispersed worship, it seemed like many of us had fallen into the unhealthy habit of trying to surpass the creativity of the previous week. So, we over innovated, over stimulated, and over imitated. Hopefully we’ve learned how unnecessary and unhealthy that practice can be and we’ll spend more of our time in the future focusing on the creator rather than on our own creativity.

  • Intergenerational worship is foundational instead of optional

Many of us have looked for ways but have often found it difficult to encourage our congregations to move away from worship services separated by generations. And even though intergenerational togetherness was forced during this season, we figured out how to do it because everyone cared more about protecting their families than protecting their preferences. We certainly shouldn’t waste what we learned in this time as everyone was willing to sacrifice some for the good of all. So how can we leverage that deference for continuing intergenerational worship when we again have the opportunity to gather?

  • Off-limits music programs are now on the table

Some of those music ministry programs we thought we couldn’t possibly live without, we could. So instead of thinking about when we might start them back up, we should be asking if we should. This season has forced us to initiate music and worship ministry audits that we should have already been implementing regularly anyway. So maybe before firing up all those music ministry programs again, we should first ask if they are going to help us fulfill our mission. If they aren’t, then why would we do them?

  • Church size isn’t determining worship quality

The quality of worship should never be determined by the quantity of worship leaders and worshipers. But that hasn’t stopped those previous comparisons of bigger being better because larger churches have more resources, personnel, and talent. During this season, however, the perceptual playing field has been leveled as all churches were limited to the same number of worship leaders, the same resources for technology, and the same platforms for streaming. Hopefully this online leveling will continue to remind us when we gather again that a comparison according to size is always unhealthy. Every church should be developing distinctly and becoming uniquely the congregation God has called them to be where they are with what they have. The commitment to that calling instead of comparison is what sets the bar for worship quality.

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Apr 22 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 13 2020

Was Easter Sunday a Waste of Time?

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The Easter Acclamation, “He is risen,” “He is risen indeed” was not only true as we celebrated Easter yesterday, it is also true as we work online from home today. The celebration of Easter is not just a one-day event, it is a daily remembrance of who we are in the risen Christ. As Christ followers we are Easter people so instead of immediately pivoting to the next sermon series or Sunday service calendar emphasis, shouldn’t our celebration of the resurrection continue?

The observance of Easter in the early church was more than just a one-day annual event. Celebrating the Paschal mystery was not only to remember that Christ was crucified and rose again, but also to remember that He appeared following His resurrection, that He ascended, that the Holy Spirit descended and that our Savior promised to return again.

Because of their great joy, early Christians began the celebration and remembrance with Easter and continued for fifty days until Pentecost. Revisiting the mystery and expanding the understanding of the resurrection could assist in worship renewal through the theological realization that this celebration of redemption, sanctification, salvation and victory can’t be limited to a single day.

Some congregations and even entire denominations have not traditionally embraced the sacred time of the Great Fifty Days of Easter and other dates of the Christian calendar primarily out of a concern for rigidity, conformity, loss of autonomy or a fear of appearing too “Catholic.”

Some worship leaders and worshipers believe that spending too much time in those extended seasonal celebrations of the Church can promote sameness. 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]

Even as congregations avoid the Christian calendar, they are at the same time affirming annual observances of cultural and denominational days whose foundations are not always biblically grounded.[2] And isn’t it ironic that in the development of those denominational and cultural calendars we have in fact created our own liturgies in our efforts to be non-liturgical?

To avoid Christian calendar days that are celebrated during the same time of the year as the cultural, denominational and civic days is to ignore the very foundation of the Church. So isn’t it possible to converge holidays significant to our cultural and denominational calendar with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?

Why couldn’t we celebrate Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day in the same season as Ascension Day and Pentecost? For this shift to occur, however, we must understand the significance of expanding our Easter remembrances. 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.”[3]

Extending our Easter recognition is based on a deeper understanding of the calendar as an ideal starting point for structuring seasonal worship. The theme of the fifty days of Easter as one single celebration provides a connection with Christians of the past Church and unifies Christians of the present Church in a continuous ecumenical relationship.

Observing Easter for fifty days could help congregations “recover the transforming news that Jesus’ past resurrection dramatically transforms present and future reality.”[4] Additionally, it will help them delight in the knowledge that Jesus’ death and resurrection is stamped on their spiritual biographies.[5]

Expanding your observance of Easter and celebrating other aspects of the Christian year might be a stretch for your congregation. But please make those decisions about this sacred time from a deeper biblical, theological and historical foundation instead of solely on the traditionalism of what your individual congregation or denomination has done in the past.

 


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

[2] Ibid., 56.

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

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

[5] Ibid.

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Mar 18 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 16 2020

Worship Has Left the Building

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As churches made the difficult decision to meet online instead of in person this weekend we were all reminded that worship couldn’t be contained in a building, location, context or vehicle of communication.

Our worship leadership has sometimes given the impression that we alone have the ability and even right to be the sole instigators of worship in our context. So we’ve often led like worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it. Consequently, we have often expended all of our resources and energy preparing for and leading a single gathered hour on Sunday.

But the unprecedented circumstances of the last couple of weeks have forced us to remember again that worship can occur without us and even in spite of us. As many of us observed thousands of services streaming or pre-recorded on social media it again challenged us that worship happens not only when our congregations gather in our buildings but also when they scatter to their homes.

Harold Best wrote, “If those of us who lead gathered worship are not careful, our actions can imply that time and place worship is the primary, if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.”[1]

So as we continue to move forward through the uncertain future of corporate worship, we as worship leaders must lead, model and empower our congregants to not only worship when we are again able to gather but also continue to worship as we have to disperse. Helping them understand how to worship at home continues to fulfill our worship leadership calling and responsibilities just as profoundly as leading a song set does. 

 

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

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Feb 17 2020

Things Our Worship Pastors Wish We Knew

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Most of us are aware of the investment our worship pastor makes in our own life. What we don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy it takes to invest in the same way with the entire population of our congregation.

So here are a few things we might not know about worship pastors that they probably wish we did. The list is not an exhaustive one but hopefully gives us a glimpse into the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual demands required to serve as a worship pastor.

They have a hard time getting out of town

Most churches generously offer their worship pastors time away for vacation, sick leave and conferences. But what we don’t realize is the amount of preparation required for them to actually leave town.

Worship pastors not only have to secure substitutes for all rehearsals and services, they also have to prepare all choral music, band charts, orchestra parts, sound instructions, lighting cues, projection needs, orders of service and printed worship guides before they can be absent. Then they have to communicate and rehearse all of those details with the various proxies they’ve enlisted so worship doesn’t miss a beat while they are gone. In reality, they have to do all of the work they would do if they were still in town before they can ever leave town. So it’s almost easier not to go.

They are sometimes out of gas

We depend on our worship pastors to teach and admonish us with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. They are often our counselors, mentors, leaders, friends and spiritual advisors. When our families are in crisis we look to them to referee, repair and reclaim. And yet at the same time we also expect them to challenge and encourage us with stellar worship every Sunday.

Sometimes they are just flat worn out. So how can we expect them to continue to lead us where they may no longer have the fuel in the tank to go themselves? Phillip Yancey wrote, “I wonder how much more effective our churches would be if we made the pastors spiritual health, not the pastors efficiency our number one priority?”

They face the same struggles we do

Serving as a worship pastor doesn’t automatically mean immunity from the personal struggles of life such as depression, anxiety, physical health issues, marital conflict, rebellious children and financial strain. So with all of those personal and professional stressors, how can we not expect that pain to eventually take the same toll on them as it has on many of us?

Worship pastors know that a culture of expendability is often just as prevalent in church life as it is in the business world. So, to keep from losing their ministry positions, save face with their congregation or protect the financial security of their family, worship pastors often bear a heavy burden to fake it and perform even when they don’t feel like it.

Our worship leaders are called to our churches to serve God and us. So does it seem right and healthy that the functional reality is that no one gets less of the ministry of the body of Christ than our spiritual leaders do?[1] If we as a church aren’t stewarding those leaders God has entrusted to us, then who will?

 

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

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Feb 12 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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