Dec 29 2021

Ministry Prayer for 2022: Lord, Deliver Me From Myself


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 Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Arrogance is when the image of the Lord has been replaced by a mirror.”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.


Aug 9 2021

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Jun 21 2021

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Mar 15 2021

Playing Hurt: Pastoring Through Pain


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).


  • 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.


Feb 22 2021

When Worship Ministry Is Hard


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).


  • 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.


Dec 7 2020

Worship Farm Teams


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.


  • 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.


Nov 2 2020

Worship Is a Conversation…So, When Do We Shut Up and Listen?


listenOur worship actions in any audible form can mute the voice of God sometimes only detected in the silence. In doing so, we can miss his healing, comforting, and encouraging words of hope such as “I am with you; well done; you are forgiven; and I am weeping with you.”

Worship is a dialogue or conversation between God and his people. God initiates that conversation and we respond to it. So, worship requires not only speaking and singing as a response but also listening and hearing as a response. The noise of our worship actions can create monological instead of dialogical worship. In other words, offering one-sided worship sound can monopolize the conversation, potentially causing us to miss hearing the voice of God.

A healthy conversation includes a balance of listening as well as speaking. Gary Furr and Milburn Price wrote, “In the drama of the Christian life, worship may be thought of as the script through which the author of us all calls forth and responds to the deepest and most important longings in us.”[1] So, until we occasionally shut up and listen, how can we hear that call?

God’s revelation occurs when he offers us a glimpse of his activity, his will, and his attributes. Our response is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes premeditated reply to that call…worship. But we can miss his activity, will, and attributes if we monopolize the conversation by filling our worship with responsive noise only.

Richard Foster wrote, “Silence frees us from the need to control others. One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are accustomed to relying on words to manage and control others. A frantic stream of words flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way. We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest spiritual disciplines simply because it puts the stopper on that.”[2]

Since God began the conversation and graciously invited us to join Him in it, our worship then could be enhanced when we stop making so much noise. In order to listen again to his side of the conversation, maybe we should concur with Samuel when he said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:8).

[1]Gary A. Furr and Milburn Price, The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1998), 90.

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

Some of 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.


May 8 2020

If We Can’t Sing


Most of us have seen the articles, blog posts and videos this last week indicating the potential for a higher level of asymptomatic spread and aerosolization of COVID-19 through choral and congregational singing. The emotional responses from music and worship leaders run the gamut of fear and grief to outright denial.

It is obviously still too early to be certain how these theories will play out and influence our musical worship in the future. What is certain, however, is that even if our congregations and choirs can’t sing together for a season, worship can and will still occur. It may look different but it most certainly won’t disappear.

An older member of one of my previous congregations was a fine vocalist and instrumentalist when he was younger. But because of laryngeal cancer surgery, he could no longer sing and even had to learn a new way to talk. One Sunday while leading congregational singing I observed this gentleman whistling the songs as other congregants sang. Just because he was physically unable to sing didn’t keep him from actively participating in worship. He just had to figure out a new way to do it.

Worship leaders, if our congregants and choirs aren’t able to worship through singing, then it will be our responsibility and calling, by the way, to help them figure out a new way to do it. Our methods might have to change but our calling to lead and their calling to respond certainly hasn’t changed.

This conversation is not that different than the conversations we had a couple of decades ago when worship styles and methods changed. As leaders, we often encouraged and even admonished our congregations that even though “we’ve never done it like this before” it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t or couldn’t. Some of us as worship leaders need to have that same conversation with ourselves as we lead through this uncertain future.

Oh, if we can’t worship through congregational and choral singing for a season we will definitely need to spend some time lamenting what we no longer have. But once we’ve had that opportunity to ask God why we have to walk through this desert, we’ll need to move pretty quickly from those complaints to “but I trust in You, O Lord.” Then we’ll need to figure out a new way to do it because our congregations will need it and our God will expect it.


Apr 6 2020

Worship Leaders… HOLD FAST!



Eighteenth and Nineteenth century sailors superstitiously believed that certain tattoos brought good luck and somehow averted disaster. The H-O-L-D F-A-S-T tattoo with one letter tattooed on each finger was originally derived from the Dutch phrase “Houd” (hold) “Vast” (fast). The tattoo was believed to protect a sailor whose life depended on holding fast to a rope on the ships deck or while working aloft in the ships rigging.

The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote the same words not as superstition but with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:22-23).

So worship leaders, as you try to figure out how to lead worship in the new reality of online services, focus on this exhortation instead of agonizing over what you can’t do remotely. Hold Fast…the God who called you to lead worship will sustain you. Hold Fast…in full assurance that He knows where you are and what you are going through.

Hold Fast…confident that you are presentable inside and out. Keep a firm grip on His promises that keep you going. See how inventive you can be by encouraging love and spurring others on to worshiping together even though separated (Heb. 10:19-25). Hold Fast…your worshiping congregation is depending on it.

Hold Fast – Mercy Me

To everyone who’s hurting
To those who’ve had enough
To all the undeserving
That should cover all of us
Please do not let go
I promise there is hope

Hold fast help is on the way
Hold fast He’s come to save the day
What I’ve learned in my life
One thing greater than my strife
Is His grasp so hold fast

Will this season ever pass
Can we stop this ride
Will we see the sun at last
Or could this be our lot in life
Please do not let go
I promise you there’s hope

Hold fast help is on the way
Hold fast He’s come to save the day
What I’ve learned in my life
One thing greater than my strife
Is His grasp so hold fast

©2006 Simpleville Music, Wet As A Fish Music, Barry Graul, Bart Millard, Jim Bryson, Mike Scheuchzer, Nathan Cochran, Robby Shaffer.


Feb 3 2020

Worship That Jumps the Shark


The idiom Jump the Shark originated from a 1977 episode of the sitcom Happy Days when a water skiing, leather jacket wearing Fonzie actually jumped over a shark. In its fifth season, the show adulterated its story line in an attempt to boost its ratings.

The idiom is now used as a pejorative reference to anything that arbitrarily implements processes, programs, or even the use of novelty just to stay fresh or relevant.

Worship can also jump the shark if we over innovate, over stimulate, or over imitate just to reach or keep congregants. So instead of worship renewal based on biblical, theological, and historical foundations, each Sunday then becomes an exercise in trying to surpass the creativity and sometimes novelty of the previous Sunday.

Our worship may have Jumped the Shark if…

• We’ve terminated a worship leader based on age or appearance.

• We’re depending on a musical style alone to save or grow our church.

• We select songs in response to complaints or compliments.

• We shelve songs composed before or after the previous decade.

• Scripture and prayer have been minimized to make room for more music.

• Worship is used just to set the table for the sermon.

• Leaders are doing worship for congregants instead of helping them do it.

• We convey worship starts and stops with our opening and closing songs.

• We imitate other churches without considering the culture of our own.

• Our leaders seem to be more like cheerleaders than worship leaders.

• We believe dressing up or dressing down ensures its success.

• We think what we sing and how we sing it determines if God shows up.


Dec 9 2019

Ministry Move: Calling or Itchy Feet?



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

But if the choice to stay in your present ministry position or look for another one is within your control (it sometimes isn’t), then you should be asking some fundamental questions before considering another move.

  • Has God released me from my call here?

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

  • Am I running from something?

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

  • Am I running to something?

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

  • How might it impact my family?

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

  • Am I ready to leave well?

It doesn’t matter if you are leaving by choice or force…leave well. If you go out swinging when you leave here it will always follow you when you go there. So leave with Ephesians 4:29 on your lips: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”


Nov 25 2019

Are You Called to Lead Worship?


What is compelling you to be a worship leader? Are you leading because you love to play and sing; because it is a great way to supplement your income or provide for your family; because of the notoriety of being on the platform; because you have a music degree but don’t want to teach school; or because you don’t really know how to do anything else? If these are reasons why you are leading worship, then it’s possible your compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling.

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

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

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

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

So again, what is compelling you to be a worship leader? Convenience responds to that question with, “This is what I was trained to do.” Calling responds with, “This is what I was created to do.”


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

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Ibid., 5.


Oct 28 2019

50 Worship Leader Self-Evaluation Questions


As worship leaders we sometimes don’t consider evaluating our own leadership until we receive complaints about something we are or aren’t doing or singing. Consequently, when those criticisms occur our responses are usually defensive rather than corrective.

Self-evaluation is preventive and proactive rather than defensive and reactive. So in order to avert or deter an unfavorable assessment from others, we should first ask some hard questions of ourselves. The following list of self-evaluation questions is not an exhaustive one but hopefully a place to begin.

  1. Are the services I plan and lead usually easy to follow or are they more often disorganized and disjointed?
  1. Am I planning worship each week for the congregation I’ve been called to lead or one I wish I had been called to lead?
  1. Are my verbal instructions and transitions ad-libbed and verbose or prepared and succinct?
  1. Am I encouraging passive worshipers by leading worship for them instead of with them?
  1. Do the people I put on the platform adequately represent the cultural, generational and spiritual characteristics of our congregation?
  1. Is my primary consideration for selecting worship team members musical or spiritual?
  1. Are the songs I lead on the platform evident in the life I lead off the platform?
  1. Am I selecting or not selecting songs and styles just because I personally like or don’t like them?
  1. Do I select song keys to intentionally encourage congregational participation or just to complement my own vocal range?
  1. Are the songs I select theologically sound and biblically accurate?
  1. Are any of my artistic, visual, verbal or musical expressions contrived or distracting? 
  1. Do I convey that worship starts and stops with our opening and closing songs?
  1. Do I begin worship planning each week with song titles or Scripture and prayer?
  1. Besides the latest songs, am I learning anything new?
  1. Since Sunday isn’t usually a Sabbath for me, when am I taking one?
  1. Do I ask how something might impact my family before asking how it might impact my worship leading?
  1. Have I surrounded myself with those who can protect me from my own stupidity?
  1. Am I spending a lot of time worshiping privately before leading worship publicly?
  1. Does always highlighting my playing and singing sometimes imply I don’t really care whether the congregation is singing or not?
  1. Do I wake up every morning feeling unqualified in my own power to do what God has called me to do?
  1. Am I taking care of myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and relationally?
  1. Have I gotten in the habit of using worship service prayer as a segue for musical elements instead of a divine conversation?
  1. Do I ever welcome divine interruptions in my service planning and leading?
  1. Am I casting vision for the future without denigrating the past?
  1. Do I determine the worship language of my congregations based on how I might appear to my worship leading friends?
  1. Am I able to worship when I’m not the primary leader?
  1. Is worship leading a calling for me or just convenient?
  1. Am I leading worship just because I don’t know how to do anything else?
  1. Am I making a conscious effort to pour into younger leaders or am I just trying to protect my territory?
  1. Am I threatened when someone on the team plays or sings better than I do?
  1. Am I depending on my musical skills alone to do what it’s only possible for God to do?
  1. Do I act like a gatekeeper by holding my congregation captive to my favorite worship styles and musical preferences?
  1. Does it seem like the services I plan tend to place more focus on the creative or the Creator?
  1. Am I spending more of my time developing my musical skills or my relationship skills?
  1. Do I find myself coasting or faking it more and more often?
  1. Am I approachable, available and accountable?
  1. Am I more concerned with playing right notes than having right relationships?
  1. Does it seem like I’m more of a cheerleader than a worship leader?
  1. Is it evident from my worship responses that I’m no longer amazed by God’s revelation?
  1. Does my leading lean toward manipulation instead of exhortation?
  1. Do I always seem to disappear when it’s time to set up or tear down?
  1. Am I showing up to rehearsals unprepared?
  1. Do I treat the worship team like backup musicians?
  1. Do I ever use my artistry and busyness as an excuse for laziness and lateness?
  1. Am I coasting at the first of the week causing me to scramble at the end of the week?
  1. Is the worship I’m leading challenging our congregation to be doers or just hearers?
  1. Am I regularly praying for and with those I lead?
  1. Are the songs I’m selecting giving our congregation an opportunity for celebration and contemplation?
  1. Do I offer a healthy balance of both familiar and new songs?
  1. Is it evident to others that I’m as much of a worship leader on Monday as I was on Sunday?

Sep 16 2019

Worship Manager or Worship Leader?


None of us alone have enough creativity or endurance to manage intergenerational and intercultural worship services week after week, year after year, with the same level of spiritual depth and creative tenacity each and every time.

So if you alone are trying to manage worshipers instead of lead them, you alone might receive all of the credit when something works. But you alone will also receive all of the credit when something doesn’t work. Trying to manage worship will eventually kill you and the worship of your congregation. Both may be slow deaths, but still terminal. Check out these comparisons to see where you’re landing.


A Manager acts as a gatekeeper by holding a congregation captive to style, traditionalism, form and structure.

A Leader understands that worship can’t be contained in one artistic expression, vehicle of communication, style, culture or context.


A Manager holds worship in check by retaining the power to make all decisions in order to influence results.

A Leader leverages available resources by tapping into the creative abilities of all in the planning, preparation and implementation of worship.


A Manager starts and stops worship.

A Leader continues worship.


A Manager does to.

A Leader does with.


A Manager prepares worshipers for Sunday events.

A Leader prepares worshipers for daily responses.


A Manager focuses on the institution.

A Leader focuses on the mission.


A Manager weighs the value of each team member.

A Leader creates value in each team member.


A Manager informs.

A Leader influences.


A Manager is autonomous.

A Leader is collaborative.


A Manager builds systems.

A Leader builds relationships.


A Manager imitates.

A Leader innovates.


A Manager instructs.

A Leader coaches.


A Manager creates goals.

A Leader casts vision.


A Manager sticks with how worship has worked.

A Leader works with how worship is stuck.



Oct 8 2018

Open Letter To Transient Worship Leaders



Dear Worship Leader,

I have had hundreds of conversations with worship leaders about wanting, needing, or having to relocate. It’s been my observation that a couple of common threads are contributing to this restless desire and/or mandate to find another ministry position. Ironically, neither of those root causes are musical or stylistic issues.

My first observation is there is often confusion between calling and convenience. The primary question you must ask is, “Am I called to do this…not just here, but anywhere?” A calling is a personal invitation from God to carry out a unique task. It is a strong inner impulse prompted by conviction of divine influence and it’s not always convenient.

So what is compelling you to do what you do? Convenience responds with, “This is what I was trained to do.” Calling responds with, “This is what I was created to do.” If you are leading worship just because you love to play and sing; because you need to supplement your income; because you enjoy being up-front or because you are not trained to do anything else, then your compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling.

If, however, you are divinely called to lead worship and believe God also called you to your present place of ministry, then a secondary question you must ask before considering a move is, “Has God released me from my call here?” Even when another place of ministry seems more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding you must be reminded that God did not promise you’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed. So, until God releases you to go…stay.

My second observation is that musical talent and platform presence may help you secure a worship leader position but developing leadership skills will help you keep it. In fact, the root cause of forced termination is often relational and rarely musical. And yet, where are you spending most of your worship leadership preparation time? You’ll never be able to teach enough new songs to make up for relationship and leadership failures.

Leading music doesn’t necessarily equate to leading people. Meaningful relationships develop as you place more focus on the people than the project. Don’t leave relationships in your wake as you move toward the end result since the process with people is just as important as the end result. What will your congregants remember most about your worship leadership…how you led them musically on the platform our how you treated them on the way to and from the platform?

It may indeed be time for you to consider a new place of ministry. But that change of venue alone might not settle your restlessness. Until you consider the previous observations and others, you may again experience the same discontent after a couple of years in that new place of ministry.


Feb 19 2018

One Another Churches


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

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

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

One Another Churches call for unity

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

One Another Churches call for love

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

 One Another Churches call for deference

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

Mar 28 2017

20 Paradoxologies


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

20 Paradoxologies

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

Jan 30 2017

Preemptive Strike: Evaluating Worship from the Inside


evaluationSome worship leaders don’t consider evaluating their worship services until they receive complaints about something they are or aren’t doing or singing. Consequently, their responses are usually defensive rather than evaluative.

A preemptive strike is an action that is intentionally initiated to keep another inevitable action from occurring. It is preventive and proactive in order to deter a more unfavorable action or attack from transpiring.

Evaluation is already occurring in the halls and parking lots. So why wouldn’t we want to preempt those conversations with a process that encourages worship renewal instead of just as a response to worship conflict?

Evaluating worship from the inside is an internal process of enlisting individuals and groups from within your congregation to regularly evaluate present worship structures and practices.

Inside or internal evaluators already understand the culture, doctrines and personnel assets or liabilities that frame your worship preparation and implementation. So they have a vested interest in the process and results since it too is their church.

One area of caution, though, is since the evaluators have a more personal interest there is sometimes the danger of ideological evaluation. Those evaluations can be based on likes, dislikes and styles instead of biblical and theological content. But the benefits definitely outweigh the risk of encountering the occasional ideologue.

Implementing a process of internal evaluation requires a level of humility and sacrifice from leaders. Those leaders who willingly and selflessly share the responsibilities will no longer receive all of the credit for successes but they also won’t receive all of the credit for failures. Consider some of the following preemptive evaluation suggestions:


  • Develop an evaluative team for worship planning and follow-up evaluation. Include musicians, theologians, technicians, artists, etc.
  • Video the platform personnel (including the pastor) as an evaluative tool for the team. Look for: genuineness, preparedness, idiosyncrasies, platform presence, vocal clarity, language clarity, etc.
  • Video the congregation before, during and after worship services to evaluate how or if they are participating.
  • Enlist multi-generational and multi-ethnic congregants to respond to questions regarding the relevance of worship to their generation or culture.
  • Ask evaluation team members to sit in various places during worship services to consider volume, balance, pace, flow, content, congregational participation, etc.
  • Enlist non-musicians to respond to musical questions.
  • Ask an educator to evaluate language and grammar usage of platform leaders.
  • Encourage non-technical congregants to respond to projection, sound, lighting and other technical/logistical questions.
  • Implement platform personnel peer-to-peer evaluations.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t attempt to evaluate too much at a time.
  • Design evaluations to minimize the focus on style and personal preferences. Avoid “I like” or “I don’t like” questions.
  • Ensure evaluations aren’t used to manipulate or provide justification for biases.
  • Evaluate strengths as well as weaknesses.

Jul 18 2016

Top 10 Worship Service Questions


top ten

  • If some of our music is “special” does that mean the rest is just ordinary?

  • Is “older white guy” a biblical qualification for serving as an Usher?

  • Shouldn’t we have tested those white baptismal garments in water before determining they inspire thoughts of purity?

  • Wouldn’t churches be healthier if worship leaders were required to take the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm?”

  • Is the opening song supposed to feel like “Gentlemen, start your engines?”

  • Why aren’t we still singing the Charles Wesley hymn text, To me, to all, Thy bowels move?

  • Can a worship leader wear a man-bun with a camp shirt?

  • Is “but Jesus preached in sandals” really a valid argument for wearing flip-flops in the worship team?

  • Does it seem like more people complain about the volume when they don’t really like the musical style?

  • When skinny jeans are no longer in style will worship leaders be able to lead songs in lower keys?


Mar 23 2015

Is Your Church Singing? Send In A Canary!


canaryTaking a canary into a coal mine served as a warning system in the earlier days of mining. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane gas and carbon monoxide making them ideal for detecting a dangerous build-up of gas in the coal seam.

The canary would begin to show signs of distress in response to small concentrations of gas before it became detrimental to the miners. The first sign of imminent danger was when the canary stopped singing.

If certain generations, cultures, or even the majority of your congregants have stopped singing, it is a warning sign of danger ahead. Check out this great related article link written by my friend, Kenny Lamm. Nine Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship

The idiom canary in a coal mine has continued as a reference to a person or thing that serves as a warning of a looming crisis. Enlisting trusted individuals from your congregation to regularly ask questions not only about the worship singing of your congregation, but also about the way you are leading that singing could alert you and your congregation to imminent conflict while there is still time for restorative care.

Intentionally adopting an early warning system is a pre-emptive process of enlisting congregational canaries to ask questions before it is too late. It is vital to enlist those who love God, love the church and love you enough to honestly evaluate your leadership and assess the level of congregational participation.

The humility necessary to initiate a process such as this can only occur if you also love God, love the church and love the people enough to trust their assessment and have a willingness to sacrifice your own interests for the greater good of your church.

Sample Congregational Singing Questions:

  • Is our congregational singing passive or participative?
  • Are idiosyncrasies or characteristics of our leaders encouraging/discouraging congregational participation?
  • Do song selections include a balance of familiar and new?
  • Are the songs vertical and horizontal, celebrative and contemplative, comforting and disturbing?
  • Is the song text theologically sound and does it affirm scripture as foundational?
  • Is the text trite or archaic, repetitive or diverse?
  • Are song selections culturally appropriate for our congregation?
  • Do our songs encourage conversational worship that includes God’s words to us as well as our words to God?
  • Are leaders incorporating musical elements that distract our attention from that conversation?
  • Does our worship space encourage/discourage participation in congregational singing?
  • Are transitions smooth, tempos satisfactory, volumes appropriate and keys singable?
  • Are physical actions actively encouraged/discouraged?
  • Do the songs give our congregants an opportunity to connect with one another?
  • Are guests able to participate in the congregational singing without confusion?
  • Is our singing a worship asset or liability?

Apr 27 2014

Does This Stress Make Me Look Fat?


pastorsAccording to statistics, the stresses of ministry and the demands of congregants competing for our time and complete attention may not only be depleting our emotional and spiritual reserves, it may also be exhausting our physical self-controls.

Offering our bodies as a spiritual act of worship is highlighted in numerous ways throughout Scripture. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor 6:19-20).

Having more body to offer, however, doesn’t increase its sacrifice as a spiritual act of worship.

A recent research study was conducted among a representative sampling of 568 senior pastors of Protestant congregations. The study showed that as a result of the stress and demands of ministry the typical pastor is not in good shape physically. Those polled average under seven hours of sleep a night, are on average more than 30 pounds overweight, regularly skip meals, eat unhealthy foods when they do eat and often suffer from sleeping problems.

In the study, 71% of all ministers admitted to being overweight by an average of 32.1 pounds. One-third of all ministers were overweight by at least 25 pounds, including 15% who were overweight by 50 pounds or more.

According to the study, pastors are not exercising regularly. Only half said they get the recommended minimum, which is 30 minutes of exercise at least three days a week. Of this sampling, 28% indicated they don’t typically get any exercise at all. Fifty-two percent experience physical symptoms of stress at least once a week and nearly one out of four are subjected to these symptoms three or more times a week.[1]

The life of ministry and service can often sanctify busyness rather than free us from it. Scripture reminds us, however, that the pressure we live under is a weight God never intended for us to carry.

Since we live in a culture that values motion as a sign of significance we often assume our ministry pace should also reflect that motion. But from these statistics we see that it is unhealthy and maybe even a little arrogant when we lead ministry as if it is all up to us, as though it wouldn’t get done if we don’t do it, as if our efforts are indispensable to God and as if our entire ministry relationship with Him depended on it.

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

Let us lay aside every weight…and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.  Hebrews 12:1-2


[1] The study was conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona. The sample of 568 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches. The study was conducted in all 50 states using a representative sample of pastors from all Protestant denominations.


Feb 9 2014

Ways Pastors Can Help Their Kids Hate Church



Ways Pastors Can Help Their Kids Hate Church…

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

Aug 4 2013

Don’t You Love A Good Mystery?


mysteryChurch culture is often more comfortable with reducing mystery to the explainable. And yet, a faith established in the infinite cannot be contained in our finite understanding and exposition.

In the New American Commentary on the gospel of John, Gerald Borchert wrote, “The teacups of our thinking and language have not yet approached the capacity of holding the ocean of divine truth.”[1]

An intrinsic need to rationalize can depreciate the spiritual life into the controlled. Control needs to exercise authority or dominating influence over. It directs, requires, regulates, contains, moderates and restrains.

Control holds in check, reduces or prevents from spreading and retains the power to make decisions in order to influence results. Control holds others captive to style, tradition, form and structure. And controllers are gatekeepers who identify, count, monitor and supervise ingress to or egress from.

But mystery…mystery, on the other hand, allows us to simply and humbly respond with, “Woe is me…I am undone” (Isaiah 6:5).

In the Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life, Robert Webber wrote, “In the end an intellectual spirituality is situated, not in God’s story, but in my knowledge about God’s story, which is inherently limited.”[2] He continued by writing, “The contemplation of God, of his person, creation, incarnation, and re-creation of the world, is a different kind of knowledge. It is a contemplation on the mysteries, namely, the mystery of God creating, the mystery of God incarnate, the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, the mystery of God’s presence in the church, and the mystery of Christ’s return to claim his lordship over creation. The contemplation of these mysteries moves us to live into these mysteries, participating in God’s life for the world.”[3]

Living in these mysteries reminds us that God cannot be completely contained in and explained through our limited understanding. For if he could, then he is a god who does not deserve our worship.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom 11:33-36).

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

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

[3] Ibid.


Jul 7 2013

Half-Asked Leadership


helpAsking and empowering others to serve with you in ministry offers your congregation a distinct voice that is more comprehensive than any voice you could have offered individually.

Asking others to invest their creative abilities in the planning, preparation, and implementation of the ministries of your church doesn’t diminish your leadership influence it actually elevates it. When leaders leverage all available resources by asking for help it is a sign of leadership strength, not weakness.

A leader that holds onto the reigns of ministry as a creative gatekeeper in order to receive the credit when something works will also receive the credit when something doesn’t. Not asking others to join with you in ministry may be an indication that you are more concerned with guarding territory than equipping saints to do ministry.

Asking for help provides…

Filters – To sift through the various ideas allowing usable materials to surface and ineffectual materials to be discarded.

Buffers – To moderate confusion or conflict by representing the various cultures and contexts of your congregation.

Advocates – To expand the level of communication to and encourage buy-in from numerous circles of influence.

Encouragers – To inspire and embolden you as the leader, each other as collaborators, and the entire congregation as participants.

Evaluators – To celebrate and reassess after each week from an environment of brutal honesty but also profound trust.

No individual leader has enough creativity, insight or endurance to plan, prepare and lead multigenerational and multicultural congregations week after week with the same level of spiritual depth and creative tenacity each and every time. Attempting it alone without asking for help will eventually kill the leader and the congregation.  Both may be slow deaths, but still terminal.


Jun 10 2013

Give It A Rest!


rest areaMost congregations designate Sunday as the Sabbath or day of rest. For Worship Leaders, however, it has evolved into a day full of services, leadership responsibilities, rehearsals and meetings. Congregants, teams, staff, and even family members vie for your time and full attention. At the end of the day your spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical resources are usually completely depleted.

Since this designated day is obviously not a Sabbath for you…when is? Or are you even taking one? If not, how can you regularly lead people to a place where you no longer have the stamina to go yourself?

If you have flown on a commercial airline you have undoubtedly heard the flight attendant recite the following pre-flight safety instructions: “In the unlikely event the oxygen level in the main cabin becomes unstable, oxygen masks will drop in front of each passenger.” Passengers are then instructed to secure their own masks before assisting other passengers.

Observing a Sabbath “says to the frantic, exhausted, distracted, fatigued people of God: please, rest. The hectic lives of Christians in our culture and the busyness of many churches show little sign of living out of God’s rest. Our tendencies to imitate our culture are directly related to our unwillingness to stop, cease producing, consuming, moving, accomplishing, buying, planning. We can be as much 24-7 (even in the name of Jesus) as our secular neighbors. Yet we cannot live as light and salt, doing righteousness and showing justice, if we fail to practice living out God’s rest. It’s a boundary that sets us free.”[1]

Ministry 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. Attempting to elevate our relevance through our activity always originates with our arrogance not with the will of God.

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

Observing a Sabbath is saying yes to God and his rhythms and no to the life-draining rhythms of the culture and people around us – it is essential to our call to worship.[2]  Worship Leader…if you aren’t modeling Sabbath observance for your congregation, who will?


[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 96.

[2] Ibid.


May 26 2013

Guardrails for Healthy Pastor/Staff Relationships


guardrailsGuardrail:  A barrier or safeguard that prevents vehicles from veering off the roadway into oncoming traffic, crashing against solid objects or falling into a ravine.

Unhealthy ministry staffs perform their specified tasks dependent only on their own strength, ability, methods, processes, and talent. Vain self-sufficiency intentionally disregards guidelines that could prevent ministers and the ministries they lead from derailing.

Ministry leaders will never be completely healthy until their ministry staff relationships are also healthy. Even if your ministry staff is high functioning and producing individually, you will never experience extraordinary staff and church health until leadership and relationship safeguards are put in place.

Consider some of the following relational ministry guardrails as a place to begin:

  • Effective leaders look ahead with laser vision, look beside to confirm buy-in and look behind to offer clarification.
  • Ministry Ageism is unacceptable…but so is not learning anything new in the last few decades since seminary.
  • Pastor…the blame for staff conflict shouldn’t always begin with you but the responsibility for staff harmony should.
  • Leaders required to sacrifice family for church stuff…You have only one family and there are other churches.
  • Cooperation, compromise, collaboration and kindness are easily ignored when we are trying to guard our territory.
  • You’ll never enjoy healthy church staff relationships if you believe all problems originate in someone else’s office.
  • Collaboration is marginalized when we have outgrown our need to learn anything new.
  • Bullying is no more noble under the guise of spiritual leadership.
  • Bullies get compliance not buy-in.
  • Seeking wise counsel from others protects us from ourselves.
  • The end of learning new is the beginning of leading old.
  • Leading from behind is like following the horses in a parade…Vision is obscured and cleanup is often required.
  • A ministry that requires you to regularly kill lions and bears may actually be a rehearsal for a giant to come.
  • Implementing change has the power of a subway third rail…proper use propels you forward but abuse can kill you.
  • Until Senior Pastors and Ministry Staff engage in unpretentious deferential sit-downs they’ll never know where they stand.
  • Senior Pastor…Please initiate intentional significant conversations with your ministry staff. They need it and you do too.
  • Healthy church staffs have an open line of communication allowing disagreement in private without fear of retribution.
  • Churches will never be healthy until their ministry staff conflicts are over who gets to wash the feet of the others.
  • You are coasting if the most important things in your life and ministry are all in the past.
  • Intercession instead of indignation for our leaders with whom we disagree may not change them but it can sure change us.
  • Knowledge hoards information…Leadership invests it in others.
  • Dear Leaders who purport to speak for all Christendom…Not all thoughts that enter the mind should exit the mouth.
  • How a Senior Pastor treats his staff is a strong or weak example of biblical stewardship.

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly. —Jim Rohn


May 19 2013

Churches Through the Lens of Social Media


social media

Social Media doesn’t create bad theology…it just surfaces it and provides a forum to share it with the entire world.



Google+ Church – This church is a relatively new plant or older transitioning congregation that does not seem to be getting much traction. Some have suggested its lack of success is the result of a mediocre attempt to imitate the popular church located just a few blocks away.

Twitter Church – The sermons, songs and activities are always streamlined, sometimes pithy, but also occasionally persuasive. Leaders and congregants get in, get out and get on with other stuff.  Some detractors, however, view Twitter Church as having been synthesized too much into short bursts of inconsequential information. Critics often long for a church with more depth and substance such as ones with three-hour committee meetings.

Pinterest Church – This church focuses on developing community by hosting after church potluck meals, senior adult luncheons, men’s breakfasts, bake sales, chili cook-offs and craft fairs. Their annual youth cookbook fundraiser helps support mission causes around the world.

Linkedin Church – This congregation is often found in a college town, corporate suburban location or metro gated community. Political and professional connections are necessary for leadership influence. Coat and tie is optional only on the all-church cleanup day when business casual is acceptable.

Facebook Church – A friendly church from all outward appearances but most of the relationships are in reality fairly shallow. Evangelistic methods include promoting political ideologies, circulating spiritual quotes and forwarding religious chain letters. Sharing how much they like Jesus and dislike politicians are foundational church doctrines. Radical structural changes can also occur without letting the members know ahead of time.

Instragram Church – Except for the occasional photo of their plate at the potluck luncheon, the annual church directory consumes most of the time for this congregation.

YouTube Church – Half of their church budget is spent on broadcasting the worship service for the local access television station. Shut-ins and sleep-ins love watching the service in their pajamas. Budget clout gives them primetime Sunday morning programming between Gun Smoke and Andy Griffith reruns.

StumbleUpon Church This church offers the newest in music, teaching, technology, drama, casual clothing and coffee in hopes that those who just happen to drive by will be miraculously drawn in.

Myspace Church – Despite numerous redesign attempts, this congregation has experienced decline in recent years. Some have blamed a lack of relevance, absence of young people, shifting cultures, outdated methods, stale traditions, a changing community, or new and shallow practices. Most, however, just blame Twitter Church or Facebook Church.



Mar 24 2013

Loss Leader Easter Sunday


loss leaderIn retail, a loss leader is the practice of offering goods or services discounted at or below cost in order to draw consumers in.  The strategy is that drawing them in will hopefully lead them to buy additional items at a higher price.

Churches are formulating final plans for meaningful Easter worship services at the end of this week knowing they will potentially impact more attendees than on any other Sunday of the year.  In an effort to entice more participation some of those congregations are planning gimmicks or hooks to get consumers in for one of the most meaningful days of the church year.

When those consumers realize that worship actually requires offering their bodies as a living sacrifice, what methods then will those same congregations need to employ to entice those consumers to count the cost (Rom 12:1)?  How will those congregations help them express deep calling unto deep worship…when discounted loss leader worship is all that they are offering (Ps 42:7)?  In this context, you get what you pay for actually means…whatever you reach people with is what you will reach them to.

King David responded to God’s command to build an altar to the Lord so that the plague on the people of Israel might be stopped (2 Sam 24:21).  At no cost to David, Araunah offered his threshing floor, his oxen, and even the wood from the oxen yokes for the burnt offering.  King David replied, “No, I insist on paying for it.  I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).

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.  We should not lift up to God worship or any other offering that costs us nothing.  If worship costs us nothing but is fashioned to comfort our needs and preferences, it may not be worship at all.”[1]


[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.


Mar 4 2013

Guardrails for Long-Tenured Ministry


guardrailsMost of us don’t begin a new ministry position believing that we will only stay for a few years. Although our intentions are noble for the long haul, it seems that we can often get blindsided by unforeseen circumstances that repeatedly derail that goal.

The author of the book of Hebrews offers guidelines that serve as a great application for long-tenured ministry. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Later in the same chapter, the author continues with these thoughts, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

The talent, skills, reputation, and personality originally helping us to land a ministry position are never enough to help us keep it. This reality should be the starting point for developing leadership and relationship safeguards to diminish the potential for future derailment. Just internalizing healthy principles before beginning a new ministry position will not ensure ministry health, especially when some of those unforeseen circumstances are beyond our control. Ignoring those principles, however, will almost always guarantee abbreviated ministry tenure. And retroactive implementation is rarely successful from the middle of a conflict.

Consider some of the following ministry principles as you begin a list of your own. This list is in no particular order and is by no means exhaustive.

• Even though your position often requires you to have the last word doesn’t mean it has to be your word.

• Cast vision for the future without denigrating the past.

• Understand the difference between getting them to give in and getting them to buy-in.

• Not all thoughts that enter your mind should exit your mouth.

• If you alone are holding onto the leadership of your organization in order to receive the credit when something works…just remember that you alone will also receive the credit when something doesn’t.

• You don’t have to agree with to learn from.

• Know the difference between people and projects.

• Don’t be threatened when someone else gets the credit.

• Impatience at the expense of relational buy-in is not any more virtuous when the goal is noble.

• Long-term change is a race of endurance that may require you to walk uphill and sprint downhill.

• Graciously accepting evaluation from all people at all times is not enough, you must actively seek it.

• The most direct route may seem reckless to those who have the same goals but are more comfortable taking safer routes.

• Affirm in public, correct in private, and pastor in both places.

• How you lead externally must reflect who you are internally.

• Servant leadership is not a hierarchical step down…it is a relational leap up.

• Don’t randomly blow-up the existing without considering where the pieces will land.

• Understand the difference between knowing that you can and considering whether you should.

• Shared ministry should not threaten but instead strengthen your leadership.

• If you don’t take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically no one else will.

• The only new really essential to organizational success may reside in the revitalization of the attitude and resolve of your ministry.

• Never stop being a student.

• Consider re-evaluation before revolution.

• Instead of indignation, grace must always be your default.

• Securing buy-in before initiating change will more evenly distribute successes and failures.

• People generated should always supersede leader dominated.

• Build bridges from the pew to the platform.

• Not finding time to read is passive arrogance. Reading only that which affirms what you already believe is active arrogance.

• Ignoring steps to increase your ministry shelf life leaves you prepared to lead a church that no longer exists.

• Keep track of what wakes you up at night…nightmares about how things are (maintenance) or dreams about how they could be (leadership)?

• Take the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm.”


Feb 3 2013

Leadership Lessons from the Short Life of Chuck


My sister was four years old and I was two in 1960 when our brother Chuck was born.  As a result of a viral infection at the age of three months, Chuck developed encephalitis resulting in permanent brain damage.  He regularly endured Grand Mal seizures and remained at the developmental level of a one-week old.  Professionals encouraged my parents to institutionalize Chuck and indicated no treatment was available until and unless he lived beyond the age of five.  Not much hope was given that treatment would be necessary.

When Chuck did survive to the age of five a process of securing treatment began.  The most promising procedure was available at The Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential in San Antonio, Texas.  There was, however, a ten-year waiting list for acceptance to the program.  Amazingly, Chuck was accepted after three months.  Part of the treatment required a 750-mile trip every two months for a year.  Since my parents’ automobile was not very reliable a local dealership loaned them a new vehicle to use for each trip and a service station in our community provided free gas.

The suggested treatment for this type of brain damage was a patterning therapy.  The therapy included a series of exercises performed several times each day by several people who manipulated Chuck’s head and limbs in patterns purporting to simulate the movements of a non-impaired child.  The patterning therapy required building a long slide, a patterning table, and a crawling box.  As soon as my parents arrived home from the initial medical consultation a friend from church secured the specifications for building the patterning equipment and completed those items at no cost to my family.

The therapy required five people for the patterning sessions.  Each session began with thirty minutes of patterning followed by a five-minute break and concluded with thirty more minutes of patterning.  This process was completed three times a day, seven days a week for an entire year.  Church and community friends and even complete strangers responded to a local newspaper advertisement for volunteers.  The list grew to 125 committed respondents.

My sister and I were even able to participate by standing on a chair to help move Chuck’s legs.  A fifteen-year-old boy volunteered and since he was not old enough to drive also enlisted his dad to help.  As a functioning alcoholic, one volunteer walked from the other side of town, never missing her volunteer slot and always arriving completely sober.  During that year, a man who worked for the drug company that manufactured the expensive medication required to minimize Chuck’s seizures just happened to move into the vacant home next door.  With his assistance, the drug company for which he worked provided free cases of the medication.

The coordination of the volunteer schedule was a tremendous task.  A woman my parents did not know offered her time as telephone coordinator and served as the contact person for patterning substitutes. My parents never had to worry if enough volunteers would be present to help.  Seven years earlier this gracious lady had contracted polio and because of that disability was abandoned by her husband.  Although confined to a wheel chair and almost completely paralyzed except for her left arm, she valiantly coordinated the 125 volunteers.

The daily patterning therapy continued for a period of a year.  And although Chuck’s developmental level had increased from a one-week old to a six-month old the physicians determined that no further development would be realized and the patterning therapy was discontinued.

The next step for treatment was to see a group of specialists in Philadelphia.  The expense to fly my parents and Chuck to Philadelphia was great so our community began a united effort referred to as Operation Chuck to help raise the necessary funds. Ladies clubs organized teas, girl scouts held bake sales, and a community garage sale was scheduled.  Complete strangers dropped money by our home to contribute to the fund.  And in just a few weeks all of the needed travel funds were raised.  The disappointing result of the trip, however, was that the specialists in Philadelphia encouraged my parents to discontinue medical treatments after determining nothing further could be done.  Chuck lived less than a year after they returned home from Philadelphia and at the age of seven died of complications from pneumonia.

The question might be asked, “How can this be an example of successful leadership when the ultimate goal was never achieved?”  Let me share a few of the leadership and teamwork lessons I learned and continue to learn even though it occurred over forty years ago:

  • Always seek the counsel of professionals but ultimately proceed in response to convictions.
  • Not now does not mean not ever.  Waiting requires patience without wavering in conviction.
  • The success of a team is not just measured by the end result; it is also measured by incremental successes along the way.  Celebrate the in-betweens of the process.
  • Not all teams are created; they often evolve in response to a need.
  • The transformation that occurs in the lives of team members can be as important as achieving the ultimate goal of the team.
  • Great teams consist of those who are willing, though they may seem unlikely.
  • The success of a team is rarely measured by individual accomplishments.
  • When the stakes are high, teams must consider resources and influencers from outside of the organization.
  • Team success may not depend on a single defined leader as much as the collaboration of numerous ad hoc leaders who subordinate individual interests to the concerns of the team.
  • A unified mission can transform individuals, families, churches, and communities to realize success beyond control or comprehension.
  • Successful teams leave legacies.  My sister and I observed the sacrificial giving of an entire community of close friends as well as complete strangers.  And with unwavering faith our parents sacrificed all they had for the sake of our brother without sacrificing the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our entire family.  That legacy has lasted forty-five years.

Jan 20 2013

The Phobias of Unhealthy Church Leaders


phobiasPhobias are persistent fears or dislikes of certain objects or situations.  The sufferer often goes to great lengths to avoid particular circumstances.  His/her responses are often considered irrational or disproportional to the actual danger or dislike posed.  In the event the phobia cannot be avoided entirely, the sufferer might under duress endure the situation or object with marked distress.

Maybe phobia is too strong of a word for the reason why some church leaders continue not doing things that are contributing to the deterioration of their leadership health and the health of their congregation.  Aversion may be a better word but the response to the situation faced is often the same.  How can a leader who is called to associate others with a common vision and purpose accomplish that mission through a wall of relational and connectional distance?

Church leadership is difficult as we attempt to find a balance between serving others and also serving our own needs, fears, aversions, or possibly even phobias.  It doesn’t really matter, however, if the root issue is fear, arrogance, aloofness, or just laziness.  The end result is always the same…

Unhealthy Leaders = Unhealthy Relationships = Unhealthy Churches.

The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly. —Jim Rohn


Phobias or Aversions We Must Overcome for Leadership Health

Epistemophobia–  Fear of knowledge.

Allodoxaphobia– Fear of opinions.

Atelophobia– Fear of imperfection.

Atychiphobia– Fear of failure.

Bibliophobia– Fear of books.

Cardiophobia– Fear of the heart.

Cenophobia or Centophobia– Fear of new things or ideas.

Decidophobia– Fear of making decisions.

Deipnophobia– Fear of meaningful conversations.

Didaskaleinophobia– Fear of going to school.

Dikephobia– Fear of justice.

Doxophobia– Fear of receiving praise.

Ecophobia– Fear of home.

Enochlophobia– Fear of being with people or crowds.

Ephebiphobia– Fear of teenagers.

Eremophobia– Fear of being oneself.

Ergophobia– Fear of work.

Geliophobia– Fear of laughter.

Gerontophobia– Fear of old people.

Hedonophobia– Fear of feeling pleasure.

Heresyphobia– Fear of challenges to official doctrine.

Hypengyophobia or Hypegiaphobia– Fear of responsibility.

Ideophobia– Fear of ideas.

Philosophobia– Fear of philosophy.

Phronemophobia– Fear of thinking.

Ponophobia– Fear of overworking.

Prosophobia– Fear of progress.

Sociophobia– Fear of culture or society.

Sophophobia– Fear of learning.

Soteriophobia – Fear of dependence on others.

Symbolophobia– Fear of symbolism.

Technophobia– Fear of technology.

Theologicophobia– Fear of theology.

Tropophobia– Fear of making changes.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. —Eleanor Roosevelt


Jan 13 2013

We Are Shallow Worship Enablers


EmpowermentIf our leadership conveys that worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it…If we expend all resources and energy preparing for and presenting a single hour on Sunday and have nothing left to encourage worship the other 167 hours of the week…If we aren’t exhorting them and modeling for them how to worship not only when they gather but also when they disperse…Then we are indeed shallow worship enablers.

Eugene Peterson wrote in Christ Plays in Ten-Thousand Places, “Worship is the primary means for forming us as participants in God’s work, but if the blinds are drawn while we wait for Sunday, we aren’t in touch with the work that God is actually doing.”

Congregations will never evolve from shallow worship to “deep calling unto deep” worship until we as leaders resolve to offer them opportunities to move from enabled dependency to intentional empowerment (Ps. 42:7).  And if we don’t help them catch that vision, who will?

Dependency is conditional or contingent on something or someone else.  It is relying on or requiring the aid of another.  Worship dependency is saving it until Sunday and waiting for someone else to initiate it.  Worship dependency focuses only on what is done for us here and has to start over every week.  Dependency can also increase worship conflict since we only get one chance at it.

Empowerment is increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes.  Empowerment equips and offers encouragement to think, behave, or take action autonomously.  Worship empowerment encourages congregants to take ownership in their own worship responses to God’s revelation at the moment it occurs.  Worship empowerment focuses on what we can do and who we can be out there and starts every day where we left off the day before.  Empowerment can reduce worship conflict since we get multiple chances at it.

Worship empowerment arises from the shallowness of dependency and leads to the full, conscious, active, and continuous participation of worshipers.  When worshipers are empowered and no longer enabled, what occurs on Sunday is then an overflow of what has already occurred during the week with an added benefit of getting to share it with others.  The weekly gathering is then expanded to a daily occurrence allowing a congregation in full assurance and with complete confidence to proclaim that Worship has left the building and will continue until we meet again.


Jan 6 2013

You Might Be A Seasoned Worship Leader…


You Might Be A Seasoned Worship Leader If…

leisure suit

  • You’ve had recurring nightmares about showing up in your underwear to lead the Christmas music.
  • You remember when banjos and mandolins were popular the first time.
  • Your version of a click-track is tapping a pencil on your music stand.
  • You remember when using split-track cassettes was living on the edge.
  • Business Casual meant wearing a leisure suit.
  • Your former youth choir members are now parents of former youth choir members.
  • You couldn’t wait to sell the church Hammond B3 and Leslie speaker 25 years ago at the youth mission trip garage sale for 100 bucks…Oops.
  • Your version of a drum loop is patting a continuous rhythm on your resonant stomach.
  • You considered coloring your hair…until you realized it wasn’t available for ears and noses.
  • You’ve managed music budgets that included hymnals, overhead projectors, a video projector the size of a compact car, and a digital projector the size of a Kleenex box.
  • The attire for any of your music groups ever included white pants and vests.
  • Planning Center was the location where you and the pianist met every Sunday morning to select the hymns with no sharps.
  • You’ve ever asked a congregation to turn over in their hymnals.
  • A Capo reminds you of Don Corleone in the Godfather.



Jan 1 2013

New Year Church Change Pain Management


changeWhen your horse dies…stop riding it is a great adage to challenge congregations that attempt again and again to reach an ever-changing culture with never changing practices.  It doesn’t, however, offer much comfort for the pain and grief experienced in the loss of the beloved horse.

A change in structure and practice is often a priority as a church begins a new calendar year.  But changes in structure and practice can also negatively impact potential success in the future unless the emotions of those longing for the past are also considered.

A healthier transition could begin once a congregation acknowledges that the pain associated with change is real.  Considering the emotions linked to change is essential to the transitional development that will ultimately lead to transformation.  The key is to develop and implement a healthier change process to assist with pain management.  Consider the following suggestions:


Select the Appropriate Score

Score:  A tool used by a composer, conductor, or analyst that shows all the parts of an ensemble, enabling the experienced reader to “hear” what the composition will sound like.

Selecting the appropriate score for change requires preparation, prayer, discernment, study, observation, and buy-in before actually initiating a change.  Andy Stanley challenges leaders with the understanding that, “Designing and implementing a strategy for change is a waste of time until you have discovered and embraced the current reality.  If you don’t know where you really are, it is impossible to get to where you need to be.  What you don’t know can kill you.”[1]

The score is the focus, outline, containment, and limitations of the considered change.  Even though a score has framework limitations it is still open to the interpretation of the conductor and players.


Rehearse Before You Perform

Rehearsal:  The practice of something to be performed, usually to test or improve the interaction between participating people, or to allow technical adjustments.

Rehearsing a change is actively soliciting buy-in from congregants with unique gifts, perspectives, and abilities.  The pain of transition is amplified when leaders discount congregational members as uninformed, as incapable of grasping the theological implications of change, or by assuming that they are so rooted in their old identity and behavior that they are unwilling to think in new ways.

Rehearsing change creates an environment where individuals realize their wisdom is an essential part of what is being created.  Shared vision allows a congregation to consider the various perspectives and molds them within the framework of the score.  It then creates a unified ensemble ready for the final presentation.  Peter Senge describes this shared vision as, “creating a relational child, a unique future that will only emerge with shared dialogue and cooperative implementation.”[2]

Tempo:  Tempo is the relative speed at which a composition is to be played.  Rehearsal gives a congregation time to set the proper tempo for change.  What might appear to a leader to be the quickest and most direct route may seem reckless to those members of the congregation who have the same goals but are more comfortable taking safer routes. Ignoring signals of caution can create conflict, sabotage trust, leave those we lead in our wake, and cause us to re-trace our steps. What was intended to accelerate the pace may in fact lengthen it.  The tempo established during rehearsal will kill it or encourage its success.


Modulation Is Essential in Key Changes

Modulation:  The process of moving from one key to another.

The essential word in the previous definition is process.  Change is a process, not a one-time event.[3]  Modulation offers a congregation a less painful transition by allowing time for them to come to terms with their identity change.  Jumping from one key to another without the process of modulation is abrupt and jarring, leaving the listener stunned and frustrated.

Ironically, one of the key components of a successful modulation is dissonance.  Dissonance will occur in the change process and cannot be ignored or it will surface again.  Resolving dissonance in the modulation process releases the tension of moving from the previous to the new.  Transformation takes time and the process is just as important as the end result.


Perform – Initiate the Change

Performance:  The act of presenting; of doing something successfully; using knowledge as distinguished from merely possessing it.

In his book, The Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley highlights the story of how in the early days of the Civil War; northern generals were so focused on avoiding casualties and embarrassing losses that they would miss strategic opportunities.  They spent more time exercising the troops than they did engaging the enemy.  Stanley wrote, “Simply recognizing the need for change does not define leadership.  The leader is the one who has the courage to act on what he sees.”[4]

Leadership is not about making change decisions on your own but it is about owning those decisions once they are made.  Stanley also said, “While the average man or woman fears stepping out into a new opportunity, the leader fears missing out on a new opportunity.”[5]

In an effort to initiate change, leaders often push to do anything different than what is not working now.  This lack of planning, absent of serious reflection often causes unnecessary transitional pain.  Those faithful leaders and congregants who have successfully opened themselves to new concepts with healthy pain management have accomplished this by accenting what they do best, reclaiming lost focus and resolve, and involving greater participation of the congregants in the entire process.

“The main dangers in this life are the people who want to change everything…or nothing.”                                                                             

                   Nancy Astor

[1] Stanley, Andy, The Next Generation Leader (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003), 75.

[2] Senge, Peter in Brad Berglund, Reinventing Sunday: Breakthrough Ideas for Transforming Worship (Valley Forge: Judson, 2001), 11.

[3] Heath, Switch, 290.

[4] Stanley, The Next Generation Leader, 50.

[5] Ibid., 51.



Nov 11 2012

Why Creative Control Is Killing Your Worship


Tapping into the creative abilities of others in the planning, preparation, and implementation of worship does not diminish your worship leadership influence it actually elevates it.  When leaders leverage all available resources it is a sign of leadership strength, not weakness.  Asking for help in the creative worship process is a sign of mature confidence and leadership wisdom.  Anne Wilson Schaef wrote, “Asking for help does not mean that we are weak or incompetent.  It usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence.”

controlNo individual worship leader has enough creativity, insight, or endurance to plan, prepare, rehearse, and lead multigenerational, multisensory, and multicultural worship services in multiple styles week after week, year after year, with the same level of spiritual depth and creative tenacity each and every time.  Attempting it will eventually kill you and the worship of your congregation.  Both may be slow deaths, but still terminal.

Enlisting various artistic and administrative creatives to serve with you on a Worship Design Team or Creative Worship Team or whatever you choose to call it provides your congregation a unique worship voice far beyond the voice you could have offered individually.  Those enlisted creatives can also serve as liaisons for and with the various generations and cultures of your congregation.

This team can serve as…

A Filter – That sifts through the various ideas to allow the usable materials to surface and the ineffectual materials to be discarded.

A Buffer – That lessens or moderates confusion or conflict by representing not only the team but also the various cultures and contexts of your congregation.

A Promoter – That expands the level of communication to and encourages buy-in from numerous circles of influence.

An Encourager – That inspires and emboldens you as the worship leader, each other as collaborators, and your congregation as participants.

An Evaluator – That celebrates and reassesses after each service from an environment of brutal honesty but also profound trust.

The worship leader who leads from the impression that he/she alone has the ability, creativity, and even right to be the sole creator of the worship service often cares more about guarding territory than helping the congregation participate in spirit and truth worship.  If you alone are holding onto the worship process as a creative gatekeeper in order to receive the credit when something works…just remember that you alone will also receive the credit when something doesn’t.  Worship leadership is not what you do for or to your congregation it is what you do with them.



Oct 29 2012

Your Pace Or Mine? Five Tips for A Healthy Ministry Run


running“Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up.  It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up.  It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” – African Proverb

Ministry is a race we run daily.  The question we must ask as we hit the ground running is, “am I running a smart, healthy race of endurance or am I running a lack of training race that will eventually lead to burnout or dropout?”  Ministers live under a tremendous pressure to perform.  It is a pressure that may be self-imposed or sometimes church imposed.  The life of ministry and service can even sanctify busyness rather than free us from it.  I am convinced, however, that the pressure we live under is a weight God never intended for us to carry.

Since we live in a culture that values motion as a sign of significance we often assume that our ministry pace should also model a similar motion.  It is unhealthy and also arrogant when we run as if it is all up to us, as though it wouldn’t get done if we didn’t do it, as if our efforts are indispensable to God, and as if our entire ministry relationship with Him depended on it.

Scripture offers a great running metaphor providing encouragement to those of us running this race of ministry. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).


Five Tips for A Healthy Ministry Run

  • Don’t Bonk

“and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

“Bonking” or “Hitting the Wall” is something every runner dreads.  Endurance is the ability to continue despite stress, fatigue, pain, and hardship.  Distance runners have to push themselves beyond their level of comfort to log the miles necessary to compete.  If you don’t do the roadwork, the minute the pace quickens, the incline increases, or the terrain gets treacherous you will be tempted to quit.  It doesn’t matter if you are a hurdler, sprinter, cross country runner, or marathoner, you have to put in the miles.  Many of the stressors of ministry have little to do with our lack of skill and usually occur as a result of our lack of preparation.  A famous critic once called a great violinist of the nineteenth century a genius.  In reply to this, the violinist declared, “Genius! For thirty-seven years I have practiced fourteen hours a day, and now they call me genius.”

  • Focus

“fixing our eyes on Jesus”

You can’t see the finish line from the beginning of the race.  Considering the length of a distance run at the beginning of the race is essential for determining pace.  But dwelling on the distance throughout the entire race can be daunting and could lead to burnout or dropout before the race is completed.  In an effort to pace themselves incrementally, runners often focus on an object that can be seen ahead…a telephone pole, mailbox, or house.  They run to that object and then focus on another object ahead and repeat that pattern over and over until the race is completed.  We can only finish the race if we run it incrementally by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.”

  • Try Fartleks

“who for the joy set before Him endured”

Fartlek is not a middle school bodily function joke.  It is a running term of Swedish origin that literally means “speed play.”  Running fartleks involves varying your pace throughout your run, alternating between sprints and slow jogs.  It becomes a game of experimenting with various paces, ultimately strengthening both endurance and speed.  Running fartleks is a fun way to give new life to monotonous training runs as well as rigorous speed intervals.  Ministry is often serious but can also be enjoyable when we allow it to be.  If the race you are running has become tedious and you are constantly sprinting without ever allowing yourself a chance to catch your breath, you need to lighten up and again experience the joy of ministry.  Even though ministry often requires intense seasons of going all-out, it also requires margins of recovery if you intend to finish well.

  • Hurdle Hurdles

“let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us.”

Hurdling hurdles sounds redundant but hurdlers don’t jump, they hurdle.  Jumping is vertical, requires more exertion, and causes more hang-time, slowing the pace of the hurdler.  Hurdling is horizontal, minimizes exertion, and snaps the runners feet back on the track as quickly as possible.  Runners are often chased by dogs, regularly turn their ankles, constantly dodging oblivious drivers, have had things thrown at them, or can get completely lost.  Even when we run a smart race of endurance, fix our eyes on Jesus, and do ministry with an attitude of joy we will still face hurdles.  The key is to get our feet back on track as quickly as possible.  And, if the same dog chases you every time you run…it is probably a good indication that you should select a different route.

  • Don’t go solo

“since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us”

Running with a partner offers encouragement, motivation, pace, and challenge.  It is much easier to go farther when you have others encouraging you along the way.  One of the most meaningful motivators for runners competing in a race is the crowd that lines the street to cheer them on.  Let that “great cloud of witnesses” of your immediate family, church family, friends, and peers surround you.  They will encourage and cheer you on if you will allow them in.  Many of these partners have already gone before us paving the way and modeling what endurance looks like.

Later in the same chapter of Hebrews the author continues with these thoughts, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed” (Hebrews 12:11-13).

“The advice I have for beginners is the same philosophy that I have for runners of all levels of experience and ability – consistency, a sane approach, moderation and making your running an enjoyable, rather than dreaded part of your life.”
  -Bill Rodgers


Oct 14 2012

What Does Worship Renewal Look Like?


new growthWorship renewal will begin when congregations move toward a deeper awareness of the biblical precedents, historical practices, and theological tenets foundational to worship understanding. Much of the conflict that occurs as congregations consider worship renewal is the result of too much focus on the style of our worship instead of the content of our worship.

If worship leaders agree that these foundational elements are necessary why do they continue to depend on song selection and stylistic change alone to negotiate the worship impasse?  The need for worship renewal must be determined first by considering worship principles before then trying new worship practices.

The Worship Renewal Grants Program of The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship fosters well-grounded worship renewal in congregations and worshiping communities throughout North America.  This grant program provides funding assistance to those organizations developing projects that encourage worship renewal.

Betty Grit, Worship Renewal Grants Program Manager posted an article in November, 2010 titled “Worship Renewal: What We Have Learned.”  Betty has given permission for me to repost her article below.

The article is based on responses from congregations that developed projects for worship renewal funded through the Worship Renewal Grants Program.  It is interesting to note that some basic principles of worship renewal were common to all projects in this broadly ecumenical, multicultural, and multigenerational search for worship renewal.  The bulleted items in the article are taken directly from the Worship Renewal Grants Year-End Reports.

The findings recorded in this article by Betty Grit can offer great insight as your congregation considers what worship renewal might look like.  The information provided is extensive but rich in foundational worship principles.  It is lengthy but will be well worth your time to read and digest.

The language, comments, and responses may not all be consistent with the doctrines and practices of your faith community.  You are encouraged, however, to view the foundational principles in light of your culture, giving consideration to their value for your congregation and the entire ecumenical faith community.

For more information about the Worship Renewal Grants Program follow this link: or email Betty Grit – Worship Renewal Grants Program Manager:



PROVERB 1: Worship renewal cannot be produced or engineered by human ingenuity but is a gift of God’s Spirit.   Renewal is a gift for which we pray, rather than an accomplishment we achieve.

  • Worship renewal is achieved only through the Holy Spirit-the divine favor from above.  The common theme was the need to pray diligently, be patient and expect the unexpected.
  • We learned that the most important element of worship and worship renewal is the exponential element that the Holy Spirit brings; His work supersedes any human effort.
  • Comment from a pastor: “God is shaping us at this Church in His own way and on His own schedule.   Any renewal that happens here is not based on human genius.  The Holy Spirit is at work.”
  • Everyone comes to the table with a wealth of ideas and opinions and while that makes coming to a consensus difficult, we felt the Holy Spirit was there in the process.
  • We have learned that God is faithful and that we can be led by Him to places and opportunities beyond our own imagination.
  • Any new approaches to scripture presentations in worship includes risk and requires a certain amount of courage to step out in faith.   We are constantly needing to be reminded to prayerfully discern the leading of the Holy Spirit in all of our actions related to worship.
  • Communication among worship leaders has gone from adequate to excellent.  As a worship committee, we have learned to prayerfully explore new ideas and to carefully review the more traditional worship methods. The congregation has been very cooperative in the process.

PROVERB 2: Worship renewal mines the riches of scripture and leads worshipers to deeper encounters with Christ and the gospel message.

  • Participants have spoken of a greater spirituality and growth of personal faith life and the connection between and need for both personal prayer and communal worship.
  • Congregants are more knowledgeable, more involved, more connected with each other.  Many members who were faithful but not as active are now more actively engaged.  Members, especially the children are praying some powerful prayers.  There are visible evidences of spiritual growth.
  • Group members sense a heightened energy in worship and an appreciation of the ways we have incorporated some of what we have learned into the services.  We have involved more laity in discussions of worship.  People are reporting a deepening prayer time in worship as well as more attention to the Word.
  • I am very certain that this process has little to do with the money, and so much more about commitment, connections and conversation with God and each other!
  • As we grow closer to God, we grow closer to each other.  And close community leads us back to God.  It is a circle of intimacy that lies at the heart of corporate worship.
  • Confession and Assurance of Pardon are not optional areas of worship – they are necessary.  Confession and receiving forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ is a regular part of following Christ.  Confession is not driven by guilt as much as a desire to experience God’s grace and freedom.
  • We learned that common ground in worship is much more abundant and available than our differences.  As we examined each element in our order of worship we were able to share our understanding of the meaning and purpose of each element and relate our experiences with each element.  We learned that renewal happens when people begin to have serious discussions about the nature and purpose of worship.  This process began with the discussions about applying for the grant and continues even today as we have completed the project and are moving on.
  • The grant helped us to understand a fuller meaning of the word “worship.”  We now look at worship as something that goes from an inward state to an outward state. We also now understand that there are many variations in how a congregation can express worship. Our discussion left us feeling that we have more work to do in educating our people and ourselves.

PROVERB 3: Worship renewal arises from, and leads to, the full, conscious and active participation of all worshipers – young and old, the powerless and powerful, newcomers and lifelong worshipers.

  • Worship is more spontaneous and provides more avenues for participation by the congregation than before.  We have made changes and added variety.  It has made worship more authentic.  Format changes and other intangibles have occurred.  One partnering congregation is a recent creation in our community.  Three congregations merged just a few years ago and moved into a newly built structure.  Changes that were a result of this project helped the congregation make a significant move from being “three combined churches” to becoming ONE church.
  • We created opportunities to experience a “full, conscious participation” in worship.  Those words now mean something to the group and to individuals in the group.  Worship has a new feeling to it.  Experiencing it in many ways is new and brings a new level of understanding.  Worship is not a spectator sport!  We need to find ways to gradually bring the worshippers into even more involvement.
  • It has convinced us that we don’t have to change our style, because style is not the issue. We can and must focus on passion and participation.  Our other findings have convinced us that our worship must take place in the midst of a church culture that is filled with a sense of belonging.
  • Our children who participated in the project are excited to be involved in worship planning and practice. This eagerness is matched by helpful and guiding leadership as these young people grow in grace and confidence. The participatory nature of worship has been elevated: getting more people involved as actors, both in pulpit and pew, and not simply spectators. Worship can be creative, not limited to the segmented approach that seeks to appeal to the various generational tastes.
  • Overall, our discussions have shifted from a survey or our “preferences” in worship to a focus on the presence of God in worship and worship as our response to God’s gift to us.  Though worshippers might not be able to name it, they are describing an increased impact of the service in their lives.
  • Our project discovered that worship is experiential, and needs to be the very basic elements of Christianity when shared with children with special needs.  We learned that training the congregation to be more welcoming of special needs children and their families takes time and a longer time frame than we anticipated.
  • Our grant has given both the participants and directors the incentive to be more proactive in thinking about worship practices. We also have become more intentional about finding ways to continue nurturing family worship at home during the week.
  • We enter worship shaped in part by our culture.  Transforming worship challenges the culture’s pattern we bring with us and presents the Divine patterns against which we should live our lives.
  • How do we move people of faith from being spectators to participating in worship?
  • An unplanned yet delightful surprise was that children are by far some of the best teachers of how to worship.  We discovered that the best pathway to teach adults about the dialogical nature of worship on a congregation-wide level was through the children.  Through messages, songs and postures tailored to their age and formation level, the children proved to be the best practitioners of dialogical worship in a multi-sensory/multi- experiential way.
  • Persons of all ages want to share their faith with others and need to do so to grow in their own faith.
  • Listening to persons with disabilities share their stories is a great source of instruction; disabilities and mental illnesses impact the entire family and congregational “system”; inclusion is not our project but God’s gift through Christ.
  • Our Generations Banner and Family Poster projects have enabled children, youth and adults to work cooperatively to improve the visual impact of our corporate worship and has resulted in meaningful conversations between generations and the sharing of talents and expertise of which we were previously unaware.
  • Children and youth are often leaders in worship renewal, both in their own homes and in the church.  We should never underestimate the spiritual awareness and understanding of children.
  • Intergenerational worship is counter-cultural.  When children are regularly separated from adults and families separated from singles or adults, forming a community that values the contributions of all its members requires constant explanation and vigilance.  Intergenerational worship requires planning and persistence.  We seek to build a community, which enhances the spiritual growth of all its members by including all.
  • We kept the children’s participation very diverse so the adults would get to see far ranging ways in which the children could be involved in congregational worship and so the children’s participation would not be put into a ‘liturgical’ box.
  • Young adults stay connected to a community in which they feel involved.
  • Worship renewal occurs at every age and stage of life.
  • Different cultures face different challenges in worship renewal.
  • We learned that focusing energy to foster the participation of those who are more on the edges of our assembly requires ongoing challenges.  We learned that including different elements in worship (the artistic talents of children or the cultural gifts of Hispanic members) is a celebration of God’s gifts among us that leads us to long for more.
  • We learned that a family’s home worship practices help prepare both children and parents to become more active worshipers during corporate worship.  We learned that lasting renewal comes as a result of study over time; being patient in prayer, open to ideas, changing one heart at a time.  Collaboration and communication are vital.

PROVERB 4: Relationships (Christian fellowship, trust, forgiveness and grace) are essential for worshiping together.

  • We have come to understand that there are indeed a variety of gifts but the same Spirit.  Before the grant process we would speak of two separate cultures of worship.  We have developed a new culture with shared core values and this culture and these core values we have found to be in tune with our tradition.  We worship now as a true expression of who we are as a multi-cultural, bilingual community of believers.  We have found our common ground by spending time together to talk and share our experiences.
  • Working as a group in a worship project can build bonds that withstand the mundane frictions that inevitably occur in an organization.  After the Advent season, one member said that the congregation felt more energized than it had for a long time.  As a worship committee, we are continually aware of the need to focus our worship planning, remembering what we learned from the various opportunities provided as a result of the grant.  We find ourselves energized and hopeful as we seek to enhance the worship life of our community.
  • Because we care about each other, we do not allow our different assumptions and opinions to form rifts and barriers.  On the contrary, those differences have helped us broaden and deepen our understandings of the nature of worship.  Worship renewal may require programs and meetings but its basis is in a relationship of care and trust.
  • We have learned that technology is a tool for communicating, but nothing replaces relationships in effectiveness at communicating the Good News.
  • Team work is essential – and takes intentional work (& work & work & work…)
  • We have experienced worship renewal to be a dynamic, engaging and mysterious process.  We have gained a more comprehensive understanding of worship, of styles/modes/languages of worship and of the power of increased planning and training on the flow and impact of the worship service.  We have learned that worship renewal needs concentrated time and effort and that it is on going.  We have also become more aware that the planning of worship in this large church can be challenging and needs deeper involvement by laity.
  • We discovered the importance of the linkage between the activity of worship and the sense of community throughout the church.  Worship style isn’t nearly as important as a widespread sense of belonging.  Participation in worship is a key to passion for God in worship.  Mere onlookers are more likely to be distracted by style.  We learned how difficult worship renewal can be.  Congregational buy-in is essential if renewal is to work.  Otherwise, you’ll simply have revolution and reaction.

PROVERB 5: Worship involves all the senses.

  • We have learned that worship can involve all the senses including handling clay, the movement of dance, observing a story in stained glass, and singing an ancient hymn.
  • To lead a reading in worship involves more than to make audible what is printed.  Whether we’re intentional about it or not, we supply an interpretation to that reading.
  • Besides simply allowing individuals to just see or experience different forms of artistic expression within worship, it has opened doors to new conversations among members about worship itself.  These conversations were not very prevalent prior to this grant project.
  • People are more comfortable with new visual elements when the theological reasoning is presented to them.
  • Our liturgies tend to be so full of words that we sometimes neglect other, non-verbal or non-rational aspects of our humanity.
  • Physical actions are a powerful gateway for spiritual growth and renewal.  God uses our senses to communicate His loving presence to us as we share bread and wine.
  • Sometimes it’s not easy to talk about worship because it’s difficult to put our thoughts about God into words.  Pictures, symbols, or movement often convey what words cannot.
  • Artwork that is integrated into the goals and meaning of worship amplifies the emotion of the experience, making it more vital, more personal.  It can help direct our focus and help us pray.
  • The place in which we worship influences how we worship and what our worship experience is like.
  • No matter the type, style or source of congregational song, there must be strong leadership.  In every congregation and community God gives people the capacity for musical expression in worship.  The gathering and use of these gifts may require creative choices and reframed expectations.
  • Our view of worship has certainly been expanded and enriched throughout this grant process.  Through working with leaders from various church denominations we have learned to embrace the variety of worship expressions (dance styles, music, costumes, etc.) that flow from the Body of Christ.

PROVERB 6: Learning about worship is essential for renewal

  • Conscious, active and fruitful participation only happens when meaningful education about worship has first taken place.
  • We have learned how much we as a congregation did not know about the history, theology and practice of Christian worship through the centuries and in various settings.  “We’ve always done it this way” may not be a statement of resistance to change as much as an admission of our limited knowledge and experience.
  • Worship renewal cannot come arbitrarily – for the sake of change alone, or even for the sake of keeping worshipers interested.  It must come as a result of a congregations’ understanding between the connection of its worship practices and the way in which that body lives out God’s purposes for this world.
  • Whether teaching children, seekers, new or mature Christians, clearly explaining in a life-giving way why we are doing what we are doing -whether it be praying a lament, lifting our hands, giving our offering, bowing in repentance or receiving a blessing – has a direct affect on people’s increased passion for and awareness of worship.  Simply going through the motions of worship – stand-up, sit-down, sing now, not talking – without letting people know why they are engaged in these practices rob worshipers of a deep and meaningful experience of God.
  • We have asked ourselves, “How can we foster more vibrant, intergenerational and participatory worship while still maintaining a high standard of theological integrity?”  We have a genuine need to educate our congregation in the richness, beauty and intentionality of worship.
  • I learned different ways to pray, like the Lord’s Prayer (age 5).  I’ve seen the power of praying together and opening yourself before God and others (age 68).  I liked studying the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer every week and seeing them on the banner up front; now, when we pray at the table, it means a lot (age 16).  Prayer: so vital to worship, so accessible to people of all ages, such an integral part of a Christian’s life.

PROVERB 7: Worship renewal often takes place around the sacraments

  • There is renewed emphasis and study of the sacraments of baptism and communion.
  • The project brought many people to a greater awareness of Communion and how it can be received/served in different ways.  Younger adults and young people seem to be drawn to the mystery of the sacrament and thus it engages them in worship on a regular basis.
  • The more we studied the sacraments, the more we discovered how deep and complex their meaning and recognized a need to make continuing education on the sacraments part of our church culture.
  • “Communion” comes from the Greek word of Christian fellowship (“koinonia”), life shared with God and with each other.  Communion binds us together as the body of Christ.
  • We have asked, “How can we increase our understanding and appreciation of confession/assurance of pardon in light of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper?”

PROVERB 8: There is a hunger for worship renewal.

  • Those who are seeking God appreciate worship that is inviting and experiential, imaginative and inclusive.
  • We did not anticipate fully the eagerness of the congregation to explore worship renewal.  Everybody had varying ideas of what this meant.  We learned that the pastor was instrumental in keeping the idea of renewal before the congregation.  We also learned that much of what we had been doing was simply from habit and did not increase our communication with God.  One thing that surprised some team members was a small segment of the congregation that was very resistant to the idea of making any changes.  They saw the whole idea of renewal as unnecessary.  However, the increased vitality in the worship service served to quiet most of their fears and doubts.
  • We learned that there is much eagerness for worship renewal in the life of our congregations.  Our focus on educating and involving children in worship has been received as a welcome effort.  Most people think of worship as a personal experience to be rated for “how much they get out of it.”  Our task as educators, as well as pastors, is to promote worship as what we do in response to God’s love and grace.  We continue to learn and develop worship habits throughout our lives.

Practical Tips:

  • It only takes a few thoughtful, deliberate and discrete changes to create far-reaching effects.  Numerous or sweeping changes can easily be counter-productive.
  • Worship renewal is a much longer process than we thought – actual, tangible change is incremental.  Perhaps worship renewal is mustard seed speed.
  • Worship renewal is a marathon and not a 40-yard dash, and as a result, we must remain focused, fervent and faithful in continuing this journey of worship renewal.
  • We have learned that planning a worship service is hard work and being creative at it is time-consuming.  But, offering creative worship to God is exhilarating and renewing, calling forth unrecognized gifts.
  • Those who minister are sometimes starving for an opportunity to be ministered to.  Those in leadership sometimes are hurting and need others.
  • How does a congregation regain its call to active ministry and not just say: “That’s the Pastor’s job”?
  • Small Group Dynamics – How developing small group ministries can enhance worship and how worship can enhance small group ministries.
  • Leadership awareness to the culture and place where their congregation is.  How to introduce new ideas without appearing to be dictator or destroyer of tradition.
  • Thinking beyond self – Moving congregations to a new vision of worship and life that extends past its doors.
  • Overcoming the “if it’s not happening in my church, it is not happening” mentality of small member congregations.  Helping move people to experience worship in different settings than in “their church.”
  • Pastor identity – Role of the Pastor in the life of the congregation, i.e. avoiding the over-functioning Pastor/under functioning Church that happens in many small member congregations.  The role of Pastor in teaching and worship – developing an understanding of what a Pastor is and does and whom the congregation is as ministers (priesthood of all believers).
  • Do everything by team.  If you can’t get a team of people together, reevaluate!
  • We have learned the importance of planning ahead.  This grant gave us a manageable way to incorporate more people in planning an overarching theme for a set of services.  Our worship has been more experiential, more creative and more unified than ever before.
  • The participants at the final seminar learned that change is not a bad word.  They also learned some ways of helping people be more open to change in their worship life and empowering them to have a sense of participation in moving towards change.
  • Giving up individual ownership of a vision or project allows others to embrace it.  Allow a vision to be shaped and room to grow through the joyful dialogue of interested believers.
  • You cannot have too much promotion for a project.  Promotion is too big a job to do by yourself.  The best promotion is done from the ground up by those who share your vision.
  • Because we are a young church, we had assumed that habits of worship for our congregation were not really developed.  We found out that every church has habits.  As worship became more interactive, people became more involved.  As our worship involved all ages, we felt more like a family and learned ways God interacts with us in our different life stages.
  • We are all aware of a new energized attitude about worship in our community.  There is a renewed attentiveness toward the elements within our worship service.  Fortunately, the congregation has learned over the year how to provide feedback in a useful and positive manner!
  • We have learned to plan ahead and meet often for vision, strategic planning, prayer and fun!  Worship planning and leading is an exceeding joy!





Oct 8 2012

Do You Have A Worship Elevator Speech?


Could you define worship in 30 seconds or less?

ElevatorAn Elevator Speech is an extremely concise presentation of an idea, model, solution, or strategy that can be presented in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds.  Research indicates that the term originated in the early days of the explosion when web developers were trying to pitch their ideas to venture capitalists in order to secure funding.  Since firms were swamped with requests, the most successful presenters were those who could formulate, consolidate, and describe their proposal in thirty seconds or less.

In a recent article in The Christian Century, the editors invited several noted authors to summarize the Christian message in as few words as possible.  They were instructed to proclaim the gospel in a maximum of seven words and then expound their statements in a few follow-up sentences.[1]

Could you summarize your understanding of worship in the same way?  Defining worship succinctly but also comprehensively is a difficult but necessary proposition.  With mixed results, worship conversations often circle around the formulation of various statements in an attempt to capture the essential meaning, significance, and nature of worship.

So, here is a similar challenge…If you had thirty seconds to define or summarize worship using a maximum of 7 words in an initial statement with a couple of follow-up sentences of explanation, what would your worship elevator speech look like?  In his recent book, Viral, Leonard Sweet wrote, “It takes more work to distill thoughts into two sentences than it does into two pages.”[2]

Share your worship elevator speech with the rest of us on the comment link under the title of this post.  We can all benefit from collective wisdom.  You will see my sample below to jump-start your thinking.

Worship Is…

Planned and Spontaneous Response to God’s Revelation

Worship is not our attempt to initiate God’s presence; it is our response to having been in God’s presence.  God begins the conversation and our reaction with a balance of listening as well as speaking is worship.

[1] See  “The Gospel in Seven Words,” The Christian Century, September 5, 2012, 20.

[2] Leonard Sweet, Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2012), 66.


Sep 30 2012

Is Yours An Unadulterated Enculturated Church?


EnculturatedAdulterate:  Render (something) poorer in quality by adding another substance that has the potential to corrupt, debase, or make impure.  Adulterated is willing to compromise biblically, theologically, and doctrinally.  In other words…the content is fair game.

Enculturate:  The process by which a person learns and adapts to the characteristics of the culture by which he or she is surrounded; Acquiring behaviors that are appropriate or necessary to adapt to a culture.  Enculturated is willing to accommodate culturally, contextually, and systematically.  In other words…the style is fair game.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church, “I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews, I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (I Cor. 9:20 NIV).  “To the weak I became the weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (I Cor. 9:22 NIV).

“Becoming all things…by all possible means” will require the church to take deliberate, frequent, and sacrificial risks with their practices (style) without jeopardizing their theology (content).  It will require congregants to believe that God created them and joined them together to demonstrate his love and redemption to the world in and through them.  It will encourage them to develop an attitude of deploying as a natural response to their congregating.

An Unadulterated Enculturated Church speaks “love 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.”[1]  With either response congregants will at least know their church has taken the chance to influence, impact, reflect, and respond to the surrounding culture instead of just ignoring or castigating it.

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


Sep 16 2012

Are You Leading from the Death Zone?


death zoneThe death zone is a mountaineering reference to the altitude above a certain point where the oxygen level is no longer high enough to sustain human life.  The death zone has been generally recognized as any altitude above 8,000 meters or 26,000 feet.  Spending time in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere can cause climbers to make irrational decisions due to the deterioration of their physical and mental capacities.  An extended stay in the death zone without the proper safeguards will ultimately lead to a loss of consciousness and death.

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.  Stress of ministry and the demands of congregants, teams, staff, and family constantly vying for your time and full attention may have exhausted your reserves.  If this is true, how can you expect to lead others to a place where you no longer have the spiritual, emotional, or physical strength to go yourself?

Leading from the death zone is trying to sustain an elevated level or pace of life and ministry that has the potential to jeopardize your family, your ministry, and your health.  Recognizing and acknowledging the following warning signs helps establish safeguards before you no longer have the capacity to replenish your reserves.

You Are Trying to Do It Alone

The reality is that many of us are so talented that we can succeed alone…for a time. The reality is also that our talent will only take us so far and the time will come when the inherent risks of trying to do it on our own will cause us to fail…also alone.

You Aren’t Taking Care of Yourself

To sustain effective ministry you must learn to take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  If you aren’t doing it, no one else will.  If the swift current regularly drags you under, rolls you on the sandy bottom, scratches up your shoulders and knees, and fills your swim trunks with sand…If it seems to take longer each time for the riptide to lose its strength, release you, and allow you to swim to shore…You’d better look for still waters to restore your soul before you no longer have the resolve to kick to the surface and gasp for air  (Ps. 23:2-3).

You Are Ignoring Your Family

Loving your family means spending time with them.  Don’t ignore your family in the name of ministry…nurturing your family is ministry.  Missed opportunities with your spouse and children can never be recovered.

You Haven’t Set Appropriate Boundaries

Boundaries are spiritual, familial, professional, emotional, physical, mental, ethical, and relational counter measures or limits that you set and are accountable to as precautionary measures to ward off impending danger.  Boundaries give you permission to say no.

You Aren’t Preparing for the Future

Ministry leaders that ignore the steps to recalibrate and rēcreate for the purpose of actively increasing their spiritual, physical, and mental shelf life often find themselves only prepared to lead a church or ministry that no longer exists.  What you once learned is not nearly enough to sustain you for your entire ministry.  This death is usually a slow one…but still terminal.


Sep 11 2012

Leading Worship Change…What Are You Reading?


changeWorship change is sometimes necessary as congregations consider the culture and context of who is present and who is not present…yet.  Available resources such as books, websites, and trusted leaders from outside the organization could offer assistance in facilitating healthier change.

In an effort to initiate worship change, leaders often push to do something…anything different than what is not working now.  The lack of planning and reflection often causes unnecessary transitional pain.

It can be just as painful, however, when a congregation is hesitant to change even when it is obvious that change is necessary.  Failing to initiate change when change is inevitable can cause a congregation to get stuck and force them to drift out of control for an undetermined season.  Craig Satterlee wrote, “Any change can be approached as either a threat or an opportunity, either a cause for celebration or a reason to despair.”[1]

Since change is often necessary for organizations to progress, the automatic assumption is that change will always require incorporating something completely new.  It is possible that the only new necessary is for the organization to do what they are already doing…better.  Chip and Dan Heath remind us that, “We rarely ask the question:  What’s working and how can we do more of it? What we ask instead is more problem-focused:  What’s broken and how do we fix it?[2] Leaders must also consider that the only new really essential to organizational success may reside in the revitalization of the attitude and resolve of the leader… not with the structure or practices of the organization.

Leaders often plunge into the stream of change without reflecting on the past and present circumstances that frame the structure and practices of their organization.  In their rush to do something fresh they rarely consider the consequences that could occur as a result of ignoring those circumstances.  Andy Stanley challenges leaders with the understanding that, “Designing and implementing a strategy for change is a waste of time until you have discovered and embraced the current reality.  If you don’t know where you really are, it is impossible to get to where you need to be.  What you don’t know can kill you.”[3]


The following book suggestions offer valuable insights into leading worship change with benevolence.  Please add your favorites to the list by clicking on the comments link under my article title above.

carsonCarson, Timothy L., Transforming Worship (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003).

“What we understand correctly is that the immediate past century may indeed take the gold cup for being the historical period of the greatest rapidity, volume, and complexity of change.  People of great longevity who lived for a hundred years between 1900 and 2000 witnessed an almost unbelievable breadth of change.  Many of them sat in our pews.  They were the ones who finally stopped saying, ‘Now I’ve seen it all.’”

“What we misunderstand, however, is that earlier centuries of Christians faced equally shocking and shaking developments.  We forget the innovative and sometimes heroic ways in which they adapted and often flourished.  By remembering, we can avoid the inclination toward either excessive self-congratulation or undue self-pity.”

SatterleeSatterlee, Craig A., When God Speaks Through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition (Herndon: Alban Institute, 2005).

“As living organisms, congregations are by definition in a constant state of change.  Whether the changes are in membership, pastoral leadership, lay leadership, the needs of the community, or the broader culture, a crucial mark of healthy congregations is their ability to deal creatively and positively with change.  The fast pace of change in contemporary culture, with its bias toward, not against change only makes the challenge of negotiating change all the more pressing for congregations.”

“During a congregational transition, faithful preaching ensures that the gospel – and not a program or agenda – is proclaimed and heard.  Effective preaching leads the congregation to experience God’s presence, grace, power, and direction amidst the transition.  Faithful and effective preaching illuminates the mystery inherent in the transition, rather than seeking to eliminate it, so that God provides orientation and direction as the congregation moves into what is still unknown.  Faithful and effective preaching models and declares that God speaks through change.”

Trouble at the tableDoran, Carol and Thomas H. Troeger, Trouble At the Table: Gathering the Tribes for Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 1992).

“Sometimes in the effort to avoid the pitfalls of acting autocratically and in hope that the conflict will disappear, leaders abdicate their role.  Their denomination has supplied them with hymnals and liturgical resources that are rich with materials for revitalizing their worship, but the threat of conflict and resistance is enough to paralyze them.  It is easier to keep choosing from the same limited selections of congregational songs and to keep the same ritual form than to invest the time and energy required to introduce and lead new material effectively.”

“A great deal of tribal warfare results from people using the power of liturgical leadership to impose forms and methods of worship that have at best a tenuous relationship to the depths and demands of faith. The internal pluralism of the congregation and the quickly changing values and fashions of popular culture make it harder to be ‘cohesive’ and to maintain a clear sense of ‘religious identification.’”

ByarsByars, Ronald P., The Future of Protestant Worship: Beyond the Worship Wars (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002).

“What, other than a pioneering spirit, drives these changes?  In some cases, it seems to be a passion for evangelism, and particularly for reaching out to generations largely missing from traditional churches.  In other cases, it seems to be an attempt to hold on to church members who are bored and reluctant worshipers.  Sometimes, it may be an attempt to duplicate the fabulous numerical successes of single-generation congregations.  But behind those various motivating factors, there is the inescapable fact of dramatic cultural change.  What used to work just fine (or seemed to) doesn’t work anymore.”

“Is anything really essential to Christian worship?  Or is worship simply a blank page, an empty hour or so to be filled with whatever seems religious?  Is it possible to worship in the idiom of popular culture without oversimplifying and even distorting the gospel?  Or, by turning its back on contemporary cultural forms, does the church become elitist, inaccessible to large numbers of people?  Should these questions even be addressed without at least some minimal consultation with Scripture, theology, and history, as well as sociology?  Interested parties have answered all these questions differently.  Since a great deal is at stake, it’s no surprise that passions rise when dealing with them.”

[1] Satterlee, Craig A., When God Speaks through Change: Preaching in Times of Congregational Transition (Herndon: Alban Institute, 2005), 6.

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

[3] Stanley, Andy, The Next Generation Leader (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003), 75.


Sep 3 2012

Senior Pastor…What Your Worship Pastor Needs From You


communicateMost worship pastors crave the leadership investment from and healthy ministry communication with their senior pastor but don’t often realize the freedom or job security to initiate that relationship.  Consequently, a trial and error process of determining ministry direction often discourages the worship pastor and causes frustration for the senior pastor.

Implementing a culture of healthy communication requires a level of sacrifice and trust that cannot be guarded, territorial, defensive, or competitive.  It publicly and privately acknowledges the calling and competence of others and is not afraid of transparent dialogue.  It also embraces and shares unified goals.  But healthy ministry communication will probably never occur unless and until the senior pastor initiates it.


What Your Worship Pastor Needs From You

  • A collaborative spirit that supports worship and preaching as complementary, not competitive.
  • For you to accept the role as primary worship leader in order to encourage the deeper biblical and theological credibility of worship beyond just music.
  • An open line of communication that gives permission to disagree in private without fear of retribution.
  • Mutual approachability, availability, and accountability.
  • For you to acknowledge, value, and leverage his/her calling, gifts, and leadership style even though they are radically different from your own.
  • Affirmation in public; correction, instruction, coaching, and mentoring in private; and pastoring at all times.
  • For you to believe that a partnership of shared ministry will not threaten but instead strengthen your leadership.
  • For you to initiate intentional significant conversations that include vision, hopes, dreams, goals, expectations, plans, concerns, and evaluations.
  • For you to invest in his/her personal and spiritual development with no ulterior motive.
  • Loyalty, trust, respect, and friendship.
  • For you to have enough self-confidence to acknowledge that the sermon may not always be the most important element in the service.
  • A resolve to work toward a common philosophy of worship and ministry.
  • The willingness to pray together, share personal and ministry goals together, and read books together.
  • For you to agree that the implementation of musical changes alone will not heal internal ministry and relational deficiencies in your church.
  • Your help communicating to the congregation that the word of God can be proclaimed not only through the sermon but also through singing, Scripture, testimonies, prayer, drama, dance, video, and the ordinances.
  • Authentic transparency.

Aug 26 2012

How Can Worship Pastors Keep Their Jobs?


A few weeks ago I wrote the following paragraph as part of my post An Open Letter to Transient Worship Pastors.

“Musical talent and platform presence may help you secure a worship pastor position but developing leadership and relationship skills will help you keep it.  In fact, mandated change in the form of forced termination is often the result of this deficiency and rarely occurs as a result of musical weaknesses.  And yet, where are you spending most of your worship leadership preparation time?  You will never be able to teach enough new songs to make up for your relational and leadership failures.”

You can read the entire post here:

you're firedThis week I received a lengthy response to that open letter from a senior pastor presently living that reality with his worship pastor.  Here are some of the comments he shared with genuine pastoral concern:

“I’m a senior pastor working with a worship leader whose talent is apparent on Sunday morning.  It is the behind the scenes stuff that isn’t really getting done.  On numerous occasions I have expressed my concerns and the concerns of others and have encouraged him to follow through with his responsibilities.  His most recent response was, ‘I thought this was more about ministry than about politics.  It feels like I have to accomplish all of these little things when I come to work and I just want to do ministry.’  He really loves people, loves music, and has a great love for God.  He often falls short, however, when it comes to leading people and often wonders why those people are not responding to his leadership.”

As a follow-up to my original Open Letter to Transient Worship Pastors and in response to the concerns expressed by this pastor and others, here are some suggestions for this impasse.


Suggestions To Help Worship Pastors Keep Their Jobs

  • Make the mortgage payment before you remodel the kitchen

Worse first!  Since Sunday comes every week…do the things that are necessary before you do the things that can wait.  Do the roadwork at the beginning of the week so you can focus on the things that charge you up at the end of the week.  Thomas Edison said, “People don’t work hard because in their conceit, they imagine they’ll succeed without ever making an effort.  Most people believe that they’ll wake up some day and find themselves successful.  Actually, they’ve got it half right, because eventually they do wake up.”

  • Place more focus on the people than the project

Events are an important part of your ministry but not at the expense of relationships.  Don’t leave relationships in your wake as you move toward the end result.  The process is also ministry.  What will they remember more…the event or the investment you made in them leading up to the event?

  • Look out for number 2

In his book 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (Like Me), John Fischer calls placing others first…Looking out for number 2.  Become the person who always hopes someone else gets the credit, honor, and accolades.  Abraham Lincoln wrote, “It is surprising how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”  Effective worship leaders are strength finders and strength builders who constantly affirm publicly and privately.    

  • Be a lifelong learner

You begin coasting the moment you think you have all the understanding, knowledge, and skills needed.  Develop lateral mentoring relationships.  Read ecumenically…and not just authors or subjects you always agree with.  Visit and observe other congregations.  Attend conferences and workshops.  You stop leading when you stop learning.

  • Remember that you are not in this alone

God has called you and will sustain you in that calling.  You must also, however, surround yourself with others.  Bring people along with you.  Let them in.  When you bring people along with you, your failures and successes are distributed out more evenly.  Don’t forget the “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us” (Hebrews 12:1).  Ken Blanchard said, “Leadership is not something you do to people, it is something you do with people.”

  • Love much

Love God

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

Love your family

Loving your family means spending time with them.  The Church is the bride of Christ, not your bride.  Don’t sacrifice your family for ministry…nurturing your family is ministry.  Missed opportunities with your spouse and children can never be recovered.

Love the Church

Loving the Church means you trust them enough to let them in.  Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of humility.  Love the church unconditionally and you will be the beneficiary of much more than you could ever give.

  • Move tables

Are you the leader who disappears to carry out more important ministry obligations when it is time to set up for or clean up after an event?  Jesus said, “But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27).  Musicians are often arrogant.  Instead, with genuine humility, be the first one to volunteer for the menial task that no one else wants.  Don Shula once said, “You can’t coach from the press box; you have to be on the field.”

  • Remember that failure is an option (occasionally)

Some companies require their leaders to fail.  If they do not ever fail it means they are not taking enough creative risks.  This suggestion is not a license for laziness or recklessness.  When you fail…don’t blame others for your deficiencies and failures…own them.  Surround yourself with those who have strengths in your areas of weakness so that particular failure is never repeated.

  • Lighten up

When was the last time you actually had fun in ministry?  Maybe the more telling question is when was the last time those you lead had fun under your leadership?  When we arrogantly assume that we are indispensable to God and our busyness is a sign of significance…we need to lighten up.  When we are constantly frustrated with people who will not do what we need them to do…we need to lighten up.  Don’t take yourself so seriously.  Laugh often…mostly at yourself.  A famous conductor jumped into a taxi outside the opera house and shouted to the driver “Hurry! Hurry!” “Very good sir” said the driver.  “But where to?”  “It doesn’t matter,” said the conductor impatiently.  “They need me everywhere.”


Aug 22 2012

Ten Signs Your Church Is Legendary


legendA legend is an iconic story that occurred in the past but continues to resurface in order to remember the actions or activities of an individual or organization.  Legend is based on a shared history of revered and renowned collective experiences that is often romanticized or even embellished in an effort to encourage present generations to perpetuate that story for future generations.

Legends are defining historical events or periods that continue to influence in spite of present circumstances, needs, or relevance.  Most legends do not earn that designation until no longer active or even living.  Consequently, perpetuating those legends has the potential to limit an organization and its members to past performance.

Ten Signs Your Church Is Legendary

1.   Instead of creating new stories to impact future generations, time is spent trying to resurrect or recreate the old stories of former generations.

2.   One particular style or genre of music has been canonized.

3.   Most conversations begin with Do you remember instead of Can you imagine.

4.   An inordinate amount of time is spent planning and preparing for reunions and anniversaries.

5.   Those who have joined your church in the last decade or two have no knowledge of or experience with the original legend beyond what you have told them.

6.   Much more time is spent protecting old programs and procedures than praying for and considering new ones.

7.   Church vision looks in the rearview mirror for the way things used to be instead of out the window for the way things could be.

8.   Time and monetary resources are invested in the physical and organizational institution instead of the spiritual mission.

9.   Any time the legend begins to evolve into a newer story a war is waged to protect the original while holding newer storytellers suspect.

10. Leaders are considered and selected only from those who can best represent and perpetuate the legend.

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


Aug 19 2012

Worship Beyond the Shadow of A Doubt


doubtIf worship is authentic it must then embrace the various seasons of life that can result in an arid period of doubt and hopelessness.  Congregations have been conditioned to believe that it is somehow more spiritual to avoid expressing those doubts in public worship.  Publicly questioning God is often considered irreverent, inappropriate, or openly sinful even though at one time or another we all ask those same questions in private.  Songs and sermon texts tend to steer clear of the topic of doubt believing that a positive façade is somehow less threatening.

Hopelessness is exacerbated by the appearance that all is well with everyone except me.  The reality, however, is that most of us have gone through or are presently going through a dark season.  Honest and authentic worship during a period of doubt actually allows us to express a “deep calling unto deep” faith that is easily disregarded when we sense we are in complete control (Psalm 42:7).  Is faith a necessary worship element if certainty is a pre-requisite for worship to occur?  The Lebanese-American artist and poet, Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.”

In a letter to the Rev. Michael van der Peet in September 1979, Mother Teresa wrote, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear. “The 16th century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic Priest, Saint John of the Cross referred to a season of spiritual dryness as The Dark Night of the Soul. Even as the eleven disciples went to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go…when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted (Matthew 28:16-17).

Congregations are to be commended for their quick response to an entire nation asking hard questions as a reaction to catastrophic events such as terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and injustice.  Where we continue to fall short, however, is in the realization that individuals gathering with us each Sunday are suffering from personal seasons of uncertainty that are impacting them just as catastrophically.  If doubters are left to figure it out without the church…why would they then need the church when they do figure it out?  And if our worship is not a place for that intimate soul and spirit transparency…where is?

Authentic worship grants us permission to publicly admit that catastrophic events and even the everyday struggles of life can often shake our faith.  Catharsis begins when we give each other permission to surface and even sing those doubts together instead of hiding in public behind a veil of contentment.

But you are not alone in this

And you are not alone in this

As brothers we will stand

And we’ll hold your hand

Hold your hand

                       Mumford & Sons, Timshel


Aug 12 2012

Worship Leader…Are You A Slacker?


slackerYou might be a slacker if…


  • You spend more time searching your computer files for a previously but not recently used worship service order than it would have taken you to actually prepare a new one.
  • Your song sets are determined exclusively by perusing CCLI’s Top Twenty-Five, Worship Leader’s Set Lists, What’s Hot on Praise Charts, or the Hymnal.
  • You aren’t willing to communicate in a new language of chord charts or choir parts even when the culture of your congregation calls for it.
  • You spend Monday through Thursday contemplating your creativity and then have to scramble on Friday morning to actually harness that creativity into a worship service plan for Sunday.
  • You are constantly looking for shortcuts by imitating instead of creating and therefore your songs often sound just like those of the original artist.
  • You aren’t a learner but instead the learned that no longer needs to attend conferences, read books, take additional lessons, or dialogue with other worship leaders.
  • You aren’t investing in the lives and ministries of younger leaders and training those who will come behind you just in case their gifts might surpass your own.

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

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


Aug 7 2012

Challenging Your Worship in 140 Characters…Worship Quotes


140 Characters

A sincere desire for worship renewal often challenges individuals and congregations to ask different questions if they expect different results.  With its limitation of 140 characters, Twitter allows us to ask and answer in a concise and sometimes pithy manner.  Consider some of the tweets below that I posted over the last few months.  I would love for you to follow me on Twitter @dwmanner.



  • When your horse dies…stop riding it. Great wisdom when considering worship change.
  • I can’t wait for tight jeans to go out of style so worship leaders will be able to lead songs in lower keys.
  • Worship tradition gives freedom to select another route when the road is closed. Worship traditionalism is a perpetual cul-de-sac.
  • Believing musical inspiration stopped with the hymnal is like believing medical inspiration stopped with bloodletting.
  • Arrogant worshipers believe they know just what God likes since He likes just what they know.
  • If the presentational music in your church is special does that mean the rest is ordinary or does it mean special as in peculiar?
  • How often do you worship when you are not the leader?
  • Worship Leader…You will never teach enough new songs to make up for relational and leadership failures.
  • Music talent may help you secure a worship pastor position but developing leadership and relationship skills will help you keep it.
  • If you lead worship just because you are not trained to do anything else your leadership is convenient not a calling.
  • If God Is Hosting the Party Why Do We Keep Asking Him to Show up and Show off?
  • A Worship Tourist visits a location for pleasure. A Worship Traveler is on a journey toward a destination.
  • Worship Leader wisdom is pre-emptively initiating Worship Evaluation instead of having to respond to critics who initiate evaluation for you.
  • How congregants treat their Worship Leader and those with whom they congregate is also an act of worship.
  • It is an act of worship when one generation loves another generation more than they love their own musical preferences.
  • I know guys like to blow stuff up but maybe your worship just needs a re-evaluation instead of a revolution.
  • Successful worship verbal communicators know the flight plan and how to land the plane before leaving the runway.
  • Why are we willing to sacrifice traditional and cultural preferences to travel around the world but not across the aisle?
  • Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a venue for creatives to express their art will lose them to places that will.
  • Allowing songs about God to supersede the actual Word of God in our worship services is idolatry.
  • Are We Singing Them In Or Singing Them Out?
  • Worship leadership success is never completely realized until we can say, “Worship Has Left the Building.”
  • To reduce teenage loitering, some Seattle businesses started playing classical music loops. Some churches figured this out decades ago.
  • Congregants will never surrender to your mission and worship will never be truly participatory if everything is done for them.
  • When one side or the other continues to rain on your Worship Leadership Parade, remind yourself that it is not your parade.
  • A worship service Call to Worship can often feel like the Indy 500 announcement, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”
  • If singing worship songs you dislike is the only sacrifice required of you to further the cause of Christ…consider yourself blessed.
  • What if predictable, scripted, explainable, and rational weren’t always worship prerequisites?
  • If music is the only emphasis in worship preparation it will also be the only point of contention in worship presentation.
  • Depending on music as the only incendiary device to elicit spontaneous worship combustion often results in a flash in the pan.
  • Designing worship to replicate the Good Old Days usually succeeds in getting it half right…It is Old.
  • Are Christian Colleges and Seminaries Preparing Worship Leaders For A Church That No Longer Exists?
  • Congregational health will not occur until we break bread together on our knees. Healing begins at the Table.
  • Have you noticed that worship music volume complaints are higher when the musical style is one the complainant doesn’t like?
  • Just changing our songs will not impact culture but changing our singer’s will. It’s not just what we sing but who we are.
  • If the church longs for the way things were instead of the way things could be it will continue to flounder in the way things are.
  • Maybe if worship leaders, like physicians took the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm”…churches would be healthier.
  • We spend so much time leading church services as an act of worship that we neglect to lead the church in service as an act of worship.

Jul 23 2012

Evaluating Your Worship…Are You Asking the Right Questions?


questionsIt has been a couple of years since I posted my Worship Service Evaluation Questionnaire below.  You have my permission to use all or part of the questionnaire to meet the needs of your congregation.  It can be initiated internally by asking select members of your congregation to respond to the questions or externally by enlisting an outside evaluator to ask questions from the perspective of a first-time guest.

Unless an organized plan of evaluating worship based on the deeper biblical and theological issues is implemented, the tendency for congregations to focus on style and service mechanics will continue to consume the energy of worship planners and leaders. Since most congregations do not have an instrument to regularly evaluate their worship, the following questionnaire was developed to encourage those congregations to consider worship renewal grounded in Scripture and modeled throughout the history of the church.

Worship evaluation will occur.  Leaders must determine if they would rather initiate the evaluation themselves or constantly respond to congregational critics who have initiated an evaluation for them.  A pre-emptive approach could reduce the conflict that will inevitably occur from the latter.


Service Date:_________________________

Service Time:_______________________

 Specific Worship Elements


  • When were worshipers first greeted after leaving their car?


  • Was an attitude of community evident as the congregation gathered?


  • Were worshipers embraced as a part of this community during the gathering?


  • Was the congregation publicly invited to participate in this worship service?  Examples:  invocation, hymn/song, call to worship, processional.


Congregational Singing/Presentational Music

  • Was the congregational singing passive or participative?


  • Did the music selected for congregational singing include a balance of familiar and new?


  • Did congregational song selections include both vertical and horizontal expressions?  celebrative and reflective?


  • Did presentational music encourage congregational participation or passivity of performer and audience?


  • Was the text theologically sound and did it affirm the scripture as central?


  • Was the music multi-generational and culturally appropriate for this congregation?


  • Did music get too much attention in this service?


Visual and Fine Arts

  • Were visual and/or fine arts incorporated into this service?  Examples: mime, drama, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture, video, film.


  • Did the use of the arts in this service contribute to or distract from the worship expressions?


  • Was it evident through these arts that worship is visual as well as verbal?


  • Were artistic expressions used inappropriately in this worship service?  Examples:  glory of man instead of God, manipulation, entertainment.



  • Was it evident that prayer was an important part of this worship service?


  • Who led in prayer?  What types of prayer were led?  Examples:  invocation, confession, supplication, intercession, communion, lament, thanksgiving, repentance.


  • Were prayers fixed and/or spontaneous?


  • Were various prayer postures encouraged?



  • In this worship service was it evident that Scripture is foundational?


  • What Scripture passages were read in this service?


  • Who read Scripture?  How was it read?


  • Was Scripture read beyond the text for the sermon?


  • Was there a sense that the sermon came after the “preliminaries” or was it evident that the sermon was a part of the worship?


  • Did the congregation actively participate in the reading of Scripture?


Ordinances – Lord’s Supper/Baptism

  • Was the Lord’s Supper celebrated in this service?  If so, what was the attitude of the observance?  Examples:  communion, thanksgiving, remembrance, celebration, eschatology.


  • Did the Lord’s Supper provide an opportunity for symbolism and mystery?


  • Was the Lord’s Supper central to the worship theme of this service?


  • If the Lord’s Supper was not celebrated, what other options were available for responding to the Word?  Examples:  offering, congregational singing, baptism, testimonies, prayers of confession, invitation, Scripture, presentational music.


  • Was baptism celebrated in this service?  Did the baptism contribute to the communal relationship of the congregation?


  • Was the symbolism of baptism evident and understood by members and guests?



  • How was the congregation dismissed at the end of the service?


  • Was the dismissal a sacred expression?  Examples:  blessing, challenge, communal action, recessional.


  • Was there a communal and unified attitude evident as the congregation left?


Additional Elements

  • Where were the announcements presented?  Did they distract from the flow of worship?


  • Was the offering a time of sacrificial response that encouraged an attitude of worship?


  • What additional elements were present in this service?


General Worship Elements

  • Did the service feature a balance of worship actions?  Examples:  praise, confession, dedication, commitment, response, lament.


  • Was the service conversational involving God’s words to us and our words to God?


  • Did the worship space encourage my participation in worship?  Examples:  icons, art, symbols, colors, lights.


  • Was the order of service easy to follow or confusing?


  • Did the service flow well?  Did transitions link the worship elements?  Was the pace satisfactory?


  • Did the worship leaders convey a genuine pastoral concern?


  • Which of the five senses were used?


  • Was there a good balance of celebration and contemplation?


  • Were there elements of the service presented by leaders that could have been presented by the people?  Examples: prayer, Scripture reading, testimonies.


  • Were physical actions encouraged?  Examples:  raising hands, kneeling, bowing head, palms upturned, clapping, standing.


  • Did the service give participants an opportunity to connect with one another?


  • What symbols were used in this worship service?


  • Did anything in the service distract my attention from a conversation with God?


  • Were guests able to meaningfully follow the service without confusion?  Were elements presented that were generally accepted by the congregation that might be unfamiliar to a guest?  Were these elements explained?


  • Did the service offer a time of silence for reflection, repentance, or confession?


  • Besides congregational singing, what elements offered an opportunity for active participation?


  • Did the worship service invite the congregation to be a part of God’s story through Jesus Christ?



Jul 15 2012

Is Worship Leadership Really Worth It?


long road

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

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


You may have asked…

  • Is it really worth it that no generation is happy when I try to musically accommodate multigenerations; or when the adage “don’t shoot the messenger” applies to all situations except singing fewer hymns?
  • Is it really worth it when the only time available to schedule my family vacation is after the mission trip, Vacation Bible School, and camps but before the fall music ministry kick-off?
  • Is it really worth it when I constantly worry if my children will even like church when they are no longer required to attend?
  • Is it really worth it when the Christmas season for my family can’t begin until after the Christmas Pageant, Christmas Eve service, and Christmas Day service when it falls on Sunday?
  • Is it really worth it when our family never gets to spend the weekend with parents and grandparents like the rest of our family and friends do?
  • Is it really worth it when congregants upset with me seek retribution by targeting my spouse or children?
  • Is it really worth it when worship conversations always selfishly turn to what congregants want, deserve, and have earned?

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


Spiritual fortitude helps us realize…

  • It is really worth it when one generation discovers that loving another generation more than they love themselves and their own musical preferences is an act of worship.
  • It is really worth it when the troubled teen that got involved in your student worship ministry because of a fall music ministry kick-off now serves as a worship leader.
  • It is really worth it when your own children follow you into full-time or volunteer ministry and missions.
  • It is really worth it when the Christmas music presentation cut through the walls that no dialogue had been able to and lives were eternally changed.
  • It is really worth it when your parents and grandparents remind you that even though your time with them has been limited, they wouldn’t have had it any other way because your life and ministry is an answer to their prayers.
  • It is really worth it when congregants realize that how they treat their leaders and those they worship with is also worship.
  • It is really worth it when worship conversations always selflessly turn to what God wants, deserves, and has earned.

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


Jul 9 2012

Worship Leader…Can You Land That Plane?


verboseWorship service elements and song sets often require verbal transitions and yet, worship leaders rarely prepare for or even think about those transitions until it is time to make them.  The result is often a long-winded holding pattern of circular discourse including clichés, detours, and verbosity.  Successful worship verbal communicators know the flight plan and how to land the plane before leaving the runway.

Leaders could learn a valuable lesson from microblogging sites such as Twitter.  Its success is based on sharing succinct but also persuasive information posted by users who get in, get out, and get on with it.

The limitations of 140 characters forces users to formulate a mental outline of what is essential to say and how they want to say it.  Successful tweeting synthesizes information based on what the audience needs to know most.  In his recent book, Viral, Leonard Sweet wrote, “It takes more work to distill thoughts into two sentences than it does into two pages.  In the best of Twitter, the language is distilled, restrained, made to be sipped rather than quaffed.”[1]

Successful communication is marked by clear, precise expression without wasting words.  Concise eloquence requires preparation and practice.  If we spent as much time praying over and rehearsing our verbal transitions as we spend praying over and rehearsing the songs we are trying to connect, maybe those transitions could contribute to rather than detract from worship.


[1] Leonard Sweet, Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival (Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press, 2012), 66.