Feb 19 2018

One Another Churches

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

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

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

One Another Churches call for unity

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

One Another Churches call for love

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

 One Another Churches call for deference

  • Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
  • Outdo one another in showing honor (Rom 12:10)
  • Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  • Carry one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
  • Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)
  • Consider one another more important than yourselves (Phil 2:3)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thes 5:11)
  • Pray for one another (Jas 5:16)
  • Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Pet 5:5)
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Mar 28 2017

20 Paradoxologies

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

20 Paradoxologies

  1. Opening worship song.
  2. A song’s age determines its worship relevance.
  3. God showed up.
  4. Passive worship.
  5. Attire dictates worship success.
  6. Less Scripture and prayer gives more time for worship.
  7. A sermon follows the worship.
  8. We didn’t like worship today.
  9. Explain worship mystery.
  10. Worship music is always louder when you don’t like it.
  11. Recreating a worship experience.
  12. Worship without sacrifice.
  13. Consider musicology before theology.
  14. Implementing a worship formula.
  15. Changing worship will grow your church.
  16. Pretentious worship.
  17. How to market your worship.
  18. Planning evangelistic worship.
  19. Culture influences worship.
  20. Patriotic worship service.
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Jan 30 2017

Preemptive Strike: Evaluating Worship from the Inside

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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:

INTERNAL 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.
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Jul 18 2016

Top 10 Worship Service Questions

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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?

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Mar 23 2015

Is Your Church Singing? Send In A Canary!

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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?
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Apr 27 2014

Does This Stress Make Me Look Fat?

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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.

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Feb 9 2014

Ways Pastors Can Help Their Kids Hate Church

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fishbowl

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.
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Aug 4 2013

Don’t You Love A Good Mystery?

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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.

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Jul 7 2013

Half-Asked Leadership

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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.

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Jun 10 2013

Give It A Rest!

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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.

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May 26 2013

Guardrails for Healthy Pastor/Staff Relationships

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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

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May 19 2013

Churches Through the Lens of Social Media

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social media

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

 

CHURCHES THROUGH THE LENS OF SOCIAL MEDIA

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.

 

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Mar 31 2013

Who’s Holding Your Rope?

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free soloingFree solo climbing or free soloing is climbing without safety ropes, harnesses, protective gear, or the assistance of other climbers.  The free soloist relies only on his or her own strength, ability, and mental determination.

Before he died in a climbing accident, British free solo rock climber Derek Hershey told the New York Times: “Observers think [I’ve] got a death wish.  But there’s nothing else that makes me feel so alive. . . When you’re free soloing, you can’t afford to be distracted.  You concentrate on the flow from move to move to move.  You exist only in the present.”[1]

Most of us can’t imagine taking the personal risk required to participate in such an extreme sport as free solo climbing. And yet, we continually lead our ministries and organizations depending only on our own strength, ability, and talent.  As a result, the personal risk and the risk to our organization could be just as catastrophic.

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

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

The reality is that 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 free soloing in our area of ministry will cause us to fall…also alone.

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

 


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

 

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Mar 24 2013

Loss Leader Easter Sunday

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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.

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Mar 4 2013

Guardrails for Long-Tenured Ministry

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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.”

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Feb 3 2013

Leadership Lessons from the Short Life of Chuck

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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.
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Jan 20 2013

The Phobias of Unhealthy Church Leaders

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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

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Jan 13 2013

We Are Shallow Worship Enablers

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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.

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Jan 6 2013

You Might Be A Seasoned Worship Leader…

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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.

 

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Jan 1 2013

New Year Church Change Pain Management

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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.

 

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Nov 11 2012

Why Creative Control Is Killing Your Worship

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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.

 

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Oct 29 2012

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

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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

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Oct 21 2012

If Worship Is A Conversation…When Do We Shut Up and Listen?

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listenOur worship actions in any audible form can often mute one of the distinct voices of God discernable only 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 conversation that requires not only speaking and singing but also listening and hearing.  The noise of our worship actions often creates worship that is monological.  In other words, our offering of one-sided worship sound can often monopolize the conversation, potentially causing us to miss hearing the voice of God.

The foundation of a meaningful worship conversation is instead dialogical, an interactive exchange of two or more participants.  A healthy conversation includes a balance of discussion and response, 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] Until we occasionally shut up and listen, how will we hear that call?

God’s revelation occurs when He offers us a glimpse of His activity, His will, or His attributes.  Our response is the sometimes spontaneous and sometimes premeditated reply that we call…worship.  We can miss His activity, will, and attributes, however, when 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 dialogue 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 again listen to and hear 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.

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Oct 14 2012

What Does Worship Renewal Look Like?

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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: http://worship.calvin.edu/grants/ or email Betty Grit – Worship Renewal Grants Program Manager: worshipgrants@calvin.edu.

 

WORSHIP RENEWAL: WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED – by Betty Grit

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!

 

 

 

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Oct 8 2012

Do You Have A Worship Elevator Speech?

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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 dot.com 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.

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Sep 30 2012

Is Yours An Unadulterated Enculturated Church?

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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.

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Sep 16 2012

Are You Leading from the Death Zone?

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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.

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Sep 11 2012

Leading Worship Change…What Are You Reading?

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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.

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Sep 3 2012

Senior Pastor…What Your Worship Pastor Needs From You

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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.
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Aug 26 2012

How Can Worship Pastors Keep Their Jobs?

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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: http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner/an-open-letter-to-transient-worship-pastors/

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.”

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Aug 22 2012

Ten Signs Your Church Is Legendary

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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.

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Aug 19 2012

Worship Beyond the Shadow of A Doubt

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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

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Aug 12 2012

Worship Leader…Are You A Slacker?

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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 

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Aug 7 2012

Challenging Your Worship in 140 Characters…Worship Quotes

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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.
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Jul 30 2012

An Open Letter To Transient Worship Pastors

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transient

Dear Worship Pastor,

I have had hundreds of conversations with worship pastors about wanting, needing, or having to relocate.  It has 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 one of the root common denominators are related to musical or stylistic issues.

My first observation is that 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 is not always convenient.

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 made 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 you consider 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 that you would 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 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.

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 the people is also ministry.  What will your congregants remember most about your worship leadership…how you led them musically while you were on the platform our how you treated them on the way to and from the platform?

God may indeed be calling you to consider a new place of ministry.  A change of venue, however, may 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 a new place of ministry.

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Jul 23 2012

Evaluating Your Worship…Are You Asking the Right Questions?

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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.

WORSHIP SERVICE EVALUATION

Service Date:_________________________

Service Time:_______________________

 Specific Worship Elements

Entrance/Gathering

  • When were worshipers first greeted after leaving their car?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Congregational Singing/Presentational Music

  • Was the congregational singing passive or participative?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Did music get too much attention in this service?

Observations:

Visual and Fine Arts

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Prayer

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Were prayers fixed and/or spontaneous?

Observations:

  • Were various prayer postures encouraged?

Observations:

Scripture/Sermon

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

Observations:

  • What Scripture passages were read in this service?

Observations:

  • Who read Scripture?  How was it read?

Observations:

  • Was Scripture read beyond the text for the sermon?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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.

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • 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.

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Dismissal

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

Additional Elements

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • What additional elements were present in this service?

Observations:

General Worship Elements

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Did the worship leaders convey a genuine pastoral concern?

Observations:

  • Which of the five senses were used?

Observations:

  • Was there a good balance of celebration and contemplation?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • What symbols were used in this worship service?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • 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?

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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

Observations:

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Jul 15 2012

Is Worship Leadership Really Worth It?

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long road

A couple of years ago, the website CNNmoney.com 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

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Jul 9 2012

Worship Leader…Can You Land That Plane?

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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.

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Jul 1 2012

Are Cow Tippers Upending Your Ministry Leadership?

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Cow Tipping, often considered an urban legend, is the alleged activity of sneaking up on a sleeping, upright cow and pushing it over just for one’s own enjoyment, notoriety, or infamy.  According to the legend, cattle can be easily toppled since they have a high center of gravity and rest while standing.

Legend also indicates that the key to successful cow tipping is to quietly sneak into a field under the cover of darkness; to take as many tippers as physically necessary to accomplish the task; to topple the cow as quickly as possible; and then to escape without being recognized and caught by the cow or the farmer.

cow tippersThe reality of actual cow tipping might be debatable, but the unseemly and covert activities associated with cow tippers are the same tactics used routinely by some church members.  A sense of entitlement or possibly change anxiety can compel church cow tippers to surreptitiously undercut and unseat the mission, ministries and leaders of their church.

Church cow tippers are notorious for sending anonymous letters or leaving unsigned notes in the offering plate.  The clandestine messages address numerous issues from decibel levels to dress lengths and sermon delivery to song diversity.  Cow tippers usually begin underground notes with “A lot of people…” to justify the gravity of their concerns and end with “God bless you…” to justify the spirituality of their motivation.

When stealth does not offer success, cow tippers often transition to more overt pursuits.  While still under the radar, their innuendoes and subversive tactics are camouflaged as prayer concerns voiced in the presence of other understanding cow tippers and church power brokers.  This stage of cow tipping can easily escalate to an all out frontal assault resulting in destruction and collateral damage to ministries and leaders.

The apostle Paul didn’t mince words when addressing a cow tipping problem that surfaced within the church at Rome.  He exhorted the leaders to “watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites” (Romans 16:17-18).

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Jun 25 2012

Are We Singing Them In Or Singing Them Out? Justice As Worship.

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Worship leadership success is never completely realized until we can say, “worship has left the building.”  It is no wonder we are losing Kingdom ground when we exhaust all worship preparation and implementation resources leading church services as an act of worship while neglecting to prepare and lead the church in service as an act of worship.  Worship leaders must model, teach, and lead the church to worship not only when we meet but also when we disperse.

We call what we do in our weekend gathering a worship service and yet, not a lot of service actually occurs.  Until we view worship service as a verb…as something we do, we will continue to spend the majority of our efforts just singing them in.

The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out what God considers good worship and what he really requires, “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  Service is our action to ensure that justice is available to all.

Worship service is continuous; it just depends on who or what we are serving…self or others.  It never compromises biblically, theologically, or doctrinally but often accommodates culturally, contextually, and systematically.  Worship service is not just what we do on Sunday, it is who we are and how we treat people in the world.  It intentionally considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored and affirms that, “He oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31).

Justice politicized as the redistribution of wealth is really just the fear of losing control of something that Scripture says is not ours to begin with.  Godly justice diminishes the political overtones through the realization that loving my neighbor as I love myself is an act of worship.

Singing them in focuses on what is done here.  Singing them out focuses on who we are there.  Neither should be minimized, as both are indeed acts of worship.  The divide, however, is when we expend all resources on a weekly gathering and have nothing left for what should be a daily occurrence.

The following two books and quotes from those books offer valuable insight into the principles of serving and doing  justice as an act of worship.

LabbertonMark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2007)

“Worship turns out to be the dangerous act of waking up to God and to the purposes of God in the world, and then living lives that actually show it.”

“Where is the evidence that we are scandalized before God when we hunger for worship that almost never leads us to have a heart for the hungry?  How can this disconnection exist and be sustained so easily when such incongruity is unimaginable to the God we are worshiping and following?”

“We have to practice laying aside our unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure or routine in order to pursue God and ask Him to reorder our priorities and passions.”

“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.”

“The heart of the battle over worship is this: our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God.”

“Worship is meant to produce lives fully attentive to reality as God sees it, and that’s more than most of us want to deal with.”

“We confess “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9) but only submit to the part of Christ’s authority that fits our grand personal designs, doesn’t cause pain, doesn’t disrupt the American dream, doesn’t draw us across ethnic or racial divisions, doesn’t add the pressure of too much guilt, doesn’t mean forgiving as we have been forgiven, doesn’t ask for more than a check to show compassion.  We “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19) expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best.  Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed.  It’s the sign of disordered love.  When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.”

 

RuisDavid Ruis, The Justice God Is Seeking: Responding to the Heart of God Through Compassionate Worship (Ventura, California: Regal, 2006)

“I have come to believe that any expression of worship to Him lacks integrity when injustice is ignored and the love of mercy goes uncultivated.”

“There is something God is looking for beyond the activity of worship, beyond the expression alone.  Detached from a lifestyle engaged in the righting of wrongs, it’s all noise.  Worship given that does not come from a community that cares for the poor, rejects injustice and embraces generosity turns something meant to be sweet into something very sour.  It distorts a beautiful melody into something discordant and mutates even the most well intentioned act of worship into a gift that God will not receive – a sacrifice he completely rejects.”

“Dependence on the Holy Spirit keeps the whole adventure anchored in a place of worship, yet it creates a restlessness that won’t allow the place of worship to be enough.  We must go and find Him where He dwells: among the poor, the broken and the marginalized of society, beyond the walls surrounding us, and – at times – beyond the religious systems of the Church itself.”

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Jun 18 2012

Are Pastors Functioning As Protestant Priests?

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priestEvangelical churches have rejected the old covenant practice of designating priests as a special class of religious hierarchy.  And even though Anglican and Episcopal congregations have retained the title, their priests function in a pastoral role as ministers rather than 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.  In the new covenant, 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’ blood was offered; the veil was torn in half; and the way was now open for all to worship him without an earthly mediator.

Most churches embrace this shift theologically and doctrinally but continue to function with leaders who serve as earthly high priests.  In practice, these congregations have figuratively reattached the veil and have reverted back to the functions of the old covenant.  This regression is evidenced when pastors guard their hierarchical territory as being the only ones to rightly divide the Word of truth; when worship leaders perpetuate the impression that worship will not occur until they create worship flow; and when insecure or maybe even slothful congregants abdicate their individual priestly functions to those who lead them.  That is, until they don’t particularly like the mission or the music.

The new covenant outlined in Hebrews 9 and 10 offers Jesus as “a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man” (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 limits 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.  The new covenant through the blood sacrifice of Christ gave and continues to give believers access to the presence of the living God.  The earthly high priest was no longer needed for access to God since “Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come” (Heb. 9:11).

Your congregation and its leaders may have reverted to a priestly hierarchy if only a select few are allowed to read, speak, pray, testify, lead, sing, exhort, offer communion, baptize, lament, encourage confession, bless, praise, and offer thanksgiving.  Congregants will never completely surrender to the mission of your church and worship will never be truly participatory if everything is done for them.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that all may enter into the presence of God with boldness not available in the restrictions of the old covenant, “since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).

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Jun 7 2012

What If…?

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what if

What If…

  • Our fights were over what we can offer/give instead of what we demand/deserve?
  • We focused on deference instead of preference?
  • The church impacted culture instead of just imitating it?
  • Those of us in ministry took the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm?”
  • Who we lead held as much value as how and what we lead?
  • “What’s in it for me” never surfaced in our worship conversations?
  • We spent as much time leading the church in service as an act of worship as we spend leading the church service as an act of worship?
  • We challenged each other to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse?
  • Predictable, scripted, explainable, and rational weren’t always worship prerequisites?
  • All who lead considered themselves ushers instead of the bride?
  • We spent as much service time in prayer and scripture as we spend promoting new songs and protecting old ones?
  • Our goal in initiating change was how we can add to rather than take away?
  • We constantly looked for ways to set congregants free rather than constantly looking for ways to control them?
  • We viewed ourselves as worship travelers on a constant journey toward a destination rather than worship tourists occasionally visiting a location for pleasure?
  • We planned worship for the people we have instead of the people we wish we had?
  • Those of us in ministry spent as much time healing relationships as we spend searching ministry job placement sites?
  • We all agreed that worship did not begin and will not end with the music of my generation?
  • We viewed our ministry role as a utility infielder that is always prepared and willing to play any position for the good of the team?
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May 30 2012

What Aren’t You Doing That Is Causing Ministry Staff Conflict?

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conflictChurches will never be healthy until the ministers who lead those churches are healthy.  And ministry leaders will never be completely healthy until their ministry staff relationships are also healthy.

Healthy ministry teams embrace and constantly share their unified goals of fulfilling and helping each other fulfill the mission of their organization.  Unhealthy ministry staffs function as independent contractors who perform their own specified tasks dependent only on their own strength, ability, methods, processes, and talent.

Even if your ministry staff is high functioning and producing individually, you will never experience extraordinary staff and church health until you agree that you are all in this together.  Ironically, the impasse seems to occur less as a result of something we are doing actively to derail relationships than as a result of what we aren’t doing passively.

You aren’t pastoring each other.  Pastors are not immune from the struggles of life such as depression, physical health issues, marital struggles, wayward children, and financial stress.  If we aren’t sensitive and willing to pastor our ministry colleagues and their families when they face those issues and others…who will?  And who will be there for you?

You aren’t loving each other.  In fact, some of us don’t really even like each other.  Scripture reminds us to love God first, then our neighbors as ourselves.  Our closest neighbors beyond our family should be the people we serve with.  No stipulation is offered in this passage as to whether the neighbor really deserves or has earned the right to be loved.  The command is also not contingent on a reciprocal response.

You aren’t praying for and with each other.  Praying that God will call one of your staff colleagues somewhere else is not praying for and with each other, it is selfishly praying for you.  Praying for and with each other requires communication, vulnerability, honesty, trust, brokenness, and selflessness.  Praying for and with each other can surface hurts, unmet expectations, personal needs, ministry goals, concerns, and dreams.  The result of praying for and with each other about things that really matter may initiate a change of attitude, opinion, heart, and vision, which will encourage reciprocity of love that did not exist before.

You aren’t sharing ministry together.  Shared ministry requires sacrifice, humility, investment, and trust.  It publicly and privately affirms the calling and competence of others.  It is not guarded, territorial, defensive, or competitive and doesn’t care who gets the credit.  Shared ministry means that even when your position requires you to have the last word it doesn’t always have to be your word.  Shared ministry encourages reading, studying, and conferencing together, and has enough confidence in the abilities and intentions of team members to allow and offer lateral mentoring and coaching.

You aren’t playing together.  We are constantly encouraging the members of our congregations to develop relationships of transparency, fellowship, and community and yet never model those characteristics as a ministry staff.  The relationships exemplified by the Acts 2 church as they spent time together, had everything in common, broke bread in their homes, and ate together with glad and sincere hearts is often completely foreign to some ministry staffs.  Teams who enjoy being together radiate a solidarity that is contagious.  Conversely, staffs that don’t enjoy being together emit a cloud that is cancerous.  In fact, enjoying each other, playing and laughing together may actually be the starting point for developing some of those previously listed insufficiencies.

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

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May 20 2012

Are Christian Colleges and Seminaries Preparing Worship Leaders For A Church That No Longer Exists?

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futureWorship change is inevitable as congregations consider the fluidity of their surrounding cultures and contexts.  It would stand to reason, then, that the leaders who facilitate worship in those ever changing congregations must also learn how to develop, cultivate, and lead change by listening to the voice of their community and congregation.

How will those leaders be prepared to recognize and respond to cultural shifts if the educational institutions that train them for ministry aren’t also embracing a comparable attitude of acceptance and adaptation?

Several colleges and seminaries have already modified their educational and methodological systems in response to the changing churches and cultures while still respecting the foundations of the past.  Their commitment to considering the pulse of the present and flexibility for the future has resulted in renewed enthusiasm and substantial enrollment growth.

Other institutions have been hesitant to embrace those needed changes and as a result have experienced waning interest and enrollment decline.  Their curriculum seems to be preparing the students they have left for a church that no longer exists.  If this is your educational institution, maybe some of the following suggestions could serve as a starting point to begin some new conversations:

  • Help students discover that music and worship are not exclusively synonymous.  If music is the only driver during their educational preparation it will inevitably surface as the primary point of contention during their congregational implementation.
  • Don’t compromise preparation for congregational acclimation in the name of institutional accreditation.
  • Open their eyes to the foundational tenets of worship based on history, theology, Scripture, prayer, and communion before immersing them in the music.
  • In addition to traditional musical analysis, teach them to be conversant in the language and praxis of chord charts, capos, and kick drums.
  • Educate them in the various and fluid dynamics of worship teams and praise bands as well as choirs and orchestras.
  • Keep them abreast of the current trends in audio and video media and technology.
  • Expand their awareness of the arts to include other genres and media expressions beyond music.   Help them understand that embracing the arts as both verbal and visual relieves the pressure of music as the primary driver and culprit.
  • Help them to understand that leading music doesn’t necessarily equate to leading people.
  • Spend multiple semesters preparing them for staff and congregational relationships.  Most worship ministry failures and forced terminations are as a result of leadership and relational conflict and rarely occur as a result of musical deficiencies.
  • Help them to better understand and appreciate the relational dynamics of multigenerations before ever considering the musical dynamics of those generations.
  • Train them to be curious and open but also judicious students of the culture.
  • Provide resources and principles to help them weather the changes that will inevitably occur in the future.  Model healthy change that values conviction, collaboration, and patience.
  • Encourage the students to read ecumenically and study worship through the eyes of various denominations, faiths, cultures, and generations.
  • Remind them constantly that their college or seminary training is not the end but the beginning of their worship education.  A terminal degree should not signify the death of learning.
  • Require institutional administrators and faculty to attend worship conferences, concerts, classes, and workshops outside of their areas of expertise, stylistic preferences, contexts, cultures, and even comfort.  How can they teach new worship and media languages if they don’t speak them?
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May 14 2012

How Much Worship Is Enough?

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pitcherDoes worship start and stop depending on the circumstances of life?  Is it put on hold while we go to work or school?  Is it suspended when we take our family to a baseball game or meet friends at the golf course or go on vacation?

If those of us who facilitate gathered worship are not careful, our actions can imply that “time and place worship is the primary, if not only, venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.”[1]  In fact our focus, preparation, and implementation can even imply that the official time and place is a 30-minute segment (song set) during our weekend gathering and that the other 6 days and 23.5 hours of the week is something else.

“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1).  (OK, maybe golf wasn’t the best illustration)

My daughter was a very good student in high school but is an even better student in college.  When asked why she determined to take her studies to a new level she responded with:  “God has called me to ministry and to this university to prepare for that ministry, therefore, I believe that making good grades in what He has called me to do is an act of worship.”  Don’t you love learning from your kids?

Harold Best wrote, “Because God is the Continuous Outpourer, we bear his image as continuous outpourers.  Being made in the image of God means that we were created to act the way God acts, having been given a nature within which such behavior is natural.”[2]  Best also writes that outpouring implies lavishness and generosity; it requires giving up and letting go; it is seamless; and it surpasses measuring out or filling quotas, even to the extent that it doesn’t matter if some spills over in gracious waste.[3]

If this is true then a Call to Worship at the beginning of a worship service is redundant.  In fact, calling a congregation to worship might even be more appropriate at the end of the service just to remind them as they disperse that the entire life of a Christ follower is a call to worship…even on the golf course.


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

[2] Ibid., 23.

[3] Ibid., 19-20.

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May 1 2012

Artisan Or Assembly Line Worker?

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Assembly LineIs your plug and play worship preparation and leadership really just the modern version of sliding the hymn numbers into the hymn board?  If so…why does your church need you?  Deep calling unto deep worship that reminds congregants that the Lord’s song is with us in the night may never occur until you lead as an artisan instead of an assembly line worker (Psalm 42).

Assembly Line:  A repetitive, monotonous, inflexible process in which a succession of identical products are turned out in a mechanically efficient, though impersonal manner.

Artisan:  A craftsperson or technician in an applied art who with great care, skill, and precision handcrafts a high quality, distinctive, and unique product.

The society based on production is only productive, not creative.  Albert Camus

Every production of an artist should be the expression of an adventure of his soul.  W. Somerset Maugham

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Apr 23 2012

Selected Worship Quotes of Edmund P. Clowney

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ClowneyDr. Edmund Clowney was an influential pastor, theologian, and educator, serving many churches and seminaries. He served as president of Westminster Theological Seminary from 1966-1982.  Clowney authored ten books including Called to the Ministry, Christian Meditation, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament, and The Church.  Dr. Clowney completed How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments shortly before his death in 2005.

Following are selected worship quotes from his writing and teaching:

“Praise his name, we are called to doxological evangelism: Salvation is of the Lord! Let that song die and we have nothing to sing to the nations. They don’t want to hear those old patronizing songs of missionary colonialism and they don’t need our help in learning the chants of revolutionary violence. But when the people of God sing his praises, then the nations listen.”[1]

“Growth in true holiness is always growth together; it takes place through the nurture, the work and worship of the church.”[2]

“Reverent corporate worship, then, is not optional for the church of God. It is not a form of group behavior to be accepted just because of its long tradition or its acceptability in many cultures. Rather, it brings to expression the very being of the church. It manifests on earth the reality of the heavenly assembly. The glory of God is that to which and for which the church is called.”[3]

“When Protestants speak of going to church… they are not thinking of a building but of a congregation. The congregation, not the building is holy… The church is holy because the congregation is the house of God.  They are not merely an audience; they are a congregation assembled by the call of the Holy One.”[4]

“Our preaching is an act of worship but often lacks the punctuation of the exclamation point of praise. Unlike the Scriptures, our sermons are so centered on men that they neglect to bless God.”[5]

“Worship is always an echo, reflecting the word of grace with the cry of praise.”[6]

“The pulpit is not a psychiatrist’s couch or a seminar room. The preacher is a herald, an announcer, not a pollster.”[7]

The following quotes are taken from an Edmund Clowney sermon titled John 4: The Worship God Seeks, preached at Christ the King Presbyterian Church, Houston, Texas.  Transcript available online:  http://www.edmundclowney.com.

Jesus does not start with the worshipers’ quest for God, but with God’s quest for worshipers. Our media culture disdains arguments about religion. Well it may. If worship is man’s invention to fill his needs, then let everyone make his own idol. There is no point in arguing about taste in idols. But if worship bows before the living God, then it cannot be shaped by what we want. It must be shaped by what God wants, yes, by what he is. God’s Word, not our traditions, must decide all questions of worship.

True worship is not temple-less worship. It is worship in the true temple: Jesus Christ. All worship of the true God must be brought to the feet of Jesus. Only Christ is the true worshiper, with clean hands and a pure heart; only by being united to Christ may we ascend God’s holy hill (Psalm 24). Only he is the true Priest, who can minister in the heavenly sanctuary, the only Mediator between God and man. Only he is the final sacrifice, God’s own “Isaac” offered on Mount Moriah. Only he is the Way of approach to God, the true Temple where God meets with man.

Our worship is heavenly because it is real. When we gather with God’s people here, we join the festival assembly there. By faith, not by sight, we see Jesus. But because we do see him by faith, we must cast aside not only the idols of the heathen, but every prop that would substitute the imaginations of men for the realized glory of God. Jesus is our only Mediator and therefore we must come to him directly.

Most Americans are not that philosophical about worship. They rather suspect that God can’t afford to be so choosey. Given the competition of business, sports, and television, God should be grateful for any worship he can get. That attitude is plainly the exact opposite of worship. It assumes that God is there for man’s sake, not man for God’s sake.

 


[1] Edmund P. Clowney, Declare His Glory Among the Nations, Article: InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, 1976.

[2] Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1995), 89.

[3] Clowney, The Biblical Theology of the Church, from Beginning with Moses: The Biblical Theology Briefings, http://beginningwithmoses.org.

[4] Clowney, One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, from Ligonier Ministries and R. C. Sproul, Tabletalk Magazine, www.ligonier.org/tabletalk.

[5] Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2002), 73.

[6] Clowney, Called to Ministry (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 1964), 58.

[7] Ibid., 59.

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Apr 18 2012

Idioms You’d Rather Not Hear At the End of Your Worship Service.

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IdiomsAn idiom is an expression with a figurative meaning.  Although the common phrases and terms are often metaphorical, their intended point is often pretty accurate.  Hopefully you haven’t heard any of the following idioms at the end of your worship service.

  • Failure is the mother of success.
  • Better luck next time.
  • Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
  • Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
  • All hell broke loose; Recipe for disaster.
  • Another nail in his coffin; Days are numbered; Keep your options open.
  • By the seat of your pants.
  • Dog and pony show.
  • Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
  • From the sublime to the ridiculous.
  • Give someone enough rope and they’ll hang themselves.
  • Quit while you’re ahead.
  • Shot from the hip.
  • Silence is golden.
  • Like watching paint dry; Asleep at the wheel; Dry as a bone.
  • Right church, wrong pew.
  • What can you expect from a hog but a grunt.
  • Speak of the devil.
  • Stop the music.
  • Left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.
  • There but for the grace of God I go.
  • Jumped the shark; Missed the mark; Went south.
  • On a wing and a prayer.
  • Even a broken clock is right twice a day (for those doing two services).
  • Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one.
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Apr 16 2012

How Do You Increase Your Ministry Shelf Life?

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Time ExpiredShelf life is the length of time certain items are given before they are considered unsuitable for use or consumption.  It is the time in which the defined quality remains fresh, acceptable, viable, usable, and effective under normal or expected circumstances.

Ministry shelf life has been impacted negatively in response to the desire for a younger presence and fresh image from ministry leaders.  Forced termination or demotion of leaders as a result of this epidemic reminds us that the ministry shelf life where we serve is not always ours to control.  What we do control, however, is that we serve and continue to do what we can to remain viable and usable even if it is no longer here.

Ministry leaders who coast and ignore steps to actively increase their shelf life often find themselves only prepared to lead a church or ministry that no longer exists.  What they once learned is not nearly enough to sustain them for their entire ministry.  So, what can leaders do now to increase their shelf life before their freshness date expires?

Recalibrate – Plan or devise carefully so as to have a precise use, application, or appeal; Fine-tune; Make corrections or adjust; Revamp; Recast; Refashion; Reform; Remodel; Reconstruct; Renovate; Revise; Rēcreate; Start something new; Refurbish; Reimagine or form a new concept; Reinvest; Refabricate; Reinvent.

Redux – Reboot or Restart; Go back to the beginning and do it better the second time; Restore life or vigor; Reawaken once again in strength and potency; Reinterpret an older work; Discover something that was weakened can be brought back to full strength with the capability to again be a force to contend with.

Rĕcreate – Engage in recreational activities other than work; Occupy oneself in a diversion; Play; Relax in order to attain equilibrium; Reinvigorate; Revive; Refresh mentally and/or physically; Rest; Impart fresh life; Lighten up; Seek contentment; Engage in an activity of leisure; Take discretionary time; Enjoy; Be amused; Value pleasure.

Rededicate – Be set apart again for a special use; Impart new or fresh life; Yield complete and wholehearted devotion; Recommit to where He has called you; Revive spiritually; Renew consecration to a life of ministry; Give of yourself entirely; Go all in again.

If you are saving your best for where God will call you next…why would He want to?

 

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Apr 10 2012

How Do You Know Your Congregation Is Singing? Take A Canary into the Mine.

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Taking a canary into a coal mine previously served as an early warning system for mines with inadequate ventilation systems.  Canaries are especially sensitive to methane gas and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting a dangerous build-up of gas in the coal seam.  The canary showed 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.

canaryIf certain generations, cultures, or even the majority of your congregation has stopped singing, it is probably an early warning sign of danger ahead.  And it is often difficult if not impossible for worship leaders to detect those warning signs from the platform.

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 lead the singing could alert you and your congregation to imminent conflict while there is still time for curative care.  The key is to intentionally implement a pre-emptive process since the asking of similar questions will inevitably occur in the halls and parking lots anyway.

Note:  It is vital to enlist individuals to ask evaluative questions 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 sacrifice your own interests for the greater good of the church.

Sample Congregational Singing Questions:

  • Are characteristic traits, character flaws, or idiosyncrasies of the leaders encouraging/discouraging congregational participation?  Examples:  genuineness, preparedness, platform presence, vocal clarity, empathy, grammar, arrogance, aloofness, chattiness, selflessness, service, selfishness, and deep spirituality.
  • Is congregational singing passive or participative?  What are leaders doing to encourage/discourage passivity or participation?  Are the leaders depending on song selection only to accomplish this goal?
  • Do song selections include a balance of familiar and new?
  • Do songs include expressions that are:  vertical and horizontal, celebrative and contemplative, comforting and disturbing?
  • Is the song text theologically sound and does it affirm scripture as central?  Is it trite or archaic, repetitive or diverse?
  • Are song selections culturally appropriate for our congregation?  Are leaders selecting worship songs giving primary consideration to the culture they hope to reach, the culture of our existing congregation, a mixture of both, or neither?
  • Do our songs encourage conversational worship… including 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 participation in congregational singing?  Examples:  inclusion of icons, art, symbols, colors, lights.  Does our worship space discourage participation in congregational singing?  Examples: poor acoustics, sound/volume issues, poor lighting.
  • Do the service songs flow well?  Do transitions link other worship elements?  Is the pace satisfactory?  Is the volume appropriate?  Are the keys routinely pitched too high or low for the average singer?
  • Are physical actions actively encouraged?  Examples:  raising hands, kneeling, bowing head, palms upturned, or clapping?  How do leaders convey to the congregants and guests what is appropriate and/or acceptable?
  • Do the songs give participants an opportunity to connect with one another?  Is this intentional or assumed?
  • Are guests able to participate in the congregational singing without confusion?  Are elements presented that are generally accepted by the congregation that might be unfamiliar to a guest?  How do you know?  Are musical elements explained or assumed?
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