Sep 11 2022

12 Ways Pastors Help Their Kids Hate Church

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12 Ways Pastors 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.
  • Consider unscheduled phone calls or visits from church members as divine interruptions, but 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 that you scheduled.
  • Don’t protect 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 your disappointment or embarrassment when they act like regular kids.
  • Never show them affection at church.
  • Expect them to have the same passion for your calling as you do.
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Sep 2 2022

Cheap Church Attendance

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Cheap Church Attendance asks,

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

Costly Church Attendance asks,

“What’s in it of me?”

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

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

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

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

  • Am I looking not only to my own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4)?
  • Am I seeking my own good, or the good of my neighbor (1 Cor. 10:24)?
  • Am I responding from rivalry or conceit, or in humility am I counting others more significant than myself (Phil 2:3)?
  • Am I bearing the burdens of others, and so fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)?
  • Am I causing quarrels and fights among us? Are my passions at war within me (James 4:1)?
  • Am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength and also loving my neighbor as I love myself (Mark 12:30-31)?
  • Am I presenting my body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is my spiritual worship? Am I conforming to this world, or am I being transformed by the renewal of my mind (Rom. 12:1-2)?
  • Am I walking in love, as Christ loved me and gave himself up for me, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph. 5:2)?
  • Am I acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God (Micah 6:8)?
  • Am I gathering with unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Pet. 3:8)?
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Aug 28 2022

Dear Non-Singing Pastor

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Dear Non-Singing Pastor,

We depend on you as a primary worship leader for our congregation. We agree that your leadership centers more on worship through the Word and Table than through the music. And we also understand and affirm that worship can’t be contained in one expression such as music.

But it is evident from Scripture that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 63:5; Eph 5:19: Col 3:15-17). When writing about the future of Jerusalem, the minor prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17).

The psalmist reminds us that God protects us from trouble and surrounds us with songs of deliverance (Ps 32:7). And when we can’t find our own adequate words to express love to the Father, Jesus as our worship leader sings with us (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). So, if the Father is singing over you and Jesus is singing with you, we have to ask how you can keep from singing?

When you choose not to sing it causes us to wonder if you really view the musical worship elements as an appetizer before the main course, the warm-up band before the headliner, or the undercard before the main event. And when you study sermon notes instead of singing it gives the impression you are unprepared, reminiscent of a freshman cramming for a final exam.

Pastor, we desire worship that is a continuous conversation with a variety of worship expressions instead of just stand-alone elements of music and preaching. So, we long for you to teach and model active and fully engaged participatory worship instead of passively giving permission to others not to sing too.

Therefore, we humbly ask that you join us in full-throated singing so that all of our voices, including yours, might unite in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament, and response. And when you do, our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that it can’t possibly be silenced (Ps 30:12).

Sincerely,

Your Singing Congregation

 

The above post is adapted from my book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

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Aug 26 2022

Why Your Pastor Is Flat Worn-Out

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

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

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

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

  • Before labeling every decision our pastors made or will make as nefarious or politically motivated, we should pray through those decisions as diligently as they have.
  • We should stop expecting our pastors to preach our politics. When we mix politics with preaching, we usually get politics.
  • Give them the benefit of the doubt. We seem to have forgotten that these are the same pastors we previously trusted to bless our marriages, baptize our children, and bury our parents.
  • Give them a break. They’ve been busier this season than ever before so we need to make it easier for them to take a Sabbath or get out of town.
  • We should pray for and defend our pastors even though we might not always agree with every decision they have made or will make.
  • Seminary didn’t prepare them for this kind of ministry. So, we need to give them grace when they don’t get it right every time.
  • Pastors need adequate study and preparation time to accurately present the Word of God each week. If we are filling their time trying to mollify us, then how can we not expect their sermon preparation and presentation to suffer?
  • If we do have valid concerns with the decisions or directions of our pastors, then we should talk to them instead of about them.
  • Our pastors have faithfully offered emotional, spiritual, and relational encouragement to us through this difficult season. Have we offered the same to them? And if we haven’t, then who will?
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Jul 25 2022

Pastoring in the Death Zone

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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. It 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.

Pastoring in the death zone is attempting to sustain an elevated level or pace that has the potential to jeopardize your family, your ministry, and your health. How can you expect to lead others to a place you no longer have the spiritual, emotional, or physical resolve to go yourself? 

Recognizing and acknowledging the following warning signs can help establish safeguards before you no longer have the capacity to replenish your reserves. Pastoring in the death zone may be a slow death, but it’s still terminal.

You’re Trying to Do It Alone

You probably have enough talent to succeed alone for a time. But there will come a time when the risks of trying to succeed alone will cause you to fail…also alone.

You’ve Stopped Taking Care of Yourself

To sustain effective pastoral leadership, you must learn to take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically. If you aren’t doing it for yourself, no one else will.

You’ve Started Ignoring Your Family

Loving your family means spending time with them. Don’t ignore family in the name of ministry since taking care of your family is ministry. You’ll never recover those missed opportunities with your spouse and children. 

You Aren’t Setting Appropriate Boundaries

Boundaries are those spiritual, familial, professional, emotional, physical, mental, ethical, and relational counter measures or limits. They are precautionary gauges put in place to ward off impending dangers before they occur. Boundaries give you permission to say no.

You’ve Stopped Learning Anything New

Pastors that ignore steps to recalibrate in order to actively increase their spiritual, physical, and professional 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 future ministry.

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May 31 2022

Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Clash of Ministry Calling Versus Contentment

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Most of us don’t begin a new ministry position believing we’ll only stay for a few years. We have noble intentions to plant our lives for the long haul. But then Covid hits and we get beaten up from one side or the other and sometimes both sides at the same time. Or, we get bored, our leadership gets stale, our congregation gets restless, and we get busy looking for another place of ministry.

Forced termination reminds us that the choice to stay is not always ours to make. In fact, several years ago, Christianity Today published an article indicating that nearly one-fourth of all active ministers have been forced out at some point in their ministry. But when staying or going is within our control, then we should be asking some fundamental calling vs. contentment questions to help us discern if we should stay or if we should go.

  • Has God released me from my call here?

Another place of ministry may seem more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling, and rewarding. But until God releases you to go there, stay and rededicate your focus and energy here. Instead of constantly dreaming about there, restart every morning like it is your very first morning here.

  • Am I running from something here?

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

  • Am I running to something there?

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

  • How might a move there impact my family?

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

  • When it’s time to go there, am I ready to leave here well?

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

God’s calling is a personal invitation to carry out a unique and sometimes difficult task. And it’s a strong inner impulse prompted by conviction, that is not always convenient. So, instead of focusing on ministry job placement sites when ministry gets hard, we should keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. It’s a discipline that is not always easy but it produces a harvest of righteousness when we are trained by it (Heb 12:2, 11).

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Apr 22 2022

Worn-Out Pastor…He Is Able

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

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

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

Remember…

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

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

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Feb 27 2022

Real Men Don’t Sing: A Lie Some Guys Believe

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Forty years ago, author and humorist, Bruce Feirstein wrote the book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche: A Guidebook to All that is Truly Masculine. The author intended the book to be satirical that real men only eat steaks, wear flannel shirts, and never share their feelings. The result was that many men failed to recognize the satire and consequently, quiche consumption fell nationally confirming the stereotype.

Men choosing not to sing in worship services suggests that even Christ following men are sometimes willing to ignore likes, responsibilities, and even a biblical calling in order to conform to a more masculine identity.

The psalmist wrote, “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts” (Ps 145:4). So, it is the duty of every generation of Christ followers, including men, to see to it that the next generation hears of the mighty acts of God and responds to those mighty acts in worship. One of the ways we proclaim those mighty acts is through our singing together as a church.

The responsibility of our generation is not just to teach the next generation how to worship, but instead praise His works to the next generation. In other words, we are to praise Him (God) so continuously that the next generation gets it. Our calling is to model for the next generation how to worship. Men, husbands, and dads aren’t exempt from that responsibility. So, with that understanding, are we modeling for our children that real men don’t sing or that joyful noise singing is unreservedly what real men do?

Singing badly is not an excuse not to sing. When I was a child, the melodies I heard my dad sing in church weren’t close to the melodies the rest of our congregation was singing. But my dad was modeling for me and those seated near us that it wasn’t for us he was singing. And even though his tunes really were a joyful noise, they were sweet music to the ears of the Father. Refusing to publicly proclaim God’s praises through singing because of our lack of musical ability is pride.

Scripture is clear that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 34:1; Ps 63:5; Eph 5:19; Col 3:15-17). When writing about the future of Jerusalem, the minor prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17). If the Father is singing over us, then how can we keep from singing?

When we can’t find adequate words to express our responses to God’s revelation, Scripture says Jesus as our worship leader worships with us (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding on our behalf. If Jesus is worshiping with us, then how can we keep from singing?

Theologian, evangelist, and leader of the revivalist movement known as Methodism, John Wesley said this about singing, “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually.”

With biblical and practical instructions such as these, as men we should be joining in full-throated singing no matter how well or poorly we’re able to sing. And when we do, our voices will unite with the voices of others in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament, and response. When this occurs, our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that it can’t possibly be silenced. (Ps 30:12). And, consequently, the next generation will get it too.

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Feb 14 2022

Ministry Conflict: Confusing Principles and Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan 26 2022

Cleaner Restrooms = Better Worship

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My ministry responsibilities often require me to regularly drive the same roads around Kansas and Nebraska. So, I’m pretty familiar with the rest stop and convenience store restrooms along those routes. I know the ones I’ll stop at again because of their cleanliness and the ones I’ll never return to again because they’re always filthy, never have the necessary supplies, and have archaic or broken plumbing fixtures.

We don’t usually talk about broken toilets and dirty sinks in most worship conversations. But the restroom is usually the last place many first-time guests and regular attenders stop before they are asked to join in singing the first worship song.

We are often good at considering how to engage people during the service but don’t always think about some of those distractions that might be derailing worship before the service even starts. We assume the theological depth of our worship service will encourage participants to engage and return. And that might actually be true if we could see beyond some of those blind spots of mediocrity we seem to have gotten used to.

So, in addition to focusing on worship service sermons and songs, churches should also consider their spaces and structures. We’ve all heard the adage about only getting one shot at a first impression.

Considering restrooms might seem shallow compared to spirit and truth worship. But first-time guests often visit with little or no understanding of theological worship. They do, however, appreciate excellence, cleanliness, and their own comfort or its absence. So, wouldn’t it be worth a little effort and expense to remove some of those distractions that could be preventing them from going deeper?

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Jan 17 2022

Post-Pandemic Church: Think Leaner Not Smaller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 29 2021

Ministry Prayer for 2022: Lord, Deliver Me From Myself

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

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

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

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

 

Litany of Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 13 2021

The Peasant King Oxymoron

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Adding punctuation to our projected worship song text offers road signs and symbols that help frame the rhythm, flow, and phrasing of the story or poem we are singing. Most of us learned and have followed these non-verbal cues since elementary school.

A comma can tell singers where to pause for emphasis, but also indicates when a statement or question is not yet complete. A period shows singers when a verse, chorus, or phrase has ended. Additional punctuation helps singers emphasize or deemphasize certain words that might elevate or minimize theological implications. Singers might miss some of those spiritual emphases without those markers. Consequently, how would they know if what they are singing is asking a theological question or answering a doctrinal statement?

Since many of us are singing Advent and Christmas Carols in the coming weeks you’ll see below a couple of examples of how adding or deleting punctuation can change the theological understanding of familiar carols:

So bring Him incense gold and myrrh

Come peasant king to own Him

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come, peasant, king, to own Him;

Without punctuation we are left confused with the peasant king oxymoron. With punctuation we understand that Christ is available to all, including peasants and kings.

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

Rest you merry was a Shakespearean idiom that expressed good cheer or peace. Without punctuation it appears that the gentlemen are already merry. But with the appropriate punctuation the plea is actually for God to bring the gentlemen peace so that nothing will dismay them.

The argument that many of our songs are poetry, and consequently shouldn’t be expected to follow the same strict punctuation guidelines as prose is a valid one. But poetry doesn’t usually eliminate punctuation altogether, it instead uses it artistically to highlight the text.

Some worship leaders might be able to direct us vocally and instrumentally when those road signs are missing, but not all possess those abilities. And if we are truly trying to lead our congregations into participative instead of passive worship, then wouldn’t it make sense for leaders not to do for congregants what they already learned to do for themselves at a young age?

It is certainly easier not to add punctuation when we are preparing song slides for our worship services. But is ease what we are called to when we’re trying to encourage our congregants to leave with those texts and tunes in their hearts and on their lips for continuous worship. Punctuation can help them take those formative lyrics home with biblical and theological accuracy.

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Dec 6 2021

Why God Deserves Our Worship

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God deserves our worship because he formed the foundation, fixed the dimensions, stretched a measuring line across, and laid the cornerstone of the earth while the morning stars sang together.

 

God deserves our worship because he enclosed the sea behind doors when it burst from the womb, determined its boundaries, and declared, “You may come this far, but no farther; your proud waves stop here.”

 

God deserves our worship because he gives orders to the morning and shows dawn its place that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it.

 

God deserves our worship because he has traveled to the sources of the sea, walked in the depths of the oceans, seen the gates of deep darkness, and comprehended the expanse of the earth.

 

God deserves our worship because he knows the road to the home of light and where darkness lives; he has entered the storehouses of snow and hail; and he knows the way to the place where lightning is dispersed and the east winds are scattered over the earth.

 

God deserves our worship because he cuts a channel for the flooding rain to satisfy the parched land, causes the grass to sprout, and gives birth to the dew and frost of heaven.

 

God deserves our worship because he fastened the chains of the Pleiades, loosened the belt of Orion, brings out the constellations in their season, knows the ordinances of the heavens, and establishes their rule on the earth.

 

God deserves our worship because his heart has wisdom and mind understanding to number the clouds and tip over the water jars of heaven when the dust hardens like cast metal and the clods of dirt stick together.

 

God deserves our worship because he hunts prey for a lioness to satisfy the hunger of her young lions at the same time he provides the raven’s food when its young cries out.

 

God deserves our worship because he knows when each mountain goat gives birth and watches as deer deliver their offspring at the same time he creates the wild donkey to roam free while the wild ox helps us harvest grain.  

 

God deserves our worship because even though he created both the ostrich and the stork as large, winged, and feathered birds, only one of them has wisdom, only one can fly, and only one can run.

 

God deserves our worship because he gave the horse its strength, clothed its neck with the beauty of a flowing mane, allowed it to strike terror with its proud snorting, and created it to paw the ground with fierceness and rage with the anticipation of charging into the fray of battle.

 

God deserves our worship because it’s obvious from these examples that he is God and we aren’t.

 

(Adapted from Job 38-39)

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Nov 22 2021

Some Church Members Are Losing Their Minds

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Jesus’s greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and also to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30- 31). Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi was that if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. And what you have learned and received and heard and seen in him – practice those things (Phil 4:8-9).

Congregants who use their minds are able to approach their church relationships and ministries with humility, discernment, and grace without compromising knowledge, insight, reason, creativity, inquiry, doubt, and imagination.

We could all learn from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown. Then the activities and things with which we fill our minds (including social media and opinion journalism) the night before we gather could better frame our attitudes as we gather. What we do, whom we spend our time with, what we watch, and what we think about can negatively or positively influence our relationships as we gather.

My daughter was five years old the first time our family vacationed at Walt Disney World. After months of planning and days of travel, the final preparations for and anticipation of the first day at Magic Kingdom was almost too much excitement for her to contain.

Like a firefighter, she selected and laid out her clothes the night before so she could jump into them the next morning. Sleep eluded her with the anticipation of what was to come. She awakened early, quickly dressed, and inhaled breakfast so she would be ready to depart hours before the park even opened.

All conversation traveling from our resort to the park entrance centered on what she would observe, experience, eat, participate in, enjoy, and then take home at the end of the day. She had been thinking about it, dreaming of it, planning on it, and preparing for it. Her mind was so filled with it she couldn’t contain the anticipation.

If loving God and others is not something with which we fill our minds, it can become self-serving. So, unless we are pondering it, considering it, processing it, meditating on it, studying it, keeping our minds fixed on it, and learning how to get better at it before we gather together, then we’ll have a hard time suffering together when one member suffers and rejoicing together when one member is honored as we gather (1 Corinthians 12:26).

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Nov 15 2021

Pastor, Who Is Holding Your Rope?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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Nov 9 2021

Your Church Staff Deserves a Raise

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

  • Our church staff has faithfully offered emotional, spiritual, and relational encouragement to our church members through this difficult season. Have we offered the same to them? If not, then who has?
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Nov 3 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 1 2021

Pastor, Who’s Your Timothy?

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

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

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

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

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Oct 25 2021

Ten Things Pastors Wish We Knew

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Most of us don’t fully realize the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual demands required to serve as a pastor. We are often aware of the investments those in ministry have made in our own lives. What we don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy those investments require when multiplied by the entire membership population of our congregation.

We depend on our pastors as personal counselors, mentors, leaders, friends, and spiritual advisors. They are the first ones we call when we need someone to bless our marriages, baptize our children, or bury our parents. When our families are in crisis we expect our pastors to referee, repair, and reclaim. And yet at the same time we expect them to challenge and encourage us with great sermons every Sunday.

If all of us have the same expectation that our pastors will willingly respond to our every need, then how can we not expect the stress of that responsibility to eventually take its toll? So, maybe in addition to providing our pastors with a gift card for pastor appreciation month we should also be sensitive to some of the following things they wish we knew.

  • They wish we knew they are often discouraged and usually flat worn-out.
  • They wish we knew how hard it is for them to find time to take a sabbath each week.
  • They wish we knew they often face the same struggles in life we do.
  • They wish we knew how much they worry if their kids will even like church when they are no longer required to attend.
  • They wish we knew how lonely they sometimes are.
  • They wish we knew how mean some church members can be.
  • They wish we knew how demanding sermon and worship service preparation is every week.
  • They wish we knew how often they get approached about menial things right before they lead, speak, or preach.
  • They wish we knew that it often feels like church members are holding them to a higher standard than even God does.
  • They wish we knew how much it would mean to them and the health of our church if we prayed through ministry decisions before criticizing them.
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Oct 18 2021

We’re Talking about Practice

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Worship that continues after we leave the Sunday service is always easier when things seem to be going our way. It’s easy to worship when we have a job we love, when our family is healthy, when we’re living in our dream home with a stable family, and when our finances are secure. But what about when the daily circumstances of life overwhelm us? Worship is our response to God’s revelation in the past and God’s continuous revelation in the present. God’s revelation is perpetual, meaning it doesn’t start and stop according to the various circumstances of life. So, consequently, our responses shouldn’t either.

In an often-replayed press conference, basketball superstar Allen Iverson responded to questions from reporters about his team, the Philadelphia 76ers losing to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. When asked if the focus of a closed-door discussion with his coach Larry Brown occurred in response to his habit of missing practice, Iverson responded with: “Hey I hear you, but we’re talking about practice man, we’re not even talking about the game, when it actually matters, we’re talking about practice.” Iverson repeated the word practice twenty-two times.

A reporter followed up with this great question, “Is it possible that if you practiced you could help make your teammates better?” Iverson responded with, “How in the (expletive) could I make my teammates better by practicing?”

In the seventeenth century at the age of twenty-four, Lawrence of the Resurrection, born Nicolas Herman, joined the Discalced Carmelite order of the Catholic Church in Paris. Brother Lawrence was an uneducated monk serving as a cook in a French monastery. The recorded words in his journal reflect his understanding of practicing the presence of God when he wrote, “The time of action does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”[1]

Practice is repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. It is learning through repetition, which then be-comes habit. Brother Lawrence wrote, “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”[2] He was not frustrated with manual labor. In fact, he found himself in God’s presence while peeling potatoes as well as when he was kneeling in prayer.[3]

If worshippers habitually practiced the presence of God throughout the week, then what could occur when they got to practice God’s presence together on Sunday? Although our verbal response to practicing the presence of God during the week may not be as overtly profane as that of Allen Iverson, our actions often convey the same disdain. We aren’t practicing God’s presence when we think our times of prayer are different from other times because we are as strictly obliged to cleave to God by action in the time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer.[4]

Our singular focus on Sunday worship may be communicating that worship begins and ends with our opening and closing songs. Is it possible that if we practiced worship during the week we could get better and also help make our teammates better? Continuous worship stems from lives of continued prayer since worship is an ongoing conversation with the one who lives within us.[5] When we understand that kind of practice, then what occurs on Sunday will be an overflow of what has already occurred during the week with the added benefit of getting to then practice it with others.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How are we modeling practicing the presence of God during the week?
  • What are some indicators that we are placing too much emphasis on Sunday worship at the expense of worship during the week?
  • What would Sunday worship look like if it were an overflow of a congregation practicing the presence of God?
  • How will we actually know when our congregation has embraced an attitude of practicing worship as a continual conversation with God?

 

[1] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), 97.

[2] Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 42.

[3] Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, xii.

[4] Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, 18.

[5] Harold Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 99.

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

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Oct 13 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 22 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 20 2021

8 Reasons to Stop Attending Ministry Conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sep 7 2021

Maybe Worship Needs Less Passion and More Purpose

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Passion is caused by intense excitement from the outside, purpose is caused by convictions from the inside. Purpose is intentional, passion is situational. Passion occurs when we feel good, purpose occurs even when we don’t. Passion focuses on what we do, purpose focuses on why we do it. Passion is fleeting, purpose is continuous. So, maybe our worship needs a little less passion and a lot more purpose.

Worship based on passion waits for feelings to be stirred externally. So, if those feelings are not stirred because congregants don’t know or particularly like the songs, they can even leave the worship service believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

When passion is foundational to our worship, we are tempted to re-create divine moments, events, or even complete seasons based almost completely on the feelings originally stirred so we can elicit or feel that passion again.

Worship based on purpose, however, responds to a relationship that already exists internally. So, we respond not because of what our songs do to us, but instead, because of what Christ has already done in us.

So, worshiping with purpose means it occurs from the inside out, not the outside in. Thomas a Kempis said it this way, “A good devout person first arranges inwardly the things to be done outwardly.”

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Sep 1 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 11 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 28 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 26 2021

20 Ways to Pray for Your Pastors

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  1. Pray they never sacrifice their families for ministry since family is ministry. 
  1. Pray that congregants will talk to them instead of about them.
  1. Pray for perseverance when they feel like their ministry shelf-life is speeding toward its expiration date.
  1. Pray that scripture and prayer instead of politics and popular culture is the foundation for their sermon and songs.
  1. Pray for healthier ministry staff relationships.
  1. Pray their days off will provide sabbath rest free from church stressors.
  1. Pray for their spiritual, physical, and emotional health.
  1. Pray they’ll be able to sift through the many responsibilities that compete for their attention and focus on the ones God wants them to do.
  1. Pray for the humility that causes them to wake up every morning feeling unqualified in their own power to do what God has called them to do.
  2. Pray Ephesians 4:29 over them, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
  3. Pray for them to daily recommit to their call here instead of dreaming about what it might be like to serve there.
  4. Pray they never confuse leading programs with leading people.
  5. Pray for them to engage congregants as participants instead of audiences.
  6. Pray for them during those difficult seasons of ministry when they are getting beat-up from all sides at the same time.
  7. Pray that other trusted leaders will walk with them, hold them accountable, and protect them.
  8. Pray for their almost insurmountable task of trying to stay current technologically and culturally.
  9. Pray for a great cloud of witnesses to surround them so they can fix their eyes on Jesus and run with endurance.
  10. Pray they will have the courage to ignore the loudest voice in the room if not God’s.
  11. Pray that the Lord will give them rest when they are weary, strength when they are weak, and restoration when their reserves are depleted.
  12. Pray that before criticizing their ministry decisions, congregants will pray through those decisions as much as those pastors have.
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Jul 14 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 23 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 21 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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Jun 9 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 2 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 19 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 10 2021

Worship Leader…When Is Your Sabbath?

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The following is an excerpt from my upcoming article in the June 2021 edition of Reformed Worship. David W. Manner, “Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath; We Aren’t: Helping Worship Leaders Find Rest,” Reformed Worship, June 2021, 46-48. Reprint by permission from Reformed Worship © 2021 Worship Ministries.

Congregations should put guardrails in place to invest more deeply and meaningfully in the lives and future ministry of their worship leaders. One way to encourage and refresh leaders is by offering an extended period of rest through sabbaticals. Sustained time away every few years beyond their vacation weeks allows worship leaders to step aside completely from their daily responsibilities to renew their bodies, refresh their souls, and reaffirm their calling to God and their church.

Those ministry sabbaticals can give worship leaders permission to rest, heal, and recharge without carrying the weight of the preparation and accountability for those weekly rehearsals, meetings, and services. Offering worship ministry sabbaticals can give a congregation the unique opportunity to practice stewardship of those leaders God has entrusted to them. Sabbaticals are a great investment in the health and future of worship leaders. But churches will also be the beneficiaries of new ideas, challenges, and vision from worship leaders recharged and refreshed for the next season of ministry.

Even if a congregation doesn’t provide an extended time away for rest, worship leaders are called individually to observe a sabbath. The rest Jesus refers to in Matthew 11 can be translated as “refreshment.” To refresh means to renew, revive, or reinvigorate. Refreshment is not idleness. It isn’t an escape from responsibilities, or laziness, or a free pass. It is instead an intentional, deeply calming physical and spiritual peace or time of respite in the midst of one’s responsibilities.[1]

But how can worship leaders begin to observe a sabbath when it hasn’t previously been part of their weekly rhythm of life? As with any new exercise, it might require adding elements incrementally before committing completely. Sabbath is acquired. It must be learned or developed over time in order for it to become a practice. Just a few sabbath moments throughout the day can remind leaders that worship is a response to God’s revelation, not a generator of it. Expanding those moments to a sabbath hour or a portion of a day each week will require more intentionality. Setting aside an hour at the beginning of the day could preempt some of those worship-leading stressors that threaten to derail ministry during the day. Scheduling an hour of rest at the end of the work day could protect worship leaders from taking some of those ministry frustrations home.

Taking a sabbath from social media sites and worship technology platforms by occasionally turning off devices can say to leaders and those they lead: please, rest. A constant social media presence shows little sign of practicing God’s rest.[2] Worship leaders could also learn from observant Jewish people, who believe Sabbath begins at sundown the evening before gathering for worship. The activities and things with which worship leaders fill their time the night before worship could better refresh and prepare their physical, emotional, and spiritual dispositions during worship.

Worship ministry is never complete. So, it tends to sanctify busyness rather than free us from it. We often value motion and noise as a sign of significance, believing our efforts indicate our level of worship relevance. And even if worship leaders have a scheduled day off each week, they often hold that day in reserve to complete the list of things that didn’t get done during the week. Consequently, worship leaders’ tanks are constantly drained with no opportunities to refill them, especially during busy seasons of the church year. Expanding to a full day of sabbath rest won’t occur until it is not only scheduled, but also protected.

Jesus says in Matthew 12 that he is Lord of the Sabbath. We aren’t. So, observing sabbath rest and taking sabbaticals every few years can offer worship leaders intentional margins for recovery that will encourage them to take up Jesus’ yoke instead of constantly bearing those stressful burdens of leadership, sometimes even of their own making.[3]

 

[1] David W. Manner, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 2020), 130. ©2020 Abingdon Press Used by Permissions. All rights reserved.

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

[3] Manner, Better Sundays Begin on Monday, 130.

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May 3 2021

Creating Worship Tourists

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tourist photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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

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Apr 28 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 21 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 19 2021

10 Worship Leading Fails

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failureWorship-leading novices and aging veterans have all looked back at certain Sundays with a deep longing for another chance to do or handle things differently. It would be impossible to go back and make corrections to many of those leadership and relationship failures. We do, however, have the opportunity for another chance to get it right this Sunday. One way to learn from the past in order to influence the future is to anticipate and head-off some of the following mistakes before they are made.

 

  1. Trying to fix relationships with music

Leading music doesn’t necessarily equate to leading people. We’ll never be able to teach enough new songs to make up for leadership and relationship failures. What will our congregations remember most about our worship leadership…how we led them musically while on the platform or how we ministered to them off the platform? Musical talent and platform presence may help us secure a worship leading position but developing relationship skills will help us keep it.

  1. Flying Solo

Most of us have enough musical talent to succeed alone for a while. The time will come, however, when the inherent risks of trying to do it alone will cause us to fail, also alone. So if we try to receive all the credit when something works, we’ll also receive all the credit when something doesn’t. If we never involve our congregants as more than casual bystanders while we read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition and exhort, then how can we expect them to transform from passive spectators to active participators?

  1. Singing too much

Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it is not the only expression or even the primary expression. Considering Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper as foundational instead of supplemental worship elements could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

  1. Trying to be the bride

Ushers play a key role in the wedding ceremony but they must have enough humility to acknowledge they aren’t and won’t ever be the bride. Like ushers, worship leaders must be willing to take a secondary role in order to help others find their place in the service without coercion or force but instead by humbly encouraging participants to accompany them.

  1. Inviting God to show up

Worship isn’t our attempt to be with the Father, it is our response to having been with the Father. We often take credit for instigating God’s presence by what we sing or how we sing it. But He started the conversation, was present long before we arrived, and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him. So, worship doesn’t invite God’s presence, it acknowledges it.

  1. Leading by comparison

The potential for worship leading envy is high since we don’t have to look very far to find other leaders who are younger, play guitar better, sing with more passion or have a better platform presence. Contentment is leading the ministry God has given you. Comparison is envying the ministry you wish He had given you. It is tempting to look to the left or right to see how we measure up. Instead, we must run this race by keeping our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2).

  1. Talking too much

Worship service elements and song sets often require meaningful verbal transitions and yet, we 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.

  1. Confusing calling and convenience

If we are leading worship every Sunday just because we love to play and sing, because we need to supplement our income, because we enjoy being up-front, or because we are not trained to do anything else, then our worship leading compulsion might be out of convenience instead of calling. A calling is a personal invitation from God to carry out a unique task. And it is not always convenient. Convenience says, “This is what I was trained to do.”  Calling says, “This is what I was created to do.”

  1. Segregating grandparents and grandchildren

We often divide our congregations along age and affinity lines in an effort to appease multiple generations and minimize conflict. Except in rare cases, it appears that the worshiping community suffers and all generations lose. It is beneficial for all generations when grandparents and grandchildren get to worship together. But it’s only possible when battle lines are drawn over who can offer or give the most instead of who deserves or demands the most.

  1. Leading worship as an event

If our worship 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 leading a single hour on Sunday and have nothing left to encourage worship the other hours of the week; if we aren’t exhorting our congregations and modeling for them how to worship not only when we gather but also when we disperse; then we are leading worship as an event. Worship is a daily process, not a weekly event. What occurs on Sunday should be an overflow of what has already occurred during the week.

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Apr 12 2021

Worship Leader Ageism: Stick the Landing!

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Ageism has impacted most of us serving in worship leadership. Churches seem to be on the lookout for a younger platform presence or fresher image from those who lead. Forced termination or demotion as a result of the ageism epidemic reminds us that where we serve is not always ours to control. What we can control, however, is that we are prepared to continue to serve somewhere. What we once learned is not enough to sustain us through our entire ministry. So, what can we do that will allow us to continue?

A gymnastic competition can be won or lost in the landing. Even if you flip, vault, tuck, and twist well during the routine, it isn’t a success unless you also stick the landing. Halftime is over and some of us are well into the last quarter of our worship-leading career. We’ve accumulated decades of knowledge, experience, and practical application so we know how to work smarter. But just working smarter isn’t helping some of us finish well. How can we stay viable, battle ageism, and keep from coasting in order to stick the landing?

  • Learn a new language.

Even though we might be fluent in previous worship languages, we also need to learn the musical and technological vernacular of newer worship languages and what might follow them. When we lose the resolve to learn, we lose the resolve to lead. It’s never too soon or too late to learn something new. The end of learning new is the beginning of leading old.

  • Force quit.

Computer programs sometimes become unresponsive. Selecting Force Quit reboots and reinstates the original well-functioning settings. Quitting doesn’t mean we stop doing worship ministry or have to leave our present position. It just means rebooting for a fresh start where we are now.

  • Extend your shelf-life.

Shelf life is the length of time items are given before they are unsuitable for use. It is the time in which the defined quality remains fresh, acceptable, viable, usable, and effective under normal circumstances. Increasing our shelf life encourages us to recalibrate or fine-tune for the potential of a new reality.

  • Get another job.

Agreeing that worship leader ageism is unjust or theologically suspect doesn’t change its reality. We can choose to live in a constant state of fear in the last quarter, or we can proactively prepare in case ageism does occur. Learning additional marketable skills doesn’t compromise our calling; it actually enhances that calling beyond choirs and chord charts. Retooling could help us stick the landing where we are now or maybe where God will call us next.

Some of us enjoy running, cycling, or other exercises to help us extend our shelf life physically and to relieve stress as we age. A few years ago, I ran the Kansas City Marathon with my daughter. Leg cramps at mile twenty-one seemed to seize up every muscle in my legs. Marathon runners call this “hitting the wall” or “bonking.” If I hadn’t trained and fueled properly before the race, I would not have been able to complete it. After massaging those muscles and walking some I was able to continue the race with the help of my daughter’s encouragement. Even though my time was not as good as I had hoped it would be, I was still able to cross the finish line.

Distance runners have to push themselves beyond their level of comfort to log the miles necessary to compete. If they haven’t done the roadwork ahead of time, the minute the pace quickens, the incline increases, or the terrain gets treacherous, they will be tempted to quit.

Many of the stressors of ministry have little to do with our lack of skill, but instead result from a lack of preparation. Scripture challenges us to stick the landing this way, “No discipline is fun while it lasts, but it seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it. So, strengthen your drooping hands and weak knees! Make straight paths for your feet so that if any part is lame, it will be healed rather than injured more seriously” (Heb 12:11-13).

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

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Apr 5 2021

Is Your Worship Out of Tune?

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Being unified is the state of being united, linked, or joined together as one in spite of diversities and differences. Uniformity, however, is the state or quality of being the same. A healthy worshipping congregation and the worship team that leads it require unity but not necessarily uniformity.

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

A standard is the basis or model to which something else should be compared. It is determined by those in authority as a rule for measuring the quality or value of something.

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

Your worship is out of tune . . .

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

But if your standard is instead who, why, and in what power we worship—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, then your worship will always be perfectly tuned.[2] According to Paul, being unified is living together in a manner worthy of Christ’s gospel (Phil 1:27). We can exercise a variety of different worship gifts, callings, and styles and still be unified as long as our root solidarity is not our worship expressions but the gospel.

Art professor Sam Van Aken combined art and farming to develop an incredible Tree of 40 Fruit. He bought an orchard that was about to be shut down and spent several years chip grafting a variety of trees onto a single fruit tree. In the spring, Van Aken’s tree is a stunning patchwork of multicolored blossoms, producing fruit such as plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries, and almonds. The roots of each of these trees are united even though the fruit or outward expressions are diverse. Each tree offers just the right amount of each of forty varieties.[3]

The Apostle Paul said it this way to the church at Corinth, “Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many” (1 Cor 12:12). “Certainly, the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,’ does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,’ does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like God wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body” (1 Cor 12:14-20).

 

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

[2] Tozer, The Pursuit of God, 90.

[3] Science Alert Staff, “This Magical Tree Produces 40 Different Types of Fruit,” ScienceAlert, June 22, 2018, https://www.sciencealert.com/40-types-of-fruit-tree-artwork-van-aken-2018.

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

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Mar 24 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 22 2021

Pulpit Envy

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No matter how large or small, every church should be developing distinctly and becoming uniquely the congregation God has called them to be. Loving the Lord with heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves are never contingent on congregational size or abilities. It is instead our offering of all we have at that time and all we are in that moment.[1]

The potential for ministry envy is high since we don’t have to look very far to find another church with larger ministries, more celebrity, an edgier band, or a pastor with better communication skills and platform presence than ours. Ministry envy is irrational and covetous discontent as the result of another’s perceived superior qualities, advantages, achievements, and successes. So, instead of being willing to champion the ministry successes of our colleagues in other churches, we assume and even publicly claim that those successes must only have been possible through stylistic superficialities, biblical shallowness, or theological compromise.

When we pastor from an attitude of envy our churches will never measure up because of what we are trying every Sunday to measure up to. To measure up means to be as good as, to have the same qualifications as, to reach a certain standard as, to be of high enough quality for, or to compare with something or someone else. Trying to measure up to the ministries of another congregation can be like running on a treadmill. As long as we keep our eyes focused ahead, we can log miles safely. But when we look to the left or right to see  how we measure up, our feet follow our eyes and cause us to veer off course or even wipeout. The writer of Hebrews said it this way: let’s run the race that is laid out in front of us and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter (Heb 12:1-2).

Comparing the ministries of our church to that of another congregation means we are trying to measure up to a standard God has called them to, not the one he has called us to. And God obviously sees the value of our calling even in those seasons when we don’t. Keeping our eyes on Jesus instead of others means we lead with contentment, not comparison. It’s a discipline that is not always fun and even seems painful at the time. Later, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those of us trained by it (Heb 12:11).

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

Offering what we have is not settling for mediocrity, nor is it a license for laziness. We still need to pray that God would send more people, stronger leaders, a stellar worship band, and greater opportunities to influence our community and the world. But like MacGyver, we can’t wait until all of the people and pieces are in place to respond to our calling. Instead, we have to create something unbelievable with what God has made available.

 

[1] David Manner, “Small Church MacGyvers,” Worshipleader: Pursuing the Mission of God in Worship, July/August 2015, 14–16. Portions of this article first appeared in this magazine article.

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

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Mar 15 2021

Playing Hurt: Pastoring Through Pain

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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Feb 24 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 22 2021

When Worship Ministry Is Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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Feb 17 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 15 2021

A Letter to the Younger Worship Leading Me

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Dear Younger Worship Leading Me,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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Feb 8 2021

Worship That Crosses the Rubicon

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

_____________________

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

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

 

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

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