Jan 17 2022

Post-Pandemic Church: Think Leaner Not Smaller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 29 2021

Ministry Prayer for 2022: Lord, Deliver Me From Myself

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

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

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

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

 

Litany of Humility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 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 15 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 23 2021

Congregational Lament

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The language of lament is found in more than half of the psalms but is largely absent in much of the Protestant culture. Lament is that healthy, open expression of pain, complaint, sorrow, anger, frustration, and grief directed to a God who understands. If congregations are to experience renewal of the biblical understanding of lament and its appropriateness in their worship culture, they must consider how to implement this communal response as a regular part of their liturgy. The following list is not an exhaustive one but is a place to begin the conversation.

  • Leaders must model lament.

Modeling will require leaders not just to preach, teach, and sing about the psalms of lament, but also to live them with their congregation. In response, congregants must allow their leaders the freedom to express their own vulnerabilities without fear of reprisal. When leaders introduce lament to a worshiping community through the articulation of common experience, the sorrow worshipers and leaders share validates those expressions.

  • Read all of the Psalms.

It is ironic that our worship culture so rabidly defends the Word as foundational to our faith and practice, yet limits its use only to palatable text that does not offend. John Witvliet reminds us that “when faced with an utter loss of words and an oversupply of volatile emotions, we best rely not on our own stuttering speech, but on the reliable and profoundly relevant laments of the Hebrew Scriptures.”[1]

  • Pray the Psalms.

A meaningful approach is to pray a lament psalm corporately in response to a specific lamentable situation. Psalm praying gives voice to the timid and unity to the lamenting body. Praying psalms of lament can take us deeper much quicker than we are often able or comfortable going on our own. Eugene Peterson in Answering God reminds us that, “left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us . . . the Psalms train us in that conversation.”[2]

  • Incorporate lament beyond contrition.

If we have participated at all in lament in our public and private worship practices, it has been as a response to sorrow and despair over our sinful nature. We are often more comfortable with contrition, since we can admit that our struggle is something we caused and there is no one to blame but ourselves. This alleviates our discomfort and fear of the appearance of faithlessness by questioning God in our lament language. Contrition in response to our sinful nature is indeed a necessity. But we must also admit that lament in response to circumstances beyond our control is also necessary.

  • Sing songs of lament.

Until recently, the writers and composers of hymns and modern worship songs were not publishing many songs to help a congregation express the language of lament. Even those texts that leaned toward lament were often set to catchy tunes in major keys. Since the ongoing tragedies of life cannot be ignored, however, more composers and lyricists are offering song selections to help congregations express words of pain, grief, sorrow, and even anger.

  • If not here, then where?

If our churches are not a safe place to express despair, pain, grief, and anger, then where is a safe place? Since this language is so prevalent in the lives of our congregants, we must offer them a venue to express those emotions or they will look for another place more excepting of that kind of language. Walter Brueggemann suggests that “in a society that is increasingly shut down in terms of public speech, the church in all of its pastoral practices may be the community where the silenced are authorized to voice.”[3]

 

[1] John D. Witvliet, “A Time to Weep: Liturgical Lament in Times of Crisis,” Reformed Worship 44 (June 1997): 22.

[2] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (San Francisco: Harper, 1989), 3.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, “Voice as Counter to Violence,” Calvin Theological Journal 36 (April 2001): 25.

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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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 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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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 5 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 3 2021

Creating Worship Tourists

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tourist photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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

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Apr 28 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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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 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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Jan 25 2021

Sing Me Into Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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Jan 11 2021

Sunday Worship: Starting a Fire From Scratch

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In the 2000 movie Cast Away, Tom Hanks played Chuck Noland, the lone survivor of a plane crash on an uninhabited island. Early in the movie, Noland realized he couldn’t survive without fire and offered us a glimpse of his resolve, despair, anger, and even humor as he labored over trying to start a fire from scratch.

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

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

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

If we are not careful, our actions can imply that time-and-place worship is the primary if not only venue for worship, while the remainder of our life falls into another category.[2] Every Sunday can then end up being a frustrating exercise in trying to start a fire from scratch or usher congregants into the presence of God.

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

John the Evangelist wrote, “This is the message that we have heard from him and announce to you: ‘God is light and there is no darkness in him at all.’ If we claim, ‘We have fellowship with him,’ and live in the darkness, we are lying and do not act truthfully. But if we live in the light in the same way as he is in the light, we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from every sin” (1 John 1:5-7).

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • What changes must we make in how we lead if our congregation expects us to light a worship fire from scratch each week?
  • If continuous worship is our goal, then how do we train our congregation to take that worship spark with them when they leave?
  • What might our worship look like when we gather on Sunday if our congregants have been continuous worshippers during the week?
  • What language could we use to send worshippers out for continuous worship?

[1] D. A. Carson, ed., Worship by the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 50.
[2] Harold M. Best, Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the
Arts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 9.

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

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Jan 6 2021

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 30 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 23 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 16 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 7 2020

Worship Farm Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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Dec 2 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 30 2020

Scriptureless Worship

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A worship service without Scripture reading may not be worship at all.

By limiting Scripture to a single reading prior to the pastoral exhortation, we may be unwittingly implying that we are placing a higher level of credibility in the exhortation than in the Word itself. It may then convey a lack of trust in the very Word professed to be foundational to our faith, doctrines, and practices. If Scripture can’t stand on its own, then we can’t possibly prop it up with our own words.

Robert Webber in Ancient-Future Worship wrote, “We are nourished in worship by Jesus Christ, who is the living Word disclosed to us in the Scriptures, the written Word of God. In spite of all the emphasis we evangelicals have placed on the importance of the Bible, there seems to be a crisis of the Word among us.”[1]

Congregations continue to struggle in their understanding of spirit and truth worship by maximizing music and depending on it alone to encourage worship renewal. At the same time those congregations often minimize the very root from which our songs must spring. John Frame offers two truths that highlight the value of God’s word in our worship: “First, where God’s Word is, God is. We should never take God’s Word for granted. To hear the Word of God is to meet with God himself. Second, where God is, the Word is. We should not seek to have an experience with God which bypasses or transcends his Word.”[2]

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s word is revealed. This revelation causes worshippers to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:12-15; 1 Thess 1:5). The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with others. This dialogue develops a community that congregations have been desperately trying to create and recreate through their songs alone.

Some of the crisis of the Word is a result of our standing over the Bible and reading God’s narrative from outside instead of standing within the narrative and reading Scripture from the inside.[3] Reading Scripture as insiders helps us realize the text is not just describing someone else’s story in history but also describing the story of my life, my hope, my joy, my sin, and my journey away from and to God.[4]

As an elementary school teacher, my wife often reads or tells stories to her students to enhance auditory learning, encourage creativity, promote informational development, and advance knowledge. With imagination beyond my comprehension she is able to create stories and insert the names of her classroom children into the narrative, considering the personality and nature of each child. This narrative approach to reading and telling moves the children beyond just hearing the words to actually living inside those words.

When Scripture is read, when it is illuminated in our preaching, when it is incorporated into our prayers of thanksgiving and lament, when it frames the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and when we sing its text in a unified voice, Scripture becomes a means by which we are gathered into the body of the living Lord.[5]

Scripture must be foundational to our songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions, and even ministry announcements. It must be frequently, variously, generationally, and culturally read and allowed to stand on its own. When that occurs, our congregations will leave in-here worship, with the text in their hearts and on their lips, for nonstop worship out there.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How often are we reading Scripture in our worship services beyond the text for pastoral exhortation?
  • How might we encourage our congregation to not only hear the words of Scripture but also live inside those words?
  • Who usually reads Scripture in our services? Are we enlisting multiple generations, genders, and cultures as readers?
  • What filters should we put in place to help us determine if Scripture is primary instead of secondary in our worship services?

[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 113.

[2] John M. Frame, Worship in Spirit and Truth: A Refreshing Study of the Principles and Practice of Biblical Worship (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1996), 90.

[3] Webber, Ancient-Future Worship, 113–14.

[4] Webber, Ancient-Future Worship, 130.

[5] John Burgess, “Why Scripture Matters: Reading the Bible in a Time of Church Conflict,” in A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony, ed. Leanne Van Dyk (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005), 66.

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

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Nov 25 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 23 2020

Worship Leader: Throw Your Cap Over the Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 19 2020

A Modern Parable for Worship Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 14 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 7 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 5 2020

Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

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golf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

 

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

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

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