Oct 16 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 14 2019

Top 10 Worship Word Wednesday Quotes

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I have been posting a weekly Worship Word Wednesday for a year. These are stand-alone quotes taken from my weekly Worship Evaluation Blog or my teaching notes and other writing projects. The following are the top 10 quotes from this last year according to analytics, shares, comments, likes or reposts.

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Oct 9 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 16 2019

Worship Manager or Worship Leader?

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

A Manager starts and stops worship.

A Leader continues worship.

 

A Manager does to.

A Leader does with.

 

A Manager prepares worshipers for Sunday events.

A Leader prepares worshipers for daily responses.

 

A Manager focuses on the institution.

A Leader focuses on the mission.

 

A Manager weighs the value of each team member.

A Leader creates value in each team member.

 

A Manager informs.

A Leader influences.

 

A Manager is autonomous.

A Leader is collaborative.

 

A Manager builds systems.

A Leader builds relationships.

 

A Manager imitates.

A Leader innovates.

 

A Manager instructs.

A Leader coaches.

 

A Manager creates goals.

A Leader casts vision.

 

A Manager sticks with how worship has worked.

A Leader works with how worship is stuck.

 

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Sep 11 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 4 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 3 2019

Worship Leader and Worship Team Relational Contract

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A relational contract is a voluntary agreement between two or more parties that clarifies the expectations of their association in order to diminish conflict, encourage unity, inspire trust and foster mutual accountability.

What if worship leaders and worship teams planned, prepared and presented worship with a relational contractual agreement as one of the foundational components of their leadership? Can you imagine the worship health potential this could offer your congregation?

Unfortunately, this type of worship leading relationship sometimes doesn’t occur because leaders often function as independent contractors reliant on their own strength, ability, methods, processes and talent.

Implementing a relational contract will require a level of sacrifice and trust that is not guarded, territorial, defensive or competitive. It could serve as a useful guide to hold each other accountable to the unified goal of fulfilling and helping each other fulfill the mission of your church. But it will obviously never occur unless and until all parties are willing to embrace it.

Worship Leader/Worship Team Relational Contract

In an effort to more effectively lead, exhort, teach and model healthy worship, we as the primary worship leaders agree to adhere to the following relational guiding principles. We understand that the worship of our congregation will never be completely healthy until our relationship as its leaders is also healthy.

______________________, Worship Leader

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

______________________, Worship Team Member

We agree that we will…

  • Maintain a collaborative spirit that supports all of our worship gifts as complementary, not competitive.
  • Publicly and privately acknowledge the value of our unique callings, leadership styles, gifts and competencies.
  • Listen as often as we speak.
  • Partner in leading and teaching worship that moves beyond musical style alone to deeper biblical and theological content.
  • Communicate our disagreements in private without fear of retribution.
  • Make every effort to be approachable, available and accountable to each other.
  • Affirm in public; correct, instruct, coach and mentor in private; and pastor each other at all times.
  • Sacrifice individually for the sake of the body corporately.
  • Initiate intentional significant conversations that include our hopes, dreams, goals, expectations, plans, concerns and evaluations.
  • Invest in the personal and spiritual development of each other with no ulterior motive.
  • Preserve loyalty, trust, morality, respect and friendship.
  • Work toward a common philosophy of worship and ministry.
  • Pray consistently for and with each other.
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Aug 28 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 26 2019

Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

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golfWhen the British colonized India in the 1820’s they also introduced the game of golf. A unique problem was quickly discovered, however, after building the first golf course in Calcutta. Monkeys in the trees surrounding the course would drop down, snag the golf balls from the fairways and then carry and drop them in other locations.

In response, officials tried building tall fences around the fairways and greens but the monkeys climbed right over them. Attempts to frighten them just seemed to amuse and entertain them. Workers even tried to capture and relocate the monkeys only to have others appear.

A stellar drive down the middle of the fairway might be picked up and dropped in the rough. A hook or slice producing a terrible lie might be tossed back into the fairway. So 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.[1]

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 catastrophe when people don’t do or plans don’t go as well as we prayed and practiced for them to. 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.

So the next time the organist and pianist begin a song introduction in different keys; the next time the rhythm 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; or the next time your pastor cuts a well-rehearsed song right before the service to provide more sermon time…Play the ball where the monkey drops it.

 

[1] Adapted from Tara Branch, “It’s Not What’s Happening, It’s How You Respond,” Life, HuffPost Plus. May 3, 2013. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/acceptance_b_3211053. (accessed Monday, August 27, 2019).

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Aug 14 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 31 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 24 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 17 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 10 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 8 2019

The False Dichotomy of Choosing Worship Sides

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dividedA false dichotomy is the belief that if one thing is true, then another one can’t be. This comparison is typically used to force a selection between one side or another by making the assumption they are two opposing positions. So either/or options are initiated in order to elevate one side over the other or to coerce participants to choose.

Even after a couple of decades, opposing or contrasting views are still being openly expressed and written about when it comes to worship styles, especially hymns or modern worship songs. Those dialogues perpetuate either/or dichotomies by attempting to elevate one side at the expense of the other. The use of all encompassing statements such as “modern worship songs are trite” or “hymns are archaic” continue to perpetuate the conflict. And those 7-11 monikers and old time religion epithets that are neither funny nor accurate exacerbate the right/wrong and good/bad worship comparisons that are still dividing churches.

Defending one by criticizing the other is actually an act of self-defense so it’s usually preferential, not theological. Attempting to protect our favorite hymns or modern worship songs by vilifying the other can actually have the opposite effect of marginalizing the one we are trying to protect. If they really need our feeble attempts to prop them up, then are they actually viable options? If, however, both can stand on their own merit as many of us believe they can, then they will endure in spite of our criticisms and defenses.

We have a tendency to compare and contrast God’s artistry based on our own musical history, practical experiences and preferences. So limiting art to only what we know and like assumes He only likes what we know. False worship dichotomies discount God’s calling for us to create and offer new art in response to His diverse revelations. And since those callings are so unique to our contexts and cultures, how can our new art responses be contained in one generation or genre?

Modern worship songs or hymns and what follows them are here to stay. So instead of defending one by maligning the other, we should be praying that the peace of Christ would keep them and us in tune with each other. And we should pray that our unity instead of theological and stylistic aspersions could lead us to places way beyond our previous identities and imaginations.

Hymns and modern worship songs aren’t mutually exclusive, so it is not necessary to choose one over the other. And as long as we are filtering them according to theology instead of partiality they can both live in harmony and compatibility as worship allies instead of adversaries. When they do we’ll discover what it means to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ together with one mind and one voice (Rom 15:6).

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Jul 1 2019

Reclaimed Worship

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It is en vogue to reclaim and repurpose old wood for new building projects. Reclaimed wood has a rich history and character that newer wood products haven’t yet earned. The beauty of its durability and seasoned strength tells a story that only time can replicate. Using reclaimed wood keeps the past alive even when rebuilding is necessary.

As churches consider the future they sometimes realize the need for renewing and reimagining their worship. In doing so, they often assume it will require incorporating something completely new. So instead of reclaiming and repurposing older methods and practices they instead use the finesse of a wrecking ball to swing wildly at existing practices. The result is often the complete destruction of the worship structures and relational foundations that took decades to build.

So instead of just asking, “what’s broken and how do we fix it” congregations should also be asking, “what’s working and how can we do more of it.”[1] Maybe the worship changes most of our churches need should not occur by demolishing and discarding our existing practices, but instead by deconstructing or reclaiming some of them.

Demolition is the most expedient method of tearing down an existing structure in order to ensure that the ensuing structure bears no characteristics of the original structure. It takes what was and completely destroys it.

Deconstruction, conversely, is the systematic and selective process of taking a structure apart while carefully preserving valuable elements for re-use. It saves those materials within an existing structure and repurposes them for a new life. Deconstruction reclaims some of those elements that still have value for the future.

So reclaiming worship means that even when change is necessary we take the time to recognize those foundations and practices that still have value so we can repurpose them as useful building materials for the future.

 

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

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Jun 19 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 17 2019

Childish Responses to Worship Change

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When the disciples asked Jesus who the greatest is in the kingdom of heaven, he responded by calling a little child and asking him to stand among them. Then he said, “Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest” (Matt 18:1-4).

When churches start discussing worship change the humble character of the congregants is often one of the first things to go. Character is the outward manifestation of our inward nature or qualities. It isn’t innate so it must be learned and practiced or it’s easily forgotten or ignored, especially when we don’t get our way. Character indicates who we really are even when conflict arises.

The character of children could help the rest of us remember and relearn some of those forgotten traits when we’re facing worship change that is not always our preference.

Wonder – Worship should cause us to be curious, fascinated, surprised and captivated. Children radiate these characteristics, we seldom do. Wide-eyed worship wonder has been replaced by the controlled and scripted. We are rarely wowed, amazed or awed. As adults we have transformed the wonder of God into a scheduled event that is explainable and rational.

Cooperation – Children learn early that always expecting to get your way, being a bully, not resolving conflict with kind words, not considering the needs of others and not seeing things from another’s point of view are not an option. When our worship practices move too quickly or not quick enough toward change we’ve forgotten how to share and play fair.

Tolerance – Children seem to have a higher capacity to accept differences than we do. They learn intolerance from us. Churches need to invert that practice. Worship intolerance is often manifested musically and stylistically. Tolerance doesn’t cause us to compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often asks us to accommodate culturally, contextually and systematically.

Resilience – Resilience is that childhood elasticity that allows them to recover quickly from radical change. It’s the willingness to give things a try with an attitude of flexibility. Worship resilience averts relational and theological catastrophe through a culture of pliability. Pliability allows worshipers to weather change without getting bent out of shape.

When considering how we’ll respond the next time our worship changes we just need to be reminded what we once learned as a child. And when we do, it will certainly give us new meaning to “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6).

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Jun 12 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 5 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 22 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 13 2019

20 Worship Service Irrefutables

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Worship Service Irrefutables

  1. It isn’t trivial just because you use a worship band.
  2. It isn’t archaic just because you use an orchestra.
  3. The opening song doesn’t start it.
  4. The closing song doesn’t stop it.
  5. An older expression doesn’t imply it’s stale.
  6. A newer expression doesn’t imply it’s fresh.
  7. It’s not theologically profound because you use hymns.
  8. It’s not theologically trite because you use modern songs.
  9. A younger leader doesn’t cause it to be relevant.
  10. An older leader doesn’t cause it to be passé.
  11. Changing it won’t automatically make your church grow.
  12. Keeping it the same won’t inevitably make your church decline.
  13. Using technology can complement it.
  14. Using technology can distract from it.
  15. It’s not participative just because you’re leading it with a choir.
  16. It’s not passive just because you’re leading it with a worship team.
  17. Dressing up for it doesn’t make it sacred.
  18. Dressing down for it doesn’t make it irreverent.
  19. Music isn’t a necessity for it.
  20. Music can certainly enhance it.
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May 1 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 29 2019

Dangerous Worship

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

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

If we say, we love God, (an act worship) and hate our brothers, (also an act of worship) we are liars (1 John 4:20a). Worship that acts justly realizes loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength is incomplete until I also love my neighbor as I love myself (Luke 10:27).

In his book, The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton offers the challenge that too often our worship has become a place of safety and complacency. But true biblical worship doesn’t merely point us upward, it should also turn us outward as well. So worship is the dangerous act of waking up to God and his purposes in the world, and then living lives that show it.[1]

“We presume we can worship in a way that will find God but lose track of our neighbor.”

“Many debates about worship are just indirect ways of talking about ourselves, not God.”

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

“Where is the evidence that we are scandalized before God when we hunger for worship that almost never leads us to have a heart for the hungry?”

“There are a number of ways in our practice of corporate worship that we substitute human management and form for an encounter with the Spirit of God; we end up making worship in our image rather than God’s.”

“The question of many secular people is not, ‘Why doesn’t the church look more like us?’ Rather, their perceptive question (and God’s too) is, ‘Why doesn’t the church look more like Jesus?’ Safe worship never gets to this point. The risk is too high.”

“Worship that is based on people’s expectations is typically shaped more by culture than by the gospel.”

“We confess ‘Jesus is Lord’ (Romans 10:9) but only submit to the part of Christ’s authority that fits our grand personal designs, doesn’t cause pain, doesn’t disrupt the American dream, doesn’t draw us across ethnic or racial divisions, doesn’t add the pressure of too much guilt, doesn’t mean forgiving as we have been forgiven, doesn’t ask for more than a check to show compassion.”

“We sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19) expressing our desire to know Jesus, but the Jesus we want to know is the sanitized Jesus that looks a lot like us when we think we are at our best.”

“Despite God’s Word to the contrary, we think we can say we love God and yet hate our neighbor, neglect the widow, forget the orphan, fail to visit the prisoner, ignore the oppressed. It’s the sign of disordered love. When we do this, our worship becomes a lie to God.”

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

 

[1] This quote and all following quotes are taken from Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP Books, 2007).

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Apr 24 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 15 2019

In Whom Are You Investing?

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I was challenged a couple of decades ago while attending a worship leadership conference to make a list of individuals who had intentionally taken the time to encourage me in my early ministry years. The clinician gave us time to complete our list and then asked, “Have you told those individuals how much you value that investment?” After returning home from the conference I drafted half a dozen thank you notes to send to those mentors I had listed. Paul Williams was on that list.

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

My first ministry position was one of those learning experiences that many of us have endured in ministry. Paul knew the history of our congregation and the challenges I would face way before I figured it out. He never offered a lot of useless advice or platitudes when I was struggling to stay or questioning whether I missed God’s calling. He just became a friend who graciously listened, encouraged and was available every time I needed his wisdom.

Before Paul died in 2010 from complications of Acute Myelocytic Leukemia, he had served as Music and Worship Pastor for 35 years and then in 1992 began serving full-time as a lyricist, clinician and composer. Even though I moved to a different state, Paul continued to send me packets of his new music every few months with a humorous personal note of encouragement and a loving note to 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 help shape me then.

Investing in others means we make deposits of our time and talents so the return will be compounded for future withdrawals. Our success in worship ministry will not be judged just on how well we did it ourselves, but on how well we helped others do it too. So if we want great worship leaders to replace us in the future, then like my friend Paul we must invest in those not yet great worship leaders in the present.

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Apr 10 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 8 2019

Why Wouldn’t You Also Worship Then?

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Continuous worship is always easier when things are going our way. So it’s easy to worship when you have a job, a healthy family, a lovely home and financial security. But what about when the daily events of life threaten to consume you? If worship is continuous, why wouldn’t you also worship then?

Worship is our response to whom God is, what he has done and what he continues to do. His revelation is perpetual, meaning it doesn’t start and stop according to the various circumstances of life; therefore, our responses shouldn’t either.

So…

  • Even when the Sunday hymns, songs and sermons fall short with clichéd platitudes, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when it seems like everyone else is better off than you are, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when complaint or anger is the only response you can come up with, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when “why?” and “how long?” are the only things you can ask, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when your family is incomplete because of infertility and miscarriage, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when job loss, a broken marriage or health stress causes you to doubt God’s provision, why wouldn’t you worship?
  • Even when depression or anxiety overwhelms you, why wouldn’t you worship?

Admitting to God that you can’t do these things on your own is in itself a profound act of worship. And worship that never addresses these issues is dishonest. If God expects that kind of worship and is not threatened by it, then neither should we be. So even when offering your worst is all you have left, why wouldn’t you worship?

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Apr 3 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 1 2019

Take Courage Worship Leader…He Is Able!

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he is ableWhen worship ministry feels like being caught in the force of a riptide that pulls you away from the safety of shore; When 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; When it seems to take longer each time for the current to lose its strength, release you and allow you to swim to shore;

Remember to take courage in the assurance that He Is Able to do above and beyond all that you ask or think according to the power that works in you (Eph. 3:20).

Take Courage…

  • When no generation is ever really happy musically…He is able.
  • When your ministry shelf life is moving toward the expiration date because you are no longer young enough or trim enough…He is able.
  • When you are always a step behind musically, technologically and culturally…He is able.
  • When you are tempted to quit every Monday morning…He is able.
  • When you wish you served someplace, anyplace else…He is able.
  • When you are always the first one to arrive and last one to leave…He is able.
  • When no amount of rehearsal can make your group presentable…He is able.
  • When staff collaboration actually means silent obedience…He is able.
  • When needed change is never well received…He is able.
  • When you feel like no one is holding your rope as you start to slip…He is able.
  • When date night with your spouse is the worship team potluck…He is able.
  • When you feel like you are missing out on your children’s lives…He is able.
  • When you have been terminated for any or no reason…He is able.
  • When your creativity has been exhausted and burnout is causing you to coast…He is able.
  • When you don’t have the resolve to take care of yourself spiritually, physically and emotionally…He is able.

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

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Mar 25 2019

Is Serving as a Worship Leader Really Worth It?

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

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

Is it really worth it…

  • When you’ll always sing too many or too few hymns or modern worship songs for someone?
  • When the only time available for family vacation is after the student choir mission trip, VBS and camps but before the fall ministry kick-off?
  • When you worry if your children will even like church when they are no longer required to attend?
  • When the Christmas season can’t begin for your family until after multiple programs and the Christmas Eve service?
  • When congregants upset with you take it out on your spouse and children?
  • When worship conversations circle around what people want, deserve, prefer or have earned?

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

Yes, it is really worth it…

  • When one generation discovers that loving another generation more than they love their own musical preferences is an act of worship.
  • When the troubled teen that got involved in your student choir now serves as a worship leader.
  • When your grown children are faithfully serving in ministries and missions.
  • When Christmas programs break through those spiritual barriers like no previous services have.
  • When congregants realize that how they treat their leaders is also an act of worship.
  • When worship conversations circle around what God wants, deserves, prefers and has earned.

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

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Mar 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 11 2019

But…We Like It Here

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Break Camp
Some churches are trying to reach the culture by offering a mediocre imitation of what that culture already has…usually a few notches below in quality or a few steps after culture has moved onto something else. But is impersonating the practices of a culture that doesn’t know what it needs to reach a culture that doesn’t know what it needs the best we have to offer? Maybe it’s time for some of our churches to break camp and Cross the Rubicon.

In 49 BC, Julius Caesar led a single legion of troops across the Rubicon River in order to make their 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. The edge of the Rubicon is said to be the place where Caesar uttered the famous phrase, alea iacta est – the die is cast.

Caesar and his men 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. The idiom Crossing the Rubicon now refers to an individual or group willing to radically commit to a revolutionary and risky course of action when playing it safe won’t get the job done.

If churches want to fulfill the Great Commission they can no longer stay here when God has called them to go there, even when some still like it here. So as painful as it may be, they can’t let those who refuse to break camp here keep their church from going there even if it means leaving some here. Going there requires the entrepreneurial innovation of an artisan even when the routinized imitation of an assembly line worker is more certain and comfortable.

When churches commit together to break camp, go all in, refuse to retreat and cross their Rubicon they will then “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.”[1]

 

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

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Feb 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 18 2019

Sunday Morning Karaoke

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karaoke

Karaoke singers are provided with a microphone, sound system and projected text for the purpose of imitating a familiar song originally recorded by a popular artist. They are even judged on how well (or poorly) they imitate the original artist and his or her songs.

Karaoke happens in our worship services too when we imitate the worship habits, methods, styles and even attire of other artists or congregations without considering our own gifts and calling or the calling and abilities of our players, singers and congregants.

Obviously, not all congregations are gifted with musicians who can create original songs and therefore must use the songs created by other artists and composers. The difference between using and imitating, however, is taking the time to interpret those songs through the lens of your own congregation.

Instead of imitating the worship style of other congregations, we should be trying to discover our own unique worship voice.[1] Finding the voice of a congregation is not just following a recipe for the success of other artists and congregations.

The voice of your congregation “is found by listening to its overtones. It is the voice heard and shared when the congregation prays together, eats together, cries and rejoices together. It is the voice heard and shared when a congregation works out its differences, blesses its children, buries its saints, and sings its carols of love and hope.”[2]

Sharing those events impacts the formation of the unique worship DNA of each congregation. So just imitating the worship voice of another congregation marginalizes those shared experiences for both the congregation who imitates and the one being imitated.

If God has entrusted us with the worship position and people to which He has called us, then imitating or mimicking other worship contexts marginalizes that calling. So is that really what God intended for us and the best we have to offer Him and His church?

 

[1] Constance Cherry, in Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation: Seeking and Celebrating God’s Song for Us (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 9.

[2] Terry W. York and C. David Bolin, The Voice of Our Congregation, 9.

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Feb 4 2019

Give Me A Break!

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Yoke
In 2005, a store called MinneNAPolis opened in Minnesota’s Mall of America. It rented comfy spots where weary shoppers could take naps for only 70 cents a minute. The new store included themed rooms such as Asian Mist, Tropical Isle and Deep Space. The walls were thick enough to drown out the sounds of the mall outside. The company’s website said, “Escape the pressures of the real world into the pleasures of an ideal one.” “It’s not just napping,” read the press release. “Some guests will want to listen to music, put their feet up, watch the water trickling in the beautiful stone waterfall, breathe in the positive-ionization-filtered air, enjoy the full-body massager and just take an enjoyable escape from the fast-paced lifestyle.”

Sunday isn’t a day of rest for those of us with worship leading responsibilities. Some of us are probably wondering if we have enough in the tank to do it all again next week. So if Sunday isn’t our Sabbath, when is? Most worship team players and singers are volunteers with full-time jobs outside of their worship leading responsibilities. So they don’t have the freedom to take off the Monday after or Friday before Sunday like some of those in full-time ministry do. So if we don’t establish a regular rhythm of rotating players and singers in to allow them to catch their breath, then how can we expect them to lead others to a place they no longer have the spiritual, emotional or physical resolve to go themselves?

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30). Offering permission for regular rhythms of rest means we are helping each other remove our self-made yokes.

The word rest in this passage is better translated as refreshment. As a college student I worked a couple of summers installing aluminum siding, screen rooms and even an aluminum swimming pool enclosure. The pool enclosure was installed around and over a pre-existing pool that was full of water. Screws driven into the structure with powered screw guns held the aluminum joists and panels together. Inevitably some of the screws fell into the pool. So it was my job to dive into the pool several times each day to retrieve those screws so they wouldn’t clog up the pool filter and drain system. I certainly understood that word rest for a few minutes in the July Oklahoma heat.

Refresh means to renew, revive or reinvigorate. Refreshment is not idleness, it isn’t exemption from responsibilities and it’s not laziness or a free pass. It is instead an intentional deep calming physical and spiritual peace. Isaiah also spoke of this kind of rest, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Yahweh is the everlasting God, the Creator of the whole earth. He never grows faint or weary; there is no limit to His understanding. He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

Jesus wasn’t challenging us to do something he didn’t practice himself. He said, “Learn from me” (Matt 11:29). After feeding the five thousand he perceived that the crowd would try to come and take him by force to make Him King. The text says Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself to be alone (John 6:15). Indicating he had been there before. After John the Baptist was beheaded Jesus encouraged the disciples who had been working very hard and were grieving to “Come away by yourselves and rest for a while” (Mark 6:31).

It is evident in chapter 12 of Matthew that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, we aren’t. Chapter 11 ends with him reminding us take his yoke because it is easy and his burden is light (Matt 11:29-30). A good yoke is formed to the shape of the neck of the oxen. It should cover a large area of skin to distribute the stresses widely. It is smooth, rounded and polished with no sharp edges so that no point will endure too much stress. When the yoke fits perfectly, the oxen can haul heavy loads for years and their skin will remain healthy, with no pressures sores. This text is a great reminder for us to lead worship with margins of recovery by bearing his yoke instead of those stressful burdens of our own making.

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Jan 28 2019

Secret Shopper

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Secret Shopper

 

Most of us couldn’t imagine leaving our children at a daycare that has stained carpet, musty odors, garage sale reject toys and old sound equipment stacked in the corner. But that is exactly what some churches offer to young parents and then wonder why they never return. The nursery and children’s areas should be the safest and cleanest rooms in the building. How can we expect parents to engage and understand meaningful worship at the same time they’re worried about the safety and health of their children?

My ministry responsibilities often require me to regularly drive some of the same roads. So I’m pretty familiar with the rest stops along those routes. I know the ones I’ll stop at again and the ones I’ll never return to because they’re always filthy, never have the necessary supplies and have archaic or often broken plumbing fixtures. We don’t like to talk about the cleanliness of our restrooms at church but that is the last place many worshipers visit before we ask them to join us in singing the first worship song.

We are often good at considering how to engage people during the services but don’t always think about worship distractions before and after those services. We assume the theological depth of our worship service will encourage visitors to return and even stay. And that might actually be true if they could ever see past our pre and post service blind spots.

So in addition to evaluating sermons and songs, churches should also evaluate their worship spaces and structures. We’ve all heard the adage about only getting one shot at a first impression. Since it’s easy to overlook what we’ve gotten used to, it is helpful to secure an outside evaluator for a greater degree of unbiased and unprejudiced objectivity. Retailers and restaurants often enlist outside patrons or shoppers to collect information about their establishment. They evaluate things like the appearance of displays, friendliness and efficiency of the staff, cleanliness of restrooms, prices and the quality of their products.

Churches could also learn a lot about themselves by enlisting a secret shopper. A friend from another congregation, an acquaintance from the community or even your favorite coffee shop barista could be enlisted as a secret shopper. For the minimal expense of presenting them with a restaurant gift card you could invite one or several guests to visit and complete an evaluation questionnaire like the one below.

Considering the above items and others might seem inconsequential compared to understanding spirit and truth worship. But guests often visit with little or no understanding of theological worship. They do, however, understand excellence, cleanliness, the safety of their children and their own comfort or its absence. So isn’t it worth the effort to remove some of those initial distractions that could be keeping them from going deeper?

Secret Shopper Questionnaire

  • Was it easy to get into the parking lot and convenient to park?

Observations:

  • Was it clear where you were supposed to go once you arrived?

Observations:

  • Was the property in good repair and grounds well kept?

Observations:

  • When were you first greeted, if ever?

Observations:

  • Did the attitude of the greeter make you feel welcome?

Observations:

  • Were you offered coffee and was it excellent, mediocre or bad?

Observations:

  • Were the foyer colors and decorations outdated?

Observations:

  • Did it seem like people were happy to be there and glad to be together?

Observations:

  • Were the handouts timely and of excellent quality?

Observations:

  • Was the restroom clean and odor free?

Observations:

  • Did you feel safe leaving your child in the children’s ministry area?

Observations:

  • Was the worship space interesting and pleasing to the eye?

Observations:

  • How did you figure out where to sit?

Observations:

  • Did you feel conspicuous when you entered the worship space?

Observations:

  • Was the worship center seating comfortable?

Observations:

  • Was there enough light?

Observations:

  • Was the temperature at a comfortable level?

Observations:

  • Did anyone dress or look like you?

Observations:

  • How was the volume of the speaking and music?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders use language you didn’t understand?

Observations:

  • How was the service flow and pace?

Observations:

  • Did the service seem too long?

Observations:

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

Observations:

  • Was it easy to participate musically?

Observations:

  • Was the music presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Was the music culturally relevant for the people present?

Observations:

  • Were the video projection elements presented with excellence?

Observations:

  • Did you feel welcome to participate in all worship service elements?

Observations:

  • Was the sermon easy to follow and meaningful?

Observations:

  • Did any of the service elements make you feel uncomfortable?

Observations:

  • Did anything in the service distract you?

Observations:

  • How did you know what to do when the worship service was over?

Observations:

  • Did anyone speak to you after the service?

Observations:

  • Were the members friendly, unfriendly or disinterested?

Observations:

  • Did the leaders seem approachable?

Observations:

  • Any additional observations?

Observations:

  • Would you come back based on your observations?

Observations:

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Jan 21 2019

Not Our Kind of People

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intercultural

Some of us can imagine our worship services filled with people of multiple colors, nationalities, economic levels and political beliefs all worshiping God together. The problem with that scenario is that most of us imagine how great that vision would be as long as those various cultures, tribes and tongues are willing to make adjustments to worship like we do.

Not in my style may really and truly mean not my kind of people, except when it comes time for the yearly youth group trip to Mexico. We are willing to go outside the church to diversify but failing miserably to do so within.[1] So why are we so ready to defer when we travel around the world but not across town or even across the aisle?

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

So if we aren’t meant to segregate as we worship in Heaven, then why are we so divided as we worship here on earth? Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in this nation.” Not much has changed since his original statement 50 years ago so maybe it’s time to try something beyond just adding a few ethnically diverse songs.

 

  1.  We must stop trying to fix it with music.

We believe music is a universal language just as long as everyone else lives in our universe. It’s impossible for intercultural worship to begin with a common musical style, so it must instead begin with a common biblical content. And when it does, music won’t get the blame for what only theology can fix.

  1.  We must become ethnodoxologists.

Ethnodoxologists encourage unity in the heart languages of those who are here and those who are not here…yet. Ethnodoxology looks beyond Americanism as having a corner on worship understanding and considers the vast work God is doing around the globe and across town.

  1.  We must be mutually inconvenienced.

Mitch Albom wrote, “Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.” Our worship success will not be judged solely on how well we did it ourselves but also what conveniences we were willing to sacrifice as our spiritual act of worship so other tribes and tongues could do it too.

  1.  We must stop living monocultural lives.

Monoculture originated as an agricultural term that means the cultivation and growth of a single crop at a time. How can we expect to have intercultural worship on Sunday when we segregate monoculturally in everything else during the week?

  1.  We must have intercultural platforms.

Inserting the occasional international song is disingenuous when the people who lead those songs are homogenous. Harold Best wrote, “It is a spiritually connected culture that takes cultural differences, works through the tensions that they may create and comes to the blessed condition of mixing and reconciling them and of stewarding their increase and growth.”[2]

  1.  We must become uncomfortable with injustice.

Politicizing justice is the fear of losing control of something that was not ours to begin with, including the cultural preferences of our church. It is theologically incongruent to embrace cultural worship differences internationally while ignoring them domestically. American exceptionalism may be welcomed politically but it can’t be justified biblically. So worship that doesn’t act justly, love mercy and walk humbly by considering the voices of the marginalized is a worship God rejects.

 

 

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

[2] Ibid.

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Jan 14 2019

Enabling Mindless Worshipers

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MindlessIf our church services give the impression that worship starts when we start it and ends when we end it; If all worship resources and energies are spent preparing for and presenting a single hour on Sunday; If we aren’t exhorting our congregation and modeling for them how to worship not only when they gather but also when they leave; Then we are enabling mindless worshipers.

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, noting weather reports radioed from shore. No one would dream of asking the tourists to do these things.”[1]

Jesus’ greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and also love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). Paul’s exhortation to the church at Philippi was whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy or worth our worship…we should think about such things (Phil 4:8).

Worshiping with our minds allows us to approach worship with knowledge, insight, reason, memory, creativity, inquiry, imagination and even doubt. So if we offer our prayers superficially; if we read and listen to Scripture texts mindlessly; if we gather at the Lord’s Supper Table hastily; and if we only sing our songs emotionally; the end result is often mindless worship.

We could learn a lot from the Jews who believe the Sabbath begins at sundown. Then the activities and things with which we fill our minds the night before we gather could better frame our worship attitudes on the Sabbath.

My daughter was five years old the first time our family vacationed at 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, preparing and longing for it. Her mind was so filled with it she couldn’t contain the anticipation.

Empowering instead of enabling worshipers encourages them to think, behave or take action autonomously. It gives them the permission to take ownership in their own worship responses to God’s revelation at the moment in which it occurs. Worship empowerment arises from the shallowness of dependency and leads to the full conscious, active and continuous participation of each worshiper.

Worship that doesn’t require us to think is superficial. Worship or love of God and others must be continuous or it becomes self-serving. And it can’t be continuous unless we think about it, consider it, process it, meditate on it, study it and learn how to get better at it in order to better teach others how to do it. So until we move beyond just waiting for the song set to enable us to worship, we’ll never encourage deep calling unto deep worship that also engages our minds.

 

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

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Jan 9 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 2 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 19 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 12 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 5 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 28 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 21 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 14 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 5 2018

3 Reasons Your Worship Isn’t Good

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What is good

Congregations are constantly trying to discover and create good worship. So they’ve expanded their song catalogs and adjusted their presentation methods in an effort to find a formula that accomplishes that goal. Some just bypass the heavy lifting altogether by imitating the worship practices of other congregations and call it good.

The minor prophet Micah faced similar challenges as he responded to the shallow worship practices evident in the lives of the religious leaders of his day. He vigorously condemned the dishonest, corrupt and meaningless worship prevalent in Judah and Israel.

According to Micah, outward appearances indicated they thought their worship was good. But their worship character wasn’t consistent with what God calls good. So Micah wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

3 Reasons Worship Isn’t Good

  • It doesn’t act justly

If someone says, “I love God, (an act worship) and hates his brother, (also an act of worship) he is a liar” (1 John 4:20a). Worship that acts justly realizes loving God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is incomplete until I also love my neighbor as I love myself (Luke 10:27).

Mark Labberton wrote, “The heart of the battle over worship is this: our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God.”[1]

  • It doesn’t love mercy

Mercy is the willingness to sacrifice ones own interests for the greater worshiping good of the congregation. Merciful worship begins by surrendering or sacrificing for the sake of something or someone else. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go.

King David understood merciful worship as he responded to God’s command to build an altar so the plague on the people of Israel might be stopped (2 Sam 24:21). At no cost to David, Araunah offered his threshing floor, his oxen and even the wood from the oxen yokes for the burnt offering. The king replied, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).

  • It doesn’t walk humbly

We often take credit for instigating God’s presence by what we sing and how we sing it and call that good worship. In reality, God started the conversation, was present long before we arrived and has been waiting patiently for us to acknowledge Him. He has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light that we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9). The Father seeks the kind of worshipers who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23).

Humble worship allows us to lay aside the unflappable pursuit of our own satisfaction, entertainment, pleasure or routine in order to pursue God and ask Him to reorder our priorities and passions.”[2]

 

[1] Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2007), 22-23.

[2] Ibid., 170.

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Oct 31 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 24 2018

Worship Word Wednesday

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