Dec 11 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 4 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Dec 2 2019

An Argument for Punctuation in Projected Song Lyrics

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

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

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

So bring Him incense gold and myrrh

Come peasant king to own Him

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,

Come, peasant, king, to own Him;

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

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

God rest ye merry, gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

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

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

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

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

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Nov 27 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 25 2019

Are You Called to Lead Worship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

[2] Ibid., 67.

[3] Ibid., 5.

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Nov 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 18 2019

10 Things Our Worship Songs Can’t Do

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10 Things Our Worship Songs Can’t Do

  • They can’t cause or cure our church conflicts.
  • They can’t grow or kill our church.
  • They can’t be contained in one genre or style.
  • They can’t begin or end our worship.
  • They can’t take the place of worship service Scripture.
  • They can’t cause us to worship.
  • They can’t prop up our bad theology.
  • They can’t take the place of worship service prayer.
  • They can’t usher us into the presence of God.
  • They can’t be our only act of worship.
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Nov 13 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 11 2019

Music May Be Killing Intergenerational Worship

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multigenerational

How can congregations expect to have healthy intergenerational worship on Sunday when they segregate by age in all of their other ministries throughout the week? Then the only time various generations connect is during an hour on Sunday around songs one generation or the other doesn’t particularly like. So if they are depending on the music of that one-hour as the solitary driver of intergenerational worship, then it can’t help but get the solitary blame when conflict arises.

What if, instead, all generations made an attempt to connect first by learning to love, respect and defer to each other outside of the worship service? Couldn’t those relationships that develop outside of our services then positively impact the relationships inside those services as well?

A healthy integration of the generations may not occur in worship until leaders are willing to lead dispersed intergenerational worship before attempting to lead gathered intergenerational worship. Here are some suggestions:

  • Lead them to pray for and with each other. Praying for and with each other is not just praying for another generation to change its mind. Praying for and with each other requires communication, vulnerability, honesty, trust, brokenness and selflessness.
  • Lead them to read Scripture to and with each other. Scripture must be the foundation of intergenerational worship. Nothing softens the heart of a grandparent more than to hear his/her grandchild read the word of God.
  • Lead them to share ministry together. Shared ministry requires sacrifice, humility and an investment of time and trust. Serving others together encourages and generates unity that our music sometimes can’t.
  • Lead them to play together. Those relationships exemplified by the Acts 2 church of spending time together, having everything in common, breaking bread in their homes and eating together with glad and sincere hearts is often a foreign relationship beyond our own generation.
  • Lead them to the Table together. We keep trying to manufacture unity that is already available at the Lord’s Supper Table. Communion is waiting for all generations there.
  • Lead them to sing together. If unity is the basis of intergenerational worship during the week, then unity will yield intergenerational worship on Sunday. When that occurs, how can we keep from singing our various songs together?

Maybe before we try to unify our worship musically…
we should first try to unify our generations relationally.

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Nov 6 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Nov 4 2019

Urban Myth

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There is sometimes a perception that the worship of a larger urban church is better because its size and metro location allows for a deeper pool of musicians and a higher quality of musicianship. So smaller rural church worship is often seen as a mediocre representation or a couple of steps behind and a few notches below its urban counterparts.

Urban and rural worship comparisons such as these might actually be true if the only standard by which our worship is measured is the level of our musicianship and availability of capable players and singers.

A standard is the basis or model to which something else should be compared. It is something set up and established by authority as a rule for the measure of quantity, weight, value or quality.

Scripture speaks to standards by which our worship should be measured on several occasions. The prophet Micah condemned Israel’s dishonest, corrupt, and meaningless worship by pointing out that God’s standard is doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly (Micah 6:8).

Jesus outlined the standard by commanding us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). And Paul wrote that the standard is offering our bodies as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1).

Meeting these and other biblical standards for good worship doesn’t mean we are willing to settle for musical mediocrity or a lack of preparation. All churches, in fact, urban or rural must constantly strive to create something unbelievable with the music and musicians they have available to them.

But according to Scripture the standard by which our worship is measured as good or better is not the quality of our music or availability of musicians. It is instead the condition of our hearts. So the quality of worship that is based on that standard can be met just as readily in smaller rural churches as it can in larger urban churches.

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Oct 30 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 28 2019

50 Worship Leader Self-Evaluation Questions

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

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

  1. Are the services I plan and lead usually easy to follow or are they more often disorganized and disjointed?
  1. Am I planning worship each week for the congregation I’ve been called to lead or one I wish I had been called to lead?
  1. Are my verbal instructions and transitions ad-libbed and verbose or prepared and succinct?
  1. Am I encouraging passive worshipers by leading worship for them instead of with them?
  1. Do the people I put on the platform adequately represent the cultural, generational and spiritual characteristics of our congregation?
  1. Is my primary consideration for selecting worship team members musical or spiritual?
  1. Are the songs I lead on the platform evident in the life I lead off the platform?
  1. Am I selecting or not selecting songs and styles just because I personally like or don’t like them?
  1. Do I select song keys to intentionally encourage congregational participation or just to complement my own vocal range?
  1. Are the songs I select theologically sound and biblically accurate?
  1. Are any of my artistic, visual, verbal or musical expressions contrived or distracting? 
  1. Do I convey that worship starts and stops with our opening and closing songs?
  1. Do I begin worship planning each week with song titles or Scripture and prayer?
  1. Besides the latest songs, am I learning anything new?
  1. Since Sunday isn’t usually a Sabbath for me, when am I taking one?
  1. Do I ask how something might impact my family before asking how it might impact my worship leading?
  1. Have I surrounded myself with those who can protect me from my own stupidity?
  1. Am I spending a lot of time worshiping privately before leading worship publicly?
  1. Does always highlighting my playing and singing sometimes imply I don’t really care whether the congregation is singing or not?
  1. Do I wake up every morning feeling unqualified in my own power to do what God has called me to do?
  1. Am I taking care of myself spiritually, emotionally, physically and relationally?
  1. Have I gotten in the habit of using worship service prayer as a segue for musical elements instead of a divine conversation?
  1. Do I ever welcome divine interruptions in my service planning and leading?
  1. Am I casting vision for the future without denigrating the past?
  1. Do I determine the worship language of my congregations based on how I might appear to my worship leading friends?
  1. Am I able to worship when I’m not the primary leader?
  1. Is worship leading a calling for me or just convenient?
  1. Am I leading worship just because I don’t know how to do anything else?
  1. Am I making a conscious effort to pour into younger leaders or am I just trying to protect my territory?
  1. Am I threatened when someone on the team plays or sings better than I do?
  1. Am I depending on my musical skills alone to do what it’s only possible for God to do?
  1. Do I act like a gatekeeper by holding my congregation captive to my favorite worship styles and musical preferences?
  1. Does it seem like the services I plan tend to place more focus on the creative or the Creator?
  1. Am I spending more of my time developing my musical skills or my relationship skills?
  1. Do I find myself coasting or faking it more and more often?
  1. Am I approachable, available and accountable?
  1. Am I more concerned with playing right notes than having right relationships?
  1. Does it seem like I’m more of a cheerleader than a worship leader?
  1. Is it evident from my worship responses that I’m no longer amazed by God’s revelation?
  1. Does my leading lean toward manipulation instead of exhortation?
  1. Do I always seem to disappear when it’s time to set up or tear down?
  1. Am I showing up to rehearsals unprepared?
  1. Do I treat the worship team like backup musicians?
  1. Do I ever use my artistry and busyness as an excuse for laziness and lateness?
  1. Am I coasting at the first of the week causing me to scramble at the end of the week?
  1. Is the worship I’m leading challenging our congregation to be doers or just hearers?
  1. Am I regularly praying for and with those I lead?
  1. Are the songs I’m selecting giving our congregation an opportunity for celebration and contemplation?
  1. Do I offer a healthy balance of both familiar and new songs?
  1. Is it evident to others that I’m as much of a worship leader on Monday as I was on Sunday?
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Oct 23 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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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Oct 7 2019

Give Music a Rest!

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Musical rests indicate the absence of sound but not the end of the music. Rests add depth and emotion to a musical score through the use of silence. They create and relieve tension. They allow the players and singers to pause and take a breath before the next difficult musical passage. The silence of a rest creates a temporary break in the action and keeps the notes from being strung together in breathless chaos. So playing music without rests is like driving a car without brakes.

We rely on the sound of our music and words of our songs to manage and control others. A frantic stream flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see and even sing things our way. We evaluate, judge, condemn and devour congregants with our notes. Silence as one of the deepest spiritual disciplines puts a stop to that.[1]

Scripture is certainly not silent on silence… “That’s enough! Now know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). “Don’t be quick with your mouth or say anything hastily before God, because God is in heaven, but you are on earth. Therefore, let your words be few” (Eccles. 5:2). There’s “a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking” (Eccles. 3:7).

John Ruskin, a Victorian era English art critic said this of the silence of music and rests:

There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by rests, and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. God sends a time of forced leisure, sickness, disappointed plans, frustrated efforts and makes a sudden pause in the choral hymn of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent, and our part missing in the music which ever goes up to the ear of the Creator. Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the rests. They are not to be slurred over nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.[2]

Worship is a divine conversation that requires not only the sound of our voices and instruments but also the silence of our hearing and listening. Our worship music noise can mute the distinct voice of God that is often only discernible in the silence. In the midst of our self-generated noise, we can miss his healing, comforting and encouraging words of hope such as “I am with you, well done, you are forgiven and I am weeping with you.”

Making noise as our only offering can create monological worship. One-sided sound can monopolize the conversation. But the foundation of meaningful worship is instead dialogical. Dialogue is an interactive exchange of two or more participants. Healthy conversations include a balance of discussion and response, listening as well as speaking.

Since God began the conversation and graciously invited us to join Him in it, our worship could then be enhanced and renewed when we stop trying to monopolize that conversation with our responsive noise only. So in order to again hear and listen to God’s side of the conversation, maybe it’s time to concur with Samuel in our services of worship, “Speak, LORD. Your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9).

 

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

[2] E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds., The Works of John Ruskin (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1903), 247.

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Oct 2 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 25 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Sep 23 2019

Less Scripture to Sing and Preach More

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Minimizing the public reading of Scripture in our services of worship may be unwittingly conveying a lack of trust in the very Word we claim as foundational to that worship. When we read less so we can sing and preach more we may actually be implying that a higher level of credibility is found in our exhortation or musical expression of the Word than the very Word itself.

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.”[1]

In earlier centuries wooden warships carried cannons as a primary weapon of offense. These massive weapons were mounted on rollers and secured with rope to avoid damage from their tremendous recoil. A loose cannon was one that broke from its safety restraints, potentially causing serious damage to the ship and its crew.

Reading biblical text less just so we’ll have time to sing or preach more may be compromising the theological moorings protecting us from loose canonical drifts that can compromise our worship services.

Scripture must indeed be foundational to our songs, sermons, prayers, verbal transitions and the Table. But it must also be read publicly by men, women and children of various generations and cultures and allowed to stand on its own without us trying to prop it up with our own contrived words.

When biblical text is foundational instead of supplemental it will organically yield our sermons and songs instead of just serving as fertilizer for our own language. Then our congregants will be better equipped to leave in here worship with that text in their hearts and on their lips for continuous worship out there.

 

[1] 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.

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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 9 2019

Fake Worship in the Dark Night of the Soul

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Congregations are to be commended for their quick response when catastrophic events occur around the world. Where many of those congregations have fallen short, however, is in the realization that individuals in their gathered worshiping congregation are also suffering every Sunday through events that are impacting them just as catastrophically.

My wife and I had been married about five years when we began trying to start a family. We knew it wasn’t unusual that we were unable to conceive in those first few months. But as those months stretched to years we began to ask God why we too couldn’t be parents. Most of our friends already had a couple of children so why couldn’t we? So we went through all of the invasive and often clinical processes of an infertility workup.

Finally after four years of testing and prodding we were able to conceive. We were elated but also cautiously optimistic since it had taken so long for us to get to this place. And since church people didn’t talk publicly about things like this we decided to only tell our parents until we got beyond the first trimester. But in our physician visits prior to that marker our doctor wasn’t able to detect a heartbeat indicating we would miscarry shortly after that.

We were devastated and couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t allow us to be parents. Since not many people knew, we felt like we were walking through those dark days alone. Were we unworthy? Did he not trust us? Wouldn’t we make good parents? Hadn’t we been faithful in our service to him? Is there something we had or hadn’t done to deserve this?

The Sunday following our miscarriage I still had to suck it up and lead worship even though I didn’t feel like it. I didn’t really believe those songs I was leading even though I had to lead them as if I did. That day I agreed with Jesus as he quoted the psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:2)?

The 16th century Spanish poet and Roman Catholic Priest, Saint John of the Cross referred to seasons such as this as The Dark Night of the Soul. Even Mother Teresa wrote, “I am told God lives in me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”[1]

When our congregants are hurting we have actually conditioned them to fake their worship responses through happy songs, up-beat sermons and clichéd platitudes. So we are implying to them that a positive façade is somehow more worshipful and less threatening to God and their faith.

But authentic worship is the freedom without stigma to publicly admit that we can’t handle the circumstances and struggles of life alone. And what better place should there be to surface anger and hurt than with a gathered worshiping congregation you can trust? Admitting to God and others that we can’t do this on our own is in itself a profound act of worship.

Public worship actions that convey to those struggling with sorrow, anger or grief that all is well with everyone here except them is fake. Honest worship can’t ignore the darkness occurring in their lives. For if those people are expected to walk through those dark seasons alone and outside of the gathered worshiping congregation, how can we expect them to walk with that gathered worshiping congregation once they reach the other side?

 

[1] David Scott, The Love That Made Mother Teresa (Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), 107-113.

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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 21 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 19 2019

Hooked on a Feeling

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When some congregants gather for worship they are waiting for a feeling to occur externally instead of responding to a relationship that already exists internally. So if that feeling is not stirred because they don’t know or particularly like the songs, they can even leave the worship service believing worship couldn’t and didn’t occur.

Consequently, worship leaders in those churches are sometimes admonished to re-create divine moments, events or even complete seasons based almost completely on the feelings originally stirred so those congregants can feel them again…and call it worship.

The heart is often a symbol of our emotions…how we feel. When we have a relational breakup we often say our heart is broken; when we are grieving we often say we are heavy hearted; and when we are happy we often say our heart is full.

Our hearts can indeed be stirred emotionally in worship. Not because of what our songs do to us, but instead because of what Christ has already done in us. So loving God with all our heart means worship occurs from the inside out, not the outside in.

Worship contingent on a musical experience that just stirs our feelings may not be worship at all. Thomas a Kempis said it this way, “A good devout person first arranges inwardly the things to be done outwardly.”

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Aug 14 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 12 2019

Worship Service Announcements: Information or Influence?

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Worship that occurs outside of the service is just as vital as worship that occurs inside. And yet, during our worship services we often announce those outside worship opportunities of ministry, service and justice on the fly. Little or no prayer or preparation is given to announcements that let the church know how they can be the church when they leave.

Most worship service announcements are necessary but not very profound. Maybe they’ve become the bane of our service flow because their focus is on information instead of influence.

Information is the sharing facts or data about something or someone. It may be timely and can lead to an increase in understanding or decrease in uncertainty but it doesn’t encourage commitment. Information is what we want people to know.

Influence, on the other hand, is the capacity to have an effect on the behavior or character of someone or something. It compels others to action, changes their opinions and instills passion. Influence is what we want people to do.

Influential worship service announcements are marked by a clear, succinct economy of words. Concise verbal eloquence requires preparation and practice. Maybe if we spent as much time praying over and rehearsing our worship service announcements as we spend praying over and rehearsing our songs, those announcements could contribute to rather than detract from worship.

So if we want our worship service announcements to encourage our congregations to be doers and not just hearers, we must not just distill information but instill influence.

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Aug 7 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 5 2019

Worship Leader: Performer, Promoter or Partner?

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Worship is something our congregations do, not something that is done for them. So if we never involve them 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?

Can you imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so they can watch you eat? Even though they are sitting at the table while you intimately experience and even skillfully explain each course with mouthwatering poetic language, they are still hungry passive observers. As good as the food might be, they aren’t eating it. A performer presents for or to an audience. Worship leading performers eat while others watch.

Or can you imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so you can watch them eat? You have planned and prepared a feast all week long so their hunger might be satisfied. Even though you aren’t eating, you are content in knowing you are feeding them. A promoter is a facilitator who helps others achieve their objectives while remaining neutral. Worship leading promoters facilitate while others eat.

Now imagine gathering your hungry family around the dinner table just so you can all eat together. You have planned and prepared a feast because you are all hungry. You encourage them to eat and they encourage you to eat. Your hunger isn’t satisfied until theirs is and vice versa. Partners are united or associated with others in the same actions, activities or purposes. Worship leading partners eat together.

As worship leaders we are not proxies, surrogates or intermediaries. We do indeed facilitate, prompt, prod, remind and encourage congregants to worship more, but we can’t do it on their behalf. So worship leadership is not what we do to or for our congregation; it’s what we do with them.

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Jul 31 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 29 2019

7 Questions Before Introducing a New Worship Song

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questionsInstead of asking if a new song fits the musical style of our church, we must first ask if it will connect the Word of God to the people of God. Until we begin to ask biblical and theological questions of our new songs before we introduce them, we’ll continue trying to create worship renewal through musical tastes alone. If we want to truly discern and discover new songs to help our congregation worship, we have to begin by asking better questions.

  • Does it reflect and respond to biblical text?

We must constantly ask if our song texts are theologically sound and if they affirm Scripture as foundational. Songs that do not provoke us to respond to and reflect on the Word must always be suspect.

  • Will it connect the Word of God to the people of God?

The dialogue of worship is formed when God’s Word is revealed. This revelation then causes the people of God to respond through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The result is a vertical conversation with God and horizontal communion with each other. When this dialogue occurs our songs are communally uttered conversations with God.

  • Does it speak the Gospel?

Every song we sing must invite the congregation and guests to be a part of God’s story through Jesus Christ. Our songs should help us understand what God is doing in and through our lives in the name of Jesus. Those songs must sing of the ongoing and enduring work of Jesus. And they must constantly remind us of the great mystery of our faith that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.

  • Is its text easy to follow and sing?

If congregants can’t follow and sing our songs, then how can we expect them to respond through them? Archaic or colloquial text should be filtered. And biblical texts should be evaluated for their healthy marriage with melodies that are accessible and singable to various generations, tribes and tongues.

  • Will we be able to sing it with doctrinal integrity?

Songs must communicate biblically, theologically and doctrinally. Those songs must be sung with the integrity of adequate external preparation and presentation that springs forth from internal conviction. It must be evident that our songs reflect what we believe and practice. So our lives must replicate the songs we sing even when we aren’t singing them.

  • Will it engage more than our emotions?

Scripture encourages us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Songs that just stir the emotions are incomplete; Songs that do not begin from the depth of our soul are often trite; Songs that don’t require us to think are shallow; and Songs that don’t ask us to use our bodies as a living sacrifice in acts of service are selfish. So our songs must be sung from our entire being.

  • Will it encourage action?

Our songs must not only inspire us through hearing and singing but also challenge us in our doing. They must not only inform the congregation but also engage them. Singing our songs should cause us to ask what we are going to change as a result of singing them. Singing in here is not enough until our songs also impact who we are out there by challenging us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

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Jul 24 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jul 22 2019

Stop Blaming Music for Worship Conflict

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One Trick PonyWe often blame music for what only a healthier biblical theology of worship can fix. The sole emphasis on music as the primary worship offering may have actually hindered worship understanding and exacerbated worship conflicts.

The origin of the idiom “One Trick Pony” goes back to the days of the traveling circus. A trained pony or small horse was used as a main circus attraction. Without any other acts or animals, these small circuses were often criticized as only offering a one-trick pony.

The idiom is now used to identify a person or organization that only does one thing. And it often suggests an inflexibility or inability to learn or consider anything else.

Music has devolved into worship’s one trick pony. We’ve dressed it up, dressed it down, changed its direction and adjusted its speed. We’ve even tried a younger rider for the pony. But it’s still the same trick. Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it isn’t the only expression.

Scripture

Worship begins with the Word, not our song set. Scripture must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. Biblical text must organically yield our songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language.

Prayer

Worship service prayer has been relegated to the role of a service utility infielder. It is often plugged into worship service holes as a musical connector rather than a divine conversation that actually gives us a reason to sing in the first place.

Lord’s Supper/Communion/Eucharist

Congregations try to create community in their song sets that already exists and is waiting for them at the Table. Observing this ordinance as supplemental instead of foundational might cause us to miss the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion with each other unified in our identity and relationships only present there.

The Arts

Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a venue for creatives to express art beyond predictable musical expressions will lose them to places that will. Art beyond music is often seen as an extra offering meant for those who can resonate with it, rather than something essential to the shaping of our faith and worship expressions.[1]

As worship leaders we must be willing to educate, enlighten and exhort our congregations to move beyond music as our only worship contribution. And when we do, maybe it will alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the solitary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

 

[1] Adapted from Robin M. Jensen, The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 2.

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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 3 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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 26 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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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Jun 3 2019

Lord’s Supper Myopia

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Limiting our observance of the Lord’s Supper just to a penitential replay of the Last Supper may be diminishing its significance. A myopic observance of the Table as a remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice is not inaccurate, it’s just incomplete.

The early church frequently observed the Lord’s Supper not just to remember the cross but also the joy of the resurrection and hope of Jesus’ promised return.

Considering the Lord’s Supper as more than a memorial doesn’t minimize its remembrance, it actually enhances it. It allows us to not only remember what Christ did for us, but what he continues to do for us. So we don’t just live in the past through our sorrow, but also remember how it continues to impact our present and future.

If we are to consider the Lord’s Supper beyond a memorial, then it must be reflected in the text we read and preach. It must influence the songs we choose to sing, impact how we approach the Table, and frame our words of instruction. Songs and Scripture focused on the cross are indeed valuable for expressing our worship at the Table. But songs and texts focusing on thanksgiving, community, and hope can be equally valuable.

The challenge is for each congregation not to ignore expanded observances out of fear it will take them to a doctrinal place they’ve never been before. Instead, they should prayerfully consider the discerning attention this ordinance deserves each and every time it’s observed. So the Lord’s Supper must never be a worship service add-on and our default as we plan and observe it must not always be sameness.

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May 29 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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