Mar 8 2021

Stop Singing

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Our worship actions can drown out the distinct voice of God that is often only discernible in the silence. In the midst of our self-generated noise, we can miss healing, comforting, and encouraging words of hope such as “I am with you,” “Well done,” “You are forgiven,” and “I am weeping with you.” 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” (Eccl 5:2). There’s “a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking” (Eccl 3:7).

Gary Furr and Milburn Price wrote, “In the drama of the Christian life, worship may be thought of as the script through which the Author of us all calls forth and responds to the deepest and most important longings in us.”[1] Until we stop to listen, how will we hear that call?

A rest is a musical notation that indicates the absence of sound but not the end of music. 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]

Musical rests add depth and emotion to a musical score through the use of silence. They both create and relieve tension. They allow the players and singers to take a breath before the next difficult musical passage. Rests create a deliberate pause or temporary break in the action and keep the notes from being strung together in breathless chaos. Playing music without rests is like driving a car without brakes.

Worship is a conversation that requires not only speaking and singing but also hearing and listening. The noise of our sermons and songs as our only act of worship can create monological worship. Our offering of one-sided worship sound can monopolize the conversation, potentially causing us to miss the voice of God. The foundation of a meaningful worship is instead dialogical. It 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 in it, our worship could then be enhanced and renewed when we stop trying to monopolize the conversation with our responsive noise only.

We rely on the words of our sermons and 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 sing things our way. We evaluate, judge, condemn, and devour congregants with our words. Silence—as one of the deepest spiritual disciplines—puts a stop to that.[3] 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).

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we incorporate silence as a part of our services when it hasn’t been part of our worship culture?
  • What are we presently doing that is contributing to worship noise?
  • How is our worship encouraging our congregation to not only hear but also listen?
  • What can we do differently to give time for the various worship elements to breathe without interrupting our worship flow?

[1] Gary A. Furr and Milburn Price, The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1998), 90.

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

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

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

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Mar 1 2021

Measure Twice, Cut Once

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Baseball utility players are prized for their versatility even though they don’t have enough talent to crack the starting lineup. They are usually excellent players but not quite good enough to help carry the team from a starting position. A utility player is more supplemental than foundational to the success of each game. He waits on the bench until the manager needs him to fill any of a variety of positions in the lineup.

Prayer has been relegated to the role of a worship service utility player. It is often plugged into worship service holes when the starters (songs and sermons) need a break. Instead of a foundational conversation with God as an act of worship, prayer is often a supplemental extra used to fill in, transition, or connect. Prayer has been demoted to the role of a worship-service starter, stuffer, and stopper, or jack-of-all-trades service element. It serves as the seventh inning stretch before the sermon; it breaks up the song sets when keys aren’t relative; it moves the worship band on the platform; and it allows the pastor to discreetly make his way up the aisle to shake hands after the service.

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because our prayers during the worship service are not that deep. Song texts have been parsed, prayed over, and practiced, while our prayers are often played by ear. Our spontaneous prayers may be sincere, but they’re often not very profound. Spontaneity needs to be balanced by careful preparation and forethought. Public praying needs to be supported by private praying. Those who publicly lead in prayer must be well experienced in prayer. It is difficult to lead others where you haven’t been yourself. Spontaneity has to arise from a profound experience of prayer.[1]

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because prayer is such an easy language to fake. We can, in fact, pretend to pray, use the words of prayer, practice forms of prayer, assume postures of prayer, acquire a reputation for prayer and never pray.[2] “Measure twice, cut once” is a woodworking idiom that encourages us to plan and prepare for something of value in a careful and thorough manner be- fore acting. In other words, think before you speak; don’t shoot from the hip; set a guard over my mouth; keep watch over the door that is our lips (Ps 141:3).

The result of ill-prepared praying is often a long-winded circular discourse. Those with prayer responsibilities could learn a valuable lesson from microblogging sites such as Twitter whose success is based on succinct but also persuasive information. Character limitations force users to formulate a mental outline of what is essential to say and how it needs to be said. They measure twice before cutting once.

Maybe we are singing more and praying less because we actually require our soloists, choirs, orchestras, worship teams, and bands to rehearse ahead of time, but most of the offerings from our prayers are casual, impromptu, spontaneous, and sometimes even shallow. Hughes Oliphant Old wrote, “For many generations American Protestants have prized spontaneity in public prayer. One has to admit, however, that the spontaneous prayer one often hears in public worship is an embarrassment to the tradition. It all too often lacks content. It may be sincere, but sometimes it is not very profound.”[3] If worship-service prayer preparations were as stringent as those for our musical offerings, then maybe we would consider singing less in order to pray more. Then maybe our worship service prayers would again be considered foundational instead of supplemental.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How can we transform our worship service prayers from starters, stuffers, and stoppers to a divine conversation with God?
  • What training could we initiate to better prepare those who lead our worship service prayers?
  • If we are asking the same few people to lead our prayers, then how can we expand that list to include multiple generations, genders, and cultures?
  • How do we ensure prayer is foundational instead of supplemental to our worship services?
  • What can we do to expand a healthier culture of prayer outside our services so it might impact the worship inside our services?

[1] Hughes Oliphant Old, Leading in Prayer: A Workbook for Worship (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995), 5.

[2] Harold M. Best, Dumbfounded Praying (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011), xii.

[3] Old, Leading in Prayer, 5.

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

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Feb 22 2021

When Worship Ministry Is Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

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

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

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

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Jan 4 2021

Leading Worship in 2021: More Questions than Answers

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Those who lead and plan corporate worship each week are entering 2021 with mixed emotions of both hope and apprehension. Most of their churches are offering a hybrid approach of both gathered and virtual services that will continue well into the new year and beyond.

When those churches had to meet completely virtually for a season it required some radical adjustments to how they planned and led worship each week. As a result, most have realized that how they will lead worship in the future will never again be exactly how they led it in the past.

Having to learn new and shelve old worship concepts and delivery platforms surfaced numerous questions that will need to be answered as churches consider their corporate worship in the future. Many of those questions don’t yet have answers. So, if those churches are going to continue leading worship well in 2021 and beyond, they have to be ready to ask and answer hard questions while still considering the uniqueness of their individual church contexts and cultures.

Questions to Consider

  • If worship should be participative instead of passive, then how can we encourage and measure virtual worship participation?
  • Intergenerational worship occurred spontaneously when we worshiped from home. How do we leverage what happened at home to continue intergenerational worship at church?
  • Since prayer is foundational to worship, how do we keep people from checking out during service prayer times when worshiping virtually.
  • Worship actions that seem natural in person often feel contrived or conspicuous from home. How do we help those worshiping from home to feel more comfortable participating in those worship actions?
  • How can we incorporate worship arts beyond music that will communicate in both physical and virtual locations?
  • Virtual worship caused us to revert back to a few leading while the rest of us watched. So, how can we involve virtual worshipers as more than bystanders?
  • Is there a biblical and practical way to observe Communion both physically and virtually?
  • Should congregations wait until they are able to meet without distancing to baptize? How do we better engage online worshipers in that ordinance?
  • How can we emphasize the offering as a sacred action of worship if all gifts are given electronically?
  • Is it possible to employ all five senses in virtual worship?
  • How can we encourage our congregation to connect with each other during worship when they aren’t in the same room?
  • Worship distractions can be managed easier in the worship center than from home. So, how can we help virtual participants manage those distractions?
  • Worship space elements such as icons, art, colors, and lights can contribute symbolically to our physical worship. Is there also a way they can contribute symbolically virtually?
  • Is it possible for guests to feel welcomed as a part of this community when they have no physical connection to it?
  • Most churches realized that it was necessary for online worship to be simpler and less contrived, so how do we keep from falling back into our previous practices of over-innovating and over-stimulating in the future?
  • Some of those previous worship service elements we thought we couldn’t live without, we did. So, how do we determine what we should or shouldn’t reintegrate again in the future?
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Dec 14 2020

Awful Worship

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Awful [aw – fuh’l] – 1. solemnly impressive; exceedingly
great; inspiring awe. 2. full of awe; reverential.[1]

Awe is the act of worship in response to the mystery of God. It causes us to respond with, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces” (Isa 6:5). Moses understood awful worship when he was instructed to take off his sandals as he was on holy ground, causing him to hide his face because he was afraid to look at God (Exod 3:5-6).

God is transcendent, both unknown and unknowable. He is beyond, above, other than, and distinct from all. Isaiah prophesied, “My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans” (Isa 55:8-9). Consequently, a faith such as ours rooted in the infinite cannot be contained in our finite understanding. The paradox, however, is that this transcendent, unknown, and unknowable God is constantly revealing himself to us and seeking our worship. The unknown seeks to be known and acknowledged. There is certainly something awful about that.

Our culture, however, has responded by demanding the reduction of God’s mystery to something we can explain. We have transformed our response to the awe, mystery, and transcendence of God into a scheduled event. When we take surprise out of worship, we are left with dry and dead religion; when we take away mystery, we are left with frozen or petrified dogma; when we script awe, we are left with an impotent deity; and when we abandon astonishment, we are left with meaningless piety.[2]

A.W. Tozer wrote, “We cover our deep ignorance with words, but we are ashamed to wonder, we are afraid to whisper ‘mystery.’”[3] But then Scripture again reminds us of his mystery, “God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths! Who has known the Lord’s mind? Or who has been his mentor? Or who has given him a gift and has been paid back by him? All things are from him and through him and for him. May the glory be to him forever. Amen” (Rom 11:33-36).

My doctoral thesis advisor wrote, “The teacups of our thinking and language have not yet approached the capacity of holding the ocean of divine truth.”[4]

So, mystery is not just our limited capacity to understand and explain the entirety of God’s story; it is also the incomprehensible awe and wonder at being included in that story. That can’t always be scripted. If the awe and wonder of God can be contained in and explained in our limited understanding and expressions of worship, then he is a god who does not deserve that worship.

Michael Yaconelli wrote, “The critical issues today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment.”[5] He continued by stating, “The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed. Jesus Christ came to rescue us from listlessness as well as lostness; He came to save us from flat souls as well as corrupted souls.”[6]

Contemplating the depth of God must include the mystery of God creating, the mystery of God incarnate, the mystery of the cross and empty tomb, the mystery of God’s presence in the church, and the mystery of Christ’s return to claim lordship over creation.[7] If the gravity of that mystery doesn’t continually inspire us with awful wide-eyed wonder, then no songs we select ever will.

Changed from glory into glory,
till in heav’n we take our place
till we cast our crowns before Thee
lost in wonder, love and praise.[8]

 TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How is it evident in our sermons and songs that we aren’t comfortable with mystery?
  • How do we keep from scripting awe out of our worship?
  • When was the last time our congregation was lost in wonder, love, and praise?
  • What should we be doing differently to make sure our worship services are well planned while still leaving room to be surprised by God?

 

[1] “Awful,” Dictionary.com, accessed April 21, 2020, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/awful?s=t

[2] Michael Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder: The Adventure of Childlike Faith (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1998), 28.

[3] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper Collins, 1961), 18.

[4] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12-21, The New American Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2002), 104.

[5] Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder, 23.

[6] Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder, 24.

[7] Robert E. Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 87.

[8] Charles Wesley, “Love Divine All Loves Excelling,” Hymns for those that Seek, and those that Have Redemption in the Blood of Jesus Christ (London, 1747).

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

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Nov 23 2020

Worship Leader: Throw Your Cap Over the Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 18 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Oct 12 2020

Worship Spectators or Participators

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When the Navy starting quarterback was injured in the first half of a 2016 game with Fordham, the coaches called freshman Malcolm Perry out of the stands and into the game. He was listed as the team’s number four quarterback. The number three quarterback had been suspended that week so, consequently, the number two quarterback was the only one left with no back-up if needed. Perry was actually dressed in his Navy uniform whites in the stands with the brigade of other student midshipmen.

The young quarterback didn’t even have his football uniform at the stadium so the coaches had to send someone to pick it up from the team locker room back at the Naval Academy. By the fourth quarter, he was on the field playing in the game. Perry certainly realized that day the difference between watching the game from the stands as a spectator and actually engaging in the game on the field as a participator.

A spectator is someone who attends or watches an event or game as an onlooker, observer, or member of an audience. A spectator could be a fan or foe depending on who is playing and what is being played. And spectators sometimes assume they are in the game just because they are in the stands.

A participator is someone who is engaged in, involved in, or contributing to an event or game. A participator is one who invests in, takes part in, or shares in. And participators are really in the game because they are actually on the field.

If those of us who lead worship want congregants to be participators rather than spectators, then we must facilitate worship not just depending on our own strengths and abilities. We must also invest in the strengths and abilities of those with whom we worship and engage them on the field rather than being satisfied with them observing from the stands.

When we always read, speak, sing, play, pray, testify, lead, mediate, commune, baptize, confess, thank, petition, and exhort for them, how can we expect congregants to ever transform from passive worship spectators into active worship participators?

Participatory worship is intentionally collaborative and is not guarded, territorial, defensive, or competitive. It leverages and trusts the creative abilities and resources of the whole in planning, preparing, and implementing worship.

So, the leader that promotes participative worship taps into the collective resources and talents of others by affirming publicly and privately their value to worship health. Those leaders who encourage participatory worship are not threatened when someone else gets their way or gets the credit. And participatory worship is a culture, not a one-time event.

Participators actually engage in and influence the worship of a church, but spectators only stand by and watch.

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Sep 23 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Aug 31 2020

Bandwagon Effect

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released in a couple of weeks on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available now for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

During the nineteenth century, an entertainer named Dan Rice traveled the country campaigning for President Zachary Taylor. Rice’s bandwagon was the centerpiece of his campaign events, and he encouraged those in the crowd to “jump on the bandwagon” and support Taylor. The campaign was so successful that Taylor was elected president, prompting future politicians to employ bandwagons in their campaigns in hopes of similar results.[1]

The idiom “jumping on the bandwagon” suggests following the crowd for the excitement of the event rather than any firm conviction in its direction or truthfulness. In other words, jumping on without considering all of the contexts, circumstances, or consequences. The bandwagon effect occurs when the application of beliefs, ideas, fads, or trends increases the more others have already adopted them. Churches even have the tendency to espouse certain behaviors, styles, or attitudes just because it seems like everyone else has. The implication being that since it is right for so many others, it must also be right for us.

Jumping on the bandwagon explains why there are fashion trends. During sports championships it is evident in the increase of fans. In health it shows up in the latest diet or fitness craze. In social media it is obvious in the number of app or platform downloads. In music it is measured by online rankings. And in worship it is usually apparent in the song set. The theological implication of a church that jumps on the latest worship bandwagon is that it sometimes ignores or overrides its own beliefs, cultures, or contexts just because others are doing it.

It is true that congregations often need to make and should be making regular worship adjustments, including the latest songs, styles, or technological tools. But instead of always being early adopters and jumping without considering circumstances and the potential consequences, those congregations should instead be discerning and determining their worship practices by praying together, reading Scripture together, coming to the Lord’s Table together, mourning together, rejoicing together, sharing ministry together, playing together, and then finally singing their song sets together.

TEAM DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • How do we determine when and how often to try new things in our worship context?
  • What filters can we put in place to ensure we aren’t just jumping on the latest worship trend?
  • How can we determine if what is popular in other churches is appropriate for our church?
  • Is there a way for our team to consider all the circumstances or potential consequences before we actually jump into something new?

 

[1] Adapted from Michael Gearon, “Cognitive Biases—The Bandwagon Effect,” Medium, September 9, 2018, https://medium.com/@michaelgearon/cognitive-biases- social-proof-the-bandwagon-effect-42aa07781fcc.

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Aug 17 2020

Worship Cause and Effect

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released in less than a month on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available now for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Worship doesn’t invite God’s presence; it acknowledges it. God has called us out of darkness into his amazing light that we may speak of his wonderful acts (1 Pet 2:9). The Father is looking for those who worship him in spirit and truth (John 4:23). God initiates, and we respond.

Cause and effect is a relationship in which a person, action, or thing makes another event, action, or thing occur. A cause must always precede an effect in order for that effect to occur. So the effect is then a consequence of the cause. A model for this cause-and-effect worship understanding is found in Isaiah 6:1-8. The holiness of God is revealed to the prophet Isaiah (cause), and his natural worship response is contrition (effect), “Mourn for me; I’m ruined!” (Isa 6:5). God revealed his mercy (cause), and Isaiah’s worship response is service (effect), “I’m here; send me” (Isa 6:8). So if our worship responses are the effect, then it is not possible for those worship actions to also be the cause.

What we sing or how we sing it can’t cause a response because it is the response. God’s revelation can’t be generated by the effect since the effect is a response to the cause. As good as our various worship actions are, they still can’t cause worship to occur, because those worship actions are the effect. Our worship actions may prompt, remind, exhort, prod, or encourage more effect, but they can’t cause cause. We can celebrate the cause, but we can’t create it. God causes, and we effect.

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Jul 21 2020

Better Sundays Begin on Monday: Book Excerpt

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The following is an excerpt from my new book, Better Sundays Begin on Monday: 52 Exercises for Evaluating Weekly Worship, Copyright ©2020 by Abingdon Press.

Better Sundays Begin on Monday is scheduled to be released on September 15. Print and E-Version copies are available for Pre-Order at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, GoodreadsBooks A MillionCokesbury, and Christian Book.

Breaking down game film is a discipline sports teams often incorporate after each game. They review and discuss game videos in order to identify mistakes, make adjustments, consider radical changes, and highlight successes. The ultimate goal of this type of analysis is to facilitate individual and team improvements that will positively affect subsequent games.

The fundamental reason why a team needs adjustments is not always evident in the middle of the game. Breaking down or evaluating all of the important elements after a game gives coaches and players the opportunity to isolate and assess individual plays and players in a more relaxed setting, away from the time constraints and pressures of the game.

So why aren’t individual pastors, worship leaders, and even worship leading teams regularly incorporating similar evaluative practices? One of the primary reasons is that implementing an individual or collaborative process of analyzing worship services or planning for upcoming services requires a deep level of humility, trust, and shared accountability. It also requires selfless leaders who are willing to sacrifice their own ideas, preferences, and interests for the greater worshipping good of the congregation.

Initiating a similar approach to worship evaluation can be summative in that a congregation can learn from its previous worship failures and successes. But it can also be formative since it occurs during the development and conceptual worship service stages. Both outcomes will help you or your team first determine why you worship before ever considering how you worship.

Worship renewal must be determined first by standardizing worship principles before ever considering worship practices. The reality is that worship service evaluation is already occurring in the hallways, parking lots, and at lunch tables after our services. So why wouldn’t we want to preempt those conversations with an intentional evaluative process?

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Jul 20 2020

Economize: Worship Service Verbal Transitions

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If churches have learned anything during these last few months of online worship services it is that words and music had to be synthesized. A succinct, refined, and consolidated economy of sermons and songs was necessary since the service time online was abbreviated and attention spans were diminished. Those lessons shouldn’t be lost as worship leaders plan and lead regathered worship services.

Worship leader verbal transitions that connect songs and other service elements are vital to achieving worship flow. And yet, some worship leaders prior to moving completely online rarely prepared or even thought about the words of those transitions until it was time to make them. The result was often a long-winded circular discourse of clichés and verbosity. Hopefully, the distillation of words they refined online can be transferred to those in-person verbal transitions too.

Scripture often reminds us how important our words are:

The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Proverbs 21:23

Do you see someone who speaks too soon? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Proverbs 29:20

The one who guards his mouth protects his life; the one who opens his lips invites his own ruin. Proverbs 13:3

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom; his tongue speaks what is just. Psalm 37:30

Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2

Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

Worship leaders could learn a valuable lesson from microblogging sites such as Twitter. Its success is based on sharing succinct but also persuasive information posted by users who get in, get out, and get on with it. Character limitations on Twitter forces users to formulate a mental outline of what is essential to say and how they want to say it before they actually say it. The most successful accounts synthesize information based on what the audience needs to know most.

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

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Jul 8 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 24 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jun 8 2020

Singing in Regathered Worship: Want or Need?

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Want is something we desire, hope for, or wish for. Need is something essential to survive. We want to sing both congregationally and chorally in our worship services as we regather but we don’t need to sing for worship to occur. So even if we want to sing and can’t or can’t as much, we still need to find other ways to worship. 

Singing is an expression given to us so that we might offer it as a gift to God in worship but it certainly isn’t the only expression. So considering additional worship responses could alleviate the pressure on singing to serve as the primary driver of regathered worship.

Clayton Schmit wrote, “In most traditions, music holds the central place as, to use Luther’s term, the ‘handmaid of the Gospel.’ Whether Christians sing hymns, settings of the psalms, spiritual songs, anthems, or praise choruses, music is the principle artistic form that shapes Christian worship. But, many others are involved. We gather in architectural structures, we enter rooms sunlit cobalt and ruby through stained-glass filtered light, we sit in well-fashioned furniture, we listen to literature of the Scriptures, we hear aesthetically crafted messages, we move in processions, and we view images of the symbols and historic figures associated with our faith. When we gather for worship art is all around us, and even within us.”[1]

Because of limited space and congregational demographics, however, some churches will determine it is best not to sing chorally or maybe even congregationally for a while. Worship leaders in those churches will, consequently, have to educate, reeducate, enlighten, and exhort their congregations that worship without singing doesn’t have to be inferior, it just has to be different. 

Robin M. Jensen said, too often other worship expressions are perceived as a kind of extra offering, meant for those of us who can appreciate them or want to be involved in them, rather than something essential to the shaping of faith and religious experience.[2] So when introducing those new worship expressions beyond singing, leaders will need to take risks through Holy Spirit inspired entrepreneurial innovation instead of routinized imitation. They’ll need to become worship artisans instead of assembly line workers.

If your church can’t sing or can’t sing as much for a season, then consider expanding some of these responses: Scripture, prayer, drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, sound, lighting, staging and props, and many others.

Harold Best offers this challenge that can serve as a reminder of our responsibilities as leaders in this new season of regathering, “It is the solemn obligation of every artistic leader to become the lead mentor, the lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action. The art of our worship must thus point beyond itself. It must freely and strongly say, ‘There is more, far more.’ Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep. Engage your whole being. Live in the first days of creation when nothing had precedent; when everything was a surprise; when shattering reality, not sameness, ruled the day; when bafflement and surprise danced the dance. Go to the empty tomb and find out what resurrection means to the shriveled mind and the uncurious heart. Go to Pentecost and learn of a new, ingathering strangeness, a purification of Babel and a highway to glory: spiritual glory, societal glory, artistic glory. Seek and find; knock and it will be opened.”[3]

 

[1] Schmit, Clayton J., “Art for Faith’s Sake,” in Theology, News, and Notes, Fall 2001.

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

[3] Best, Harold M., “Authentic Worship and Artistic Action,” an address to the Calvin Institute of Worship, 2005.

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May 20 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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May 4 2020

5 Unintended Consequences of Worshiping from Home

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Unintended consequences can be positive or negative outcomes in response to unforeseen or unplanned events or experiences. We certainly didn’t choose this season of worshiping from home. But most of us have unintentionally learned some valuable lessons that should influence how we do gathered worship on the other side of this crisis. Here are five unintended consequences of worship from home:

  • Sermons are shorter, yet more profound

Most pastors have realized that attention spans online are much shorter so they have intentionally left more of their sermon notes on the cutting room floor. What they have discovered is that a succinct, refined, and consolidated message offers their congregations less information to synthesize but more spiritual truths that can actually be internalized. Preparing and presenting messages with an economy of words is a practice that should continue since attention spans are probably not that much longer in person.

  • Worship is simpler and less contrived

Most worship leaders have realized when trying to program a remote worship service that less is always more. Before this season of dispersed worship, it seemed like many of us had fallen into the unhealthy habit of trying to surpass the creativity of the previous week. So, we over innovated, over stimulated, and over imitated. Hopefully we’ve learned how unnecessary and unhealthy that practice can be and we’ll spend more of our time in the future focusing on the creator rather than on our own creativity.

  • Intergenerational worship is foundational instead of optional

Many of us have looked for ways but have often found it difficult to encourage our congregations to move away from worship services separated by generations. And even though intergenerational togetherness was forced during this season, we figured out how to do it because everyone cared more about protecting their families than protecting their preferences. We certainly shouldn’t waste what we learned in this time as everyone was willing to sacrifice some for the good of all. So how can we leverage that deference for continuing intergenerational worship when we again have the opportunity to gather?

  • Off-limits music programs are now on the table

Some of those music ministry programs we thought we couldn’t possibly live without, we could. So instead of thinking about when we might start them back up, we should be asking if we should. This season has forced us to initiate music and worship ministry audits that we should have already been implementing regularly anyway. So maybe before firing up all those music ministry programs again, we should first ask if they are going to help us fulfill our mission. If they aren’t, then why would we do them?

  • Church size isn’t determining worship quality

The quality of worship should never be determined by the quantity of worship leaders and worshipers. But that hasn’t stopped those previous comparisons of bigger being better because larger churches have more resources, personnel, and talent. During this season, however, the perceptual playing field has been leveled as all churches were limited to the same number of worship leaders, the same resources for technology, and the same platforms for streaming. Hopefully this online leveling will continue to remind us when we gather again that a comparison according to size is always unhealthy. Every church should be developing distinctly and becoming uniquely the congregation God has called them to be where they are with what they have. The commitment to that calling instead of comparison is what sets the bar for worship quality.

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Apr 29 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 20 2020

Worship in the Meantime

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The meantime we now find ourselves in can certainly be a season of doubt, fear and instability. But it can also be a time of hope, expectation and unity. Most of us have realized that gathered worship on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis probably won’t look the same as it did before the crisis. But what comes next could be a time of worship renewal if we embrace this meantime season as developmental rather than wasted time. This time will have been squandered, however, if we reject it solely because it isn’t taking us in the same direction we were going before.

Meantime is the interim period between two events. It is an intermediate time while waiting for something else to happen. Victor Turner referred to the meantime as a separation from what was known to a transitional, in-between or liminal stage.[1] Liminal originated from the Latin word, limins, meaning threshold.[2]

In his book on worship transformation, Timothy Carson wrote, liminal reality is the time that has broken with a previous structure, whatever that structure may have been. And precisely because it is positioned between the previous structure and the unknown structure that is coming, it holds power for future transformation.[3]

Turner referred to a special camaraderie of communitas that can develop among those sharing a meantime season.[4] The spirit expressed in this Latin noun is the harmony within a community based on its common purpose and even shared uncertainty. Encouraging this spirit of communitas in the meantime of dispersed worship allows us to share in a community of the in-between. So even though we are worshiping in the uncertainty, we are worshiping in the uncertainty together.

Paul wrote the church at Philippi from the meantime of house arrest. He fondly remembered the partnership previously experienced with that church. But even though their circumstances were no longer and never would be the same, he was confident that the God who started their previous ministry together would also complete it in the new reality in which they found themselves.

Trying to figure out how to worship corporately while separated physically has required biblical understanding, prayer, sensitivity, discernment and even sacrifice. And we obviously don’t want to miss preparing for what healthy worship might look like when we reach the other side. But it is also essential that we don’t spend so much time lamenting what we no longer have or dreaming about what we could have that we miss transformational worship opportunities in the meantime. The journey is no less worshipful than the destination.

 

[1] Victor Turner, “Betwixt and Between,” quoted in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 100.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship, (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 60.

[4] Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (New York: Aldine, 1969); as referenced in Carson, “Liminal Reality and Transformational Power,” 101.

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Apr 15 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 13 2020

Was Easter Sunday a Waste of Time?

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The Easter Acclamation, “He is risen,” “He is risen indeed” was not only true as we celebrated Easter yesterday, it is also true as we work online from home today. The celebration of Easter is not just a one-day event, it is a daily remembrance of who we are in the risen Christ. As Christ followers we are Easter people so instead of immediately pivoting to the next sermon series or Sunday service calendar emphasis, shouldn’t our celebration of the resurrection continue?

The observance of Easter in the early church was more than just a one-day annual event. Celebrating the Paschal mystery was not only to remember that Christ was crucified and rose again, but also to remember that He appeared following His resurrection, that He ascended, that the Holy Spirit descended and that our Savior promised to return again.

Because of their great joy, early Christians began the celebration and remembrance with Easter and continued for fifty days until Pentecost. Revisiting the mystery and expanding the understanding of the resurrection could assist in worship renewal through the theological realization that this celebration of redemption, sanctification, salvation and victory can’t be limited to a single day.

Some congregations and even entire denominations have not traditionally embraced the sacred time of the Great Fifty Days of Easter and other dates of the Christian calendar primarily out of a concern for rigidity, conformity, loss of autonomy or a fear of appearing too “Catholic.”

Some worship leaders and worshipers believe that spending too much time in those extended seasonal celebrations of the Church can promote sameness. But Timothy Carson wrote, “Exactly the opposite may be true. Because it has stood the test of time, it may be sufficiently deep to allow me to swim more deeply in it. Because it is repeated, I have another chance, today, to go where I could not go yesterday.”[1]

Even as congregations avoid the Christian calendar, they are at the same time affirming annual observances of cultural and denominational days whose foundations are not always biblically grounded.[2] And isn’t it ironic that in the development of those denominational and cultural calendars we have in fact created our own liturgies in our efforts to be non-liturgical?

To avoid Christian calendar days that are celebrated during the same time of the year as the cultural, denominational and civic days is to ignore the very foundation of the Church. So isn’t it possible to converge holidays significant to our cultural and denominational calendar with the Christian holidays significant to the Kingdom?

Why couldn’t we celebrate Mother’s Day, Graduation Sunday and Memorial Day in the same season as Ascension Day and Pentecost? For this shift to occur, however, we must understand the significance of expanding our Easter remembrances. Laurence Hull Stookey wrote, “The explosive force of the resurrection of the Lord is too vast to be contained within a celebration of one day.”[3]

Extending our Easter recognition is based on a deeper understanding of the calendar as an ideal starting point for structuring seasonal worship. The theme of the fifty days of Easter as one single celebration provides a connection with Christians of the past Church and unifies Christians of the present Church in a continuous ecumenical relationship.

Observing Easter for fifty days could help congregations “recover the transforming news that Jesus’ past resurrection dramatically transforms present and future reality.”[4] Additionally, it will help them delight in the knowledge that Jesus’ death and resurrection is stamped on their spiritual biographies.[5]

Expanding your observance of Easter and celebrating other aspects of the Christian year might be a stretch for your congregation. But please make those decisions about this sacred time from a deeper biblical, theological and historical foundation instead of solely on the traditionalism of what your individual congregation or denomination has done in the past.

 


[1] Timothy L. Carson, Transforming Worship, (St. Louis: Chalice, 2003), 57.

[2] Ibid., 56.

[3] Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church,  (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 53.

[4] John D. Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding: Windows into Christian Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 290.

[5] Ibid.

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Apr 8 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Apr 6 2020

Worship Leaders… HOLD FAST!

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Eighteenth and Nineteenth century sailors superstitiously believed that certain tattoos brought good luck and somehow averted disaster. The H-O-L-D F-A-S-T tattoo with one letter tattooed on each finger was originally derived from the Dutch phrase “Houd” (hold) “Vast” (fast). The tattoo was believed to protect a sailor whose life depended on holding fast to a rope on the ships deck or while working aloft in the ships rigging.

The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote the same words not as superstition but with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:22-23).

So worship leaders, as you try to figure out how to lead worship in the new reality of online services, focus on this exhortation instead of agonizing over what you can’t do remotely. Hold Fast…the God who called you to lead worship will sustain you. Hold Fast…in full assurance that He knows where you are and what you are going through.

Hold Fast…confident that you are presentable inside and out. Keep a firm grip on His promises that keep you going. See how inventive you can be by encouraging love and spurring others on to worshiping together even though separated (Heb. 10:19-25). Hold Fast…your worshiping congregation is depending on it.

Hold Fast – Mercy Me

VERSE 1
To everyone who’s hurting
To those who’ve had enough
To all the undeserving
That should cover all of us
Please do not let go
I promise there is hope

CHORUS
Hold fast help is on the way
Hold fast He’s come to save the day
What I’ve learned in my life
One thing greater than my strife
Is His grasp so hold fast

VERSE 2
Will this season ever pass
Can we stop this ride
Will we see the sun at last
Or could this be our lot in life
Please do not let go
I promise you there’s hope

CHORUS
Hold fast help is on the way
Hold fast He’s come to save the day
What I’ve learned in my life
One thing greater than my strife
Is His grasp so hold fast

©2006 Simpleville Music, Wet As A Fish Music, Barry Graul, Bart Millard, Jim Bryson, Mike Scheuchzer, Nathan Cochran, Robby Shaffer.

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Mar 9 2020

12 Things Worship Leaders Want Their Teams to Remember

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They Want You to Remember…

  • How often you are on their minds as they regularly pray for and over you.

 

  • How much it means to them when you protect them from their own stupidity without making them feel stupid.

 

  • How humbled they are when you encourage them after those hard rehearsals even though they don’t really deserve it.

 

  • How often they grieve for you when you are grieving and celebrate with you when you are celebrating.

 

  • How blessed they have been when you’ve volunteered to watch their kids so they could have a real date night with their spouse.

 

  • How much you are also leading them in worship as you lead your congregation in worship.

 

  • How inspired they are when it’s so obvious the songs you lead on the platform are also evident in the lives you live off the platform.

 

  • How proud they are when you discover new spiritual truths and encounter the living Lord in new ways through the songs you play and sing.

 

  • How much confidence your partnership gives them in those times when they feel unqualified to do what God has called them to do.

 

  • How often they are cognizant of the many sacrifices you make in order to serve faithfully in worship ministry.

 

  • How encouraging it is to them when you arrive early for Sunday morning rehearsal even when you haven’t had a full night’s sleep.

 

  • How much it means to them when you love and protect their family just like they are your own.
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Mar 4 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Mar 2 2020

Love the One You’re With

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Most of us don’t begin a new ministry position believing we’ll only stay for a couple of years. We usually have noble intentions to plant our lives for the long haul. But after we’ve exhausted ideas we often get bored, our leadership gets stale, our congregation gets restless and we get busy looking for another ministry somewhere else.

Another place of ministry may seem more convenient, appealing, challenging, fulfilling and rewarding. And we probably don’t have to look very far to find another church with an edgier band, larger choir, more collaborative staff, larger attendance and a more lucrative salary package.

So when things aren’t going as well as we’d hoped and people aren’t responding as readily as we assumed it is often tempting to test the water out there. But until God releases us to go there, he expects us to love the one we’re with here. His calling is a personal invitation to carry out a unique and sometimes difficult task. And it’s a strong inner impulse prompted by conviction that is not always convenient.

If you are itching for another position just because it’s bigger or better, more prestigious or prominent, then your motivation might be ambition instead of calling. And if greener grass or rungs up the ladder is the new you are hoping to run to, you’ll inevitably be disappointed again after a couple of years and so will they.

God never promised we’d always be happy, revered, loved, appreciated or followed in worship ministry. He did, however, promise he’d never leave or forsake us. So instead of focusing on what might seem more appealing out there, we should keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and love the ministry he has entrusted to us here. It’s a discipline that is not always easy but it produces a harvest of righteousness when we are trained by it (Heb 12:2,11).

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Feb 26 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 24 2020

How Can I Keep from Singing?

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Although worship can’t be contained in one expression such as music, it is evident from scripture that singing is a significant response to God’s revelation (Ps 63:5; Eph 5:19; Col 3:15-17). One of my former seminary professors once joked, “People who don’t sing should be sent to Sing-Sing until they do sing.”

Reggie Kidd wrote, “Think of singing as a language that allows us to embody our love for our Creator. Song is a means he has given us to communicate our deepest affections, to have our thoughts exquisitely shaped, and to have our spirits braced for the boldest of obediences. Through music, our God draws us deeper into a love affair with himself.”[1]

When writing about the future of Jerusalem, the minor prophet Zephaniah wrote, “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zeph 3:17). So if the Father is singing over me, then how can I keep from singing?

When I can’t find adequate words to express my responses to God’s revelation, Jesus as my worship liturgist sings with me (Heb 8:1-2; 2:12). He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding on my behalf. So if Jesus is singing with me, then how can I keep from singing?

John Wesley was a theologian, evangelist and leader of the revivalist movement known as Methodism. He said this about singing, “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he comes in the clouds of heaven.”

With biblical and practical instructions such as these, I should be joining in full-throated singing no matter how well or poorly I’m able to sing. Then my voice will be united with the voices of others in communal utterances of praise, thanksgiving, confession, dedication, commitment, lament and response. When that corporate singing occurs our songs will communicate vertically and horizontally in a unified voice so compelling that they can’t possibly be silenced (Ps 30:12). So how can I keep from Singing?

 

How Can I Keep from Singing

My life flows on in endless song; Amid earth’s lamentation,

I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn that hails a new creation;

Thro’ all the tumult and the strife I hear the music ringing;

It finds an echo in my soul, how can I keep from singing?

 

What tho’ my joys and comforts die, the Lord my Helper liveth!

What tho’ the darkness gather round; songs in the night he giveth!

No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that refuge clinging;

Since God is Lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?

 

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin; I see the blue above it;

And day by day this pathway smooths since first I learned to love it,

The peace of God makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing;

All things are mine, since I am His – How can I keep from Singing?[2]

 

[1] Reggie M. Kidd, With One Voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in Our Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 14.

[2] This hymn is Public Domain and was written by American Baptist minister, Robert Wadsworth Lowry.

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Feb 19 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 17 2020

Things Our Worship Pastors Wish We Knew

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Most of us are aware of the investment our worship pastor makes in our own life. What we don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy it takes to invest in the same way with the entire population of our congregation.

So here are a few things we might not know about worship pastors that they probably wish we did. The list is not an exhaustive one but hopefully gives us a glimpse into the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual demands required to serve as a worship pastor.

They have a hard time getting out of town

Most churches generously offer their worship pastors time away for vacation, sick leave and conferences. But what we don’t realize is the amount of preparation required for them to actually leave town.

Worship pastors not only have to secure substitutes for all rehearsals and services, they also have to prepare all choral music, band charts, orchestra parts, sound instructions, lighting cues, projection needs, orders of service and printed worship guides before they can be absent. Then they have to communicate and rehearse all of those details with the various proxies they’ve enlisted so worship doesn’t miss a beat while they are gone. In reality, they have to do all of the work they would do if they were still in town before they can ever leave town. So it’s almost easier not to go.

They are sometimes out of gas

We depend on our worship pastors to teach and admonish us with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. They are often our counselors, mentors, leaders, friends and spiritual advisors. When our families are in crisis we look to them to referee, repair and reclaim. And yet at the same time we also expect them to challenge and encourage us with stellar worship every Sunday.

Sometimes they are just flat worn out. So how can we expect them to continue to lead us where they may no longer have the fuel in the tank to go themselves? Phillip Yancey wrote, “I wonder how much more effective our churches would be if we made the pastors spiritual health, not the pastors efficiency our number one priority?”

They face the same struggles we do

Serving as a worship pastor doesn’t automatically mean immunity from the personal struggles of life such as depression, anxiety, physical health issues, marital conflict, rebellious children and financial strain. So with all of those personal and professional stressors, how can we not expect that pain to eventually take the same toll on them as it has on many of us?

Worship pastors know that a culture of expendability is often just as prevalent in church life as it is in the business world. So, to keep from losing their ministry positions, save face with their congregation or protect the financial security of their family, worship pastors often bear a heavy burden to fake it and perform even when they don’t feel like it.

Our worship leaders are called to our churches to serve God and us. So does it seem right and healthy that the functional reality is that no one gets less of the ministry of the body of Christ than our spiritual leaders do?[1] If we as a church aren’t stewarding those leaders God has entrusted to us, then who will?

 

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

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Feb 12 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Feb 10 2020

Leave Worship Better than You Found It

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Most of us can still recall some of those not so gentle reminders from our parents as they prepared us for an unsupervised visit to the home of a friend. Exhortations such as “remember who you are” or “don’t act like you were raised in a barn” were a couple of their standard lines. But the one that continues to resonate with me was the challenge to “leave their home better than you found it.”

What if we had the same attitude as we gathered together for worship? To leave a worship service better than we found it means we have to be willing to shift the topic away from me and my story to God and his story. Leaving it better means we’ll have to concentrate more on what we can offer or give instead of what we demand and deserve. So instead of asking, “what’s in it for me” we must instead start asking, “what’s in it of me.”

Leaving it better will certainly require some sacrifices. Paul wrote in the twelfth chapter of Romans, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship.” Charles Thomas Studd was an English missionary who served in several countries including China, India, and Africa. He exemplified this living sacrifice through his motto: “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”

Sacrificing in order to leave it better means we’ll have to be more focused on how we can selflessly add to gathered worship rather than selfishly subtracting from it. That willingness to surrender or let go means we won’t really lose anything. We’ll just pass it on to something or someone else.[1] Once we grasp the depth of that living sacrifice, then we’ll certainly leave gathered worship better than we found it.

 

[1] Adapted from Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven (New York: Hyperion, 2003).

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Feb 5 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 27 2020

Drink More Coffee with Senior Adults

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Charlie was one of those senior adults who loved to drink coffee and talk about life. He always seemed to show up on Wednesday afternoon when I still had four hours of rehearsal preparation left and only two hours to complete it. As a young worship leader I sometimes saw those visits as a distraction, now I realize how much they were a divine appointment.

Charlie loved the Lord but he also loved me. So even if he didn’t always resonate with the new initiatives I was suggesting or songs I was leading, he was often willing to endorse them publicly and finance them privately because he cared more about our relationship and the health of our church than his own preferences.

When churches consider worship or programming changes without consulting senior adults like Charlie it can often cause unnecessary transitional pain. Taking the time to collaborate with them helps us recognize and remember those existing elements that could still hold value as foundational building materials in new structures.

Drinking coffee with senior adults can help us discover that most of them are not as averse to changes as much as they are to feeling marginalized through those changes. It often seems to them that their opinions are no longer considered and their convictions are antiquated. So the sacrifice of their blood, sweat, tears and tithes is now being used to build a wall that sidelines or keeps them out completely.

Change is inevitable as a church considers the culture and context of those present and those not present yet. But in an effort to initiate those changes, some of us are willing to do anything different than what was done in the past without first considering the wisdom of those still present from that past. Sharing a few cups of coffee with those senior adults may indeed help to bring some of them on board with our proposed changes, but just as often it can thankfully protect us from our own stupidity.

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Jan 22 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 20 2020

Is Your Church in Conflict? Come to the Table!

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communion

We often look for Chronos (man’s time) resources to resolve church conflicts. So we bring in mediators, read books together, plan conferences, schedule sermon series, and implement lists of best conflict resolution practices. What we often forget, however, is that Kairos (God’s time) resolution of conflict is already available at the Communion Table.

Paul spoke of Communion as the fellowship of sharing in the body and blood of Christ so it is something we do together (1 Cor. 10:16). And since the Table is the place for that kind of intimacy, it’s also the place where the absence of that intimacy is most painfully revealed.[1]

On the night of His betrayal and arrest Jesus prayed that all of us would be one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:1-2). The unity that Jesus spoke of is not only in our vertical relationship with him but also our horizontal relationship with each other.

The Corinthian Church was challenged to take a good, long look at what was going on in their hearts before participating in Communion. Paul wrote, “Let a person examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). So if we are preparing for and observing this ordinance regularly in a worthy manner based on those stipulations, then how could we possibly remain at odds with each other (1Cor. 11:27)?

Communion can remind us not only of what relational healing God offered in the past but what He promises to continue to offer in the future. Coming back to the Table more can encourage us to heal relationships this time when we might not have had the resolve to heal them last time. So if our church is in conflict, then why wouldn’t we want to come back there more often?

 

 

[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Burning Hearts (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1994), 74-75.

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Jan 15 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 8 2020

Worship Word Wednesday

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Jan 6 2020

The Theology of Hymns Versus Modern Worship Songs

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Theology is those truths that are taught by God, truths that teach us of God, and truths that lead us to God. Our congregations sing that theology every week in a variety of languages, contexts, cultures, and styles.

So we should choose songs that helps us sing that theology by asking if they quicken the conscience through the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God, and devote the will to the purpose of God.[1]

Those deeper foundational questions, though,  often take a back seat to our first asking how those songs make us feel. When we base our selections on feelings alone, then our emotional connection to a favorite genre arbitrarily sets the standard for the theological value of all genres. Consequently, we then automatically label all those other genres beyond our favorite as theologically sub-standard.

Hymns or modern worship songs are not innately more theological just because we have an emotional attachment to one or the other. Modern worship songs are not more theological because they sound better with a band and multitracks. And hymns are not more theological because we can recall their texts and tunes or sing them in four-part harmony. Both hymns and modern songs can be and are theological as long as they reflect and respond to biblical text; connect the word of God to the people of God; help us sing the gospel; can be sung with doctrinal integrity; and encourage us to be doers and not just hearers.

It is indeed true that our hearts can often be stirred or softened individually through one favorite genre of worship songs over another. Those favorites can cause us to remember significant events or spiritual seasons. And those connections seem to help us better form and frame a deeper understanding of who God is.

But we must be careful never to assume that the musical and emotional connection that solidifies a deeper theological understanding for us is the only tenable musical and emotional option that can possibly solidify a deeper theological understanding for all.

The theology in our hymns or modern worship songs isn’t mutually exclusive. So instead of propping up one by maligning the other, we should be praying that the peace of Christ would keep them and us in tune as worship allies instead of adversaries. 

 

[1] Adapted from a quote by William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury 1942-44.

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Dec 11 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 20 2019

Worship Word Wednesday

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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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