Monday, February 24, 2020

You Can't Just Call it Worship

When I was young in the ministry--about 150 years ago--I wanted to call every gathering, every event, every concert...worship.

But I've discovered through the years that just calling it worship won't make it so.

Sadly, this is evidenced in many churches Sunday after Sunday.

People attend. They are dutiful. They sing. They listen to a sermon. They bow their heads when it's time to pray. They might even put a wafer and some juice in their mouths.

But doing those things doesn't make it worship.

I also get to attend and sing in some pretty cool gatherings. Concerts in churches, or at ball parks, or any number of places.

And we want to call those worship events too, right? After all, there are Christians singing, playing instruments, etc. Isn't that worship?

Well, as much as I don't want to write this, I don't think so.

We can have all of the sacred content we want, use that content in a sacred venue, and even be surrounded by people who believe in Jesus. But that's not what makes an event worship.

So what does?

Simple, really.

When the people in that place engage their heads and their hearts, their intellect and their emotion, their attention and affection... when they give themselves to Jesus.

That's worship.

You've experienced this, as I have. There is a song sung or a prayer prayed and people around you are attending the event but not attending to God. Then something changes. It's palpable. The song that is sung or the prayer that is prayed is indeed engaging God.

The room changes. The countenance on the faces of the people brightens. The Presence is present.

By the way, style is irrelevant here. I've seen this happen when singing Bach Chorales and leading with guitars and drums.

What is relevant?

What you do. How you serve. How you lead...

...with a mind and heart given to Jesus.

"But the time is coming--indeed it's here now--when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." - John 4:23-24

"These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made..." - Isaiah 29:13

Monday, February 10, 2020

Take that Baby Out!

Somebody should take that baby out.

I remember hearing that as a kid. Probably from my mom. Maybe even, on rare occasion, from my grandmother who, by the way, loved serving in the nursery at FBC of Walton, KY. I’ve heard it as an adult, too. Perhaps far more often, I’ve felt it. 

And yet every time a baby cries... every time a child acts up... every time a parent struggles to keep their kid “under control…” you know what I do? Can you guess?

I smile. 

While the singing or praying or preaching is happening, I envision Jesus sitting on the edge of the platform, arms wide open and a smile broadly crossing his face as he says to that little one, “I am so glad you’re here!” He might even invite that squirming little boy to sit in his lap.

And after I smile, I wonder—every time the familiar sound of a kid echoes through the room—if we’ve missed the lesson Jesus taught His original followers. 

According to Matthew 19:13, the disciples thought children would bother Jesus. But in reality they didn’t bother him at all. Sure did bother his followers though.

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.' And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them…”

Can you imagine what it would’ve been like to be one of those parents? To see Jesus touch their child? To hear Jesus bless their daughter?

I think that’s why I smile when a child makes noise in worship. It seems the testimony of scripture is that when a child disturbs a follower of Jesus, the winner can still be the child.

After all, Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. 

Next time you hear a little one disturb the quietude of your worship space, I hope you’ll smile too.

(I imagine there is some sort of limit, of course. God is a God of order, not of chaos. I just think we may be taking ourselves more seriously than need be. And chance not taking God’s word seriously enough.)

Monday, February 3, 2020

Mom Came to Worship

My mom came to worship today.

This isn't all that unusual. She makes the four hour trip a few times a year, even at 83 years of age.

We started the service with "Glorious Day" from Passion '17. It was loud. Energized. People cheered as we sang. My 83 year old mother is cooler than most of us. She was fine with it. After all, she worked with teenagers for several decades, and recognizes the need to include music that connects with younger people.

Then we sang Keith Getty's "The Power of the Cross." Our family doesn't hang out with famous people, but we know the Gettys. Mom gave Keith and Kristyn (and Stuart Townend) a long ride from an airport to a worship conference the first time they were in Kentucky, more than a dozen years ago. If you ever meet Keith, ask him about riding with Kaye Ellis. He'll have you in stitches!

Here's why I tell you all of this: when our room started to explode with those powerful lyrics, I looked out and saw mom's face. She was immersed in the reality that "Christ became sin for us."

When I say "immersed" I mean that her face was rapturous. For those moments, in that song, for her our church was heavenly.

So again, why talk about my mom so much?

Three reasons:
1) There are people like my mom in your church too. Leading effectively matters. Our calling as worship leaders (band, tech, vocals) is to give them a glimpse of heaven. A look ahead to what it will be like when we see Jesus face-to-face.
2) There are people like my mom in your church too. Worship planning matters. Choosing songs that connect with every generation will help your room explode with powerful lyrics too.
3) There are people like my mom in your church too. Preparation matters. Our team of 14 was all ready to go. They knew when to sing, when to play, when to boost an audio channel or advance the screen content.

It wasn't easy for her to get to worship that day. There are folks of all ages and stages that struggle to get into your worship space too. What you do matters. Do it well.

So every soul sings.

Monday, January 27, 2020

I Found Patience!

Have you been looking for it too? I was. For years. No... for decades.

The ever elusive patience.

And then a buddy suggested I spend time every 2-3 months doing long-range planning.

Hang on. There's a giant connection coming!

Every 2-3 months I block out a half-day on my calendar and dream about what could happen primarily 6 months - 24 months ahead. I am always tempted to give my energy and attention to things that will happen in the next few weeks, but I force myself to think farther out.

And I do it in multiple parts of my area of ministry:
   Worship teams
   Leadership development, etc.

That means I had a pretty good idea of what all of 2020 was going to look like early in the fall of 2019... including Christmas!

And when I get to do this again in March of 2020, I'll be focusing on Easter and the summer of 2021. And get this -- even beyond.

Some of this long-range planning gets me visioning better for 3-5 years down the road.

And this is where I found patience.

I wasn't looking for it. Wasn't expecting it.

But when I have a better, clearer, more specific vision of what will happen 1-2 years ahead, I can be FAR more patient with what is happening 1-2 months ahead.

I'll say it even more strongly:

Long range planning gives you short term patience. When you have a clear vision of what can happen in 5 years, you'll be less stressed by what does or doesn't happen in the next 5 weeks.

Now, it also gives us better alignment of daily tasks with weekly and monthly events. It extends to the big events we plan, contributing to a long-range vision. But that's not the topic of this post. Here I just want to say it one more time:

Long range planning gives us short term patience.

So if you are feeling impatient in your ministry, stretch out your vision. Think about what could be in 3, 5, even 10 years. And then move prayerfully, carefully, and deliberately in that direction. You might get there when you expected it to happen. It might take a little longer. You may even be surprised that when you take the stress/urgency off those you lead that those long-range visions may become reality sooner than you ever imagined!

I pray you find some patience from seeing what God wants to do in your life, your family, your ministry, your church and your community.

Monday, January 20, 2020

One Team. One Pew.

At the conclusion of all of our rehearsals I require the team to sit on the front pew for us to cover logistics, answer questions, and pray. Invariably one of the folks on the tech team--or a guest--will try to sit in the second or third pew. 

(Require is a very strong word. I can't find a word strong enough but not quite that strong. If someone was deeply uncomfortable, of course I'd make an allowance.)

Our front pew is long, so we’ll cram 15 people on there if we have to.

One team. One pew.

Here’s why I am such a stickler for this:

We are all leading the same group to the same God. 
We should be on the same team. One team.

That’s also why I ask everyone to meet with me to pray before the service begins. Everyone. Tech crew, band, vocals. 

And that’s why we expect everyone to constantly thrive and improve. 

In order to unify the platform team and the tech team, I will often ask the tech crew what they need FROM us up front. We are quick to tell them what we want from THEM, but that can create an unhealthy one-sided hierarchy.

In an effort to make sure everyone on the team feels appreciated, I try to encourage folks the way they can best receive kudos. You may have seen me write about this before, but I’m a fan of a list of 10 things author Steve Stroope talks about in his book TRIBAL CHURCH. He cites 10 ways people can be paid without being paid. I put these on a handout and give them to those who regularly serve on our team. Here they are:
  • 1) Public Praise - a thank you note might seem meaningless, but hearing your name from me in a rehearsal or service makes you feel appreciated.
  • 2) Private Praise - you may not want anyone else to know that I notice, but you want to know that I notice. A “shout out” from the pulpit would make you crawl under the chair, but a word in the hallway would give you a spring in your step.
  • 3) Access - if you feel like I’m unavailable, you feel like you don’t matter. If you feel like I’m available to you, you feel valued.
  • 4) Input - the opportunity to contribute ideas before major decisions are made. Asking you beforehand means the world to you.
  • 5) Added Responsibility - some of us would hate this; we’re overwhelmed. Others thrive; we want to have more influence.
  • 6) Significance - hearing how what you are doing is making a difference in peoples’ lives keeps you going.
  • 7) Empowerment - having the authority to make decisions concerning your area of ministry without having to get permission feeds your soul.
  • 8) Adequate Resources - you want the right music, recordings, and tools to serve at your best.
  • 9) Perks or Bonuses - a gift card, lunch on me, gifts, etc. make you feel like you are being rewarded.
  • 10) Knowledge - when I suggest a book, a blog, a recording, etc. you feel like I’m investing in you. If I gave you a resource that is tailored to your role every once in a while, you’d feel like you were being paid well.

One more thing… all are invited into conversations. Again, it doesn’t matter if they are playing, singing, or running tech. Different vocalist gonna make the song better? Different combination of instruments? Add a stop for the band? We are one team giving one voice to one congregation to worship one God. 

How do you do this... foster unity among team members?

Monday, January 13, 2020

The 45 second song intro

You’ve heard it before, haven’t you?

"Preachers shouldn't sing and song leaders shouldn’t preach.

Well, this is partly true. But it sure doesn’t mean preachers shouldn’t worship and song leaders should be mute!

There is a craft to introducing songs well. I’ve learned so much about this over the last few years. Here are some things that help me.

  1. Let the music speak for itself. If no introduction is needed, leave it alone. 
  2. Say what serves the people, not the leader. 
  3. Use words that are real life; dont be so professorial that you’re not personal.
  4. Learn what you want to say so deeply that you dont need to read it. This may start with research, writing, and rehearsing.
  5. Talk like you talk. Talk about the same things on the platform that you’d talk about off; be natural.
  6. Keep it short. Work hard on this. Its easier to talk for 4-5 minutes than 45 seconds. But 45 seconds is almost always enough.
  7. Practice. Do this before you meet with the team. Do it in rehearsal. And especially do it in the sound check; it is essential to do that if there’ll be an instrument playing while you talk.

Thoughts? Comments? What works for you?

Monday, January 6, 2020

Don't Hurry. Be Happy.

A few years ago, through the gift of podcasting, I heard preacher John Ortberg tell a story about a conversation he had with Dallas Willard, his mentor and spiritual director. John was asking what he needed to do in order to take the next step in his faith journey. Dallas told him something that has shaped my life:

You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from you life.

And I've been working to do that ever since by...
     Preparing farther ahead and in greater detail.
     Finishing the thing before in time.
     Leaving a tad earlier.
     Driving a little slower, but a lot less angry.
     Arriving a bit sooner.

It has slowed my pace and given me peace.

Not long after that I started hearing Christian leadership teachers talk about a core characteristic of effective leaders: hustle.


Don't hurry but hustle. Slow down but don't drag.

It has sort of felt to me--over these many months--like I'm supposed to move slow and fast at the same time. But like so many parts of the Christian journey I'm discovering there is a tension. A back and forth within healthy guardrails.

There are times I need to be still. Slow ALL the way down.

And there are times I need to be on the move. IMMEDIATELY.

But the encouragement I want to pass on is that there is never a time to hurry. At least for me.

A couple weeks ago I made plans with my younger daughter to see the latest Star Wars movie on its opening weekend in a theater that was about an hour away. In IMAX. (It was amazing, by the way!) The logistics were complicated. I had three places to be before we met in a parking lot near the interstate because she was coming in from a couple of hours the other way. We had a 5 minute window.

And I was running late. Like 10 minutes late.

So I had to hurry. Not hustle. Hurry.

And I felt wrong. On the inside. The 30 minutes of hurry absolutely messed me up. And (here's my giant takeaway) it stayed with me for a solid hour afterwards.

I was internally a wreck.


And that's when I realized and appreciated that for quite some time I've been growing at "ruthlessly eliminating hurry from my life" enough that I could recognize HURRY SICKNESS for what it was.


So I encourage you, knowing that most of you who read this regularly are very busy people, to do as Eugene Peterson translates the invitation of Jesus:

"Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace... Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (from Matthew 11:28-30)