Monday, July 16, 2018

Selah in Modern Worship


Not sure about you, by my life more often feels like roller coaster than a Sunday drive. Okay, I lied. I’m pretty sure I do know about you, and your life is the same. Probably more roller coaster-ish than mine.

Perhaps, also like me, you have wondered what it would be like to live in the days of David, the shepherd and song writer. Slow paced. Quiet. Peaceful. No iPhone. No TV. No laptop. No social media.

And so, when reading his lyrics (mostly in the Psalms), and I see the word “Selah,” I ignore it. I fly by. This roller-coaster rider ain’t got time for that shepherd-boy pace.

Take Psalm 46, for example:
Three verses, Selah
Four verses, Selah
Four more verses, Selah

The pause button is for playback on Spotify, not for life.

Or, evidently, for worship.

Most of our worship gatherings abhor the vacuum of dead-time. We plan our transitions to avoid the deadly pause.

This is, in my opinion, good and right. Time is valuable—no, priceless—and we should use every moment the best way we can.

May I gently suggest that sometimes the best use of a moment is to pause? To be silent? To rest?

At the end of a song in a recent worship gathering at my church, we repeated the chorus of the old hymn, “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus.” At the end of the singing was a “Selah” moment. No one moved. No one spoke. The moment was too holy to stomp on with words. It didn’t last long, but it was magnificent, memorable.

Perhaps we should plan for these moments. Holy deep breaths.

Sometimes we would benefit from a few seconds to let something sink in. Deeply.
Other times we could improve the worship flow by allowing for a moment of anticipation.

Great preachers do this well.

Great worship leaders do too.

Are there ways you have experienced this? Created Selah? Share in the comments!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Checklist for Creating Great Meetings

Let's be honest...

Meetings can be boring, scattered, awful. The bane of church work.

Meetings can be fun, focused, productive. The energizer of Kingdom work.

Here are some things I’ve found super helpful in preparing to lead one of those good meetings:
  • Plan ahead. Give at least 7-10 days notice.
  • Get everyone there. Communicate the best date and time and location for everyone to attend. (I sometimes have meetings at church, at my home, at a restaurant, or another neutral location.)
  • Ask those who will be in the meeting what they know of that needs to be discussed. Do this early on.
  • Divide the meeting into 4 sections: a) Devotion/Prayer, b) Quick updates, c) One big thing, d) Wrap up.
  • Assemble an agenda based on the best flow of those items in “b", and send it out at least 24 hours before the meeting.
  • Pray for the people who will attend, and for the content to be covered.
  • Set up the room for that particular meeting. (Tables, chairs, something to write on and with, whiteboard and expo markers, etc.)
  • Arrive early. Be first. Welcome people as they enter. Ask about their day, and if appropriate ask about the things you’ve been pray with them for God to do.
  • Start on time. If you know a team member is running late, use discretion in whether or not to wait or start without them.
  • Go as fast as you can on the stuff that doesn’t need much time. (Perhaps praying for discernment for yourself as you go.)
  • Ask questions. Lots of questions. If someone isn’t speaking up, invite their participation. Every voice matters. Often those slow to speak have the best input to give.
  • Relax. Laugh and cry. Play and work. Have fun and help others have fun.

Monday, May 21, 2018

25 Ways to Love Your Team Well

I hope you’ve read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It has helped me in my marriage, in my parenting, in my friendships, and in my ministry. According to Dr Chapman, people give and receive love in different ways. For some, like my wife, it is acts of service. For others, live my firstborn, it is receiving gifts. For still others, like our younger daughter, it is quality time. And for you it might be words of affirmation or physical touch.

Here’s my suggestion: find out the love language of each member of your team and then, every few weeks, do something that helps them feel loved. I’ve taken each of those 5 love languages and give you some ideas to get started:

1) Gifts - find out what your folks appreciate
a) favorite drink
b) favorite drive-thru place
c) favorite sit down restaurant
d) favorite fun activity (movies, kayaking, sporting event)
e) favorite sports team (college, pro)

2) Quality Time - find ways to be with these servants while they're not serving
a) breakfast once a quarter
b) coffee/coke/dessert once a quarter
c) lunch once a quarter
d) dinner at your home
e) visit in their home

3) Words of Affirmation - use both private and public means of encouragement
a) write a thank you note every day
b) celebrate a person in your ministry every week on social media
c) mention someone's faithfulness from the platform (when appropriate) once a month
d) honor a team member in every practice
e) ministry spotlight and then share it on social media

4) Physical Touch - being careful not to intrude, and being extremely respectful of gender boundaries, affirm team members by:
a) a hand on the shoulder, especially when they are struggling
b) a side-hug when welcomed, especially for members of the opposite sex
c) a man-hug (handshake, draw 'em in, pat 3 times on the back) from guy to guy
d) a shoulders-high hug for folks who are grieving or in crisis
e) at the right moment and in the right place, be more affectionate with your spouse in front of your team--a kiss on the cheek, a tender hug

5) Acts of Service - anticipate and meet the needs of those who receive love this way, but don't waste your time doing these things for those who don't
a) have their music ready for rehearsal or service, right song, right arrangement, right key, in the right order
b) surprise your guitar player or bass player by tuning their instrument before rehearsal or service
c) have a bottle of water or pencil already waiting on their stand
d) surprise your graphics operator by doing the part of their job they like the least
e) show up early to help your sound tech set up the stage

Friday, August 26, 2016

Preventing Conflict

As sage pastor Max Lucado quipped,
"Conflict is inevitable. Combat is optional."

While conflict is indeed inevitable, we can do some things Christianly to minimize the likelihood of conflict. Much of this I have learned far later than I wished in my ministry, so I'm hopeful some of you younger leaders can benefit from my late-arriving wisdom. And in many ways, I still struggle. Just keeping it real.

Three keys, I think:

1) Do the right thing.
2) Do the right thing in the right way.
3) Do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

I didn't way it was earth shaking. Just helpful.

First, do the right thing. And honestly, if I don't do the right thing, I'd hope for conflict! Someone should care enough about us, about our ministries and our churches, more importantly about the kingdom of God and His reputation to get in our way when we do the wrong thing.

Sometimes you and I don't know we're doing the wrong thing until the right person steps in our way. This has beautiful and difficult implications for leadership. It means we can lead with humility because we admit we don't always know what the right thing is. It means we can welcome input from those we lead because they may know a right way that we've not yet discovered. This is just one reason team leadership is better than solo leadership. The wisdom writer nailed it:

Plans go wrong for lack of advice;
Many advisors bring success. 
(Prov. 15:22 NLT)

Second, do the right thing in the right way. This is probably where I messed up most in the first 15 years of ministry. There are processes in place for a reason. If I don't like them and disregard them, I should expect conflict. If you are frustrated by the committees (sometimes perceived as hoops to jump through) required to do the right thing in the right way, get some help from a key leader in your ministry. Otherwise it might needlessly cripple your effectiveness if you disregard the process.

I'm embarrassed that it was in the church that I was introduced to the phrase, "It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission." While I agree that it is usually easier, I can't seem to figure out how it is more Christian. Walk through the process in the right way. Ask permission. You will prevent a great deal of conflict, frustration, and even agony.

Third, do the right thing in the right way at the right time. This may be the most difficult of the three. Most of us who have been entrusted with a leadership position have gotten there because we usually do the right thing. Doing things the right way is simply a matter of choosing to do so. But doing things at the right time requires personal, spiritual, and cultural sensitivity.

Some questions that might serve your journey: Is it the right time for you, personally? Do you have the time? Have you allowed this "right thing" to adequately mature in your mind?

So how about you? What have you discovered that helps prevent unnecessary conflict?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Impressively Awful

I'm going to start with an embarrassing story.

One of the schools I attended got a new teacher a couple of years ago. I was meeting that teacher for the first time and really felt the need to make sure they understood just what a big deal I was.

I did say I'm embarrassed by this story, right?

So I started going on and on about the kind of church I'm in, the places I've been "blessed to serve," (I was trying to demonstrate impressive humility too) and the consulting I do, etc. etc. etc.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

I was working really hard to impress him.

And I'm not sure how severely affected by that encounter he was, but I was deeply affected.

I wanted to walk into the restroom and throw up.

Seriously. It was awful. I was hearing myself say these things and thinking... "what in the world am I doing?"

I am still embarrassed.

Perhaps you and I share this perspective: Not a single person who has tried to convince me how great they are has succeeded.

And here I was, on the other (gross) side of that dynamic.

I think this may have relevance to our role as worship leaders.

When you and I are on the platform (or in the booth) and trying to impress people with how great we are, we will fail. Every. Single. Time.

More than that, every time we impress people with how great we are, we are stealing greatness from God. This is sin. And I am a great big sinner in need of great big grace from a great big God.

Let me say it one more way: the more people are impressed with me, the less they will be impressed with God.

Maybe this is why I spend so much time in pre-service prayer times or post-rehearsal devotional times encouraging team members to be on guard, so we use every gifting we have to point to the Giver.

We must make much of Jesus, not of music. And certainly not of ourselves.

My hope is that people will not walk out of our worship gatherings talking about how good the music is, nor the musicians, nor the preacher. My dreams come true when they leave our service talking about how great God is.

Am I projecting this on to my team? Or do you struggle with this too? How have you successfully battled against the temptation to be impressive?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

How Was the Gospel?

Larena was painting the interior of my pastor’s house. She is from Mexico so her English is sometimes awkward. One Sunday after our services, Pastor Tim walked into his home and was greeted with a broken English question expressed in a thick hispanic accent:

“How was the gospel this morning, pastor?"

When I heard that story, I wondered if hers may be a far better question than some of us ask after worship. So let me ask you, how was the gospel this Sunday in your church?

First, was it clear? If someone who had never heard the “good news” attended your church, did they hear it in the sermon? Did they sing it in your songs? (The gospel, I've learned, is more than the cross. It includes creation, fall, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and second coming.)

Second, was it compelling? The gospel isn’t the gospel unless it is good news. Again, our sin and the provision of forgiveness for that sin by the death of Jesus are elements of the gospel, but while we may think of it as the heart of it, that’s not the end of it. The gospel is good news: Forgiveness. Resurrection. Hope.

Third, was it communicated as a path to life change? The good news is for everyone. The addict can be set free. The marriage can be restored. The sinner can be saved. Life change doesn't happen--as you know--by will-power but by God's power. Gospel power.

Finally, how will you ensure the gospel is clear and compelling this Sunday? Will you use short scripture readings to connect the truths of the song lyrics to elements of God's glorious gospel?  Will there be a gospel-rich video serving as a transition piece? Will you, pastor, remember to include the gospel in your sermon? Will you, staff member or congregant, encourage your pastor to do the same? What about the more experiential elements of worship--directed prayer, communion, etc.?

I'm so curious: How does your church do this well? How have you seen it modeled that encourages you to be faithful to sing, preach, and experience the gospel in worship?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Why Do We Serve?

I'm reading a short book by Henri Nouwen entitled, In the Name of Jesus Reflections on Christian Leadership. My pastor read it last summer and highly recommended it.

While reading a segment about the re-instating instruction of Jesus to Peter to "Feed my sheep" something occurred to me.

As an aside, has it ever occurred to you that nothing ever occurs to God? This is such massive evidence of how different I (the creature) are from God (the Creator). Things occur to me all the time! By this stage of life and ministry, I expected to more stuff figured out. Less to discover. Less to learn. But God continues to teach me new things, and He graciously teaches me old things in deeper ways. What a great God we worship!

So back to the "feed my sheep" epiphany...

This is not a new passage for me. I have read it many times, studied back in college, and have even preached from it before. 

You probably remember the scene: Jesus and Peter meet on the beach after the resurrection. Peter has gone back to fishing for fish. After having breakfast together, the Master asks the fisherman, "Do you love me?" Peter responds, "You know I do." And Jesus speaks those familiar words: "Feed my sheep."

It was just one of Nouwen's sentences that grabbed me: "Having been assured of Peter's love, Jesus gives him the task of ministry."

Assurance of love, then resumption of ministry. We serve people (feed sheep) out of love for God. 

I know. It's not groundbreaking.

Or is it?

In my experience and observation, we often serve people out of a need for their love and acceptance. Somewhere beneath the words we speak are the truths we feel: If I serve them well, they will love me. I'll be part of the group. I won't be lonely any more... for a while.

We also serve people out of a need for workers in our ministry. Few of us would admit we've ever done this, but I suspect most of us have thought, "I'd better serve them well or I won't have them at the piano/drums/mixer (fill in your own blank) any more. Then I'll be in real trouble."

We may even serve people out of a sense for what it does in us. Some psychologists have gone so far to say that altruism doesn’t exist. While I disagree with them, I'd have to say some of us serve in part because of how it makes us feel. (I'll leave it to you to discern how much is some or part.)

When we serve people in those ways we consume them.

But Jesus came to give life. "Christ in us" wants to give life to those we serve.

The only way we can do that is to serve them with love for God as the source. With love for God as the cause. With love for God as the motivation.

And I don't know about you, but I need to do a better job of sitting in God's Presence, letting Him love me. Knowing His love. Feeling His love. Trusting His love.

And then I can serve people in the way Jesus did, the way He trusted Peter to serve them: from God's love fueling heart, mind, and soul.