Monday, November 25, 2019

Incarnational Worship Leading

One of the most amazing things about Christmas, the thing that seems to posture me toward wonder every single year, is that Jesus left the glory of heaven and the certainly of the celestial, to walk in the dust of Palestine and submit himself to the whims of the humans He created.

Theologians call that the Incarnation.


Long before Here I Am to Worship came along, one of Jesus' best friends described Him this way: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." (John 1:14, The Message)


Perhaps this is the moment you expect me to talk about how the One who left perfection for crucifixion is worthy of our worship. And He is, without a doubt!

Actually, this is where I want to encourage those of us in ministry--volunteer, part-time or full time--to be like Jesus.

Move into the neighborhood.

In some ways that's a very practical thing. For example, if you're just starting your full-time ministry with a church, live where the people live. In my neighborhood there are 6 other church families. I don't have to drive to our community every day, I live in it. 

In other ways it's more strategic. When I started at Woodburn, my Pastor gave me a brilliant directive: take the first six months and do everything you can to learn the people. "Become a sociologist," he said. And after those first months are over, keep doing it.

And as fantastic as that counsel was, I've learned from him how to go one step further.

Don't just learn who you are leading in worship, be one of them. Don't just understand the neighborhood, move into the neighborhood.

Instead of just living among them, do life with them.

Don't just sing stories about Jesus to them, sing the story of Jesus into their story. Over their story. When you're leading a song of hope, look into the eyes of the folks who need hope. 

Quickly, here are 3 ways you can get started:
   1) Before and after you get on the stage, visit with people in the seats. Connect with them. It's more important to be part of the congregation than part of the team on stage.
   2) Find ways to be with people outside of the church building. Be intentional.
   3) Learn and speak the language of your church. Don't talk like an outsider; become an insider.

Bottom line: Be real; be normal. Jesus came to be one of us, so learn to be one of them.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Ruthlessly Eliminate...

When pastor/author John Ortberg asked his mentor, the late Dallas Willard, what the next step of growth was for him, Dallas said, "John, you must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from you life."

Interesting thought, eh?

I've not found a single time in all the New Testament when Jesus hurried.

Maybe it's time we become more like Jesus in that regard too.

Two more thoughts:
1) Hurry is not the same as hustle. Hurry is reckless; hustle is controlled.
2) Hurry is not the same as fast. While Jesus didn't hurry, he did move purposefully and, at times, with immediacy.

If this is ringing true in your spirit, I have a follow up question: shouldn't we ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our worship?

Songs can still be up-tempo.
Segments of the service can still move quickly.
There is a difference between dead time and stillness.

Seems to me that frantic is the enemy of shalom.

Which makes me wonder, what could we do in modern worship to return a greater sense of shalom (the perfect peace found in living at the timing of God) to our gatherings?

For example, I can tell if we don't have any songs with turnarounds, interludes, or a cappella singing in them. All of those things seem to slow time down. And the presence of the Spirit is often most palpable in those very moments.

Bottom line: if Dallas Willard were to visit your church, would he say "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your worship"?

Monday, November 11, 2019

All Puffed Up

I'm an enneagram 3 -- the Achiever or Performer.

I know this because of the underlying motivations that drive me. Some are beautiful and healthy. Others are hideous and sick.

One of the traits that frustrates the daylights out of me is my need to appear impressive. I hate this about myself. God's grace has grown me out of it in some powerful ways. (Which means there's hope for all of us!) But sometimes it still shows up.

I want people to be impressed when I'm around them. I am tempted to name drop, or tell stories that make me look better than I am.

This is hard, confessing this to you. But I'm doing it for a reason.

You see, one of the ways I battle this inward struggle is to remind myself of some principles. I often remind my teams of the same. Maybe they can help you, too:

1) I have to be more concerned with my Savior than my singing;
2) I have to be more impressed with Jesus than I hope to impress others with myself; and
3) I can't try to impress; simply express.

Let's go back to the first -- I have to be more concerned with my Savior than my singing. If you're not a singer, this still applies. Whether you serve in the tech booth, the band, the preschool classroom, or the deacon body... strive to be more concerned with the Giver than the gift. Always.

And the second -- I have to be more impressed with Jesus than I hope to impress others with myself. In other words, my the more consumed I am with Jesus, the less concerned I'll be with me. Make Jesus the focus of your time when you serve, when you wash dishes, or when you hang out with family and friends. Impress people with Jesus.

And finally -- I can't try to impress, simply express. When I'm on stage, or leading a meeting, or sitting with friends, I'm at my best when I don't care if others know I'm at my best. But still, I have a stewardship responsibility to express my faith and my gifts clearly. I can express clearly without trying to impress broadly.

Romans 11:25 says it clearly enough that I should understand it better by now: "I want you to understand this mystery, dear brothers and sisters, so that you will not feel proud (puffed up) about yourselves."

And so this is, perhaps, a tiny facet of pursuing humility.

Willing to comment? Where do you struggle with being puffed up? And perhaps even better, what helps you keep from being puffed up? I'd LOVE to see what works for you!

Monday, November 4, 2019

I don't need to come to rehearsal, right?

I've been at my church for more than six years. That's a pretty long time, according to the average ministry tenure.

And nearly every week -- by now that's about 325 of them -- someone will either ask the question or make the assumption: I don't need to come to rehearsal, right? Every week.

I get it. We're busy people. Conflicts are on the calendar before we accept the invitation to be on the team, and far more often conflicts arise after we've accepted.

Not only that, but some folks -- especially those in the tech booth or on more orchestral instruments -- don't feel like they are core to the rehearsal process. I understand. I play tuba. If there's a rehearsal, I can probably skip it and look over the music on my own. There'd be no discernible difference in the quality of my playing on a Sunday.

But there are lots of reasons to be in rehearsal. More than just the five below, but when chatting with a young member of our team recently these five came to mind.

If you're part of a team in our church or another, I encourage you to consider this list. And if you're the leader of a team, maybe they can help you serve those you lead. I'd sure love to see any reasons you'd add to my quick handful!

1) You get to prepare. For those in the tech booth, this is the only practice you get. A guitar player can practice at home with his instrument. A sound/graphics/lighting/camera operator can only practice when there are people on stage, doing their thing. Back to my example above, I can practice my tuba part, but I can't practice playing with the ensemble. This is a big deal.

2) Everyone else gets to practice with you. Singers/band members get used to the mix from the sound tech, the singers gets used to taking their cues from the screens, the pianist knows where to leave in/take out a part duplicated with the electric guitar lead part, and on and on I could go. You change the dynamics when you're in the room. That affects everyone else--positively!

3) Changes are made in rehearsals, not on Sundays. This can affect anyone in any role, but our context it usually comes to the tech team. We'll change screen content (scripture verses in interludes) and backgrounds, lighting, gain structure on the sound console--which affects in-ear monitors, and even who sings when or what instruments are in or out. In other words, rehearsal isn't just to get what we know to do right, it's to create together what is possible. If you're not with us, our creativity is limited.

4) There's a cascading effect to #3. There are implications for others on the team. So if we change a background for a song, then lighting design is affected. If the vocals are tight and the moment is just right, we might have the band drop out. If the band is struggling in a spot, we might simplify or any number of other solutions. Everyone being together brings clarity and helps us get everything together.

5) There is a communal effort to leading worship. We're a team. The vocalists, instrumentalists, and tech crew are all on one team. We practice together. We pray together. We do life together. It's hard to do things together when one of us is missing.

Of course things come up. Sickness happens. Family obligations change at the last minute. School schedule things at the last minute.

Grace abounds! That's why we lead graciously, because we are the moment-by-moment recipients of grace. But grace without truth is not Biblical grace. I'm simply offering a little perspective that may be missing in your journey.

Oh, one more thing. If you're on the team -- mine or anyone else's -- we WANT you there. We love it when you're with us. We love you. We need you.

Alright... hit me with some comments on what you'd add or why you disagree!

Monday, October 21, 2019

Calendaring by Priority

I've always been pretty attached to my calendar. Back in the day it was a "Week-at-a-Glance" paper product. 

Well, not always actually. There was a time that I tried to remember everything. But one day I totally forgot to meet someone for a lunch meeting. It was important to me, but slipped my mind at the worst time.

And that day I committed, "NO MORE!"

So now I spend time every week, and often 3-4 times a week, simply managing my calendar. While that may sound cumbersome, it actually gives me great freedom. I don't have to try to remember stuff.

I tell my calendar what I want to do, then my calendar tells me what to do. It's wonderful!

Here's a glimpse into my approach. I sure hope it helps you!

I calendar recurring events first — study time, gym time, worship services, weekly rehearsals, staff meetings, etc.

Then I calendar big chunks — vacation, prayer retreats, writing days, long-range planning sessions.

And before I get over-booked, I calendar other family events third — date nights, family day-trips, activities with the kids, etc.

And then--and this is important--I calendar goals. Some of this may have been done already, but I want to make sure I get the work that matters most on my schedule. This is where writing days, prayer retreats, long-range planning etc. help. But I will also create a (very rough) project plan by assigning times on my calendar to work on chunks of my goals.

All done! 

Well, not really of course. Because I don't do JUST the things I want to, feel led to do. I also get requests from others. Meetings, conferences, and fun stuff. So once you have YOUR work on the calendar, then you can accept or decline the requests of others. If I someone asks for a time I have blocked out, then I can see if it is realistic to move what is already showing up to an empty spot (aka margin) to make room for their request. I want to honor their time and request, but I also want to honor the ways I've felt led to work.

In fact, this just happened to me this weekend. I was invited to lead worship for an event that sits squarely in the center of the things I am passionate about. So I looked over my Google calendar for the days before and after, the weeks before and after, and decided that while it would require some sacrifice and effort, it was worth it. 

That's freedom caused by structure and calendar-awareness. 

Now, time doesn't stand still and plans often change. So we have to manage our calendars. Based on the things I've learned through the years, here's what I suggest:
  • Prepare your calendar annually.
  • Review your calendar weekly.
  • Then live out your calling from your calendar daily.

A newer practice a friend suggested to me has a great early returns. I’ve started taking time every other month to do long-range planning. I revisit my calendar from 3-18 months out as part of that exercise. While it’s early in this new discipline, I think it is helping a lot.

This is SO different from the earlier part of my career. And these days, my recent days, are by far my best days. I’m convinced that goal setting and intentional calendaring have a great deal to do with that.

Now don’t be Pharisaical with your calendar, but be strong and courageous. Whether you are in the marketplace or the ministry, God has called you to do stuff. Being intentional helps us do the right stuff.

I'd imagine you, like me, would like to echo the words of Jesus in John 17:4: "I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do." Discerning goals and managing time seem the best ways to do that, at least in our day.

Now... share with each other: What calendaring hacks have you discovered that help you?

Monday, October 14, 2019

I Was Stuck

Early in my ministry career, I was driven to do everything all the time. I was stuck in the mindset that everything I thought was something that needed to be done. And everything that someone else thought I needed to do... well that was something I needed to do to.

That was back in the day. You know, in the 90s.

Who am I kidding... I am still that way!

But something has helped me far more than I expected. For the last six years I've been part of a staff team that does goals and shares them with each other. Setting goals has helped me narrow my focus from doing everything all the time to doing the more important things with my best time.

This process has served me in more ways than I can even articulate. Maybe a glimpse into the way I walk through this annual exercise can help you--whether you are in full-time, part-time, or volunteer ministry. They could help in school years, retirement years, or any career.

One more thing you should know: because my pastor is brilliant he gives us great freedom to choose our own goals. He seems to believe that as long as we have alignment as a staff in the big picture, we can set our own priorities in each area of ministry.

Since I think better in structure, I decided to create some for my goal setting. I find it extremely helpful to think in three broad categories:
  • Spiritual - To be more like Jesus
  • Personal - To act more like Jesus
  • Professional (church) - To help people walk with Jesus
Of course the boundaries between these categories are not fixed. The healthiest among us are the most integrated. So the goals I set spiritually affect my personal and professional life. Whether or not I thrive in my professional life impacts my personal and spiritual journey. And so on.

Over the years that (intentionally) first category has included things like:
  • Take 4 prayer retreats in a year
  • Focus on specific spiritual practices (prayer, confession, journaling, fasting, etc.)
  • Read the entire Bible aloud
And some of the things that made the personal list were:
  • Lose 50 pounds
  • Write 2 articles for publication
  • And one of my favorites -- meet with 6 guys a few years ahead of me, asking 3 questions. One of these questions is always about how to be a better husband or father. I've already written about that particular practice. You can read more about it here.
And within the professional realm:
  • Create and host a worship conference
  • Hold a Worship Ministry Summit with key leaders and a guest clinician
  • Create and distribute a worship ministry handbook
It is impossible for me to describe how the growth in all three of those areas of my life in the last 6 years has outpaced the same in any previous season of my life. 

Now to be transparent, I seldom meet all of my goals. In fact, I usually only hit about 70% of them. But 70% of carefully thought through goals has gotten me much farther than 100% of not having goals.

I'm eager to see, what are some things that have helped you with goal setting?

Monday, October 7, 2019

How to Worship When Worship Is Hard (from a very special guest)

By special guest blogger, Tricia Brown

“Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshipping what’s right with God.” -author, Mark Batterson
On Tuesday, September 18, 2018, my twenty-year-old son, Brandon, died. Just two days before, we stood next to each other and sang in worship. Less than a week after, I stood in front of his casket and sang again.
Raising four sons in a Christian home, my husband and I tried to make church a regular part of our lives. Even more, we tried to make worship something that we didn’t just do at church. And while worship is about so much more than music, music often played a part in our worship. We danced to Christian worship songs. VBS and its music were consistent parts of our summers. Veggie Tales music played on our television, and Christian radio played in our car.  
In the days following Brandon’s death, worship was not hard. I didn’t worship because I wanted to worship. I worshipped because I was compelled to worship. It was as if God was pulling me so close that I had no alternative but to bow. So, I did, face down in front of my son’s casket, perhaps more humbly and honestly than ever in my life. 
But, in the days and months after, as I struggled through the fog of grief, as my mind reeled from the reality of it all, as I pulled myself out of the Lord’s embrace and began asking the “whys” and arguing the “what ifs,” worship became harder. Music became a double-edged sword, speaking to my soul, whispering into places that mere words could not penetrate. 
Every song “spoke” to me, and every song hurt, but worship music was especially difficult. Worship is, after all, to give praise to the One who created me, the One who saved me, the One who gave me my son, and the One who allowed him to be taken away. 
Worship during Sunday morning became excruciating. Even now, there are times that my mouth cannot voice the words. There are times that tears flow down my face. There are times when my knees shake, and my heart breaks, and I want to plug my ears and scream. And in those times, the worst times, when I shut my eyes, and my knuckles turn white from holding myself in place, then, I worship with the only thing I can give at that moment—my presence.
Because even in the hurt, even in the battle, even in my darkest, hardest days, I still know that God is God, and I am not, that He is my Creator, my Redeemer, my Savior, the keeper of my Salvation and the keeper of my son. The Bible tells us that if we don’t worship Him, the rocks will.
So, how do I worship when worship hurts? I remember what is right about God instead of what is wrong with me, and like the Nike slogan says, I “just do it,” because God alone is worthy, and God alone deserves my praise.


Tricia K. Brown is an author, teacher, and speaker. For 26 years she has worked as an editor and freelance writer for organizations and individuals including the United Methodist Church, Mailbox magazines, breast cancer specialist Judy C. Kneece, RN, OCN, and psychiatrist and best-selling author, Ari Kiev. Through her business, The Girls Get Together, Tricia shares stories of life, loss, and laughter to encourage women in their walks with the Lord and each other. Connect with her on Facebook or on her website, where you can subscribe to her free weekly newsletter.