Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Got a Preposition for You

Prepositions are mighty big, little words. In just 2 or 3 letters, they can change the meaning of a sentence. Or a paragraph. Or a whole conversation.

If you’re a sports fan, you’d much prefer your team be in the championship game than at the championship game. How much more for those on the team!

If you’re in love with the guy you hope will pop the question, you’d rather hear “You’re the one for me” than “You’re the one with me.”

Powerful prepositions.

These mighty little words can help us understand how we worship, too.

TO —Who are you singing to? There are two primary options: you’re singing to Godor to each another. Which way does the text go? Are the words directed to God? (Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee; How Great Thou Art; Great Is Thy Faithfulness; I Love You Lord; Open Up the Heavens) Or are the lyrics directed to one another? (O Worship the King; To God Be the Glory; Blessed Assurance; In Christ Alone; No Longer Slaves)

This little word (to) has a good bit to do with where our eyes focus. Are they looking to the heavens, where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father? Or are they catching the eyes of those around us, encouraging… spurring one another on? 

FOR —Closely related, and a place I have much sin to confess… Who are you singing for? When I first discovered I could sing—back in high school—I would sing for the people around me. Always and only. I would do my best to demonstrate to everyone within a few seats of me just how talented I was. I was singing for the praise of those around me. I was, perhaps more accurately, singing to others for my own gain. But these days I try to sing for the edification—the building up—of those gathered to worship. And, on the days I get it right, only for the glory of God.

WITH —Who are you singing with? This is one of the reasons I love being part of a free-church, or non-liturgical tradition. There is a beautiful, powerful, Biblical emphasis on being together. Being family. Being the Body of Christ. We often think of this in the ways we serve alongside each other outside of the worship gathering, but when we meet with God, we are still the Body. We need each other. (“The eye can’t say to the foot, ‘I don’t need you.’” - 1 Cor 12) Many of the pronouns in our lyrics remind us of this. I don’t sing in a box all by myself, or even with other people in boxes. We are joined. We worship together. (O God Our Help in Ages Past; Everlasting God; How Great Is Our God; We Will Remember)

OVER —Who are you singing over? Perhaps this is a new one for you. But when you lift your voice, there is a benefit for those around you. I don’t mean that they hear how well you sing (or grimace when you miss a note). I mean something happens when praise leaves your lips… when worship goes beyond your personal space. It blessed others. I suspect you know this is true because you’ve been on the receiving end. Someone near you, perhaps behind you, has sung their joy and it lifted your sad soul. Or someone has lifted their hands in praise and it straightened your slumped shoulders. There are times your singing ministers to those who are too broken to sing on their own. When you can’t lift your voice because of your hurt, your brokenness, even your sin, we want to sing for you.

OVER, part 2— This is my favorite. Who is singing over you? God! I’ve known this for decades. I’ve had the honor of teaching this from pulpits for years. But the words of Zephaniah 3:17 never grow old:
   "The Lord your God is living among you.
      He is a mighty savior.
    He will take delight in you with gladness.
      With His love, he will calm all your fears.
      He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."

Got any to add?

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

12 Steps for Planning Worship

There can be so much more to planning worship, but if you'll follow these steps, you'll be off to a great start!

  • Pray (Best if this happens more than once in the process!)
  • Read sermon text, if you have one. Consider reading in 3 or more translations.
  • Brainstorm* congregational song options.
  • Brainstorm* other worship elements (prayer, video, drama, presentational music, other creative ministries).
  • Determine the structure for the day (e.g. Psalm 95, Tabernacle, Isaiah 6, Historical 4-fold patter, Ascend the Hill—Vertical Church, etc.).
  • Decide which songs / other worship elements.
  • Arrange big chunks for best flow.
  • Consider transitions between worship elements.
  • Then consider…
    1. Is the service Trinitarian, including Father, Son and Spirit language?
    2. Are all generations represented; are you serving the whole gathering?
    3. Have you considered 3 audiences (glorify God, edify the Church, testify to the Community)?
    4. Is text direction going in both directions in the service (vertical and horizontal)?
    5. Are you singing the gospel?
    6. Is there adequate variety (from intimate to epic), etc.?
  • Decide if #3-#7 should be re-visited / re-worked.
  • Attend to details:
    1. song keys,
    2. vocal / instrumental road map,
    3. house / stage lighting.
  • Assign / invite personnel.

*Brainstorming, by nature, means not evaluating. Start with all possibilities.

For more about worship planning, check out my book "Worship Leader Handbook."

Monday, July 30, 2018

Worship Gardening

"Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.”
Colossians 3:16

The message fills us.

Teaching/counseling one other edifies us.

Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs give us a framework.

But gratitude fuels us.

Many of us spend a lot of energy on the framework. The structures of worship.

Some of us focus our time on education and conversation.

A few of us do all we can to make sure we are feasting on the Bread of Life. That we sing the gospel. That Jesus is not only the object of our worship, but the subject as well.

But I don’t hear a lot about the fuel.

Except at Thanksgiving. Okay… 2 weeks around Thanksgiving.

Maybe this is why our worship is sometimes sputtering, even when the content is rich, the framework is spot on, and the people are knowledgable. We need more fuel.

We need thankful hearts.

Have you ever tried to shut down someone who was genuinely grateful? Their life was spared. Their child came home. Their best friend got saved.

Worship for them is not a Sunday activity; it’s a condition of the soul—fueled by a heart filled with thankfulness.

So worship leaders, cultivate thankfulness. Don’t convince your folks they SHOULD sing; help find that place where they can’t help but sing. 

Cultivate thankfulness. Don’t make worship about forms, functions or musical style, but the fertile soil of the heart. 

I suspect you’ll have a hard time shutting them down.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Do NOT Sing from the Heart

It was an unlikely source of insight… a recent airing of the TV show “Code Black.”

In the story line a small rock band, Escalade, was in an accident. There’s a guy in the band talking about his musical gift compared to that of his girlfriend. He tells the doctor, "The truth is, she's better than me; she is. Look, I sing from my heart. But she... she sings from her bones.”

I’ve spent decades trying to get people to sing from their hearts. Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong.

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” (Hebrews 4:12)

This makes me wonder, what if we invested more time (in and out of rehearsals) using scripture and worship lyrics (and other resources) to disciple those who sing in our churches? What might happen if the Word gets into our bones and then we sing it out?

Isn’t this what the best preachers do?

They don’t study the Bible so they can teach it like a Shakespeare sonnet, a mathematical theorem, or a chemical equation. They immerse themselves in passages of Scripture, they swim in the deep waters of theology, they walk with their congregants through the joys, sorrows, and monotony of every-dailyness. And then they stand in a pulpit and the truths God has shown them are squeezed from their bones, through their heart and mind, and across their lips.

I’m not suggesting worship leaders—song leaders—start preaching. I am encouraging us to think of our Biblically rich song lyrics as pre-written sermons that we can declare with great authority, clarity, and expressiveness.

Think of the worship leaders you have found most impactful. I suspect you’ll see evidence of this. Maybe it was hard for you describe and this helps. 

It’s not emotionalism. It’s not intellectualism.

It is deeper than our hearts and our minds. It’s nestled in between our joints and our marrow.

"I sing from my heart, but she sings from her bones."

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