Monday, September 14, 2020

Why Would they Follow YOU?

I recently had a Sunday off.

If you're in full-time ministry, you know that doesn't happen a lot.

My bride and I were visiting some family members in the greater Cincinnati area, and I wondered where we would worship.
...we could go to the church I grew up in. But COVID-19 meant my my couldn't go. Nah.
...we could go to one of the prevailing large churches in the area. There are several. Nah.
...we could go to a little local church where we didn't know anyone. Nah.
...we could go to a very small church in the middle of nowhere, about 30 minutes away.



Because my friend David was preaching there. I know and love my buddy David. His heart is Christ-like. His mind is sharp. His disposition is for people. And he's my friend.

I got to thinking a little more about why that was my decision. And I got all challenged.

Would the folks I lead every week--and remember, I'm not the preacher--would they come to my church instead of the church they grew up in, a prevailing large church in our area, or a little church near their house because I'm the one leading them in worship?

Honestly, I sort of doubt it. But I'd sure like to be that guy.

Here are some things that may help me get there:
    1) Connect with the people more than the music, or the scripture, or the song story, or the technology.
    2) Connect with people more when I'm off the stage than when I'm on it.
    3) Don't worry about whether they like me or not. Just like them! (Who are the 5 people you most like to be around? Be yourself, but more like that.)
    4) From the wisdom of Louie Giglio, "Lead from love and acceptance, not for love and acceptance." Chances are, people won't want to follow a needy leader.
    5) Be authentic. Don't whine. Don't brag. But be real. As Craig Groeschel says at the end of all of his podcasts, "People would rather follow a leader who is always real than one who is always right."
    6) Be you. God made you a masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10) One more influencer, Ian Morgan Cron, always closes his podcast with the words of Oscar Wilde: "Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
    7) Love them well. Always. Unconditionally.

What would you add to my list?

Monday, August 31, 2020

Supernatural Tricks of the Trade?

These aren't really tricks. They're more like keys. But they are definitely supernatural.

1) Thanksgiving. It may be impossible to be filled with thanksgiving and not have it overflow into worship. If you will cultivate gratitude in your heart, you will worship more. And if we cultivate it in the hearts of our people, they will worship more. Why in the world do we "reserve" our thanksgiving texts and songs for mid and late November? "Enter His gates with thanksgiving" should be the mantra of the worship leader!

2) Awe. Seldom are we more moved to worship than in moments of awe. Seeing the ocean for the first time... or the hundredth. Glimpsing the grand canyon. Seeing beauty of any kind that is greater than you can imagine. Or remember. I remember the intense feeling of sacred-ness when entering the old National Cathedral of Canada. And seeing the expansive countryside in east Africa. Awe evokes worship. Psalm 65:8 helps so much...

Those who live at the ends of the earth
stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
you inspire shouts of joy.

And remember, the early church was characterized by this: "A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders." (Acts 2:43)

3) Spirit. Nothing trumps the Spirit. He's like the Ace of spades in a game of spades. Time a bazillion. We learn by the Spirit. We lead by the Spirit. We lead in the Spirit. We welcome the Spirit. We love by the Spirit. If you were going to study only one "topic" in the New Testament to empower your worship leading, Spirit would be the best focus I know. After all, the Father is seeking those who will worship in Spirit and in Truth.

I recognize “tricks” is a terrible moniker. These are not tricks. God doesn’t play tricks on us, and heaven help us if we play tricks on one another. But they are supernatural… above the natural…keys. These are the things God has given us to ensure that our worldly worship has a heavenly dynamic.

What would you add?

Monday, August 24, 2020

Why would they come Back?

Those of us who have been having in-person gatherings again after our churches were shut down for COVID-19 have been wondering... will they come back?

How many?


Who won't?

It seems wise, in these days, to ask what could bring them back?

Two generations ago it would've been a sense of commitment. The nature of that word has certainly changed.

A generation ago it might have been great preaching and great music. But now that's all available online.

For this generation, I'm convinced the only reason they will come back is for the Presence.

The word Presence makes me think of the Bread of Presence in the Tabernacle. It makes me think of the incarnation, where Jesus left heaven to be present with humanity. It makes me think of the Holy Spirit who is always fully present within us.

So... how do we do our part in our worship gatherings that will make room for God to do His part?

First, let's remember just how important this question is. We are not the Holy Spirit. It isn't our job to make people feel something. To make people do something.

Second, let's remember that the question still leaves us stuff to do. Nearly every time God does something, He does it through people. People like you. Like me.

So we do at least three things:

1) Pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray for the Spirit to manifest His Presence.

2) Plan. Choose songs prayerfully. Since God inhabits the praise of His people, plan services so praise can happen. Be sure to include lyrics that are directed from the hearts of worshipers to the heart of God.

3) Evoke. This word simply means to draw out. So do that. Don't provoke--that's pushing. Evoke--that's leading. Draw out of your people what is already in them--praise for their Savior.

One more giant thing--lead in and by the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul talks about praying and singing with the SPIRIT and with the MIND. You're already giving thought to your leadership or you wouldn't be reading this. Now surrender your heart to the Spirit and let Him "fill and thrill" you. Let Him guide you. Let Him love you. Let Him rule in your heart. And encourage others to do the same.

Worship on the other side of this Coronavirus epidemic may actually be better if we do these things faithfully. Can you imagine?!

Monday, August 17, 2020

10 Ways I BLEW IT as a Worship-Pastor Dad

I think have been a pretty good dad. Maybe some day I'll share a post about 10 Ways I CRUSHED IT as a Worship-Pastor Dad. But for today, I'd really like some of you who are still parenting children in your home to learn from my mistakes. My regrets. So let me steady myself for the beating you're about to give me in your mind as you read... Ok. I'm ready.
10 Ways I Blew it As a Worship Pastor-Dad (in no particular order):
  1. Self care - I regret that I didn’t take care of myself. I was morbidly obese and largely inactive. The consequences of that ranged from as minor as... not being able to ride a roller coaster with my girls to as major as... poorly modeling what it looks like to be a healthy human.
  2. Modeling time with Jesus every day - I wish y daughters would have “caught” me with my Bible open or my head bowed. I spent time with Jesus more days than not--most years. But seldom in front of them.
  3. I was afraid of my kids - this may only apply to us people pleasers, but I really struggled with push back. There were often times when I would hold back what I felt was right because I was afraid our girls wouldn't like me. Wouldn't want to be with me. For a few months, for example, I would use an EXPO marker to write verses of scripture about our identity in Christ on their bathroom mirror. They thought it was dumb. I stopped.
  4. Family devotionals / Scripture conversations and memorization - In my head this was always too grand, too complicated. In reality it could’ve been so simple. Share a thought I'd read that day in the Bible or in a book. Asking my sweet bride or our daughters what they had noticed about God that day. We could have had a memory verse for each week and repeated it when we ate together. I was overwhelmed at the the thought of doing something complicated.
  5. Praying for them daily. About their future. For theIr husbands to be. I did pray. I still do. I wish I’d prayed more and more specifically.
  6. Too much surviving the moments; not enough thinking long term. - This may be a byproduct of aging, but when I was younger, which means when our girls were little, I often just wanted to get through the day, the project, the event, or the weekend. I wish I knew then what I’ve learned in the last few years from Orange. We get 936 weeks. That’s it. Big picture first.
  7. Money management - I said yes way too often, but more than that, I said yes without consulting the Father. I wish we'd prayed about our finances, prayerfully prepared a budget. And I wish we'd included our daughters in those conversations early on.
  8. Loving their mom insufficiently - This deserves to be a book instead of a tiny chunk of a blog. I so wish I’d loved Jackie better. Moment by moment. Hour by hour. Week by week. Season by season. Year by year. In big ways, and in small ways. In faithfulness with my eyes. If I loved Jackie in the first 8 years of their lives as much—as well as—I have the last 8 years of our lives, I’d have been a better dad. The best thing a parent can do for their child, at least when it comes to teaching them about relationships, is to love their spouse well.
  9. Talked about church more than Jesus - this sort of makes sense. I work at a church. Jesus does stuff at church. But I wish I’d done better at making our lives more about Jesus and keeping the distinction clear between the Bride and the Bridegroom.
  10. Going to bed late and sleeping late - this is where it all could have started. I wish I’d started going to bed EVEN WHEN I WAS A CERTIFIED NIGHT OWL—at 9.30 and getting up at 5.30. The time I’ve had by myself in the early morning in recent months has been amazing. So much of what I already talked about might have been different if I’d been the first one up by an hour every day.
So that's my top 10. (There are more, but I can only take so much of a beating!) I'm curious, is there one you'd share too? Let's help young parents to better than we did!

Monday, August 10, 2020

Pace of Change in Church

I like to go fast.

I like to drive fast, think fast, eat fast, and lead fast. 

If I have what I sense is a God-sourced dream, I want it to come true now--if not sooner.

Churches move sssssllllllloooooowwwwww...

They like to drive cautiously, think thoroughly, extend the feast, and follow slowly.

If they hear a God-sourced dream, they want to savor it and work out all the kinks before diving in.

See a challenge here?

Maybe you're like me. Or maybe you are in a church with someone like me in leadership. 

I'm sorry.

Here's a phrase that I've found helpful in recent years, as I've tried to slow my leadership roll:

Change at the pace of pastoral care.

For example, there's an older couple in our church. I doubt seriously they'll ever read this post, but if they do--great! I didn't really know them at all. I'd been in this ministry role for about 3 years. She was having surgery. It was my turn to go to the hospital. We spent nearly a half-day together, the three of us. I heard their love story. I heard about their health struggles. I met two of their adult children. We laughed. We cried. We prayed. We hugged. It was a better-than-average hospital visit; we connected.

The next time I mentioned a need we had in the church, for something un-budgeted, they were very supportive. 

Change at the pace of pastoral care.

Now, let's check our motives here. I did not go see these folks in the hospital so they would vote for a need in my ministry. That's manipulative. In fact, I'd say it's downright gross. And they didn't support me because they were indebted to me for simply doing my job. That's scorekeeping, something 1 Corinthians 13 says love doesn't do.

I extended pastoral care. They received it. There was a connection at the heart level, experientially. It's simply what is supposed to happen when we pastor people well. 

And the more our hearts are knit together in this way, the more I want to slow down--because my heart is for them. And the more they want to help out--because their heart is for me.

And so if you are struggling with the pace of change in your ministry, maybe the key is to focus on pastoral care instead of change. Find yourself face to face in spiritual care so you can be shoulder to shoulder in spiritual work.

I am so grateful for the ways my pastor, Tim Harris, has taught me this. I sure wish I had been able to learn it 30 years ago!

Monday, August 3, 2020

Is Intimacy a Dirty Word?

I wouldn't call "intimacy" a dirty word, but I'd call it dangerous.

Still we need it.

I maintain there are (at least) 3 different kinds of intimacy, and keeping the borders strong between them can revolutionize your church-life: physical, emotional, and spiritual.

First, there's physical intimacy. This is reserved for romantic relationships. It is in degree, of course, from the brush of a shoulder to the marriage bed. When you're single, dating, exploring... you should experience some--but not all--physical intimacy. When you're married, still dating your spouse, and still exploring that one relationship... you should experience all physical intimacy. Keep the boundary strong between single and married rock solid. And if you're single, keep the boundary for yourself and your future spouse. (Hebrews 13:4)

Second, there's emotional intimacy. This exists at some level in all relationships, of course. This is a "feelings only" sort of intimacy. Those feelings can be platonic, like between siblings or parents and children. It can also be blazing fire, like between newlyweds or fighting friends. (Fighting is one of the most intimate things we do.) Emotional intimacy is powerful and, yes, dangerous. If you're married, keep emotional intimacy in check between you and anyone and everyone of the opposite sex. This doesn't mean you can't feel for someone, it just means that those feelings must continue to be defined by the relationship. You and I have feelings of compassion and care for friends who are women. But the boundary must be strong to keep the feelings there. When we sense that those feelings may be trying to test the boundaries... that's a red flag, waving strong. We have to be careful. Stir our affections for our wives again. Recognize that the spiritual attack of the enemy is involved. God has made a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13), and we MUST find it. 

Third, there's spiritual intimacy. Sometimes this one feels like emotional intimacy. But never must it cross into physical intimacy. Spiritual intimacy is the only one of these three that can be shared between members of the same sex. In fact, it's often better that way! If I cultivate a spiritual friendship with another guy, like my friend Tog Goodson for example, it is easier to disclose battles, sins, victories, and discoveries without risking an emotional affair, or obviously, a physical one.

All three require vulnerability. And the vulnerability you demonstrate must be appropriate to the definition of the relationship. Be vulnerable with your friends... your fellow believers. But beware of how vulnerable you are with members of the opposite sex. It's a minefield. The mines are real. They can blow your life up. Your enemy hopes they will.

Here's the giant challenge: every time we avoid intimacy we invite distance. And so our spiritual connections remain minimal, which stunts our spiritual growth. The testimony of scripture, especially the New Testament, is overwhelming. We grow up into Christ better together. We wither spiritually when we are alone. (Hebrew 10:24-25) And loneliness is one of the greatest epidemics of our day. 

And here's the giant hope. When God was far away, He came near in the person of Jesus Christ. And that Christ lives in you! (Colossians 1:27) There is hope. The one who demonstrated intimacy in astounding ways--in clear boundaries and self-giving love--is living Christ's life through you. You can trust others like Jesus trusted Peter, James, and John. And if you are betrayed by someone you trust, Jesus knows how that feels too. Judas was, after all, one of his twelve closest friends.

My encouragement to you today is two-fold. First, clarify and strengthen your boundaries. Second, pursue the right kind of intimacy within the right kind of relationships. You will be more like Jesus when you do. And your life will have a Jesus-shaped impact.

Intimacy isn't a dirty word at all. It's one of the most beautiful in the world!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Call a meeting with 25 year-old me!

I'm seeing more and more people writing/talking about this sort of thing. Now that I'm about to be 55 (WHAT!?!) years old, what would I go back and tell 25 year old me?

So, so much.

But where it concerns worship and Christian living, I think these seven would top the list:

1) Find a mentor. No.. find 6 mentors. And do it now. Meet with them every month or two. Walk into those conversations prepared, with a list of at least 3-5 open-ended questions. Also have handy any frustrations, tensions, or struggles you're having. And then ask your questions. Use as few words as possible. And then listen. Take notes. These guys don't have to be spiritual giants, but they do need to be ahead of you on the journey. Every year, compile your notes and review them annually. By the time you've done this 25 times you will have a PhD in practical living and ministry! (And potentially one whale of a book project.)

2) Get a journaling Bible and write in it. Daily. Don't just read the Bible, interact with it. Imagine yourself in the stories... in God's story. If it is a parable, identify which character you are. Write until the journaling space is full and then get another Bible and do it again. Your goal is not to get into the Bible, but to get the Bible into you. 

3) Shape your ministry by helping everyone else fulfill their God-dreams. If someone dreams of being a great worship leader, do all you can to help. If they want to be a Hollywood film-maker, give them lots of opportunities to make films for the church. If they "only" want to be a faithful choir member, that's okay. Don't make others into your image, help them live into the image of Christ on them.

4) Lead from a place of love and acceptance, not for the love and acceptance of others. (Thanks, Louie Giglio!) Seriously. If you aren't feeling loved and accepted, spend more time with God. If you have a sense of being 100% loved and accepted by your Heavenly Father, you will crave SO MUCH LESS the affirmation of those around you. Invite someone else into this tension so they can help you monitor it.

5) Make friends. Leadership is lonely, and perhaps leadership in the church is loneliest of all. Don't feel sorry for yourself about that, just find a way to make friends. Other guys are looking for friends too, but they're too afraid, too busy, or too distracted to go first. So ask a guy around your age to grab lunch. If it's easy to talk with them, do it again. And again. You will need people you can talk with about stuff at home and at church who don't have a "dog in that fight."

6) Love your wife more than anything or anyone except God. There's no Christmas pageant, Easter musical, Night of Worship, or choir retreat that's worth putting her aside. After salvation, she is God's greatest gift to you. Treat her like a Princess of the Most High God. Because she is. And when you do, your prayer life will be so much more powerful! (1 Peter 3:7) 

7) Oh yeah... your prayer life. It is your fuel line. If the tank is full and the engine is powerful, that's great. It's also useless unless gasoline can get to the engine. Pray like your marriage, your ministry, and your life depend on it. Because they do.

Gosh, y'all. I really want to go find the me of 30 years ago and give him this letter. What would you tell him? Better yet, what would you tell your young self?