Monday, May 20, 2019

Worship Fashion -- Really?

Sunday morning fashion.

I used to think this was an absurd thing to spend energy considering. Seriously. Does it matter what we wear on stage?

Well, yes. But maybe not in the ways you’ve been conditioned by the American church culture to think.

What changed my mind?

I stumbled upon instructions from God about what to wear when in worship. Check out Exodus 20:26… “Do not approach my altar by going up steps. If you do, someone might look up under your clothing and see your nakedness.”

Yep. That’s really in the Bible. In the law. In the instructions for worship.

And so I made myself think a little more carefully about the role of fashion in worship. Here are 3 things that help me:

1) Be modest. The most direct takeaway for the modern church in that verse in Exodus is certainly to regard our modesty. If anything about the way you dress on the platform draws attention to places that would embarrass your great-grandmother, change clothes. Guys, nothing that calls attention to anything. This means if you wear skinny jeans, ask an older woman if there’s anything distracting about them. Gals, 5 fingers below your neck is as low as it should go. We don’t want to be distracted by cleavage. And knee length or lower. We don’t want to be noticing your legs. Remember, men are wired by our creator to be extremely visual. Help us think about Jesus, not you.

2) Be authentic. If you are more comfortable in dress clothes, don’t try to wear a t-shirt just to fit in. And if you are a jeans guy, don’t wear a suit that makes you feel and look awkward. There are limitations here, of course. If you’re most comfortable in a a speedo, don’t wear one to lead worship. Authenticity should defer to the community. Which brings us to...

3) Be contextual. In some churches, coat and tie is the only way to be respected. If you were on a mission trip to lead worship in Haiti, you would dress in a way that honors the locals. The same is true in a church. Of course in other places, the converse is true. The only guy in a suit looks like he must be visiting. So dress in the context of where you are. Speaking of mission trips, if you’re in the country, don’t dress like you’re in New York City. And vice versa. If you’re in an arts district, don’t dress like you are part of the Dukes of Hazard. Be contextual to your congregation, and to your neighborhood.

The first one is clear: be modest. The other two are more of a tension to manage than a problem to solve. If you want to make a statement with your fashion, let it be this one: "I’m not here to impress you about anything but Jesus.”

Monday, May 13, 2019

Three Cs Can Change Your Life

Consider the people in your church, in your ministry, on your core team. They are, I’d imagine, a diverse bunch.

Some treat you like a faithful fan. They are your cheerleaders. They encourage you when you’re down. They ask how they can help. They look for ways to promote your ministry—and you—around every corner. You feel GREAT when you’re around these people.

They contribute.

Others treat you like a valued member of the team. They gladly receive everything you have to offer. They may be thankful, and sometimes they express their gratitude. They are probably the majority of the people in your church. You feel FINE when you’re around these people.

They consume.

And then there are those who seem to devalue you and your best efforts. They are against every initiative. If there is a conversation about you, they will either graciously remain silent or maliciously speak ill of you. You feel TERRIBLE when you’re around these people.

They contaminate.

It isn’t hard to imagine where you want to spend most of your time, is it? Those who contribute are my favorites too.

Now, flip the script.

Consider the segments of your congregation:
   children
   youth
   young adults
   middle adults
   older adults
   really old adults.

Now, be brutally honest with yourself: When you’re around them how do you make them feel?

Do you contaminate? Consume? Contribute? 

Ask yourself again… not how do you think you behave around them. But how do you MAKE THEM FEEL when you’re around them?

There will always be all three kinds of folks. If Jesus had them in his group, we’ll have them in ours too. But I’d imagine there are some things we could do, you and I, to contaminate less, to consume less, and to contribute more.

Perhaps your (full time, part time, volunteer) ministry would be served if you took 3 minutes right now to imagine some things you could do. As a launching point, I encourage you to reflect on Eugene Peterson's translation of Romans 12:9-18a:

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.
Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.
Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.
Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.
Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.
Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality
 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.
Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy;
share tears when they’re down.
Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up.
Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.

Monday, May 6, 2019

10 Books Every Christian Should Read

Leaders are learners. If you want to lead people, commit to being a life-long learner. Reading is one of the best ways I've discovered to do that. When I pick up a great book, I can interact with it. I highlight. I argue in the margins. I share quotes with my team.

And my worldview is shaped in ways I'm confident please the Father.

So in addition to reading our Bibles, I suggest these. They have, each one, changed my life.
  1. Knowing God by J. I. Packer
  2. Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
  3. Walking with God by John Eldridge
  4. What’s So Amazing about Grace by Phillip Yancey
  5. Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster
  6. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  7. Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  8. Moments with the Savior by Ken Gire
  9. The Applause of Heaven by Max Lucado
  10. Everybody Always by Bob Goff
What about you? Which books would you add? 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Mirror, Mirror

The quote is as iconic as any in American film: "Mirror, mirror, on the wall — who is the fairest of them all?”

What little girl hasn’t stood in front of a mirror, hoping to discover that she is—indeed—the prettiest princess in the world? 

Here’s the thing about mirrors: they are truth tellers. When I stand in front of the mirror, it doesn’t tell me how fit I am, but how unfit. It doesn’t tell me how beautiful my hair is, but that I don’t have any left. It doesn’t tell me how young I am, but it shows me wrinkles that prove otherwise.

I wonder if we could think about stage presence as worship leaders like a mirror. And perhaps in two ways.

First, what you see from those you lead is a pretty good representation of what they see from you. Human behavior, especially in North America, is to reflect what you see. Try it some time. Sit across from someone and scratch your ear. Chances are, they’ll suddenly have an itch on their ear. Or sit up taller. Watch them respond. It may take a few minutes. And it may happen with increasing dependability the longer you sit across from them.

If this is true, and my experience has been that it is, what you are seeing from the congregation you lead is likely a whole lot like what they see from you as you lead. Not just you individually, but you as a team.

A few years ago, our church hosted a week long revival with Life Action Ministries. The band was very, very good. The songs were typical of what we do on Sunday mornings. But the musical-worship time was extreme. The joy? Extreme. The celebration? Extreme. The tenderness? Extreme. The surrender? Extreme.

The point leader of their worship team was not so “emotive,” but the others on stage were. The bass player got on his knees when they sang “I Surrender.” The keyboard player had a smile that would brighten the depths of Mammoth Cave. The violin player radiated joy.

And our congregation did what they saw.

I’m guessing yours does too.

But there’s another way I’d like us to think about mirrors. Psalm 34:5 says, “Those who look to Him are radiant with joy.” And 2 Corinthians 3:18 brings that ancient song to mind when Paul writes: “All of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord.” 

When we stand before our people, those we lead can see us radiant with joy. They can see us reflecting the glory of the Lord. They can have something worth mirroring, because of Whom we mirror.

Look at music, you’ll reflect musicianship.
Look at people, you’ll reflect their spiritual condition.
Look at the wall, you’ll reflect emptiness.
Look at Jesus, you’ll reflect the Light of the world.

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Checklist for Leading Great Meetings

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 exceedingly helpful in preparing to lead good meetings:

   1. Plan ahead. Give at least 7-10 days notice.

   2. 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.)

   3. Ask those who will be in the meeting what they know of that needs to be discussed. Do this early on.

   4. Divide the meeting into 4 sections:
       a) Devotion/Prayer
       b) Quick updates
       c) One big thing
       d) Wrap up

   5. Assemble an agenda based on the best flow of those items in “b", and send it out at least 24 hours before the meeting.

   6. Pray for the people who will attend, and for the content to be covered.

   7. Set up the room for that particular meeting. (Tables, chairs, something to write on and with, whiteboard and expo markers, etc.)

   8. Arrive early. Be first. Welcome people as they enter. Ask about their day, and if appropriate ask about the things you’ve been praying with them for God to do.

   9. Start on time. If you know a team member is running late, use discretion in whether or not to wait or start without them.

   10. Go as fast as you can on the stuff that doesn’t need much time. (Praying for discernment as you go.)

   11. 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.

   12. Relax. Laugh and cry. Play and work. Have fun and help others have fun.

What would you add?

Monday, April 15, 2019

God with a Kleenex

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4)

Most of us are, understandably, drawn to “these things” that will be gone forever. 

After all, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a day without sorrow, yet we’re promised a sorrowless eternity.

We can’t fathom a week without pain, but one day nothing will ache. Not a tooth, a back, or a head.

We cannot begin to dream of a year with no crying. None. Not over skinned knees, broken friendships, or ended marriages.

Our brains can’t comprehend a season with no death. Old people live forever. Children are never to be buried by their parents.

Indeed, “All of these things are gone forever” in heaven.

Hallelujah!

Yet in the beauty and glory of that image, I wonder if we miss the most staggering thing about that verse. And it is the very first word.

He.

He = God.

God will wipe every tear from your eye.

The King eternal will step from His majestic throne with a heavenly Kleenex and wipe your eyes.

Oh, the intimacy! The tenderness. The touch of the Father’s hand.

My heart aches for that kind of Heavenly Father.

And in the staggering provision of a loving God, we don’t have to wait for heaven.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

We can do that today. Right now.

Just have to take our own tissues.

Monday, April 8, 2019

If You Can't Sing, Please Do!


I love to hear great choral music, a tight women’s trio, or a gifted solo performer. Seriously, I could sit and listen for hours. Often, especially in live performances, the hair on my arms will stand up, a chill will run down my spine, or tears will moisten my eyes. There is nothing like beautiful music from those gifted to sing!

You have that experience too?

But there’s another beauty I hope to evoke today.

I love to hear, in church services above all, people who are terrible singers belting out the truths of the songs we sing.

Every time this happens, it’s like my soul smiles from ear to ear. (Wait, is that possible?)

I think there are at least five reasons for this unusual treat:
  1. Their love for Jesus obviously trumps their fear of what others will think. Not sure about you, but for me this indicates that they are the same way in the world as they are in the church service. Their love for Jesus will trump their fear of what others think.
  2. Their love for Jesus inspires people around them. This may seem counter-intuitive. How can bad singing inspire people? In addition to the above, it testifies to fellow worshipers that the gathering is about Jesus, not refined singing. This is a built-in win!
  3. Their love for Jesus gets expressed, which fuels their love for Jesus. You’ve experienced this, yes? When you sing—out loud, not under your breath—the profound truths of song lyrics about who Jesus is and what He has done, it makes you fall more in love with Him. I love that this happens for “non-singers” and singers alike.
  4. It is counter-cultural. In our specialized society, we expect people to be good at whatever they do and leave the rest for another specialist. But in following Jesus there’s no specialty. There’s just family. We love it when our brother or sister sings because of who they are, not because of what they do. This is not the way of the world, but it is the way of Jesus.
  5. Non-singer, it makes your life better. There is scientific evidence that the commands of God to SING are good for you! It will cheer your heart. It will do things in you, physiologically, that nothing else can do. So as much as I love this for what the rest of us get out of it, I want you to sing most of all because of what you will get out of it.

The world says, “Sing, if you’re good enough.” the Bible says, “Sing, because God is good.”

So if you can’t sing, please do!