Monday, September 16, 2019

A Tribute to Bob Kinser

What follows is a tribute to my brother-in-law, Bob Kinser. Pictured here with his dad and me, Bob died tragically on Monday, September 9, 2019. It is also a tribute to Jesus. My hope in posting it here is that it will be a way to remember my friend Bob. My prayer is that these words might open up our eyes to the way Jesus sees us. Regardless of when you read, would you pause at the end and pray for my wife Jackie, who just had to bury her brother, and their father, Melvin, who has lost his only son? Thank you.



Jesus would have loved hanging out with Bob.

Maybe better said, Jesus loved hanging out with Bob. 

Seriously.

Jesus loved to have fun, and no one had fun—that I know, anyway—like Bob Kinser. Jesus laughed a lot. He was fun to be around. And Jesus loved to be around people who were fun to be around.

One of the biographers of His life described it this way:

The Son of Man [that’s just a nickname for Jesus]… The Son of Man feasts and drinks and you say, “He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of…” let’s just say Jesus was a friend of the people that self-righteous people didn’t like.

Jesus loved hanging out with Bob.

How do I know Jesus was fun to be around? Because of the way he LOVED kids! Just like Bob. Have you ever known anyone who loved kids as much as Bob did?

You may have heard this story from one of Jesus’ first followers, a doctor named Luke:

Some people brought their little children for Jesus to bless. But when his disciples saw them doing this, they told the people to stop bothering him. So Jesus called the children over to him and said, “Let the children come to me! Don’t try to stop them. People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom. You will never get into God’s kingdom unless you enter it like a child!”

You know another reason Jesus loved hanging out with Bob?

Because Bob LOVED animals. Oh, those dogs. From Butch when he was a kid to the, what was it—like 17 dogs living with him when he died? Bob loved dogs. Not justdogs, but especiallydogs.

I can imagine Jesus being out on the boat with Bob when he would take Pete, the Labrador Retriever who loved to swim, out on the river in Petersburg. The wind blowing in Jesus’ long hair and Bob’s… well, mostly bald head. And Bob loving his dog and Jesus thinking, “I remember when Dad and I thought up how much Labs would love water.” Imagine, Jesus watching Bob, made in the image of God, loving an animal made by the imagination of God.

But Jesus also loved hanging out with Bob because Bob HATED injustice. Some of you… okay, most of you could tell a story or two about when Bob would lose his ever-loving mind over some act of injustice. Someone didn’t get treated right at work, or in a restaurant, or anywhere… and Bob would be furious. Not at the person as much as the injustice. (Though sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.) Jesus is a fan of justice too.

In fact, one of my favorite Bible verses was written by one of Jesus’ original disciples. It says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and He will give you everything you need.”

One more. Jesus loved hanging out with Bob because Bob loved to help people. All people. Didn’t matter about skin color, income level, education, or age. He loved helping kids, teenagers, and adults of every age. Bob had the heart — the giant heart — of a servant. And Jesus is a fan of servants. 

You may know this, but Jesus said of himself that even Hedidn’t come to be served but to serve. And to give His life as a ransom for many.

It’s that last line I want to finish up with.

Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many.

You know... ransom. The money paid to set a prisoner free.

For anyone who feels like — or believes themself to be — a prisoner to guilt, shame, addiction, hopelessness, or anything else, I want to tell you some good news. Jesus died a criminal’s death so you could live a free person’s life. He gave His life as a ransom for your freedom.

Sure Jesus loved to hang out with Bob. We all did. But Jesus loved Bob more than that. He loved him so much that He came to earth as a helpless baby, grew up in the dusty streets of Palestine, wandered around the Middle East as a homeless preacher, and then was killed by religious leaders who couldn’t see that God was walking among them.

Friends, I would hate for you to miss what they missed. Jesus is here. He’s hanging out with us, too. He loves you, too. And if you’ve never thought about the idea that Jesus loves you and loves to be with you, maybe before you leave Bob’s story behind, it’s time to talk with someone.

As one of my favorite Bible teachers says, “Jesus makes life better, and He makes you better at life.” If you’re looking for a way to make life better and ways to be better at life, following the teachings of Jesus is the best way I know how.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Worship Pastor -- a Good Job Title?

About a decade ago, while looking for a church to serve in the ministry of music/worship, I had an interview with a prospective committee. It was a great interview. God moved in the middle of it. We laughed, and we cried, and we talked for a long time.

One of the questions they asked was especially interesting to me.

"What's the difference between a Minister of Music and a Worship Pastor?"

I've thought of that conversation dozens of times. While the difference could be under-stated or over-stated, I'd like to take a quick minutes to talk about why I think of myself as a worship pastor--and hope that those of you in similar positions, regardless of your official title, might do the same.

Why?

As a worship pastor, I find that the more I pastor people between Sundays, the better I can pastor people on Sundays.

By pastoring people, I mean caring for them. Checking in. Spending time outside of rehearsals and services. Shepherding their souls. I love getting to do this.

And how do I pastor people on Sundays?

I think of it in three ways:
   Pastoring people on the stage;
   Pastoring moments from the stage;
   Pastoring people from the stage.

While I certainly have a role to play as a worship leader for all of the people in the room, my primary "flock" is the folks I share the stage with--band, vocals, choir, and those in the tech booth. For those closest to me, I must pray. I seek to know what's happening in their lives. While I'm not their pastor, for many of these folks I'm more of a pastor to them than our senior pastor is. What a beautiful burden!

Also, while I guide the congregation through a worship gathering, there are likely to be a few moments. High praise, joy. Tender worship, intimacy. Transitions in need of a guide. These moments are like fences, brooks, and verdant pastures a shepherd would walk his sheep through. Those moments need pastoring.

And then, as second fiddle to the preacher for sure, I want to pastor the people in the room from the stage. To love them with song selection, and textual expression. To catch the eye of a struggler in the lyric of comfort.  To smile a look of hope to the man struggling to hold his marriage together. This is a beautiful part of my job. I delight to pastor the people from the stage. This horizontal dynamic in worship is priceless.

How about you? If you are the lead pastoral musician in your church, how else do you think of your worship leader as a pastor? If you are among those being led in worship, how do you experience this sort of pastoring?

Monday, September 2, 2019

Needy Much?

I'll start with a confession: I walk into too many rooms needy. Needy of affirmation, or on my unhealthier days, admiration. I'm sorry. It's just true.

I walk into too few rooms needed. Not because of what I have to offer but because of Who I have to offer, Christ in me. (see Colossians 1:27)

This happens when I’m with my peers, my team at work, and my family. On my worst days, even in the meetings and rehearsals I’m charged with leading. 

Please don’t hear me say there aren’t times we stand in need of community—the balm of Godly relationships. Of course those times come. And only our arrogance keeps us from surrendering our needs to those who can meet them. 

I am saying that when we start each week with worship and each day with the Word of life, Jesus through the Scriptures, we will more often be a source of life than a sucker of it.

You may have skipped over those words, reading on auto-pilot. Slow down with me for a moment.

When we start each week with worship—not church attendance, singing, and note taking during sermons. I mean worship: entering the presence of the King of the universe. Sitting at the feet of the Savior. Sensing the power of the Holy Spirit. Caught up in the wonder of the One Who created you, redeemed you, and sustains you. Worship.

And I mean: being with Jesus through the Bible. Not just reading to out of duty, but reading with an awareness that the Author is sitting with you ready to show you things you’ve never seen before. That He may remind you of things you need to have in your consciousness. 

Oh, and when you pray--not because you're supposed to, but because you get to sit with the One who knows the future you're uncertain of, who loves you more than those you love the most, and who wants to hear your heart.

Then our needs get met and we can focus on meeting the needs of others.

Time for me to go "practice what I preach."

Monday, August 26, 2019

Stop Pleasing People, for God's Sake

I’m a worship pastor. In my job, it is impossible to please everyone.

If you regularly lead worship, you are aware of the long list of possible complaints:

Too loud
Too soft
Too new
Too old
Too many people on stage
Not using enough people on stage
Too much lighting
Not enough lighting

I could go on, but you get the idea. I am not complaining; in fact, I’m grateful that apathy is rare in conversations about worship gatherings. Passion is hard to stir up. There’s a lot of passion about what we do in worship ministry.

This dynamic offers a massive temptation: to make decisions that displease the most people. It cuts down on the complaints. It makes for better personnel committee meetings. It just makes life easier.

So why not focus on pleasing people?

Because it’s not enough. Not nearly enough.

“Don’t just pretend to love other. Really love them.” (Romans 12:9)

Pleasing is pretending to love.

If it’s too loud, love the person who offers that complaint by considering them. Listen to them. Honor them.

If it’s too soft, love the person who offers that complaint by considering them. Listen to them. Honor them.

And then make the best decision you can about the volume level in your worship space.

Some will be pleased and some will be displeased, but all will be loved.

That’s the better path.

With that in mind, savor some of Romans 12…

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Singer Stamped

I'm a fan of Ravi Zacharias, the Christian apologist. I've read some of his books. I've poked around his website. And mostly, I've listened to dozens and dozens of his podcasts.

One of my favorite Ravi-isms... his observation about Jesus and taxes.

What?

Well, sort of. You remember the story? It appears in the synoptic gospels. Matthew 22:15-22, for example. The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus, so they ask him about taxes. He asks for a coin, reminding them whose image is stamped on it. "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God," he says.

Then comes Ravi's brilliance. He says something like, the Pharisees missed an opportunity to ask a follow up question, "What belongs to God?"

Jesus might have said, "Whose image is stamped on you?"

Sisters and brothers, whose image is stamped on you?

"Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us." Genesis 1:26

The image of God, of Jesus, of the Spirit, is on you. Stamped on you. Imprinted on you.

Astounding.

Understanding Who God is and what God does takes on a whole new dimension, doesn't it? Who God is has been stamped on you. What God does has been imprinted on you.

In Zephaniah 3 we experience God as a singer. You've been made in the image of a singer. Not only is God singing over you, God's image is expressed when you sing over someone else.

So sing! With all you are, sing! Sing lullabies to little ones. Sing praises to the holy One. Sing love songs to your beloved one. Sing when you're by yourself, sing when you're with friends, and please, sing when you worship.

Sing to the One who is singing over you. Sing of the One who knit you together--as a singer.

It doesn't matter if you sound good when you sing; it does matter that you do what God made you to do. Life is better when we live it the way God created us to live.

So sing like God made you for it. He did!

Monday, August 12, 2019

So Every Soul Sings

This content is the framework for my first podcast episode, coming next month, hosted by my dear friend and gifted worship leader Bethany Pedigo. I'm excited to share the "bones" here, and really hope you'll hear it fleshed out when the podcast (So Every Soul Sings) debuts in September!

Why do I do the things I do? Why do those of us in worship ministry do what we do? 

So every soul sings.
  1. So— Whenever we are reading, listening to a podcast, hearing a sermon in church, having a conversation with a friend, I believe we’re alike in that there comes a time when we say, “So what?” This is my so what: So every soul sings. It penetrates every part of my life, and I want it to be infused into every part of my ministry. Why do we do it that way? So that… every soul sings.
  2. Every— Young and old, really young and really old, rich and poor, dark skinned and light skinned, male and female, long-timers and first-timers, singers and non-singers, andthis is essential—those who are not yet walking with Jesus.
  3. Soul— Voices sing; souls worship (The old hymn... “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee.” And Matt Redman's classic worship song... “Bless the Lord, O My Soul")
  4. Sings— Sometimes our voices can’t sing; a flute player or trumpeter who has a mouthpiece in the way, or someone who has been embarrassed about their singing voice, or someone who is overcome with emotion or is buried in grief. But when your voice can’t sing, your soul still can.

The ancient song writer got it first: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” (Psalm 103:1)

These 4 little words (So Every Soul Sings) affect everything: song selection, key choice, instrumentation, screen backgrounds, amount and color of light, loudness of the sound system.

It isn't so those on the platform sing, or those in the crowd are impressed with our musicianship and talent. We do worship ministry so every soul sings.

If you'd like to get a heads up when the podcast launches, email me at RodEEllis@gmail.com. I'll send you a dozen original devotionals based on song lyrics and scripture!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Are You Abandoning a Tribe?

In the business world, it seems tribes are all the rage. I just finished reading the book Tribes by Seth Godin. In the church space, I've read Tribal Church by Steve Stroope. When I talked with a publisher about a book idea, he encouraged me to build a tribe.

Tribes are not a new idea. You may recall reading throughout the Old Testament that there were twelve tribes of Israel.

Consider the worship war between the prophet of God and the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:30-32, "Elijah called to the people, 'Come over here!' They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons."

I'm concerned that many of our churches have shattered altars, figuratively speaking, and they need to be rebuilt in a way that all tribes can worship as one people.

This is no small or simple task. And because the tribes are always growing and changing, it's a bit like nailing Jello to a tree. Those of us privileged to serve in intergenerational churches can never stop looking for, and listening for, the tribes in our churches.

Just last week, one of our retirement age folks sent me a gracious email that I wanted to listen to. They'd been hearing that I wasn't choosing songs that include her tribe. In my gracious response, I mentioned that we virtually always include songs from "the hymnal" but also confessed that if people don't feel like I am, I've failed them. (I was grateful that I'd already chosen a rather traditional setting of one of my favorite hymns, "It Is Well with My Soul" for the next Sunday!)

At the same time, I need to listen to the tribe of students on another part of the spectrum. And the parents who listen to Christian radio. And those on staff with me, especially my pastor. And the list goes on.

By the way, just to make it a little more complex, not all tribes are age-oriented. Some have to do more with musical taste--pop, rock, classical, etc. Some are new believers and others long time Christ-followers. Some has to do with ethnic upbringing, or cultural context.  The deeper you dive, the more you can discover: examine the extroverts and introverts in your worship gathering, learn about Enneagram types, etc.

Be assured: this is about more than musical style, but it is not about less than that.

Let me pass along the counsel of my pastor when I first came to Woodburn -- become a sociologist and study this church and this community. And then serve them well.

So as you plan, as you lead, and as you encourage those who do, let me offer three quick action ideas:
1) Pray for unity. Just putting the stones on the altar won't bring people together. That's the work of the Spirit.
2) Plan for unity. Even though we are utterly dependent on the Spirit to provide unity, the Spirit calls us to action. Like Elijah did, gather the rocks. Assemble the people. Call them--all of them--to worship.
3) Lead for unity. Make choices that unite the tribes in your church. Find new ways to sing old songs (Wherever He Leads I'll Go by Travis Cottrell has been powerful for us) and old sounds with new songs. (All My Hope by David Crowder comes to mind.)

And if you're not the person in charge, may I implore you... help those who are. Fight for unity. (Ephesians 4:4) Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21) Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them. (Romans 12:9)

Let's move from scattered tribes to a unified people.