Monday, June 2, 2014

Worship Leader Confusion?

I have been tweeting and commenting on Facebook lately about the seemingly unending blog posts and articles written about all that worship leaders do wrong (or could do better) in leading their congregations on Sunday.  As a worship arts pastor and worship leader for over 8 years, I must say that while some of these posts and articles do offer some insight, many address all that is wrong or that which should be corrected.  Carlos Whittaker made some really good points here which got me thinking...   

Leading others in worship through song is already a tough job.  Most of us pour tirelessly  over our repetoire week after week to choose just the right message in just the right key leading to just the right transition so our congregations can have a meaningful experience.  Most of us rehearse for hours so we are well prepared for rehearsal!  And finally, I would suggest that most of us worry endlessly about whether or not we are really hearing from God as we plan, and worry even more about whether or not what we do is making a difference in someone's spiritual journey; and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Here's a few topics that usually get addressed-

Worship leaders must guard against performance: I've heard it said about a mega-church in our area that they are all about performance.  Over 10,000 people go there every week and they are getting bigger and bigger.  That number represents a person in the seat singing songs with biblical content and hearing a message from God's Word; performance or not.  Only God knows the heart of the person on the stage (Jer. 17:10).  I sang my first solo in 6th grade and knew early on that I was going to be a performer - I love the stage - whether acting, singing, leading worship, preaching etc. and I guess I have been gifted in that area; it's very natural for me.  Someone asked me why Mick Jagger would bother going on tour at 71 - though I'm sure money is one motivator, Mick is a performer; he has to be on stage, that's what he does.  So yes, worship leaders can be performers and unfortunately, some people do have the wrong motives for leading, but let's not forget what Paul says in Philippians; "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice..."   This though, is not an excuse for our worship leading motives to be focused on us.  

Worship leaders must worship while leading:  This is a good concept but also a challenge if you are talking about worship in the traditional sense.  A friend of mine put it this way... it's really difficult to truly enter into a spirit of worship while leading on Sunday.  Are we keeping with the click? Do the singers know the harmonies are only on the 2nd half of the bridge? Are the lyrics moving too slow?  My guitar sounds sharp with the capo on... praise you Lord Jesus I'm worshipping! Sorry, I know that's sarcastic but my friend made a good point - someone has to concentrate on all these elements for the good of the whole; we worship in our serving, in our attention to detail, in our desire for excellence; this is worship too!  I'm reminded of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant; I would assume they were just a little concerned about the task at hand... that didn't go to well for Uzzah! (2nd Samuel 6:1-7) 

This post is already too long but I could go on.  Most of us have self-esteem issues as it is (that's why we're on the stage!) and to continually read about what a bad job we're doing is discouraging.  And I must say that I know that those sharing their thoughts about worship have good intentions.   We need though, to encourage each other and talk about what is good.  A young man who is considering becoming a worship leader told me that he's on the fence because everyone makes it so hard - like an impossible task.  God knows our hearts and our abilities.  If we are truly walking close to him and seeking him as best as humanly possible, he'll put us where he wants us to be, even as we struggle with our motives and our egos; he's not surprised by what we bring to the table.  In the words of Carlos Whittaker; worship is going to be OK."  

"He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him." Psalm 40:3 



Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Morning: America's Four Gods

Yes, you read the title correctly - America's Four Gods.  So I'm one week into yet another challenging grad school class and I've already had my eyes open to some religious realities.  I'm only going to talk about one today, and that is the title of this post.

America's Four Gods is the title of a book written by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader.  This was required reading for my Doctrine of God class and I'm glad I had the opportunity to read it.  The authors embarked on quite an extensive research journey to find out how Americans view God today.  This book doesn't have much to do with the Bible or Christianity per se, just about belief in God.  

Here's something interesting - a quote from the liner notes: "Despite the hype surrounding the New Atheism, the US remains one of the world's most religious nations.  In fact, 95% of Americans believe in God - a rare consensus in American life."   

First of all, this is encouraging news.  I'm sorry, but most Christians believe that non-believers and atheists are taking over and running our country into the ground.  As a country, we are getting further and further away from the biblical standards and morals of our forefathers for sure, but at least a belief in God is still prevalent in American culture, as the above data suggests.  A belief in God though, does not mean a belief in Jesus Christ.   

So what are America's Four Gods?   It's one God, viewed four different ways by Americans:
1.  The Authoritative God: engaged in the world and judgmental
2.  The Benevolent God: engaged in the world and non-judgmental
3.  The Critical God: judgmental but disengaged
4.  The Distant God: non-judgmental and disengaged

If you're into this kind of stuff, I suggest you get this book!

I believe God did intend, in giving us intelligence, 
to give us the opportunity to investigate 
and appreciate the wonders of His creation.
He is not threatened by our scientific adventures.

-Francis Collins, Human Genome Project leader 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Morning: Grace

I'm a person who worries too much.  I worry about my weight, I worry about my finances, I worry about my wife and kids, I worry about the challenges of owning an older home, I worry about my ministry pursuits and school work;  all of which cause me to worry about my lack of faith!  I admire people who are able to roll with the punches and just accept life's challenges as blips on the radar screen; I'm just not wired that way; yet.

Yesterday in church, we showed a video called Pictures of Grace.  I found this video as a transition piece to lead into the song This is Amazing Grace by Bethel Live.  The video is sound bites of ordinary people who explain what grace means to them.  In my verbal transition after the video, I asked "what does grace mean to you?"  Christians are really good at throwing the word "grace" around but I would submit that this word in the context of Christianity is not self-explanatory.  A quick Google search brought this definition of grace in regard to Christianity: gift from God to man - "generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved".  That undeserved gift is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

What is my picture of grace?  God granting me forgiveness of sins and eternal life, after living a life as far away from being a Christian as possible.  Grace is God granting me stability in my marriage and home life.  Grace is God allowing me, a goofed up guy (who struggles with trust - see above!) to be a worship pastor at an amazing church, where I can stand in front of God's people and define the word, Grace.  Worrying too much about the things on earth don't get us anywhere.  Grace does it all.

What is your picture of grace?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

"For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves,
 it is the gift of God, NOT by works, so that no one can boast."
 Ephesians 2:8-9      

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Morning Doughnut & Coffee

It's Monday again.  Mondays are not like Mondays for me like they are for most people because I work on Sunday.  It's not quite a full day on Sunday but it is usually a 6 hour day or so, so Monday for me is like Tuesday for you... kinda.

I've been thinking.  There are so many different facets to working in a ministry.  Yesterday was very stressful because we had a few challenges in the morning preparing for our services.  It was almost funny to see how God showed up, calmed everyone down, provided the necessary personnel and a great worship experience.  Yesterday evening, I was blessed to play a few worship songs for our middle and high school students; it was such a joy to hear them sing.  Today (my Tuesday, your Monday) we are preparing a funeral service for a dear Mainstreet member.  There seems to be a sense of reverence or quiet around here today as we get things ready for the people who will arrive to pay their respects.  I get to play the mandolin and sing in a gospel trio for the service - yet another facet of ministry.   

That's what I love about ministry - the different facets.  Weddings, funerals, celebrations, worship services, music, preaching, teaching... all in an effort to bring to life God's Kingdom on earth.  First and foremost though, to introduce people to Jesus Christ and secondly, to be His hands and feet on earth. What a blessing, honor and privilege.

What a day that will be
When my Jesus I shall see
When I look upon His face
The One who saved me by His grace

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday Morning Doughnut & Coffee

My doughnut and coffee arrived as usual on time today.  Wow I really appreciate that from our amazing volunteers at Mainstreet Church.  Today though, is a different kind of Monday.  Today, March 3rd marks what would have been my dad's 84th birthday had he lived past 74.  I have many, many fond memories of my dad and it's hard to believe I haven't seen him in almost 10 years.  The last few years of his life were lived through a tough battle with cancer.  With all the fighting and struggling and chemo and radiation and everything else, it claimed his life anyway.  For me though, I rest on the truth that when it's your time to go it's your time to go.  King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3 that there is a time for everything; our days on earth are numbered.

My dad (Jack) did his best to be the best dad he knew how to be.  His dad was an uninvolved alcoholic so he didn't have a very good role model.  He taught me how to throw and catch a baseball, how to throw and catch a football, he taught me how to cast a line and reel in anything that might be on the other end.  He also taught me how to be kind, honest, a hard worker, and how to love my wife and kids.  He taught me the importance of going to, and being involved in church- which was a priority for him.

My dad worked away much of his life to support his family - he worked two jobs as long as I can remember.  He still though, found time between sleep and work to coach my little league baseball team, eat dinner at the table every night, take us on vacations every year and church every Sunday.  He was a man of few words and no formal education but left a mark on all who were blessed to know him. Happy Birthday Dad!  I'll see you again someday!  

As John Mayer sings: 
Stop this train,wanna get off and go home again
I can't take the speed it's moving in
I know I can't, but honestly
Won't someone stop this train?


Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday Morning Doughnut & Coffee

On Friday or Saturday I'll review the upcoming Sunday morning service and jot down notes for verbal transitions in between songs or other elements for the church gathering.  It's a common practice among worship leaders (or should be) to think through what you're going to say before, after or in between songs so there is a logical flow or thread tying the songs and themes together.  This week we were coming out of the up beat song "All Because of Jesus" by Steve Fee going into an updated version of the hymn "It Is Well" as done by Todd Fields.  After a challenging week, it was pretty easy to compose the transition!

First, I haven't felt well and last week was a good example of that.  I even left work a little early on Thursday and took a sick/work from home day on Friday which is rare for me!  With that, we had the torrential downpour and melting snow which caused our basement floor to become soaked as water seeped in.  Man what a drag!  We'll probably buy a canoe or kayak and keep it tied up at the bottom of our basement steps so we can paddle over to the washer when this happens again.  The carpet in my music/workout room will probably have to come up and tile put down - right now the room is unusable and I've been wet-vacing several times a day and a fan is running 24/7. 

Which brings me back to the transition into "It is Well."  Now your thinking, "I see where this is going," and you'd be correct.  As I thought through what to say between songs I was reminded of how I haven't felt well and the disaster in the basement (among many other challenges) and immediately Jesus' words from Matthew 6 came to mind;  

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."  

Secondly, I was reminded of the story of Job - everything in his life a total loss but he refused to "curse God and die," he worshiped in spite of the hardships.   There was my logical transition into "It is Well."

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billow roll
Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul   

Given my personality, it's a challenge sometimes for me to take these words to heart (just ask Donna), but with God, all things are possible

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday Morning Doughnut & Coffee

It's been on my heart for quite some time that I should take a few minutes at least once a week and jot down my thoughts in what used to be my active blog.  Well, it's been inactive for quite a while. It's not like people are flocking by the thousands to read my posts and I haven't made "The Huffington Post" yet or even some worship leader's forum (nor do I strive to), but I enjoy writing so what the heck; I can do it for my own enjoyment right?  On with the post...

Every Monday morning at Mainstreet, a lovely retired lady named Carol brings me my particular favorite doughnut and a McDonald's coffee with cream - just the way I like it.  She doesn't just do this for me... we have a volunteer cleaning team that brings doughnuts and coffee for the staff and their own team each week.  Carol just happens to know what I like and brings it to my office each Monday; I know, I'm spoiled.  I like to enjoy my doughnut and coffee as I'm doing my morning prayer and devotions in my office. 

Today I was reading from the book of Mark in the New Testament.  In chapter 4, Jesus shares the parable of the sower.  Briefly, Jesus says that some "seed" is thrown on the path where birds eat it, some falls in the rocks with little soil so it doesn't grow, some falls in the thorns and gets choked and some falls on good soil and brings a good crop of grain.  His buddies weren't sure what he was talking about so he explained to them that the seed he was referring to is the Word of God, the Bible.  

Jesus says that the truths that he shares;
- are heard but immediately after, Satan takes them away (you forget)
- are heard and received with joy but the minute something goes wrong they're forgotten
- are heard but the cares of the world and the desire to live the way you want chokes it
- are heard and are accepted; life is lived by them AND they bear fruit.  

I think most of us waver back and forth between some of these if you want to really be honest.  The last one says it - the mark of someone really living by the Word of God is bringing others to a relationship with Christ.  Although getting there is a process, it should be what all Christians are striving for.     

What do you think?  Where do you stand on the "seed-sowing" path? 

BTW- my posts won't always be of a spiritual nature and I have no intention of trying to bring "deep spiritual truths" to my posts... I write what happens to be on my heart and for fun!