Dear Worship Leader

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Dear Worship Leader,

Because I speak every week and have done so for the last 10+ years, I’ve seen a lot of worship leaders. From camps, conferences, church services, student and college ministry, it takes all kinds. Most of them are great. Some of them, not so much. Most of them have great hearts with a desire to lead a group of people into the presence of Jesus to worship, others, not so much. I thought I’d share some thoughts as a person who preaches and worships in church on a weekly basis, sort of my viewpoint of you and some requests.

  1. It’s not about you. I know worship leaders would never say it is about them or preachers either. But sometimes, it seems like it is more about you than Jesus. We are not there to watch you worship. We are not there to see how amazing you are or how incredible your voice is or that killer drum or guitar solo you just nailed. If that’s all people talk about at the end, it failed.
  2. Talk normally. So many worship leaders when they talk between songs sound like they are trying to seductively get me out of my clothes. If your voice sounds like Barry White normally, then great. If not, talk normally. Don’t breath heavy, make weird pauses. I leaned over to Katie at one worship service recently and told her I felt like the worship leader was hitting on us. It shouldn’t feel that way.
  3. Everything you say, pray and the songs you sing teach me about God. When you pray, think through it. When you talk about asking for more of the presence of the Holy Spirit, is that possible? Or do we need to be more aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit? Make sure you know what the Father, Son and Spirit do. When you make it up on the fly, you make theological errors that we in the seats listen to and believe. After all, you’re on stage. As for lyrics, make sure they are theologically correct. Also, what does it mean to sing to the heart of Jesus? When you tell us to sing this straight to Jesus I wonder who we’ve been singing to this whole time. A lot of what is said on the latest Hillsong and Passion album sound awesome in an arena, but when there are 25 people in a church planet, we don’t want to shout to God.
  4. Pray normally. When you pray, do you say God or Jesus over and over. Dear God, we love you God. Thank you God. God, your presence is so amazing God. Oh God. If that’s how you pray, great. If not, pray normally. The way you pray teaches the rest of us to pray and if it doesn’t sound normal, it communicates a normal person can’t pray. Also, when you pray, I learn theology about God.
  5. Don’t repreach the sermon. There is nothing worse than preaching a sermon, one that I as the preacher has thought about for anywhere from 1 week to 8 months just to have a worship leader come up after me and on the fly repreach it in 5 minutes and make me wonder, “Why did we just sit here?” Or, when you repreach it incorrectly? I remember speaking at another church and the worship leader came up and tried to make my point, but missed it. Showing he wasn’t really listening.
  6. Your dress reflects your heart. This is for men and women. If your dress is distracting, revealing or over the top, no one is paying attention to Jesus. They are looking at you. What you wear, how low cut it is, how shirt your skirt is, how tight your shirt is, all reflects your heart.
  7. Don’t make us stand forever. I know people stand forever at a concert, but once you start getting to 15, 20, 25 minutes of straight standing people start checking out because it hurts. Knees, back, necks, they all start to ache.
  8. When you sing high, men stop singing. If you are a worship leader, you probably have an incredible range. That’s awesome. You can probably sing all the songs exactly as they are recorded on the CD. That’s awesome. The problem is few other people can, especially men. When you sing too high, men stop singing and check out.
  9. Explain what we are doing. Why are we standing? Why are we reading this prayer? If you want me to do something, tell me and explain it. Don’t assume I want to do the thing you want me to do. You’ve spent all week thinking about it, working on it and I just heard about it.
  10. Sing songs each week. I love new songs and if you lead worship, you get tired of songs quickly. The reason? By the time you teach a song to a church, you’ve listened to it 100 times. The problem is, most people do not listen to worship music throughout the week. They don’t know the songs. So, if you teach a song and the following week don’t sing it again, we forget it.

I love worship leaders. I love that at Revolution, almost half the service is music. I want you to be great. If you don’t serve with a pastor that wants you to be as great as possible, go find a new pastor to work with. The people who show up each week show up wanting to meet Jesus and you are a big part of that. You help us encounter Jesus in a personal, emotional and logical way. I want you to be great and I don’t want anything to stand in the way of you being the worship leader God called you to be.

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One of a Pastor’s Most Important Public Tasks

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Every Sunday morning around the world, churches gather for community, equipping, communion, singing, prayers and preaching. The pastor is involved in many of these things and leads many of them.

From up front.

Yet, one of the most important tasks a pastors does is public and yet it does not happen on the stage. It happens while he is surrounded by his church, during the singing.

Why is this so important?

The pastor sets the tone for the church. The church becomes a reflection of the pastor

If you look around and see that people are not engaging in worship, there are a few reasons that is happening, but one of them is the leader is not engaging (the leaders on stage and the leader in the congregation, the pastor).

Is it that simple? No.

But I often see pastor’s looking around, not singing, checking their notes or even not in the room until it is time for them to preach.

These things communicate.

Loudly.

They tell your church, the corporate singing and prayers are not the most important thing we do, because I’m not participating. I’m not even here for it. I’m looking at my notes for the important part.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Preaching is incredibly important. Personally, half of my week is spent on preaching.

But pastor, come on. You have all week to prepare your sermon. Looking at your notes for 10 minutes right before you go up to preach is not going to make a difference.

There is another reason this matters.

This gets to the heart of the pastor and how prepared he is to worship. Is he scatter brained when he walks into church? Has he prayed his heart up so he is ready to enter the presence of God? Is he ready to be fed in worship?

I know this is hard. It is hard to connect in worship in your church as a pastor, when you are about to preach, but when you do, your sermon connects in a way it doesn’t otherwise. You are also modeling to people how to worship as many of them don’t know how to connect with God corporately. Men are wondering, why do we sing? Why do people close their eyes? Why do they raise their hands?

And worship leaders, for the sake of your men, stop singing love songs to your boyfriend Jesus.

This task of being a lead worshiper in the congregation is one of the most important tasks a pastor has on Sunday morning. It impacts things you don’t even see and sets the tone for things you wished would go better, like the response of your church.

So pastor, this Sunday. Lead from the congregation. Help get things moving. Sing loud. Raise your hands. Clap along. Help lead from off the stage.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Mark Driscoll on The 6 kinds of church services and how they impact preaching and worship planning.

Too often a church service is themed theologically, without consideration for the mood emotionally. But getting the mood right is very important. If you don’t, the sermon and the rest of the service won’t align for a journey, but collide like a car wreck.

Rosaria Butterfield on You are what you read.

Michael Hyatt on How millionaires manage their time.

I’ve been lucky enough to interview over 130 millionaires. They know the value of their time, and use it to the best of their ability. I’ve curated the top tips on their time management to help you have more time to work, and more time to play and be with your family. So how do you stay productive when faced with a seemingly endless to-do list? Here are four awesome tips for greater productivity, straight from the millionaires themselves.

The 5 most important questions a church needs to answer.

  • Question 1:  What is Our Mission?
  • Question 2:  Who is Our Customer?
  • Question 3:  What Does the Customer Value?
  • Question 4:  What are Our Results?
  • Question 5:  What is Our Plan?

4 Tips for Starting a Children’s Ministry in a Church Plant.

Church plants are becoming increasingly popular and in the midst of all there is to do, getting your children’s ministry off the ground can tend to slip under the radar. Here are a few practical tips for starting a children’s ministry in your church plant.

People Pleasing Pastors

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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9 lies in the not married life.

Singleness’s greatest sorrows are secretly reinforced every February in the souls of the not-yet-married still waiting for their wedding day. While many of our friends and family are inundated with dates, flowers, chocolate, and love notes, lots and lots of the valentine-less are overwhelmed with everything from impatience to bitterness, from shame to regret to confusion.

Rick Thomas on 5 sure fire ways to motivate your son to look at pornography.

Porn is first and foremost about the theater of the mind, where the young male can enter into his virtual world and be king for a day—or, in this case, king for a few minutes—as he satiates his mind with the risk-free intrigue of the cyber conquest.

Barnabas Piper on Why PK’s often hate the ministry and why so many are now in ministry.

Here’s what I learned from those PKs:

  • God’s grace is bigger than our frustrations and hurts (imposed on us or self-imposed) and bigger than our parents’ mistakes.
  • When we see mistakes our parents make that have hurt us or shaped us in ways we don’t like we become responsible for how we respond, either to follow Christ or not.
  • Whether or not our parents did a good job, being a PK is a unique blessing and creates an opportunity to serve God’s people that most don’t get.
  • The church is God’s people and part of God’s plan; to abandon it is to abandon what God has put in place.
  • Honoring our fathers and mothers is a really big deal and a really valuable thing. No, it doesn’t mean we must agree with them or imitate them, but it does mean we cannot resent them.
  • With few exceptions, our parents love us deeply. It’s worth figuring out how to connect with that love instead of holding on to hurt.

How Bill Hybels advises pastors and leaders to think about the Sunday service.

“Imagine if I could give you a newsflash, that the person you’ve been trying to invite to church for the last 3 years is coming this Sunday.” With those opening words, Willow Creek Community Church senior pastor Bill Hybels grabbed the attention of the 1000 leaders gathered at the Church Leadership Conference in Riga, Latvia. But Bill would then ask, and answer, a question that every church leader must come to terms with:  “What are you hoping will happen to that woman or that man during that one hour church service?”

Dan Black on How to maximize your personal growth time.

The most common reason I hear as to why a leader does not invest in personal growth is because they don’t have the time for it. Personal growth does not happen by chance but requires a few key ingredients.

Growing leaders crave silence and solitude.

When was the last time you had meaningful time alone?

No meetings, no appointments. No phone buzzing. No music in your ear buds. No distractions.

Just stillness. Solitude.

My guess is for many of us the answer is it’s been a while.

What if I told you that your effectiveness and maybe even your longevity as a leader depended directly on finding and establishing regular periods of solitude?

Keri Seavey on Your spouse is not Jesus.

Both husband and wife often start life together, from authentic love and commitment (and a bit of naïve self-assessment), blissfully aiming to meet or exceed every spoken or perceived expectation placed before them in their desire for a great marriage. They may even maintain their success for a while. Yet, given time, we all bump up against our (and our spouse’s) weaknesses, limitations, and tenacious self-centeredness. This is when things begin to get messy.

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Links for Your Weekend Reading

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Thom Rainer on 4 times when you should not respond to a critic.

As a general rule, leaders should respond to criticism. I do my best to do so, or at that very least, ask someone in my organization to respond. Critics, more often than not, deserve a response. They need to hear from the leader who can give them his or her perspective. They need to hear from a leader in the event the response can be an opportunity for reconciliation. But there are times when leaders should not respond to critics.

Cristina Fox on When distractions keep us from our kids.

One of the biggest drains of our time is technology because of the access it gives us to a virtual life. Our lives revolve around this access and its pull on us is strong. There’s always email to check, texts to respond to, statuses to update, images and videos to see or post. And they must be done right away (or so we think) — putting everything else on pause.

Ed Stetzer on Whether you should stay or go at church.

I, too, found I don’t get much out of sermons, even the good ones. Honestly, there is not much new content I learn at church. Finally, I am easily distracted and the slow pace of sermons let’s my mind wander, so I’d rather read a good sermon than listen to one. So, I could’ve just stayed home. But, I didn’t. And neither should you because our church involvement is not just anticipated (1 Corinthians 12:27), but commanded (Hebrews 10:25).

Donna Jones on 15 things you did when you were dating that you should not stop doing when you get married.

What what if celebrating Valentine’s Day didn’t cost you a dime and could actually re-kindle the flames of romance?  What if you could re-ignite the sparks in your marriage and make them last?  It might be as easy as taking a trip down memory lane and doing what you should have never stopped.

Mike Cosper on Giving up on church and the culture of contemporary worship.

I wonder, though, if Miller’s thoughts don’t say as much about our contemporary worship culture as they do about Miller himself. His description of a church gathering is two-dimensional: we listen to a lecture and sing songs that connect us to God. Miller says he stopped attending because he doesn’t learn from lectures and doesn’t feel like he connects to God through singing. This description of the gathered church is anemic and shabby, but it’s also the description that many American evangelicals would use to describe Sunday mornings. Rather than a robust engagement with God’s people, God’s word, and God’s Spirit through interactions with one another, songs, prayers, scripture readings, and the Lord’s Supper, we think of Sundays as merely preaching and music.

Love this song

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The Almost Best Albums of 2013

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In case you are new to my blog, I love music. My life is rarely silent, whether at home, working on a sermon, in the car, or working out. Music is on. Our family loves music because of this.

So, every year I like to look through my music library and share the albums that have been getting the most play in my life. And as it is the end of the year, it is year end list time. If you’re curious which albums I liked last year you can look at the honorable mention list and the top albums of the year.

On Monday I shared the top sermon downloads from Revolution Church. Yesterday, I shared the almost best books of 2013. Tomorrow I’ll share my favorite 13 books of the year and Friday I’ll share my top 13 albums of the year.

But today. We’re listing the albums that were good, but not good enough to be in the top 13 list of the year. Here they are in no particular order:

Youth Lagoon | Wondrous Bughouse

A great follow up to The Year of Hibernation. A really good, introspective album.

She & Him | Volume 3

“She” is so talented. End of story. All of their albums are worth owning, and this one is no different.

Denison Witmer | Denison Witmer

I went to high school with Denison and have loved his music ever since then. This album is easily his best. I wanted to put this in the top 13 for sentimental reasons, but couldn’t.

Matt Redman | Your Grace Finds Me (Live)

Normally Matt Redman songs are only good when other people sing them, not this album. I’m not sure what happened. Maybe since he’s hanging around Chris Tomlin more he’s gotten better. Either way, this worship album is incredible.

Local Natives | Hummingbird

Hard to believe this is only their second album, but it is good.

Ra Ra Riot | Beta Love

Best way to sum this album up: fun. Good, upbeat fun.

Pickering Pick | Tropic

Make a good cup of coffee on a cold day, grab a blanket, a book and this album. You’ll thank me.

Olafur Arnalds | For Now I Am Winter

His albums are perfect background music to working, reading or hanging with friends. So good.

City and Colour | The Hurry And The Harm

As one review said, “If you’re looking for heartbreak, purpose, and tears, then step on board City & Colour’s The Hurry and the Harm.”

Pacific Air | Stop Talking

A great dreamy pop album.

Washed Out | Paracosm

I never get tired of this band. Perfect for blasting in the car when you just want to rock out.

The Avett Brothers | Magpie And The Dandelion 

Every year The Avett Brothers release an album, they make this list. They are that good.

Courrier | Cathedrals of Color

Great indie pop record. You will not be disappointed with this one.

Hillsong United | Zion

The second best worship album of the year. Matt Redman was third, this one is second.

The Digital Age | Evening:Morning

This is the best worship album of the year.

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Cheap Kindle Books [12.9.13]

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Here are some cheap kindle books. Not sure how long they’ll stay that way:

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World

bookI have had Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (kindle version) on my iPad for a couple of years. I heard about how great it was from other pastors. Katie read it and it changed how she prayed and connected with God dramatically. Yet, I never got around to reading it. I felt like my prayer life wasn’t great but it wasn’t horrible, so I put it off.

Then, as I was preaching through the book of John at Revolution Church, I got to John 17 and decided that as I was preparing those sermons and looking at how Jesus prayed, I needed to up my game in a big way. So, I finally read A Praying Life. 

I’m really sad I waited this long to read it.

What I appreciated most about this book was how easy to read it was and how helpful it was. Most books on prayer simply make you feel bad because you don’t pray enough or correctly. I don’t need to be reminded of that. That’s why I’m reading a book on prayer. I never got that feeling from Miller in this book.

A big part of this book is understanding what it means to ask God for things as a child would a parent. That a child asks relentlessly, they have no filter, anything is possible and they ask til they see movement. As adults, we don’t ask God in prayer for things like this. This is one reason we miss the relationship with God we were created to have.

Miller says:

A praying life feels like our family mealtimes because prayer is all about relationship. It’s intimate and hints at eternity. We don’t think about communication or words but about whom we are talking with. Prayer is simply the medium through which we experience and connect to God. Oddly enough, many people struggle to learn how to pray because they are focusing on praying, not on God. You don’t experience God; you get to know him. You submit to him. You enjoy him. He is, after all, a person.

Almost every book on prayer is based on some kind of “system” or way of praying. This book is no different.

Miller challenges the reader to use prayer cards instead of a list.

I got some three-by-five cards, and on each one wrote the name of a family member, along with a Scripture that I could use to shape my prayers for that person. I began developing a stack of prayer cards that allowed me to pray through my life—for loved ones and friends, for non-Christians I’m building relationships with, for my church and its leaders, for missionaries, for my work and my co-workers, for character change in my own life, and for my dreams. Here are the overall guidelines I use when creating a prayer card.

  1. The card functions like a prayer snapshot of a person’s life, so I use short phrases to describe what I want.
  2. When praying, I usually don’t linger over a card for more than a few seconds. I just pick out one or two key areas and pray for them.
  3. I put the Word to work by writing a Scripture verse on the card that expresses my desire for that particular person or situation.
  4. The card doesn’t change much. Maybe once a year I will add another line. These are just the ongoing areas in a person’s life that I am praying for.
  5. I usually don’t write down answers. They are obvious to me since I see the card almost every day.
  6. I will sometimes date a prayer request by putting the month/ year as in 8/07.

Why use a card over a list? Miller answers:

A prayer card has several advantages over a list. A list is often a series of scattered prayer requests, while a prayer card focuses on one person or area of your life. It allows you to look at the person or situation from multiple perspectives. Over time, it helps you reflect on what God does in response to your prayers. You begin to see patterns, and slowly a story unfolds that you find yourself drawn into. A list tends to be more mechanical. We can get overwhelmed with the number of things to pray for. Because items on a list are so disconnected, it is hard to maintain the discipline to pray. When I pray, I have only one card in front of me at a time, which helps me concentrate on that person or need.

This may not work for everyone, but it has been working in our family and life and I found this book to be extremely helpful and winsome when it comes to prayer and connecting with God.

How to Pray for your Wife

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Here is some helpful advice for husbands from Paul Miller in his book A Praying Life:

When men do pray, they often simply want their own lives to be pain free. Men will work at making money, keeping the yard neat, or helping the kids in sports, but many don’t work or think about things that last.

A husband will rarely ask God for his wife to become more like Jesus. Let’s say she is critical of him. When he tries to talk to her about it, she says, “I wouldn’t be so critical of you if you didn’t have so many problems.” By raising the issue, he just got more criticism, so his heart quietly shuts down. He just doesn’t care anymore. She is who she is. So he moves on with life and flips on the television.

Without realizing it, he has become cynical about the possibility of real change in his wife. A childlike spirit seems naïve, like a distant memory. He is wise as a serpent, but he’s not harmless as a dove. He is surrounded by idiots, and his only choice, like the Greek stoics, is to tough it out. Low-level evil has worn him down.

To engage God in prayer about his wife’s attitude feels like opening up an old wound. Just telling this to God is frustrating because it feels so hopeless, the spiritual version of banging your head against the wall. It is simply easier not even to think about it. Mixed in with his frustration is guilt. Some of what she says is true. He isn’t sure where her sin ends and his begins.

The husband also hesitates to pray because he’s been told that he shouldn’t try to control his wife. But the point of prayer is shifting control from you to God. Moreover, doesn’t the Father want all of us to become more like his Son?

Where should the husband begin? Like a little child, he should ask God for what he wants. It might help to write down in a prayer notebook or on a card what he wants changed in his wife and to find a scripture that describes Christ in her. Then he could start praying that scripture for her every day and also invite God to work in his own heart.

This prayer request will become a twenty-year adventure. The adventure begins with asking God, Do I have a critical spirit too? Do I respond to my wife’s critical spirit with my own critical spirit? Usually, what bugs us the most about other people is true of us as well. By first taking the beam out of his own eye (see Matthew 7:1-5), the husband releases in his wife’s life the unseen energy of the Spirit. The kingdom is beginning to come.

The husband can let God use his wife’s criticism to make him more like Jesus. Instead of fighting what she says, if at all possible he can do it. We can’t do battle with evil without letting God destroy the evil in us as well. The world is far too intertwined.

Deep down, we instinctively know that God works this way, and we pull back from prayer. Like Jonah outside the city of Nineveh complaining about God’s mercy, we say, “God, I knew you would do that. As soon as I started praying for her, you started working on me.”

By taking his wife’s criticism seriously, the husband might feel he is losing his identity, becoming a Christian codependent, mindlessly trying to be good. He is not. He is simply following his Master, who “rose from supper . . . laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5). Jesus’ love is so physical. Our love must be as physical as his.

The husband is not “under his wife’s thumb”; he is entering into Jesus’ life. The husband can’t believe the gospel unless he is also becoming the gospel. In other words, once you’ve learned that God loves you, you need to extend his love to others. Otherwise, the love of God sours. By extending grace to his wife, the husband is being drawn into the life of the Son. He will become Christlike.

The husband can’t leave a vacuum in his heart either. He must replace his critical spirit with a thankful spirit. One of the best ways of doing that is writing out on a card or in a prayer notebook short phrases of how he is thankful for her. By thanking God daily for specific things about his wife, he will begin to see her for who she is—a gift.

At first glance this feels like the husband is whitewashing reality. Life feels uneven, unfair. After all, the wife is the one with the critical spirit; not only is he putting energy into reflecting on his tendency to be critical (which isn’t half as bad as hers), but he’s also working at being thankful for her. The only thing he has going for him is his pitiful little prayer.

A thankful heart is constantly extending grace because it has received grace. Love and grace are uneven. God poured out on his own Son the criticism I deserve. Now he invites me to pour out undeserving grace on someone who has hurt me. Grace begets grace. This husband is taking a journey into the heart of God.

Welcome to the life of God! That’s what a life of grace feels like, especially in the beginning. That pitiful little prayer is tapping into the power center of the universe. If the husband hangs in there, he will be amazed at the creative energy of God. Grace will win the day.

Praying steadily for his wife will help him to become more aware of her as a person. Peter challenges husbands to treat their wives with “honor . . . since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). You can’t separate prayer from love.

Watch what happens over time. By getting his ego out of the way, the husband makes room for the Spirit to work in his wife’s life. God will start doing things far more effectively than the husband ever could. No one teaches like God.

Over time the husband might discover that his courage and wisdom are growing. He’ll find the best phrasing, the best timing to be gently honest with his wife. He’ll move from trying to win a battle to loving a friend. The kingdom is coming!

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