Archive for February 2010

Lectionary meets business book

February 23, 2010

I rarely read business books anymore.  I use to read them a lot, especially during the years that  churches, and the “hot” church leaders seemed to be taking all their cues from the world of CEOs and were downloading church strategies from “entrepreneurs ‘R us” kinds of organizations.  I have pretty much sworn off of walking down the business book aisles at Borders or Barnes & Noble.  Spending three years in a doctoral program that called for long hours poring over  ancient liturgies and confessions of the Church Fathers had a way of exposing cheap “I’m Ok, you’re ok” kinds of Norman Vincent Peale blather as having no place in the church, much less influencing how the church worships.

Surprisingly, here during the season of Lent (yes, I try to take the season seriously even though I am Baptist to the bone), I picked up a book that a friend recommended that is from this very business genre.  Ebbie (my wife) fusses at me sometimes for having too many books going at once (probably because I leave them laying on the kitchen table).  The last couple of weeks I have been guilty as charged, but in the midst of it I have sensed word from the Lord coming from an unusual variety of directions.  Let me hasten to say that WORD (Holy Bible) is always first and last influence.  That is, by being in the WORD every day it influences and shapes anything else I will read, or hear, or see.  By being the last it corrects and repositions anything that comes in between.  So, during this Lent, reading the daily readings suggested in the lectionary I am praying to hear from the Holy Spirit concerning life and ministry.  The pragmatic side of me is still very much alive as I tend to read ahead in the lectionary readings to see what Sundays’ readings say, especially if I will be participating in worship leadership somewhere.  This weekend those worlds, daily lectionary scripture readings – Sunday scripture readings – and pop business book, all spoke into life and ministry.  I will try to share the part that I think is addressing some of my ministry with worship leaders.  My heart is often burdened for music ministers who face friction in relationships with their pastors, church members, or church leaders, especially over issues related to worship leadership.

In reading the book, Linchpin by popular writer Seth Godin, I found myself connecting some of his philosophy with music ministers who feel trapped by the demands of pastors, or other church leaders, elected or self-appointed, when those demands (sometimes disguised as “just a suggestion”) are contrary to internal deeply held convictions that reside in the heart of the worship music leader.  Godin talks about sorting out the question, “Who are you trying to please?”  In the case of someone working within a system, he calls for differentiation between satisfying a “boss” who looks to keep you acting like a cog in the machine – doing what you’re told, bowing down, serving his limited understanding of what will work – and satisfying a different audience, who wants to see you fulfill your larger purpose, use your creative gifts and artistry, and be who you are made to be.  Of course, we have to revert to and trust scripture to temper our grasp of Godin’s empowerment, but I think there is good biblical ground on which to stand.  It is common sense that tells us we are who we are, and faking our way to appear as the cog in the machine someone else wants us to be will never fool anyone.  I sometimes think people are asking us to be what I call “authentically fake” in order to serve their vision of what an ideal worship leader would be like.  Acting out someone else’s vision of the me they think I should be usually causes a critical loss of passion.  I walk away from so many meetings with music ministers praying, “Lord, please break him/her free to fulfill your purposes for your glory!”

Godin’s book is helpful as far as it goes.  Enter the Holy Scripture!  Lectionary Epistle reading for Second Sunday of Lent (Feb. 28):

17Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.  1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!  (Phil 3:17 – 4:1)

These two ideas may seem far apart to you.  Certainly I am in no way equating Godin’s appeal to scripture, God forbid.  Rather, in considering those of you beat down by imposing egos with whom you serve, I sense that need to find strong anchor in your calling, your Lord, the One who deserves your “living sacrifice.” (Rom 12:1)  Let me hasten to say that part of being living sacrifice may include a reminder of who God has placed in authority over you in your situation.  I trust you will never hear me saying, “be insubordinate to authorities.”  That is a pretty sure way to lose a position, and quite possibly your own self-respect.  I am saying, however, that it is crucial for all of us to understand where our call comes from, and trust “the power that enables him to bring everything under his control.”  As music ministers, from our “second chair” leadership position we are expected to serve pastors and church members.  It is inherent in our call to serve the Kingdom.  It is critical, however, that we recognize where that call has originated, still resides, and therefore, “stand firm in the Lord!”  The Creator has built into you certain sensibilities, gifts, artistry, and means of seeing things that are unique to you.  To bury those abilities would seem less than living out your calling.


February 16, 2010

Baptists are not known for observing the Christian Year, as such.  I have sometimes joked that lots of Baptists think lent is something that gets on your clothes or in your belly button (though pronounced the same by most of us, that word is actually “lint”).  The period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday does not attract a lot of attention by many of us evangelicals.  Though we do have a few Tennessee Baptist Churches that engage in at least an adjusted observation of the liturgical calendar, most delay much attention to the last week (Holy Week) of this season that culminates in Resurrection Day, popularly called Easter Sunday.

Whether you, as a worship leader, address this period in your worship planning and material for worship in this season or not, you, as a worshiper, may very well find spiritual benefit from this season of preparation, penitence, and deep reflection.  The Ancient Church observed the season of Lent as a time of preparing candidates for baptism.  Somewhere along the line the emphasis shifted to a more general spirit of penitence, such as would have been practiced by those seeking reconciliation with the Church.  I can remember my schoolboy friends who attended Catholic churches, who gave up some privilege for Lent.  Those ideas were foreign to this little Baptist “P.K.” (preacher’s kid), though I do recall wondering how well I would do hiding my ball and glove, or passing on popcorn for a period of 40 weekdays.  I am not sure anything so tactile would have advanced my spiritual ferver as a ten-year-old.  Like many both within and outside those denominational folds, I was missing the point.

I confess openly that I need times of deepened spiritual concentration and reflection.  I do not just mean navel-gazing.  I mean times of intentionally opening the doors to the spiritual closets in my soul that tend to be ignored at the expense of my holy busy-ness day in and day out.  Engaging in daily readings of the prophets, epistles to New Testament believers, and words from the Gospels that have been selected by others with some objectivity has a way of speaking God’s Word into my spirit.  The little denominational symbol up in the corner of the webpage of the lectionary readings is of little consequence at all.  The anonymity and denominational distance actually seems to further remove any sense of manipulation for me.  I am most certainly not praise conscious of whoever made these selections.  I am, however, astounded to the point of speechless wonder at how pointed the Word can pierce my soul and throw scarring blaze into the corners of my lazy soul.  I need to need the conviction of the Spirit, and to lay thoughts and attitudes before Him Who has been looking at them all along.  For me there is something about this time of year that is pregnant with the necessity of cleansing.  The historic story moves toward the cross in these next few weeks.  The song in mind and spirit seems to be one that was penned by Watts:

            “Was it for crimes that I had done

            He groaned upon the tree

            Amazing pity, grace unknown,

            And love beyond degree!”

Worship Leader, I invite you to observe this season of Lent as a time of confession, penitence, and preparation for renewal.  You do not need to mark your head with ashes from a palm branch, or observe any precise daily liturgical routine to enter the heart and soul of the season.  These actions are certainly available in some form to most of us, but what is most important is that we engage with God, allowing His Holy Spirit to expose and convict.  His renewal of right spirit in us is not just historical fact from the day of our initial decision for Christ.  We need a Savior, “Who was and is, and is to come.”  Perhaps our churches need our model as confessing sinners more than our instruction as cheerful leaders.

Mindful of my need, 


Volunteer or Called?

February 9, 2010

I remember attending a music ministry conference as a very young music minister upstart.  One of the ideas I took home was an attendance motivation project for choir.  In this stealth attendance campaign the director/leader put a poster board chart up in the choir room that had every member’s name listed in a column on the lefthand side of the chart.  Across the top were the dates of Wednesdays and Sundays for a specified period of time (I think they suggested a quarter, or three months).  An impressive grid was created across the chart drawing vertical columns under each date and horizontal rows across from each name.  Then the clever part: in each intersection of name and each Wednesday/Sunday date a colored dot was placed until the entire grid was filled.  I think they used a different color of dots for each section of the choir, such that sopranos were yellow, altos green, etc.  No explanation was to be offered in choir regarding the poster’s meaning.  At the end of each Wednesday or Sunday dots were removed from the spaces of any and all who were absent that day from the rehearsal or service.  The dot was placed on a postcard that would then be addressed to the person who was absent and mailed without explanation to their home address.

The idea was that the first dot would likely raise curiosity on the part of the choir or instrumental member, but that eventually they would begin to figure out what was going on.  OK, I have to admit that I actually tried this one time and found that people got upset over my removal of their dots more than they were concerned with their inconsistent fulfillment of their responsibility in worship leadership.

My purpose in retelling that exercised is not to give everyone an idea of how to motivate stellar choir attendance (of course if you want to try it – knock yourself out).  To the contrary, what I want to suggest is that we need to assist leaders in living up to their calling.  First of all, I guess that means that we need to have and convey a view of talent and musical sensitivity as a grace gift.  We need to be able to convey the difference in having an interest or ability as might be the case for a hobby singer, or community chorus singer, and a sense of calling as should be the case of a follower of Jesus.  It seems to me no less the case for the choir singer, band member, sound technician, or keyboard player than it is for the worship music leader.  Granted, the roles and responsibilities are significantly different, but the bottom line is that the responsibility should be in line with the calling of the ministry.

Even though Tennessee is the “Volunteer State,” I agree wholeheartedly with Randall Bradley that we need to “see the church not as a group of volunteers but as a group of people called out for specific purposes and responsibilities.”  Bradley offers these suggestions for enlistment:

1.     Communicate a vision and establish a sense of purpose.

2.     Model genuine enthusiasm.

3.     Organize for success

4.     Provide continued encouragement, and utilize every opportunity for encouragement.

5.     Serve as an available resource.

6.     Evaluate and provide conclusions.  Let people know how they are doing.[1][1]

There is a vast difference in responding to a need of my church as a community organization, and answering a sense of calling on my life as a follower of Christ.  In the former I may hear the worship music leader or others say something like this: “We really need more folks in the choir!  If you can sing you oughta be up here!  And even if you can’t sing, we’ll work on teaching you how.  Come and join us on Wednesday night in the choir room.  We have a lot of fun and you will always have a reserved seat in church!”  In the case of the later a better approach is for the worship music leader, choir member, or other leader to approach an individual presenting them with the opportunity for ministry of worship leadership through the choir or other music ministry group, inviting them to pray concerning the Lord’s design for their life and involvement in this ministry.  Prayer is key to serve as a forerunner of any such approach.  The Holy Spirit may prepare the way for loving confrontation that invites someone to join the work of building the temple of worship.  There are scriptures that help to underscore our need to be engaged in ministry;

See to it that you complete the work you have received in the Lord.” (Col 4:17)

“As you come to him, the living Stone-rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him- 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:4-5)

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service.” (1 Tim 1:12)

Rory Noland draws this distinction between how volunteers and called persons see their service:

1.     Volunteers see their involvement at church as community service, but people called of God see it as ministry.

2.     Volunteers whine about what it’s going to cost to serve, but people who are called are committed to serving.

3.     Volunteers shrink back from resolving relational conflict, but people called of God seek to resolve relational conflict for the sake of unity in the church.

4.     Volunteers look upon rehearsal as another commitment they’re obligated to fulfill, but people called of God look forward to rehearsal as another opportunity to be used by God.

5.     Volunteers do no outside practicing or preparation, but people who are called of God come to rehearsals and a performance as prepared as possible.

6.     Volunteers are not open to constructive criticism; they get defensive about it.  But people called of God are grateful for feedback because they want to be the best they can be.

7.     Volunteers feel threatened by the talent of others, but people called of God praise Him for distributing gifts and talents as he chooses.

8.     Volunteers want to quit at the first sign of adversity or discouragement, but people called of God dig in and persevere.

9.     Volunteers find their main source of fulfillment in their talents and abilities, but people called of God know that being used of God is the most fulfilling thing you can do with your life.

10.  Volunteers can’t handle being put in situations in which they’re going to be stretched, but people called of God respond to God’s call with humble dependence on Him.[2][2]

At roundtables and in other settings I have heard from many of you worship leaders in our Tennessee Baptist Churches who ask your people to sign, or in other ways agree to a covenant of worship leadership participation in the choir, band, or other ensemble.  Some of you do it with a specified period of time indicated, such as a covenant for the year, a semester, or quarter.  Some begin the “choir year” with a commitment retreat, or observe a dedication ceremony in a rehearsal.  If you have anything in writing that you would like to share with others please send me a copy, or write a brief description and I will include it in next week’s enewsletter.  SEND REPLIES TO

“I beg you brothers and sisters to offer your bodies (your whole selves) as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, for this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Rom 12:1)

Response to God’s call upon our lives has to be more meaningful than responding out of curiosity as to the meaning of a colored dot!  Much more rewarding as well!


[1][1] Randall Bradley, from Prelude to Postlude: The Other Six Days of Music Ministry.

[2][2] Nory Roland, The Heart of the Artist: A Character-Building Guide for You and Your Ministry Team.

The Big Picture

February 1, 2010

One of the many wonderful things that I loved about Dr. Robert Webber was his gift of painting the big picture with words.  He used some words that were fairly new to my ears, but I eventually caught on to the meaning of metanarrative and perichoresis and numinous and found the study and contemplation of those ideas to be enriching to my spirit, my worship, and my leadership.  Toward the end of his earthly life he seemed to pick up his already frantic pace of getting out the word that worship is about God’s story, and that our gatherings need to always center in His revelation, rehearsing (re-telling) that story.  I am on an email list that receives a “Webber Quote of the Week.”  The email just contains a quote from Bob selected from one of his many book writings.  Many if not most of these quotes come back to this theme of God’s story.  I wanted to share the one for this week as it serves to put the church’s mission, theology, worship, and spirituality in a proper perspective within the big picture.  Here is the quote:

God’s narrative is the one true story of the world. The churchs mission is to be a witness to Gods narrative of the world (missio Dei). Theology is the churchs corporate reflection on Gods narrative. Worship sings, proclaims and enacts Gods narrative to the glory of God. Individual spirituality is the personal embodiment of Gods narrative in all of life. Collective spirituality is the churchs embodied life in the world.

Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for
the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals
(Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press, 2008), 124.

It is so easy to get mired down in the details of one day, much less the responsibilities of our weeks, months, years, and life.  I can get overwhelmed just with answering the multitude of emails I receive in a day.  In relation to weekly worship planning and leadership there are lots and lots of details.  Planning done well involves biblical research and study, music assessment, people enlistment, rehearsal scheduling, printed and/or projected guide preparations, and the list goes on.  Sometimes being yanked down into this mire of details can cause us to lose sight of the big picture of what (and Who) this is all for and about.  One of the reasons I think this happens is that we may lose sight of God’s participation in worship.  What is sad is that our preparation, which should be one thing that draws us toward understanding of God’s participation, may actually be one of the things keeping us from the recognition of such.

One of the miraculous aspects of Christian faith and worship is that when we gather to worship, God serves us.  That may be a little disturbing to you.  I said it that way for a reason.  I hope it does disturb, or at the very least challenges your thinking.  Far too often we think of our worship as us serving God.  In that regard we are like Peter when the Lord told him that he (Jesus) was going to wash Peter’s feet, and Peter wanted no part of it at first. (Jn 13)  We wear ourselves out trying to make sure our plan is good enough to be called worship.  We have no such capacity.  We remain completely needful of our Savior.  We pretend that we will somehow feel so “in love” with God that our worship will be worthy.  As worship leaders the danger is that we will join this useless endeavor.  We may use romantic musical fare to try and drum that “I’m in love with God” feeling and call it worship, and worse yet, to allow or encourage our people to do so.  Michael Horton’s strong words speak to our attempts at covering up our needy condition as church.  He says, “Our fig leaves may have become more sophisticated (and expensive), but they are no more successful in covering our nakedness in God’s presence than the homespoun wardrobe of our first parents.  Not only our sins but “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Is 64:6) (from Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church)

Brothers and sisters, I invite you to rediscover the big picture of God’s narration of the world (as Bob Webber put it).  See His work in creation, choosing and delivering a people, sending Savior, paying ultimate price, overcoming death, ascending to rightful place, sending Spirit, drawing us to Himself, calling us to join in ministry of reconciliation, and coming again to bring us home for eternal worship.  And don’t stop at just rediscovering it, sing it and proclaim it!  As you are planning and preparing for worship, step back and consider what God has given us.  Understand that your calling is not a chore you must achieve, it is a gift to the Lord’s Church in which He is participating:

10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.  (Eph 4:10-16)

From within the metanarrative,


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