Archive for February 2011

Hitting the Wall

February 28, 2011

Worship Pastor/Music Leader, do you ever “hit the wall?”  Distance runners and cyclists will recognize that term, or its cycling parallel, “hitting the bonk.”  My distance running has been limited to jogging a few miles a day or two a week to try and stay in shape, and my bicycling limited to helping my children learn to ride when they were at that age a good while ago.  Nevertheless, I think the terms can be used to help us who plan and lead worship weekly to consider our conditioning for the long haul of lifetime worship leadership.

Runners face certain mile markers in a distance run, or in training for distance runs, that present an obstacle, or a wall to be overcome.  Whether it happens at five miles, ten, or passing the half-   marathon mark on the way to conquering the full marathon, there are walls along the way that present a psychological and physical challenge to the runner.  I believe worship music leaders face hurdles over the years of service as they seek to be effective, faithful, successful, and fulfilled in their ministry.  I could extend the runner-cyclist analogy, but rather than waste space with such, I want to go straight to the heart of the matter(s) related to continued ministry through worship leadership and pastoring for the worship pastor/music minister.

It has been my experience, personally, and what I hear by discussion with hundreds of worship music leaders over the years, that there are multiple distractions that become hurdles along the way of serving in Worship Ministry.  Let me name a few:

·         taming our ambition to be in a bigger and better church setting

·         being considered too young by elder members of a congregation

·         being considered too old by younger members of a congregation

·         working with a pastor whose sermon planning challenges your work pattern

·         serving with pastors and/or staff whose philosophies differ from our own

·         making transitions in music style to fit a changing congregational or pastoral

·         expectations

·         adapting music ministry schedules to fit changing lifestyles of our people

·         scaling music ministry scope and groups to fit a changing congregational

environment and expectations

·         retooling for changes in our culture and community

·         changing technical demands of the ministry and the music

·         working through tense staff relations or situations

·         adjusting to workload changes

Like I said, these are just a few of  the hurdles.  There are many others.  I believe there are different ways that we face these hurdles depending somewhat on our station in life and ministry tenure.  My ministry with churches and worship leaders largely seeks to provide environments and networks where help and encouragement are available for the challenges we all face.  In fact, we have recently introduced a new ministry among participants in our state singing groups called “AMP” (Accountability Ministry Partners), which was instituted largely to help one another through just these sorts of circumstances in ministry.  In many cases younger ministers are paired with those who have more experience and the relationships are mutually beneficial – younger guys and gals get the benefit of having those with more experience speak into their lives; we older guys and gals get the benefit of hearing new trends and attitudes of a younger generation.  It’s all about edifying one another, strengthening our commitment to share the Gospel effectively, balancing healthy tradition with contextual relevance that are effective in fostering authentic worship in all of our churches.  You know, I have found that helping others in similar ministry settings can actually help you find renewed purpose and strategies in your own setting as well.

I am also finding there are many guys and gals, that have served faithfully for decades in worship music ministry who are now in a time of life that should be a time of enjoying and celebrating the fruit of their labors, but instead are “hitting the wall.”  Whereas they have worked through numerous challenges over the years, this one is not like the others.  At a time that it seems they should be able to rely on their vast experience to fuel effective ministry, they are discovering that someone has changed the proverbial scorecard.  Whereas they may have found ways to get over many of the previously mentioned hurdles at other times in their ministry  they now face a very real  struggle to find the right path to finishing well.

Here are some remedies to consider for this formidable (maybe the most formidable) challenge (wall) of all:

·         Remember Who called you and depend on that relationship above all others

·         Assess what is needed for you to maintain a sense of personal integrity in

your ministry – musically, spiritually, physically, emotionally

·         Strengthen relationships in and out of your congregation including other

ministers who understand the unique challenges of ministry longevity

·         Prayerfully develop a plan toward spiritual refreshment and renewal – such

as personal retreat, devotional plans, ministry action not connected to work, time with your spouse and family

·         Take advantage of denominational resources and other trusted sources for

assessments in areas of vocation, finances, ministry approach, general

health as needed

·         Consider work with a consultant or coach for professional and personal

issues to work through particular challenges

·         After assessing your situation consider a transparent discussion with those

who have authority over you – pastor, personnel committee, deacons or elders as appropriate to  see if they will support needed adjustments

I pray we will all find renewed strength in the substance at the very core of our ministry of worship itself – God in Christ present through the Holy Spirit who convicts, rebukes, comforts and renews.  As we worship the Author of life, let’s not let life in the ministry overwhelm us.  Hear instruction through the Word, spoken and read.  Let the songs and singing speak to your own heart – “Why should I be discouraged? His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”  “I need no other argument, I need no other plea.”  “Savior, He can move the mountains.  Our God is mighty to save!”

Prayerfully,

Paul

Working at Worship

February 22, 2011

Sunday experiences for me this week provided a reminder that Christian worship is expressed in many dialects.  I attended a worship service with a new church plant that held its first public worship service in an elementary school gym.  The pastor’s transparent excitement and understanding of faith walk were magnetic.  The music was predictably loud, but included familiar songs as well as one I had not heard before.  The people’s participation seemed to be in keeping with the same level of familiarity as mine.  There was ample invitation and opportunity for worshipers to join the song, whether they could be heard or not.  Later in the day I went to another church where I met with a  young pastor and a worship planning team to discuss worship in their small intergenerational church.  Those in the meeting indicated  their church had a definite need for more spirited participation in worship singing.  We shared some of the challenges inherent in a setting like theirs and I heard about the music to which people responded best in their setting.  The songs they discussed included older and newer songs with some people responding better to older and some to newer (no surprise there).  We talked about helping the congregation past song (or style) preference-based participation toward a spirit of incarnational service to one another.  We prayed that the Lord would guide as to whether and when the church might be ready for a worship renewal conference.  Following a meeting with the choir of that church I headed to my own church to complete the day by listening to an evening of choral music presented by the Belmont University Concert Choir.  Through the course of the cay I felt I had covered a pretty wide gamut of settings and dialects of worship through song.

 

As tired as this discussion of music style can get, it still lives on.  In many cases churches have found their voice that either tilts to one side or the other of a stylistic spectrum, or they have settled on a blending of expressions.  In other churches, while some blending of styles predominates their worship singing, there is still a tension that lies just under the surface waiting for an opportunity to prove a superiority of one expression or the other.  The best thing I can say about such scenarios is that in truly reflective moments worshipers may recognize that we are hopeless to conquer that tension on our own.   Only the Spirit can change our hearts.  The purpose of this article is not really to address the value of these stances, for any of these mixtures have potential to serve or not serve the larger purpose of genuine worship from God’s people.  My purpose, rather, is to call attention yet again to the underlying foundation of worship singing and to call us again to offer our bodies (our whole selves) as living sacrifices which is our reasonable act of worship. (Rom 12:1)

 

Worship is work.  When a colleague Tennessee worship pastor and I worshiped in the Campo Grande Church in Rio de Janeiro on a Sunday morning while scouting our Tennessee Mens Chorale mission trip several years ago, we sat in a service where Portuguese was spoken.  That morning we had no interpreter.  We sang English on the songs we knew,  tried to stumble out some Portuguese on those that we could.  We listened to the passion of the preaching, sensed the heart of the people, read our own Bibles, experienced a warmth of open hospitality from God’s children in this other part of the world, and sought to return the same the best we could not speaking the language.  It was rich with Gospel in that our faith in Christ gave relation to these brothers and sisters.  It was work as we had to listen, translate mentally as much as we could and demonstrate participation that reflected the Spirit alive in us.

 

Worship music leaders, call us to worship Him, never the music.  Admonish us to work at the task, not as if this attracts more of God’s favor on us, but rather that we might reflect the Gospel of the Christ who came not to be served, but to serve, has paid for our sins and set us free to love one another and to be one in Him as He is alive in us.

 

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:9-14, NIV)

 

Faithfully,

Paul

 

Valentine’s Day and Worship

February 14, 2011

Today is Valentine’s Day.  If that is news to you, stop reading, pick up the phone and order flowers sent to your loved one NOW.

 

On this day of considering how deeply I love my wife, I am reminded of the first scripture verse I learned, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) And the first “scripture song” (remember those?) I remember learning was First John Four Seven and Eight. One of the few songs that included its biblical address in the song lyrics:

 

Beloved, let us love one another

For love is of God,

And everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God

He that loveth not, knoweth not God for God is love

Beloved, let us love one another

First John four seven and eight

While you may or may not have dedicated a time in gathered worship Sunday to have all the husbands share a loving gaze at their wives, or vice versa,  the fact is that love is a creation and immeasurable gift from God.  It is Who He is.  “God is love.”  It is important that we as worship leaders (preaching pastors and musicians) reclaim for Christ the truth of love’s roots and foundation. This means placing our love for one another within its context of biblical love – God’s love for His bride, for the world, His creation.

 

As our culture seeks to distract us to thinking that love is something with which we satisfy ourselves, we must stand in the gap to point to the selfless love of Christ.  Such love shows us how to treat our spouses, our families, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and all our neighbors.  It is one more reason why our worship must become larger in scope. Our worship needs less “A,B,C’s” of a good marriage, and more Grand narrative of God’s love story.  We are His creation!

 

I hope you will have opportunity to express your love to your spouse in a special way today, and to do so in a biblical context.  How often does scripture instruct us regarding our love for our spouses in light of Christ’s love for the Church, and vice versa. I pray you will have opportunity to give yourself to your spouse today.

 

Love is good, of course.  It is interesting to me how Christians can recognize that worldly terminology seeks to hijack some God-given acts, such as sexual intimacy.  How often in television shows or movies do we hear about people “making love,” regardless of their relationship. In fact, it almost seems these days, the more perverse, the better.  Our moral antennas go up when they try to mainstream homosexual relationships, and to a sadly lesser degree, when unmarried couples “make love.” We are appalled (while we watch).  How many sermons or articles have we read about these perversions in our society?  I would say many.

 

While we rail against selected cultural evils, are we missing our proclamation of God’s ultimate good?  Do we sometimes diminish the very power of God to triumph over evil?  Cornelius Plantinga Jr. referencing C.S. Lewis states, “Evil wants good; in fact, evil needs good to be evil.  Satan himself is God’s Satan – a creature of God who can be really wicked only because he comes from the shop of a master and is made from his best stuff.” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, Eerdmans, 1995)  One of the marvelous privileges of worship leading through music, Word, Table, and sending is to proclaim the triumphant nature of God in Christ!  That triumphant nature includes the kind of hope our world craves: We are God’s creation, We live in a fallen world, God sent His only Son to redeem us, Christ died for our sins, rose again from the dead and is at the right hand of the Father, the Spirit lives in us and gives power to overcome the world, Christ will return to take us with Him to eternal triumph and worship.  Amen!

 

Evil is alive in our world, but doomed. Let’s be certain our worship lifts up Christ and His power over evil.  Read the “end of the story” and sing the song of deliverance!

 

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you[a] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Revelation 22:12-20 (NIV)

 

Maranatha!

Paul

 

Eucharist

February 4, 2011

Eucharist is a powerful word.  It is attached intrinsically to worship and specifically to the remembrance of our Lord as we come to the Table.  My purpose in bringing up this word today has little if anything to do with divisions over sacramental and/or ordinance understandings of the Table of our Lord.  And harder yet is resisting the temptation to get on my soapbox as to the need I believe we have as Baptists to make the Table more central in our worship and to be more frequent with our participation.  Those discussions are for another time, and there are some wonderful books that help us work through those doctrinal issues.

 

The very word, “eucharist” is rooted in thanksgiving.  I certainly do not mean the November holiday (we’re a long way off from that), but rather I mean the heart posture of gratitude.  The word is verb and noun in our usage related to worship, eucharisteo or eucharistia, though both should lead us toward the same kinds of actions and spirit.  To meditate on eucharist is to consider “charis” (gift) and “chara” (joy) and to worship at the cross where the debt for our sin was paid.  When worship truly lifts up Christ, our gratitude expands to the One who created all things, in Whom all things hold together, and the One who prepares a place and table for us, Who will return again as Triumphant King.  It’s the big picture!  For your life, yes, but for the whole cosmos!  Worshiping in the spirit of gratitude embodies the Jesus Who shows me how to respond to my own failures and empowers me to forgive others.

 

Gratitude for what?  Absolutely everything large and small.  Consider that Jesus at the Last Supper gave thanks for bread and wine, the most mundane of daily sustenance.  Just before facing the horror of the cross, Jesus gives thanks for the simplest blessing.  At the recommendation of close friend and brother in Christ, Todd Brady, I am reading a book by Ann Vosklamp, A Thousand Gifts, in which she begins a list to write down one thousand gifts for which she is grateful.  I resonate deeply with such a project.  If you have a day of drifting into a funk, I encourage you to do the same.  If you are like me, it won’t take you long to be overwhelmed by the blessing of God’s goodness, His givingness.  As I address in my book, I believe worship is life, and vice versa, life is worship – everybody and everything included.  The question is what we worship.  Contemplating God’s givingness is overwhelming.  As I grasp life as grace gift I am drawn all the more to the giving God; Father, Son, and Spirit.  In my case, I think about the beautiful faces of my grandchildren, and the instant healing that comes through their smiles and laughter – thank God.  I reminisce on romantic evenings with my bride, sunny days on my grandpa’s farm – the smell of fresh hay, the simplest pleasures like showering after working up a fierce sweat – thank God.  The smell of Mom’s Apple pie, or the calm brought about by Dad’s voice when it was still strong – soft spoken strength that could move mountains of frustration – thank God.  It is hard to stop typing as more and more things flood my mind, from any perspective, the largest thoughts my mind can imagine, or the most minute detail of life – thank God.  And on it goes. Overwhelming.I wonder if that word is implied in Eucharist as well.  Is Eucharistic living living that is so grateful as to be overwhelmed with God’s gift of grace to the point of true joy regardless of consequences or circumstances?

 

Worship Leaders, live a Eucharistic life!  There is plenty of biblical compulsion to live this way, even to make music in this spirit. (Col 3:16-17) “Singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”  “And whatever you do whether in word or in deed” . (whole life worship).  Your music selection and leadership approach will be deeply affected by such a lifestyle.  Yes, there are challenges beyond our control.  Yes, there are negative people and negative occurrences that taint our perspective in a given moment, BUT thanks be to God, even these are life gift.  Yes, there are days of sorrow and lament and indecision, even these are life gift.  Thanks be to God!

 

Praise the Lord, rise up rejoicing,
Worship, thanks, devotion voicing:
Glory be to God on high!
Christ, your cross and passion sharing,
By this Eucharist declaring
Yours the final victory.

 

With deep gratitude in my heart unto God for all of you,

Paul

 


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