We just finished producing my new song “The Call” and if you were at the CLS conference in DC, I want you to have it for free! When I heard about the theme of this year’s CLS conference, “The Call of christians in the law” I knew I wanted to share this song of faith with you. Enjoy. I hope it is an encouragement to you.
So you’re a leader and you know musical worship is important. But you aren’t sure how to coach your worship team towards greatness. Where do you even start? Is it all about preference, what’s cool, or top 40 worship songs? Maybe you should just leave the worship stuff to the musicians. How can you speak into your musical worship so it becomes a vital part of pushing your ministry or movement forward? Here are seven signs of a healthy worship team that even a tone deaf leader can evaluate.
Engagement – How far back from the first few rows do you see the crowd engaging in worship? How loud is the volume of the congregation/crowd singing? If the people are “worship zombies” just standing there, watching with their mouths ajar instead of singing, then something is off. It could be that they need to be given permission and encouraged to engage in worship. It could be that the songs are unfamiliar or in a key too high for untrained people to sing. Maybe the vocals are sung too ornamentally and are hard to follow or everyone on stage has their head in their charts instead of demonstrating what it means to engage. Or maybe you are trying to take them to a deeper level of worship before they have had the chance to get their hearts ready. There are lots of things it could be, but the level of engagement is an easy indicator to evaluate.
Unity – Is the team resolving conflict in a healthy way and moving towards each other in love, or are there a lot of hurt feelings and bad attitudes festering? Jesus commands us to leave our sacrifice at the altar if we know our brother has something against us. Go and be reconciled first, He says, before we continue our worship. It is that important to Him. The apostle John says we cannot really love God whom we have not seen if we don’t love our brother whom we have seen. Let’s not kid ourselves. We can’t pretend to be in love with God when we allow conflict and division to be the norm. A passion for loving others is the fruit of anyone who is truly meeting with Jesus in worship.
Quality People – Are you able to attract and keep quality people? When things are done responsibly and with excellence and care, it attracts people who value those things. It doesn’t take long for a punctual person to throw up their hands and walk away if everyone is constantly late to rehearsal. In the same way, people who have invested a lot of time and effort to develop their talent tend to want to use them in a place where excellence is valued.
Lack of Distractions – Do you have a culture that works hard to prevent mistakes that would distract people from meeting with Jesus? A commitment to excellence is not an obsession with perfection. It means that you work hard to remove distractions by checking (and sometimes double checking) your work, running through problem areas like transitions between songs to make sure they will go smoothly, and creating a culture where people are used to receiving feedback that will make what they do better. Of course, there will be mistakes and we should cultivate an environment of grace as well as excellence. But the bottom line question is, “Did you do all you knew to do to prevent a mistake from happening?” If yes, then it just happened. No big deal. Let’s learn and move on.
The Gospel on Display – If you think about the content of the songs you sing, the words you say, and the moments you create during worship, are you telling the whole story of the gospel? If your worship leaders have been personally gripped by the Gospel, many times it will naturally come through in their worship choices as well as in their private lives. But more often than not, unless we are intentional, our worship gravitates towards songs we like and only the aspects of the gospel that most resonate with us at any given time. But celebrating God’s majesty and holiness, crying out because of our sin and need for forgiveness and grace, marveling at God’s provision of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only way to the Father, and declaring our commitment to follow Him and surrender our lives to Him, are all aspects of this amazing story we call the Gospel. Over time, all of these aspects should be seen through our public worship. Not only that, the effects of the Gospel should be on display off the stage in the lives of the people leading in worship.
Prayer – Does your team make prayer a priority before, during, and after leading worship? Worship is a spiritual activity that is spiritually accomplished. Without God’s spirit we are just making noise. Prayer characterizes people who understand that Christ is the only mediator between us and the Father and that the Spirit must be at work to translate our praises to the Father and open our minds and hearts to receive His light and life. On the flip side, if we think it’s all on us to make worship great or “lead people to the throne,” we are in trouble. It can lead to crippling anxiety if we think it is all on our shoulders or careless overconfidence if we think we’re so awesome that all we have to do is show up and play for the Spirit to move.
Sustainability – Is musical worship a vital and strategic part of your overall ministry or is it an add on or afterthought? Putting together quality musical worship can be a lot of hard work, even for the most talented people. It’s wise to recognize the contributions of the people who are working on worship by taking steps to give them the time, resources, and support they need. It is easy, when someone is capable and spiritually mature, to want them to lead in lots of areas. Resist this! If you want healthy worship, it takes time and effort. Give your worship team people permission to say no to serving in other ways, so they won’t burn out and so they can do a great job. And just like any other part of your ministry, you should have a plan for multiplication. Be intentional about gathering and training up more worship leaders. Your current worship leaders will need to or want to step down someday. Maybe they will need a break or it will become clear that it’s better for them to serve the ministry in a different way. (Having worship leaders change roles to lead in different parts of the ministry will be more natural if they already see themselves as part of the strategic whole.) Either way, the only way to combat inevitable change is with intentional change. Have a plan for multiplying your worship leaders!
My 6 year old daughter and 4 year old son aren’t used to sitting through a Sunday service and the results were a bit disastrous this past Good Friday at my church. While I was up front extolling the work of Christ on the cross through song, they were squirming in agony in their seats saying loudly, “I’m bored.” “All this music makes my stomach hurt.” “I have a headache.”
To be honest, sometimes I feel this way when I read the bible. I know God’s word will make me a better worship leader and child of God. But I often find myself merely reading words on a page. I’m supposed to read this but it just not doing anything for me. The conclusion I’ve come to is this: It’s not the bible’s fault. My children were bored because they didn’t get what we were celebrating. The more they understand the sacrifice of Christ, his love, his suffering, the more they can get inside the story, the more impactful a Good Friday service will become.
One of the tools I’ve used the last few years to overcome staleness when reading God’s word is biblehub.com. They have a website and a great app for iphone and android I can pull up anywhere. When I read a passage and I feel like here may be some deeper meaning I am not getting I can easily look up the greek or hebrew and draw insights from the meaning of the original language that makes the scripture fresh and exciting for me.
This is what happened when I used biblehub.com with the first few verses of psalm 67, a passage I’ve heard or read these words so many times it lost meaning for me. Here is the ESV.
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2 that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
I went to biblehub and this was the personal translation I wrote down from the original hebrew as part of my devotional.
Divine One, yearn for us, favor us.
Speak into us words of love
Brighten us up with your face
We want your attention, your full attention
Come experience Him, everyone on earth
The way He moves, sure and strong and beautiful.
He dances among you now, among every type of person
His help, his deliverance, His victory, His Jesus (yes, the root hebrew word was Yeshua)
We want a confession from every man woman and child
Confess, the Divine One, He deserves it all!
I finished this creative and mental study with worshipping God. I marveled about his compassion and desire for every type of person to know Him. I thought it was so cool the image of his movements among the people, as well as the fact that the word for Salvation is Yeshua where Jesus gets his name. And I told Him what I thought about Him.
I left that time jazzed about God and his word. The images and words stayed with me for days. Bottom line, God and His word are amazing. It is worth our time to dig in because His word is alive and active and sharper than any two edged sword (Heb 4:12). When we do dig in, it is really ourselves that come alive!
I never understood people who got all excited about nature. They would say, “I hiked up a mountain and just really felt close to God.” or “I saw the sun set over the ocean and it was like God just…bla, bla, bla.” Hiking just made me sweaty and tired. I was more excited to hang with friends and swim than to watch the sun set. And spring just meant rain, mud, and having to mow the grass. I felt like I was on the outside looking in…at the outdoors.
Then I had a revolution in my heart. God, the Father, started to take shape in my heart as just that…a Father. I have always seen him as a distant judge who wanted to punish me for my sin until Jesus stepped between us. To be honest, I thought He was holding out on me and only giving me what He was obligated to give, because of Jesus, and nothing more.
This was an imbalance of a good idea, namely substitutionary atonement (Jesus died as a substitute for my sin to satisfy God’s wrath), that created a 2 dimensional of a much more complex God. It didn’t take into account His compassion and love, not to mention the fact that Jesus was the “radiance of the Glory of the Father and His exact representation” Hebrews 1:3.
It was ground breaking for me…Jesus and the Father were in it together! Sending Jesus to die was a huge sacrifice for the Father. What good parent wouldn’t rather die than let their child die. So this was a loving plan concocted among the Godhead at great cost to them all.
A funny thing happened as I began to see the Father’s heart and His goodness. Nature came alive. It was like I had a personal spring in my soul. Why are their so many leaves? Do we need them all? Why are there flowers of so many different colors and types? In the abundance of nature, suddenly I saw the Father’s generosity that overflows towards us. In the majesty of nature I saw His immense power. In the complexity and interconnectedness of it all, His wisdom.
So as nature starts to come alive this spring consider meditating on God’s overflowing goodness. Psalm 65 is a good place to start. Here is an excerpt.
9 You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
11 You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
In the Gospel of John Chapter 5 verse 30 to the end, Jesus is running down a list of witnesses that testify that he is the Christ. Deuteronomy 19:15 says that no one can be convicted on the testimony of one witness, there needed to be 2 or 3 witnesses to establish the truth of something. In this passage Jesus says that he bears witness to himself but that is not enough. He goes on to list John the Baptist, Jesus’ own supernatural works, God himself, and even the writings of Moses. But right in the middle he says something really arresting. There one group that doesn’t get to testify…the voice of man. John 5:41 says “I do not receive glory from people.” in verse 44 Jesus goes on to explain, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”
As a worship leader and performer the issue of seeking the glory that comes from man is something that I have dealt with for a long time. It is dangerously exhilarating to seek after the praise of men and feel like you are attaining it. It is debilitating to seek after it and receive criticism instead. But look at Jesus, when it comes to the “glory from people” he doesn’t accept it. Court is not in session. The verdict about who he is and what he is worth has already been passed and it comes straight from the mouth of God. “This is my beloved son.” period.
What kind of people could we become if we internalized this way of thinking and memorized John 5:41 “I do not receive glory from people.” What kind of freedom would we have in life and ministry if we knew to our core that God has spoken over us and his verdict in Christ is, “you are my beloved child and in you I am well pleased.” That is a glory that will fill us up and that will free us to receive criticism and praise without batting an eye. Because people’s criticism and praise are just something they are saying and it not a validation of who you are.
The more I become uninterested in obtaining glory from my mere human counterparts and become focused on receiving it from my heavenly father the more I love being me and the more freedom I feel to lead worship without an agenda to gain praise for anyone but Christ.
Deep thought from this mornng “What if our beauty in heaven will be the scars we’ve gained for Christ?”
I found this old blog post online from a guy I know nothing about named Greg. He does a great job fleshing out what I was thinking. Check it out. I’ve copied and pasted it here.
scars in heaven
My wrist hurts just a little. I don’t know if it’s from falling off the skateboard or from punching the punching bag. It could be collaborative. I think some of us will have scars in heaven. Jesus, in his resurrected body, still had nail holes in his hands or wrists, and a spear gash in His side. (John 20:27). It didn’t cause Him any discomfort. Our scars won’t keep us from soaring on wings like eagles, running and not growing weary, walking and not being faint (Isaiah 40:31). I wouldn’t expect our injuries sustained in mere daily life in an imperfect world, nor those due to sinful activities, to carry over into the next life, not for those made new in Jesus anyway, but those wounds acquired in obedience and service to the Kingdom will still be visible somehow. Paul will still bear in his body the marks of Christ (Galations 6:17). He and John the Baptist, I expect, will surely have their heads reattached, but somehow we will recognize what happened. As for Jesus’ martyrs who were burned at the stake, for example, I don’t know how, but I think we’ll know them, too. So I wonder if I, at the renewal of all things, with my shins and knees and arms all baby fresh and clean again, will be ashamed before those people whom the world was not worthy of (Hebrews 11:38). I wouldn’t expect to have any good conversations with them about how I kept my mouth shut to avoid contraversy, or how my feelings were hurt a little when someone disagreed with me about Jesus. I don’t want to spend my brief time on earth carefully considering what everyone thinks about me. Should God have a long and safe life in mind for me, then there will be no reason for shame. But should He will that I know “the fellowship of sharing in His suffering” (Phil 3:10), then I don’t want to miss it. I want to say that I “consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).
I’m not sure what else Greg has written but I loved this post. Here is a link to this blog post.
The story of the prodigal son is a beautiful parable Jesus tells
to a group of religious teachers and an on-looking crowd. It is found in Luke
15:11-32. Basically, a son asks his father for his share of the inheritance
which the father gives him. He leaves his father and older brother at home and
runs off. He spends all his wealth in wild living and then becomes so poor that
he is forced to care for pigs and eat the food he is giving them in order to
survive. He comes to his senses and returns home hoping, at most, that his
father will allow him to work for him as a slave. Instead, he finds his father
running out to him, hugging him, and crying over him. His father forgives him, wishes him good
luck, and then sends him on this way to make it on his own penniless but
THAT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED!!! But how often do we act like that is
our reality as Christians. The whole focus of our Christian life becomes not
sinning and then repenting from sin when we do mess up. We are constantly
crawling back to God hoping that he will accept us, at most, as a slave. But I
believe that God has more for us than that. His plans for us are so generous
that they blow our minds. He wants sons and daughters not slaves. The real end
of the story goes like this. After running out to is son with hugs and tears
the father not only forgives him but he reinstates him as a son, gives him the
signet ring of authority, gives him sandals and a robe, kills the fattened calf
and throws him a party.
His older brother hears about this and gets angry. He refuses to
join the party. His father comes out to him and asks him to come in. But he
refuses saying, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never
disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could
celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your
property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ The
father replies, “‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is
yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was
dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
The older brother refuses to go in to the party because he sees
himself as “slaving” for the father but not being rewarded. He resents sharing
his inheritance with the rebellious younger brother. The younger brother could
have stayed away because of guilt, thinking he only deserved to be a slave.
In “So Much More” I try to walk through the story of
redemption pointing especially to the end God has in mind for us. Christ is our
true older brother. He is not upset with the father. Rather, he has joined the party
and is ready to share his inheritance with us. The question is, are we going to
join the party and experience the riches God has for us? Do we believe God says to us like the father in the story, “everything I have is yours?” Here are some scriptures that inspired the song.
4 But because of his great love for
us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with
Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been
saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated
us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7
in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his
grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit
of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you
received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the
Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we
are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then
we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his
sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are
of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
We were trying to put this page together in a way that made sense and we realized there was no simple way to do it. There are so many things I am passionate about that even when I was trying to neatly package and box in myself I had a hard time doing it. It also seems that my life is at a crossroads yet again.
My wife Laura and have been performing as a couple for the last year. It has been fun and challenging traveling with our daughter Vivian, who was born Oct ’08, a month before we launched our band, but we managed to go on several tours, record a short CD, make some fun t-shirts, and have a blast. In April we are expecting our second child, a boy, and that will definitely limit what we will be able to do as a band.
Another thing I am passionate about is writing songs and helping others write songs. There is nothing like jamming with someone and pushing the creative process until you come up with a song you and others enjoy. The songs I like writing don’t have to be primarily about God, but in my opinion since He is the source of all life it all flows back and forth to Him and from Him and it is all connected.
I also love worshiping and helping others worship God. This past summer I had the awesome opportunity to lead my fellow staff in worship at our national staff conference in Colorado. After Christmas I was at the San Diego Christmas Conference with an amazing group of students leading worship. In a couple days Laura and I are headed to Spain to lead worship at another conference. It is so fun to work with people using our gifts to glorify God.
So, the long and short of it is that I am going to put my life and my interest on display for the glory of God. Keep checking in for stories, pointers on song writing, and worship resources.