Move on Over.

How do we make our worship less about ourselves, and more about Jesus?

There are just some performers who can capture an audience with their show or act. Whether it is a musician or band that executes their sound flawlessly, or an actor that causes you to enter into the plot or setting right beside them. Everything that they do serves a purpose. That purpose is to put on a breathtaking show that leaves the audience wanting more. Nothing happens on accident, and they are prepared for everything that will take place during that time.

Would it surprise you that I think that we should share some commonalities with secular performers when we worship on Sunday mornings? Hear me out… because we will get to the differences, but lets hit the similarities first. Like a well-tuned performer, everything that we do when we worship should work to serve one ultimate purpose: to Glorify God. Every word, thought, and action should work towards that purpose.

Also, like a performer we should be prepared. An actor doesn’t show up without having read through their lines and gotten into the mindset of their character, the same way a musician doesn’t show up and try to learn their instrument on the spot.

How prepared are we when we take the stage before God?

I believe that one of the primary problems with the worship in our churches is the lack of preparation. Do we understand what we are doing when we worship? I’m not sure that we do… because if we did then we would surely want to prepare. Here is an excerpt from one of my blogs from a few weeks ago that talks about preparation.

It is of absolute importance that we take time to prepare our hearts to worship God before we set foot in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. True spiritual preparation takes time and effort and isn’t done in the fifteen-minute gap between sound check and service.

In fact, God made this crystal clear when He gave the law in Exodus 19. Verses 10- 11 say,

The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

God called the people to prepare to come into His presence, or even near His presence when He came down onto the mountain where He would speak to Moses. The people weren’t even on the same mountain and they had to prepare! We are actually approaching and entering into the Lord’s presence with our worship… we should seriously prepare! We see consistently throughout Scripture and history that God wants His people to get ready to come near to Him, to prepare themselves for an encounter with Him.

Are you truly preparing yourself? Your worship team? Your congregation? Some of us might be receiving a well-deserved gut-check here… but I think it is time that we return to our original question and topic.

How do we make our worship less about ourselves, and more about Jesus?

Below I will provide a few thoughts and elaborations. Know that they are not exhaustive and take some time to think for yourself before just taking my “word” for it.

It’s about more than music.

The musical portions of our services are probably what comes to mind for the average church attender when they here the word “worship.” When in fact the music portions are just one avenue of our outpouring of worship to our marvelous God.

When that is misunderstood or not communicated and music is seen as a means to encounter God, worship leaders and musicians are elevated in a way that is entirely incorrect. What ends up happening is our worship leaders take on the role of being the ones who bring us into the presence of God taking the place of Jesus who has already fulfilled that role. Let’s remember: Our worship isn’t dependent on the music or sound. The musicians are there to accompany the congregation, not vice-versa.

Get out of the way by providing a correct understanding of what worship is and who it is too and through. It’s not about us or anything we have done… it is all about Jesus.

Don’t do anything to call attention to yourself.

I’m probably going to step on quite a few toes with this point… but please hear me all the way out. We are not rockstars, we are not actors… we are servants. A servant serves their master in a way that reflects well upon the one in which they serve. When a maid is hired to clean a house they don’t expect the credit from the work in which they were called to do. The next day when the guests arrive I guarantee you that the first thing off the guests lips isn’t about how well the maid did, but rather, they will be about how well the house looks. We are to be that type of servant. The work in which we do should make God look great… not us.

You may be thinking… what is the application to this? Well… think about what you do when you worship. Does it cause people to look at YOU? Admire YOUR skill? Be drawn to the way in which YOU worship? It’s a hard balance. How far can we go?

In my particular area or setting of worship we are completely contemporary in using modern instruments, songs, etc. I often times have to be careful at not looking too much like the world, because at first glance our stage and instrument set-up looks just like a U2 or George Strait concert. There is nothing wrong with that, but you get the idea. When we are rehearsing or playing we also need to be conscientious of the things we are doing and how they are contributing to the worship. Is there a need for 3-minute guitar solos that leave everyone’s jaws on the floor? Probably not.

My rule of thumb is… if it causes people to divert their attention to me then it isn’t necessary or useful to what I am trying to accomplish. Be tasteful. Use the skillsets you have been given by God wisely to point back to Him. I’m not saying we should be bland or boring, we have skills… but we also have a greater stage and responsibility in which to use them.

Sing about God… not about yourself.

What are we singing about? How directed are our lyrics? It isn’t uncommon to find lyrics that are shallow and repetitive, that focuses on self and not God being used widely in our local and national churches.

One way to move out of the way and focus our worship on God is to focus our songs on Him and His greatness and glory. God has given us creativity, skill, and hundreds of thousands of words in the English language to describe His glory, beauty, works, etc.

My personal thought about this is… why do we need to sing about our reaction to God. Live it. Allow your reaction or response to God to be evident in your life. If we merely sing about what we are going to do and don’t follow through in doing it then we are just using empty words and phrases to deceive ourselves. God isn’t fooled.

Let’s be picky when it comes to what we are putting before people to sing. Let’s decide now to sing about God and not about ourselves.

Keep the congregation focused and involved.

If we claim that our worship is about God, then why would we include something in our services that doesn’t focus entirely on God?

I have said it before and I will say it again… our entertainment saturated culture has soaked into the church and our corporate worship of God has been devolved into a talent show filled with praise and applause of man. Biblical worship involves the whole congregation, prompted by worship leaders, focusing on and responding to God. Every believer present should engage in worship, not observe it. So sing God’s praises together, read Scripture together, and pray together.

The platform at church isn’t for just the “best” worshippers to “perform” while others watch. It is for the leading of God’s people. There is great weight and responsibility that comes along with it. We should guard it with all that we are!

Now obviously I am not saying that everyone should be allowed to “lead” just because their heart is right… we must balance and weigh the costs carefully. No two situations are the same.

What I am saying is… we should focus our time together on God alone. We must lead… not perform.

Make the reason you gather known!

This probably should be able to go without saying… but unfortunately we miss this point far too often. Why do we gather together? Why do we sing? Why do we do any of the things we do in “worship” to God?

We should be pouring into each other and as leaders we should be pouring into our congregations, and part of that is focusing our limited time together. I’m sure at some point in most of our services a visitor or moderate churchgoer probably thinks, “Oh, this is about God!” But… what about someone of another religion, or someone that knows nothing about the Gospel or Christianity? How are we informing them? It is a shame that we meet together and rarely state why we are there. Do our actions show it? I hope so. Now let’s say it with words.

Let’s decide together right now to move out of the way and be transparent worshippers. Those in our congregations should see directly through us and to Jesus. It’s not about us or anything we do… it’s all about God.

Picking up the Wreckage

What do you do when in the middle of leading worship you have a train wreck? Things are going smoothly and then suddenly the service flies off the rails. Everybody has had it happen, and some “catastrophes” are worse than others… but all of them make us feel helpless and, dare I say it, embarrassed.

Some Sundays we leave feeling as if everything went perfectly, no technical malfunctions or difficulties, no slip-ups or word vomit, and the music sounded well rehearsed and prepared. And then there are the Sundays where you feel like you take giant steps backwards in the opposite direction of perfection or excellence.

When it feels like you can’t do anything right what do you do? The train is “off the tracks” so, now what?

Look to Jesus.

It is true that God commands the pursuit of excellence, but there are times that even the most prepared individual messes up.

2 Peter 1:3 “…as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and excellence…”

Colossians 3:23-24 “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”

Our best-laid plans can be laid to waste in an instant. But, the good news is that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness. When things don’t go as planned, people are able to see more clearly our humanity and fallibility.

God commands excellence, but forgives in the coming short of perfection. To strive for excellence means to do our best, and to be content to leave the rest for God; to be perfectionistic means that we aren’t ever truly satisfied with the results of something that we do.

The only perfect thing on this side of the fall to ever be will be Jesus.

Godly Biblical excellence allows us to live at peace with God, knowing that we are giving our best effort with His aid; to be perfectionistic means to live anxiously, always worrying about the flaws in what we are doing or that are in our past. To strive for excellence means to humbly depend on God for our abilities, strength, and results, and to give Him glory. If we could ever be “perfect” then why would we need God? It is because of our lack that we can see our NEED for Jesus.

My encouragement to all of us today is that our worship is not about professionalism and perfection. Neither of those things are necessary. Worship must always be about the lifting up of Christ.

Yes, we must seek to improve in every area. We can seek help or practice and study more. But in spite of what happens we must NEVER take our eyes off Jesus, or we have missed the point and purpose. Offer areas that you continue to struggle with to God in prayer, and then you give thanks for what happens. We must trust that God will be glorified in all the things that we do, the good and the bad, the excellent and the “not-so-much.”

So, this week, while we will work towards getting the songs right, I hope that we work towards getting to know Jesus better even more. If we deliberately prepare and still make mistakes, the world isn’t going to leave its orbit. God won’t smite us.

Christ will be lifted up, Christ will be honored, and we will be transformed. In the end, we will eventually have PERFECT worship… in eternity with Jesus.

Remember, God can continue working, even through our mistakes.

What is your Purpose?

What were you made to do? Many of us may answer this question with a multitude of things, such as, be a good parent, climb the corporate ladder, help people, etc… some of us may even identify ourselves or our purposes with the things that we do, such as, our jobs, hobbies, talents, etc. In the end, the question is still up in the air… what were you made to do? What is your purpose?

Do you know the main reason God created you? It wasn’t so you could pursue your career, make the people around you happy, achieve your goals, or anything else other than to worship God. You and I were both created for the singular purpose of worshipping Christ in all that we do and bringing Him the glory He is due.

Psalm 29:1-2 commands our worship to God in this way,

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.

God created each of us to worship Jesus Christ… the Son of God and Son of Man. You were made to praise His name.

Chosen to Worship

In 1 Peter 2:9 it says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

I love this verse for a variety of reasons, but one that is often overlooked is the purpose for which we have been set apart or chosen by God. We were CHOSEN that we MAY proclaim His excellencies. Ultimately we are called out and chosen for the purpose of praising!

Created to bring Glory

Often times when we are asked the question, “What is your purpose” we don’t think all the way back to creation… but we should. God had a master plan. Why would a all-sufficient, self-sustaining God go out of His way to create something that would rebel against Him. I would have answer that by saying… what is a better way of bringing yourself glory? God intended for us, His creation, to bring Him praise from the beginning. Isaiah 43:6-7 says,

I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.

It is made through Scripture that they very reason we were created is to bring God glory and praise. What greater purpose could there be?

Colossians 1:16

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. (Emphasis added)

Isaiah 43:20-21

The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise. (Emphasis added)

So instead of the question, “What is your purpose?” The real question should be, “Are you doing what you were made to do?” or, “Are you fulfilling your mandate?

Given the Responsibility to Praise

Revelation 22:8-9

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”

In this portion of Revelation we see John falling at the feet of an angel in worship. Did you notice the way the angel reacted? The angel rebuked John and simply said, “Worship God.” In other words, don’t worship anything else… worship God alone! Revelation is the last chapter of the Bible, and this is the last duty of man: worship God!

What a great reminder of our purpose. Worship is what we were created for. This is the final end of all existence: the worship of God. God created the universe so that it would display the worth of his glory. And he created us to see His glory and to worship it.

Romans 14:11

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So worshipper, are you doing what you were made to do? Is Christ being glorified and honored in your life of worship?

In closing, say this prayer…

God, make me a door in which people can enter into Biblical God-honoring worship.

How Prepared are We?

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am a stickler on being prepared. I feel that if you are going to do something then you better be prepared to do it right and to the best of your abilities or you shouldn’t even bother at all. So many times though I feel as if we as worship pastors get into the daily “grind” or routine and enter unprepared into one of the most important things we do each and every week… leading congregational worship!

You might be saying, “Woah! Woah! Woah! Hold on to your horses there hotshot… you don’t know my life or my habits.” That may be true… but I believe that if we prepared ourselves and our congregations to worship on a regular basis then we would be seeing so much more true, authentic, and Spirit-filled worship in our local churches.

I’ll put it this way… being prepared for a worship service means more than having faithfully practiced and rehearsed the songs to your accepted level of excellence. Being prepared is more than having a strict minute-by-minute or song-by-song schedule to abide by, a team of professionals who could play the songs forward or backwards at any desired speed, or having all your segues and cues polished and ready to go.

Being prepared for worship includes being ready to lead, sing, and play… but it also includes so much more.

God is on a search for true worshipers. John 4:23 says,

“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

Are we being faithful to worship and lead in spirit and truth? Unfortunately for some of us that means we may need to make more time to prepare ourselves, and our teams.

Let me clarify one point before we dive deeper into this subject. We MUST prepare ourselves musically to lead worship. We CANNOT expect to properly lead people if we don’t know our stuff! So, take that as you will. We all prepare differently, but we should settle for nothing less than excellence. Our God is deserving of more than mediocre unprepared worship… and when we continually thank Him for the opportunity to do what we do and yet we don’t spend the time and effort to adequately prepare then we are blowing the opportunity we have thanked Him for. God doesn’t NEED us to accomplish His task and will, but He desires to see us used in His purposes. Prepare well and be ready to be used.

Now that I’ve made that one clarification lets take a look at how we can and should prepare for leading worship.

  • Prepare your Heart and Mind

It is of absolute importance that we take time to prepare our hearts to worship God before we set foot in the sanctuary on Sunday morning. True spiritual preparation takes time and effort and isn’t done in the fifteen minute gap between sound check and service.

In fact, God made this crystal clear when He gave the law in Exodus 19. Verses 10- 11 say,

The Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

God called the people to prepare to come into His presence, or even near His presence when He came down onto the mountain where He would speak to Moses. The people weren’t even on the same mountain and they had to prepare! We are actually approaching and entering into the Lord’s presence with our worship… we should seriously prepare! We see consistently throughout Scripture and history that God wants His people to get ready to come near to Him, to prepare themselves for an encounter with Him.

When we take the time to think about what we are doing when we enter into worship, and lead worship, suddenly personal preparation becomes a priority. Take the time to think about the God that we are worshipping.

  • Prepare your Congregation

We know that corporate worship is of central importance. Psalm 22:22 says,

I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you

We are to praise God in the midst of the congregation! Worshipping Christ together is vital for us as Christians. Life wasn’t meant to be done alone… and neither is Christianity. So think about it, you’re worship isn’t for you… it is ultimately for God and also for encouraging your brothers and sisters in Christ.

A runner wouldn’t enter into a marathon without specific training the same way an individual wouldn’t climb into a ring with a boxer without having at least put on gloves before. We should prepare ourselves for worship as least as well as we prepare ourselves for other things that don’t hold a portion of the weight eternally.

Work to both prepare yourself for worship as well as teaching your congregation to prepare for corporate worship. When we place specific value on something people handle it differently. Place value on your corporate worship.

  • Prepare through Prayer

This point may seem like a given, but when we get scattered and rushed it is typically the first to fly out the window. Part of our preparations for leading corporately needs to be specific prayer for our corporate gatherings. If we can make this a priority I guarantee you that it will help and encourage you and others in your congregation to keep your focus on the Savior King who alone has the power to save, heal and deliver all who call upon His name and who is worthy of all our worship and more!

We must cover our gatherings in prayer. Commit yourself to praying over your services. We can do nothing alone. Here are some prayer points that will get you started.

Pray for direction. Pray that we are receptive to the Spirit and willing to go against our own plans if called to. My Pastor has repeatedly said to me that Pentecost didn’t occur because it was placed or scheduled in the bulletin.

Pray that Christ be glorified. We must continually pray against any sense of pride that may develop within us. Our worship should be about Christ and for Christ. If He isn’t in it then we are just singing songs. All that we do needs to point to the Father.

Pray for change. We must petition the Father for the hearts of the people within our congregations. We can have great services, but if nothing changes then all we’ve done is provided false security. I challenge you to pray for conviction and repentance, it isn’t pretty… but it is necessary and will bring change.

Pray against the enemy. Satan wants nothing more than to make us as believer’s weak. A sense of comfort or idleness is a scary thing. Let’s pray against the works of the deceiver that can invade our gatherings and congregations. We serve a mighty God, a roaring lion that crushes the head of the serpent. Pray against the devil and his works constantly.

John 14:13 says,

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

Hopefully through this non-exhaustive list we have all seen the importance of our preparations. Being prepared keeps us focused on what matters. When we’re spiritually prepared, we’re not as concerned about songs and arrangements (which are important), but the engagement of the congregation and the presence of God take the front seat.

When we begin to ignore the preparation of our heart, trivial matters tend to steal the show.

We also must remember that we have no right to come into God’s presence on our own. No amount of preparation that we can do is enough to make us fit, but we must be faithful to do our part!

Are you a team player?

Teamwork is something that we see talked about everywhere… every office has team “bonding” exercises or activities, sports teams strive to hone their abilities as a team so they can function together and achieve their task more efficiently.

Nothing is more mesmerizing than great teamwork displayed at an athletic event. I immediately think of the FIFA world cup where 11 players work together to move a soccer ball down a huge field past a different set of 11 players to put it in the net. Each player has their own particular role… but none can be done without. Some players serve defensive purposes to “back-up” their offensive players and provide their goalkeeper support. Other players are running the majority of the field gaining possession of the ball and passing it forward so the shooters can shoot. If a role is missing or falls short then the whole team is hurt or at a disadvantage. What good is a shooter without a goalie to keep the other team from scoring? Margaret Carty says,

The nice thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side.

No person is expendable. No job within a team is useless.

A team is a group that works together to achieve a common goal or project. Meaning that a team player is someone who understands that they are part of the group and is willing to do his or her part for the betterment of the team as a whole. A team player does not seek to be a one-man show, but works together with their teammates and relies on their skills and abilities as well as their own as they work together.

What we often fail to neglect is that the church of Christ is a team… and being a team takes intentional work and developing to function together well. All too frequently we have situations where a select few people are either trying to do all, or most of, the work or are stuck doing it because of a lack of cooperation from others.

From a biblical standpoint, teamwork means sharing in the biblical responsibilities based on biblical goals, values, priorities, giftedness, training, and God’s leading.

When thinking about teamwork my thoughts are often drawn to the fact that during Jesus’ earthly ministry He even assembled a team of sorts. The team that Jesus assembled learned from Him, lived beside Him in unity, and was eventually raised to be spiritual leaders and missionaries to the early world. Without the work of the team Jesus built the early church may have never gotten off the ground! It is because of solid teamwork and the will of Christ that we have examples of how to worship today.

So, when thinking about teamwork and the church the question most of us end up asking ourselves is, “why should we strive to be team players within the church?” If we are already successfully juggling 29 different tasks why should we give something up to someone else and lose control?

Below I will provide a few reasons to work towards being a better team player.

  • It develops new leaders.

As leaders we should have the desire to raise up new leaders from among our congregations. It is through shared responsibilities that we discover the talents of others. Many of us might have the fear of being replaced or training ourselves “out of a job” and to be completely honest that is a selfish fear that Satan instills within us to prevent us from mentoring those the Lord puts around us. The body of Christ can benefit greatly if those within its walls with gifts were utilized effectively. Too many of us get so caught up in doing everything that we stifle out other’s ability to serve.

We need to understand that we don’t always have to be in charge… what is God calling you to give up? Control can become a master as well and many of us serve it everyday.

  • It teaches us humility and camaraderie.

Psalm 133:1 says,

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

No statement rings truer and speaks higher of teamwork. A true team lives in unity because they are united together and behind a single goal. What better fellowship? Then promote teamwork.

Also, learning to be a team player directly combats individual pride. It does well to remind us that this isn’t “OUR” work… it is the Lord’s work. We aren’t building “OUR” kingdom or the kingdom of “OUR” church… but rather we are building the Lord’s kingdom.

Guess what? People can do certain things better than us individually… why do we not let them?

A sense of teamwork improves communication and understanding between the members of the body, which also can cut down on frustration. With more people understanding what is happening and being directly involved with ministries the more invested your congregation is going to feel.

  • It allows us to look ahead and reach our full potential.

How many times are we are so focused on the short term that we completely neglect and miss out on the long term? We should be in the business of mentoring and making disciples that can impact this world for Christ. By promoting teamwork we are able to concentrate on the greater obligations of our responsibilities and perform tasks better and more efficiently. Our perceived “unachievable” goals will suddenly be more achievable than we ever would have imagined.

Many hands make light work. -John Heywood

  • It prevents burnout.

Is the load getting too heavy? Well… share it. We have to know how much we can handle and dedicate ourselves to not overdoing ourselves and settling with mediocre work. We have to imagine ourselves in a buffet line with only so much room on our plate. In order to add something we are going to have to take something off or our plate is going to run over and create a mess. The only way to tackle a buffet is with more than one plate… hand the people around you plates and let them dig in!

  • It utilizes the gifts of others.

My last point is one that most of us can probably understand…

How frustrating is it to be in a situation when you see areas in a ministry that you know can be improved upon or that are being ignored but yet nobody will “tag you in” and let you have a turn. What about when you have particular gifts or talents that aren’t being utilized at all… How do those situations make you feel? Now let’s think about our congregations. We have many talented people in our midst and the majority of them aren’t being used, or feel as if there isn’t “room” for them within our ministries.

Want people to get connected and stay connected? Use them. Let them serve.

Teamwork provides the sense that “I belong and am and important part of the body of Christ.”

In closing I want to provide an quote from Jin Kwon. It says,

One piece of log creates a small fire, adequate to warm you up, add just a few more pieces to blast an immense bonfire, large enough to warm up your entire circle of friends; needless to say that individuality counts but team work dynamites.

Let’s dedicate ourselves to not settling for a small fire that gives us a warm “feeling,” but rather let’s strive to include others and allow their passions and “fire” to build upon each others and create an immense bonfire that consumes all that is around it.