Our Focus

Sometimes on Sundays I wonder how people perceive the structure of the services they take part in. There have been times on stage where I think to myself, “I hope this is translating and being understood.” The unfortunate fact is that sometimes it isn’t. I have been in services that seemed to have no distinct structure or coherent theme/ message. Maybe there was one intended and I just didn’t pick up on it… but nonetheless it didn’t come across to me.

The truth is that each and every Sunday should start with a plan… a message, theme, or thought that we are going to expound upon. Obviously our plans are just that… “plans” and we all know that sometimes plans change. A statement I once heard fits that thought perfectly. It goes,

Every battle plan seems perfect until the first bullet flies.

But I personally would rather have a plan and have it altered than not have a plan at all and miss an opportunity. We should understand that we have a great foundation or starting point and that it is demonstrated for us in the Bible. Worship isn’t a new thing! In the Old Testament much of the worship that took place centered upon the Exodus event where God called His people out of slavery in Epypt and delivered them to the Promised Land to be His chosen People.

But… we are new covenant Believers and worshippers. Hebrews 9:15 says,

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

We worship on this side of the cross, so our New Testaments worship is centered on Christ. On this side of the cross God has called us out of our own “Egpyt.” Through Jesus God called us out of slavery to sin and has provided us an avenue to Heaven through the work of Christ. We are His chosen people! 1 Peter 2:9-10 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. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

So… why should our focus be on Christ? Below we will sift through just a few ideas.


  • Christ is our mediator before the Throne.

I almost feel like that point should have ended with an exclamation point! Take a second and think about that… there is no such thing as unmediated worship! In the Old Testament Christians had to have a priest act as their mediator before God to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin. We no longer have to do that because of the ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus… the Son of God!

John 14:6 establishes the route to the Father through Jesus. In that verse Jesus says,

I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.

1 Timothy 2:5 says,

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

Have you ever bought a product because you had the assurance of a warranty? I believe we all have. More than once I have been on the phone for hours jumping from person to person to arrange an exchange or refund only to be told I wasn’t eligible because of some small print or loophole found somewhere. The good thing for us is that in Christ we have full access to God. No hoops to jump through or loopholes to get caught up in! Ephesians 3:10-13 says,

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

We can be assured as leaders and worshippers that Worship Pastors, bands, environments, atmospheres, specific songs, or creative worship planning cannot bring us any closer to God or provide us a more direct or expedient route than the one Jesus already has established!

  • All of heaven worships the Risen Lamb.

We serve a risen King! What other prophet or “god” has claimed to have been resurrected from the dead? Not only did Jesus defeat death and the grave… but He called His shot!

Hosea 6:2: says,

After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up.

On October 1, 1932, during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago New York Yankee Babe Ruth pointed his bat towards the center field bleachers during his at-bat. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to the same spot in center field. Babe Ruth’s called shot is said to be one of the greatest home runs in history. Babe Ruth has been forever concreted on baseball history partially because of this event and story. But… the death and resurrection of Jesus and the prophecies that came before are so much more impressive!

The most significant prophecy in the Bible concerning the resurrection of Jesus is known as “the prophecy of Jonah.” It is a symbolic prophecy represented by the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the stomach of a great fish as found in Jonah 1:17. Jesus himself explained the prophetic symbolism of this unique event on an occasion when He rebuked the Pharisees for seeking a “sign” from Him. We see this in Matthew 12:38-40 where it says,

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus clearly and distinctly prophesies here, using the example of Jonah, that He will spend three days and three nights in the tomb before His resurrection will occur. Jesus called His shot! That is worth praising! In fact, we know that here on earth we aren’t the only ones lifting up the name of Christ.

Revelation 5:9-14 shows us a glimpse of this. It says,

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

We should join in this worship when we gather to worship as His Body on the earth!

  • Focusing on Christ in our worship helps us keep the proper perspective.

The world today is very caught up in itself. What other explanation would we have for the drastic things people do in order to attain a certain “model image” or the attention and affection of others? We as worshippers need to take specific measures and precautions to ensure that we make our worship about God and that our worship times do not become man-centered. We live in a self-centered culture where everything is centered on us… our wants, preferences, opinions, etc. The church is even like this! There is a church for everyone! If you like loud music there is a church for you! If you like soft music there is a church for you! If you want to drink coffee in the sanctuary in a seat that semi-reclines there is a church for you! This may seem ridiculous… but deep down we all know it is true.

Some of us leave a worship service thinking that if we did not get anything out of the service the preacher, worship team, or staff did not “fill our cup” or have somehow let us down. I propose that instead we should be asking ourselves how we did in honoring and serving the Lord in our worship. Is Christ our focus or has our focus shifted to include us?


The Gospel of Jesus Christ should always be at the center of all we do in the church including our worship times. We need to be constantly reminded of the cross of Christ and reminded of what Christ has done for us, but we must move past the cross to the resurrection and the power that it provided us to live and worship as Christ has designed for us to live and worship. Let’s focus on Christ and make Him the direction that our worship points!

 

Advertisements

The Value of Presentation

 


From the onset of this article many of you non-musicians or Pastors may feel a little left out. But… in reality this way of thinking can be applied across the board to ALL things done for God by ALL Believers. So read on and apply!


When it comes to church worship one topic that seems to be a tricky one is the issue of excellence. What qualifies as good enough? If the person has the right heart are they automatically eligible to lead? There is an obvious tension that exists between balancing heart and skill.

On one hand, we all know that worship is undoubtedly an act of the heart. But does that mean that we shouldn’t bother putting effort into our craft and offer forth a subpar offering? Colossians 3:23 says,

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.

So the often-heard statement, “Well… it’s good enough for church” holds no water when held in light of the verse above, and the old saying, “It’s the heart that counts” is only partially correct. God is excellent and His desire for us is excellence. Psalm 33:3 says,

Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully and shout for joy.

As leaders and musicians, we are instructed to do everything we do with excellence and with “skill.” A good question we should ask ourselves is: Why is our need to pursue excellence, and the often lack of such a pursuit, even an issue? In fact, you’d think that Christians would widely embrace the fact that because God is excellent, he has called us to excellence as well, and so we ought to strive to be excellent in everything we are and in everything that we do. But you only have to look at people in our churches and our presentation or “offering” to know that this is not necessarily the case.

But… all of you non-musicians hang in there with me! This is for you too… this exact thought, or pursuit of excellence, can be applied to anything you do in the Lord’s name! What is your offering? What is our method of worship? Maybe it is teaching, working with kids, being a missionary to your community or workplace, sitting with the sick, crying with the broken? The opportunities are limitless!

I believe a major problem we run into with regard to excellence in church is a theological problem that is best interpreted as an underlying “cheap” understanding of grace. People like to embrace the notion that because we are saved by grace, we can just sort of kick back and relax and not be overly concerned about anything. Now of course we would never admit to having that mentality… but the complacency we talked about a couple of weeks ago is a sure sign of it. It seems as if in many ministries laziness, mediocrity, and complacency have become the “norm” and not just accepted… but also expected! Somehow, I believe, we have come to think the pursuit of excellence is incompatible with salvation by grace. Excellence is suddenly not a “spiritually correct” word because we automatically assume that we are seeking excellence for ourselves or to earn/ payback God for our salvation, when in actuality our pursuit of excellence is out of response to a deep-felt conviction of God’s grace that spurs us on to grateful service and a pursuit of true personal excellence for His glory alone!

As Christians saved by grace, we ought to try harder, because we want to bring honor and glory to God through the things he has enabled us to do!

Hebrews 13:16 says,

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

It’s a delicate balancing act between heart and skill… but it is one that we MUST balance. Our offering matters! Our presentation matters!

For example, imagine that your anniversary is coming up and you know that your wife has been admiring a new shiny $300 necklace. You scrounge up all the change you can by flipping over couch cushions and rummaging through the dryer and are somehow able to afford that $300 necklace.

The day of your anniversary comes and goes and two days later you realize that after all the prep work you have forgotten all about it! So… to save face you go to the closet where you hid the necklace and bring it out in the original shopping bag you brought it home from the store in… maybe the receipt is still attached. You hand it to her and say, “Sorry I forgot our anniversary… I got you this.”

What’s the necklace worth? Well, $300! The receipt can prove it.

But imagine if, rather than forgetting that you bought the necklace, you also bought the finest gift-wrap you could find. You carefully and perfectly wrapped the box and topped it off with a beautiful bow, and you give it to your wife with some well thought out words and a smile.

What’s the necklace worth? Well, still $300! The receipt can prove it.

The point is that the wrapping and appearance doesn’t change what the gift is worth. The value is on the inside. But what the wrapping does is communicate to her that you understand what the gift, and the recipient of the gift, is truly worth.

I believe the same is true in our worship services. John chapter 4 makes clear to us the kind of worship that pleases God. John 4:23-24 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

God is after our hearts. This means that real worship of truly reverent hearts doesn’t depend on the quality of music, lights, stage sets, lasers, smoke machines, song selections, or any of the other trivial things we tag along with it. It never has and it never will.

The value of your worship is found in your sincerity.

But… if we view our worship as an offering or gift to God then what kind of picture does the above example paint? What challenge does it present? I believe with all my heart that my unceasing efforts of excellence in my craft, not just settling for “good enough” serves to demonstrate both to myself, God, and my church community, that I understand that very value of worship and excellence. The presentation matters.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

This passage talks about our proper act of worship: taking our whole selves, everything that we can possible offer, and placing it before God as an offering. My love for Jesus should inspire and push me to work exceptionally hard to excel at my craft so that what I bring is the absolute best that it can be… because He deserves it and the presentation matters. When a laborer has a conviction that what they do isn’t just a hobby, but that they are being faithful with what God has put in their hand, then to them that labor is an act of worship!

Our sincerity can be found in our response.

I want to challenge us all to be Worship Pastors who are not willing to focus on skill at the expense of people’s hearts, but not brush off skill for the attitude of “good enough.” Worship Pastors, Christians in general, must know both must be addressed but ultimately realize that worship is fundamentally a function of the heart, and when a heart is transformed in worship, everything else follows including skill and excellence. The more experience I have gained, the more I have realized that my leadership has to become an act of worship that inspires others to worship, my skill has to be at a level high enough to allow me to worship with my presence and leadership without distraction. We become “lead worshippers” when we blend these two functions into one, so that people cannot tell the difference. Psalm 78:72 describes David as a man who led Israel with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. Heart and skill are two primary issues that every worship pastor wrestles with, not just for themselves but also for the people they lead. Both are part of the Biblical mandates that take a central role in the job description of a Worship Pastor.

In all of this it’s important to note that excellence is not perfection. Excellence is an attitude or mindset that drives us to do the best we can with what we have within our ability. Misappropriated excellence creates an environment that is harsh, restraining, and ultimately discouraging. But an appropriate understanding of excellence creates an environment that is fundamentally encouraging as it calls out the full potential of every individual that comes from the Father.

James 1:17 says,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Aren’t you glad that when God created the universe, He took a step back and “saw that it was good,” not “saw that it was good enough.” Our pursuit of excellence is purely a reflection of an excellent God.

So, what is it that matters in our worship? Is it heart or skill? What actually matters is that Jesus is honored in all that we do and in our displayed love for Him.

Psalm 96:7-9 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

Caring for your Team

One of my favorite parts of ministry is the relationships that inevitably are formed. If you are already in ministry you know what I am talking about… if you aren’t yet there you have something to look forward to!

As a Worship Pastor, my role goes FAR beyond what people see on Sunday while I am on stage. I feel a sense of responsibility for those who serve alongside me. I believe that it is very important for all leaders to do all they can to honor and respect those who fall under their leadership. Whether it’s paid staff, paid musicians, or volunteers, we must do all we can to enable servant leadership within our teams. Here are a few quick things I believe we as worship leaders can do to accomplish this task and role.


  • Set your volunteers up for success.

At New Hope Community Church, where I serve, we rely on volunteers for many tasks. On a typical Sunday we will use 8-9 musicians and singers and 6-7 media personnel… and that is just in my area of ministry! I believe a key to maintaining healthy and dependable volunteers teams is the preparation that takes place beforehand. As a leader you must set your people up for success and equip them adequately.

This can include many things and at every church it may look a little different, but ultimately put yourself in their shoes and imagine what you would need in order to succeed in that particular role. For me some of these responsibilities include: scheduling services orders in advance (obviously as much as possible and knowing that flexibility is required), setting a team schedule for planning purposes, creating set schedules and routines to cut down confusion, providing and setting up materials, equipping with training as needed, etc…

If things are not prepared to some extent before our volunteers get to a service or rehearsal then I feel like we have failed them. Spend some time and set them up for success!

  • Challenge them.

Have you ever had a person or circumstance that caused you to have to extend beyond what you knew you could do a rise to a new level? Looking back on that now are you thankful for it?

I’m hoping both of the above answers were yes.

I believe that church ministry and volunteering can be both encouraging and useful in equipping people for life outside of the services on Sundays. There are things that I learned through experience in church ministry and volunteering that still impact me to this day. Sometimes a person just needs to be challenged and pushed in order to reach that “next level.” True high capacity volunteers will rise when you challenge them. When you encourage a person to get deeper into the game, I have found they will embrace the challenge rather than be turned off by it, and it will create more buy-in from your team members, and it will raise the level of expectation and excellence within your church.

Challenge your people and watch them rise to the occasion!

You never know… God might be using you and your area of ministry to prepare them for the next season of their life. That sound engineer might be the next technical director of a growing church, that musician or singer might be the next great songwriter that writes the next set of the hymns of our faith!

  • Pastor your volunteers.

I find it interesting that the word pastor is derived from Latin where it literally means “shepherd” and relates to the Latin verb “pascere” which means, “to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat.” Shepherds in Biblical times lived amongst their flock. They consistently worked with them and taught them the best way to go. The sheep responded to the voice of their shepherd and trusted that he would not lead them astray. At night a shepherd would gather their flock into a pen or cave and sleep across the entrance in order to protect their sheep from predators that lurked around in the night. Shepherds cared for their sheep, and they demonstrated that caring by being there beside them and tending to their needs.

John 10:11-14 says,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.

Are we being pastors? Are we being shepherds? If roles were reversed and you were in another person’s shoes would you trust YOUR “sheep” to you?

We have discussed before the difference between a Worship Leader and a Worship Pastor. The title “Worship Leader” seems to emphasize leading a service, the title “Worship Pastor” however is about leading people. There is room for both, and you’ll have to see what direction God takes you. But… I myself desire to be a Worship Pastor, because in many cases I as the Worship Pastor am the main pastoral influence for my team members. They are with me more than they are in the seats of the sanctuary.

The duties of a Worship Pastor can be difficult to figure out because many of our responsibilities often reflect the job of a producer, music director, or a programmer. But good Worship Pastors always tend to find ways to go beyond the logistics to the love they have for people. The starting place is our worship team. If we can’t pastor our own team effectively, we’re not going to be able to pastor our congregation. We need to pastor and disciple our team. The Great Commission has one verb in the imperative or command. Most would say that that verb is the word “go,” but in reality it is “make.” It means that the focus of the Great Commission is on the “making” rather than simply “going.” So the real command is: While you are going, make disciples.

Let me challenge you to take time to get to know your people personally. Not just what they do for you! Pastor your people. Walk through their struggles and their joys with them. It’s about so much more than your individual ministry… it’s about doing life together!

It’s time for us to focus less on our arrangements and more on what our people need. Our role is less about executing flawless music as it is leading people to, and living like Jesus in front of them.

True pastoring takes place up close… on a personal level.

Proverbs 27:23 says,

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.

  • Guard them.

How many times have you heard a current or past volunteer say that they are burned out?

It is so important to give people a break – especially volunteers. Our band and production volunteers are expected to prepare for and attend a weekly rehearsal, then a 8am call time on Sunday, and then two worship services. In all, most people put in about 10+ hours per week when they are scheduled and preparing like they should be. We would be crazy if we expected a volunteer to do this consistently and never get weary.

Every person is susceptible to burnout… even if they think they aren’t. While using our abilities each and every week we are constantly giving and giving and pouring out all that we are before our congregations while leading them in worship, and sometimes we just don’t “take in” enough in return. I have found that I have lost my joy in leading worship before without even knowing it! By guarding our people, keeping a watchful eye for burnout, and allowing breaks, we are leaving room for refreshment where our team members can be poured into with nothing to be expected of them in return. I know that I personally am not a never ending well of resources and because of that I shouldn’t expect my team members to be!

Every person and every team is different and I understand that many churches don’t have this type of demand on volunteers for a Sunday service, but I still think it’s important that you give people time off and guard them from burnout.

  • Be an example to them.

I have heard it said that, “We don’t reproduce what we want, but we reproduce who we are.”

Being a leader is not limited to a schedule or place. True leaders step into that role and maintain it until they die. A good leader knows when to lead and when to follow, when to speak and when to listen. We set the standard for those around us. For me, that might mean leading passionately and genuinely from stage. For others, that might mean leading the congregation in response to my leading from stage.

As leaders we must set the standard. We should have the same level of passion “on” and “off” the field! If we are only able to demonstrate leadership when we are in the front then we have missed the point. The leadership demonstrated in the spotlight should be a mere overflow of the leadership and passion for Christ that we demonstrate everyday. The standard should always remain the same.

Our posture is either inviting or distancing people. Whether we like to admit it or not, when we are labeled as “leaders” or as “Christians” people begin to watch us and take notice of even the things we may not be aware of.

In a blog by Autumn Hardman from Hillsong church she says this,

Our body language says more than we think it does. If we have our heads down, solemn faces, rigid bodies, while the worship leader is doing their best to engage and lift the congregation — there is disparity in our message. It’s all of our responsibility to be in unity in leading and encouraging the congregation through whatever position we are serving in.

A true leader leads by example and not just by words.


How are you caring for those you serve alongside?