What is your Calling?

We have all been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” When we were younger our responses probably came quicker and were more comical with answers like: Spiderman, a Cowboy, or my personal favorite… rich! But as we grow older that question brings about some hesitation and can make some people cringe.

“What do you feel called to do?”

I used to cringe when I heard that question because I wasn’t always exactly sure. I knew what I wanted it to look like… but I didn’t know how to get from point A to point B, and at times I still think I’m trying to figure it out! If you are unsure of what you feel called to do then don’t worry about it because you’re actually in good company! The Bible is full of examples of people who took a while to figure it out.

A man we all know of by the name of Moses spent 40 years taking care of sheep before God used him to deliver the Israelites out of Egypt. David was 30 years old before he became King. Noah was by our standards an old man when he was commanded and dedicated himself to building the ark. Abraham was too old to have children when he was called to be a father. I could go on and on! But the best example for me is the example of Jesus. Jesus was thirty years old before he was in full time ministry. He was the Son of God here on earth and knew His purpose from the beginning, but He was thirty before that “calling” took a “life altering” course.

I believe that everyone is “called” to do something. We all have a purpose, or a mission to accomplish. I feel that it is important to clear up that misconception. Many people assume that a “calling” is something for only a pastor or minister, but a “calling” is not just for pastors! I personally know many people who are called to work in the business world. Their minds just work in that way, and hopefully they use that avenue to help people and contribute to society. We all probably know someone who is called to be a mom. Think about what life would be like without them! They stay at home and sacrifice for the sake of their children. How about those “called” to the medical profession? Life would hurt, quite literally, without them!

These things shown in the right light sound a whole lot like ministry don’t they?

Once we realize that we are called to do something then we can start to ask ourselves some important questions to help us uncover that “calling” and more directly get from point A to point B.

Let’s think together.

  • Where has God placed me?

What if I told you God might have you placed exactly where He wants you?

I believe the first step to discovering our calling is evaluating where we currently are. This can be a location, or even just a place in life that you are currently in. As a full-time Pastor let me assure you that many of you can “reach” people that I simply can’t. I have no respect with them or just the title of “pastor” makes them write me of immediately. Part of your “calling” might be right in front of your face!

We tend to think that the people who serve God are the ones who leave where they are to go somewhere else.  But all of us can serve God.  Right where we are!

Has God put you in a prime location to work out you calling? Proverbs 3:5-6 says,

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

  • Who has God placed around me?

Who do you interact with on a daily basis? How do you demonstrate Christ in front of them? How do you serve them?

Galatians 5:13 says,

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

That passage clearly lays out a purpose or “calling” for all of us. Many people leave the “Serving others” part of our purpose to the pastors, missionaries, and charitable workers they know… but the Bible says everyone is called to serve God by serving others.

Only a small minority of people use their lives to serve others, but Jesus demonstrated for us that serving those around us is an integral part of every Believers calling” and purpose. John 13:12-16 says,

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

  • What abilities has God given me?

Have you ever met a person who just seemed to be gifted in a certain area? We all have. I have had professors that could make subjects come alive… I have also had some that could put you to sleep in record time. I have heard incredible singers and musicians and I have heard the more musically challenged make an attempt.

Being gifted simply means that a person’s ability in that area is “special” or exceptional. It means that person has a special skill that many of us do not possess. Yet no matter how gifted an individual is in a particular area, rarely, if ever, will one individual be exceptional in every area. No matter how good a musician may be, he still has to depend on other people for something. This is no less true within the church!

God gives His people the ability, through His giftings, to excel in particular areas of ministry in order to serve others and further His kingdom.

Looking for direction regarding your calling? Ask yourself: What are my spiritual gifts? What comes naturally for me? What am I good at? What am I not good at? This seems obvious… but many of us waste our time and spin our tires relentlessly trying to force ourselves down a path that isn’t meant for us because we just don’t possess the skill or abilities necessary to head that direction. Sometimes it’s hard to accept the limitations that we have… I personally think being a jockey would be cool, but I am 6”0 and don’t know how to ride a horse, and you might want to be a Worship Pastor, but you possess no musical skill or administrative gifting. We all have different gifts for different purposes and callings.

1 Corinthians 4:31 serves as a great reminder of this where the Apostle Paul says,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts and I will show you a still more excellent way.

Because Christ’s church is made of many individuals with different gifts, God expects us to depend on others in the areas in which we don’t excel. 1 Peter 4:10 says,

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

A good idea of where our calling is might be discovering where our gifting is. The we must remember that any gift that’s left unopened or is disregarded is useless. God gives us specific gifts as the primary avenue for Him to use us in His church to bless others. Every Christian should watch for opportunities to minister to others, to use their gifts as a blessing and an encouragement to others.

  • What has God given me a passion for?

Lastly, what consumes your thoughts? What do you do in your spare time?

Sometimes we miss this obvious clue that can lead us to deeper purpose or calling. What do you have a passion for? I have often said that I can teach someone to do a job or a task, but that I can’t teach him or her passion. A little passion can make up for a lot!

Often our passions are directly related to our calling.

Another tough question that sails along in the same boat is: Would you do “your calling” for free? In fact, part of my passion is writing and discipleship and I am doing that for free with this very blog that you are reading. Unfortunately not every “calling” comes with a paycheck. Can you accept that?

I was once told that the best question to ask yourself before going into ministry is: Can you do anything else? At first that question threw me for a loop because I am young and physically able to do many other things… but then I understood. My purpose will not allow me to be fulfilled anywhere else.

What kind of other questions should we be asking regarding our purpose and calling? I’d love to hear from you.

Asking the Necessary Questions

A Chinese proverb says,

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

What’s the one thing that the world’s leading innovators share with children? They both learn through asking questions. It’s the simplest and most effective way of learning. Yet somehow we have forgotten this lesson as we get older. We just don’t value questioning as much as we should.

Anthony Robbins once said,

Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.

Not asking enough questions has a direct impact on the quality of choices that we make.

Paul Sloane said,

Good questioning should stimulate, provoke, inform and inspire.

Warren Berger said,

Asking the right questions can help us learn, explore the unknown, and adapt to change.

This week I began thinking about the key questions that every church leader should be asking. I thought about the types of questions I try to ask in my particular area or life in ministry. Here are the first five questions that came to my mind. Let’s think together.

  • Am I doing what God has called me to do?

This first point is always the best place to start. The first question we should always start by asking is: Am I doing what he called me to do?

Sometimes it becomes real easy to lose sight of the bigger picture because of the smaller tasks. We’d be lying to ourselves if we said we haven’t done this. Sometimes it is the small things that can tie us down. That last email, meeting, the programming of lights, or scheduling of teams can ultimately wait. All of those things are good, and most are necessary… but they must be put in their proper place.

Are we doing what God has called us to do?

This is the “big” question. In Acts 6:1-7 we get a great reminder that it’s possible to be doing the ministry of God without doing the ministry God has called us to do. Not every ministry is “our” ministry.

Acts 6:1-7 (emphasis added) says,

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The twelve apostles were not to be bothered with anything, except the spiritual needs of the people. Perhaps that is one of the problems with the way we do “church” today. They weren’t to be concerned with the church potlucks, outings, charitable causes, etc… We even see in this verse that they realized the detriment of being concerned with the feeding of the widows! As ministers of the Word of God they were to handle that Word and enable others through that message to be the hands and feet.

I am afraid that we have made businessmen out of our ministers today. We learn as much about the way to raise money, to have a successful bus ministry, or book-writing career, as we do about the Word of God. In reality we should not be burdened with these administration duties. It takes too much of our time away from prayer and study of the Word.

Let me ask you another question: What is it that distinguishes spiritual leadership from other kinds of leadership?

1 Corinthians 2:14-15 says,

But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others.

At the heart of spiritual leadership is discernment, or the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God.

We see this with Moses and the Israelite journey. Moses had a crucial job as a leader and more importantly as a discerner. Moses had to learn to recognize the presence of God and then lead the Israelites in following that Presence wherever it went. So… you might be asking: How did he do it? Moses demonstrated for all spiritual leaders what it takes. He entered into God’s presence regularly, asking God what he should do, and then demonstrated obedience by leading the people in that way.

So, as spiritual leaders we must ground our lives in prayer and other intentional spiritual disciplines. We need to spend dedicated time reading and reflecting on Scripture, worshipping, self-evaluation, and listening.

We must create space for God’s activity in our lives!

  • What are we good at? What can be better?

It is important to acknowledge what an organization does well and learn from those strengths. Building off of those strengths allows for continued growth in an area of expertise and eliminates wasted time and building frustration.

For example, if your Worship program is experiencing success with events you may want to continue to grow the program so it is able to reach more of the community. Every church is different, and if we are working with a Kingdom mindset it will eliminate the need to “compete” and we can support each other with what each church does well. Additionally, discovering what you do well can help you to try and duplicate it in another area!

Ask yourself: What should my church be known for in this community?

For a moment, ignore anyone who attends your church, staff and members alike. What does the rest of the community know about your church? Do they see thriving children and youth programs, appealing worship, Gospel driven preaching, exciting programs and activities? When we answer that question and come to terms with what we are known for then we can better utilize those things or even re-align the avenues that lead those areas to our primary purpose(s) or vision.

A clear vision statement is the blueprint for how an organization achieves its mission. Church members should have an understanding of why the church exists and what it is trying to achieve. A Lack of vision leads to a dying cycle.

G.K. Chesterton wisely said,

It’s not that they can’t see the solution. They can’t see the problem.

There is no perfect church and learning to acknowledge areas of weakness allows for identification of improvement opportunities, and helps us identify what areas of ministry needs help.

Once we discover what we do well and how that contributes to accomplishing our vision then the next obvious question is:

Are we really focusing our time, money, leadership, and prayer behind the things that will produce life change and community impact?

If the answer to that question is “no” or even a hesitant “sometimes” then there is an obvious area that needs to be adjusted. Unless the Gospel message is at stake we need to pursue what we do well and not stress about the things that we don’t.

  • What are our measures of success?

Have you ever had a time in your life where you felt like you couldn’t do a job well enough because of unclear expectations? I have. In fact, there is a saying,

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

What this means is it is difficult to hold people accountable for unknown expectations! Every church, as well as every leader, should have identified and understood measurements of success that help steer budgeting and decision making. This goes hand in hand with the last point because a defined measure of success supports the idea of budgeting towards the vision!

For example, is our attendance rising or declining? Do we have frequent visitors? Do we turn visitors into members regularly? Is our church growing both spiritually and in numbers?

Churches that are stuck and not bearing fruit tend to hate these question. I don’t believe healthy churches are necessarily big churches… but I do believe that healthy churches are growing churches!

There is always an opportunity to improve, but we cannot improve apart from a plan, a vision, and an idea of what works and does not.

  • Are we empowering people to do God’s work?

Volunteers are the engine of the church. Declining churches pay people to do all the ministry, whereas growing churches challenge people to use their gifts.

Ephesians 4:10-16 (emphasis added) says,

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ask yourself: Am I developing leaders?

Since I began ministry I consistently have challenged myself to replicate a new and improved version of myself in others… throwing out the bad things about myself and instilling the good in them. What I mean by that is, as a minister I should be working towards replacing myself at all times. I have no fear of training up the person who will take my job from me! Therefore, I should be equipping the saints for the work of the ministry! Sound familiar?

This equipping includes both spiritual discipleship and leadership mentoring, and I think it’s what’s going to distinguish the churches that last longer than one generation. Who are you equipping? Who are you raising up?

  • Do I have the right leaders around me to accomplish the vision?

As leaders we can’t be dictators or the poor guy from “Cast Away” all alone on our own little island. We have to share the responsibilities by enabling, empowering, and trusting those around us to support our vision through their working.

Exodus 18:18-23 (emphasis added) says,

You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

We must delegate and surround ourselves with people who support the same vision and have the talents and abilities to get it done… with God’s help of course! This isn’t some new business leadership principle. This is biblical advice that’s been around for thousands of years and guess what? It still applies today!

Those are the first questions that popped to my mind. What are the questions you are asking as a leader in the church?

First Impressions

Welcoming people to your church is the first step in growth and opening the possibility to continued discipleship. We’re called to share the gospel with our neighbors and we throw the doors open on Sunday morning. But too often when church visitors come, our churches, or even the people within it, are less than welcoming.

Think about a time when you went to an unfamiliar church. What hesitations did you have? Walking into a church for the first time can be scary. Are we making our first-time guests feel welcome? Or are we driving them away unintentionally by the things we do or say, the state of our buildings/ ministries, etc.?

There is an old saying that is absolutely true,

You never have a second chance to make a first impression.

It may seem silly to dedicate a blog post to this arbitrary topic… but the reality is that if we don’t have a welcoming environment to keep people around then we are making our job of sharing the Gospel with them harder! All of us have visited churches where our first impression was less than positive. First impressions matter, and sometimes no amount of work on the backside can make up for a poor first impression. A statistic I recently read stated that, on average, people make eleven decisions about things in the first seven seconds! Think about that; inside the first minute of coming in contact with your church, people are making decisions about it whether good or bad.

How are we helping ourselves out and how are we hindering our possibilities? Let’s talk below how we can make better first impressions.

  • Pray and accept.

The first step for us in making a good first impression is to throw off our preconceived notion of what kind of people God will send us. Not every person who staggers into church is going to look like us, sound like us, smell like us, or even have the same interests as us! Does it make them any more or less needy of Jesus. Nope!

How many of us “church-folk” pray for an abundance of people to pour into our churches so that we can effectively minister and expand the Kingdom of God, but then turn our backs on accepting them as they come because they “mix things up” a bit.

Heath Mullikin says,

Lots of people pray for God to send new people to their church. Few accept the folks God actually sends.

Let’s consider how our churches can welcome teenagers, 20-somethings, 30- somethings, working professionals, high and low income, elderly, etc… What types of things are we scared of? Tattoos? Piercings? Non-traditional church attire? Cultural differences? Musical tastes? Reality check… there is nothing Non-Christian about these things! What kind of things are we desperately holding onto that aren’t the Gospel that serve as roadblocks against our community, a community that is drastically changing? What if we could change the way we look in order to more effectively reach them? What if we could change the way we sound? What if we could lose our “religious” and theological vocabulary in order that they might hear and understand?

In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul says this,

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

I like the New Living Translation version where it put it this way,

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.

Is this statement by Paul something we should imitate, or is this just something for special people to do like missionaries in other cultures?

In fact, Paul himself answers that question in the next chapter(s). 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1 says,

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

I love the freedom we as Believers are given in that verse. It says, “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” In other words, adapt as much as you can in non-sinful ways!

Then Paul confirms we have the freedom to take this approach where he says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Ask how you, in your own life, can use your freedom the way Paul and Jesus did, if by any means you might save some. Are we accepting the people we are praying for?

  • Do the prep.

First impressions are no longer physical but often they are virtual! Potential visitors will check out your website before they walk into your worship service. We all have done some “research” or “snooping” before visiting a place of business or church.

Statistics say that the first visit that folks make to your church is virtual! Prospects and potential members are starting their quest on the internet first! They are checking us out in the comfort of their homes and deciding whether or not they’re going to physically make the visit based on what they find. We have to make sure our online presence is attractive. We must push our LiveStream (if we have one) and make our websites/ social media sites easy to navigate and overall simple for anyone to use.

Most of you have spent a little time online already just by reading this. Imagine if we all took a moment every time we were online to promote our church and the activities that are coming up. I know where I work we have a pretty extensive video collection on YouTube. We have songs of worship, full-length sermons, and even sub-2 minute “post-able” clips. By simply posting church content we might open a door for a visitor to have their interests peaked by something we do or offer.

  • Do the “small” things well.

Have you ever watched America’s Got Talent? Many of the acts are great… but do you know what stands out to me? The preparation! They have all kinds of artistic needs ranging anywhere from trapeze equipment, musical equipment, etc… They have staff prepared to do quick changeovers, the sound is good, the lighting is on-point, and the announcers/ judges/ hosts know what to say and how to say it. They have planned commentary and entertaining in-between segments to constantly be “pulling in” the viewers attention. They do even the “small” things well!

If you are like me (production minded/ artistic) a whole program can be dismantled by a small oversight or disruption, and unfortunately many of our churches make these “small mistakes” every Sunday!

It could be a dead microphone battery or an inexperienced operator. It could be the “announcement-giver” going off the cuff in a painful way. Maybe the sound is bad or the lighting is distracting? There have been times as a church staffer that I have even been unsure what is going on during a service and who is supposed to be doing what!

These issues honestly aren’t a big deal to us who can look past them because of our reasoning for being at church… but to someone who is a first time guest and may not be sold on the whole “church-thing” they can be a HUGE deal.

If we take what we do on Sundays seriously then we should be seeking excellence and professionalism alongside our authenticity. In order to be trusted with the “big” things we must first excel in the “small” things.

  • Use “fresh” eyes.

Many church members, pastors, and volunteers have forgotten what it’s like to be a church visitor. I fall into this category.

Have you ever been in a room that was a mess? Maybe if you are a parent it was one of your children’s? Maybe you had a college roommate that was a slob? It never ceases to amaze me when you ask that person where something is and they can tell you exactly where it is within the mess. They have become comfortable at navigating their own mess! Sometimes us “regulars” get comfortable navigating our own mess! We spend countless hours in the church and can probably navigate the facilities with our eyes closed.

Any good realtor understands this approach. When they first enter your home, they will take a quick tour. They will notice things that we don’t because of their “fresh eyes” and direct our attention to them.

Whether it is a lack of church directional signs, disorganization, or uncleanliness… we just might not notice it! As Andy Stanley says,

Your sermon starts in the parking lot.

Once guests decide to visit your church, what do they see when they drive up? Are the church grounds maintained? Are we offering a professional, inviting, and prideful atmosphere? Is it clear to guest which door they should enter and are our directional signs guest-friendly? Are there parking lot greeters there to assist and welcome? If it’s true that most impressions are made within the first 30 seconds, we’d better pay attention to what’s going on in the parking lot.

Once in your building, what do visitors see? Is it obvious that your church is prepared and is expecting guests, or are people surprised that a guest would show up and are operating “as-normal?”

We see our church on an ongoing basis, so we don’t have the benefit of outside eyes. We only have one time to make a first impression, so we must go out of our way to make it a good one!

  • Communicate well.

“You want me to do what?”


Like we talked about above… we are accustomed to ourselves, our church, and our way of doing things, but others certainly are not! For some people going to church might feel just like going to a foreign country where you don’t speak the native language. Because of that all of our directions and everything we say must be intentional, easy to understand, and clear.

Let’s face it… church can be weird, so sometimes we need to explain what’s happening.

We need to make directional signs clear, go out of our way to direct and escort guests to where they need to go. Remember that members know where to go; guests don’t.

Another important note is that we need to pay attention to and watch our language. The words we use and how we say them can make church visitors feel like outsiders or make us look outdated or ill informed. Not everyone speaks “theologian” and things that seem obvious to us are cryptic to others.

  • Enthusiastically welcome, but don’t enthusiastically overwhelm.

Visitors please stand up!

That is always my worst-case scenario at a church I am visiting. It happens to all of us… Pastor or not. Let’s put it out there… first-time church visitors don’t want to embarrass themselves or be spotlighted!

Every person is different, and that can be a challenge. One person’s welcome is another person’s too much. Sometimes we have to give people space. Most of us want to make people feel welcome, but we don’t want to scare them away by being creepy or overwhelming. There is a delicate balance that has to happen in this area, and what works for the ministry I serve in may not work for you.

I think that one of the hardest things for churches to do is understand what it’s like to be a newcomer. Sometimes we forget, because we are ritualistic or “routine” people. We go to the same places, park in the same spots, enter in the same entrances, talk to the same people, and sit in the same seats.

Make the life of a visitor easy and make their first time a pleasurable experience.

  • Create a “safe” space.

No… we aren’t talking about the “political” and cultural safe spaces we hear about on the news and through the media. We will preach the Gospel truth whether it is agreeable or not. What I am talking about here is a place that someone can feel “comfortable” in.

I personally am not going to get into what your security policies should be…that’s another post by itself, but I will say that you need to have some. It is better to be prepared for any type of emergency and not need to ever implement any of the preparation than to need it and not have it.

This “safe” place also implies that visitors feel safe from what they are used to in the world… harshness, rumors, backstabbing, etc… Sometimes us church folk can be ruthless to each other and I will be the first to say that when a visitor picks up on that they won’t come back. Visitors want to feel “secure” in a new environment because that new environment itself is probably making them uncomfortable.

So… with all that in mind, how bad do we really want to grow? Let’s put some work in and watch God move.

To the Worship Leaders out There!

I’ve been looking for an article like this and haven’t found too many. Honestly, we as a whole should be ashamed that most of us are too busy writing about the “10 things we wish Worship Leaders would stop saying” instead of building each other up and offering resources that can possibly encourage, or help someone to avoid some of the pitfalls many of us have hit. What is the point of spending our time and energy being judgmental and standing on our soapbox while others ministries are falling apart, marriages are failing, and passion is fleeing. Come on leaders… step up!

How many of us have struggled at times? If there is no part of you that is screaming “YES” then you are the exception. I haven’t ever met a robot in ministry so I’m pretty confident in saying that all the things discussed below can help us to “stay the course” and honestly stay sane.

In the past several years at times I have felt burnt… and during the “crispy” times I wish I had some of this insight. I have had friends lose their flame and “tap out” who have needed someone to come alongside them and hold them up. Let’s go into “survival mode” together and discuss some things we need to be doing below.

  • Sharpen your Mind

Just like we study our craft… we should also study our faith. Learning new things is never a bad thing. The old adage you can’t teach a dog new tricks shouldn’t apply to us because some “old dogs” are more than willing to learn!

We can’t be content to just love music… we have to love God’s truth more.

Nothing sustains a lifetime of worship leading like an ongoing pursuit of the knowledge of God. The more you see and experience God in His Word, even the difficult parts, the more you will love Him! The Word of God was designed to keep us fascinated for our lifetimes. Have you ever felt burnt out? Me too. Anytime I lose my fuel to lead I can almost count on it coming back through nearness to the Word.

I actually believe that in the long-term our knowledge and passion for the truth of the Gospel will fuel our worship!

We need to know theology… not just for others, but also for ourselves! We are guiding people into an experience of worship, and that worship needs to be grounded in the foundations of the Word. But more importantly God desires to be known by us as He is. It honors Him, pleases Him, glorifies Him when we know and declare His truth. Through that achieved purpose we can be refreshed.

Ephesians 6:10-17 says,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Back in the times of Jesus, Roman soldiers would “gird” their waists with a belt. This belt served many purposes. Their uniforms would include a helmet, shield, sword, short sword/ dagger, a breastplate, what we would consider a dress or skirt in today’s times, and a pair of boots. A soldier going into battle/ long march, or at alert position would take the bottom of their skirt and tuck it into their waistline and belt. If their waist was not girded with a belt a soldier was vulnerable because they couldn’t move as fast and their feet would become entangled in the bottom of their skirt.

The belt that “girded” the soldiers waist was what held the rest of the system together. Without it the soldier would be lucky to move and fight efficiently. This idea is similar to a police officer or soldier on today’s times. They have tons of gear and quite a bit of weight to pack around. If anybody reading this has ever carried just a holster and a gun before they will understand the importance of a good rigid belt to support the system.

The belt is their foundation. The truth is our belt. The truth is our foundation.

The belt we use to “gird ourselves” that we spoke of above was not only was used to tuck in the lower portion of a soldiers uniform, but it was also used to hold the sword at a ready draw position and to hold the shield during times when it wasn’t needed. So if a soldier was to lose their belt it would make the use of the sword (of the spirit) and shield (of faith) harder as well. So if we lose truth other parts of our walk with Christ become harder, and we become more and more vulnerable to the ways of the world and to the attacks of the devil.

Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

In this verse Paul urges Believers to have the Gospel message dwell within them, and to teach and admonish each other through the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Each of these three actions follow the original direction which is to “let the word of Christ dwell in” us richly, indicating that the teaching and exhortation is to occur through the action and content of the songs (psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). This passage provides a powerful incentive for theological instruction regarding the music of the church. The Scriptures show us that worship serves as a teaching function of the church and those tasked with leading the song of the people must be adequately prepared for it!

Theological training allows a worship leader to plan meaningful ways in which the revelation of God through Scripture and the liturgy become evident to the congregation.

Bob Kauflin, in his book Worship Matters said this,

If over the course of a year, the only theology people heard was from your set lists, would people really know God?

Whether we like it or not we are teaching others through the songs we instruct them to sing!

  • Sharpen your Skills

This may seem obvious, but any “seasoned” Worship Pastor can tell you that often practice is the first “to-do” item that gets pushed off for other pressing needs of the ministry. In fact I believe that I probably got to practice and play music more before it was my job!

This particular point comes natural for some and is a distant thought for others. We shouldn’t stop pursuing excellence or the betterment of ourselves as worship leaders when we find a position or job. Outstanding worship leaders value training and love learning. Feel like you’re in a “rut” or afraid that you might be developing one? My response to you would be: Don’t get complacent or content where you are… continue moving forward, learning, and becoming a better worshipper and lead worshipper. This point doesn’t mean the same thing for every person in every situation, you don’t have to go to seminary to learn… there are a variety of blogs, podcasts, books, seminars, and resources out there that you can dig into for free!

Sometimes we get lazy or the office work can overtake the practice time… trust me, I understand completely. But a good practice session can be refreshing! We need to take time to remember and reignite the passion for music that once was one of our primary drives. Study your craft.

John Bellerjeau once said,

The bottom line is that a worship band is still a band; and a bad band is distracting.

You’d be surprised at the enjoyment that comes from being able to lead a song without even thinking about what you are doing musically. It is liberating and empowering. If we want to tap into our true potential then we need to be practicing. It will both improve and preserve us.

  • Grow your Relationship

Zachary Sapp once said,

Your heart has to be in the right place before you present yourself to God and the congregation; no matter how big or how small.

How often have you told someone that you would do something for them and then forgotten down the road and not come through? I do that more than I should. I also feel like we do that to God. We got into the ministry to serve Him and to seek Him. But somewhere along the way God is the very thing that we sometimes forget or ignore.

In all of our workings we must remember to put Jesus first.

I have said before that,

We lead from our presence more so than from our position, and if we ignore our relationship with Christ then our impact may be limited or not reach the potential that is really there.

All that we do in public worship is a reflection of our private worship. We absolutely cannot lead people to where we haven’t gone ourselves. We must learn to worship God by faith. This may sound easy… but it is SO hard! That basically means that when the “spiritual” feelings aren’t there, God is still worthy to be praised. Psalm 27:8 says,

My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.

I’ve learned that if I am going to lead people in worship that I, myself need to be engaged in worship with the Lord off the stage.

Have you ever had guests? Most of us have. How much preparation goes into hosting people for a meal? I know if you are like my wife and I the prep usually begins with scrambling around the house picking up the dirty socks (hers of course… anybody that knows me knows that I don’t wear socks often) and running the vacuum cleaner. Then, when the guests are there you make sure the food looks just right and that you have enough place settings. You know the drill.

In Luke 10 we see as similar situation. In this chapter there is a story of two sisters named Mary and Martha. We all know the story. Martha is hosting Jesus at her house, and like many hosts, she busies herself with serving. To Martha’s dismay, her sister Mary does not help with the chores and all the busywork. Instead, Mary chooses to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teaching. When Martha confronts Jesus about Mary’s laziness, Jesus says,

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.

In ministry there are many “chores” to be done. There are set ups, sound checks, planning sessions, rehearsals, leadership meetings, set lists, pro presenter problems, etc… In the midst of the chaos, we can’t forget that “one thing is necessary,” and that’s to spend time, sitting at the feet of Jesus. We must be reading the bible and praying daily. Our intake must be greater than our outpouring.

This may seem like a given, but it is far too easy to get in the flow or into a routine and to become a full-time worship leader and a part-time follower of Christ. We as human beings are very good at faking things by becoming “excellent” at what we do without even thinking about why we do it. We all have the church or spiritual mask that we can put on to make people believe we have it all together even if we don’t. Sometimes I myself can be so “task-driven” or goal oriented that I forget to be intentional with Christ. Improving our ministries and getting things done isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but if we do those things while sacrificing personal devotion then what are we really working for? I lead worship a lot… but I hope that I can be a personal worshipper of Christ even more. Let’s decide right now to never become more focused on the things that we do and how we do them than the REASON behind what we do. Take time to spend with Jesus… your congregations will thank you.

When we allow things to happen naturally, the chores overtake our schedule and it is our relationship that suffers. Want to stay in ministry? Grow your faith.

  • Grow your Home

How is your home? No, I’m not talking about the yard, or that room that may need a new coat of paint. I’m talking about the inhabitants. It isn’t a house that we call a home… it’s the company.

Sometimes our church feels like our “family” and in some sense they are… but in reality we have our “real” family to go home to! We can’t ignore them. How often does our spouse our children get the raw end of the deal when we jump at every opportunity to be with our congregants? Being at the church every time the door is open is NOT a good thing! You heard me right. The reason I say that is if you are like me you have keys to the church and it is always available to be open!

Our first ministry is to our family.

Saying yes to everything is NOT a good thing, and every “good” opportunity is NOT your “good” opportunity. You have to take care of your household. 1 Timothy 3:5 says

If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

In other words, your ministry to your spouse and kids takes precedence over all other ministries.

  • Expand your Circle

Here’s a riddle for you. What is surrounded on all sides, but still stands painfully alone? A Pastor.

In the U.S. alone (in 2010), it is estimated that 1,700 pastors leave the ministry each month. A New York Times article, “Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work,” confirmed that being a pastor puts one at risk for physical and mental illness. The article stated,

The findings have surfaced with ominous regularity over the last few years, and with little notice: Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.

Statistics, which are numerous and varied, say that 70% of pastors constantly fight depression and 50% of pastors feel so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living. This means that half of the 1,700 or so pastors who leave the ministry each month have no other way of making a living. Their education and experience is wrapped up solely in the work of the ministry. So, not only do pastors struggle with their choice to leave ministry, they have to worry about how they are going to feed their families. 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. 80% of spouses feel the pastor is overworked and feel left out and under-appreciated by church members. 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend and 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.

The most shocking statistic I found was that 50% of the ministers starting out will not last 5 years. 1 out of every 10 ministers will actually retire as a minister in some form. And 4,000 new churches begin each year while 7,000 churches close.

So what does this mean? We cannot stand-alone. Now sure, we always have God… but we need some earthly support!

Rev. John Terpstra, pastor of Immanuel CRC in Fort Collins, Colorado. After 25 years in ministry said,

You need to do ministry in community because there are a lot of demands on you, and you need places to safely say things. There are things you can’t share with your spouse or elder group. That is a very normal experience.

In fact, we as Pastors are no different than anyone else, just like we preach to others; we need to understand ourselves that we also were created by God to live in community. We need someone in our lives who accepts us completely, unconditionally, loving us for who we are and not because of our position.

Jesus was intentional about building relationships with His followers. We should follow that example in order to disciple and mentor those around us, but also in order to be encouraged and lifted up. Being intentional within a relationship is essential in developing roots that will help us stand in harsh times. Jesus walked, talked, and ate alongside His disciples. They experienced life together. It was in that way that they were able to be ministered to, and the disciples were given the strength and perseverance to lay down their lives for the ministry of the Gospel.

Chip Bell says,

Effective mentors are like friends in that their goal is to create a safe context for growth. They are also like family in that their focus is to offer unconditional, faithful acceptance.” There can be no discipleship without relationship… and relationships are intentional.

Don’t make yourself and island… cut off from the resources that can help keep you alive!

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Partner with other worship leaders. Sit in on jam sessions. Write together. Do unifying things for the community and the Kingdom.

  • Feed your Flame

What is it that ignites you? For me it is allowing myself to worship without responsibility. After discovering that, I have gone out of my way to attend 3 or 4 worship nights that I played no part in just so I could be fed through my favorite avenue… music!

Take time and allow yourself to be encouraged. Are there things you could be doing better? Sure. Are your efforts in vain? Of course not! Is God pleased? Absolutely.

If it is the outdoors that helps you to connect to God and escape the hustle and bustle of ministry then get outside! If it is woodwork or shooting guns then do it! There is no shame in taking a step back every now and then to breathe. Professional athletes still have to get a sub at times. Just like a fire in a stove needs oxygen to burn, we too have to, at times, catch a breath!

Hopefully this hits home for someone! Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone… if you have no one to talk to I’m here.