Your Song Informs

The role of praise in a Christian’s life wears many hats. Some like the “feeling” that they get. Some like the entertainment value that it offers or maybe the outreach tool that a good band or musical service can provide. But there has to be more to our worship than that.

The Bible doesn’t give a “formal definition” of worship. But while looking for clarity or meaning perhaps we can begin to draw a meaning by seeing what various words for worship mean. The English word “worship” comes from two Old English words: weorth, which means “worth,” and scipe or ship, which means something like shape or “quality.” We can see the Old English word -ship in modern words like friendship and sportsmanship – that’s the quality of being a friend, or the quality of being a good sport.

So worship can be somewhat defined by splitting the word apart… worship becomes “worth-ship.” We are ascribing worth to what we worship. When we worship God we are saying that God has worth, that he is worthy. Worship means to declare worth, to attribute worth. Or to put it in biblical terms, we praise God. We speak, or sing, about how good and powerful God is.

This is a purpose for which we are called in 1 Peter 2:9 where it says,

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

We were called for the purpose of praising God, worshiping God. That is one of the “job descriptions” of a Christian. We should declare that God is worthy, worth more than everything else put together.

Now let’s look at the biblical words. In both Hebrew and Greek, there are two major kinds of words for worship. The first kind means to bow down, to kneel, to put one’s face down as an act of respect and submission. In this portrayal, or act of worship, our body language is saying that we are willingly submitting our bodies, lives, desires, etc… to God’s will. The other kind of biblical word means to serve. Roughly half of the time these words are translated as worship, and the other half as serve. It carries the idea of doing something for God or making a sacrifice or carrying out his instructions for us here on earth.

Of course, word meanings don’t prove what worship is, but they do illustrate three different types or portrayals of worship: speaking/ singing, listening, and doing.

There is a worship that expresses the heart, a worship that involves the mind, and a worship that involves the body. There is a worship that is giving praise upward, a worship that is receiving instructions from above, and a worship that carries out instruction in the world around us. The best part is… we need all three types of worship! Some people focus primarily on speaking or singing praise to God. Praise is good, but if all we do is praise God, without ever listening to what he says, we have to ask whether we believe the words we are saying. If he is really all wise and all loving, then we need to be attentive to what he is telling us, because he is worth listening to. Similarly, all talk and no action does not show God the respect he deserves. Actions speak louder than words, and if our behavior isn’t changed by God, then our actions are saying that God isn’t important… He’s a nice idea, but not relevant to our day-to-day lives. When we really believe that God is worthy of every single praise and every single thing we can offer Him, then we will be willing to listen and to change the way we live in response to such a worthy God. We will trust him and seek him and want to please him as much as we can. Worship is the giving of our entire self, our thoughts and our emotions, to God’s use. All of life is an act of submission, an act of worship. Our service to God is not centered on a time or a temple, but is done whenever and wherever we are, because we are the temple of God. Worship should invade our entire lives. The test of worship is not only what happens at church, but what happens at home, on the job and wherever we go. Worship should inform and affect our behavior.

Every act of obedience is an act of worship. It declares that God has worth.

God wants worship not only on our lips, but also in our hearts. He wants our worship to be sincere. He wants to be the most important thing in our lives, and for us to be truly submissive to him. He wants our worship to affect our behavior, that we make sacrifices, that we put to death the deeds of selfishness, that we seek justice, be merciful and humble, and help others. He wants us not just to obey him, but to serve in ways that go beyond specific commands. We are to worship wherever we go, doing all things to God’s glory, praying always, giving thanks always, never ceasing to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. Our worship involves how we work, how we drive, how we interact with people, what we do in public and in private, etc… The real test of worship is not what happens at church, but what happens at home, and on the job, and wherever we go. Is God important enough to make a difference in the way we live, in the way we work, in the way we get along with other people? When the Holy Spirit lives in us, when we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, worship is a part of everyday life.

When we face attack from the enemy our response of praise should “inform” our thoughts, mind, and attitude of several things that can help us to overcome or to fight back. What is our worship “speaking into” or informing?


Us of God

Our worship is “saying” a lot of things although on the surface sometimes it seems to be pretty straightforward or “cut and dry.” One of the things we too often neglect in our worship is how the very songs we are singing are working to shape our thoughts about God the Father.

Our worship can be theologically forming!

I know that I myself at times grow idle in my thinking about the nature and attributes of God. Sometimes in the midst of an attack or storm I fail to recognize God for all He is. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the one of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Throughout His earthly ministry it was rare that people recognized Jesus and worshipped Him for who He really was: the Son of God.

But… in this case they did. Here comes Jesus riding in on a donkey and the people are lining the road and praising Him as the Messiah. The people are crying out “Hosanna!” This word was originally an appeal for deliverance, translating to “please save.” But here we see it being transformed into an expression of joy and praise for deliverance that only the Messiah brings.

The crowds that lined the roads recognized whom Jesus was and were moved to praise.

The reason this is such a big deal is because at this point, the people still believed that the Messiah was going to be a warrior king who would overthrow the Roman government and raise Israel to a place of political and military power. However, we now know that Jesus accomplished the will of God in a way that they didn’t expect. But… their preconceived notions or thoughts about the Messiah didn’t prohibit them from recognizing Him and His power and worshipping Him for who He was.

Does our “mis-information” or skewed perspective of who God is prohibit us from recognizing Him, His power, and His work around us daily or in times of spiritual deficiency or attack?

The story is continued in Luke 19:37-40 where it goes on to say,

And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest. And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

Did you catch the end of that verse?

The Pharisees were religious teachers of the day, but they let what they thought they knew about God completely blind them for seeing God right in front of their faces. Their religion was their God. It is what they worshipped.

Are we sometimes so caught up in the things that we “know” about God that we miss the workings of God taking place right in front of us?

It is essential for us to have the proper perspective and context about God, His attributes, and His work done on our behalf, and to incorporate those things into the songs that we sing on a daily basis. By “informing” ourselves of who God is in good times that information will be embedded in our very spirit for the rough times… the times when life’s outlook seems bleak.

Psalm 27:4-5 says,

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock.


Us of our Mission

When reading about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in the above passages out of Luke I can’t help but wonder if Jesus were to ride into our churches today would we be moved to worship and praise Him, or would the rocks have to cry out? This triumphant entry is the beginning of the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and when the Pharisees tell him to quiet the crowd, his response is simply amazing:

I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

What Jesus is saying is that because He is who they say He is, that He is worthy of their praise. Do we realize that? Jesus IS God, and He is worthy of all praise we can give Him and more! So much so that if people fail to praise him, then the stones themselves will because He is worthy of it! God WILL be praised. Regardless of willingness, circumstance, cultural acceptance, or even your participation!

This is one of my favorite stories in Scripture because it reminds me of how awesome God is, and it serves as a job description for all believers! Our job is to be worshipping God and bring Him the glory due His name. We should be constantly worshipping him! In good or bad the call to praise still exists.

Imagine hearing a rock cry out the praise of Christ. How incredible would that be? It is nothing more than a rock… but God is so amazing, that even it MUST acknowledge and give him praise. To be honest though, I don’t want the rocks to sing God’s praise because if they do, that means I’m not doing my job!

Our mission is simple.

Psalm 150:1 says,

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

Psalm 98:4 says,

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.

1 Peter 1:8 continues along with this pattern and says,

Let your love of the Lord Jesus pour out; rejoice with a glorious inexpressible joy.

The crowds who had seen Jesus ministry, his miracles, heard his teaching, and had their lives touched were eager to speak and cry out “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Their words were a confession, an acknowledgment that in Jesus they were placing their hope, their future, their security, and their salvation.

Has Jesus changed your life? What are your words confessing?

Worship involves our entire relationship with God: our words, our attitudes, and our actions. Our worship is a response to God. We can’t know God’s worth, much less declare it, unless God reveals himself to us. So God initiates worship by revealing himself to us. Then we respond, and the proper response is worship. The more we grasp his greatness, his power, his love, his character, the more we understand his worthiness, the better we can declare his worth, the better we can worship, and the better we can persevere and rise victorious in this spiritual fight that we are caught up in.

Brothers and sisters… will you pursue your mission and confess God’s goodness and salvation message each and every day despite your circumstances, emotions, or what the world might say? Will you cry out or will the rocks take your place?

Psalm 95:1 says,

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.


Us of the Situation

I never quite understand when Christians are surprised that life doesn’t become perfect or turn into “smooth sailing” the moment that they give their heart to the Lord. Newsflash… just because you’re a Christian it doesn’t mean everything is easy, and it definitely doesn’t mean we no longer have times of battle. What happens when you find yourself in a situation or battle that feels overwhelming? There seems to be many different ways we deal with those things that we’d rather just have pass us by. Battles are never fun, and of course they’re never something we would just pick ourselves for fun. However, they’re also unavoidable. We are in a battle, and in battle there are times when there is much warfare going on all around us.

We serve a God of seasons as the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, and times of war are unavoidable. Even in the words “spiritual warfare” we find the word war. It’s messy. It’s unavoidable. So the real question is, “How do we battle?”

Our songs have many purposes and can inform us of many things, but an important thing that our praise can inform us of is our situation before God and in the moment we are currently facing. I believe the Lord gives us ways to battle efficiently, and part of that is understanding the fight we are in. But no matter the battle, we must remember the battle is never ours, it’s always the Lord’s. 2 Chronicles 15 says,

And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.

How many songs remind us of that very truth? Take a look at the song “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Parts of it go like this,

A mighty fortress is our God

A bulwark never failing

Our helper He amid the flood

Of mortal ills prevailing

For still our ancient foe

Doth seek to work us woe

His craft and power are great

And armed with cruel hate

On earth is not his equal

 

A mighty fortress

A mighty fortress is our God

A mighty fortress

A mighty fortress is our God

 

And though this world

With devils filled

Should threaten to undo us

We will not fear

For God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us

The prince of darkness grim

We tremble not for him

His rage we can endure

For lo his doom is sure

One little word shall fell him

What important truth! The battle is not ours! Our present situation, no matter how bad, becomes informed when we realize that we have a God who has already won and is our shelter and strength. He fights for us, and the battle is His.

Don’t be a “crisis Christian,” that only calls out to God when something goes wrong. In order to be successful in battle we must be proactive instead of reactive! The enemy loves to catch us unprepared and unequipped. I think it’s wise, when you’re not feeling a battle, that you use that time to get yourself equipped. Learn some songs that can enlighten your current and future situations with vital truths of God. Often times when things get tough and the unknown rears it’s head we can be informed and gather a more clear perspective about the situation we face through our songs of praise and worship. I think we need to remember, it’s never the size of the battle, and it’s never how great the enemy is, but if we keep our focus on God, how powerful He is, and how faithful He’s been time and time again that this is where you will find victory.

The battles we face are the Lord’s. Our job is to worship and trust Him. Our victories lie within our ability to trust and praise. So if you find yourself in a battle, don’t cry out in fear from what you see, cry out in faith for who God is and what He has already done! Go before the Lord in worship remembering all He has done and how faithful He’s been to you already. I’ve realized that whenever I do this, it takes me to a place of relying upon Him to battle whatever comes my way. Allow your song to inform your situation.


The Enemy of Who they Face

John 10:10 records Jesus saying,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

In our reality a thief, like every other type of criminal, is nothing more than an opportunist. Thieves look for the easiest prey they can find. They watch for people who appear to be timid, weak and incapable of defending themselves. Criminals also understand that there is indeed safety in numbers, so they choose victims who are alone and too separated from others to get help. Think about it… burglars find houses with little to no defenses. Attackers find victims who are easy targets. No opportunist wants to pick a fight they can possibly lose!

How does this apply to our praise as a utility or tool for our spiritual battles?

The truth is that most thieves are cowards who only want to go after people that are smaller and weaker than them. People who walk confidently and display a high level of self-assurance are far less likely to be targeted by thieves. Since a criminal prefers to put the least amount of effort into their heinous deeds, they wait for someone who is slow moving and seems to be unsure of themselves. This is the type of victim who will stand by meekly when they are involved in a confrontation.

As Believers if we are singing truths confidently, and believing them, then we are painting ourselves as less of an opportune target because we are a harder “kill” than someone else for the enemy. By praising in the midst of the spiritual fight we are looking the enemy in the face and proclaiming that we won’t be taken by surprise, we won’t back down, and we are ready to fight back.

“Stand up, Stand up for Jesus” is a song that we probably have all heard or sung at one time or another, and I believe that it has strong message for the enemy that we can learn from and sing when a spiritual fight heads our way.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus!

By singing this we aren’t asking if we should stand up for the cause of Christ, but rather we are proclaiming that the cause of Christ is worth rising up for. It means that we will defend the truth and share it with others. From the beginning of the song we are telling the enemy that we won’t be an easy target.

Ye soldiers of the cross; Lift high His royal banner, It must not suffer loss.

When you study the history of armies and war, you find that when soldiers would go into battle sometimes they would have banner. This banner was used to communicate, encourage, and represent their nation or their king. Imagine our soldiers currently wearing the stars and stripes on their uniforms as they fight for what that particular flag represents. Many of the “flag bearers” of old would actually carry their banner of flag instead of a weapon into war. In these battles if the soldier carrying the banner was killed, another soldier would pick up the banner and carry it in his place because it was that important to them and to their cause.

We can relate to this when come to our flag. Most of us are proud to be Americans and we love what our flag represents, and we cringe when someone decided to burn the flag out of protest because we know what our flag represents and that it came at the high cost of solider lives. As Christians, we need to realize that when we became Christians we signed up in the Lord’s army. Everyone of us is a Christian soldier.

2 Timothy 2:3-4 says,

You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

We are not fighting a physical war, we are fighting a spiritual one, but we must stand up as Christian soldiers and face our enemy. We must sing and wave the banner of Christ high with boldness and confidence so he knows the fight that is before him.

From victory unto victory His army shall He lead, till every foe is vanquished, for Christ is Lord indeed.

Jesus is the head of the church, and He knows how to help in our time of need. He has given us all the tools we need to win against our enemies because He has given us the power of His blood and the sword of the spirit, which is God’s truth.

I’m so thankful that God’s sheep are protected from the thief by their Shepherd, in John 10:11 Jesus said,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

I’ll leave the rest of the hymn for you to interpret and sing in the face of your foe. The fight is worth fighting and the outcome is sealed. Allow your song to route your foe before the battle begins.

Stand up stand up for Jesus

The trumpet call obey

Forth to the mighty conflict

In this His glorious day

Ye that are brave now serve Him

Against unnumbered foes

Let courage rise with danger

And strength to strength oppose

 

Stand up stand up for Jesus

Stand in His strength alone

The arm of flesh will fail you

Ye dare not trust your own

Put on the gospel armor

Each piece put on with prayer

Where duty calls or danger

Be never wanting there

 

Stand up stand up for Jesus

Each soldier to his post

Close up the broken column

And shout through all the host

Make good the loss so heavy

In those that still remain

And prove to all around you

That death itself is gain

 

Stand up stand up for Jesus

The strife will not be long

This day the noise of battle

The next the victor’s song

To those who vanquish evil

A crown of life shall be

They with the King of Glory

Shall reign eternally


What songs are you singing and how are they working for you in your spiritual fight?

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When we are Hurt or Offended.

I’m about to say something that probably won’t shock you… Christians aren’t perfect. Some of us may try to act like it, and I’m sure many of you get closer to that mark than I do… but in the end we all miss it.

We are going to mess up. We are going to let ourselves down and possibly tick each other off in the process. A symptom of this broken nature that we inherited from the fall is sin and failure, and because churches primarily consist of “fallen” Christians, they aren’t perfect either. It’s because of that that we shouldn’t be surprised when people who have a sincere relationship with Christ offend or even deeply hurt us… when people we may look up to let us down.

With that in mind, why does it hurt so bad to get wounded by a church, a pastor, or a close Christian friend?

I believe it is because we expect to be mistreated in the world, but we’re often blindsided and get our feelings hurt when our brothers and sisters in Christ let us down… maybe they leave us out, seemingly underappreciate us, make decision we don’t agree with, talk behind our backs, stab us in the back, or aren’t there for us in a time of need. We are a little more understanding when we get hurt by those who haven’t yet received the grace of God and understood the fullness of His love, but we expect to be fully accepted and live harmoniously with those who are already “within the flock.”

Have you been hurt in church? What are you supposed to do? How do you handle it?

So the church hurt you? What do you do? Leave the church? Confront the issue? Bury it? Lash out at the person who hurt you?

When a church, a pastor, or church member hurts a person, how can they resolve the issue? What does this Bible say about this and how do you practically walk that out?

In Frank Viola’s book “God’s Favorite Place on Earth” he says this,

When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary on His first visit to Bethany, Mary could have chosen to be offended by her sister. But there is no indication that she felt that way. She also could have taken offense when Judas and the disciples protested against her act of extravagant worship. But again, there is no indication that she did.

Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the pain that was inflicted upon Mary in both situations. Here was a woman who loved her Lord with all her heart, and she was unfairly criticized for it. Not by her enemies, but once by her sister and another time by some of the Lord’s own disciples.

It reminds me of the old adage, “No good deed shall go unpunished.”

The words of Elbert Hubbard come to mind: “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”

In both cases, Mary never opened her mouth to defend herself or her actions. In silence, she entrusted the matter to her Lord. And in both instances, Jesus rose to her defense.

Point: there will always be some Christians who will undermine and denigrate your good actions.

Austin-Sparks once wrote, “If you get upset, offended, and go off and sulk, and nurse your grievance, you will die.”

At times everyone gets hurt. Christians are no exception. The fact of the matter is that those you are around most often are those most likely to hurt or offend you. If you are a Believer, and tend to hang out with Christian friends, then statistics would say at some point you are going to get hurt or offended. So… when, not if, that happens what do you do and how do you respond? Many of us have responded incorrectly by avoiding certain people, leaving churches, bad talking our brothers and sisters in Christ, or even stopping our fellowship with God’s people all together.

This article isn’t going to help you determine whether you are rightfully hurt or not… because let’s face it, sometimes we are in the wrong and our intentions or priorities were jacked up in the first place. This article is going to help us sift through the wreckage once we are hurt or offended so we can move on in our walk with Christ, and hopefully live harmoniously with our local “body” of Believers.

Let’s think together about this sensitive subject.


  • Choose to Heal

In the Gospel of John we see an example of how Christ asked a “wounded person” to leave his injury behind, knowing that he could never again fall back on that as his crutch or identity.

John 5:1-9 says,

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

First, Jesus asked the “invalid” if he wanted to get well. I find this part alone fascinating because it is an amazing demonstration that God will not force himself on anyone, no matter how obvious the need, if we don’t make a decision to receive his healing then we won’t! This man had held on to his victimhood for thirty-eight long years. So when Jesus asked him the question, the man did what he had always done before… he played the victim.

Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.

That response did not answer Jesus’ question. In fact, Jesus did not ask what the problem was… Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed or delivered from it. Sometimes that is right where we are. We are on the brink of breakthrough… of healing, and Jesus is asking if we want to be healed and instead of answering we decide to relive the issue and make sure He hears our side of the story!

Still, in this situation Jesus showed grace mixed with a command to do something. He told the man to, “get up.” Jesus already knew the issue and problems this man faced, and he knew how much faith it would take to attempt that seemingly simple task. When the man chose by faith to get up and leave his victimhood behind after nearly four decades, he was healed.

Alfred D’Souza once wrote,

For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

We have to come to the same realization regarding this life and the church. We are all flawed people and our flaws, collectively, are obstacles to our joy, but at the same time we are the community that Jesus ordained and the Kingdom on which His church is built. Waiting for individual people, humans, to meet our needs will leave us frustrated and unfulfilled here on this earth. We may fall into a flow for a while and our problems may coast under the radar, but I guarantee you that they will someday surface and we will take up an offense or hurt that can cripple us for a lifetime. The amount of energy invested in choosing bitterness or choosing healing is probably about the same… but the end results are diametrically different! One choice leaves us paralyzed in the past. The other choice gives us hope for the future.

In the Christian walk, hurts are inevitable. Feeling like a victim and deciding to stay there is optional.

Sometimes we choose to remain victims when we have the opportunity to move on. It is a waste of our spiritual potential to fixate on how events of the past could have, or should have, been different. Most of us, I do say “most” for a reason, who have been hurt could persuade any jury that the treatment we received from other Christians should have been different. But here is the truth… things are NOT different, and we CANNOT change the past.

No amount of time spent dwelling on how another person hurt us will change our present situation.

My wife is interested in emergency medicine. The idea behind emergency medicine is doing what it takes to keep a person alive, or preventing as much long-term damage as you can on a case-to-case method. With that I mind, imagine that you have been shot and rushed to the emergency room. Would you spend all of your time worrying about who shot you? Or do you think your first concern might be to stay alive?

I hope it would be to stay alive! Who cares about who shot you if you are dead!

In real life, with real physical hurts, we immediately seek physical help. But emotional and spiritual hurts seem to evoke a response unlike any other wound. When people within the church hurt us, we tend to focus on the person who hurt us… the pain inflictor, not the Healer. This is one of our Enemy’s most effective distraction strategies, he knows that healing is available, and he does not want us to get it. So he keeps us where we are through offense and bitterness. Our own feelings can leave us paralyzed and vulnerable.

Satan wants us to forget that being broken is an integral part of God’s plan for our growth.

The apostle Paul, who begged God to remove his affliction, came to an important realization in 2 Corinthians 12:9. It says,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Paul had to quit focusing on his handicap in order for Christ’s power to shine through and take over. Want to continue to be used by God after an injury? The first step to recovery is choosing to allow yourself to be healed.


  • Choose to Forgive

Bernard Meltzer once said,

When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said,

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

The bottom line is this… you can’t heal until you forgive.

It doesn’t matter how wrong you think your offender is, you HAVE to forgive. Ultimately, forgiveness is not for the other person… it’s for you. Forgiveness doesn’t justify what someone did that was wrong, nor does it necessarily mean that the relationship goes right back to where it was. If you don’t forgive, you end up bitter and resentful and before too long you’ll end up hurting other people. The healing process can’t really begin until you spit out the bait of offense.

The call of forgiveness is not easy. It requires us to practice maturity, patience to allow the process to unfold, and the tact to endure it. But, we should not forget that forgiveness is also a mandate from our Lord. We can take great comfort in knowing that He is working while we are waiting, and sometimes even suffering. We can best practice forgiveness by realizing how much we have been forgiven. The magnitude of forgiveness from our Lord for what we have done can never measure up to anything others could do to us. When we put forgiveness into practice, we will be free from the bondage of bitterness and pain that sin imprisons us with.

God desires that we seek forgiveness, because God is a God of relationships, and God is committed to our relationships. Relationships are what this life is all about! What is a church without the people? Nothing. Satan seeks to destroy relationships. His first attempt was in the Garden of Eden, nearly defeating our relationship with God and with one another. God’s plan is to prove Satan wrong, and, our call is to build one another up, not destroy one another.

When we have been wronged, and we experience feelings of betrayal, God calls us into reconciliation. When we fail to forgive, we are the ones who suffer the most. Anger, resentment, shame, bitterness, contempt, and defensiveness all synergistically build on top of one another, so every segment within us is held hostage. We are chained like a dog on a leash, unable to reach the destination we desire, what Christ has for us.

Matthew 18:23-35 says,

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

This passage in Matthew is a story of a forgiving king and a wicked servant. The king forgave this servant’s enormous debt, which is an illustration of our enormous debt of sin that we held until Christ forgave us by the cross. This servant represents the Believer, who, after experiencing the forgiveness of God, harbored bitterness to another, and then refused to forgive his fellow Christian, or a non-Christian, for a much, much smaller debt. The king became furious, and handed the servant over to be tortured. The Bible is telling us that if we refuse to forgive one another, and continue to harbor bitterness, we cannot be relinquished from the torment that comes with harboring resentment, hurt, or pain.

I love what Mahatma Gandhi once said,

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

For some reason in our society everyone wants to carry some chip on their shoulder or wants to have the one “soap box” that they carry around with them in hopes that they can one day stand upon it and vent their insufficiencies, or the insufficiencies of others or their past church, out to the rest of the world, when in reality God calls Christians to operate in the parameters of forgiveness, love, and mercy. How can we receive Christ’s forgiveness, and claim Christ as our Savior, when we are unable to forgive one another?

When we have a forgiving attitude, then we will have a heart at rest and in peace!

What does that “soap box” or unforgiveness look like for you? Is it a wound from a past relationship or church that you carry around willing to share with “friends” or on Facebook for all to see, or is it a reluctance to get involved in another Body of Christ or group of Believing friends? They are all the same… they are unforgiveness, bitterness, and resentment in all of it’s flattering forms.

In order to start the healing process you must first start the forgiving process!


  • Choose to Forget

General Robert E. Lee once paid a visit to a Kentucky home, where a bitter and angry woman pointed to what was left of a magnificent tree in front of her house. She was upset that Union artillery fire had ruined the shape and beauty of the tree, and she wanted General Lee to share her anger. She wanted her great leader to condemn the Yankees and sympathize with her. Lee paused and quietly said,

Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget it.

General Lee knew that the damaged tree would only be a constant reminder of her victimhood and the pain that she felt from the impact of the war. He wisely suggested that the reminder be cut down entirely so she could get on with her life. That tree would never be the same, and her bitterness would not change that fact, so she was better off to forget the tree and move on with things in her life that she could still impact and make a difference with.

Have you turned your wounds into things that define you?

So many of us harbor our hurts for so long that we basically build a monument to that thorn in our side and no matter how far we go in our life we can always look back on the horizon and see that it is still there! Don’t allow the hurt of your past to become monuments to your future that constantly remind you of the hurt that once was. For many of us it is time to follow the words of Robert E. Lee and cut it down, so that we can forget it.

Many of you may point out that the phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in Scripture. However, Scripture does say that love keeps no record of wrongs and that love conquers a multitude of sins.

Psalm 103:12 says,

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Micah 7:19 says,

He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities under foot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.

Because of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, God will never again allow the knowledge of these sins to play a part in His relating to us. Christ reconciles us to God the Father, who then sees us as washed white as snow through Christ’s shed blood.

Isaiah 1:18 says,

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

Humans are not able to forgive and forget perfectly like God does, and this is why regular reminders of the Gospel are so important. Christ’s atoning work on the cross perfectly covers all of our past, current, and future sins. So any pain we have dealt with in the past, are currently dealing with, or will deal with in the future are perfectly cared for by Jesus. The Gospel frees us up! We have been forgiven so that we are able to forgive.

Colossians 3:13 says,

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 confirms that we have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. It says,

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

God perfectly models what forgiveness entails through Christ. We are called to walk in the power that is extended to us through God’s mercy. To let the pain from a past hurt or offense keep us from walking in healing is to misunderstand the all-encompassing work of the gospel to save, sanctify, and glorify us.

If we choose to nurse our victimhood rather than treat our wounds, it can become spiritually life threatening. 


Next week we will continue on with some practical ways to move past offense and begin walking in forgiveness.

Spiritual Exercise

I enjoy certain types of exercise. I like to go to the gym and lift weights, I like to play basketball. I don’t, however, like to run. Maybe it’s because I think it’s aimless… or maybe it’s because conditioning to run is hard and it hurts! My wife enjoys running… she does it a lot. On the other hand, I joke with people and tell them that the only thing that would make me run is a bear behind me! I go through phases though where I will jump on a treadmill and run. I particularly remember the last time because I went from not running at all to running 3.5 miles on the first go round. I felt fine the day of… but the day after was a different story all together. My body, although conditioned for other types of exercise, was not conditioned for strenuous running! The point I am trying to make is… exercise is hard. Especially if it is an exercise that we haven’t been conditioning for.

Today we will talk about conditioning our relationship with God through a different exercise plan… service.

Think about a relationship that you hold dear. Maybe it is with a lifelong friend, a husband or wife, a family member… most relationships that have proven to be lasting have experienced hard times that you have to work through. Any good relationship takes work to develop. I can remember in the early stages of dating my wife how I took the time to get to know her, what she liked and disliked, how she handled situations, her sense of humor, etc… It took time and effort to form a stronger relationship with her and a better understanding of her.

Some people have the idea that knowing God should be easy. That developing a relationship with the Creator and sovereign Lord of the universe should require nothing more strenuous than listening to an occasional sermon or reading a book or two. Why is that? Why is it that we will study for years in college to get a degree, we’ll labor nights and weekends to get ahead in our careers, and yet we think that knowing God should be effortless? We’ll exercise for hours to improve our physical health. We’ll eat right and sacrifice junk food, and torture ourselves on the treadmill.

In other areas of life, we understand that having things of value require work and dedication. Yet in the realm of the spirit, we expect good things just to drop into our laps. But that’s not the way it works! Like anything else of great worth, knowing God requires diligence and sustained effort. Is it worth it? Yes, the reward of seeking God far exceeds the cost. But there is a cost.

1 Timothy 4:7-10 says,

Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

You see, “knowing” God isn’t something that just happens. It requires that we “train ourselves” or as other translations put it, “discipline ourselves.”

The Christian life is not just an intellectual exercise. It’s not just some kind of self-improvement motivational program. Nor is it a set of rules and regulations. The essence of the Christian life is truly knowing God and having a vital, living and intimate relationship with Him; experiencing His presence and activity in our daily lives.

The good new is that God is not hiding from us! He wants nothing more than for us to know Him. He promises good things, and rewards, to those who seek Him. But a true relationship with God is not going to be had by anyone with only a casual, passing interest. The half-hearted may as well not waste their time. The merely curious can and will eventually find something else to tickle their fancy and temporarily fulfill their curiosity. I say all of this because God is only found by those who seek Him earnestly, who seek Him with “all their heart.” God is known by those willing to persevere, those willing to keep asking, and keep knocking, and keep seeking.

Hebrews 11:6 says,

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Lamentations 3:25 says,

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.

Jeremiah 29:13 says,

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Imagine that you’re an actor preparing for a role, and you want to know what makes your character tick… you want to understand how they think, what they feel, how they view the world. What would you do? Heath Ledger was cast as the villainous Joker in The Dark Knight. Up until Ledger was cast in the movie he was notorious for playing more light-hearted roles. Playing the Joker required a bit more preparation, which Ledger took to an interesting level. It is said that he locked himself in a hotel room, isolating himself from everyone, and took prescription drugs in order to get into a Joker-like state of mind. Ledger slept an average of two hours a night while playing “a psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.” He put himself in that very state of mind to play the role. Ledger was reported as saying, “I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.”

Actors have discovered that in order to really understand and get inside the head of their characters, the best kind of research is to actually live that life. Go through a day as them. Experience for themselves what it’s like. See what they see, hear what they hear, and hopefully feel what they feel.

In the same way, in order to really know someone, you have to enter their world and walk a mile in their shoes. If we as Christians want to know Christ, we have to do what He did. We have to imitate Him. Our topic today is “Seeking God through the Spiritual Exercise of Service.” I believe that we are never more like Christ than when we are serving others.

Matthew 20:25-28 says,

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Why did Jesus come? For two reasons. Everything He did can be summarized under these two headings. First, he came to die… to give his life in exchange for ours, to pay the penalty for our sin so that we could be forgiven. The crucifixion wasn’t something bad that just happened to him; it was in his plan from the very beginning. The other thing Jesus came to do was serve. He served people by healing them, He served people by teaching them, He served people by walking with them, attending to their needs (spiritually, physically, emotionally). Jesus even displayed service by washing his disciples feet!

John 13:3-5 says,

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

It continues in John 13:12-16 where it says,

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

You see, as many of you already know, at these times foot washing was a menial task, usually done by a household servant, upon a master or guest entering a household. Because of the footwear and road conditions of the time foot washing was necessary but dirty and unappreciated work.

That’s exactly the kind of service Jesus calls us to!

If you are not serving, you are not living like Christ. And to know Him, you have to be like Him. You have to follow His example. Christ came to serve, and unless we think we are greater than Him, we should be serving one another also.

1 Peter 4:10 says,

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

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.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

The service that one should perform for another in Christian community is that of active helpfulness. This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters. There is a multitude of these things wherever people live together. Nobody is too good for the meanest (lowest) service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too seriously.

True Christian service is humble service. It delights in being a blessing to others, and is not concerned with receiving praise, or recognition, or thanks. It’s only goal is the welfare of the one being served.

Finally, let me give you some quick practical principles for exercising your faith and relationship with God through service.


Plan to be Available

It is helpful for us to get in the habit of serving by planning to serve. But… we must also be available to serve on the spur of the moment. Our exercising of service needs to include both scheduled service and impromptu service. For instance, you could offer to help out one of the mothers in the church by babysitting once a week so that she can spend an hour or two without the kids. OR… you could serve in a planned and organized ministry of the church. That’s planned service. But you can also be available when a family needs help on short notice. Are you the kind of person that people call when they have a need? Do you have a history of service that would cause them to think of you?

Often, a need arises, or an opportunity to serve presents itself, but we can’t respond because we’re too busy. Part of being available to help others is simplifying your life so that you have free time to serve when you’re needed. I understand… this is hard! Life is busy! But, we must evaluate our priorities. Are we too busy for people?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps — reading the Bible. . . . . it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God.


Look for Opportunities

Take initiative! Don’t wait to be asked!

Jesus responded to requests for help, but he also took the initiative to serve when he saw a need. A true servant always has their “radar” up. They stay alert for anything someone might say or do that indicates an opportunity to serve. Let’s be honest, sometimes our lack of service isn’t because people don’t want to ask… it’s because they don’t know to ask! Have you waited so long to be asked that people have no idea that you are even willing to step up to a task and possibly get your hands dirty?


Be Flexible

Don’t pigeonhole yourself and your service by having specific ideas of what your “serving” should look like.

In fact, don’t be too particular about how you serve. God has uniquely gifted each of us, but we shouldn’t be so concerned about only serving within our “specialty” that we pass up anything that doesn’t fit. I am absolutely certain that Jesus wasn’t an extraordinary “foot washer.” He saw a need and rose to fulfill that need.

We must be willing to serve in the small things as well as in the large. Don’t wait for a big project to come along, but seek out opportunities for everyday acts of generosity and helpfulness.

If there’s a genuine need, and you can meet it, don’t be too concerned with whether it’s one of your “gifts.” Just do it.


The key to a deep knowledge of Christ, and a deep experience of God, is to do the things that Christ did. The more we follow the example of Christ, by serving one another in humility and love, the more we will be like Him. The more we are like Him, the better we will know Him. And that is worth any price, any service, any sacrifice, and any suffering.

 

Becoming a Better Leader

Pubilius Syrus once said,

Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.

Say the word leadership in any circle of “influencers” and gifted leaders and chances are the conversation will immediately turn to the subject of leading others. That’s what leadership is… right? We as church leaders, pastors, servants, and volunteers spend most of our week leading others. As Christians and leaders, we are quick to look at our role of leadership as our influence and impact on those around us! Yet sometimes, in our effort to become better leaders, we often overlook the biggest leadership challenge we will ever face… leading ourselves. We tend to neglect managing ourselves because self-leadership is much more difficult than leading others. It’s much more personal and sometimes messier.

In my opinion the most important ingredient of becoming an exceptional leader is the ability to lead yourself. This is the ability to make the right calls for your own life, not just for those that may consider you a leader. These decisions shape you as a leader and preserve your “ministry” and leadership platform. Andy Stanley said,

We are always one decision, one word, one reaction away from damaging what has taken years to develop.

Self-leadership is crucial, one of the most difficult leadership characteristics to grow, and one of the most difficult character traits to find in a growing leader. We leaders need to spend just as much time, if not more time, caring for our own growth as leaders as we do with “leading the masses.” We need to spend time wrestling with that which needs to be wrestled, time and time again, so that our teams, families, and organizations can be rewarded for our private victories.

The first person you lead is yourself. In truth, any failure to lead yourself well will cripple your chances of leading, helping, or discipling others.

In his book Leading From the Inside Out, Samuel Rima states,

The way in which a leader conducts his personal life does, in fact, have a profound impact on his ability to exercise effective public leadership. There is a direct correlation between self-leadership and public leadership.

So, here are a few quick thoughts I have about self-leadership. Let’s think together!


Define success. 

What does success look like to you?

We often let other people define what success looks like. Too often we live by the desires of our parents, bosses, professors, and peers. In actuality what you were designed for is unique! What I was designed for is also unique and probably entirely different than your purpose. The fact that we each have an individual calling should mean that we also each have an individual definition of what success is and looks like.

For example… success for a stockbroker will look entirely different than success for a missionary. To define both individuals success by money, net worth, accolades would do one or both an injustice.

In the same spirit each individual pastors definition of success may look different. I surely hope that our ideas of success for a rural church and an inner city church have differences! Obviously they will have similarities… but they should also have differences.

Define your success and pursue it. Target your leading in the proper direction… I was once told,

Being busy isn’t the same as being fulfilled.

If we continually live by other peoples definitions of success then we will stay busy… but we may not ever be fulfilled. Be unique…. don’t let those around you decide what a good life should look like!


Set a course.

As a millennial that can’t navigate using a map with much success I believe one of the best technological advances in the last 50 years has got to be portable navigational tools like a GPS or even an app built into your phone! Nothing is simpler and more satisfying than speaking where you want to go into your cell phone and getting step by step instructions spoken back to you as you drive. The days of needing a competent navigator are over!

One of the things that was lost with this advance though has got to be the ability to navigate alternate routes and understand what avenue or obstacles stand between point A and point B. We are a direct route people now because of the invention of the GPS. Scenic routes are outdated and a waste of time… right?

One of the things every self-leader needs is a sense of direction. Where are you headed and what route are you going to take to get there?

Unlike the physical realm we live in, unfortunately we can’t just punch in the destination into our GPS and get the most direct route to it. God is like a map… and we are used to GPS. Sometimes the route may seem unconventional… so we need to ask for our direction and trust our navigator and his tools to get us there.

It is critical to make sure you are headed in a direction that will accomplish your purpose and glorify your Savior, not just pacify your feelings, wants, or lack of drive… hear me out when I say that a bad day or a bad week does not require a knee jerk reaction that could ultimately knock you off course just because you’re not where you want to be right now! Don’t just look at how today has gone, look at the bigger picture. Is your trajectory correct? Are you on course? Then stay the path, keep the faith in spite of a setback… our discipline in this area will lead to growth in other areas!

On August 5, 2001 major league baseball witnessed its greatest comeback in history as the Cleveland Indians rallied from a 12-run deficit to defeat the Seattle Mariners 15-14 in 11 innings.

Just like a baseball game isn’t won or lost in the 1st inning… we too must play the long game in life. 

Be patient. In every action, moment, and self-conversation. Remember why you’re here. Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now. Embrace the call to give everything to see the Kingdom advance; for that is its own reward.


Engage the old. Put on the new.

An important part of the self-leadership process is highlighted in Ephesians 4:20-24 where it says,

But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

That verse says to put “off” our old self. Do you sometimes feel like your “old self” just won’t let go? Like it lays in wait to catch you at your weakest… whether it’s an attack in the mind or an attack in the flesh, they are all the same. But… as leaders we must fight it!

You can’t transform what you don’t engage.

As leaders, we must decide who we want to be and then align our lives so we become just that. This is not easy because the person you do not want to be is the person you will most naturally become if left to your own devices. In Matthew 16:25 Jesus said,

If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

Self-leaders must die to the natural tendencies inside them to become who God is calling them to be. God is calling us to become inside-out leaders… leaders who are defined more by who we are on the inside than by who we seem to be on the outside.

Our culture has developed us into people who are quick to adopt new habits, vocabulary, styles, and behaviors. We learn these things and add them to our repertoire, put them up on a shelf to pull down when and if we ever need them. We add them to the life we have built and carry on. But as leaders and as Christians who are pursuing holiness we must take off the old before we put on the new. We need to deal with the junk that comes to cling to our heart along the way. We need to remove the old ways of thinking; bad habits, attitudes, and prejudices that will hold us back. We can sweep the old behavior under a new rug, but if we don’t address and engage it, rest assured, it will come back to bite.

You wouldn’t deal with a mold colony by merely covering it up with a rug or some wallpaper, because although it might seem good for a while the problem is still just under the surface waiting for its opportunity to return. In the same sense we can’t just “cover up” the old and smelly we must fight the old before becoming the new.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says,

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.


Spend time outside your comfort zone.

A comfort zone is defined as:

A psychological state in which a person feels familiar, at ease, in control, and experiences low anxiety. A person in this state uses a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.

Your comfort zone is a psychological place where you feel safe and in control. You experience low-anxiety and you’re using a limited set of behaviors. This means you’re not growing or developing any new skills. Essentially you’re stuck on autopilot, you’re just going through the motions. Clearly this is not the place from which to lead.

Will Rogers said,

You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.

It’s in our comfort zone that we feel safe and secure. It’s the zone of routine, the place where we do those things we find safe, comfortable, easy and familiar. The comfort zone is a place where nothing particularly challenging happens.

Denis Waitley says,

Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.

Successful leaders know that they must get out of their comfort zone to succeed. Leadership begins at the end of your comfort zone, and starts in the learning zone. Great leaders from history are those who have spent a large amount of their time outside their comfort zone such as Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Henry Ford, Elon Musk, and many, many more. These are leaders who have dared to step out their comfort zone. History has shown that life rewards the risk-takers.

Leaders who take risks and step outside their comfort zone and into their “learning zone” are those that succeed. It’s only when you can give up what’s safe and familiar that you create opportunities and develop new capabilities. As you do, you expand your influence and gain the skills required to take on bigger and bigger challenges.

Leaders are self-made and not born, they are developed, not promoted. Leadership is a learned skill that is developed as you step out of your comfort zone. You only grow when you are at the edge of yourself.

I talk about this a lot. Getting out of your comfort zone is remarkably good for you at every level. When was the last time you got uncomfortable in order to grow? Can you even remember? Leaving the comfort zone broadens your horizons, sharpens your senses, and most importantly it causes you to pay attention. Are you paying attention to the path God has put before you? How about the one that leaves your area of comfort

Don’t limit yourself! Don’t limit what God can do through you by being fearful of the unknown and the uncomfortable! Our purposes may demand that we grow to see them through. Our purposes demand the courage to take risks, to step out on faith! You will never discover your full potential unless you step outside your comfort zone. To grow you must put yourself in a place where more is demanded of you.

Joshua 1:9 says,

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

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.

I believe that the biggest danger of living in a comfort zone is that after a while you begin to think that average is acceptable, because comfort zones encourage mediocrity.

It’s like going to gym for the first time. The exercises are difficult and you struggle. They take a lot of energy motivation to complete. However, each week you grow stronger, the exercises become easier and they require less energy to complete. However, as the exercises become easier, you get less physical benefit. Soon you find yourself becoming used to your exercise routine, your heart rate no longer rises and you’re not sore in the mornings. When this happens you’re no longer growing stronger. You’re in a comfort zone. The solution? You need to change your exercise routine. You need to switch to a new set of exercises. The same principle holds for other areas in our lives.

Brian Tracy said,

Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.

Unless you spend time out of your comfort zone and in your learning zone you’ll fail to grow. You can go to gym every day, doing the same exercises for months and months without and benefit. If what you’re doing is comfortable and easy, you’re not in the learning zone. And if you’re not in your learning zone you’re not growing.


Ask for help.

John Wooden once said,

We’re all imperfect and we all have needs. The weak usually do not ask for help, so they stay weak. If we recognize that we are imperfect, we will ask for help and we will pray for the guidance necessary to bring positive results to whatever we are doing.

Asking for help is something that has taken me a long time to do… and I still do not like to do it! I hate the idea of being dependent on someone else or troubling someone else when I was raised to be confident, strong, and independent.

For a long time I thought that asking for help meant I was dependent, weak, uncertain of what do to. To me it meant I was not smart enough, strong enough, determined enough, good enough, or worthy enough. I say all of that because I know that I am not alone. Many leaders never ask for help! Instead of asking for support, we try to do everything ourselves. We do whatever it takes to get the job done on our own, and in the end, we feel a sense of accomplishment for achieving the feat that was deemed impossible.

But… the truth is, we never do anything on our own.

God is there to answer the call and as leaders we have many around us who are also willing and ready to answer the call and help carry the torch.

We must be willing to grow, and involve others in that growth. As leaders we aren’t alone…we have a team. Your strongpoint may not be mine and that is okay as long as we lean on each other in those areas! A basketball game isn’t won or lost because of one player. Involve others. Ask for and listen to outside counsel. Seek out wisdom on areas you need to grow in, and never be afraid to ask for help.


So… what other self-leadership strategies must we put into place?

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?”

confusing-road-signs

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.

Tanner.NHCC@gmail.com

270-735-7342

 

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!

 

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!