The “Ides of March”

March is a month full of madness. We have Pi day, Daylight Savings Time, St. Patrick’s Day, spring breaks, and of course my favorite thing about March… March Madness! Although my beloved Kentucky Wildcats just fell short in the elite 8 I still have one thing to proclaim… Go CATS!

I’ve heard it said that the safest bet you can make in the month of March is that people will be distracted. I know I definitely am! I look at my phone checking the scores of teams I couldn’t have cared less about a little more than a week prior. It’s actually reported that American companies will lose $1.9 billion in wages paid to unproductive workers in the month of March. Do I have your attention, or have I lost you to your bracket?

In spite of all the distractions in March, and might I add any other month, we should never lose sight that our own “Ides of March” moment is coming.

If you’ve heard of the “Ides of March” you might know you’re supposed to beware them from the old saying. Why? In ancient Rome, the “Ides of March” were equivalent to our March 15. In the Roman calendar, this date corresponded to several religious observances. The Romans considered the “Ides of March” as a deadline for settling debts. But for our modern world if you’ve heard of the “Ides of March” it’s probably thanks to William Shakespeare. Tradition has it that a “dreamer” warned Caesar that harm would come his way no later than the “Ides of March.” On his way to the Theater of Pompey, the place of his assassination, Caesar passed the man and joked, “The Ides of March have come,” to which he replied, “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” In his play, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare immortalized this event when Caesar was warned by the soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” Two acts later, Caesar is assassinated on the steps of the Senate. In the play, and in reality, Julius Caesar was indeed assassinated on the ides of March in the year 44 B.C.

Beware the “Ides of March.” 

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if someone told you the exact day on which you would die? I can’t help but relate this thinking to the upsets in the NCAA tournament this past weekend. Would the losing teams have played differently if they’d known they were going to lose? Would they have beaten themselves mentally even before the game had started?

If someone told you, “Beware of May 23, for that is the day of your demise,” would that make you live a better life today? Or would you walk around in despair knowing the date of your death sentence?

Well, let me give you some bad news followed up with some good news. First, the bad news: Your “Ides of March” is coming. At some point, you and I are going to die. We don’t know the day or hour, but that particular day and hour are coming.

What’s important is that we don’t live our lives foreboding, or distracted. We should live our lives forgiving, forgetting, and forgoing.


Forgive

Matthew 6:12-15 says,

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Forgive those who have wronged you. It takes way too much energy to hold on to the wrongs and injustices against you. Free yourself from the control of that anger, bitterness, and revenge. Whether the offender deserves forgiveness or not, when you forgive, you are releasing what is inside of you that holds you back from freedom and new life.


Forget

Philippians 3:13 says,

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

Forget what lies behind! Let go of the past, so that the past will let go of you. You can’t progress when your memories of the past exceed your dreams for the future. It’s hard to move forward if you’re always looking back. God told the children of Israel in Isaiah 43:19,

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.


Forgo

Luke 14:33 says,

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

To forgo means to surrender, relinquish, and renounce your way and accept God’s way as the key to living a fulfilled life. We must give up in order to grow up! Spiritual toddlers keep demanding their way. Spiritually mature Christians are willing to “go without” in order to “go with” God and His plan for your life.


Yes, the bad news is bad: For each of us, our “Ides of March” is coming. But that makes the good news all the better: in Christ, we are going to live! Romans 5:21 says,

So that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rejoice that through death comes resurrection. Romans 6:5 says,

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Death is a moment in time that gives way to a place that has no time. We must be willing to let go of earth in order to embrace heaven. If you are “in Christ,” He will lead you through that moment in time when you face your “Ides of March.” The reason we fear no evil (or death) is because God is with us.

Psalm 23:4 reassures us of this. It says,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

The One who abides with us will bring us past the “Ides of March” to the place where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” Revelation 21:4 says,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

As one of my favorite hymns says:

There is coming a day,
When no heart aches shall come,
No more clouds in the sky,
No more tears to dim the eye,
All is peace forever more,
On that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

There’ll be no sorrow there,
No more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain,
No more parting over there;
And forever I will be,
With the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

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Just Don’t Stay Down

For those who are involved in my personal life you certainly know that I shoot competitively. This past weekend was my first competition back from my off-season and my first of many to be shot in 2019. This particular match was called “Hard Rock” and is the first of a trio of matches called “Hard as Hell.” My expectations were that it would be hard… but I truly couldn’t have expected what myself and my gear would be pitted against just in order to finish each individual stage.

There were moments in the middle of the snow and sleet trying to manipulate a firearm that was determined to not function correctly that frustration set in and it was all I could do to continue to fight through in an attempt to finish.

At one point while walking back to my vehicle after a slippery run through the woods shooting steel targets an Army Ranger who was there shooting asked me how I did. My response was something along the lines of, “I fell down 3 times on the course of fire. The run was decent, but I know I could’ve done better.” His response was short but sweet. He said, “Well… it would’ve been worse if you had stayed down!”

I am no stranger to the feeling of disappointment when you fail and fall. This past weekend is probably the poorest I have ever done at a shooting competition. But… if you allow yourself to learn from failure and you get back up and go right back at it your character will reflect your resound.

Failure doesn’t have to be the final chapter. Your slips and falls don’t have to determine the outcome.

In August of 1521 Martin Luther wrote a letter to his friend, Philip Melanchthon, and near the end of the letter he wrote these now famous words,

Pecca Fortiter, sed forties fide et gaude in Christ

Our translation of this is,

Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly!

Luther’s words have often been misunderstood as granting permission to sin or encouraging people to sin, but I’d like to suggest another view which perhaps can help all of us deal with our daily struggles with temptation, failure, disappointment, or despair.

Who hasn’t experienced the disappointment of trying to move forward only to fall back? Of trying to keep a promise only to forget? Of trying to overcome only to give in? Of trying to do what’s right, think what’s right, and follow what’s right only to fail? We all have! When we experience these disappointments, set backs and failures, we tend to slip into one of two patterns.

First, we enter into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called a “cheap grace,” where we dismiss our sin in light of God’s grace without any inner transformation or true repentance. This is a “boys-will-be-boys” mentality of accepting and writing off our sins and failures as a natural and almost unavoidable outflow of our human nature. The Apostle Paul described this tolerance of sin in Romans 6:1-4 like this,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

This first pattern is one of flippancy toward sin where we dismiss it and continue to repeat the cycle of sin, brief regret, quick prayer, moving on, back to sin, brief regret, etc. The problem is the cycle goes unbroken, and we do not experience the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The second pattern is where our sin and failure is followed by us being overwhelmed with guilt and shame and causing us to withdraw to a defeatist mentality. We either become a legalist where we hide behind a mask of “all-is-good spirituality” while struggling with guilt underneath, or like that Army Ranger pointed out we can alternately develop spiritual stage fright, where because of our fear of falling we hide behind our anxieties of the “what-ifs” and we fail to step out with bold obedience.

Both of these patterns consist of an attempt to overcome our sin patterns by some external means rather than the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe the words of Martin Luther are helpful to us in whichever pattern we find ourselves. Following Jesus is a call for us to die to self and be reborn with the power of His indwelling Spirit like Jesus says in Mark 8:34,

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

In fact 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a says,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God.

In other words, we cannot do it on our own! We cannot overcome our sins in our own strength and power. Therefore, we live our lives boldly in the transforming power of God’s grace. We don’t have to walk in fear of failure, but instead we walk in the love of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther’s words are not given as a license to sin but to stop living in the fear of falling, failing, and sinning!

I’ve never walked a tightrope strung across two high rises, but I imagine that the person doing so must focus on the destination rather than on what lies below. Like a tightrope walker if we live our lives thinking most about not falling, we most likely find ourselves in the disappointing posture of having fallen. It’s when we live our lives thinking most about the love of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves standing on His path of righteousness.

And when you do fall, because you will fall, get up, turn from sin and shame, live in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and refocus your life on Him. Failure can be eye-opening if you allow it to be! An old proverb says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” As long as you keep getting up, you’re not failing. Don’t be anxious about sinning, but rejoice in Christ!

You will fall… just don’t stay down!

“Consider Your Ways”

As a young person I have sat in numerous churches and looked around wondering, “where are all my peers?” Sometimes going to church and spotting another person my age is like a real life game of “Where’s Waldo.”

There is a plethora of articles online about how the millennial generation has turned their backs on church and are “unreachable” or rebellious. This is not another one of those articles.

But… according to a Barna study on church growth and church attendance amongst millennials (22-35 year olds) given in in 2016 church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history.

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

These numbers are staggering! What is going on! Where have we as a church fallen short and failed to reach, disciple, and keep young people in our congregations?

Haggai 1:1-11 says,

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

What do we know about the Jewish people discussed in Haggai?

  • Years earlier they had been conquered and exiled from their land and homes.
  • They had been taken to a foreign land to serve under a foreign king.
  • They were brought out of exile and returned to their ruined land and homes.

The prophet Haggai recorded his messages to the Jewish people of Jerusalem in 520 BC, eighteen years after their return from exile in Babylon (538 BC). Haggai’s prophecy came at a time when the people of Judah were extremely vulnerable. They had been humbled by their exile to Babylon, given hope in their return to their Promised Land, and then discouraged by the reality of what they found.

You might be asking… what does this have to do with college students and young adults? And to that I would respond with, “everything.” Who else is at a more vulnerable time of their life than a teenager transitioning out into adulthood? Who else struggles with schedules, priorities, and agendas more than someone who has just spent the last 18 years of their life being told what to do and when to do it? Who steps out into the world “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” only to be crushed by the reality of life that is ahead of them?

In a lot of ways our young generations are like those Jews returning from their exile in Babylon.

The book of Haggai records the prophet expressing God’s opinion of the people’s negligence in building his house. In verse 5 he calls them to,

“Consider your ways!”

Don’t get me wrong they were working hard, busy with life and commerce, but they were lacking something… neglecting something… missing the point. They were earning money and resources for themselves and their own agendas and houses and neglecting the house of the Lord and the Kingdom of God as a whole. Think about the relation to our younger generations… these Jews were trying to create “something” from “nothing!” They had been in exile for years and were starting over… the same way our younger generations have to “jumpstart” their lives when entering into adulthood.

But… why were they lacking? Well quite simply they had neglected the divine agenda of “building up” the Lord’s house. The people of Judah had simply neglected what was of first importance and God frustrated their labors. Verse 9 says,

You look for much, but behold it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ Declares the LORD of hosts, ‘because of my house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.

We have in the days of Haggai a very similar scenario to what we face today. People are busy. Through the day-to-day life filled with the day-to-day tasks and agendas often the pursuit of personal advancement is promoted to a position of preeminence. And as a result the agenda of God and His will for his people gets sacrificed on the altar of personal pursuits.

This is where we the people of God come in… the church.

After thousands of years, the book of Haggai remains unique among the books of Old Testament prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah actually listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple, and straightforward. No one could mistake whether or not his direction had been followed because the results would be evident for all the people to see. Through the physical act of rebuilding the temple, the people began to indicate a shift in their spiritual lives: from devotion to self toward devotion to God.

Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile. They had forgotten their God, choosing instead to focus on their own interests, so it was time for them to “consider their ways.” Nothing was more important for the Jews than to show that the Lord was at the center of their thoughts and actions, so Haggai directed them to finish rebuilding God’s temple.

However, rather than leaving them alone with the task of rebuilding, Haggai continued to preach to the Jews, encouraging them with the hope of future glory in the temple and a victory to come over the enemies of God’s people (seen in Haggai 2:7–9, 21–22). According to Haggai’s message, if the people would place God at the center of their lives, they would realize the future blessings that God had in store for His people.

How can we as the church draw our youth back? How can we be like the Prophet Haggai?

So many times we say that we are too busy…too busy for people, too busy for ministry, too busy for personal Bible reading/devotion, too busy to pray, too busy to meditate, too busy to whatever…to this God says, “Consider your ways!”

 

God is for Me

Have you ever had a buddy lead you into a fight with the confidence that they were going to be there to back you up if things went south? How did that turn out? Unless you flipped the switch into “Macho Man” Randy Savage mode you probably got roughed up pretty good.

Too many times someone has tried to encourage me by saying, “Don’t worry! I am here for you.” Likewise, too many times that very same person is nowhere to be found when things actually go down.

I do not put too much confidence in such a statement coming from a mortal man. Why? Because every mortal man is fully capable and gifted in the art of not “coming through.” Most men don’t make that statement with the intentions of letting the other person down… but men can change along with circumstances and situation.

However, I trust that very same statement from God.

Romans 8:31 says,

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

So… if I don’t trust that statement from man then what makes it any different coming from God? God alone is unchangeable; therefore, I want to make certain that God is for me. We have great reason for confidence in God for our salvation. What is that reason? God is for us!

But I do think that too often, we can apply that verse a little too quickly, without digging deep into what it really means. We correctly use it as a spiritual weapon, but without understanding how to properly deploy it, kind of like using a rifle as a club. We associate the verse with the blessing hiding right around the corner, instead of the victory on the other side of the battle.

We celebrate the victory before fighting the battle.

Yes, there will still be battles! Yes, you will still have to fight! But we fight alongside the Almighty God! It’s true that if God is for us, nothing can stand against us. But it’s also true that if God is for us, a whole lot of things can, and will, be against us. The enemy is directly opposed to the power of God displayed in and through us.

In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul writes,

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. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

If there were no fight ahead then why do we need armor and weapons of war?

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Therefore, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the whole armor of God and take your stand against the devil’s scheme. Fight the good fight against all defeated enemies and spiritual forces of evil. Pray in the Spirit and stand firm. Fight, and stand in victory.

So… what will stand against us? Everything.

Throughout our lives, many things will stand against us. Right now, I’ve got a lengthy list of things causing distress in my life, including but not limited to:

  • Lingering sickness and health issues
  • My wife’s Medical School loans
  • A work list that never gets smaller

I pray about these things a lot. Pretty much every day… and they don’t seem to be going anywhere. They are still here and I am still fighting the fight.

So what gives? I thought God was for me. What about all those angel armies that Chris Tomlin sings about?

It’s not like I’m the only one. Every Christian I know finds themselves in the same place, beset by trials, enemies, weird health problems, financial hardship, and a lot more. This also seems to be the story throughout Scripture. If Jesus had things stand against Him to the point of execution on a cross, then maybe this verse is a little deeper than it seems on the surface.

We have many enemies, but they are all finite creatures. No power can prevail against the infinite God, who has purposed to save us. Who can resist him? What about the devil and demons? God in Christ has defeated the devil on the cross and liberated us from his clutches. The stronger one, Jesus Christ, defeated the strong one, the devil, and has set us free.

What about the world? In John 16:33 Jesus said,

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Rejoice! The world of Pharaohs and Caesars and dictators and presidents cannot harm us. Jesus Christ has defeated them all.

What about the apostate church? Again, the answer is, no. It cannot harm us. Why is that? In Colossians 2:14-15 Paul writes,

Having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross! And having disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

What about the flesh, that sin still dwells in us? Yes, it is against us, but it is not the only thing in us. God’s Holy Spirit is also in us! Too often we forget that! We have the Sprit of the living God dwelling inside us! He is the Spirit of holiness who gives us victory over sin! Therefore, sin cannot have dominion over us. We are not under sin, law, or death.

Is there any power equal or above God’s power? No! Therefore, if God is for us, who can be against us? The Scriptures emphasize this point throughout.

Jesus Christ by his death has defeated all our enemies and his enemies.

Jesus is still waging war against all our defeated enemies, and it is His business to fight such a war. In Psalm 110:1 the psalmist declares,

The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’

In 1 Corinthians 15:25-27 Paul writes,

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

The battles may come and the enemies may rise up, but I don’t need to solve the problem alone. The Holy Spirit himself intercedes on my behalf. What a beautiful thing. The Spirit comes to the Father on my behalf, but unlike me, the Spirit knows exactly what I need. He’ll never pray the wrong thing. The Spirit will ask God to give me what I need and God will always give it to me. Romans 8:26 says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

The whole world may stand against me, but it can’t destroy me because the Holy Spirit is interceding for me.

Though I may be buffeted by a hurricane of pain, strife, sorrow, temptation, and spiritual attack, God calmly controls every gust of that hurricane. He is orchestrating all things for my good and his purpose, strategically using this trial to build my trust in him, this relationship to increase my joy, and this hurdle to hurdle to give me a deep experience of his love for me.

No matter what stands against me, it can’t thwart God’s purpose. From start to finish, first breath to last, cradle to grave, I’m his. Come hell, high water, or the apocalypse, nothing can stand against me.

I enjoy singing songs that reflect on God’s faithfulness and promises to remind me in times of battle that God is for me and with me. If you are like me there are times you need a reminder that he is God and you aren’t and His timing is much more deliberate than yours. One of those songs goes:

Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet

Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You’ve never failed me yet

I know the night won’t last
Your Word will come to pass
My heart will sing Your praise again
Jesus, You’re still enough
Keep me within Your love
My heart will sing Your praise again

I’ve seen You move, come move the mountains
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again
You made a way, where there was no way
And I believe, I’ll see You do it again

Romans 8:18–19 says,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

The suffering I experience right now is going to pale in comparison to the astounding glory that will be soon revealed to me. In fact, the glory that’s coming will be so breathtaking, so glorious, so overwhelmingly valuable, that I’ll look back at what I suffered and say, “That was nothing! It was all worth it! Following Christ through the valley of pain and suffering was nothing compared to this!”

Nothing can stand against the Holy Spirit helping me.

Romans 8:28 promises,

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Nothing can stand against God’s purpose for me. 

Given all these things, Paul then says in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If God is for us, there truly is nothing that can stand against us… and many things WILL stand against us. That’s guaranteed. But, we are more than conquerors and nothing can separate us from the love of God!

But our end is sure. We WILL arrive in glory, and when that time comes, we’ll chuckle at how insignificant our sufferings really were. Christ will be all in all, and we’ll be experiencing joy we didn’t know was possible.

Fight the good fight. God is for you.

Helping Your Congregation Break Out of Its Comfort Zone

I recently watched the NBA finals and in Game 4 Steph Curry stepped up to the free throw line and knocked down 2 shots without batting an eye. He was in his comfort zone! In fact, throughout the finals he made 95% of the free throws he attempted. Steph Curry’s comfort zone is watching the ball go through the hoop.

What’s your comfort zone?

A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible.

As a Worship Pastor, comfort zones may be one of the things I wrestle with the most! I take the story of Moses as an example and am encouraged that God is in the business of stretching the comfort zones of His followers. Moses, as most of you know, did not consider himself a great speaker… some would even theorize and say that he might have had a speech impediment, but God called him to go and plead with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. God called a person who was uncomfortable with their speaking abilities to be the voice of a nation, a voice of reason, and the audible voice of God.

We see a similar charge to Abram, when in Genesis 12 God tells him to “leave his country and Father’s house to a land that he will show you.” Even though it doesn’t say here, I’m sure Abram was hesitant at first. Leaving the land that he had known his whole life for a place that hadn’t even been given to him yet. A land that he didn’t know and couldn’t see!

So, Because of these stories I know that as a Pastor challenging my congregation to step out of their comfort zones is important and Biblical. But how do I do that? It seems every time I start to think on this topic so many more questions come up. What is the current comfort level at? How do we stretch without breaking people? How fast do we move? Am I stepping out of my comfort zone? How do we develop a method? Do we move with our church or as a separate entity?

All of these questions must be carefully weighed and thought out before deciding what stepping out of a comfort zone looks like for your individual ministry.

I have been on staff as a Worship Pastor at New Hope Community church for three and a half years now. I have learned a lot, and have seen God move in ways I couldn’t ever imagine! How can we come along our congregations and encourage the “fearful” steps out of the comfort zone? Let’s think together!


Find Your DNA

One of the most dangerous things I have seen over and over again with Pastors entering into new “home bases” is imparting their home church, or favorite “model” church, into the direct vision and end goal of the church they are in.

Now don’t hear me say that it is wrong to take things that healthy churches are doing and trying to implement them into the life of your church. That’s not it at all! The problem is when you try to make another church’s DNA your own!

Ministry takes a lot of time to figure out what the church’s “DNA” is. By that I simply mean what is natural and comfortable for them. For me I have to explore and find out if there is there a song that has been the church’s anthem that everyone raises his or her hands to? Is there a mash up that has helped bridge the gap in styles? The DNA is made up of these unwritten rules, and what the church is passionate about as a whole.

I remember the first time I led a song that “flopped.” It was within my first three months here and it was almost as if the other vocalists and I were the only ones singing along with it. I quickly realized that at that current time that song was too far outside of the norm for the church.

So… what did I do? Did I force that song down their throats? No! I stopped singing that song, and songs like it, for a time while I figured out what our DNA was. Interestingly enough, as the church moved and grew and developed a trust in me (we will discuss that shortly) I was able to reintroduce that song with great success!

You have to find what has been done, what has worked, what was forced, and what was taken away that should have remained.

For some churches their DNA is in their direct community; for others it may be younger families, older families, singles, multi-ethnic, middle class, upper class, lower class, etc. Neither is better or worse, it is simply the door God has opened for you and caused your congregation to become passionate about.

Effective ministers find out what the church is passionate about and integrate it into the service and life of the church.


Earn Trust

My wife and I love the outdoors and love adventure even more! We love to hike and climb/ shimmy into places that others might not want to go. Now imagine that you want to do an exploration in a remote and dangerous area. You have money to find a guide and you get several ads and read through them trying to pick your guide. Are you going to choose the “new guy” or the guy that has led numerous successful explorations in the exact area in which you plan to go?

On the other hand, imagine that you need brain surgery. Do you want the surgeon who barely got through med school or do you want the guy who was at the top of his class and has done hundreds of brain surgeries?

Before people are willing to go somewhere new with you they must know that you won’t abuse their willingness and trust. To earn their trust, you must let them know that even in stretching them, they will not be forgotten or misrepresented.

In the story I told about the song that “flopped” why do you think the song went over better the second time a year or so later? Did the musical taste of the entire church change? Probably not. The congregation trusted me more.

How do you earn trust? You do life with the congregation. You get to know their DNA and become part of that DNA. You meet people where they are at, because that is how God treats us.


Go With Them

I remember the first time I went hiking with my wife. If you know Alaina then you know that she is all legs… and that became painfully obvious when we reached our first hill! Now that I have grown accustomed to hiking at her pace we both have to be mindful of our speed when we walk/ hike with others.

As an artist I have to be mindful of the pace of my artistry and creativity. It is so easy for my ministry to seemingly move faster than the rest of the church. I can do this by updating our song selection and modernizing our sound, our stage design or our atmosphere. All of these are valuable tools and should be developed, but if they are leaving the rest of our congregation in the dust what are we gaining?

I like the idea of meeting people at their comfort zones and taking them one step further.

In fact, that is the way Jesus modeled discipleship. Jesus didn’t point people where to go without going with them, or call them from a place far away telling people to find their way to Him. Jesus’ ministry was based around walking with people, teaching as they went.

Jesus led people to places he was going himself or had already been to! As a leader are you trying to lead from afar?


Keep a Clear Focus

Lastly, if we are going to ask and challenge our congregation to take a step with us, we need to be stepping out in ways as well.

Stepping out of your comfort zone demands that you yourself are constantly moving forward in your own walk with Christ. We must be showing the congregation that we are moving forward as well as worshiping in ways that are outside of our preferences or comfort zone.

That comes from being transparent through the process of stepping out of our comfort zones both from the stage and personally in conversations.

Be real with people. If you aren’t a naturally expressive person, show your congregation that you are trying to move outside your comfort zone by raising your hands in worship. If you aren’t comfortable singing, then sing. If you aren’t comfortable with leading a prayer out loud, then pray for all to hear. Show your congregation that you are stepping out with them.

It is healthy for us to worship in ways we are not comfortable with!

If we practice worshiping in ways we aren’t comfortable with then we will get more comfortable stretching our comfort zones in all aspects of our life.


But change, stepping out of your comfort zone, isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon made up of consistent steps forward.

Meet people at their comfort zone and take them one step further.

Kingdom First

Let me ask you a question…

What if the members of our churches started sharing their faith, but it wasn’t in a way that brought more people to our church? Would we celebrate and encourage that?

If not, we may not be as much about kingdom growth as we think we are.

We hear a lot today about church growth… and church growth is good. A healthy church should be growing just like a healthy person should grow. A healthy church cannot help but grow! Like any revival draws people from all over to it, genuine Spirit filled believers are drawn to a movement from the Lord.

A lot of churches are starting to evaluate every program and decision according to how much it helps the church grow. Are we too traditional? Too contemporary? Is our music too loud or too soft? Do we need a coffee bar, a younger more hip worship pastor, a funnier preacher?

Evaluation is good and healthy as long as we look at the big picture. The big picture that I am talking about is the Kingdom of God. Matthew 6:33 says,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

We do not seek his kingdom to get what we want, but as we seek first the kingdom of God our lives and ministry cannot help but grow.

Church growth cannot be the only reason we do what we do in our local churches. There is a much higher calling to grow the kingdom of God.

In the book Externally Focused Quest Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson have a great discussion about the Kingdom. Here’s some highlights that may challenge your thinking:

How important is the kingdom? The word kingdom is mentioned 152 times in the New Testament and 116 times in the Gospels. By contrast, the word church is mentioned just three times in the Gospels – all in the book of Matthew. The first public words of John the Baptist and Jesus were to announce the kingdom (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). The first prayer request that Jesus taught his disciples was “Thy Kingdom come…” (Matthew 6:10). The first priority for the believer was to seek God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33).

 

What is the kingdom? The kingdom of God is any place over which God has operative dominion. The kingdom is where the King is reigning. So if Jesus is reigning as king in your own life, “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).

In the book Liberating the Church Howard Snyder writes,

Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above concerns of justice, mercy, and truth. Church people think about how to get people into church; kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; kingdom people work to see the church change the world.

The church does not exist for itself. The church exists to proclaim and demonstrate that the kingdom is near.

So… what’s the difference between church thinking and kingdom thinking?

  • CHURCH: local, internal, evangelism the goal, programmed, gospel explained, Sunday, growing MY church.
  • KINGDOM: global, external, evangelism the starting point, organic, gospel lived out, Every day, growing THE church.

Jesus said in the great commission to go into all the world and make disciples. Those people that need to be reached and discipled in all the world don’t just include people from our local communities that will attend our local churches.

As people use social media to make new relationships and keep in touch with friends who have moved away, more aspects of our lives are happening without regard to geography. From crying with a friend going through a divorce, to celebrating the joy of childbirth, many of our most intimate moments are being lived through Facebook Live, Skype, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and FaceTime.

More people who share their faith are doing it online, too. Which means that the friends and family members they’re sharing it with are becoming less likely to be able to attend church together.

These recent nuances in connectivity and communication provide great potential for our church’s participation in kingdom growth, even if it doesn’t always result in the numerical growth of our local congregation.

I love the mindset of the senior pastor I work under. When he is asked about programs we could add like youth sports, Celebrate Recovery, etc… he normally redirects the conversation to a local church in our area that does that particular ministry with excellence and says, “Why would we try to compete with another ministry in our area instead of just sending people to that ministry to be nurtured?”

Sometimes our evangelism and discipleship can end up with us encouraging someone to follow Jesus to another church!

In the western church world, we have become so used to tethering evangelism to our church’s programming and attendance that we can forget they’re not the same thing.

NEWSFLASH: Church attendance isn’t the goal of evangelism. Following Jesus is the goal.

What if a church was teaching and practicing evangelism in such a way that people shared their faith in Jesus at work, in their neighborhoods, with their families and online, not only as part of a church program, but as a natural outgrowth of their faith? We must always remember that, while church attendance is a vital element in our spiritual growth, church attendance isn’t the goal of evangelism. Following Jesus is the goal – even if it means they attend a different church than ours!

We must remember that Jesus didn’t call us to make congregation members… He called us to make disciples. Making disciples comes first!

Let’s focus on the Kingdom and be just as happy when someone comes to Jesus and attends another good church as we are when they attend ours. It’s great when a church member invites an unchurched friend or family member to come to church with them. But it’s even better when that person invites someone to follow Jesus with them. People need to know we’re concerned about them more than our church’s bottom line. The kingdom of God is always bigger than our little corner of it.

 

Set the Table

A couple of months ago my wife and I got to do a couple of longer hikes in the Rocky Mountains. To save money and time, we decided to pick up Subway sandwiches on our way each day and eat them in the car before hitting the trails. It was so much fun eating sandwiches and other, primarily unhealthy, snacks picnic-style because there was fresh air, a beautiful view, my wife, and no real expectations or civilized rules regarding how or what I ate. I didn’t have to eat my sandwich before my gummy bears, keep my elbows off the table, or use my forks in the correct order… I mean how many forks can a person possibly need to eat a meal?

Another memorable meal was when I was in college. As a Public Relations class heading towards graduation we went to a conference to rub elbows with some possible future employers, and “professionals” in the field. After that conference there was an elaborate meal with waiters, multiple courses, fine dishware, and tons of utensils. The etiquette and expectations were high and completely different than my previous example.

As a kid we didn’t get out the classy dishware often, probably because my mom was afraid we would break it, and we would, or maybe because we didn’t have any? I’m not sure… but both of those examples paint a picture of my point, the way the table is set can determine the expectations for the meal.

Think about it! The dishware is not the reason you sat down at the table… the food was! But the place settings can determine the context and direction the meal will take.

As worship leaders, we set the mood for what is expected for the worship experience for the majority of the congregation. Obviously, there will always be those who are bold or mature in their faith who we don’t need to bring to the throne because they are already there. But for the majority of the church, we set the table and the layout for what is generally expected during a worship service. We can be the examples of what kind of worshipers we are called to be. I know that a meal with fine china versus a picnic will have two different moods… both are fine and enjoyable, but different. In the same way, a small group setting with an acoustic guitar has a much different feel than a Sunday morning service with a full band. Both are great and both can be incredibly powerful times of worship, but they are different styles. The table for each scenario is set differently.

As Pastors and leaders we are called to do the prep work through prayer, devotion, study, and thought to find out what message we want to convey to our congregation, what place setting and context we want to put before them. I once heard a quote that went like this,

Worship ministry is not about telling people where to go, but about leading them as you go there yourself.

Every week I try to encourage this mindset in the way our team leads. Whether the position is deserved or not, if you are onstage or have a role on the worship team, you are seen as a leader. What you do dictates to the majority of the congregation what is acceptable or inappropriate for the service.

However, as worship leaders, we can’t make the congregation do anything they don’t want to do. Just like a table-setter or host of a meal, I can bring you the finest dishes and cups, decorate the table extravagantly with candles, and set out fancy silverware, but I can’t make you eat the food or even like it, and I shouldn’t try to… that is not my job. If our goal is to lead people to worship and we begin to judge our services based on how many people raise their hands, we will become very effective manipulators. If we take a close look at Scripture, however, we can see that isn’t our job. In Psalm 23, God Himself does nothing more than prepare a table for David in the presence of his enemies, and it is David’s choice whether or not he will partake in the “meal.”

That Psalm says,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What good is an elaborate meal with a way to eat it? Table-setting is about giving people the tools to eat the meal. Likewise, it is our job to prepare the setting for worship and then get out of the way.

I imagine that our experiences are often like Moses’s after he came down from Mount Sinai in Exodus 19.

Exodus 19:7-17 says,

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

 

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

 

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

In Exodus 19 Moses had a literal mountaintop experience with God and was told to go down and tell the people to prepare themselves for worship… to prepare to have an experience with the Almighty God. Then on the third day, he led them up on the mountain so they might worship God.

Do we realize that when we worship we do so standing before an Almighty God?

One time I was exploring an old train tunnel with a buddy and once we got inside we were immersed in total darkness. As we trudged through the mud and water trying to catch a glimpse of the light emerging from the other side time seemed to drag on and on. After an hour or so I asked, “Have you been here before?” My trust had wavered over time and my primary concern was that he was experienced in the path we decided to take.

As many worship leaders, Pastors, or “creatives” do, we put a lot of time, prayer, and effort into our weekly services. We map out the flow of the songs so there aren’t any distractions, and we tie them together with the topic or theme we are trying to convey. As Moses did, we lead people up the mountain. But do you think the Israelites would have trusted Moses and followed him up the mount had he not gone before them already? He was experienced… he had been there before!

I highly doubt that Moses would have held the trust of the Israelites had he not first been to the mountain himself and stood before God. You cannot lead someone where you have not been yourself.

It is easy to gauge a service by how well the band played, how the tech team did, and if the congregation sang loudly or only a few people raised their hands. I fall victim to this mentality quite often, but leading worship is centered around trust in God. Craig Groeschel once said,

If we blame ourselves when things go poorly, then we will be tempted to credit ourselves when things go right.

The act of table-setting can be scary.

But we can do nothing more than that. So as you plan your service this week, think about what table you are trying to set. We lead our congregation to the table, not by pointing a finger, but by saying, “Come alongside me as we go together.”

Lead Worship… Not Songs

I’ve been playing and leading songs for as long as I can remember, whether it was in my bedroom on my first Fender acoustic guitar my Dad bought me, in the basement cranking out old-school Linkin Park tunes with my friends, traveling a large portion of the country playing in venues and at festivals, or standing on the stage in a church or youth room.

I’ve led SO many songs!

Let me ask you, in the songs that you’re leading where are the words pointed?

I would say that many of our song lyrics are more about the attributes of God, or how we relate to God, rather than being songs sung directly to Him filled with truth and praise/ adoration.

I look back and think about some of the first times I sang a song about God and truly felt the Holy Spirit move. I could literally feel something happen both in me, and on me, as I sang the words with purity and belief, and guess what… it didn’t only happen with me, but in the room! The chorus of one of the songs goes like this:

Holy Spirit you are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory God is what our hearts long for, to be overcome by Your presence Lord!

Does your heart truly long to give God the glory? Or just to lead another song and have some people sing along?

The acknowledgement of God’s presence in and during our worship leading should do something to us… in us. We aren’t just singing a song to the air. We are singing a song directly to Him!

At the time I didn’t know I could steward a moment like this or have the authority to release the Kingdom and lead emboldened and empowered by the Holy Spirit. I only knew how to be an excellent leader of songs. I had so many good things to discover as I grew from being a song leader to becoming a worship leader.

Who doesn’t love being in a room where a leader humbly, yet boldly, takes us into a place of encounter with Jesus. If you are anything like me, you want to lead with authority and partner with the Holy Spirit every time you worship. And even more importantly, I want to have confidence that it has nothing to do with my natural ability. Why?

Many people have a natural ability to lead people in songs, but it takes supernatural partnership to lead people into encounter.

In John 5:19 Jesus says it like this,

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.

Even Jesus was dependent to hear from the Father as He ministered to people every day! In the same way, we can do nothing in and of ourselves, it’s in submission to Jesus, in serving with obedience following the sound of His voice and leading that we shift the atmosphere, releasing faith!

You might be reading this and going “Yeah! Yeah! I want that. Where can I get that!” Well here are a few suggestions on places to start.


Worship before you lead.

I found that as I was growing as a Worship Pastor and in hearing God’s voice during worship, He would often speak to me as I would worship through the set at home or at rehearsals.

I often tell people that it is easier and more freeing to worship at rehearsals with my team. We don’t just fly through the songs. We worship as we practice and try to be receptive and obedient to the leading of the Spirit even in those times! Some weeks, I will see certain themes arising as I worship that I didn’t pick up on in all of my hard planning and praying. For example, this past week there was a real freedom in our worship during rehearsal on Friday and the theme of God’s authority and victory He has won for us made itself very clear in the songs we were singing and the way they worked together to usher us into the throne room of God. Maybe it’s salvation, physical/emotional healing, relationships, or even bondage.

I have found that in those times of true submission and freedom God will often give me a chorus (sometimes new), a scripture, or some type of invitation to present or theme to highlight.

Open yourself up to His leading by being “well-seasoned” on worship before you try to put yourself before others to lead.


Create a culture of feedback.

Isn’t this a scary thought?

But hear me out here… invite both your leadership and worship team to give feedback into what they sensed happening throughout worship. This will help you learn when you’re hearing well, as well as what you might be missing.

We won’t get it right 100% of the time. Some days my spiritual “well” is just running low and I have nothing else to give and I might miss a cue. But, these times don’t have to be a complete loss… if we open ourselves up to feedback and real conversations (not just someone telling you everything you did right and what you want to hear) then we can learn form those things and bounce back ready to follow.

Find some people you trust and give them permission to share their perceptions of each service. Trust me, it’s not easy to hear that we talked too much or missed a moment that everyone else sensed was happening. But if we don’t open the door to feedback, we won’t learn. This is where we practice humility. We serve Jesus and our congregation; we don’t serve ourselves.


Be willing to take risks.

There have been many times where God has spoken very specifically to one of my team members and I missed the signal. It’s a constant growth curve for me to be aware of what’s happening in the room and to what God is saying to me as well as checking in with the team. Be sensitive to what other team members might be feeling and when you invite them to take a risk, follow up with them afterwards.

Just this week my keyboard player took a risk and shared with me what she sensed as we ended rehearsal on Sunday morning and it confirmed what I was sensing and prodded me to go down an avenue that I hadn’t planned to right before service!

Don’t skip the view because you are scared of the trail before it! Encourage risk! Risk is faith in action!

The Kingdom of God invading Earth is very real, very powerful, and very tangible. The icing on the cake? God wants to advance the Kingdom through us! I encourage you to ask the Lord how to grow to a new place of trust with Him and a new place of faith in your activity as a worshiper. Maybe you already practice the points I mentioned and, if so, what is the next place of risk for you? How amazing is it that we have the opportunity to partner with the King of the world.


 

Seek Him and His glory first and the other things will fall into place!

Resolutions and Reminders for a New Year

Each and every year about this time I look back on the previous year and determine what progress was made, what progress needs to be made, and to set helpful guidelines and goals for myself in order to better serve the church in which I serve. Below I have copied over some of my own thinking about last year and how it impacts the way I do things this year. I hope if you are in a leadership position of any type in any place that you take time to evaluate and make this next year a more successful and meaningful year than last.

There is always room for improvement, and I’m always in need of a reminder. When it comes to being a Pastor that leads people and leads music sometimes I get pulled in many directions. What did we learn from last year and what are we going to do this year? Let’s think together!


Pull from the Well

We have all been at a concert or show where we only knew one of the many songs that was played. It just turns awkward… a bunch of people trying to sing along and making up words whilst looking around to make sure they aren’t failing alone. Sounds like late night college town karaoke to me!

Church shouldn’t be like that setting I described above. We will do a variety of music, some new and some old, but as a church family we’d like to collectively “own” only a certain number of songs from which we regularly draw.

We’d like for these to be “our” songs. Whether for a year or just for a season these songs can help shape worship services and speak to your congregation where they are and in the season that they currently find themselves in. These are songs that we love, that resonate with who we are, and that we enthusiastically engage as a church body. Worship Leaders, musicians, and Pastors almost always know far more songs than the churches they serve and are tempted to constantly introduce new ones. We need to throttle that down. I currently have an active list of about100 songs that I’d like to keep in rotation. I regularly add new songs at the pace of about one a month and rotate songs off the list, as needed.

Reminder… this isn’t YOUR list. It is your church’s list. You don’t get to head into a church and bring your list of songs while recycling theirs. Know your people!

Maybe you hate this idea of a list because it feels like you are always singing the same songs. However, remember, you constantly think about music. You listen to and write new music regularly, both of which are great things. The rest of the church, however, is not like you in that way. By the time you get to worship on Sunday, you’ve practiced at home, sung the songs as you prepared charts for the band, practiced with the band, and made changes in your head throughout the week. You know these songs well. The congregation, on the other hand, may sing them two or three times a year. Thus, it is important that we focus on our list of songs and shape it slowly and thoughtfully from there.

The music we play can shape the Gospel for our churches, so we must make sure they know what they are singing and proclaiming on Sunday!


Not everyone is a Musician

This may be one of the most important principles I constantly remind myself of, because it is not our desire that people just “see” us sing and the band “perform” with excellence. We want the church to join in and sing with one voice in worship.

Congregational singing requires that the congregation be able to sing the songs. That means that there are a lot of songs out there that, though they may be wonderful songs, are just not appropriate for corporate worship… at least not in their original form. That does not mean that you can’t use the occasional performance song (that is up to your discretion and context as a church), but the vast majority of what you choose needs to be singable by the average non musician.

Congregational singing requires that the congregation be able to sing the songs.

In that same vein, we must be sure to sing the singable songs we choose in singable ways. As a tenor sometimes that is difficult! There may be a lot of songs in the key of Tomlin that are solid and that might work, but they all need to be in a key that is reasonable for the vast majority to sing along with!

The congregation needs to be able to find and follow the prescribed melody. There is often a temptation for us as worship leaders who are gifted vocally to sing the “unwritten” parts and draw much more emphasis to them than the written song. Don’t get me wrong… we ad lib when led and sing spontaneously as the Lord leads, but we have to be aware that discernment is key and often these portions of our singing can leave the, primarily untrained, congregation without direction as to what they are meant to sing.

When people don’t sing they become disengaged and watch. We aren’t called to lead songs… we are called to lead people.

So be creative, but make sure the people know what they should sing. None of this is said to try to to stifle our creativity, but exactly the opposite. I am a HUGE proponent of Christian creativity and leading with beautiful Biblical excellence, and this inclusion of people in all contexts should actually drive our creativity to a new level.

Our primary concern should be for the whole congregation to be able to sing along. That means we tend to maximize congregational singing and minimize guitar solos, special arrangements, and even performances. It’s not that they are bad, it is that we have a limited time and want to focus on the congregation worshipping the Savior during the time we do have. A little of several of these things goes a very long way.


Recruit, Train, and Build

What does your team look like? What and who is it made up of? Are you raising up, equipping, and engaging your own people as volunteers to lead worship in your church?

I understand this always means more work for us. It’s easy for us to be content with what we have and close ourselves off to new comers, but who are we raising up to take our place? New volunteers will require a lot more time and energy to train and lead. I know we will have to work hard to build them up, but this is the direction we as a church need to move in order to truly “pastor” our people.

This year let’s commit ourselves to “expanding our net” in order to catch up more people for the Kingdom cause of Christ.



So what resolutions and reminders do you need for this next year?

Worship Leaders: Seek Him First

In this season of Thanksgiving and reflection that exists between November and the new year I want to write to all my worship leader friends, creative ministry volunteers, and musical coordinators and say… I appreciate you.

You are one of the most influential people in the life of your church.

Each and every week you are entrusted with the task of standing before your people and leading them into the very presence of God. Your role is to point people to Jesus, not yourself; yet, you do so through an art that is incredibly personal and that you’ve worked tirelessly to perfect. Trust me… I know the challenges, tendencies, and pitfalls! Our roles require us to be a gifted artist continually honing our craft, a theologian, and a leader all rolled up into one. All of those things combined make an arduous task.

The Bible references the predecessors of the modern worship leader in several places, such as the list of people in 1 Chronicles 25:1,

David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals.

The Scriptures are also filled with admonitions to worship, very often including song.

Psalm 150:16 says,

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Hebrews 13:15 says,

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.

Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

So the role of a Worship Leader or Pastor is, in my view, a clearly articulated biblical role.

Even so, your responsibility brings with it some pretty big challenges. The sad fact is that we all know that music can easily become one of the more controversial things within the life of the church. Everyone in our church has an opinion, often in direct opposition to another, and each will expect you to satisfy both somehow.

You will need to be more modern and traditional at the same time, louder and softer, and lead for longer but shorter time periods all simultaneously.

As someone who has been there, and who is there, I want to encourage you to feel free to listen to people’s suggestions, but focus on pleasing the Lord in the manner that you and your leadership have prayerfully chosen to affirm, stylistically and culturally. Seek Him first… the details will all shake out!

Matthew 6:33 says,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Jeremiah 29:13 promises,

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

And most importantly, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 says,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.


To all of you serving week after week… I appreciate you. Your churches appreciate you. Keep on fighting the good fight!