“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!”

 

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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.

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.”

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?