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!

 

Advertisements

Diagnosing Spiritual Complacency

One of the terrible diseases of Christianity today is complacency. There is a major complacency epidemic spreading amongst the Kingdom. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

I certainly believe that Satan is a master deceiver and uses many techniques to disarm and neutralize Believers. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s strategies is to plant the seed of complacency.

I have a friend who served a tour of duty in Iraq. On that tour of duty he worked many road checkpoints and was issued, along with his other soldiers, some very particular gear. Among that gear was the normal body armor and helmet, but that gear also included padding and armor for their upper arms and thighs, as well as a groin guard. All of this gear had one mission in mind: to keep them alive and protected in the event of an IED explosion. As you can imagine all that gear made the already intense heat nearly unbearable. So for that reason many of the soldiers would remove the gear when officers were not around. One particular day there were no officers on site and a newer enlisted soldier was in the guard tower wearing his helmet causing many of the others to poke fun at him. On that particular day an enemy assailant just so happened to be taking aim with a long-range rifle and shot that soldier in the head. The helmet and his lack of complacency saved his life, whereas many of the other soldiers would have been killed. I say all of that to make this point: in combat complacency kills.

In Amos 6:1 the Lord spoke to the backslidden Israel through His prophet Amos. It says,

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

The Lord was addressing to the people who were self-satisfied and in their comfort zone. They felt self-sufficient and strong enough in their own power. These people had little desire for God, and little hunger for His righteousness. They were self-confident and self-sufficient. Thus the Lord warned them about the impending judgment upon them.

How often do we fall into this exact attitude? We allow ourselves to grow complacent and live a self-satisfied life. Do we truly live dependent on God or do we try to maintain some independence? Remember, complacency makes us to feel secure in our job, safe in our strength, good about our knowledge, protected in our money and possessions, eventually blinding us and leading us to our downfall. Sometime the strike isn’t immediate. Like the enemy assailant in the story above, sometimes the enemy patently takes aim and waits. He allows us to grow comfortable, and complacent all the while he is disarming us without much effort.

A.W. Tozer says,

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

Let’s get one thing straight. Complacency is a killer that can ruin ministry. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

Revelation 3:14-22 says,

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

We see above that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that apparently, Jesus can’t stand. Another name for it might be “complacency.” Complacency is not contentment. Where contentment is finding joy in the blessings of walking with God, complacency is when we have stopped walking.

How do you know that this killer has crept into your ministry? Here are some telltale signs.


  • Lack of Zeal

One of the most obvious and beginning stages of complacency is a diminishing presence or absence of zeal. We all can probably remember a time in our life when we were passionate about something, maybe you are like me and when you find a new interest or hobby you dive in headfirst and it is all consuming? Hopefully we can all think back to a time when we were like that with Jesus. We didn’t need complex theology or big “spiritually correct” words. Yeah… I just went there.

Too many of us have substituted zeal for knowledge!

I honestly am pretty tired of seeing Bible believing friends of mine tearing each other to shreds over theology on Facebook for the whole world to see. I have been there too! At times I myself have replaced my zeal for pursuing Christ and acting like Him for merely knowing more about Him and maybe letting others know about it. Before anyone gets all tore up please understand that I am talking to myself here! Maybe the dissection of the Word down to the last punctuation mark was just a distraction to keep you from understanding it and doing what it says? In actuality Satan, the deceiver, doesn’t care how much you know the Word if you don’t do the Word.

Please read the Word, dissect the Word, understand the Word, memorize the Word… but then go put into practice!

  • Tradition is Doctrine

Tradition entails so much more than what most people typically think of when it is mentioned. Tradition is more than robes, recited prayers, hymns, etc… Tradition is something that can invade and ultimately take over any church, regardless of its denomination, history, or style. Let’s get this straight, when we depend on tradition for our “religious” involvement, relationship, worship, or gatherings we stop depending upon something else… namely the Bible and the Spirit of God. When that happens, we’re on a rapid descent to destruction. In fact, our gatherings become nothing more than scripted ceremonies that we have rehearsed and polished in hopes of gaining something. We might keep ourselves happy, we might grow our church in numbers or financial security, but we aren’t truly pursuing the renewed work of Christ and the Kingdom of God here in our ever-changing ministry field.

There is nothing wrong with tradition itself. But… there is something wrong with depending on tradition!

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Security is mortals’ greatest enemy.

But what kind of “security” is he talking about? I believe he is talking about the security that comes with comfort. Maybe your comfort looks different than the blanket that Linus drags around everywhere, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Do your traditions make you feel at “home” or secure and comfortable?

Complacency makes us feel secure, but feelings can lie.

Ephesians 5:14-17 says,

This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

How is it that we can be told to make the most of every opportunity and still pass up so many because they didn’t fit into our idea of “church?” Let’s put it out there, we as a whole have become slothful, habitual, uninspired, secure, and complacent, often doing what we do for traditional reasons rather than because it’s best.

Why is it that we, who have had the precious blood of Christ cleanse our sins, now take such a mediocre and habitual approach to those things related to Christ and His cause? From our outreach, in-reach, preaching, worship, programs, aesthetics, etc… in almost every area of corporate church complacency has unfortunately become the norm.

The message is the same, but the messengers and avenues they take change!

The secular world has caught on to this! Look at the music industry. Songs and albums were once put out on vinyl, then tapes, then cd’s, and now everything is digital. The same songs that were once on vinyl can now be downloaded on iTunes for .99 cents! Businesses don’t always change the product or name… they just change the presentation, method of delivery, or audience. Why aren’t we who have the best “offering” putting forth the same effort in our church activities as we do in our personal activities and businesses?

Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel, is famously quoted for saying,

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.

If we stay the same, for the sake of staying the same, we get left behind and we do the message an injustice! We must understand that our complacency has eternal implications, and I’m afraid that a culture of mediocrity has now become the new tradition.

  • Tolerance of Sin

Last week I asked you to imagine a trashed house full of garbage and the flies that go along with the garbage. Sometimes our lives look a lot like that house, and the natural tendency is to clear out the flies. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, the solution is to get rid of the garbage in our lives. We need to be concerned with the flies, but we also must work to remove the garbage to keep them out! Every trashcan is going to look different… but we certainly all have one. In his strategy of complacency, Satan watches as we clear our houses of garbage and flies…except for one room. It’s more than likely a hidden room, one we keep to ourselves. That room may be continual sin, it might be a relationship, bitterness, or a wound we haven’t allowed to heal. At times the door to that room full of garbage stays shut for a while and Satan allows us to have successes in other areas all the while the flies are just multiplying and building up in this little room. Then, out of nowhere, the door of the hidden room flies open, freeing thousands upon thousands of flies who have been breeding and waiting for just this moment.

Why does this happen? We get complacent and our complacency leads to tolerance or apathy.

Think it doesn’t happen? Take a moment to consider prominent Christian leaders, celebrities, or politicians whose lives and careers have been ruined when they fell in disgrace from one sin or another. We all know them so there is no need at mentioning names. We might look in from the outside an ask ourselves, “how would they allow that to happen” or, “why would they do that with all the success they have?” Rest assured. That fall wasn’t part of the plan when they began their career. Nobody begins a ministry with the goal to ultimately disgrace themselves and God by being brought to their knees by their own hand. Too often the fall comes from complacency. They believed the lie that they could “get away with it,” or, “it’s not that big of a deal,” and when they seemed to have it all together and under control, they grew complacent in their tolerance of sin.

Sin is sin, and all sin is bad. Don’t tolerate it! The church is to be a place of healing for sinners, but a Holy God doesn’t wink at or bless iniquity. He sent His son to die for and erase that iniquity and sin… not cover it up. The only reason the church welcomes sinners is because by God’s grace, sinners can be reborn with Christ’s righteousness. Do not tolerate sin in your own life! Letting a few “little things” slip leads to bigger slip-ups. I recently watched a video of a poor woman who slipped on an icy sidewalk and every time she would begin to regain her balance and composure she would begin to slide and fall again until ultimately she ended up on the ground. We’ve all been on an icy sidewalk… when you begin to slip it is all over. But… you know how you avoid slipping and falling? Stay off the ice.

  • Lack of Pursuit

What is a pursuit? I would define it as an intense chase of something in order to attain it.

My parents have a German shepherd by the name of Obi and he is extremely quick. One afternoon while playing and walking Obi his leash fell off of his collar and went limp in my hand. I looked down in shock only to see him looking at me with the same look of shock in his face that I had in mine. At that point the chase was on.

Why did I pursue Obi the dog? I pursued because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t catch him, of what would happen if I stopped pursuing him!

How many of us have stopped pursuing holiness? Lost interest or will to pursue God and spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is marked by an aggressive intense pursuit of God. We desire His fellowship, His people, and His word. A life that lacks prayer, Bible intake, and neglects spiritual nourishment is a life that has slipped into complacency and that will see little or no fruit.

Mark 11:12-14 says,

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree for its failure to produce fruit in the verses above He gives us a sobering lesson. Empty religion, lacking fruit, needs to and ultimately will die. In actuality the parable of the fig tree doesn’t end with Jesus’ withering curse, because the very next verse says,

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

The spiritual complacency or “religion” of the people had reached the place where they were making a total mockery of the temple and of the message. We may not see our situations as that bleak, but if Jesus walked into our churches what things would he need to overturn or shake up?

  • Inward Focus

One of the surest signs of complacency is a church that is self-absorbed or entirely inwardly focused. You might ask, “Tanner, what does than mean?” Let me begin my answer with another question, what is the mission of the church? That question can evoke many answers like: to provide teaching for Believers, to be a place of fellowship, a place of worship. To all of those I would say yes… but what is the first and foremost mission of the church? In Matthew 28:19 it tells us about that mission. It says,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The mission of the church is to spread the good news and make disciples. In fact we may have to get out of our comfortable and familiar zone to do it! Acts 1:8 says,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Is your church inward focused or outward focused? Are you so concerned about not “rocking the boat” that you leave it docked? We see in the book of Acts that in order to achieve our mission we have to wander outside of ourselves! Are we so overly concerned about keeping “our people” happy and content that we miss opportunities to reach those that haven’t yet been reached by Christ or the church? I will step out in an unpopular way and say that when a church is absorbed with just its own activities, its own problems, and its own people, it has become complacent and ineffective at achieving the goal and mission.

The primary challenge, and our primary concern, should be, “how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to or even aware of this challenge. We might bank on our “friendliness” or position in the community to cut it… but the numbers show that it doesn’t! We can’t simply pray for a harvest and not plant any seeds or till any ground!

So many of us are so complacent that we fear any change or decision that might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. In the book of Acts, James the brother of Jesus, told the Jewish Christians, who were the insiders of the day, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles, the outsiders of the day, to turn to God. Why is it that this many years later that problem still exists? Are we making it easy for outsiders to turn to God, or are we stuck in the busy complacent work of keeping insiders happy?

Jeremiah 10:21 says,

For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Proverbs 1:32 says,

For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.

What is our focus as a church?


Zephaniah 1:12 says,

It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’

Are you complacent? Go to war with the complacency in your life.

 

What are we Seeking?

How many of us would admit to viewing God as a distant Santa Claus that we can submit our wish list to through prayer and rest assured knowing that it is taken care of? Probably not many of us would say that… but sometimes our actions outshine our words and thoughts.

Many times I personally fail to realize that relationship is everything. Ultimately it isn’t about how much Biblical or theological knowledge I acquire, how sharp I hone my skills for His glory, or about what type of image I can project. A personal relationship is the one thing God wants more than any of that.

In Luke 9 we find a very short but interesting encounter between Jesus and His disciples. Luke 9:18-20 says,

Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

Sometimes I read right over this… but these few scriptures are very telling of the personal nature of our relationship with the Father. In this passage Jesus rerouted the disciple’s answers and got to the personal side of the question. Jesus basically said, “I don’t care who they say I am… I care about who you say I am.”

I’m afraid that often we are like the disciples. We know about God… His attributes, works, and promises, but we miss His heart. We seek His hands instead of His face.

1 Chronicles 22:19 says,

Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.

Seeking the Lord means seeking his presence. “Presence” is a common translation of the Hebrew word “face.” Literally, we are to seek his “face.” But this is the Hebraic way of having access to God. To be before his face is to be in his presence.

Colossians 3:1-2 says,

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

The great promise to those who seek the Lord in faith is that He will be found. 1 Chronicles 28:9 says,

If you seek him, He will be found by you.

And when he is found, there is great reward. Hebrews 11:6 says,

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

God himself is our greatest reward. And when we have him, we have everything. So… what does it mean to seek God’s face?


  • Our whole heart must be involved.

There are many things to seek after in our society and world. There are so many things that can catch our eyes. The hardest part about this is that not everything that can attract our attention is a bad thing. For myself personally I draw too much of my identity from what I do. I can get so caught up in “ministry” that I ignore the purpose behind the “ministry” itself.

Matthew 6:24 says,

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.

The Word seek tells us that this is about what we are after – what we pursue – what we want. What we seek, we want, and what we want is what has captivated our heart. What we seek has tremendous power over the direction of our lives.

Lets think about it this way… have you ever driven a car on a very straight road? What happens as you begin to let your eyes drift onto the scenery on either side of the road? The car drifts in whatever direction we are looking. Our seeking of God is just like that car. Whatever we are seeking with our eyes and mind is where we drift. If our pointed direction is in any direction other than on the Father then we are in danger of missing the mark… or crashing.

You could really boil your life down to this: what is it you seek? What are you looking towards and steering the car that is your life?

One person may seek money, and because of that seeking their family and friends end up being sacrificed on the altar of making money. For another person they might be seeking comfort and ease more than anything else, and because of that they are hesitant about taking risks for the Lord.

Another way to get to the root of what you seek is to take a look at what you are passionate about… what you desire.

What we want and love and desire most – that’s what we seek. When God says we are to seek His face, He’s talking about a wholehearted, passionate pursuit of Himself.

Deuteronomy 4:29 says,

But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.

In Jeremiah 29 we find a promise that many people memorize and hold onto. Jeremiah 29:11 says,

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

But… too many of us stop there and miss the full promise that is found in 12-14. Jeremiah 29:12-14 continues to say,

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes…

The future and hope is bound up with God’s people calling upon God and seeking Him with all our hearts. Those who seek God with ALL their hearts find God – every time. But it is important to mention that the word ALL means exactly that… ALL of our hearts. God never promises to bless the halfhearted seeker.

Revelation 3:16 says,

So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

  • We seek the face… not the hands.

Do we seek the “stuff” of God? The works of God?

Do you serve a vending machine Jesus? The Jesus that dispenses blessings when you pop the coin in and push the right button.

That may sound ridiculous… but often faith becomes the very coin that releases the blessings from God. Give ten bucks, you get a hundred. Have enough faith and you get healed.

The health and wealth prosperity churches might come to mind immediately when we mention seeking or receiving the blessings of God. But… I’m afraid all of us are guilty of this on a different level.

God is sovereign over all. He is glorious beyond anything we can imagine. God is all we need… and He is better than His promises. We trust His promises and cherish them, but to seek God’s face is to seek the true great treasure and gift.

John Piper writes,

That power has awakened in us, not just a desire for God to give us a happy future, but for God Himself to be the essence of our happy future. It has produced in us, not just a delight in the promises of God, but in the God of the promises. Faith embraces God in all His promises.

Seeking God’s face means seeking God, not just what God gives.

Do we seek God wholeheartedly? Do we want God more than anything else in the world, more than life itself? Lets get personal: are you seeking God wholeheartedly –with everything inside of you? Do you want God and not just what God can give you. Are we seeking the blessings of God or God Himself?

I pray that we are like Paul in Philippians 3:7-8,

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Jesus said we are to “seek first” the kingdom of God – that is to be our first priority in life. That’s not radical, extremist Christianity. That’s what it is to be a Christian.


So… what do you seek?