“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.”

Leading without Music… Off the Stage

Anytime someone asks me what my job is I almost dread to tell him or her that I am a full-time Worship Pastor. The reason for that is that I consistently get the response, “so you get to play music one day a week as your job?” Sometimes it isn’t worth the explanation and I just smile and respond with, “I guess you could say that.”

Being a Worship Pastor isn’t just for those with exceptional musical talent. Being a Worship Pastor takes exactly that… being a pastor.

In my opinion a worship ministry is very limited without the presence of a pastoral figure. Hear me out! People may worship along with that ministry… individually, but without someone nurturing them, protecting them, and caring for them we truly are just giving them a song to sing. A true Pastor watches over his flock to see that they grow spiritually. A Worship Pastor wants to see his congregation and team grow as worshipers. The term “Worship Leader” seems to place the emphasis on leading a service (which we do). “Worship Pastor” takes the emphasis off of the service and places it onto the people… the sheep.

Do you lead the singing portion of the service or do you lead people?

As a “music person” do you spend more of your time worrying about the songs or the message? The arrangement or the people? I come from a musical background and it would be really easy for me to focus in on the musical portion of my job and push the limits of what we are currently doing, but with what price?

I do ministry different than many “Worship Pastors” or “Worship Leaders” do, I actually spend more time pastoring the people than I do listening to the newest and most “relevant” song. Now don’t jump to conclusions… I do spend TONS of time finding, writing, rehearsing, and planning songs. My team has a routine and knows when they can expect new songs, worship plans, and when to be at church for rehearsals. I approach our music with Biblical excellence, but a couple of years ago I had a revelation that went a little bit like this: “Do our people even care about how good the music Sunday was, and are they looking forward to singing next Sunday?” Then, it dawned on me. I need to be thinking about my people throughout the week, and thinking about what they are thinking about throughout the week! The only way I can Pastor them well throughout the week is to be with them throughout the week and to live as they do… alongside them.

Below I want to briefly discuss three things that have been goals and good reminders for me to make sure I’m shepherding the people I lead on a Sundays on a weekly basis. Let’s think together.


  • Know the People

As a Worship Pastor or Leader do you get off the platform?

Do you truly know the people you lead on a weekly basis? Who is that lady on the right hand side of the third row? What is her story? What are her spiritual gifts?

Something about knowing the people makes leading them that much easier and that much more impactful. At the church in which I serve there are all kinds of people in need of things… some need physical healing, others need finances to pay their bills at the end of the month, some have children who have strayed or spouses that have died, the list goes on and on… but I know them and they trust me with their stories. That makes the singing of songs that declare God’s faithfulness and goodness super powerful and real. It brings the worship to a whole new level when you know what people are declaring and what that truly means in their life at the current moment.

After every worship service that I lead, I try to get off the platform and speak with the people, pray with the people, and get to know the people. You can’t possibly expect to nurture them if you don’t know who they are or what they need.

  • Be Visible and Available

As a Worship Pastor it is really easy to become isolated. In an artistic ministry we can spend as much time as we want in our particular area and we will never run out of things to do or things to practice. To truly Pastor we must fight this mentality… we have to get out of our area and be visible and available for people to see and interact with.

I personally try to be at events that our church puts on that have nothing to do with my ministry area… worship. For instance, just a few weeks ago our kids ministry put on a Harvest Festival. To be honest, as a guy with no children I really did not want to go… but my wife and I ended up going anyways and what I noticed was that it connected me with people from our church that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Being involved in the life of the church outside you ministry is healthy because it allows the people within your church to see you in an element outside of leading them in worship. It provides opportunity to have conversations and build relationships. So, if there are any events that your church puts on, try to be there and get to know your people outside of something you’re having to lead at or oversee.

  • Live with the Sheep

True discipleship and pastoring takes place up close… on a personal level.

John 10:11-14 says,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.

I have found it interesting that the word pastor is derived from Latin where it literally means “shepherd” and relates to the Latin verb “pascere” which means, “to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat.” Shepherds in Biblical times lived amongst their flock. They consistently worked with them and taught them the best way to go. The sheep responded to the voice of their shepherd and trusted that he would not lead them astray. At night a shepherd would gather their flock into a pen or cave and sleep across the entrance in order to protect their sheep from predators that lurked around in the night. Shepherds cared for their sheep, and they demonstrated that caring by being there beside them and tending to their needs.

Are we being pastors? Are we being shepherds? If roles were reversed and you were in another person’s shoes would you trust YOUR “sheep” to you?

Proverbs 27:23 says,

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.

How can we truly know our flocks condition if we aren’t living alongside them? A Worship Leader who is a Pastor doesn’t have a one-way ministry. He’s not exclusively in the music department, but is involved in the body life of the church… he’s in touch with the congregation as a whole. I think that’s important on a number of levels. Shepherds know their sheep. They’re aware of the needs of the sheep. I think that’s going to be really important when it comes to song selection, but also in terms of how you love the flock well. I don’t want to see a guy just hanging out in the green room not being involved in the life of the church. With that, I would encourage the Worship Leader who is a Pastor to be accessible. Don’t allow yourself to be viewed as inaccessible, as someone on a platform, a rock star, etc. We should be seen out there mingling with the people.


I believe all these things are very important and very vital for us as Worship Pastors because it allows us to lead without a guitar on our back and a microphone in front of our face. It takes us from the stage and into the flock.

Sheer musical talents and abilities won’t cut it. Let’s set out to be Pastors together. We want to bring more than a song. Let us pray together for the compassion and patience it takes to shepherd God’s people. Let us pray for wisdom and the ability to carry each other’s burdens. Let us pray for sensitivity, and most importantly let us pray for change.

Why Music Speaks.

When Christians get together to worship there’s almost always music. In fact, the very term “worship” often takes a person’s thoughts directly to the musical portion of a church service, or is considered a “genre” of music. There are choruses, psalms, interludes, free-worship, songs, hymns, and spiritual songs that seem to speak right into our heart and soul, and meet us right where we are in any given situation.

Ephesians 5:19-20 even says that we are to sing together! Those verses say,

Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

In fact, musical worship is so ubiquitous and feels so “natural” that we need to keep reminding ourselves that worship is more than the congregational singing we do in a church service. So, what is it about our music that makes it so right for worship?

I believe that music, like language, is one of the few universal human cultural activities. It transcends religion, economics, social or economical class, and ethnicity like few other activities can. Think about it… there are very few universal activities! Some sports get close… but in reality they fall far short. Music is found in the most primitive isolated jungle tribes and the most advanced, wealthiest and congested cities. It’s woven into the everyday fabric of life of every human culture throughout history.

Try walking into a shop without hearing some sort of tune playing softly in the background… it is impossible!

Music is popular, but also powerful. Our most important personal, or communal events nearly always employ the power of music. Every wedding, funeral, celebration, or party uses music to evoke certain feelings or actions. Music has and is used in entertainment, sports, war… and in worship.

When I think about it the only thought that comes to my mind is “Why?”

Let’s think about the universality of music, and why music speaks to humans together!


  • Music is Emotional

Martin Luther once said,

Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate… what more effective means than music could you find?

It’s true that nothing affects us quite like music does. Music is powerful, and obviously when God created music, He knew its power, He called it good, and He instructed us to use it to worship Him. 

First and foremost, music is powerful because it is emotional. This doesn’t mean that music is about emotions, but that it expresses and engages the emotional life. Psychology and neuroscience would agree, with studies showing both creating and listening to music engage the emotional centers of the brain. And it is not that music evokes the emotions it expresses (after all, why would we like sad songs if all they did was make us sad) but that it evokes a heightened emotional state. And as emotional creatures, we like that.

God created us as emotional beings.

In Mark 12:29-30 Jesus says,

The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

After reading the passage out of Mark I would say that part of loving God with our whole heart must include our emotions. Think about it… emotions are the outlet for displaying what the heart feels! We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is a command to worship God with every human faculty we have, including both our intellect and our emotions! To worship God with our intellect only or our emotions only is to love God with less than all of our faculties. Our intellect and our emotions need to be equally engaged in worship. 

Colossians 1:16 says,

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Music is a gift from God that simultaneously engages our intellect and our emotions. Rich lyrics need to be coupled with rich music. When this happens, our worship songs engage all of us and we sense the delight it is to worship God in song. Next time you’re in a worship service, love the Lord your God by singing with as much thought and passion as you can!

  • Music is Physical

In her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott wrote,

Music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We’re walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn’t get to any other way.

The rhythm of music resonates with the body in spontaneous foot-tapping, finger drumming, clapping and dancing. This reveals a subtle but important link. Music is an auditory experience that the mind seeks to echo and express physically. And it’s not just the rhythm. How many times have you found yourself absolutely shredding a guitar solo on your air guitar or beating your steering wheel to death like a mistreated snare drum? If you are like me then don’t worry about answering!

Music evokes a physical response!

Music can motivate you and make it easier to start moving, walking, dancing, or any other type of exercise that you enjoy. Why do you think everyone jams their favorite songs while at the gym slinging heavy weights around? Music can make exercise feel more like recreation and less like work! Furthermore, music enhances athletic performance.

Musical rhythm has the remarkable ability to move our bodies. Because we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” I believe the physical way that music speaks to and moves us is important to note!

Think about the physical responses that worship evokes… hand raising, clapping, jumping, dancing, etc… We even can look in Scripture and find David dancing in worship before the Lord. Music speaks on many levels!

  • Music is Social

Ever wonder why singing is the dominant art form or artistic expression in churches? I believe the answer to that question is simple… singing is social and is the easiest way to unify a large group of people.

People sing together in all kinds of places including church. We sing together in different scenarios and for different purposes… but it always unites a group of people for a sole purpose or with the same words. Singing together binds us together. When we sing corporately it provides a way for numerous people from all races, backgrounds, social and economic classes, and ages to express the same thoughts and passions together.

Music is social!

As powerful and as meaningful as all the other aspects of music are to us individually, they are magnified when shared and experienced with others. Shared melodies, lyrics and rhythms have the power to unify a crowd around a deeply felt cultural moment. Think of the national anthem or football songs that fill a stadium. And when that happens, each one of us brings all of our individual experiences of music, merging them together into a captivating corporate experience.

What is more encouraging than standing amongst your peers, your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you are at your highest high or lowest low and hearing them sing praises to God? James 5:13 says,

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Not everyone is in the same spiritual, or emotional place on Sunday mornings when we gather… but yet we still do. It is encouraging to sing, and it is encouraging to hear other’s sing to our God. When Paul and Silas were in prison what did they do? They prayed and sang… that should say something.

Acts 16:25,

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

At a loss for words? Have nothing in common with the person in the pew or seat next to you other than salvation? Good. Sing together.

  • Music is Healing

It’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t feel a strong connection to music. Even if you can’t carry a tune or play an instrument, you can probably reel off a list of songs that evoke happy memories and raise your spirits. Surgeons have long played their favorite music to relieve stress in the operating room, and extending music to patients has been linked to improved surgical outcomes. In the past few decades, music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing.

Harvard studies have shown music has healing effects in: easing anxiety and discomfort during procedures, restoring lost speech, restoring memory, reducing side effects of cancer therapy, helping with physical therapy and rehabilitation, aiding in pain relief, and improving quality of life for people with dementia. But those are just the physical healing properties of music. Often in worship we deal with spiritual and emotional healing.

Just yesterday I was speaking to a woman from church about our services on Sunday. She started to explain to me how on Sunday we were singing about the love of God in a semi-spontaneous way, just bouncing around different sections of a song, and how the enemy began to work on her and disrupt her worship with annoyance to the repetition of certain parts and lines. Then suddenly the last time through she had a breakthrough and discovered a whole new meaning or relation to the words we were singing. She was “overwhelmed” with the healing love of Christ that we were singing about.

Music heals. It bandages deep wounds and scars that we have hidden from others. It can uncover and relieve us of baggage from our past. The weight and power of words expressed in song seem to be much heavier and pack a bigger punch than those just spoken.

Allow music to speak to you. Allow it to bring you to the One who can heal you.

  • Musical is Intellectual

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to recall the words of songs you haven’t heard for a numerous amount of years? Some would refer to this as the “Mozart Effect.”

In earlier years it was thought that listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, enhanced performance on cognitive tests. However, there are findings that show that listening to any personally enjoyable music has positive effects on cognition. Basically meaning that music improves memory performance! That’s great news for people like me!

The idea that music makes you smarter received considerable attention from scientists and the media. Listening to music or playing an instrument can actually make you learn better. And research confirms this. Studies show that music has the power to enhance some kinds of higher brain function such as, reading and literacy skills, spatial-temporal reasoning, and mathematical abilities.

The power of music to affect memory is quite interesting to me. Mozart and other music from the Baroque period, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activates the left and right parts of the brain. The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. The information being studied activates the left brain, while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities that engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, cause the brain to be more capable of processing information.

Listening to music facilitates the recall of information. Researchers have shown that certain types of music are a great “keys” for recalling memories. Information learned while listening to a particular song can often be recalled simply by “playing” the songs mentally.

We remember songs much better than words alone. In Deuteronomy 31:19-22 we see a particular passage in which God uses music to help his people remember his words. In this passage we see Moses commissioned by the Lord to write a song for the people of Israel so that they can easily remember God’s words.

“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel.

It is crazy that even in the Word we can see the fact that music has incredible memorization power for humans acknowledged. Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Therefore, we can see that songs whose lyrics expound on the person, work, and glory of Christ tend to stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the main points of a sermon.

Music speaks because it communicates to our brains in a more holistic way than other sources!


All of this all gives us a clue to the connection between music and worship. As believers, we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And music uniquely has the power to engage the entirety of who I am in that moment of expressing my devotion to God. When I sing in worship I am engaged emotionally, physically and intellectually. It’s like “all of me” is caught up in one single act of appreciation and love.

It’s music that makes this happen.

In song I am holistically engaged, the words I sing are expressions of all that is in my heart to say, but for which mere spoken words seem insufficient.

But music is even more than all of that! In song it’s not just me who is having the experience. The person next to me is too! And our experiences are in unison! The same words, the same rhythm, the same melody, the same emotions, the same truth, the same everything. We are here together, in one voice, around one cause, focusing all of who we are in a holistic outpouring of affection and devotion to the Faher.

Times of corporate worship are one of those moments when “we” can truly become “one.”

And it’s music that makes that happen. Music speaks.

 

 

The Value of Presentation

 


From the onset of this article many of you non-musicians or Pastors may feel a little left out. But… in reality this way of thinking can be applied across the board to ALL things done for God by ALL Believers. So read on and apply!


When it comes to church worship one topic that seems to be a tricky one is the issue of excellence. What qualifies as good enough? If the person has the right heart are they automatically eligible to lead? There is an obvious tension that exists between balancing heart and skill.

On one hand, we all know that worship is undoubtedly an act of the heart. But does that mean that we shouldn’t bother putting effort into our craft and offer forth a subpar offering? Colossians 3:23 says,

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.

So the often-heard statement, “Well… it’s good enough for church” holds no water when held in light of the verse above, and the old saying, “It’s the heart that counts” is only partially correct. God is excellent and His desire for us is excellence. Psalm 33:3 says,

Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully and shout for joy.

As leaders and musicians, we are instructed to do everything we do with excellence and with “skill.” A good question we should ask ourselves is: Why is our need to pursue excellence, and the often lack of such a pursuit, even an issue? In fact, you’d think that Christians would widely embrace the fact that because God is excellent, he has called us to excellence as well, and so we ought to strive to be excellent in everything we are and in everything that we do. But you only have to look at people in our churches and our presentation or “offering” to know that this is not necessarily the case.

But… all of you non-musicians hang in there with me! This is for you too… this exact thought, or pursuit of excellence, can be applied to anything you do in the Lord’s name! What is your offering? What is our method of worship? Maybe it is teaching, working with kids, being a missionary to your community or workplace, sitting with the sick, crying with the broken? The opportunities are limitless!

I believe a major problem we run into with regard to excellence in church is a theological problem that is best interpreted as an underlying “cheap” understanding of grace. People like to embrace the notion that because we are saved by grace, we can just sort of kick back and relax and not be overly concerned about anything. Now of course we would never admit to having that mentality… but the complacency we talked about a couple of weeks ago is a sure sign of it. It seems as if in many ministries laziness, mediocrity, and complacency have become the “norm” and not just accepted… but also expected! Somehow, I believe, we have come to think the pursuit of excellence is incompatible with salvation by grace. Excellence is suddenly not a “spiritually correct” word because we automatically assume that we are seeking excellence for ourselves or to earn/ payback God for our salvation, when in actuality our pursuit of excellence is out of response to a deep-felt conviction of God’s grace that spurs us on to grateful service and a pursuit of true personal excellence for His glory alone!

As Christians saved by grace, we ought to try harder, because we want to bring honor and glory to God through the things he has enabled us to do!

Hebrews 13:16 says,

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

It’s a delicate balancing act between heart and skill… but it is one that we MUST balance. Our offering matters! Our presentation matters!

For example, imagine that your anniversary is coming up and you know that your wife has been admiring a new shiny $300 necklace. You scrounge up all the change you can by flipping over couch cushions and rummaging through the dryer and are somehow able to afford that $300 necklace.

The day of your anniversary comes and goes and two days later you realize that after all the prep work you have forgotten all about it! So… to save face you go to the closet where you hid the necklace and bring it out in the original shopping bag you brought it home from the store in… maybe the receipt is still attached. You hand it to her and say, “Sorry I forgot our anniversary… I got you this.”

What’s the necklace worth? Well, $300! The receipt can prove it.

But imagine if, rather than forgetting that you bought the necklace, you also bought the finest gift-wrap you could find. You carefully and perfectly wrapped the box and topped it off with a beautiful bow, and you give it to your wife with some well thought out words and a smile.

What’s the necklace worth? Well, still $300! The receipt can prove it.

The point is that the wrapping and appearance doesn’t change what the gift is worth. The value is on the inside. But what the wrapping does is communicate to her that you understand what the gift, and the recipient of the gift, is truly worth.

I believe the same is true in our worship services. John chapter 4 makes clear to us the kind of worship that pleases God. John 4:23-24 says,

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

God is after our hearts. This means that real worship of truly reverent hearts doesn’t depend on the quality of music, lights, stage sets, lasers, smoke machines, song selections, or any of the other trivial things we tag along with it. It never has and it never will.

The value of your worship is found in your sincerity.

But… if we view our worship as an offering or gift to God then what kind of picture does the above example paint? What challenge does it present? I believe with all my heart that my unceasing efforts of excellence in my craft, not just settling for “good enough” serves to demonstrate both to myself, God, and my church community, that I understand that very value of worship and excellence. The presentation matters.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

This passage talks about our proper act of worship: taking our whole selves, everything that we can possible offer, and placing it before God as an offering. My love for Jesus should inspire and push me to work exceptionally hard to excel at my craft so that what I bring is the absolute best that it can be… because He deserves it and the presentation matters. When a laborer has a conviction that what they do isn’t just a hobby, but that they are being faithful with what God has put in their hand, then to them that labor is an act of worship!

Our sincerity can be found in our response.

I want to challenge us all to be Worship Pastors who are not willing to focus on skill at the expense of people’s hearts, but not brush off skill for the attitude of “good enough.” Worship Pastors, Christians in general, must know both must be addressed but ultimately realize that worship is fundamentally a function of the heart, and when a heart is transformed in worship, everything else follows including skill and excellence. The more experience I have gained, the more I have realized that my leadership has to become an act of worship that inspires others to worship, my skill has to be at a level high enough to allow me to worship with my presence and leadership without distraction. We become “lead worshippers” when we blend these two functions into one, so that people cannot tell the difference. Psalm 78:72 describes David as a man who led Israel with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. Heart and skill are two primary issues that every worship pastor wrestles with, not just for themselves but also for the people they lead. Both are part of the Biblical mandates that take a central role in the job description of a Worship Pastor.

In all of this it’s important to note that excellence is not perfection. Excellence is an attitude or mindset that drives us to do the best we can with what we have within our ability. Misappropriated excellence creates an environment that is harsh, restraining, and ultimately discouraging. But an appropriate understanding of excellence creates an environment that is fundamentally encouraging as it calls out the full potential of every individual that comes from the Father.

James 1:17 says,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Aren’t you glad that when God created the universe, He took a step back and “saw that it was good,” not “saw that it was good enough.” Our pursuit of excellence is purely a reflection of an excellent God.

So, what is it that matters in our worship? Is it heart or skill? What actually matters is that Jesus is honored in all that we do and in our displayed love for Him.

Psalm 96:7-9 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

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.

 

How to be an Impactful and Effective Volunteer

One thing that no church is lacking for in the need category is volunteers. It doesn’t matter how big or how small the congregation… there is always a need.

I have heard it said that in 100% of churches 20% of the congregation does 80% of the work. How does that math work out?

Honestly, there are so many things within the church that are almost entirely dependent on volunteers and so often many of those things go unnoticed by those who aren’t made aware of the task.

Imagine a Sunday without volunteers. It would be a train wreck, and many of us would probably be quick to be negative or complain… well, to be honest, we have no room to talk if we aren’t part of the solution. Complaints go nowhere in fixing the problem at hand.

Where are all the volunteers?

Think about it… who runs the sound that we all tend to enjoy while the band is playing or the pastor is speaking on Sunday morning? It sure would be interesting without it. What about the camera for the churches that broadcast or live stream? Most of us would agree that first impressions are vital when it comes to welcoming newcomers… well, who welcomes guests and passes out bulletins to people as they enter your church? Who watches your kids? Who teaches your classes?

The list could really go on and on… but I think you are getting the point.

At New Hope Community Church (where I serve) we have the hardest time recruiting dedicated media volunteers to run the computer that projects our lyrics on Sunday mornings. But… interestingly enough I get more complaints about words being messed up, delayed, or jumbled from people than anything else.

So… you may be reading this and asking yourself, “where do we go from here?” To that I would like to answer with a challenge: Serve your congregation out of worship to God.

Don’t become involved merely just to build an organization or program, or because you think you are expected to. Become involved out of a desire to influence, change, and help your friends, family, and neighbors.

Ministry is important… and you don’t have to be a “minister” to do it.

1 Corinthians 12:12-25 says,

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

You see, the church functions as a body. Each part, no matter how small, is equally valuable to the health of the whole body. Each part performs different duties in relationship to its contribution to the body. God has equipped each individual differently, with different spiritual gifts, backgrounds, talents, personalities, and abilities… but all have an important role to play.

There are a few ways to get off on the right foot as far as your volunteering goes. Below I will outline a few ways to be an impactful and effective volunteer because a person without a strategy often stumbles and struggles.


  • Dedicate your time.

This may seem obvious… but service takes time. Nothing is more irritating to an organizer than volunteers who are consistently late to their commitments. As a Worship Pastor it definitely makes my job more stressful when I don’t have my media team or sound engineers on time to rehearsals or services. As volunteers we should aim to take the stress and workload off of those around us. Weight is more easily distributed among several different carriers than if it is placed all on one.

Be a servant and carry some weight!

  • Practice your responsibilities.

Everyone expects the music and preaching to be polished and ready to go on Sundays and that requirement carries over to volunteers as well.

Believe it or not… your service is your worship and should be done with excellence.

As volunteers we should be “well-rehearsed” in the same way a musician would be before stepping in front of people. There are several things we can do to become better in our volunteer services…

If we are greeters we can dedicate time to learning the names and faces of those within our congregation so that we can more easily connect and assist when we see them. This also makes it easier to visibly find guests and make them feel welcomed with a personalized greeting.

If we are serving with children or in Sunday School classes or groups we can look over our material and prepare our rooms, areas, or spaces before hand. We can also find material to read and invest our time in to make us better in our service.

If we are musicians, media teamers, or sound engineers we can practice our craft alone so that we are ready to go on a Sunday. Time invested into service beforehand will always make things run smoother when the time comes to perform our duties in front of others. This can also mean getting familiar with the songs and communicating beforehand so everyone is one the same page on Sunday (as far as lights, sound, and projected lyrics go).

  • Develop a proper attitude of service.

A major attribute in becoming a successful worker or volunteer is developing an attitude of willingness and sacrifice. Many times it is easier to believe in something and aggressively pursue it as long as it doesn’t cost us anything…. but the most effective workers are those who willingly sacrifice for the good of the body.

We hear of the sacrifices of following Jesus in Luke 9:57-62,

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I find it hard to believe that in light of this passage many of us don’t have it in us to sacrifice a single service a month to serving in some aspect within our churches.

Work to develop an attitude of service. At first it might not be easy… but I promise that the more you serve to glorify the Father the easier it will become.

  • Commit yourself to being flexible and reliable.

Want to make it easier on those around you or those “in charge?” Well you are in luck! Reliability is an organizers best friend.

Let me ask you a question… how long would we stay employed if we were late every other day and sometimes just didn’t show up to work at all without notice. Probably not very long. What about if we came in every following day with a sob story or excuse? It wouldn’t matter.

If we can dedicate ourselves to working reliably in the world and for the world why is it like pulling teeth getting reliable and diligent workers to work in the church for God?

How many of us would drop everything instantly if our boss called us in for a special favor? I would say many of us would because of the possibility of rewards that could come along with that sacrifice of time or plans. Well… what about the rewards that Christ promises?

Be flexible and reliable!

Tardiness, last minute cancellations, and “no shows” ARE a hindrance to your “ministers” spiritual preparation and focus. This carries us into our last point…

  • Communicate.

Just like in every other aspect of life… communication is key! As ministerial staff we understand that life gets busy and hard at times… we aren’t exempt to that. But with a little help and communication we can make or churches and ministries more efficient and effective. Be willing to communicate in times good and bad. It is never too late to ask for help or to learn something new… all you have to do is ask.


Volunteering is WAY underrated and under-appreciated. Remember who and why you are serving and know that you are valued even when it seems otherwise.

Be a volunteer that is impactful and effective.

Colossians 3:22-24 says,

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.