Category Archives: ministry

Worship=Life Podcast

I want to invite you to subscribe to my brand new Worship=Life podcast. Each episode, we’ll explore the nuts and bolts of worship ministry in today’s church – the technological, the visual, the musical, and the spiritual.

My goal is to help worship leaders develop their ministries, their leaders, their teams, their environments to provide the best possible opportunities for God-honoring worship in their churches. I’ll share what I’ve learned over the years, as well as what I’m in the process of learning. I’ll bring in experts to share their wisdom with you as well.

In the first episode, I begin a series on ministry structure, starting with the values our ministries embrace. Check the episode out at the link above. I’d love to get your feedback!

Relevant Worship

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (‭John‬ ‭4‬:‭23-24‬ NASB)

God is no longer concerned about the place where you worship because worship is about more than location and prescribed rituals. God seeks worshipers who will worship Him from the heart under the initiation and guidance of the Spirit as informed by Scripture. This is the only real worship.

God seeks worshipers who will genuinely worship Him in a way that is initiated, guided, and empowered by the spirit and informed by His truth, His Word. He is not concerned about worship happening in a particular location. He is not interested in worship that is simply a rote reenactment of prescribed rituals that is not done in spirit and truth. In fact, because God is spirit, there is no other way to worship Him but in spirit and truth.

God seeks worshipers. Therefore, He initiates worship. He has allowed us the honor of worshiping Him.

But many of the things that concern us in worship are not important, not even relevant. What is relevant? The Spirit, His guidance, and the Word of God as it informs our worship. We must focus on these things.

When we forget these things, we go through the motions in our worship. Those of us who are worship leaders are sometimes just trying to get through a Sunday. We get overly concerned about all the details.

But what each of us needs, regardless of our role in corporate worship – whether leader or participant – is to focus our hearts on God’s Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we worship privately, we must begin with a focus on God’s Word and His Spirit. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are.

It is not in our nature to be this kind of worshiper, but His grace can change our nature.

Father, let us be the kind of worshipers You seek.

Obedience Over Ritual

Samuel said, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.
“For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He has also rejected you from being king.”
‭1 Samuel‬ ‭15‬:‭22-23‬ NASB

Obedience is more important to the Lord than following ritual. Disobedience is the same as any other sin, even idolatry. Because Saul rejected God’s word, God rejected Him as king.

God takes obedience seriously. While religious practice may be important, even though directly prescribed by God, it is not as important as obeying His commands. Disobedience is sin.

Those in ministry should be doubly aware: disobedience makes us unfit to serve God’s people in leadership. 

When God tells you to do something, do it. Don’t blame others – especially those under your leadership – for your disobedience. Don’t allow others to influence you to disobey God.

He is Lord and commands obedience. He has ultimate authority. He showed Saul grace – this wasn’t the first time Saul was disobedient.

Like Saul, we often let fear and insecurity dictate our level of obedience.

We must not think that we’re secure in our positions of leadership despite our disobedience. We certainly must not think that our work for the church makes up for our disobedience.

Remember: it is His grace that empowers us to be obedient.

Visual Worship, Part 3 | Imagery

Lighting and visual media are incredibly useful tools in the hands of the worship leader, producer, and planner.  In part 1 of this blog series, I discussed whether or not these tools are necessary, and in part 2, I wrote about the use of lighting.  Today, I want to talk about the use of imagery in worship – both videos and stills.

For most of us (unless we’re pastoring or leading in larger facilities with a lot of projection capability), this really means presentation backgrounds – the imagery that you show behind song lyrics – with the occasional stand-alone video or still image.

Here are some best practices I’d suggest for backgrounds:

  1. Think about colors. Your service should have a color palette that is established with the use of your stage lighting and graphics. This makes for a visually cohesive whole. Here’s what I don’t mean: everything the same color. Talk about overwhelmingly monotonous! Two to three colors is best – ones that work together well.*  If it looks obnoxious to you, there’s a good chance it will look obnoxious to your congregation.  Learn about color theory if you don’t know it already.  Here’s a great article on the subject by Camron Ware of visualworshiper.com. For sermon series, I’d suggest an ongoing graphical and lighting theme to tie the whole thing together.
  2. Think simple. Stills or motion backgrounds with lots of colors can be garish and can backfire on you if you’re trying to create a cohesive theme.  Too much motion (too fast, too big) can be distracting to say the least.  Simple motion gives the feeling of energy without pulling the congregant away from the lyrics.
  3. Think abstract. With a few exceptions, I generally stay away from recognizable imagery – especially photos or live-action video.  There’s a certain cheese factor to a lot of these type of images, and something easily recognizable can be distracting. Abstract imagery gives a sense of something, a mood, without presenting an object or place to latch on to.  You really only want your congregation to latch onto the words. Close up shots of waving grass, a somewhat blurry sunset through the trees, rippling water – videos like these can be the exceptions because, though they are real things, they are presented in an abstract fashion that makes them better for background use.  A wide shot of a landscape distracts because it’s so easily recognizable.
  4. Think in stages. There are natural phases to your worship service. Use the imagery to help define those stages.** Let’s say the “gathering” (or opening or call to worship) portion of your service consists of an opening song, a welcome, and an opening prayer.  You might use the same background imagery for each of those elements, or at least stay with the same color, then shift to another color or imagery selection with the next stage of the service. Typically in our services, there will be an unbroken string of two to three songs that we will tie together visually in this way.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it’s helpful to you. Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. I look forward to them!

*Regarding lighting, the folks I’m addressing here are those who have very basic lighting systems. The smaller to mid-size church with a simple setup and one person overseeing the musical and visual parts of the worship ministry. Hopefully, if you have a more elaborate lighting system, you have people who really know what to do with it and can move beyond these simple uses.

*Check out Constance Cherry’s book The Worship Architect for more info on this.

Visual Worship, Part 2 | Stage Lighting

As I wrote in part 1 of this blog series, lighting and visual media are not necessities but simply useful tools. Like any tool, to get the right results, we have to use them the right way.  So here are some suggested best practices for using lighting in worship. (These are pretty general. Specifics are outside the scope of this post.)

Define Spaces

One of the most basic functions of stage lighting is to define the space. Suppose your worship venue has a massive stage/platform.  That can lead to distraction, lack of intimacy, and lack of focus.

Use your stage lighting to light only the parts of the platform where the action is happening. If it’s music time, light only the portion of the stage where your band or choir members are standing. When the preaching time comes, don’t be afraid to change the lighting to focus only on the area where the preacher is, effectively removing other parts of the stage from view.

Use the House Lights

Something else not to fear: bringing down the house lights. You have to be careful here because a worship service is a corporate activity. Bringing down the house lights can create a greater sense of intimacy (and increase your ability to define spaces on the platform), and that’s good. However, a more intimate feel can make you forget there are other people in the room.

Corporate worship does not consist of isolated acts of individuals who happen to be in the same room. It is an action of the gathered body of Christ.

Don’t be afraid to bring the house lights down, but teach your people that they come together as one body. Help them remember (or learn for the first time) what corporate worship really is. Find opportunities to bring the lights up during your service so the people can be reminded that it’s not just “Jesus and me.”

Create Transitions

Finally, use lighting to create transitions between sections of the service.  For example, we bring all the stage lights down when we move from music to preaching (except for a few in the back of the stage). This provides a cue for people to sit and makes them aware that we’re moving forward.  It has the added benefit of removing focus from some behind-the-scenes activity (like moving equipment, stands, etc., on the platform.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on these basic tips on stage lighting in worship.

Visual Worship, Part 1 | A Necessity?

We went along for years without the kinds of visuals we use in our worship services today. We read lyrics and notes in our hymnals and didn’t miss what we didn’t have.

But today we have motion backgrounds behind our lyrics on HD screens, we use mini-movies to tell stories that bring to life the ideas we’re expressing in our teaching time. People devote their lives, careers, and ministries to visual worship.

I’m going to spend a few blogs ruminating on the use of visual media in worship, beginning with a pretty basic question: I’m sure we’d miss it if it was gone, but is visual worship a necessity?

Our Job

Our job as worship leaders/pastors is not to get people to worship. That’s a standard you can’t hold yourself to because only God can influence people to worship. And if someone else is holding you to that standard, maybe you need to find a new place to serve. (You’ll probably have to eventually whether you want to or not!)

Our job – or part of it, anyway – is to, as much as it is within our power and with the tools we have available, create an environment that gives our congregations every opportunity to worship. Visual media – like music, staging, lighting – is one of the tools we have at hand. Like those other tools, it’s an imperfect one, but it’s still a useful one.

Light, color, motion, visual story-telling – these things can be used to help people move in a particular direction. So, if used appropriately in a worship setting, I believe they can be used to to help us focus our hearts and minds on God. But their inherent imperfections make this tricky.

By their very nature, visual media can monopolize our attention. They can be too flashy. They can easily become – just as musical performance can – the point of our events.

All that to say, visual media in worship is not a necessity. It’s simply one tool on the worship leader’s belt.

What’s essential is wisdom. Pray to God for the wisdom to use visual media appropriately, not to become caught up in the cool factor, to use it only when, and in ways that, will help your people come to a place where they can focus on the One who is the object of our worship. Be wise so that you don’t fall victim to the lie that, if there are no visuals, it’s not worship.

Otherwise, our Sunday worship just becomes a rock show. And kind of a lame one.

A Little Sad. And Really Happy.

I’m a little sad today.

I left a job at NASA’s Johnson Space Center today for the third time. I started work with the Public Affairs Office Web Team in May of 1999. I left in 2003 to pursue ministry in Florida, and I returned to the web team in 2008. I was laid off last September and returned to a different position at JSC in November.

As I head to my exit interview in a few minutes, I can’t help but think how big a part of my life the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been, how much I’ve learned there, how many great people I’ve gotten to know.

I’m a little sad today. But I’m also incredibly excited.

Monday, the movers come. In a little over a week, Kacy, the girls, and I head to Maryland to begin a new adventure. I’ll be serving as Pastor of Worship and Media at Allen Memorial Baptist Church in Salisbury. This is a move orchestrated by God – no one involved in the process has any doubt about that. There are fears, questions, concerns as there always are with a move of this magnitude. (We’re leaving family, friends, and church for an opportunity 1,500 miles away.)

But I’m excited about the challenge and the joy of doing ministry full time, of embarking on the journey God has for me and my family.

I’m a little sad today. But I’m really happy.