Category Archives: ministry

Labor in Vain

Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain.
Psalms 127:1 NASB

Every effort, every plan is meaningless unless the Lord is behind it doing the work. If He has other plans, our efforts fail. But He is always working for those He loves, even when they are sleeping.

God takes care of us, builds our lives, gives us children, feeds us, protects us regardless of our efforts.

Our efforts, our plans need to be born of the will of the Lord. And regardless of our actions, plans, or lack thereof, we must remember and trust that God is taking care of us, our churches, our families.

When we forget this truth, we try to do things on our own that we shouldn’t – we become self-sufficient. We don’t trust God to take care of us – we lack faith. We become fatalistic, blind to the fact that the blessings in our lives are the work of God.

But the truth is, we can’t take care of ourselves. We need someone to take care of us. So trust that He will.

Pray this way:

God, please give me faith to trust You in all things, to rely on You to provide for my needs and the needs of my family and my ministry, to give me wisdom and the guidance of Your Holy Spirit (and the faith to trust that wisdom and guidance) in everything that I do. Lord, help me always to seek You and Your kingdom first, so that my work is never in vain, but comes from You.

By His grace, He has provided for our greatest need, and He provides the faith to trust and seek Him for all our endeavors.

Have faith and humility before God. Don’t labor in vain.

Advertisements

The Good of the Church

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.
Psalm 122:9

David sought the good of Jerusalem because within it was the tabernacle, the place which the presence of God Himself inhabited.

We should seek the good of the Church because God Himself inhabits her. We should seek the good of our communities because the Church – God’s people and the very vessel of His presence – resides in them.

God cares about peace and unity within His church and within our cities. He expects from His children reverence for the Church because it is the body and bride of Christ. It is the instrument of His redemption and authority in the world.

The Church should be a source of gladness for us because it is the gathering of His people for His glory.

For the sake of God, we must seek the peace, unity, prosperity of the Church. For the sake of the church, we should seek the peace and prosperity of our community and the world.

Sometimes, we struggle to respect and love the Church. We forget, because of her many shortcomings – and because of our many shortcomings – that she is the instrument of God’s work, power, glory, authority, and redemption in this world. She is the vessel in which His presence resides.

She belongs to Christ and should be loved and respected as His body and bride.

We resent the church when we are hurt by her. We lose hope for her when she or a part of her (especially her human leadership) fails. We separate her completely from the world, though she exists in it for its good.
I should remember, too, that as a member and leader in the Church, I have a need for all her members to seek the peace, unity, and prosperity of the Church.

Let’s pray this way:

God renew my love for the universal Church and for my church, because Your presence resides in her. Give me a love for my community because Your church resides in her. Give me a love for the world because You love the world and placed Your Church in it for its good.

Imagine if there were no resentment, anger, hatred toward the Church in your heart or mine ever again. Because she is the body of Christ, we’d work tirelessly for her good and the good of the communities and the world in which our churches reside.

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.