Category Archives: pastoring

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.

Review | “Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry…They Just Don’t Know It Yet” by Darren Sutton

Everyone's Called to Youth Ministry...They Just Don't Know It Yet

Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry… They Just Don’t Know It Yet is a short book, but don’t let that fool you.  It’s packed with information on recruiting, caring for, putting to work, and retaining adult volunteers in your student ministry.  (Full disclosure: the author, Darren Sutton, is a friend of mine.)

The book is not a literary masterpiece, but it doesn’t need to be.  In fact, it shouldn’t be.  Darren writes with a conversational tone and sense of humor that are endearing (if a little corny) and draw the reader in quickly.  It’s full of great information but is in no way dense.  It’s a fast and easy read.

Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry… They Just Don’t Know It Yet, pretty much contains Darren’s entire philosophy on youth ministry volunteers.  It’s the wisdom (he’d probably laugh at the use of this word!) of a man with more than 20 years in youth ministry, a man who loves students and loves the adults who love students.  He also knows that the “lone ranger” mentality of so many in ministry – especially, it seems, youth pastors – may work in the short run, but over the longer term it wears the youth pastor down and creates a ministry with a single point of failure.

The book begins by showing you how to find volunteers in your church, and you may find them to be the most unexpected people.  There are great tips for understanding who your volunteers are (their personalities and spiritual gifting) and how they can best function in your ministry.  It provides information on training volunteers, and the final chapter is on releasing the volunteers in whom you’ve invested to lead, equipping them rather than just delegating.

Having seen Darren’s philosophy at work, I can tell you that what you’ll find in this book is a model that works.  The book provides practical steps for implementing without trying to squeeze the reader’s ministry into Darren’s mold.

But be forewarned.  This isn’t a step-by-step guide to overnight success.  It takes time and investment on the part of the youth pastor, but it’s an investment in the Kingdom – in both students and adults – that will bring lasting returns.

You can purchase Everyone’s Called to Youth Ministry… They Just Don’t Know It Yet here.

I received this book for free from LeaderTreks for the purpose of this review.

Review | An Exposé on Teen Sex and Dating by Andy Braner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

An Exposé on Teen Sex and Dating: What’s Really Going on and How to Talk About It is something of a misnomer for Andy Braner’s latest book.  Braner does give us the low-down on the sexual behavior of teens and what “dating” really means to this generation, but an exposé would provide us with some hard evidence.  Braner simply tells us, “Teenagers have told me all about hooking up and what their dating relationships look like, and it’s scary!”

Not only does he offer nothing more than anecdotal evidence – and not a lot even of that – but he presents it as though ALL teenagers are involved unimaginably sordid behavior.  The lack of evidence and the abundance of alarmism were off-putting for me.  I found myself doubting whether teens were really involved in the kinds of behavior he was talking about and doubting his insights into dealing with them.  (The question isn’t whether they’re engaging in these types of behaviors.  It’s whether the behaviors are as prevalent as Braner’s rhetoric makes them seem.  They may very well be, but he gives the reader no real reason to believe so.)

In the end, though, the title and the alarmism do a disservice to this book.  There’s a lot of good material to chew on.

The fact is, teens ARE engaged in sexual hookups that are completely devoid of commitment – among other things – and the strategies that youth pastors and parents have used for years to help their students stay pure just aren’t working.  Many teens have no problem going to a purity rally Friday night and having sex with their significant (or not-so-significant) other on Saturday.

Braner’s idea is that we cast aside the notion of courtship (he calls special attention to Joshua Harris’s well-known book I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and help teens engage in a type of dating that centers around communication, getting to know each other, getting to know themselves and learning what it means to be in a committed relationship.  I found myself agreeing enthusiastically.

There’s much more going on here, including how student pastors and parents can communicate the realities of marriage and sex to their teenagers as well as how we model some of these behaviors for them.

I’d encourage any youth pastor or parent of a teen (or younger – my girls are four and one, and I found a lot to think about) to read this book.  Just remember, it’s not really an exposé, but it can be a big help in the battle for students’ purity.

I received this book for free from NavPress for this review as part of their blogger review program.

A True Pastor

But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD’S people.” It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the LORD, the plague has begun!” Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked.

Numbers 16:41-50

Say what you will about Aaron. He has his own moments of rebellion and failure, of which the golden calf is not least, but in this moment, I am struck by his courage. He shows us something about what a pastor ought to be.

The Lord has finally had enough of the Israelites’ grumbling and determines to destroy them. (You see, when they grumble against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, they grumble against the guidance of God Himself, who directs Moses and Aaron.) I know I probably would have said, “Go to it, Lord! They deserve it!” But when Moses tells his brother to make atonement for the people’s sin, the priest does not hesitate.

It’s right there in verse 47. Aaron “ran into the midst of the assembly.” As fast as he can, Aaron bravely steps between the people and imminent destruction at the hands of a (rightfully) wrathful God. Without regard for his own safety (plagues are contagious!), he acts quickly, doing what he must to deliver the Israelites from the consequences of their rebellion.

In my opinion, Aaron did several things in this one act. First, he showed grace to the people. They deserved what they were about to receive, but he did what was necessary to give them what they did not deserve: continued life. Sounds like someone else I know. (I believe this is what’s known as displaying Godly character!)

Second, he showed that He loved the people. What evidence do I have for this? It is just my opinion, but I find it hard to believe that someone would rush into the midst of a plague-ridden mass of people whom he did not love.

Finally, he showed faith in God’s plan. If he had not believed God’s promise to give the nation of Israel a land of its own, what would have been the purpose of saving them? He shows great trust that God will do what he promised for the descendants of Abraham despite the destruction that occurs here.

Like all of us, Aaron was human, but for at least this moment, he gives us a picture of a true pastor. I pray that all of us – full-time, bi-vocational, paid, volunteer, church staff, or lay-people – who seek to lead the people of God in some capacity would strive to act as Aaron acts here.

Worship Music Industry | Right or Wrong?

Being a worship leader is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I love every moment of it. It’s a blast, it’s a challenge, and it’s meaningful. It’s right up there with being a husband and father.

Like any position of leadership, it’s also fraught with pitfalls, the most obvious of which is the lure of fame. Even in a small church like the one of which my family and I are members, it’s easy to feel like you’re on a pedestal – even if no one else thinks you are. (That being said, it’s also easy for others to put you on a pedestal.) You step onto the stage every Sunday morning with the spotlight shining on you. People complement you, tell you how talented you are, want your attention. It’s the great temptation of pride.

It concerns me to see the direction of worship ministry in the church these days. There seems to be such a push to record and distribute nationally or globally the music you’re doing at the local church level. It’s as though your ministry is not relevant or fruitful unless people on the other side of the country are playing your music on Sunday.

I tried to be a musician for a living. I had a band, which many of you know. We made a go of it for a while and did pretty well for an indie outfit just starting out. Things stalled out after a couple of years, and I believe there were two reasons for this. First, it wasn’t what God wanted for me (or the rest of the band – at least not at that point in time). Second, I was completely burned out.

After a very short time, it stopped being about Jesus or about the music. It was about booking the next gig. This is the difficulty of music as business – at some point the art is probably going to give way to the need to put food on the table. I was spending all my time trying to book gigs when I wanted to be writing music and touring. And even the little bit of touring we did wore on me because – even then – I felt that my primary goal was selling my product. I don’t have the personality of a salesman.

I believe it’s even more dangerous to mix business and worship. At that juncture, you’re mixing business with something much more pure and noble than art. How can we possibly combine a pursuit of money with our pursuit of the Living God? How can we respond to Him properly when it’s all wrapped up in money?

Think about the state of the music industry now? The economy, digital downloads, piracy have all contributed to the atrophying of CD sale, and the labels are trying every bad idea they can think of to get people to start buying again. Apple finally convinced them to let go of DRM protection. They still want to limit the number of devices you can play your songs on. And those things pale in comparison to what they’re actually doing to the music!

Pop music has always been formulaic, but periodically, you would see it changed by the random renegade who gets a record deal. The last time that really happened, though, was in the 90s. Suddenly, the face of pop music changed. Much like the music of the 60s, the grunge bands brought us incomprehensible lyrics (a big no-no in the pop formula) and musical experimentation. Then the post-grunge bands rode that momentum and created pop-rock songs with intelligent lyrics that people could relate to.

These days, bands are slavishly shackled to the formula – lowest common denominator lyrics, overly simplified music. The labels are afraid that’s the only way they can sell music!

That industry is the industry that is now shaping our worship music. That formula – a formula invented by people whose goal is to make money – is being applied to the way we worship God.

Worship leaders started gaining a national stage via the music industry years ago. Now, we’re seeking it. We’ve created a worship music industry. I have a hard time making that fit with what I know of God and Scripture, primarily because of the way the music industry in general works. Being successful in the music industry requires selling yourself – telling everyone how great you are – and that is entirely antithetical to the teachings of Christ. (Yes, I believe there is a difference between you telling everyone how great you are and your agent or manager telling everyone how great you are. However, I also believe that’s a gray area that requires further thought.)

Since when is it right for a worship leader to tell everyone how great his music is? How does a church justify marketing its worship ministry?

And honestly, this isn’t limited to music. We see it with pastors. We see it in the focus of the mainstream church on so called “evangelism” that exists only to make our institutions larger. We are attempting to define the success of ourselves, our ministries, our churches by worldly measures.

I’m not saying that it cannot ever be right for a worship leader or a church’s worship band to record an album or sign a record deal. But I’m not entirely uncomfortable with saying it’s wrong. I believe it’s tricky terrain to navigate, and we must be much more careful than we have been up to now.