Worship Leader as Designer

Sorry I missed posting on Tuesday. I was catching up after a weekend away…

My wife and I bought our first house 2 years ago. In the months leading up to closing, we were virtually addicted to HGTV’s plethora of design shows (Splash of Color and Divine Design in particular). There was always a moment where the designer dramatically pulls out a painting, sculpture, or carpet swatch and declares, “This is what I’m basing the design of this room on.” Everything else would flow out of, and around, that inspirational piece.

A few months ago, I was talking to some worship leaders from my church, and I suddenly realized that—while I generally follow a linear flow of worship—I occasionally craft worship orders from a “design/inspirational” point of view. What I mean is that there is some central theme, or song, or concept, that serves as the centerpiece (obviously, God, Jesus, and the Cross are our spiritual centerpieces; I’m speaking here from a creative/inspirational perspective). Everything then flows out of—and around—that centerpiece.

The song, or thought, or concept serves to anchor the worship order (creatively), and gives purpose to it. It may be the first song, last song, or the middle. It may be a transition; or a scripture thought.

Again, while I think we should definitely tether ourselves to a worship flow that takes people on a journey from the “street to the altar” (and then out again), I think occasionally engaging in this “design-inspired” worship planning can introduce some holistic creativity to our efforts.

Up next… Thoughts on The National Anthem and Evangelism

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Shame and Trust

When push comes to shove, how do you react? When you are being threatened—your reputation, your status, your well-being—how do you respond?

I confess that I fail soooooo often in this. My “significance” is far too easily threatened, and I react strongly if I feel like I haven’t been given a voice, or if an idea is stolen, or if my contribution isn’t recognized.

(Actually that list of “or”s could go on and on. It’s almost embarrassing).

However, the response to shame and humiliation I find in Isaiah (and modeled perfectly in Jesus’ passion) is radically different.

I offered my back to those who beat me
And my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
From mockery or spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore I have set my face like a stone,
Determined to do His will.
And I know that I will not be put to shame.
He who gives me justice is near. (Isaiah 50:6-8)

I believe that scriptures like this flowed through Jesus mind and heart as he endured the beating, pain, and humiliation before his eventual execution. He didn’t endure the suffering just because God wanted him to die; he endured because of his steadfast belief that God would vindicate him (and God did through the empty tomb; the resurrection wasn’t just a really cool magic trick, it was an adamant, non-negotiable vindication of Jesus’ Messianic claims).

He who gave Jesus justice was near.

If/when we find ourselves in similar situations, what would it mean to release the right to retaliate and respond in anger, because we know God is near to us, because we know His justice will someday come, and that justice will vindicate us?

(BTW, yes, I’m preaching to myself.)

Faith, Sermons, and Creative Destruction

I don’t type up sermon notes. In fact, I don’t type up anything—research, quotes, examples, etc. I handwrite it all, often with diagrams and visuals. After the teaching is done, it all goes away (well, most of it, occasionally I’ll retain the research somewhere). While I have a couple different reasons for hand-writing things (I feel the physical act actually connects me more deeply to the subject matter, for instance), I’ve found that this method actually borders on a spiritual discipline for me.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve really been enjoying Jonah Lehrer’s book on creativity, and I will reiterate: this book is really good. If you’re involved in any creative activity (and I will argue that life itself is a creative activity), you should definitely pick this up and read it. In it, Lehrer references a story about Bob Dylan.

He packed a typewriter in with his luggage and could turn anything into a desk; he searched for words while surrounded by the distractions of touring. When he got particularly frustrated, he would tear his work into smaller and smaller pieces, shredding them and throwing them in the wastebasket. (p.4)

How many great songs did Dylan tear up? Would you tear up your work if you were the most essential songwriter of rock and roll? (Actually, don’t answer that…)

I believe this is a great statement of creative faith because of this thought: tearing up the old is a bold assertion that more will come. 

More ideas.

More poems.

More songs.

More paintings.

Giving a sermon is not necessarily easy for me. I haven’t been doing it very long, and I’m still “finding my way” in terms of methods of preparation and delivery. But I’ve found that I almost need this somewhat radical step of destroying what I’ve just done in order to say to myself—and to God—“I believe another one will come; I don’t need to rely on this, don’t even need to retain it in order to refer to it in the future. The future will take care of itself.”

It’s a statement of faith, not just in myself, but in the fact that God will be with me.

However, the truly profound idea here is that the idea of “creative destruction” doesn’t end with creativity or sermons.

“Creative destruction” touches all of life.

Let me ask it this way: are there things that you are holding onto, areas of your life where you say, “I need to retain this, because I’m not sure that anything else will happen after it.”?

  • A job?
  • A vision of where you will live?
  • A limit to God’s mercy?
  • A limit to what God may call you to?
  • A certain belief of your role in the Kingdom of God?

What if these things—as good and grace-filled as they may be—are actually locking you into a pattern that may not be what God has for you?

What if God is calling you to jettison these ideas, to metaphorically (and faithfully) crumple them up in order to say, “God, what’s next?”

The past can root us and connect us, but it should not necessarily lock us into something, when God can promise something amazing and new.

Because more will come.

More life.

More faith.

More “work”.

More ideas.

More engagement.

…I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear… Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 6)

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews, chapter 11)

 

But forget all that—
It is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
For I am about to do something new. (God, speaking through Isaiah the prophet,
chapter 43)

Stop Worrying…

Note: My first ever iPad-only post, and I’m still learning… I’ll fix the links when I get back home… 

An atheist organization started this bus campaign in England.  Frankly, I’m not too hung up on arguing or “evangelizing” them (how can you make “good news” good to those who don’t want to hear it?!?)

For those of us who’d claim some faith, however, I’d recast their slogan this way: There is a God, now stop worrying and get on with your life.

Though God’s ways are sometimes strange and difficult to understand, I am coming to believe that God’s love somehow overflows to us, for us.

Consider Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 30:

Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and eath, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life. And if you love and obey the LORD, you will long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

All Wham! references aside, two things jump out at me:

  1. Moses seems to practically beg Israel to “get it right”… The tone in this passage is such that you get the feeling that God (through Moses) is just cheering on his people to make the right decisions so that they can have a life of fullness and peace. Even when Moses cautions the people, he doesnt’ say, “God will destroy you; he says you will be destroyed.
  2. Relatedly, God doesn’t call Israel to worry about his love; He maintains, “make this decision then get on with life. I am for you, and for your descendants. There’s a good life waiting for you; just get the foundations right and then stop worrying.

What does it mean that God is inclined towards us, cheering us on to obedience and life?

“I Got 21 Problems…”

Each week, as I climb the three stairs to our stage, I have potentially a whole host of problems going through my head; here are just twenty-one:

  1. Who is on the team this week?
  2. What’s the pastor speaking on?
  3. Who’s running sound?
  4. Who is running lights?
  5. What will the graphics look like?
  6. Did I remember to put the “Chorus” graphic in twice?
  7. What arrangement of (that song) did we decide on?
  8. Should that be an “Fmaj7″ or just an “F”?
  9. Will the sound guy know when the guitar solo is?
  10. Will the coffee be brewed?
  11. Will the announcement person pray?
  12. Will there be any spelling errors or typos in slides?
  13. Did I meet that person last week?
  14. Who’s counting off the first song?
  15. Who’s counting off the second song?
  16. Where’s my bible?
  17. Does that child’s parents know that they’re in here?
  18. Where’s that buzz coming from?
  19. Did I eat breakfast?
  20. Is that “clever transition” going to work?
  21. AM I MAKING A DIFFERENCE????

Obviously, I can not answer most of these questions; however, I believe one of the essential elements for doing ministry is peace of mind. By the time I walk to the center of the stage, I need to be centered spiritually, intellectually and emotionally, and every question I have to deal with has the potential to pull me off my game. Luckily, I have to make choices with most of them. I can:

  1. Control them by answering them between Monday and Friday
  2. Control them by answering them Sunday with a conversation or a phone call
  3. Trust that they are answered, and just wait and see
  4. Know that they are not answered, but just release them (and make a note to address them later)

The trick to doing nearly anything is knowing when to press/control and when to release. There are simply certain things that I will trade in order to preserve my peace of mind. It may mean that I have to deal with a “curve ball” or two, but I also know where my “shoulders are big“, so I know which areas/categories are easier for me to release.

What about you? Do you know what questions confront you when you are “shipping”? Do you know what to release, control, or trust?

Meet My Friend Lindsay…

Special treat today… My friend, writer, and all around awesome person has agreed to write something on her spiritual growth. She has an amazing story of transformation and change, and I asked her to share a little of it. She normally blogs at Fueled By Diet Coke, but well, I have her today…

 

“For the past ten years, you’ve been suffering from an eating disorder, and we’ve got to start a treatment regimen to get you healthy again, so—“

The rest of my nutritionist’s words were muffled under the sound of the blood pulsing violently against my ear drums. I had an eating disorder. I’d had one. For a decade. I was physically unhealthy. I was suffering from something seriously life-threatening.

Over the next several months, I cooperated with my treatment and was able to get on the road to a healthy body image. Though I still struggled daily, I was proud to leave my disordered eating days in my past. I was finally ready to proclaim heath.

Fast forward two years.

“Why are you doing this again?”

The words shot out of my mouth like ping pong balls and bounced against the windshield and hit me in the face. Despite the eating disorder treatment under my belt and its offering of some false sense of normalcy, I was still suffering from a disease much more deteriorating. Complete and utter self-hate.

I was sitting in my car, parked about a block from my house and my new husband, with hot tears running down my cheeks.

I’d run away from him again. This time, however, after telling him he would divorce me if he knew what was good for him. Not even a year into our marriage and I had slapped the “d” word across his face and left.

I looked up at my reflection in the rearview mirror and saw my red face, stained with the makings of a sabotaged relationship, with no one to blame but myself.

“Why?” I demanded again through clenched teeth. A rhetorical question I felt the need to answer anyway. “Because this is how you always are. This is what you’ll always be. You’ll never be more than your failures and that’s why you don’t deserve anything good.”

This is how it always went. It was as if someone would insert a DVD into my brain every day and play it loudly – a DVD recap of everything I’ve ever done wrong, everyone I’ve ever hurt… a resounding soundtrack to the cyclical nature of me beating myself (sometimes actually physically) into a bloody pulp.

Just as the DVD began to start over for the tenth time that day, something pressed the STOP button. A small voice. It didn’t say much, just, “Go back inside, Lindsay.”

I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go back inside to find yet another relationship ruined by my own insecurities and hate. I didn’t want to walk back into the house to face my husband, whom I was certain had decided that this instance was the last straw and he was leaving me for real. I didn’t want to open the door and find our small house empty, now a cavernous reminder that I was, indeed, the worst person in the world.

But that voice wouldn’t stop. So I eventually relented.

I put my key in the lock as quietly as I could and turned the knob. I was shaking, but my breathing had returned to normal. I had the comfort and peace of that small voice with me. I knew that I was doing the right thing, no matter how badly it was going to hurt me. I was fully prepared to accept my fate. My failure. My abandonment.

But what I saw broke me down even more than I could have even imagined. I saw him. I saw my husband, slumped down in a sad heap on the floor of our living room.

His eyes met mine. “You came back,” he said, hopefully.

I collapsed in his arms and apologized probably a hundred times, letting him forgive me just as many.  I didn’t understand it. I was the prodigal son, the adulterous Israel, being taken back with a warm embrace and a promise of unconditional love.

Three years later, I know now that that small voice was Jesus.

Being raised in a Christian home, I’d read the scriptures about God calling us, His followers, a “masterpiece” and “new creations.” I’d heard about Him creating in us a “new heart” and all that. But, up until that day, I’d never allowed him to try it with me. I’d always assumed that I was too far gone, too unlovable, to be anything but trash. But feeling the warm embrace of my husband, a man who truly does love me as Christ does the church, I finally surrendered to God, allowing him to guide my growth and healing.

Through trusting Him, I was able to seek wise counsel from pastors, friends, and family, in order to rebuild the shattered shell of a girl I’d become. I knew that, at this point, it was my choice to give God the space to kill my old self and raise me anew in Christ Jesus.

Since then, I’ve started writing a blog about learning how to love yourself in a world that profits off of your low self-esteem. At first, it was merely an outlet for my growing pains. But at this point, it has turned into a ministry, reaching thousands of readers who have struggled in the same way I have. I wonder, quite perceptively, if this wasn’t God’s plan for me all along.

It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve had a lot of hard conversations, answered a lot of tough questions, and made really difficult promises. There were times when going back to my old ways seemed easier, more comfortable, more feasible, and I had to make the commitment to God to work in me all over again. But I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that every second has been worth it.

 

My (Half) Day as a Monk

image via wikipedia.org

All I knew is that I needed a break.

Last week, I found myself desperately needing to hear from God. I didn’t know quite know what to do, so I drastically rearranged my schedule in order to try and put myself, as best I could, in a position to listen. About halfway through the day, I thought, “Hey, I just spent the day like a monk would!”

Okay let’s be honest: my understanding of a monk’s life is informed mostly by television, movies, and a few books, but this represents my best guess as to what it would be like. 

  • Monks get silence. St. Benedict wrote that Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times.” After I dropped my daughter off at school, I stopped talking (Full disclosure: In order to keep from being rude, I needed to say, “Thanks,” to a couple people). I turned the radio off, put away the iPod, and just. shut. up.
  • Monks get solitude. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “Christ the Lord is a spirit before your face, and he demands solitude of the spirit more than of the body… To follow the advice and example of the bridegroom, shut the door and then pray… He spent nights alone in prayer, not merely hiding from the crowds but even from his disciples and familiar friends.” I hid my phone and turned off my mail app, in order to be fully present and not distracted.
  • Finally, monks get work. Though the purpose of a monastic life was not to work and “produce” stuff, the fathers of the church knew the value of working with your hands and contributing to a community. In the midst of my silence, I went out and mowed the lawn, continuing to direct my thoughts towards God (and also continuing to remain silent).

Silence and solitude don’t come easy or naturally in our society. Even our spirituality can be shot through and through with activity, busy-ness, and distractedness.

Dallas Willard bluntly writes that, “the life in tune with God is actually nurtured by time spent alone… It is is solitude and solitude alone that opens the possibility of a radical relationship to God that can withstand all external events up to and beyond death. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, 101)

Because I believe in the power of a secret, I won’t divulge all of what I heard from God that day, but I will tell you this much:

He spoke, and I heard. 

A lot of you might say, “I could never take the time to do that,” but I wonder…

  • a lot of us take regular trips to the beach or to the pool…
  • a lot of us carve out time to travel hours (because in Tallahassee we have to) to go see a great band…
  • a lot of us take days full of friends, shopping, and voices…

So why not take some time to seek some silence, and quietness. Take some space to get away from the constant voices in your life to sit at the feet of God?

p.s. to read a little more about the rule of St. Benedict, you can go here and here.

Five Ways to Develop A Leader

Not leaders

Leader.

I’ve been “thinking small” lately about “leadership development”: how can I invest more in smaller numbers of people?

At staff meeting today, we were talking about leadership development. It prompted my thinking about some ways that I’ve engaged with to develop some emerging leaders in our community.

  1. Slow Down. I used to try and “microwave” leaders. Find someone with potential and charisma, and then throw them into things as quickly as possible. Lately, I’ve been convinced that leaders are indeed made, but made over time. Not just popped like microwave popcorn.
  2. Pray. Like a lot of us, I’ve often tapped people on the shoulder for leadership roles. I’ve had conversations over coffee, I’ve encouraged, I’ve cast vision, and I’ve moved those people into positions of trust. Lately however, I’ve taken a slightly different approach, instead bringing people that I’m thinking about for leadership roles to God, and asking Him to break through to them, to light a fire in their hearts. Though it’s still a bit early to render a complete verdict, the method of bringing someone before God before I bring an opportunity before them feels more holistic, and (I daresay) successful. Ironically, the more I ask God to move in someone’s life, I often receive more insight to make that “tap” on his or her shoulder.
  3. Look for catalytic/transformational events. Though the culture of “conferencing” in evangelical churches (whereby staff members repeatedly attend roughly the same conferences with roughly the same speakers where they sing roughly the same worship songs in a highly charged, over stimulated environment) is a bit troubling, I can’t deny that they can be absolutely transformational for an emerging leader (at the very least, they haven’t sung the songs, heard the speakers, seen the laser beams or any other manner of silliness before). So seek ways to pull these folks into some kind of event where their world can be rocked a little bit, and God can speak into their lives in powerful ways. (By the way, it doesn’t always have to a be bigger/flashier/louder event; it could be a smaller/more peaceful/quieter event.)
  4. Don’t just seek to “be with”; try to “do with”. This is probably the thing that I’ve been experimenting with the most. I used to just talk to people about leadership. Lately, however, I’ve been actually pulling people with me on one-on-one meetings, where they can actually see (and participate in) what I do. The “up front” stuff is visible enough, but that’s the tip of the iceberg of my ministry; I remain convinced that the most valuable stuff I do often takes place Monday-Saturday, over coffee, lunch, or breakfast. I’m trying to find ways to take emerging leaders with me to see what that looks like.
  5. Finally, give constant evaluation and feedback. Most people I work with no that after any major undertaking, someone is going to get an email asking three questions: What went well? What needs improving? and What did we learn? Questions like these constantly evaluate events and projects, while still encouraging dialogue. (By the way: make sure whenever possible that positive evaluation isn’t overlooked or forgotten; “improvements” and “learnings” can easily overtake the successes, and cause some discouragement).

Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive; there are countless ways to develop leaders. These just represent some of my current thinking on how to effectively invest in emerging leaders.

Enjoy!

The Rule Behind the Freedom Behind the Rule…

I don’t know about you, but there is a constant tension in my life of faith between my efforts to grow, and the call to rest in God’s love, forgiveness, and grace (“unmerited favor”). Most of us would readily say that Jesus came to set us free from “rules” and works-based faith, but the reality is much more subtle than that simple platitude.

In the first place, most Jews of Jesus’ day had no illusions that they (just like the Christians) were children of grace. They knew that their very existence—as a people—was as a result of God’s preemptive action in the Exodus. The law came after God set them free; their obedience came out gratitude for God’s liberating action. They knew that YHWH was a God of lavish mercy and forgiveness, and they rejoiced and celebrated that forgiveness.  So when Paul (or Peter, or the Gospel writers) proclaims that God freely forgives, and that forgiveness is based not based on our works, he is not actually proclaiming anything radically new to a Jew.

But there’s more.

Paul has a troubling habit of talking a lot about “works”—these works from which Paul is (supposedly) telling us we have been freed. Paul never really says, “Don’t do works.” However, he does constantly say, “Don’t trust your works to save you; work, but still trust in Jesus’ saving work on the cross, and God’s faithfulness.”

A great example of this tension is in Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae, particularly in the section between 2:6 and 3:18.

In this section, Paul constantly emphasizes our freedom in Christ. It culminates with verses 20-23:

You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, ‘Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!’? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

Paul certainly wants us to avoid relying only on rules and “discipline” to transform us. But it’s not quite that simple, because shortly after telling us to not rely on “rules”, Paul reminds his readers (and us) that we do need to do a few things, and one thing in particular.

For Paul, it all revolves around 3:10: “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”

In other words, though we should not rely on rules for our salvation, it is our responsibility to:

  • Put on our new nature
  • Learn to know our Creator
  • Become like him

Paul goes further in the verses before and after this one (all from chapter 3):

  • set our sights on—and think about—the realities of heaven (vv2-3)
  • put sinful things to death (v5)
  • get rid of anger, rage, etc. (v8)
  • don’t lie (v9)
  • clothe yourself with tender-hearted mercy, etc. (v12)
  • make allowance for each other’s faults (v13)
  • teach and counsel each other (v16)
  • sing psalms and hymns (v16)

Actually seems like an awful lot to do!

But as I read this passage this morning, it seems it all flows from the three things in 3:10 (put on our new nature, learn to know our Creator, and become like him). That verse struck me as the culmination of the passage; everything—the lists that Paul writes before and after—flows from that.

Still, that’s no small thing.

In summary, I’d say that, even though entry into God’s Kingdom and His people is utterly free, with the only requirement being humility and a belief in Jesus’ work and faithfulness, God (through Paul) actually does expect His people to have a character and presence in the world.

He expects us to be different, specifically by putting on our new nature (identity in Christ), learning to know Him, and becoming like Him.

So, today:

  • are you willing to embrace the notion that God wants to partner with you in your change?
  • are you willing to orient your life around the three things in 3:10 in order to allow Him to change you?