Is Easter REALLY Our “Super Bowl”?

Is Easter Sunday REALLY the Super-Bowl?

Growing up in my faith tradition, it was common to hear Easter Sunday referred to as “The Super Bowl”. Since it is (was?) traditionally one of the most heavily attended Sundays of the year, there is always a tremendous amount of time and energy put into making an amazing Sunday experience—both for guests and for God.

We put together the best musicians we can find, we purchase thousands of dollars in Easter lillies, we polish the pews and the doors and we make extra room for people who will “check out faith” for perhaps the only time that year.

In short, we put our best foot forward.

Part of this effort is in recognition of the celebration of the resurrection: Easter really IS a special day in our faith, and we do our best to make our worship reflect the glory and joy of Jesus’ resurrection.

However, is calling it “The Super Bowl” really the best metaphor? I’m not sure.

(For starters, soccer is a much better metaphor for the spiritual life.)

The reason I’m rather uncomfortable with the Super Bowl image is that, well, it just puts too much of me in it. The Super Bowl depends on the players playing in it.

Christ’s resurrection does not.

Our best efforts on Easter are not so much to “make it happen” but to respond to something that has already happened.

Our Super Bowl really happened already. We are just basking in the victory now.

Furthermore, the Super Bowl metaphor (and yeah, I know: all metaphors break down eventually, but this is my rant, not yours) doesn’t really play out theologically: We play the Super Bowl; you (Who: guests? The Church?) watch us. 

I wonder if a different image might be a Feast: We are inviting people to “our house” where a great celebration is going to happen. We didn’t even cook the meal, but it’s going to be a night of rich food and deep celebration. We want you to come, but the success of the feast doesn’t really depend on our greatness, or the 6 (8? 10? 15?) hours of rehearsal…

It depends on the presence of the One whom we are celebrating.

We are participants, with you—the guests, the Church… everyone. 

We have come to the feast just like you. We are not separate.

So what if instead of “Playing the Super Bowl” this year, we “Went to the Feast” (and invited others to come as well)?

 

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Eugene Peterson on Spiritual Direction

For a season now, I’ve been pursuing a spiritual direction, and trying to be a better “director” of people’s souls myself.

I was recently going through Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integritywhich has shaped me as a pastor as much as any other book I’ve ever read—with a friend, and re-read what he has to say about giving spiritual direction.

(Incidentally, I think that “spiritual direction”—or mentoring, or whatever you’d call personal, spiritual influence—is one of the most desperately needed activities in our culture. I think much of 21st century North American culture has no need for a bigger, better, faster worship gathering. We need a more sober, consistent spiritual direction and discipleship for God’s people).

So here’s what Peterson says:

  1. Cultivate an attitude of awe with and for every person you meet with. Every meeting is a privilege, and an opportunity to see God work.
  2. Cultivate an attitude of ignorance. We can make assumptions about peoples’ motives and feelings. Most of the time they are wrong. We do better to assume nothing and ask questions. (This is something I’m trying desperately to grow in.)
  3. Cultivate a predisposition to prayer. Prayer is the furnace, and oftentimes what people really want from us is to learn to run the furnace for themselves. They don’t want our advice; they want to learn how encounter God for themselves.

The Time Jesus and Paul Re-Arranged My Office

traditional-executive-office-furniture-936x728So I’d never had an office before.

I entered the ministry full-time when I was 30. Up until that time I’d worked in some combination of libraries, retail, and the requisite cube farm.

But when I went to work (at a little community church in suburban Chicago), I actually got an office (shared with a good friend, but still: IT HAD A DOOR!).

So my first day there, I worked on arranging things in a way that felt right to me: desk facing the door in the back third of the room, my back to the wall opposite the door, etc.

It looked/felt right, and I was happy.

Just as I got it all set, my boss stopped by and asked how I was settling in. I proudly said I was doing great and feeling good.

Then he said this: “You know, actually you’re going to need to move your desk. See, here at the church we make it a policy to never have our desks in the center of the room; arranging an office this way is a statement of power (it makes your visitors feel subordinate), and we’re not supposed to lead from positions of authority or power, but from positions of servanthood.”

WHAT?

I had mixed emotions, but regardless I pushed my desk against the wall (very NOT feng-shui, in case you’re wondering), and rearranged everything to make it work somehow.

And ever since that’s the way I’ve arranged my church offices (if I have one). In my home office my desk sits in the middle of the room, but if I have visitors I don’t sit at it when I have meetings; we have another area that we can sit down in.

I think we should blame Paul and Jesus.

In multiple gospels, Jesus declares that he didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and that is our model of leadership and influence. In the end, Jesus chose to release his authority and allow himself to be beaten and crucified. Paul, for all of the bad rap that he gets as a chauvinist (which I actually think is a result of bad readings of scripture), continues these thoughts when he repeatedly refers to himself as a servant of his communities. Both of them are not afraid to “tell it like it is,” but it seems to me that the “servant language” trumps the “power language” in the New Testament.

All of this servanthood talk makes me examine (and re-examine) the role power and authority takes in my life.

Servanthood seems to work like a really powerful spice, or yeast: it only takes a little to completely change the flavor of your relationships. You can talk “authority” and “power” an awful lot, but when you kneel down to wash someone’s feet, or choose to listen with your mouth shut instead of telling someone what to do, or when you choose to “make room” for another perspective instead of assuming that everyone needs to think like you do…

… when you make sure your office doesn’t tell the story of how important you are…

… all of these things “flavor” our leadership with an attitude of servanthood that carries the aroma of Jesus and Paul and a compassionate God who in the end emptied Himself of his authority in order to serve the whole world by dying.

Over the years, I’ve become convinced that my boss was absolutely right—that office furniture can tell stories of power and authority. In fact, anything in our lives can. We can talk about servanthood and meekness and gentleness, but if the non-verbal things in our lives contradict our words, people will know.

The challenging question is this: does the non-verbal communication of your life match your words? Do you talk about servanthood but then live out power?

It all speaks. We just need to work to make it all line up.

Evangelism and Time Wasting

Some friends and I were sitting around talking about life with God and the church last night…

Well actually, we were talking about evangelism. 

The “E” word.

Seems like many of us had stories of ridiculous evangelism efforts: Halloween-like tracts filled with scenes from hell; strangers (and occasionally friends and family) that were determined to “get us saved” in order to meet some kind of heavenly quota; threats of hellfire and brimstone; awkward preachers and occasionally bad music.

What was interesting, however, was the fact that many of us (and we are a diverse group: college students, graduate students, parents, career people, etc.) had stories of these “ridiculous” efforts actually working. Most of us just shook our heads at these “success” stories, but we couldn’t deny them.

It seems like most of it boiled down simply to the idea that God is mysterious and supernatural, and can work any way He’d like to, thank you very much. 

My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

More than that, however, we also talked about how there’s such a tendency for the church—or rather different expressions of the church—to “bash” any method of evangelism that doesn’t mesh with a particular perspective or paradigm. The hip “younger” evangelicals bash the folks that stand on corners and preach, or hand out tracts; more conservative folks bash the “soft sell” of relational evangelism; new churches trash talk the bad coffee and awkwardly warm fellowship of the mainline church down the street.

But I think God uses it all.

What’s more, I think when we focus on what’s wrong with all of these other evangelism efforts, we really do two things: First, we simply reinforce the stereotype that Christians are more concerned with what we’re against than what we actually stand for. It’s always easier to point out what’s wrong with someone else than it is to amplify your own beliefs.

Secondly (and relatedly), focusing so much discussion and and time on what’s wrong with other evangelism paradigms (or worship paradigms, or leadership paradigms, or communion paradigms, or etc. etc. etc.) really just diverts much needed energy from our efforts. 

I know this whole discussion may seem abstract and “church-centered”, but it’s really not. I meet people all the time who look back at their past—especially if they grew up in a strand of church that’s different from what they attend now—and just tear it to shreds. Ex-Catholics disdainfully talk about the hierarchy and the dryness of their life of faith. Folks who come out of mainline denominations talk about how there’s no Jesus in their “religion”. Pentecostals talk about manipulation and using “God-talk” to exert control and authority.

I’m not denying those things happened, or that there’s some truth to them. But some of the most spiritual and supernatural (should I say, “Holy”?) people I’ve ever known were Catholic. Some of the most faithful and devout individuals I’ve ever met have been United Methodists. I’ve known Baptists who have wept over the brokenness of the world. I’ve known Pentecostals who are humbly serving in obscure roles around the world.

It’s difficult to state unequivocally that a church “is” a certain way (though I’m sure there are examples somewhere), but really the point is that we need to not waste time focusing on our negative experiences and instead embrace with gratitude what God is doing now in our faith and church. To the degree we retain resentment at our spiritual past, we won’t be able to see what God might want to do now with us.

So… If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?

 

Muah!

 

Old school this time: great song from the Eagles.

 

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Sherlock and Leadership “Clues”

Surely we can agree: Benedict Cumberbatch is the Dreamiest Sherlock Ever.bbc-sherlock-1600

Okay, so I’m pretty addicted to the latest version of Sherlock Holmes, courtesy of the BBC. Robert Downey Jr. not withstanding, it’s a really great iteration of the story. A modern-day Sherlock and Dr. Watson (played by Martin Freeman, aka Bilbo Baggins) solve crimes around modern London and England in that oh-so-distinctive (and deductive) way: Sherlock perceives the clues and hints surrounding an “unsolvable” case and eventually comes up with a solution.

One of leadership’s most crucial tasks is to “interrogate reality.” That is to say, a leader’s job is to be able to take the pulse of his or her team/organization by asking questions like:

What’s succeeding?
What’s failing?
Where are resources needed?
Who needs encouragement?
What needs vision?

And so the list goes on. The main point is to be able to assemble an accurate portrait of what’s going on. Really going on.

Kind of like solving a crime.

A repeating theme in Sherlock (or it’s California-equivalent, Psych) is when the police rush to a decision because they have reacted to the most obvious clue. Sherlock then shows up to show how they’ve missed 5 other clues that would lead them down to a different suspect.

A different reality.

Similarly, one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen leaders make is when they attempt to interrogate reality using only one—usually very obvious—clue. It’s the ONE conversation with their favorite employee; it’s the SINGLE e-mail that says something disastrous (or something amazing); it’s the one metric that determines their paradigm.

But just like inspector Lestrade, this singular clue is most likely leading them to a skewed version of reality.

I’ve been around leaders who have contentedly announced, “Sue is so happy here!” while at the same time I’ve heard from 3 other people that Sue is frustrated and feels like she’s not listened to.

It’s easy to blame Sue and say, “Well she’s not being honest.”

But here’s the deal: you’re the leader. You are the one who is supposed to provide an environment where Sue can be honest, or at the very least you should be disciplined enough to talk to multiple people about Sue’s state of mind.

The thing leaders need to do is to step back and look at the wider view; to assemble a multitude of clues from which they can more accurately deduce the truth. What employees are they not hearing from? Which segment of the church population does not have a voice? What metric is being ignored?

Interrogating reality is not easy. Facing the truth is a bit scary, and merely mustering up the energy to observe multiple “clues” can be exhausting. At the same time, that essentially is one of our charges as leaders and influencing.

It’s elementary.

(did you like how I did that?)

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Sunday Spine

I’ve been reading Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit, and it’s really great: practical productive ideas on creating from a long-time practicer. She talks about the need for every creative work to have a “spine”, something which knits the whole work together. It answers the question, “What am I trying to say?” with ruthless clarity and conciseness.

What’s interesting to me is that the spine is not necessarily the same thing as what the audience/public/congregation sees or hears or experiences. That’s the story; the spine belongs to the creator or team of creators that orchestrate it.

For those of us who work on Sunday, I think we have the opportunity to think about spines as well. We already know our story (and it’s a good one); but we don’t always think about our particular spines. In my context, a spine may be anything that holds a set of songs together besides the obvious (a journey towards God). For better or for worse, this past Sunday my “spine” was a musical one: it was the concept of a power trio. Could I (a) have no acoustic guitar; (b) play slide in open tuning; (c) re-arrange some familiar songs to have a heavier, bluesier feel to them; and (d) do all of this without it becoming distracting or prideful?

In regards to the spine, “What am I trying to say?”

I am trying to say that worship music can be bluesy and soulful and still congregational. 

That was my thinking, but a spine can be just about anything: it may be a stylistic approach to the songs; it may be a progression of musical keys; it may be a subtle facet of spirituality—meditation or contemplation, say—that’s not overtly being discussed but that I’ve been working with.

Now, here’s the deal: First, in Sunday worship “business”, spines are not necessary. We’ve been handed a story to tell, and it’s up to us to tell it clearly and compellingly. In a sense, we don’t need spines.

(I hope I don’t need to tell you that spines should never detract or distract from the story. People shouldn’t notice that all your songs were in the key of A; they should notice this God that we believe in.)

But spines enrich our stories. They give us the opportunity to make our Sunday stories multi-layered and rich.

They also infuse our creative lives with fresh wind.

(I daresay they make it fun.)

What some of us need is a dose of creative energy, a breathe of fresh air to engage our thinking and give us the strength and focus to run another leg of the ministry race that we’re in. Ultimately, I think that spines are a useful tool to keep us engage over a period of time with the work we do.

(By the way, I also use the concept of a “spine” when I’m developing a sermon; it governs what stays in and what goes out. In this sense, sermon prep for me is like poetry. It’s about editing down to the essentials and trusting that what is left over after the process is sufficient and essential.)

What spine can you insert into your work this week? What would give you energy?

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Weapons of Mass Production :: The “135 Principle”

You should see my “To Do” list…

Currently, it runs 11 pages.

This is not a source of pride for me; it’s simply a picture of what my priorities are.

I don’t know how long your list is, but let me as you this…

How many things do you try to accomplish on a given day? 

One of the things I’ve realized lately is that there’s a serious disconnect between what I think I can accomplish on a given day (given an 11 page long “To Do” list) and what I actually can accomplish. I used to wake up and be determined to make some serious dents in that list, but over and over again, I’d end up at the end of the day frustrated and discouraged, because the list just seemed to actually get longer not shorter. It was pretty demotivating.

vsco_0What if the problem is not with my work ethic, but with my expectations? Would it not feel more motivational if I actually was clear (and reasonable) with what I wanted to get done?-

I’ve been trying to re-frame my thinking about my daily productivity, based on something that I’m simply calling the “135 Principle.”

It’s based on the premise that in a given day, you can really only accomplish one really big goal, three medium-sized goals, and five small goals. 

  • The “1” could be that very significant, highly creative project you’re working on that needs the best of you over multiple hours. It’s the centerpiece of your day, the “mission” of that day.
  • The “3” could stand for the thirty-minute standing conversation you need to have with a co-worker regarding an upcoming meeting or event. It could be the set of instructions you need to write up, or the recap conversation or email you need to craft.
  • The “5” could represent phone calls or informational emails; things that are still proactive, but not necessarily time- or resource-intensive.

Sophisticated language, I know, but this was significant because I realized that I’d actually been operating in something like a 5-8-15 paradigm, and there simply is not enough time to do those things. 

And when we “fail”, over and over again, to accomplish things, most of us stop referring to our lists, because we become subtly aware that they don’t mean anything. When you constantly feel like you are unable to accomplish your list, a trigger starts to go off in your brain to avoid it. It’s a drain; it’s a sign of failure.

What something like the “135 Principle” can do is to help you manage your expectations and complete your tasks on a given day, which can give you a minor sense of accomplishment and some motivation to get up and accomplish the next day’s tasks.

 

It’s about momentum.

 

NEXT WEEK: I’m starting a new series on Jesus (surprise!) Stay tuned!

 

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Actually, Cover Bands DO Change the World…

via Wikipedia

via Wikipedia

One of the great slogans in the Seth Godin/Linchpin world (which I actually enjoy poking around in) is, “Cover bands don’t change the world.”

It’s a call to be unique to seek to strike out to do something bold and new in the world, to be disruptive, to reach for something that’s never been done.

It’s also obviously a bit of a slap in the face to anyone who may be a feeling slightly more conservative or iterative. Folks who are not as “disruptive.”

(It’s also an insult to cover bands, but who’s counting?)

As usual, the truth behind the slogan is a bit more cloudy, because in a sense cover bands have changed the world, and actually continue to do so, primarily because many of the most iconic and world-changing bands in rock history started out as cover bands.

Beatles? Cover band.

Stones? Covered blues.

The Who? They called their versions of Motown songs they covered, “Maximum R&B”.

The Band? Started out playing rockabilly covers in honkey tonks all over the midwest.

James Brown? yup.

(Now, I get that these artists are all “old guy” bands, but I’m taking the approach that the verdict is still out on how much Arcade Fire, The National, Coldplay, etc. are going to change rock and roll. That being said, I know the Black Keys at least know blues really deeply, and I’ve heard at least a couple covers from them.)

Now,I get what Seth is saying: you really do need to find your own unique voice. But here’s the deal: all these artists who later changed the world were cover artists for a significant and formative time in their career.

So what’s the point? Well, I’m not just being contrarian. Being in a cover band has its advantages, and in fact provides critical experience for working your craft.

Because when you’re in a cover band, you get to learn

You get to learn what makes a great song…

You get to learn how to work in a group with others…

You get to learn how to work a crowd…

What gear works in a bar, versus in your bedroom…

What outfit looks ridiculous on you…

Don’t get me wrong: aspiring to something great is absolutely critical and something to be encouraged.

But before you change the world you might want to be good at your craft. Lots of bands start out wanting to change the world, but their ambition greatly (and almost tragically) outstrips their ability.

So maybe you’re in a “cover band” right now…

… Maybe the organization you’re in isn’t as wildly creative as you’d like;

… Maybe the position you’re in isn’t the perfect fit;

… Maybe your platform isn’t in front of the “right people” yet.

If this is the case, than here’s what you do:

  • You get better. 
  • You dig in and learn. 
  • You figure out how to with others (particularly a drummer who doesn’t keep time well and a singer who doesn’t always sing on pitch).
  • You learn what “excellence” looks and feels (tastes and sounds?) like. 

Your “cover band moments” are not wasted. They can be the crucible, the workshop that helps you develop and hone your craft for the moment when the world comes calling, and needs you to give something to it.

… Now go practice.

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Worship Leading Throughout the Room

For awhile I’ve been telling the folks on the worship team at my church to remember that they are always leading worship.

In fact, I prefer the negative form:

You are never not leading worship. 

You see, once you embrace your role as a leader, you no longer always get to choose when and how people respond to you.

In fact, I think it’s just best to assume that—on Sundays especially—people are always observing you, and therefore you always have the chance to “lead worship”, whether you’re on stage or not. You are always leading, so here’s a few ways to lead worship from “around the room”:

  • In the Parking Lot or Lobby: How do you conduct yourself before people know your gifts? Do you make an effort to get to know people? If “Leadership” is a part of “Worship Leading”, than we have to keep in mind that leadership is inherently relational. Saying “hi” to people far away from the stage increases people’s relational connection to you, which leads to trust, which increases your ability to help facilitate their experience with God.
  • In the Back of the Room: Or the side. Or in the front pew. How do you worship when you are not on stage? Is your experience of God as dynamic and vital off the stage as it is on the stage? Because people may be watching you. It’s about authenticity; it’s about saying, “This time—this response to God—is really this important whether I’m on stage or not.”

    (p.s. This means that you’re actually in the room, and not hiding in the green room or sleeping in…)

  • Backstage: What attitudes are you fostering among your band members? Are you bringing to life the same things within your team that you sing about in front of your community? What do rehearsals feel like? Are they relational, gospel-centered?
  • In the Tech Booth: When I visit churches, I carefully watch the tech teams: the audio, lighting, and graphics people. These individuals are usually the best barometer of the spiritual and emotional health of your worship team. How are you leading them? Are you treating them with respect, and seeking to understand their needs and perspective?

Like it or not, once you embrace leadership, you step into a spotlight that seldom dims. People are watching you, and you will influence—lead them—their response to God in every interaction that you have with people.

You are never not leading worship. This is a great opportunity; steward it well.

*e

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Connecting the Core

For those of you who may be leading musical worship in some context…

A while back, I wrote about “Knowing Your Core”: knowing how you would essentially describe the Gospel. (If you haven’t taken the time to write down your core, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and do this).

It’s not enough to know your core; the real challenge is to make sure that our ministry reflects these beliefs.

For some of us, that means making sure that the songs we sing on Sunday match what we believe is the core. In other words, though we may claim that our Gospel “core” looks like this (this is my core, by the way)

  1. mission/vocation
  2. community
  3. restoration
  4. the Holy Spirit
  5. God-With-Us

However, if we’re not mindful, the lyrics of the songs we choose to sing on Sunday may look like this:

  1. God is really great
  2. We are sinners
  3. Jesus died on the cross
  4. We are still sinners
  5. Good thing Jesus died on the cross

This disconnect isn’t healthy, either for you or for your congregation.

For those of us who are leading music, take a look at the lyrics that you’re singing week-to-week. Are those lyrics consistent with your core? With your church’s core? (Again, first you need to know what your core is.)

For those of us in another form of ministry, we can still examine how our values, actions, and words are connecting with that core.

There is no reason that ministry cannot be an expression of our deepest and “truest” selves, but we do have to do the challenging, reflective work of knowing what that deep and true self looks like.

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