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What Message Does Your Flagship Send? September 24, 2014

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Travis walks in to worship service at your church for the first time. By the end of service, he’s resolved to come back, and he does so every week for several months while progressively becoming more involved with Sunday School and bible studies. Then one Sunday as he’s observing the band, he notices that with a rare exception it’s always the same people. He finds it a little odd, because the pastors and teachers have been telling the church that it’s all about relationships. They’ve told of how we’re to love each other as we love ourselves, and that the goal is to build relational ministries because God is a relational god. Travis thinks to himself, I’ve been here this long and haven’t heard or seen anything about joining the band. Maybe they don’t think there are any other musicians or singers here. So Travis starts asking around and discovers there are many musicians and singers in the church, and when he inquires as to why it’s always the same people the response is along the lines of, “The worship band is exclusive. They audition fill-ins as needed, but mostly the rest of us aren’t welcome. Some of us don’t fit the leadership’s visual vision because of our age, others aren’t viewed as good enough because they don’t play flashy, and a few are simply victims of being disliked by leadership members. And that’s just the ones who play the contemporary appropriate instruments.” Travis, not wanting to believe this, and being a bass player himself, approaches the band leader. “Hey, I’m Travis. I’ve been coming here a few months, slowly getting familiar with things here, you know? Anyway, I’ve been wondering what the process is for auditions or whatever it is you do here to get involved in worship ministry.” The band leader’s response is very much along the lines of what other musicians told him, “Well, we aren’t an open group, there is a very specific set of requirements and other than an occasional stand in we don’t take new players or singers. The pastors are really set on providing continuity from week to week. Also, we’re really focused on being the tightest we can be musically, so there’s not a lot of room for new people without disturbing the climate.” Disheartened, Travis seeks a new church.

While the above is not exactly how it would go in a church, it is what the modern church has come to. While it is spoken on a regular basis to focus on loving each other as we want to be loved and build relationships, the fact is that the flagship event of most churches each week has a non-relational ministry. Music directors, though under the vision of relational community, turn away people seeking Christ-centered artistic community. They’ll cite scriptures about skill, excellence, offering God the best of their flock, and the like, but what it comes down to is that they want a Hollywood or Nashville or New York City entertainment experience in Our Town, USA. Years ago, I had the unfortunate displeasure of watching a band member and teammate go from a stance of, “Churches shouldn’t audition volunteers, if people want to participate they should be allowed to participate,” to beginning an audition process because she didn’t want people on stage making her look bad. Read that again. She went from loving fellow musicians and singers enough to let them be and belong and build relationships with her and other musicians, to turning people away for fear of her own reputation.

Scripture states that if we are not loving each other, and above ourselves at that, we aren’t loving God. There is an exercise used by youth directors in which they tell their students to draw a picture of some person they don’t like or have a problem with, then the director places that picture on a dart board and allows the student to throw darts at their enemy. Afterward, the picture gets pulled away, revealing a picture of Jesus behind it full of holes and tears because what we do to each other we do to Him also. How many times has a church leader thrown darts of inferiority at Jesus, cut Him, impaled Him, broken His heart because someone He called out on the water wasn’t good enough in a human’s eyes or ears? In as few as the past fifteen years, I’d guess it’s a number we can’t comprehend.

Some churches will go to the trouble of developing a small group (cell group, life group) aimed at musicians and singers, in order to side step the issue of closed worship arts ministries. In these cases, few if any of the Sunday Morning Players participate in the small group. Most likely there are “scouts” checking out the skill in the church to see if they really are fulfilling their desire to have “the best of the best” on stage. Unfortunately, it happens sometimes, that the leaders will find someone, a drummer perhaps, who has the credentials to bring more credibility to the band in the eyes of the business world. In the not-so-distant future, the existing drummer receives a call out of the blue that he or she is being let go from the team because a new drummer, possibly with a music degree, who plays faster, and therefore more skillfully by the leader’s standards, has been selected to take his or her place, and not temporarily or on a rotating basis, permanently. Relationships can’t be a means to an end, relationships must BE the end, the goal. But some ministries act like a woman finding a husband and thinking you’ll do, for now, until someone better comes along. Relationships do not exist for the purpose of trophies to display for our own glory, but for the championing of Love that saved us.

Whether you’re a leader or follower, a player or a face in the crowd, there’s a message being received that’s tucked in a bottle of worship washing ashore every time your local assembly gathers. What message is it? It’s not one you hear spoken, or read in the Good Book. It’s a message that’s felt. It’s an experience that whispers “You’re not welcome.” It’s an example set week after week. It’s a rolled up hand drawn picture of someone, but is it intact or full of holes and tears? Is it a message of relationships or disconnecting businesspersons fearing their own reputation?


The Greatest Gift We Have January 13, 2014

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This is not the result of some divine vision, where I was lifted to Heaven or shifted to another realm. This is not the result of a voice, plain as day, calling out of a bush or thin air. No, this comes from a tug at the heart of a worshiper, a heart that thought worship services were a collective display of approval, commendation, love, and adoration to God from His believers, not just His children, His believers; and that heart’s  experiences as a church staff member.

What’s odd, and by odd I mean disturbing, is how many Christians don’t see the problem, don’t see it as a problem, or deny it exists because it supposedly “works.” What is the problem? For one thing, “true and proper worship” is discipleship (Romans 12:1.) Worship and discipleship are supposed to happen within the believer regardless of circumstance or setting. Worship, as a gathered community, has certain Biblically inherent principles, such as returning the Word to God, singing praise to Him with gladness and bowing down in worship (2 Chronicles 29:30.) I’m sure people who make it through this reading and disagree will argue that I must also wish to include sacrifices and burnt offerings too, because that was also part of that 2 Chronicles passage. So I’ll state right now that no, those were made obsolete by Christ’s death on the cross. The new offering and sacrifice is your time and skill, heart, mind, soul, and strength: your love. Returning to the Romans 12 passage, self is the offering which is Holy and pleasing to God.

Problem- part 2: When did “go forth,” or as modern church calls it, “outreach,” become about how effectively you can get people to come to you? Many Church leaders claim a heart for seeking the lost, yet preach it from the pulpit (stage, to the modern church folk) on Sunday mornings and talk of it in meeting after meeting, leaving themselves little if any time to set the example. They spend their lives in havens of the found, where they know those they seek are not flocking. So, rather than meet them where they are, the example they set is to turn the church property and worship services in to magnets to attract the lost to them. This makes the non-believer and those new to the faith leaders in the church, whose opinions shape what is or is not worship (not that veteran Christians never make it about themselves.) It is written in 1 Timothy 3:6,

“They (church leaders) must not be new followers of the Lord. If they are, they might become proud and be doomed along with the devil.“

The leadership resource churchleaders.com has this to say of pride in the church,

“Unfortunately, many Christians and churches view their “brand” of Christianity as the only true or most true type of Christianity. They may not think they are the only Christians, but they do think they are the best or most right ones. This is a prideful and sinful attitude that grieves Jesus and dismembers His body.”

To segregate the Body, even just within the local assembly, because veteran Christians and/or new converts demand it be about them before they’ll attend the collective display to God from His believers, drips with pride like a tomato freshly cut with a butter knife. There are a whole lot of individuals in the assembly, but few members of His body.

If there’s one thing I believe the Church needs to be told, its found in Galatians 5:7-9,

“You were doing so well until someone made you turn from the truth. And that person was certainly not sent by the one who chose you. A little yeast can change a whole batch of dough.”

These days, the Church is so pridefully leavened, so fluffy and puffed up from the yeast of personal satisfaction and business-defined successes, that one can look through one side of the loaf to the other without obstruction – there’s so little Bread anymore, so many air holes like the space between a spider’s webbing. Its time for outreach ministers to GO forth, let go of the worship services, and seek those who know they are sick (Mark 2:17.) Instruct these people in the meaning of true worship, so when they come, they do so not as consumers, but as those who brought gifts to Emmanuel.

All it takes is the generations proclaiming through words or action, “Its about me, my pleasure, my satisfaction, my professional resume, and my sub-culture,” for the whole loaf to need started from scratch. Sadly, church leaders around the world who aren’t causing it are letting it happen.

Our selves: lovingly, unconditionally, and collectively offered, may well be the greatest gift His believers can commission. Who is willing to go in on that gift?

Sound Theology October 27, 2012

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The songs you select for your congregation build their theology as much if not more than the sermon they’ll hear. Think about it – they’ll leave humming those catchy melodies far longer than they think about your views on the practicality of having better relationships, why they should give more money to the church, or why they should dress their best and not leave the house in wrinkly clothes. BUT, this isn’t a karaoke bar or feel-good sing-along.

A common problem in worship music is how often the song is written with God in the 3rd person. We’re singing to each other of God, instead of collectively singing to God. This is fine as a call to worship, dismissal from worship, or special music, but when we do this, its like having a conversation about someone who is standing with us, but we don’t acknowledge them, just continue to talk to each other about them, using pronouns he/she and him/her, maybe even using their name every so often. This leads to the theology that God is not with us, so we must sing of him in 3rd person as if he isn’t here. A good example is the Mark Schultz song “He is, He was, He always will be.” Singing to each other of God. Vicky Beeching wrote a comparable, though widely lesser known, song that went “Yesterday, Today, and Forever, You are the same, You never change….and we will trust in You.” Much more worshipful from a collective point of view.

Matthew 6:7-8

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. NIV

While its almost completely unavoidable in modern times, how many of your songs, or melodic prayers, which have God in the 2nd person, fall under this category? Repetitive. Sing a verse, take it back and sing it again. Sing a second verse. Sing a chorus, take it back and sing it again and take it back. Sing a bridge, take it back, sing it again, take it back. Sing the chorus again, take it back and sing it again. Sing the bridge, take it back and sing it again. Whew! That was an ordeal. What about when there’s just one stanza, lets say a chorus, that gets repeated 5 or 6 times? God doesn’t need us to be the broken record. Do your songs teach your flock to pray this way?

Amplified Bible

Psalm 33:3
Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully [on the strings] with a loud and joyful sound.

Psalm 96:1
sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!

Psalm 98:1
sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have wrought salvation for Him.

Psalm 144:9
I will
sing a new song to You, O God; upon a harp, an instrument of ten strings, will I offer praises to You.

Psalm 149:1
Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song, praise Him in the assembly of His saints!

Isaiah 42:10

Sing to the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth! You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, the islands and coastal regions and the inhabitants of them [sing a song such as has never been heard in the heathen world]!

Right now, every trend-seeking contemporary music worshiper is doing a victory dance. “Take that hymns! We don’t need you, you’re OLD!!!” Some churches go to the extent of committing to use songs that are on the Billboard Christian charts, or on the radio (such as the aforementioned Mark Schultz versus Vicky Beeching selection.) Heck, I had a pastor tell me that every song we used had to have been written in the past 10 years because of the copyright date at the bottom of the screen, and we should do a new song every week because after the 1st week its not new anymore. The Amplified Bible counts 6 references to us singing a new song, all but one come from Psalms. In context they are encouragements from one person to others to sing a new song, mostly, of where you are in your life, where your local church (i.e. the assembly of his saints) is in its life, and of the things He has done for you. Its not so much about nationally known songs, copyright dates, radio hits, generic ditties for the sake of a new song, though there are a couple of references to songs sung by all on Earth. Sing songs that mean something to your congregation. To do that we must fellowship, get to know our flock. What’s new to them? What’s new in their life? Who cares if it is or isn’t on the radio or if another church in town is using or avoiding it? The music is just as much food for them as it is a gift to God, if  they are raised as a culture that believes blessing others is more fulfilling than being blessed. That upbringing relies on the theology they’re taught. Do you, in song selection approach, allow them to stop at “Sing a new song,” or do you contextualize and finish it?

How about the way we teach the flock to give? Some churches, that are still doing offertory during worship services, insist that offertory times be accompanied by slow, solemn music… as if its supposed to be a drag to give anything to God. Its kind of like Winnie the Pooh’s friend Eeyore leading the congregation. Sometimes the solemn approach may be appropriate, but, what if offertory were led by Tigger? Happy, bouncy, excited to give. Jesus said (Matthew 6:24) we can’t serve two masters: there’s God and there’s money. Which do you teach your flock to hold higher, the money they’re giving up or the God they’re giving it to?

Song selection and worship will not reach perfection until… well, until “there is no more night” and “servants see their Master’s face” (Rev 22.) Inability to achieve perfection shouldn’t stop us from trying to get it right.