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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?


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.


The Sole Soul on Your Soles October 26, 2012

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Would you walk around in shoes that don’t fit you, out of loyalty to the brand that your parents wore, that your friends wear, that pays you to put the shoes together? Would you bind your feet to make them fit? Stuff them out with tissues and hurt your knees, hips, and back walking in shoes that are too big? Cut off a toe or two? Mutilate yourself to stay ‘in?’ Why, then, would you stay in a church that; hurts, causes pain, makes you unhappy, makes you feel unwanted or obsolete, lies to you for the purpose of making changes without being perceived as the “bad guys,” treats you or others as if they’re not worth talking to, helping, paying fairly, being more than a scapegoat, or taking more seriously than a dirty joke, and sinks as low or lower than bullies you’ve dealt with? Loyalty to someone else’s brand isn’t an option. Everybody grows, if the shoes no longer fit, why wouldn’t everyone eventually go, as in move on?

Businesses worry about statistics, churches worry about souls. Or, that’s the way its supposed to be. A pastor once told me, “A thriving church, on paper, has more christenings than funerals per year.” So some churches are prioritizing 20-40 year-old married couples having babies as more important than singles, elderly, or barren. This same pastor started advertising the previous week’s attendance in the worship bulletin, but when attendance dropped to what was deemed embarrassing numbers this practice was discontinued until numbers climbed back to status quo. It doesn’t matter if the shoe fits the individual as long as there are many in that shoe and the brand is “out there.”

Faith and Love are inherited patterns of thought, action, and behavior, i.e. traditions. Take away the patterns, and the shoe has no form. Take away traditions, like faith and love, and the church is just peddling hope. A pastor once said, “You can’t build your life on traditions. No tradition lasts forever nor is it meant to.” Piece by piece, the patterns are being stripped away from churches to tailor them to a “new generation,” or wider spectrum of people. But in unfitting the church in the name of reaching the masses, the “(hands and) feet of Christ” are being asked to wear one size fits all shoes, and its causing more pain than properly fitted ones, even though they may fit fewer people. I imagine a 5 feet 3 inch tall woman with size 7 feet trying to run a marathon in clown shoes.

Its not about you.” “Don’t complain, you’re the light of the world. Complaining diminishes your light.” Pain is the body’s way of complaining. When The Body complains, its given “pain killing” statements like these. The Body is broken, sore, aching, strained. Churches are giving pain killers and ignoring the problem. Example: A man signed up for a ministry which utilized mechanical equipment to perform the task. On at least 3 occasions the equipment malfunctioned or didn’t work at all. After telling the appropriate elders of the issue, to no avail, the man asked to have his name removed from that particular volunteer list. The pastor’s response: “That’s not how we handle things. We don’t just give up when things aren’t going how we want them.” I forgot to mention that performing this task manually was causing physical distress to the man’s body. For every person for whom this task had to be performed, it had to be done eight times. On at least one occasion I watched as someone else had to do it for him because he was hurting too much to finish. If it ever got fixed, I do not know, but his complaints, and others, were silenced, and silence, theoretically, is consent. Addiction to pain killers can lead to infection of wounds we don’t know to acknowledge.

While the full-time pastors administer pain killers, generalize, destroy patterns, unfit the shoes, and propagandize the sermons and printouts, a freshly hired “part-time director of youth ministries” had this to say of his new ministry: “We’re going to build a relational ministry because God is a relational God.” Relationships require patterns of thought, action, and behavior such as faith and love. One building shoes with inherited patterns, others building with one-size-fits-all tactics. One worrying about souls, others worrying about stats. One raising a culture of Spirit-sensitive awareness, others want people numb and obedient to their power.

You don’t have to walk in pain to walk with friends or family. And when there is pain, those you walk with should help cure, not just quiet or shun. I’ve actually been “unfriended” on social media by a few of those I walked with after I chose to discontinue affiliating with their brand. But, their shoes didn’t fit me anymore. Christians are supposed to walk together, in whatever “shoe” empowers them to do so. Chances are, the bigger the church leaders desire the church to be, the more generic they’ll make it, and fewer people the church will actually fit. You are the only one who must walk in the shoes you choose. Choose carefully, and if it becomes time to move on, don’t let loyalists, friends, family, or money stand in the way.