[Repost] The Best of 2011-12: 7 Steps That Can Rescue You and Your Marriage

Just over a year ago I began blogging.  This is the second of five posts that will be re-posts of the top five blog posts this past year.  Thanks for making this year great by reading what I have written and commenting.  I appreciate it!

When it comes to communication, I already have two strikes against me: I’m a guy and an introvert.

Guys are notorious for unclear speech when they do speak, and for not speaking enough. Introverts like to process by themselves and avoid interaction with people.

Do some swift math and you will rightly conclude that communication has been a challenge for me all of my life, and will probably continue that way for the rest of my life.

Here are some of my past pitfalls.

I don’t communicate for fear of hurting myself or my wife. My internal processor determines that my wife will respond a certain way; therefore I do not say certain things to avoid hurting her or myself.

I communicate unclearly for fear of hurting my wife or myself. My internal filters guide me to soften and blur the edges on what I say in order to avoid conflict, which only results in completely obscuring my meaning and intent.

I communicate harshly. This seems like an oxymoron, but because I fear hurting myself and my wife, and because I avoid conflict, when I do get the truth out my words can often be harsh because I am working so hard to communicate what I know needs to be said.

I am unable to verbalize my feelings and thoughts. Because I am filtering everything I say based on the supposed feelings and preferences of my wife I eventually replace my preferences with her perceived preferences.

Confused yet? Have a headache yet? Exactly. Fear of conflict, fear of getting hurt, and fear of hurting your spouse’s feelings (wanting to please) will introduce tension and frustration into your life and marriage. This tension and frustration combined with a complete focus on the happiness of your spouse will quickly blind you to yourself and make the simplest questions (What do you want to eat?) impossible to answer.

Familiar with this scenario?

Left unchecked these issues can ruin your marriage. Address them and you will see your intimacy soar.

Here are several strategies for counteracting these pitfalls.

1. Get help. If you are stuck in the mindless circle of pleasing others, find a counselor or friend who is very good at seeing through your verbal masks and who is able to challenge you. Trust me. You cannot get out of this cycle by yourself.

2. Pray. Like I said, you can’t make a change by yourself. God created you and made you unique. Ask him to reveal to you who you really are and to give you the courage to be that person.

3. Observe yourself. My counselor gave me this valuable assignment at our first session. For a week pay close attention to your moods and feelings and record them in a journal with your opinion on their origins.

4. Be honest with yourself. Admit the truth about what you have observed. You have to tell yourself the truth before you can tell the truth to your spouse.

If you have been hiding behind masks for very long this exposure will be very difficult. You will make a lot of mistakes and will probably need to ask forgiveness from your spouse for foot-in-mouth disease. Just remember that God accepts us just as we are, so we should do the same.

5. Value yourself. Value yourself enough to say and do what you need to say and do in order to be at peace with yourself and God. If you base your words and actions on what your spouse thinks (or what you think they think!!), you are placing the value of yourself below them. You are equals.

For all of you devout Christians out there, “considering others better than yourself,” as Paul puts it, does not mean ignoring what you think and feel at the expense of others. He was talking about humility and deference, something completely different.

6. Set boundaries. Allow the opinions of your spouse to penetrate only so far into your psyche. Far enough for you to consider the validity of what they are saying, but shallow enough that their opinion never comes close to compromising your beliefs about yourself.

7. Love through honesty. The greatest love you can show to your spouse is to be honest with them. In a world where everyone is selling something or pretending to be someone they’re not your spouse needs you to lovingly speak your mind, to be real, to be strong enough to take a little blowback and conflict.

How are you going to love your spouse more today?

[Repost] The Best of 2011-12: The End of Me

Just over a year ago I began blogging.  This is the first of five posts that will be re-posts of the top five blog posts this past year.  Thanks for making this year great by reading what I have written and commenting.  I appreciate it!

I have been listening to Air1, a progressive alternative station related to KLOVE, and today a lyric caught my attention.  Closer to Love is a song written by Matt Kearney, and the lyrics begin this way:

She got the call today
One out of the gray
And when the smoke cleared
It took her breath away

She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees

123RF Stock Photos

The last few years, and especially the last few days I have been reminded how tenuous our lives really are.  Researching a job opportunity in Florida I find a church who is grieving the sudden loss of their beloved worship pastor to cancer a month ago.  Life goes on and they must begin a search for his replacement, but I can’t help thinking about how hard it must be to look for a replacement while you are still grieving a loss.

This past week my uncle had a stroke and now is barely responsive.  His family went to say their goodbyes but no one knows exactly how long he will last.

Indiana concert goers just looking for some fun and an escape from reality at a Sugarland/Sara Bareilles concert got more reality than they bargained for when the staging collapsed.  The death toll is now at 5 and the injured more than 40.

We have no control over life or whatever comes our way, and we will never be able to predict the future.  We can discuss trends and averages and stereotypes, but we will never really be able to see what is coming.  Only the Creator who made us is able to shape the future and redeem the past because he is outside of our reality and is ultimately in control.

Sometimes we see pain coming down the road and we prepare ourselves for it, and rightly we should.  When the pain comes though, it still comes as a shock to our system.  We are not in control.  We do not hold all of the cards.

We are all one phone call from our knees.  We will all get a phone call some day, and we will all end up on our knees when the news knocks the wind out of us.  Question is, how will you respond?  I know I am working hard to keep asking God for help when I hit those spots.  I am trying to understand another more encouraging truth:

“The end of me is the beginning of God.”  When I have finally completely given up control of my life God can finally begin to do something beautiful in me.  Difficult phone calls then become a doorway to a fuller life rather than another nail in my coffin.  The voice on the other end is my friend.

Cracking the Multi-Generational Worship Nut

Recently I enjoyed listening to a Worship Team Training podcast dealing with the issue of multi-generational worship, and it got me thinking about my own experiences in dealing with multi-generational worship.

Multi-generational usually means multi-stylistic, because every generation has “their” music.  More is at stake here than music, but we will keep to music for now.

Every church has to decide how they are going to approach this issue.

Here are a few approaches to multi-generational worship:

One service, many styles

Some churches call this style of worship blended.  Add two parts rock, 1 part hymns, and 3 parts country, mix with ice and good old Gospel, and purée.  What comes out is blended, but not much of anything else.  Bland comes to mind.  Spiritually this can look a lot like unity=uniformity.

Other churches go for a more eclectic style of worship, attempting to mix authentic styles side by side in the same service.  At a previous church we once performed Bach and U2 in the same service.  Challenging, but rewarding.  Unity does not equal uniformity in this model.

Still other churches have a radio station style of worship: one style one Sunday and another the next.

Many services, many styles

Many churches choose to have preferential worship: multiple services catering to individual styles.  Modern and Classic; Contemporary and Traditional; Contemporary, Rock and Traditional; many mixtures exist, each attempting to accurately match the primary preferences of the congregation.

The message is the same, but the packaging is different.  More media for the Contemporary worshippers, less media and more liturgy for Traditional worshippers, and so forth.

One service, one style

These churches are usually laser focused on a mission to reach a particular demographic.  They choose to limit their offerings with the goal of providing better quality and connection with less on their plate.  Names like seeker and missional get thrown around here.

One style for adults, one style for youth

Any of the above churches can choose to have simultaneous separate youth services, lessening the pressure to have widely varying styles in the main worship services.

Some churches have separate youth services just so that they can address the same topics in a more youth-friendly way.

What’s right for us?

How can you know which to choose?  Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Who is attending your church?  Always begin with who you have.  If regular attendees are not engaged, guests will not be drawn in.  Find out what kinds of music your core people like and use that music.
  2. Who are you trying to reach?  If you are primarily a church for senior citizens, don’t play David Crowder Band.  Pull out the organ.
  3. What can your church do?  If your musicians consist of a rock vocalist, an accordion player, and a tuba player, you might want to avoid playing Bach.  Just a suggestion.  Work with what you have and be realistic.
  4. What do you, the leader, like?  Do not lead music you cannot authentically own.  This is not to say you should never learn music outside your comfort zone.  You must always be willing to grow and try new things.  You must, however, be honest about your tastes and views.  If you think a piece of music has really bad lyrics and you cannot sing it with a straight face, admit it and make a change.  If the pastor consistently wants you to do music that makes you grimace, either you two need to have a heart to heart or you need to go.

Funny story.

Choir members at a previous church will remember the Easter I decided to end the service with the Hallelujah Chorus, but precede it with a ripping Brooklyn Tabernacle tune.

I have done a number of successful classical + other style pairings, but this one was ill fated.  The Brooklyn Tab tune was a fast paced, big band Gospel number with screaming high trumpet parts and a full jazz horn and rhythm section.  It was hot.

The Hallelujah Chorus was not.

I should have known.  When I did the two songs back to back in rehearsal I started involuntarily laughing to myself, and when I led it on Easter Sunday several weeks later I cringed each service when I made the transition.

Picture it: loud, raucous, upbeat praise song slams to a halt with a big hit, and then . . .  Ba-dum-bum ba-da-dum . . . In comes the polite, Baroque-styled strings announcing with starched collar, “Hallelujah . .”

You won’t always get it right, but don’t avoid the issue.  Make a choice about how you are going to deal with the multi-generational issue and see how it goes.  You can always change it.

How do you deal with multi-generational worship in your church?

Volunteers: the Secret Sauce of a Thriving Ministry [Guest Blog Post]

Guest blogger Monty Kelso is a nationally-recognized conference clinician, speaker consultant, and Slingshot Group Partner. Monty possesses a unique combination of talents and skills as a worship consultant, coach and mentor. He’s a savvy practitioner with an entrepreneurial spirit and ultra-relational approach, and is as pragmatic as he is inspirational and visionary. Under his guidance, many churches have attained new levels of relevancy in their creative arts ministries, and have earned reputations for being highly culturally engaged within their communities.  Connect with Monty on Twitter and Facebook.

Any French chef will tell you that turning ordinary food into an epicurean experience is often about the sauce.

My favorite lunch spot in my hometown of San Clemente, CA, is called The Bread Gallery. They serve a turkey sandwich that is sure to rock “the buds” without fail.  Freshly baked SPELT bread (a grain imported from Europe), thinly carved turkey, California avocado, finely sliced organic veggies of every variety along with shredded apple makes for a culinary masterpiece.

But when I probed deeper with the “sandwich artist” about what made this sandwich the best on the planet (beyond the obvious), she told me, “it’s all about the secret sauce.” And secret it is! Only the owner actually knows this intergenerational family recipe.

When it comes to extraordinary ministries the same is true. They are called volunteers. They are the “secret sauce” to a great church. Without them we are left to our own limitations and predictable defaults. Ho Hum!

So as a leader, how are you doing when it comes to cultivating a zesty tribe of ministry volunteers? Let’s take inventory! Yes really.  Rate yourself (or better yet, ask your volunteers to rate you) from 1 to 10 regarding how you’re doing as a leader with the following 10 ingredients needed for leading volunteers well.

  1. Keep the vision clear. Once you have communicated the big idea… don’t stop! Tell it….live it…protect it… again and again until they (the volunteers) have digested the vision internally and naturally embody it!
  2. Define expectations. Once you have recruited a person to play a specific role on the team define how you see them best making a contribution and provide a clear path to success.  Most people lose interest in something because they feel like they are missing the mark. No one is going to sign up for failure.  Make sure people know what they are aiming for and how to best hit the target every time.
  3. Plan ahead. Anticipate what is NEXT!  This is one of the best ways to appreciate volunteers. Allow them the margin to be prepared.  Provide a culture where process serves people resulting in a rock solid product.
  4. Affirm regularly. No one is exempt from the need to feel validated.  When you compliment a volunteer, be specific.  The generic “great job” compliment loses its punch in no time.
  5. Challenge often. Encourage people with a “yes you can” attitude. Take risks now and then by giving people opportunity to grow or they become trapped in complacency. They will aspire to greatness if you challenge them.
  6. Communicate precisely. Planning Center is great but can become a subversive “out” to a busy leader’s personal touch. A volunteer’s commitment level erodes in the wake of depersonalized mass communication.
  7. Cultivate community. Chase after “one on one” times with your key volunteers aside from “task mode” now and then. When you do, make it count!  Your transparency is the gateway to everyone else’s vulnerability. Instigate conversation that has a lasting impression on them. The right question will set the course for greater understanding and intimacy.
  8. Celebrate success. Throw parties, write notes, and post on social media to give high praise to God and one another for the successes shared along the way. Shower your team with praise individually and collectively.
  9. Learn from failure. When ideas fail, take time to unpack with your volunteers the reasons behind the failure. These are the most teachable moments in ministry.
  10. Recalibrate as needed. Be the first to recognize when it’s time to pull back, re-evaluate, rest and redefine.  Abiding “in Christ” and listening to The Holy Spirit’s promptings will provide a clear pathway to wise (and fearless) decisions as a leader. Your volunteers will respect you for charting a courageous course that is as much about the journey as the destination.

Now that you’re in the right mind set…Stop. Pray. Discern.  And then take action! Do it!  Allow ample margin in your time to lead those volunteers that are the secret sauce of your ministry with greater intention.  By blending these 10 ingredients in your own way, you and your volunteers will realize the remarkable.

Which ingredient do you most need to implement in your ministry?

Monty’s thoughts on caring for volunteers during a #worshipchat Tweetchat led to this post.  Join us for our next #worshipchat on Monday, August 27, 2012, at 8 pm EST.

Life Doesn’t Ask Permission to Change


I am sitting in McDonalds, enjoying their free Wi-fi and thinking about how my son is entering 6th grade in just 4 days.  How could that be happening?

He is leaving the cocoon known as elementary school and venturing into the thrilling and terrifying world of middle school.

Might as well call it Middle Earth for everything that happens there.

When you’re in middle school you’re not an elementary student, but you aren’t quite high school material either.

Physically you are something between a kid and a red-blooded teen.  Hormones and parents battle it out over this soon-to-think-he-is-an-adult.

But what a magical time.  Suddenly my son is going to be thrust into a world where he can learn to think and manipulate information for himself.

He is going to grow in fantastic ways.

His spiritual compass and emotional maturity are going to be tempered and tested until he becomes a sharp tool, able to lead himself.

He is going to learn more about this universe we live in – for better or for worse.

But I have to let him go there.

I am going to need to let him enter that den of lions and trust that God will protect and guide him every step of the way.

I don’t remember my junior high (that’s what they called it then) days with tons of affection.  There were some great moments, and then there were the taunting classmates and emotionally confusing times.

But I loved my dad (and still do).  During 7th and 8th grade dad was the principal at my school.  I would arrive early with him on cold winter mornings to start the heaters in the frigid gym and set up the chairs in the cafeteria for chapel.

I would hang in the gym after school for two hours, shooting hoops and helping the varsity coach with volleyball practice.  Being in 8th grade and hanging out around the high school girls was pretty cool, I must say.

Mostly, though, right now I am thinking about how my dad encouraged me, gave me room to grow, and modeled integrity.  Years later I am aware of the challenges he faced and how he handled them with grace.

Dad patiently walked through those confusing times with me and offered whatever support and guiding words he could.

I want to be there for my boys like my dad was there for me.

I want my boys to look back when they are my age and be grateful for the guidance I offered them.  But I am not with my boys like my dad was with me.  I am divorced and my boys live almost 2 hours away.  I see them for small blocks of time.  How can I?

Here is where I am reminded of the value of close friends.

This time my girlfriend was that close friend providing me with some compassionate and objective encouragement and feedback.  As a result I am seeing new ways to look at my situation.  I owe a lot to her for some of these ideas.

  1. I can still pray.  Prayer invites God to do what I cannot, and to make what I do greater than I could make it myself.  Without prayer my other efforts will fall short.
  2. I can talk purposefully.  Every dinner time the boys and I (and whomever is with us) go around the table and share our “Best and Worst:” the best and worst moments of our day.  My youngest son usually makes certain we do not forget to do this.  I could also brainstorm a group of topics I want to address with the boys and have them pick one out of a jar occasionally.
  3. I can write.  I love to write, so why not write them letters?  In those letters I could remind them that I am praying for them and that I believe in who they are and who they are becoming.  I could write them funny stories and poems, and other things they could enjoy when I am not around.  I could also share character traits with them that I feel are important.
  4. I can plan special outings.  I am not a rich man, but there are plenty of things to do and see for free or on a budget in Sarasota and nearby.
  5. I can visit their schools.  Each of them is starting a new school next week, and perhaps I could come and sit in on one of their classes occasionally or join them for lunch.

I am certain there are more ways, but these are tangible and doable now.  If you have other ideas that have worked for you, I would love to hear them.

How about you?  Where in your life do you need to look at things differently?

A Key Enemy to Growth

Everyone says they want to grow, but some people never do. Those who are growing often complain about how hard it is.

We want a better life, but we want it to be easy. That’s human nature.

Chances are Comfort, that big guy on the couch with the potato chips in one hand and his arm around you, is not your friend; he’s your enemy.

Kick him to the curb and growth should come more quickly.

Where is comfort hindering growth in your life?

Note: Thanks to The Accidental Creative for the inspiration leading to this post.

How to Deal with Rejection

Because human beings are broken people we should not be surprised when they disappoint, hurt or reject us. Dealing with rejection, then, should be something we plan for rather than something we hope we never have to deal with.

Yesterday my pastor made the point that Jesus did not just suffer rejection; Jesus planned for it. That idea got me thinking about my own life.

A number of years ago at a former church I decided to become a licensed pastor. If you are uncertain about the difference between a licensed and an ordained pastor, a simple way to think about it is that a licensed pastor is planning on being in ministry temporarily and an ordained pastor is planning on lifetime ministry.

Applying for licensure was a big deal. At this church the process was a year long, including mentoring and spiritual vetting. At the end of the year I and two others seeking licensure were placed before the congregation for a vote of confirmation.

Little did I know that while I was outside the room someone was inside doing a character assassination on me and circumventing the due process of voting. As the Director of Worship Ministries I became the fall guy of worship tensions at the time.

When I came back into the room after the voting the other two had been confirmed and I had not.

I was devastated.

I kept it together while the meeting ended and then left immediately. Fortunately a close friend on staff caught up with me and we went out to get a bite to eat and talk it over.

A week later I had lunch with this man who talked harshly about me and he asked forgiveness for what he had done. The next year, and from time to time even now, I had to go back and forgive him again in my heart.

Eventually I was confirmed and I was able to work with this church elder again.

Since the fall of man rejection has become part of the human experience. Jesus knew this and knew that even his own father would have to reject him so he could fulfill his purpose.

I’m not perfect, but here are a few points that made all the difference in my experience with rejection.

1. Jesus is my model. He did not condemn; instead he forgave. My goal was to forgive and not become bitter, and I revisited that goal every time I thought about that experience.

You need to make this choice ahead of time.

2. I had a close friend. That night would have been radically different if my friend had not pursued me to see how I was doing.

You need to have a close friend.

3. I met with my detractor right away. I don’t remember if he initiated that meeting or I did, but dealing with it immediately was key.

Do not skirt the issue; deal with it as soon as you can.

4. I sought God. God is the only person who will never leave, forsake, or disappoint you. He will give you the strength to make it through tough times.

You need to make this a practice now and not just throw up random prayers in difficult times.

You may not know how or when you will experience rejection, but chances are you will experience it sometime in your life.

If you are struggling with rejection now you can begin these steps now. It’s never too late.

How can you better prepare to deal with rejection?