Last year I wrote this post to explain why I love Good Friday. Because this post resonated with many people, and because I do not have time to write another, I thought I would share it with you today.

Maurice Overholt

This evening, as I was warming up the choir to sing Humble Cross by Joel Raney in our Good Friday service, I explained that Good Friday is probably my favorite service of the year.

Good Friday is more like the life I know.

Christendom spends so much time celebrating victory and the promise of eternal life with Christ that we sometimes forget that we live most of our lives in the “not there yet” places.  A close friend or relative dies suddenly in the prime of life and we are left standing at the foot of the cross, looking up, and asking, “What happened?”  Our spouse comes home and says, “I want a divorce,” and we look at God and say, “What?”

Did we miss something?  Are Christians supposed to live lives full of pain and conflict and the aftermath of sin?  Shouldn’t we get a pass or something?  Did…

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The Meaning of Pain

This is Easter week and I am totally focused on prepping for Easter, but I want to give you something to think about.

The other day I was listening to a message by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point in Atlanta, and he made this statement:

Why would God, who did not spare his own Son to save us, spare your marriage, your health, your job, or anything else if losing that thing would draw you to himself? (My words)

Needless to say, I was blown away. In this Easter week, think about how much God gave to draw you to himself. You might find yourself, as I did, viewing your struggles and challenges in a very different and more redemptive light.

What has God used in your life to draw you to himself?

What Is Courage?

When I think of courage I often think of war heroes charging the banks of Normandy who died before their feet even reached dry ground.  I think of the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima.  I think of muscle-bound athletes, boundary shattering geniuses, visionary missionaries, and brave teachers in movies like Freedom Writers.

Those people are incredibly brave and courageous, and I am greatly inspired by their examples, but they do not completely define courage.

Recently God has been bringing parts of my past to light and helping me to find more freedom.  I wrote about one aspect of this in my March 12 post What to Do with Your Past.

Discovering a place in my life that needs more freedom can actually be scary for me.

Not long ago an unexpected event brought old experiences to light, old experiences I had not thought about in quite a while; years maybe.  The unexpected surfacing of those experiences from deep within my psyche was not only surprising but also disturbing and disorienting.

I was feeling a lot of fear.

I thought I had dealt with those experiences, prayed over them, and received healing for them.  I thought they were archived never to be seen except in highlight reels and then only if absolutely necessary.

I was only partly right.  I had done all I had known to do, but there was more work to do.

I had two options as I saw it:

  1. Go around the issues and stuff my reaction.
  2. Go through the issues and trust God to make me stronger through it.

In the past I might have chosen Option 1, but I have slowly been learning that better things lie through an issue than around an issue.  In fact, if you go around the issue you will probably find yourself running up against the same issue again and essentially running in circles.

My choice really had to do with how I decided to react to my fear.

Earlier this year Michael Hyatt wrote a blog post entitled Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear.  As I thought about his post and walked through this experience I came up with my own definition for courage.  This definition is probably not original with me, but here it is just the same:

Courage is perseverance in the face of fear.

You and I do not have to charge a bunker or break a record or leap off a mountain in a glide suit in order to demonstrate courage.  All we have to do is take the next step in the right direction in spite of our fear.

By the way, I decided to walk through my issues despite my fear, and the freedom I found on the other side was breathtaking.  God came through!  (Who is surprised here?)

Where in your life do you need to persevere in the face of your fear?

A Grid for Choosing Music

Recently my senior pastor and I were discussing music for our church.  Choosing what music to keep and what to get rid of, what to introduce and what to pass over, can be daunting.  You have to create a grid to guide you or your selections could become haphazard and unbalanced.

In the midst of that discussion a favorite scripture verse came to mind, one that has guided many of my worship discussions:

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  Mark 12:30 (ESV)

Jesus is telling people how they should love God with their entire existence.  As I reviewed a few other translations I found some expansions of this text:

  • All your heart: your devotion, your focus, your motivation
  • All your soul: your whole life
  • All your mind: your mental and moral understanding
  • All your strength: your energy

I have always felt that if a congregation truly grasps this scripture and applies it to their daily lives, worship in that congregation will explode.

This time, however, I saw another application of this verse.  If we want our congregations to worship God with all their devotion, with their whole lives, with all of their moral and mental understanding, and with all of their energy, our music must support these goals.

Here are a few applications:

Heart

  • Songs that help and teach people to love God with the proper motivation.
  • Songs that help and teach people to focus on God in the middle of a very distracting culture.

Soul

  • Songs that teach people a theology of lifestyle worship.
  • Songs that help people worship as they work throughout the week.
  • Songs that embrace the full spectrum of life experiences, from laments to celebrations.

Mind

  • Songs that teach good doctrine.
  • Songs that preach the Gospel.
  • Songs that reshape our understanding of being made in the image of God.
  • Songs about the cross.

Strength

  • High energy and celebrative songs
  • Songs that teach us to rely on Christ rather than on ourselves.
  • Songs on strength from weakness, and that teach us that God’s grace is enough for us.

What other applications do you find for this passage of scripture?  What other grids do you use to select congregational songs?

What Parenting Is Teaching Me About Leadership

Some people grow up wanting to be parents, confident they will be great parents.  Other people try to avoid having children and end up being reluctant parents.  Most of us are somewhere in between: wanting children but not sure if we have what it takes.

Father and son

11 years ago I was one of those parents excited about having a child but a little concerned about what parenting would actually be.  Finally, six months after my oldest son was born, I fully grasped the idea that no one was going to come pick him up.  I was his dad and he was staying.

I learned at that moment that sometimes we are never ready for the position God gives us; we grow into those positions.

Now, 11 years and two boys later, I am learning something else: how to let someone else win.

This afternoon I have been enjoying our Sunday afternoon ritual of video games and popcorn.  These days I often lose because my boys are just better than me.  Other times I am beating them fair and square and I enjoy it.

Truth is, though, sometimes I know I would be better off if I did not beat them multiple times in a row.  I realize I would have a much bigger win if I found a way to let them win.

As leaders we face similar choices.

  • Worship leaders can lead worship every week in every service, OR they can train other musicians to lead worship.
  • Pastors can speak in the services every week, OR they can train others to speak.
  • Music directors can insist on doing all of the arranging themselves, OR they can train others to arrange.
  • Drama leaders can write and direct all of the sketches, OR they can train others to write and direct.

God can work through us when we do everything ourselves, but when we share the ministry with others God can do much more.  Leaders who follow Christ are naturally going to train others to follow in their footsteps because Christ did not cling to his place of leadership; he gave it up and came to earth to redeem us.

When we give away the ministry we are leading like Christ and modeling for others what it means to be a Christ-like leader.

Where can you give away your ministry?  Who can you train to take your place?

The Musician’s Most Important Skill

Whether you know it or not, your kindergarten teacher or your mother taught you the most important musical skill there is.  You definitely must have natural giftings in order to be a good musician, but without this rudimentary and critical skill you will be up a creek without a paddle.

While we were growing up almost everything was cool.

“Guess what, daddy!  I can say my ABCs!”
“Listen to me count to 100!”
“I can run a mile in 12 minutes!!”

And every parent’s favorite:

“Look, daddy!  I went potty!”

Once we grow up we take these kinds of things for granted.  And we should, especially if we are talking about bathroom habits!

Sometimes, however, we become too cool or grown up to do important things.

Like counting.

Somewhere along the way to adulthood we get the idea that acknowledging our need to count in music is like saying we are musical infants.  Suddenly we feel like the kid trying to play bass drum in Mr. Holland’s Opus, waiting for the teacher to announce, “Congratulations!  You have found the beat!”

Even worse is being asked to count out loud.  Then we feel like kindergarteners again.

The best musicians are excellent counters.  Robert Shaw was famous for making his choirs count sing (instead of singing the words you sing the beat – 1 & 2 e & a, etc.).  Take a moment to listen one of the spirituals on Shaw’s CD entitled Amazing Grace; you can set your watch by the crisp time.

Here are a few benefits of reverting to deliberate, audible counting when you are learning or review music:

  1. The puzzle makes sense.  When you meticulously count everything out, you suddenly discover how the intricate parts of the music fit together because the parts line up properly.
  2. An “ensemble sound” emerges.  When everyone in the ensemble or section or band is precisely together the sound goes from a collection of individual sounds to one full and cohesive sound.
  3. Your singing is punctual.  Let’s state the obvious: when you count you start and stop at the right times.  Simple enough?
  4. You find your weak spots.  Counting reveals your musical blind spots, spots that had gone unnoticed up to that time because you were not being precise.
  5. You are acting like a professional.  Contrary to what you may think, counting well is one of the marks of a professional.  Orchestral timpanists and brass players often have to count hundreds of measures between passages.  They get paid to count correctly.

The next time you are learning or reviewing a piece, intentionally and audibly count through it and see what happens to the quality of your musicianship.

Post the results of your experiment in the comments section below.

How to Grow Your Worship Team

Every worship leader and pastor faces the same challenge at least once and usually multiple times throughout their lifetimes: How do you attract more musicians to your team?

I am facing this issue for the third time in as many churches.  We need instrumentalists, choir members, and soloists for the Classic service, and musicians and vocalists for the Modern service bands.  In particular, we need guitarists and worship leaders in the Modern service.

I will be the first to say that I do not have this all figured out.  In fact, I am writing this blog not to tell you what to do so much as to say what I am doing that I think is working, what I think God is doing, and what I plan to do soon.

You have to decide what is right for you.  With that in mind, here are some thoughts.  Please give me your perspective in the comments section.

  1. Don’t be in a hurry.  Focus on the right people more than just numbers.  A few good people are better than a lot of ok people.
  2. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Do not be in a hurry to fill empty spots with “ringers” or hired guns.  People will only see there is a need if what they are looking for is missing.
  3. Pray.  I truly believe that God is the one who brings the people.  Over the past three months I have seen 10 or more musicians join the worship ministry, and most of those people came because they felt “it was time” or because of some other similar prompting in their spirit.
  4. Connect.  If you hear of a possible candidate, call them and talk.  If you like what you hear, have coffee.  If that goes well, play together.  Follow through.
  5. Plan.  I am hoping to mount a church-wide campaign for musicians and team members very soon.
  6. Spread the word.  Tell people.  Sometimes we simply forget to ask.  People need to be asked.
  7. Be excellent.  Even if you do not have all of the pieces, do as good a job as you can with the people you have.  Good musicians want to play and sing with other good musicians.  If you want to attract good people, do a good job with the people you have.
  8. Be graceful.  I wrote about this a week ago.  People want to serve with leaders who are graceful.  What is the saying?  You will attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.
  9. Clarify the need.  Instead of saying, “We need musicians,” say, “We need electric guitarists, drummers, and sopranos,” or whatever the specifics are in your case.  People respond to specifics, not generalities.
  10. Paint a picture.  When you tell a musician you would like them to join the band you might get a response.  You are more likely to get a response if you tell them (make certain this is genuine) how their unique gifts would make them a perfect fit with the team and the vision of the church.  People want to matter and not just be another number.

What tips for recruiting do you have to offer?