A Tension to Manage or a Problem to Solve?

Do you know that some tensions are never meant to disappear?

Here are a few of the tensions we experience in life:

  • Relational tension. Human beings are imperfect, and so tensions will arise within friendships and marriages.
  • Work tension. At work we may discover that our bosses have different expectations of us than we do, or we may have a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Cultural and Social tension. Christ-like living is contrary to many of society’s norms; choosing Christ often means choosing conflict with our society. Artists sometimes have to choose between creating art they can sell and art that says something meaningful.
  • Parental tension. As parents we are called to first lead, train and discipline our children; friendship is secondary, although very important. Choosing to parent well often means choosing to create tension with our children for their own good.
  • Theological tension. God is sovereign, but bad stuff happens to good people. God has chosen a good path for us, but human beings have free will. Many issues in theological discussions involve tension.

Some of these tensions can be resolved.

  • Relational tension. Christ calls us to take the initiative in making peace with those who have sinned against us. We need to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, and we need to confront those who have wronged us. In marriage spouses must constantly be checking to make certain they are speaking the same language and holding similar expectations of each other.
  • Work tension. If we have conflict with a co-worker we need to resolve it. If we discover that our expectations do not match those of our boss, we need to take action to bring our expectations into alignment.

Some of these tensions, however, cannot be resolved.

  • Marriage is the combination of two individual people with differing tastes and preferences. While hopefully a marrying couple has many of these in common, some differences will always exist. One may like beef and the other one chicken. One is a night owl and the other is a morning person.
  • As Christians we are called to engage culture and make an impact for Christ. Because culture has so many negative components, however, many Christians try to completely disengage from culture. I believe Christ’s call to be “in and not of” the world requires us to walk the difficult grey area of engaging culture while remaining firm in our beliefs and principles.
  • Parenting is tough. Being a friend and support to your children while disciplining and guiding them is a difficult tension to manage. As a father I want nothing more than to play with my kids and give them everything they want because I love them so much. Because I love them, however, I have to discipline them and train them.
  • God is a Spirit. Jesus revealed himself in the form of a man, but he was fully God as well as fully man. When we become Christians the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us power to overcome the evil one. We are in a spiritual battle for the souls of people. The way to life is narrow and few find it. Those who truly receive Christ’s offer of salvation will spend eternity in heaven, and those who reject Christ will spend eternity in hell. Theology and the spiritual life is full of huge tensions, most of which are beyond our comprehension.

Deciding which issues are tensions to manage and which issues are problems we can solve is in itself a tension to manage.

Christ, however, enables us to experience his peace in every situation because his peace is based on him. Christ does not change. Christ was, is and will be forever the same. For that reason life with Christ is peace and joy, even in the midst of some of the hardest tensions life can throw at us.

Our goal, then, is not to resolve every tension, but to find peace and rest in Christ, who is the calm in the middle of every situation.

Are you trying to find peace by resolving unresolvable tensions, or are you finding peace in Christ, who does not change?

How Our Church Recruited Worship Volunteers, Part 5

A month has passed since the Arts in Worship recruitment campaign at our church and I want to share some of the lessons we have learned. Review is an often-skipped-but-very-necessary stage in wrapping up an event or campaign.

Here are the posts leading up to this one:

  1. The Plan
  2. Why Technical Arts?
  3. The Campaign
  4. The Follow-Up

Let’s begin with what went well.

  1. The visibility of arts in the church went way up. The excitement of those several weeks was tangible and planted seeds in people’s hearts about the role of arts in worship.
  2. More people stepped forward to share their artistic talents in worship leadership. We had good responses, particularly to Musical and Visual Arts.
  3. Artists engaged in meaningful spiritual connections. I enjoyed the spiritual and personal conversations that happened throughout those weeks, both with our arts leaders and with interested artists. The campaign drew people in from the fringes.
  4. We stretched boundaries. This campaign was the first of it’s kind at our church, and people loved it. The Live in the Lobby portion of the campaign was a new idea and well received.
  5. Artists of all ages got involved. Throughout the campaign we had teenagers as well as senior adults making meaningful contributions.
  6. We did well on follow-up. In almost all of the cases we followed up promptly with interested individuals to see their interest level and to answer questions.
  7. The First Step Weekend was a good idea. Although not all of the arts areas had good experiences on First Step Weekend, the idea and energy there was positive and worth revisiting.

Now for some of the things that did not go so well.

  1. Promotion was weak. Because we ran the campaign on short notice our promotion suffered. More advance time would have meant better element planning for the services to support the campaign. On the Musical Arts week we had special music and on the Dramatic Arts week we had a dramatic reading of Scripture, but these things were last minute and happened to work out. In addition, we had no real connection between the in-service promotion and the Live in the Lobby piece. They coexisted rather than working together.
  2. Response to Technical Arts was almost non-existent. We did not portray Technical Arts visibly, they had no presence in the Live in the Lobby portion of the campaign, and Technical Arts are largely invisible in church as it is.
  3. We had lots of no-shows for our follow-up meetings and auditions.
  4. Live in the Lobby did not work well for Dramatic Arts. Doing dramatic sketches in a noisy lobby does not work as well as doing live music. What did work for them was walking around in the lobby in character and engaging people in conversation.
  5. The lobby was not large enough for the Live in the Lobby presentations. While we cannot do much about this piece at this point, we realize that the arts presentations were a bit cramped.
  6. Our location was not central enough for Live in the Lobby.  Being off to the side minimized interaction.
  7. We had too few interactions with The Visual Arts and Dramatic Arts Live in the Lobby experiences. The buzz created by having live art in the lobby was wonderful, but  connections were primarily with other artists, family, and friends.

With those things in mind, here are some of our takeaways.

  1. Plan ahead. Advance planning, as usual, is critical to the success of a campaign like this.
  2. Clearly connect all of the elements of the campaign. Verbiage, visuals, and handouts should clearly connection the experiences in the auditorium during services with the experiences in the lobby between the services and any other pieces to the campaign.
  3. Have clear opportunities for interested people. Dramatic Arts follow-up responses would most likely have been much better if we could have told interested people that we have sketches and productions already planned for the next 6-12 months. Then follow-up meetings become a casting call rather than a get together of people who do not know each other.
  4. Personally recruit people for invisible ministries like the Technical Arts. Personal invitations and recommendations are critical for this challenging ministry.
  5. Do drama differently in the lobby. In the future, should we do this again, we will focus on actors in character interacting with people in the lobby rather than trying to present dramatic sketches in a noisy environment.
  6. Do something. While we have much to work on, the experience and responses were wonderful and demonstrated a big step forward for Arts at our church.
  7. Artists are here. We now realize we have more artists in the seats than we thought. We would not have known this if we had not asked.
  8. God is active. Throughout the spiritual conversations, auditions, and performances, God made his presence known.

We definitely have a lot to learn when it comes to recruiting and empowering artists to use their gifts in worship, but this campaign has given us some valuable insights.

What have you learned about recruiting artists?

How to Be an Engaging Worship Leader

Perhaps the most persistent topic in worship discussions among church leadership is the engagement of the congregation. We try to measure it, observe it, record it, and dissect it so that we can have worship services that are participatory experiences rather than observation events.

We often overlook the most critical piece in engagement: the worship leader.

You cannot have an engaged congregation without an engaging worship leader.

I have struggled through this discussion many times. I have been scrutinized, encouraged, probed, and challenged on this issue more times than I can recount.

I distinctly remember one week years ago when I was reviewing the traditional service I was leading at the time. I was encouraged to change the way I seated the congregation after a hymn.

That’s right. I was instructed on the statement, “You may be seated.”

At the time I was trying to be as unintrusive about direction as possible in hopes of creating a more worshipful environment. I found, though, that people needed absolutely clear direction, and non-verbal signs were not always clear enough for them.

The suggestion for me was to say the phrase, “You may be seated,” more firmly and clearly. Apparently I had a way of saying it quietly and trailing off. Now I am much more firm in my directions.

This may seem like nit-picking, and, in a way, it felt that way at the time. Over time, however, I have come to value that piece of advice and have used it to guide my leadership. As a result, people respond better to my leadership, which creates better engagement.

The point is that you and I as worship leaders are the biggest factor in congregational engagement. We can discuss the culture of the church, the ages of the people attending and their backgrounds, the lighting, and the projection for hours, but if you and I, the worship leaders, are not engaging, all of the other discussions are pointless.

What does an engaging worship leader look like? Here are 10 characteristics of an engaging worship leader.

  1. Humility. People want to engage with a humble leader. Why? Because a worship leader who is all about himself leaves no room for the congregation to participate; the worship service becomes all about him rather than about worshiping God.
  2. Winsomeness. Sugar draws more flies than vinegar, the old saying goes. The same is true for worship leaders. Be warm and have a sense of humor. You don’t need to be a comedian, and you don’t have to smile all of the time, but you need have a spirit of optimism. People are drawn to positive leaders.
  3. Passion. A guaranteed way to kill a worship service is to lead like the deadpan teacher in the classic movie, Ferris Bueler’s Day Off: “Bueler? . . . Bueler? . . . Bueler?” If the life of Christ is not visibly in you then the congregation will be unresponsive.
  4. Confidence. An engaging worship leader gives direction, prays, and sings with confidence. The congregation needs to feel like they are being led confidently. Insecurity kills engagement.
  5. Transparency. Be open about your struggles. In one worship service I talked briefly about how difficult my divorce was and how it brought me closer to Christ. Later I found out that my comments were a key turning point for someone in the service. The Holy Spirit used those words to encourage this person to return to a deeper relationship with Christ. Your brokenness is your most engaging tool. You need to have balance and discretion in how you share your struggles, but you need to share them.
  6. Authentic Faith. You need to be close with Christ. There is no formula for this relationship, and this relationship is not legalistic. I could give you a checklist: read your Bible, pray, meditate, memorize Scripture, listen to sermons, read books, and on and on. All of those things are phenomenal resources and I recommend them, but they do not create a relationship with Christ. They are tools. Make Christ your focus and your desire. Spend time with him. Ask him to bring you closer to him. Then use the tools I mentioned and any others you discover.
  7. Relevance. Acknowledge the reality we live in through your leadership. The message of “Jesus saves” must be linked with “We are broken” for people to believe you. Leaders who are only sunshine all the time will seem false, but leaders who are depressed about reality will be a downer. A balanced view of brokenness and a Savior who can redeem brokenness will draw people to Christ.
  8. Authentic Emotion. An engaging worship leader has appropriate emotions. If the song you are leading is celebrative, a smile and bright face are essential. If the song you are leading is a lament, however, a hopeful but more somber face is needed. Appropriate emotional expression will make a worship leader feel real to a congregation. I am not saying to manipulate the people through “performing” emotions. People will read right through that. The emotions on your face need to come from your life experiences.
  9. Truth. Do not be afraid to speak truth when you lead. People want to hear the truth spoken in a gracious way, so, as the Holy Spirit guides you, share truth with them. Of course, you will only have truth to share if you have an authentic and growing relationship with Christ. Otherwise your statements of truth will come across as moralistic platitudes.
  10. Skill. Few things will hinder a worship service like a leader who does not know their music, their role, and their instrument well. You need to be so good that people can see Christ through your singing, playing, or speaking, even when you are playing or singing a solo.

Worship engagement begins with the worship leader, and I have failed as much as anyone else. Fortunately, you will notice that nowhere here did I mention a need to have a certain “worship leader” gene; all of these things can be cultivated if Christ is truly calling you to lead worship.

What can you do to be a more engaging worship leader?

How Our Church Recruited Worship Volunteers, Part 4

Your recruitment is only as good as your follow-up. You could recruit a million people, but if you do not have a follow-up plan you might as well have gone on a cruise. Follow-up turns a maybe into a somebody.

Recently I have been sharing how our church went about recruiting volunteers for the arts. I have written about The Plan, Why Technical Arts, and The Campaign. In this post I want to share our strategy for following up with interested people.

Here was my plan:

  1. We would call every interested person back within a week of the time they turned in the information request form.
  2. We would find out more about each person on the phone cal, their interests, and their experience.
  3. We would invite each person to First Step Weekend.

We had grand hopes, but our success was mixed.

We were able to follow-up with almost everyone within a week of receiving their information request form.

On First Step Weekend we scheduled time for people to audition musically and dramatically, share their art with our visual arts leader, and interview with our Director of Production (Technical Arts). Saturday morning from 9-12 was set apart for Musical, Visual, and Technical Arts, and the Dramatic Arts people scheduled an informal hang out and audition time Sunday evening.

Musically we had a few no-shows, but we also had two excellent auditions leading to very talented musicians joining the team in a month. Technically we only had one interested party.

Visual Arts had three artists come in to share their art with our leader, and they were three different generations. One watercolor artists was probably in her 70s, one painter was in his 40s or 50s, and the other painter was a teenager. Each of them had great stories to tell, and each had very different styles.

Sunday night the drama gathering was disappointing. Only two people showed up out of many interested people.

The weekend was definitely a mixed bag, but overall I feel very good about the campaign. In a week or so I plan to share one more installment cataloguing what we learned from this experience, but here are a few thoughts from the First Step Weekend experience.

  1. Even some success on the weekend means that the weekend idea is still good.
  2. Several of the no-shows shared viable excuses later and asked to re-schedule, which I am doing now.
  3. The lack of numbers in Technical Arts has to do with our overall effectiveness at recruiting for the Technical Arts. Very few people mentioned an interest in the first place.
  4. The lack of numbers at the drama gathering does not mean our efforts at recruiting people for drama was a failure. We had many interested people. Because of the campaign drama has a higher visibility in a church that has been largely ignorant of drama.

I will be digging into the successes and challenges of this campaign with my leaders soon, and I hope to have clearer answers to share with you then.

How would you evaluate a recruitment campaign?

How Our Church Recruited Worship Volunteers, Part 3

Last week I shared with you The Plan for a wide scale recruitment campaign at our church encompassing four areas of the arts:

  • Dramatic
  • Musical
  • Technical (I wrote a specific post explaining why I called our audio visual volunteers Technical Artists)
  • Visual

Today I want to share what actually happened.

Week 1

I was curious and a little nervous going into the first Sunday, particularly because of the Live in the Lobby piece:

  • How would people react?
  • Would they be in a hurry and just brush past?
  • Would they complain about the lobby music feeling like cocktail hour?
  • Would anyone respond and sign up?

I was excited about the actual services because  we were presenting Painting Pictures of Egypt, by Sara Groves, and I had been able to do a cool design of the lyrics for projection. This song fit perfectly with my plan to have something special in the services in relation to the arts.

The services went wonderfully. People loved Painting Pictures of Egypt. The pastor giving the announcements set up Arts in Worship and Live in the Lobby wonderfully.

As soon as the first service was over I dodged out to the lobby to play. A bassist and I did some improv on worship songs as well as a little bluesy jazz. The response was warm and a good number of people seemed to be stopping by the information table.

Before the second service a trumpeter played solos and excerpts and we used that as the prelude music, simply keeping the doors to the lobby open right up to the beginning of the service. After the second service the men’s quartet started singing in the lobby. People crowded around for more than 20 minutes, soaking up the music and having a great time.

By the time the morning was over we had 15 responses ranging from children to adults, and many people had commented on how much they liked the Live in the Lobby concept. Needless to say, I was thrilled.

That week we divided up the responses between the leaders of the difference areas of the arts and contacted almost everyone. My assistant put together a spreadsheet with all of the information and we began tracking responses and interests. The majority of responses the first week were for Musical Arts, but we had a good number of Visual and Dramatic Arts responses as well.

Here is the Arts in Worship Information Request we asked people to fill out.

Week 2

Right up until the second Sunday the visual arts leader was fine tuning which artists would be displaying their art in our one-Sunday-only gallery. People had heard that someone was showing art and calls came in asking for the opportunity to participate. In the end we had five artists in the lobby: a photographer, 2 painters, 1 mixed medium artist, and 1 artist with painting and paper sculpture. Ages of the artists ranged from teenager to senior adult.

By the time the first service started they were all in place, sitting on stools or standing in front of their art, and our visual arts leader was actually working on a large painting. As people arrived they came right over to check the art and had a great time talking. Before and after both services people were milling around, asking questions, and enjoying the art.

The artists were greatly encouraged, and the people who saw the art, both children and adults, came away inspired and jazzed.

We had only three actual responses from artists, but we also had several verbal responses. We followed up on all of them and found out we have more artists at our church than we thought. Both I and our visual arts leader were overwhelmed by the experience that day.

We did not have a visual art element in the services that week, contrary to my plans, and we forgot to tell people to sign up for Arts in Worship, but the exposure in the lobby made up for it.

Week 3

The final week we focused on the Dramatic Arts.

In the services we once again encouraged artists to sign up, and we had a dramatic reading of a Scripture text from the Message translation.

For Live in the Lobby the Drama Team decided to do short scenes from their fall production of Old Testament Rewind, a Willow Creek ensemble script compressing the Old Testament into a humorous 45 minute experience. The portion of the lobby designated for Live in the Lobby was set up like a small stage use all of the props from the show.

We received a handful of responses that Sunday. The actors had some difficulty making themselves heard over the crowd noise in the lobby, but they had particular success walking around the lobby interacting with people while in character.

My Favorite Part

My favorite part of this whole experience so far has been the spiritual conversations and life stories that have been initiated through the discussion of the arts in worship.  People have been drawn back to the church.  Artists have been challenged to seek God more deeply.

While not everything went as well as we had hoped (later on I plan to share lessons we have learned from this process), the bar has been raised and there is an expectancy about the church.  I believe we are poised for a new expression of the arts at Covenant Life Church.

Later this week I will share the follow-up and First Step Weekend results with you, so stay tuned!

How Our Church Recruited Worship Volunteers, Part 2

Yesterday I shared the plan we developed for a wide scale recruitment campaign at our church encompassing four areas of the arts:

  • Dramatic Arts
  • Musical Arts
  • Technical Arts
  • Visual Arts

Some of you may be thinking, “I know that artists do drama, create visual artwork, and perform musically, but technical artists?  What is that?”

Before we move on to what actually happened in the campaign, let’s unpack this issue briefly.  The names we give to people matter.

Most performing artists have the mindset that the “AV guys” (sound, lighting, projection) are glorified computer techies who like to dabble in geeky stuff like sound boards, wires, and gadgets and do not have a clue musically.  Those same “AV guys” often think that performing artists are whiny, finicky, uppity, difficult-to-please people.

Unfortunately, sometimes both are true, but that is not the complete picture.   Churches who stop there will end up with technical teams and artists who are always fighting for power and cutting each other down.

A Different Way

Followers of Christ are called to a different standard.  Jesus prayed that everyone would know we are Christians by our love, not our superiority, technical mastery, or any other prideful and sinful perspective of ourselves.  In that same vein I believe that Christian artists are called to a higher standard where we support and honor each other rather than fighting for supremacy.

Secondly, working on the technical team is a highly creative calling.

  1. Discerning musicians and sound professionals alike will quickly point out that a great sound man is also a good musician.  Mixing a great monitor mix or FOH mix takes not only technical savvy but also great ears and artistic sense.
  2. Lighting is by nature a creative activity.  The brightness, color, and focus of a light has great impact on the mood in a room.
  3. Running projection requires a sense of beat in order for the operator to change the slides at the proper time.
  4. Creating projection slides definitely requires a creative touch.
  5. Even working as a stage hand can be creative, from the way cabling is done (there IS a right way and a wrong way and the right way looks and works much better) to the layout of equipment on a stage.

Those on the technical team deserve to be treated as artists and not as second-class button pushers.  If you call your technical people artists, you are communicating several things to them:

  1. Your work is important.
  2. Quality matters.
  3. Think creatively, not mechanically.
  4. Behind-the-scenes workers are as important (if not more so) than those in the limelight.
  5. The computers, sound and lighting boards, and other equipment are instruments, not tools.
  6. Because you are working with instruments, treat them with care.

By referring to technical volunteers as artists just as we call actors and musicians and painters artists, our hope is to encourage unity rather than factions and creativity rather than rote service.   Time will tell, but I believe the end result will be greater unity and effectiveness, and a greater sense of calling among all of our artists.

What about your church?  Do your technical artists and performing artists work together well, or are they pitted against each other? 

How Our Church Recruited Worship Volunteers, Part 1

Every recruitment campaign begins with a plan, even if that is a plan to “wing it.”  This past April I initiated a large scale arts recruitment campaign at our church.  I had been talking about this for months, but I finally got around to it in April.

Fortunately I had more than a plan to “wing it.”  Unfortunately I had been so busy that I had little time to get it done.  I am very grateful to the volunteers who helped make this campaign happen.

Beginning today I want to share the story with you:
  1. The Plan
  2. Why “Technical Arts?”
  3. The Campaign
  4. The Follow-Up
  5. The Lessons

I am learning tons from this process and I hope by looking over my shoulder you will discover ideas of what to do or what not to do.

The mission for this recruitment campaign was two-fold:
  1. Recruit more volunteers to serve in worship ministry
  2. Discover and enable as many artists as possible to use their gifts to glorify God and encourage others.

In order to do this I wanted to create an image, a brand, if you will, for the campaign itself.  I also wanted this brand to work well with the church so that I could use it again in the future and not have to always recreate the wheel.

I called the campaign Arts in Worship, encompassing Dramatic, Musical, Technical, and Visual arts.  I enlisted a friend of mine to help me design the logo and we ended up with this image:

Arts In Worship Graphic

We printed this out as a 6 foot long canvas banner.

In order to get the word out, we decided to do several things, one of which I had never done before:
  1. Announce the campaign in the services and project the banner.
  2. Place a big ad in the bulletin.
  3. Have a sign up table in the lobby under this beautiful banner.
  4. Have a series of live performances in the lobby called Live in the Lobby, one each week during the campaign.

This last one was new for me.  We do not have a huge lobby, but we do have an area that can be cleared out and adapted for various uses without disturbing the traffic patterns.  The plan was to highlight one of the areas in the arts each week.  Week 1 I invited musicians to play and sing live music before and after the services.  Week 2 I began working with a painter in the church to set up a gallery and have him painting live on Sunday morning.  Week 3 I invited the drama team to do something interactive with the people.

My goal for Live in the Lobby became threefold:

  1. To cement the call for artists into people’s minds as they enter and leave the auditorium.
  2. To draw attention to the place in the lobby where people can sign up for more information.
  3. To engage people in discussion about art as a part of worship.

I also wanted to do something extra related to the arts in the services each of those weeks.  Week 1 have a cool special song, week 2 incorporate the visual arts, and week 3 have a dramatic element in the services.

As my assistant and I recruited people to help with sign ups and Live in the Lobby performances, I even created guidelines so that volunteers would know what is expected of them.  This piece was a new one for me as well.

Here is what I wrote for those volunteer to be at the sign up table:
  1. Maintain a friendly demeanor.
  2. Direct interested individuals to the handouts we will provide.
  3. Share how you are involved in worship at CLC.
  4. Answer the questions you know and direct other questions to Maurice Overholt.
Here is what I wrote for Live in the Lobby performers:
  1. Maintain a friendly demeanor.
  2. Begin playing/painting/acting the moment the service ends.
  3. Play for 15 minutes.

I also wanted to have a social media presence during this time to keep the buzz going throughout the week.

That was the plan.  In my next post I will share what really happened, so stay tuned!