Re-Post: Six Steps for Taking Your Worship Ministry to the Next Level

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Trying to understand how to grow your church’s worship ministry can be challenging and overwhelming.  Anyone, however, can discover how to take their worship ministry to the next level by applying six simple steps.

I distinctly remember the feeling of wondering how in the world I was going to unearth the next steps for my ministry.  I had been at this church for five years and now they were applying a new accountability structure requiring me to really understand where we needed to go in worship.

Not knowing what steps to take, I was completely overwhelmed by the untold possibilities.  What kinds of new music should we introduce?  What kinds of physical improvements did we need to make to the auditorium?  Should we keep the pews or go with theater seating?  Should we replace the aging projectors with HD or standard definition projectors?  What role should the choir have in the next five years?

Nothing had prepared me for these kinds of decisions.  Nothing in my upbringing as a pastor’s kid, in my two professional music degrees, or in my year at Bible college had hinted at resources for making these questions.

Of course, the congregation and leadership had plenty of ideas, which only made me feel more overwhelmed.  One person was certain they had just found the sound technology our church needed.  Another well meaning person had very strong suggestions about the kinds of music we should use and how loud it should be.  Others said, “Make up your mind and don’t worry about the nay-sayers.”  Elders urged caution.

Over time I began to get a sense of how to move forward without being overwhelmed.  Below are six steps anyone can take to get a grasp on where God might be leading them.

  1. Pray.  So often this is the last thing on our list, even as ministry leaders.  Solomon, near the beginning of his reign, asked God for the wisdom and understanding to rule the people of Israel, and God granted his request.  Jesus also reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”
  2. Study God’s Word.  Learn what God has to say about worship and it’s place in the church and in our lives.  God is your ultimate leader.  Know what is close to his heart.
  3. Study your senior pastor.  Regardless of whether your church is elder-led, pastor-led, or congregation-led, your senior pastor is going to set the tone and agenda for the church.  He is the one God has set in place to lead your church.  Get to know what is on his heart.
  4. Study your church vision.  Everything you do in the future will need to be in service to your church-wide mission.  Dig into it, even if you think you already understand it fully.  Take it apart with your senior pastor so that you can understand how to apply it accurately to your ministry.
  5. Study the health of your ministry. The growth your ministry needs may be more internal than external.  Some seasons are for growing in size and others are for strengthening what we have.  Endeavor to know your ministry better than ever before, whether you have been leading it for two months, two years, or 20 years.
  6. Study your personal health.  We often forget that we can only lead within our capacity and experience.  Sometimes the best growth steps for our ministry involves growing ourselves in order to improve our leadership.

Through prayer and study God will begin to reveal to you the areas of your ministry that need shoring up and the areas that are doing well.  Over the next week we will dig deeper into how you can plan the next steps for the ministry you lead.

Which of these six steps needs attention in your ministry, and how are you going to address that step this week?

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3 Truths About New Beginnings

OK, so it’s after 11 pm on Friday.  I’m tired and I really want to go to bed, but I have this thing about following through on commitments and I have committed to writing three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  So here goes.

Recently I began a new position and I have been writing recently about beginning new things and growing a worship ministry.  Perhaps a little Friday retrospective is in order.

What truths have I learned about starting new things?

  1. There will be fabulous “head-in-the-cloud” times.  If you do not feel ecstatic about starting a new venture, ask yourself why you are doing it at all.  New things require enough of someone who is already psyched up.  If you are not pumped up about your new opportunity you are much more likely to crash and burn.
    1. Use these times to refuel your energy and your vision.
    2. While remaining practical use your fresh energy to scrutinize your path forward and make necessary improvements.
    3. Thank God and remain grateful for this beautiful moment in life.  Scripture says every good thing comes from God.
  2. There will be hard times.  For every up there is a down.  In other words, welcome to life as we know it.  If you are looking for an opportunity with no occasional down side, you will spend your life disappointed.  On the other hand, if you are in a situation where you are not experiencing occasional setbacks or challenges, I question your view of reality.
    1. Use these times to remember the fabulous times you have had.  Difficult times make the good ones even better.
    2. What can you learn from this difficulty?  You are ripe for learning when you are in a difficult place.
    3. Difficult times keep us humble and focused on the sovereignty, strength, and provision of God.  Instead of complaining about your situation, thank God that at least he knows what is going on and take comfort in that.
  3. It’s worth it.  Jesus says, “Consider the cost.”  Remember that every good thing is worth the sacrifice it takes.
    1. In order to be a good father you have to set your own needs aside as you care for your children.  The payoff is a healthy family.
    2. In order to be a good husband and partner you need to lead as a servant.  The payoff is a healthy relationship.
    3. In order to live debt-free you have to discipline yourself to live by a budget.  The payoff is a financially stress-free life where you have more money to give.
    4. In order to lead a ministry of any kind you have to take responsibility for hard decisions.  The payoff is seeing true growth in the lives of people.

This year has become the year of re-entry for me:

  • Re-entry into relationship
  • Re-entry into senior leadership
  • Re-entry into dependence on God

I am so blessed by what God has brought my way this year that the occasional challenges are gifts to embrace rather than mines to be avoided.  Challenges mean I am engaged and moving forward in life, and that’s the way I like it.

I would not change a thing right now.  That’s the truth.  God and life are truly good.

What have you learned this past week?

Six Steps for Taking Your Worship Ministry to the Next Level

Trying to understand how to grow your church’s worship ministry can be challenging and overwhelming.  Anyone, however, can discover how to take their worship ministry to the next level by applying six simple steps.

I distinctly remember the feeling of wondering how in the world I was going to unearth the next steps for my ministry.  I had been at this church for five years and now they were applying a new accountability structure requiring me to really understand where we needed to go in worship.

Not knowing what steps to take, I was completely overwhelmed by the untold possibilities.  What kinds of new music should we introduce?  What kinds of physical improvements did we need to make to the auditorium?  Should we keep the pews or go with theater seating?  Should we replace the aging projectors with HD or standard definition projectors?  What role should the choir have in the next five years?

Nothing had prepared me for these kinds of decisions.  Nothing in my upbringing as a pastor’s kid, in my two professional music degrees, or in my year at Bible college had hinted at resources for making these questions.

Of course, the congregation and leadership had plenty of ideas, which only made me feel more overwhelmed.  One person was certain they had just found the sound technology our church needed.  Another well meaning person had very strong suggestions about the kinds of music we should use and how loud it should be.  Others said, “Make up your mind and don’t worry about the nay-sayers.”  Elders urged caution.

Over time I began to get a sense of how to move forward without being overwhelmed.  Below are six steps anyone can take to get a grasp on where God might be leading them.

  1. Pray.  So often this is the last thing on our list, even as ministry leaders.  Solomon, near the beginning of his reign, asked God for the wisdom and understanding to rule the people of Israel, and God granted his request.  Jesus also reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”
  2. Study God’s Word.  Learn what God has to say about worship and it’s place in the church and in our lives.  God is your ultimate leader.  Know what is close to his heart.
  3. Study your senior pastor.  Regardless of whether your church is elder-led, pastor-led, or congregation-led, your senior pastor is going to set the tone and agenda for the church.  He is the one God has set in place to lead your church.  Get to know what is on his heart.
  4. Study your church vision.  Everything you do in the future will need to be in service to your church-wide mission.  Dig into it, even if you think you already understand it fully.  Take it apart with your senior pastor so that you can understand how to apply it accurately to your ministry.
  5. Study the health of your ministry. The growth your ministry needs may be more internal than external.  Some seasons are for growing in size and others are for strengthening what we have.  Endeavor to know your ministry better than ever before, whether you have been leading it for two months, two years, or 20 years.
  6. Study your personal health.  We often forget that we can only lead within our capacity and experience.  Sometimes the best growth steps for our ministry involves growing ourselves in order to improve our leadership.

Through prayer and study God will begin to reveal to you the areas of your ministry that need shoring up and the areas that are doing well.  Over the next week we will dig deeper into how you can plan the next steps for the ministry you lead.

Which of these six steps needs attention in your ministry, and how are you going to address that step this week?

How to Start Well in Your New Job

Leaders emphasize the importance of beginning a new job well, but often our best lessons come from our mistakes.

This past week I accepted a new job as full-time Interim Director of Worship at the church where I have been working part-time for the past year.

I searched the web for advice on how to begin a new job and here are some of the recurring themes I found:

  1. Dress right and make a great first impression.
  2. Learn everything you can about the company.
  3. Identify key leaders and find ways to align with them.
  4. Start earlier and stay later than your new boss to let him/her know you are committed.
  5. Keep perfect attendance the first 2 years of your new job.
  6. Be friendly.
  7. Report your progress to your boss weekly, whether they ask for it or not.
  8. Ask questions.

While these are good suggestions, I did not find the lessons I learned from mistakes I made beginning a previous job.

In 2010 I became the Interim Director of Music at a church in upstate New York. I had just finished eight and a half years at a much larger church in a much larger role, so I quickly began to apply what I had learned in my previous role to my new job.

Very soon I realized I was off track. Team members were working hard but were getting stretched thin, and I was getting frustrated in rehearsals.

The answer was simple: I was not working at my old church, so my solutions for the old job were not working. After some time we were able to get on track and move forward as a team in a more healthy way.

Here are a few of the lessons that I learned:

  1. Start slowly. I am a big proponent of notated music charts, and so I quickly began converting the charts at the new church to notated charts. I also began adjusting keys of songs where necessary. Finally, I began trimming old songs from the rep and introducing new ones. I did all of this at the same time. As a result often 70-80% of the music in a week was new to the band. Not good. Once I slowed down the team began to get back on top and catch their breath.
  2. Honor the past. I was so focused on the future that I would discount the way the team had worked before. I found later that carefully learning how things used to operate earned me the trust of the team. I also gained a better understanding of how to move ahead.
  3. Be patient. I am a dreamer and I can get all kinds of ideas in my head that I want to do now. Patience, though, is much more effective, whether you are transitioning culture, changing leadership, growing new worship leaders, or challenging difficult personalities. After all, Christ is very patient with us; why shouldn’t we be patient with others?
  4. Be humble. Admit you do not have all the answers, and admit it when you make a mistake. Don’t make excuses; just say it like it is and take steps to improve.

I definitely was humbled yesterday. After announcing my new role in the second service, the pastor commenced with giving his message. Because I had been through the entire first service I stepped out when the message began.

I was standing in the office when the pastor ran in and said, “Maurice, I’m off the platform.” Oops.

Here I had just been given a new role, and I blew it on the first Sunday.

Wow.

Fortunately one of my leaders stepped up and led that final hymn for me, but I had to profusely apologize to my pastor for my mistake. Trust me when I say I will be very careful not to make that mistake again.

What steps have you taken in order to begin a new job well?

Life Doesn’t Ask Permission to Change

Ever.

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?

How Many Worship Leaders Should We Have?

Some churches emphasize having one primary worship leader for their church.  Other churches work hard to have many different worship leaders, rarely having the same person up front from one week to the next.

Is there a “best way” when it comes to the number of worship leaders you have up front?

I think there is, but the answer is not as obvious as you may expect.

(My 7 year old son just looked at my title and said, “About 10.”  Let’s take his comment under advisement.)

First Example

In my first church job the senior pastor and I pursued an environment with one primary worship leader who was on staff, adding other leaders every 4-6 weeks.  Up until that time we had four worship leaders who led once a month, one of them being on staff.

Needless to say, moving to one primary worship leader was a radical change.  Here were some of the reasons for our decision:

  • We wanted a strong bond between the worship leader and the senior pastor.  To do this the senior pastor needed to work with the same person every week.
  • We wanted to improve the service flow and production.  By having a staff member be the primary worship leader the senior pastor could also work one-on-one with the worship leader during the week to intentionally craft the service experience.  While you can do this with multiple volunteer leaders, having the leader on staff cuts out a lot of potential miscommunication.
  • We wanted to communicate a unified vision.  The senior pastor was new and the church had been without a senior pastor for three and a half years.  By working closely with one primary worship leader the senior pastor could be more effective in communicating the vision of the church at a critical time.

Second Example

In 2010 I began working for a different church.  This church strongly emphasized multiple worship leaders.  I eventually became the Music Pastor, but I only led worship once every 4-6 weeks.

We pursued multiple leaders there for some of these reasons:

  • We placed a high emphasis on serving.  Our goal was for every person to use the gifts God had given them.  We found out about every person with gifting in music and worship and sought them out.  We also held regular church-wide auditions.  Our standards were high, but we found some excellent leaders and were able to live out a culture of service in the way we led worship.
  • We measured successful leadership by how well we trained leaders.  Every leader was expected to replicate themselves as much as possible.  If we were not delegating we heard about it.  The view was that by not delegating we taking away someone’s opportunity to use their God given gifts.
  • We had a highly effective communication structure.  We could have multiple leaders because over the years this church had built a strong and effective way of communicating with the leaders, and the leaders knew what to expect.
  • The pastor wanted primarily guitarists to front the band and I am a keyboardist.  I accomplished this goal by staging the guitarists forward and acting as Music Director on the weeks I was not leading worship.

Conclusion

How many worship leaders should you have?  By now you have probably guessed my answer.

Every church is different.  They are all in different seasons at different times, have different leaders and expectations, and have different challenges to overcome.

Here are some questions you can ask to decide how many worship leaders your church should have:

  1. Do your worship pastor and senior pastor have a highly effective communication structure in place?  Effective communication is always important, but becomes even more paramount with multiple worship leaders.
  2. Are your worship leaders all 110% supportive of the vision of the church?  Better to have one good worship leader sold out on the vision than 5 stellar worship leaders who don’t really get it.
  3. Does your church actually have more than one excellent worship leader?  If they’re not available your decision has been made for you.  Start praying.
  4. Do you have a primary worship leader who is burning out?  Some leaders do not have the bandwidth to lead well every week.  In that case, definitely find some excellent alternate worship leaders to protect your primary leader’s health, and pray that your leader is humble enough to accept it.
  5. Is the church struggling to deal with transition?  Sometimes, not always, it is helpful to have just one worship leader during a time of transition.  Other times having multiple leaders during transition helps the congregation see that they are not being cut out of whatever change is happening.
  6. What kind of look does the church want up front?  If you have a guitarist as a worship leader but the senior pastor would prefer to have vocalists without instruments as worship leaders, then make the necessary adjustments.

How have you decided how many worship leaders to utilize?  What other questions did you ask?

How to Make Your Quiet Time Creative

I love quiet time with God, but often I find it helpful to do something creative with my time.  I am a creative person, after all, so why shouldn’t I?

Innovation

The basics of time with God:

  1. Scheduled – If it’s not on the calendar it won’t happen.
  2. Time – It has to be more than a passing prayer or thought.
  3. Alone – Remove distractions.
  4. Bible – God speaks most often through his Word.
  5. Prayer – Speaking with and listening for God.
  6. Journal – Often it helps to write down your thoughts.

In reality I could simply read the Bible, speak to and listen for God, and journal every day and probably have a good relationship with God.  Ultimately exclusive time with him and a heart inclined to him are all that are needed.

But if I am honest I sometimes can slip into routine and take God for granted.

Here is where creativity comes in.

Creativity can:

  1. Refresh your interest by breaking routine.
  2. Reframe old truths in new light.
  3. Reveal new truths because your mind is working differently.

Recently I decided I wanted to do something different, something creative.  The verse of the day on my YouVersion app was 1 John 4:18-19 (CEV):

A real love for others will chase those worries away.  The thought of being punished is what makes us afraid.  It shows that we have not really learned to love.  We love because God loved us first.

This verse really struck a chord with me, so I decided to dive into it a bit more.  Here is what I did:

  1. I read the verses in several translations to get a full picture of the verse’s meaning.  I usually read the Amplified Version (AMP), the New International Version (NIV), the Contemporary English Version (CEV, and the English Standard Version (ESV).  Sometimes I also read The Message (MSG) translation.
  2. I wrote out how the verses impacted me in light of what I was experiencing in my life.
  3. I wrote out my conversation, or prayer, with God.  I have found that writing out my prayers can be very illuminating.
  4. I wrote a song based on those verses.  So far I have only two verses and a chorus (it needs a Bridge), but I felt like I was able to put into song form the encouragement I needed that day.

Here are the lyrics:

When I am afraid
I will trust in You
When life is hard
I will trust in You
When feelings fade
I will trust in You
When friends betray
I will trust in You

Your love is deeper
Your love is fuller
Your love has overcome my every fear
All of my worries
All of my trouble
Your love has overcome my every fear

When I am alone
I will trust in You
When I am wrong
I will trust in You
When my words fail
I will trust in You
When hope is gone
I will trust in You 

Your love is deeper
Your love is fuller
Your love has overcome my every fear
All of my worries
All of my trouble
Your love has overcome my every fear

What creative things have you done during your quiet time?