Growing Your Understanding of Worship

Recently I have been talking about ways to grow your ministry, beginning with last week’s Six Steps for Taking Your Worship Ministry to the Next Level and then continuing with What Is a Win for Your Ministry?  Today I want to focus on resources you can use as you study worship.

Leaders learn.  Study and reading set the true leader apart from the poser.

For a long time I read very little outside of what was required to do my job.  These were a few of my excuses:

  • I had too many urgent things on my to-do list
  • I was too tired in the evening to think
  • I was too tired in the morning to think
  • I had too many family obligations

Not that I don’t like to read.  I have always enjoyed reading.  Reading, and learning in particular, had just slid down to the bottom of my scale of importance.  Reading takes time and focus, and time and focus only come with intentionality.

In the last year I have been reading a lot more, and here are a few reasons why:

  • I am prioritizing learning
  • I am watching fewer movies
  • I have begun using audio books through Audible so that I can listen when I am driving or when my eyes are tired

Studying Worship

If you are ready to engage your mind more consistently through reading, then you are ready to grow your ministry.  Growth will not come without learning.

Here are a few resources to consider:

Worship on Earth as It Is in Heaven, by Rory Noland
Rory walks us through practical steps on how to worship personally and corporately and why this is important.  Contains helpful discussion points.  Useful as a small group study.

The Dialogue of Worship, by Gary A. Furr and Milburn Price
Furr and Price explore ways of “creating space for revelation and response” within the worship service.  An in-depth discussion of the dialogue between God and community and within the community itself.  For personal study.

The Way of a Worshipper, by Buddy Owens
This concise book is an easily read and absorbed study of worship as a response to God’s mercy.  Useful for small group study.  I also use this book as devotional material for rehearsals.

The Unquenchable Worshipper, by Matt Redman
Now over 10 years old this small volume is a “a passionate call for a return to an unadulterated, first-love lifestyle of worship.”  Useful for small group study.  I also use this book as devotional material for rehearsals.

The Heart of the Artist, by Rory Noland
Rory’s classic work has been the basis of studies for worship artists around the country.  “The Heart of the Artist deals head-on with issues every person in an arts ministry faces.”  Excellent discussion questions.  Useful for artist small group study.

The Wonder of Worship, by Ronald B. Allen
Allen’s book covers theological issues surrounding worship in a winsome and easy to read manner, and then follows those discussions up with an extension section dedicated to practical concerns of worship leadership.  Excellent for personal study.

What books have helped you in your study of worship?

What Is a Win for Your Ministry?

This past week I attended Catalyst Atlanta 2012.  Having attended a number of large leadership conferences, I expected an incredible show surrounding world-class speakers.  Catalyst did not disappoint.

Some highlights were music artists Gungor and Israel Houghton, poet Amena Brown Owens, a beat-boxing cellist, and a very cool integration of a Michael Jackson medley with the Dan Deacon app.

David Platt challenged us to keep the cross central to our ministry.  Christine Caine riveted us to our seats as she spoke on passing the baton to the next generation.  Craig Groeschel encouraged everyone to follow the deo humana moments in our lives, those times when God inexplicably nudges us in one direction or another.

Andy Stanley spoke at the beginning of the conference on The Making of a Leader, but it was his talk on Friday that caught my attention as I thought about taking my ministry to the next level.  In his talk on Creating High-Performance Teams Andy shared a leadership concept that I had forgotten.

Identify the Win

Anyone who has read Jim Collins’ book Good to Great or heard him speak will recognize this concept.  Andy lamented that many church volunteers, leaders, or even senior pastors cannot identify the win for their church or ministry.

People want to win.  They want to succeed at whatever they do.  When they know the “win” people work harder, enjoy their work more, and work in a more unified fashion.

What Is a “Win?”

  • Measurable
  • Observable
  • A common goal or desired result

Some examples:

  • In football a win is achieving more points than the opposing team.
  • In construction a win is a happy customer who recommends your services to other people.
  • In teaching a win is a student who can measurably demonstrate the skills or knowledge in question rather than just memorize facts.

According to Andy at Northpoint a win is “a person leaving inspired and helped, and then coming back with a friend.”

As I am beginning my new position I am now asking myself, “What is the win here?”

What about you?  Have you identified the “win” for your company or ministry?

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?

The Joy of Generosity – A Story

Sometimes we forget that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

Just yesterday evening I spent time with a worship pastor I am mentoring and his worship team.  I was planning on enjoying myself, but I was not prepared for the experience I received.

This worship pastor and I have been talking about rehearsal effectiveness, training worship team members, music theory, piano, and so many other things, and I was looking forward to seeing how he was doing and how he worked with his team.

I had never been to one of his rehearsals before, though, and frankly, I was a bit nervous.  I have never had the opportunity to speak into someone’s ministry in this way.  Would I freeze?  Would I have anything at all to say?

My mentor, Stephen Michael Newby of Seattle Pacific University, has given me guidance and encouragement many times, and I have wanted to do the same for someone else. Now that I had the chance I felt a bit tentative.

Sometime during the evening I remember praying, “God, give me something to say.”  The human side of me selfishly wanted to avoid looking like I didn’t know what I was doing, but the spiritual side of me really wanted to make a significant investment into this worship pastor’s ministry.  I blog regularly and I meet with this leader because I want to help others with what I have learned, even as I am still learning myself.

As I said, I was not prepared for the experience I received.  His team was warm, gracious and open to suggestion.  We had fun and they had a great rehearsal.

This morning I met with the worship pastor and we talked for an hour and a half about what is going well and what he could be thinking about.  We talked about how he can figure out the next steps for worship at his church, how to keep his voice healthy, how to encourage the newer and younger musicians on his team, and a myriad of other topics.

By the time we were done I was seriously jazzed because God had given me something to share that was of value to this worship pastor.  I enjoyed giving to him, especially because he is open to suggestion and learning.

This week, ask God for someone you can encourage with what you have learned from your successes and failures.  Giving trumps hoarding every time.

Who are you going to encourage and invest in this week?

[Repost] The Best of 2011-12: Two Kinds of Churches

This is the final of five reposts featuring the top five posts of the last year.  Thank you for reading and commenting!  I appreciate you!

In the last year or so since I have been at my present job of Music Pastor at Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, I have come to think of churches as fitting into one of two categories based on how they handle culture.

One kind of church chooses elements for their worship services by seeing them through the lens of “not making anyone stumble.” What do I mean by that? This kind of church looks at culture and, even though they want to be culturally relevant, they stop short of using anything where the source of that element has a character that is question. The concern here is making certain the church does not endorse anything “questionable.” Scripture often referenced here usually includes quotes of being “in” the world but not “of” it.

On the other side of the coin is the church that looks for nuggets of truth in culture, and when they find something, they pounce on it and exploit it regardless of the source. The Scriptures often referenced here are Paul quoting secular poets and Paul’s declaration that he becomes “all things to all people.”

Lakeshore finds itself firmly in the latter position. Here we see value in “redeeming” truths which are presented in less than desirable ways if doing so will enable us to remove a barrier between someone and God. A pastor once referred to this approach as being “willing to get your shoes dirty.”

Case in point. Almost exactly a year ago we were planning a service on purpose and priorities in life. We were thrilled to find that Katy Perry (yes, the I Kissed a Girl and I Think I Liked It Katy Perry) had recently recorded a song called Who Am I Living For. A church in the first category would not have even taken a look at the song because of the source. Since Lakeshore is in the second category we dove in only find an amazing song asking the right question in the right way, with references to Moses and other Biblical figures. We ended up using the song to great success because we were able to leverage music from a very well known cultural source that many non-Christians listen to. As can be expected we had a few people who got pretty upset about the source of the song, asking why the church was endorsing an artist whose lifestyle clearly states she is not following God. The answer? I like what Christ says: “It is not the well but the sick who need a doctor. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

People in the first category of church tend to think church is more about ministering to and taking care of themselves, while people in the latter kind of church tend to be taught that church is about focusing outward while still supporting and building up those who are already in the church. To reach people who are already turned off by church you are going to have do some things differently and risk a little pushback.

What kind of church do you lead or attend?

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.