[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?

1 Step to Better Leadership

In honor of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit coming next week on Thursday and Friday, August 9-10, I want to share a powerful tool with you that has helped me be a better leader and communicator.

In case you haven’t noticed, people are different.

I am certain that without really thinking about it you could probably name at least a person or two with whom you find it very difficult to communicate.

This difficulty arises from several sources:

  1. Sometimes these people are simply wired completely different than you (think CPA vs. jazz guitarist).
  2. Sometimes you have unresolved conflict with these people.
  3. Sometimes these people are EGRs: “Extra Grace Required.”  (I have Lakeshore Community Church and pastor Vince DiPaola for that lovely designation.)

If number 2 is the issue, dig in and seek resolution or forgiveness or whatever is required.  Jesus commands us to seek resolution with everyone, regardless of whether we are the offender or the victim.  In fact, if you do not resolve the issue as far as is in your power to do God says that your prayers will be hindered.

If number 3 is the issue, check out this series from Lakeshore Community Church on how to deal with EGRs.  You should find it insightful and just plain fun!

If number 1 is the issue, I have lots of encouragement for you.  One of the best things you can do is to take a personality exam with your team.

A number of years ago the church I was at was going through a huge leadership change and we had a lot of conflict within the pastoral staff.  We actually called in a counselor to moderate.  One of the best things she did was administer an extensive personality exam to everyone present.  After the results were in we charted the different staff personalities on the markerboard so that everyone could see them and discuss the ramifications.

Suddenly we discovered that everyone EXCEPT the senior pastor operated with the goal in mind.  The senior pastor, however, cared more about the journey than the goal.  This major difference had huge ramifications in how we planned and worked together and was the root of much conflict.

Neither personality type was a problem; the challenge was the interaction of the two and understanding what the other needed and valued.

I am willing to bet that a simple personality exam could launch your leadership to new heights because of the understanding it can promote within your team.

Here are several different types of exams and what you can expect from them.

My preferred instrument is the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) tool.

Take the test for free here.

This tool identifies your preferences in regards to your Favorite World (Extrovert or Introvert), Information (Sensing or Intuitive), Decisions (Thinking or Feeling), and Structure (Judging or Perceiving).

I am an INXJ.  The “X” indicates that I approach decisions equally from the Feeling and Thinking perspectives.  Myers-Briggs labels me a Masterplanner or Counselor, depending on whether you go with “F” or “J” in place of the “X.”

The DISC Personality System identifies the primary components of someone’s personality by using the following components: Drive, Influence, Steadiness, and Compliance.

Check out the free version here.

The paid version, however, will give you quite a few resources to work with.  This exam helps you understand who you are privately, who you are publicly, and how the two relate.

In both general and work life I am a “C,” which stands for compliant, cautious, and correct.  My primary tendency is task- and detail-oriented, with a preference for more passive types of work.

In work life my secondary trait is “D,” or dominant, driver, determined.

In general life my secondary trait is “S,” which stands for stable, steady, supportive.

In all areas of my life I am not a strong “I,” which is influencing, inspiring or impulsive.

Because of these designations my primary descriptors are Designer, Precisionist, and Contemplator.

Finally, you can take the quick and dirty The Smalley Center Free Personality Test here.  This test is fun because it describes individuals as Lion, Beaver, Otter, or Golden Retriever, measuring the same things as above in a straightforward manner.  This test is perfect for couples and individuals who do not like complex tests.

I am a full Beaver, which means (as you saw above) that I am detail- and task-oriented, contemplative, and an introvert.

So regardless which test you use, you can become a better team leader if you understand your own strengths and the strengths of your team.

Take one or more of the tests and post the results in the comments section below.  What did you learn?

How to Change Your Team Culture

One evening I arrived at rehearsal and I was checking in with team members to see if they all had the correct charts. I had recently started working at this church and I was fully engaged in changing the music culture by re-charting every song in the new notated format.

The learning curve was steep, but I firmly believed that because the songs were familiar learning the charts would be easier.  All the musicians needed to do was look at the chart and relate the new symbols with what they heard in their heads from the last time they led the song.  Piece of cake, right?

Change Is Not a Piece of Cake

Change Is Not a Piece of Cake

Wrong.

Here comes Ted (name changed to protect the innocent), his hands empty.  “Hi, Ted.  Did you get the new charts?”  “Hi, Maurice.  You know, I went to download them and when they printed out the font was so small I just threw them away.  I’m just going to wing it tonight.”

Needless to say, I was ticked at his cavalier attitude, but I should not have been surprised.  Change is hard, and I had just learned a lesson the hard way.  I thought that I could take what I learned from my last job, apply it at my new job, and be on my way.  The opposite could not have been more true.

Always assume you know nothing.

I was assuming incorrectly that what I had learned at my previous job applied to my new position.  I was arrogantly overlooking the obvious: the people were new, the mission of the church was new, . . . um, everything was new.  I was rushing ahead completely unaware of how much I was straining the team and my new relationship with them.

I was eventually able to change the music culture, but I had to almost completely begin again.  If you are considering making a change on your worship or ministry team, here are some points to consider.

Honor the status quo.

Ask lots of questions.  Dig through the entire server for every possible related file.  Find out the history of and reasoning behind the current system.  Make certain the team knows you value what has been.  This can be difficult when you really, really dislike the status quo.  Suck it up and be the grown-up in the relationship.

Explain what you are going to change and why.

If possible, do this in a separate meeting.  When I was at Lakeshore Community Church the leadership often made use of 15 minute quick meetings between services to give teams simple updates.  On more weighty issues, like culture change, another venue with no time constraints is better.  Answer questions.  Be kind.  Use “I” statements, and do not ever down the old system.  DO explain where the team is going and how the old system is not able to get you there.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  This is not a one-time shot.  You have to do this over, and over, and over again.

Take small steps.

Be patient.  It may feel like Chinese water torture, but you will build trust with your team if you work the long plan.  In my case I dropped back to just one new chart per week, which meant that 4 or 5 charts per week were familiar.

My boss, the Creative Arts Pastor, asked me each week if each person on the team had played the newer charts.  This way we knew exactly how much change each team member was experiencing.  I owe him, Frank De Luccio, a lot in learning to consider each person each week.

Communicate.

As you take small steps, continue to ask questions along the way.  In my previous job I had created charts with two staves: vocal over rhythm.  I had also reduced each page to 80% to keep the charts mostly on two pages.

I found at Lakeshore that I needed to create separate, individual rhythm and vocal charts.  I also began reducing the page to only 90%.

I began putting song format in the upper left hand corner of the first page so that musicians could tell at a glance what order the verses, choruses, and bridges came in the song.

Say thank you.  A lot.

Acknowledge the difficulty for the team members.  Listen when they complain and try not to rip their heads off when they buck you.  They are volunteers and life has enough change, thank you very much.

Treat your volunteers with the same respect and grace you want them to give to you.

Keep a humble, grateful attitude, combined with firm forward movement and communication, and you will get there.

What steps do you need to take as you initiate change?

How to Be a Life Source

In John 6 many disciples were leaving Jesus because he had said some hard things, so Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them if they wanted to go, too.  Hearing that, Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

What a profound statement.

“Why would we go to anything other than a life source?”  Pastor Vince of Lakeshore Community Church posed this question last fall, and the question has continued to intrigue me.

Why would I give my time and attention to anything or anyone other than a life source?

Life sources give life and energy to everyone around them.  The opposite, black holes of negativity, suck life from everyone who comes in contact with them.  People and even organizations (dare I say churches?) can be either life sources or black holes.

It’s a choice.

My dad has always been an encourager, both personally and as a pastor, but several years ago he decided he was going to give life wherever he goes.  As a result he does not listen to negative talk without trying to turn it around to a positive perspective.  As an elder at his church he challenges people who are resisting authority because those people are sucking life from the pastor.  And he is always encouraging me and helping me to dream about what my future could hold.

I want to hang out with him just reading what I am writing.  I love my dad.  And so does everyone else.  The world is his pulpit, and in his wake are people smiling and encouraged by stories, laughs, and prayers.

I am already a bit like my dad in personality, but I have really tried to be more life giving in the past while, and I have noticed how people respond.  It’s addictive.  I love seeing people light up.  People desperately want to be loved, encouraged, and recognized.

Here are a few ways you can become a life source in your world.

1.  Always use a person’s name.  In the checkout line, grab the person’s name and use it like you have known them all your life.  “Hi, Nancy, how’s your day going?”  will change you from another customer into the person who took a personal interest.  9 times out of 10 they will brighten up.

2.  Ask them what their name means.  Only once have I had a person say, “Well, people ask me this a lot.  I was born as a result of an affair.”  And even then it was an opportunity to encourage her and love on her in a difficult place of her life by talking about how beautiful her name was.

3.  Eat chocolate.  What??  That’s right.  If a person has a tray of candies or something on their desk, if your diet will allow it, take one.  That is their way of lightening things up, so you will make them happy by taking one.  When I left my job at Lakeshore, the front desk person said, “But who will eat my chocolate?”  It made both of us smile.

4.  Don’t vomit.  When someone asks you, “How are you doing?” don’t vomit your life all over them.  They walk away stinking and messy.  You don’t have to lie, and you shouldn’t.  Have someone else you can talk to about the hard things, and then remind yourself that God is working on your future.  As a Christian you can know that “everything works together for good,” even when life is screaming something else.

5.  Fill your life with positive input.  Refuse to give prominence to black holes.  Turn off the gangsta rap (the radio, I mean; if that’s your spouse then you have a different problem) and find something else.  No, you don’t have to turn on John Tesh (ugh!).  John Ortberg talks about balcony people.  Get people in your life who are going to cheer you on and dream for you.

6.  Listen, look them in the eye, and ask questions.  Be present when another person is talking.  One of my biggest challenges over the years has been to bring myself fully into every conversation and not be day dreaming or scheming my cool response.  Just be and experience the conversation with your whole being, and the other person will feel validated.

If you are reading this and realizing that you are more of a black hole than a life source, get a trusted friend or counselor and talk it over with them.  Get some perspective so that you can begin to change.  Your life can be so much better.

How are you going to be a life source today?

The Fastest Path to Nowhere (and Other Undesirable Endings)

The past several years have accumulated a resounding theme in my life, which I am more or less successful in following.

Don’t rush.

This is not popular.  All parts of my life – church leadership, activities for kids, work, relationships – fight this nugget of wisdom.

In church we want to get it done now.  If we don’t make the change now we may miss the opportunity for X, may not be as relevant, may not reach our target audience, have to deal with X person for another week or month, and on and on.

In worship we want to end the song and start the next one.  NOW.  Because we have 2 seconds left on the clock.

I am always tempted to rush the kids here and there, like we are running from a fire to put out the next one.

At work the other day a long time family friend whom I respect came to lay block with us and I immediately felt the urge to over work in order to impress him.

When I am hurt in a relationship I want to run away immediately or address it immediately.

All the while God is reminding me – don’t rush.

I still remember how it felt when I was in the middle of purchasing a car many years ago.  I was running out of time in my schedule.  I started feeling more and more tense, worried about what my wife would think, worried the dealer was taking me for a ride, on and on.  I got the car . . . and was late getting home, discovered I had not properly worked through the issue with my wife, discovered I had ultimately signed the promissory note on the wrong decision, and had successfully nailed a point of pain between me and my wife for months.

We worked through it, but I was never so glad to get rid of that car.  It was like I was expunging a bad decision and washing my hands.

When I began working at Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, I wanted to immediately transition the music team to the kinds of charts I wanted to use.  So, in addition to doing lots of new and difficult music, I started doing just that.  Changing every chart of every song every week.  Bad choice.  After a few months the frustration started hit the fan on the team and I had to dial back everything to give them a breather.

Here are a few familiar steps we learn as children that we would do well to remember as adults.

Stop.

(This will not be easy.)

Obey your gut.  Sometimes you will inexplicably feel tense.  Sometimes you will sense God trying to get your attention.  You will definitely not feel peace.

Just stop.

Wait.

(This will be harder.)

Don’t make a decision. Pause.  No matter what everyone around you is saying, yelling, arguing, or logically explaining.  Remember that only 1% of life is an emergency.  Remember your priorities: God and you, family, work, church, everything else.

Just wait.

Listen.

(You may feel stupid, and people may confirm that feeling.)

Quiet your mind.  Pray.  Thank God for what you have.  Shut off the distractions.  Close the door.

God may split the heavens and give you a message engraved in stone (if you are Moses), but most likely you will simply begin to regain your perspective and peace, along with the ability to make the right decision.

Where in life do you need to Stop, Wait and Listen?

6 Ways Notated Charts Can Strengthen Your Church

If there are silver bullets in worship ministry, notated charts may be one of them. Notated charts have been one of my most powerful tools.  

Good notated charts have enabled me to more effectively guide musicians and raise engagement within the congregation.  I have also been able to bring the vision of my senior pastor to life time and time again especially because I employed notated charts with my teams.

Whether I was leading Deathbed by Relient K for an Easter service drama, Who Am I Living For by Katy Perry for a message on purpose in life, or It Was Finished on the Cross by Regi Stone and Kristie Braselton as a response to the message, notated charts have been critical in enabling the church to have truly life changing worship experiences.  

Here is what I mean by notated charts:

  • Notated melodies and harmonies
  • Chord symbols
  • No tab
  • Rhythms notated using actual notes for solos along with a mixture of rhythmic and slash notation
  • Lyrics with the lemony, and only lyric cues for the rhythm part
  • Occasional notated drum patterns as guides
  • Tempo markings (descriptor as well as numerical and note values)

Have you tuned out yet?  Hello . . . McFly?

For those of you who have not studied music, set that aside for a moment and just go with me on this.

For those of you who think I have tuned out the work of the Holy Spirit all together, consider that teaching is a spiritual gift and notated charts are part of teaching your musicians to lead on a higher level.

Here are a few reasons NOT to use notated music with your musicians:

  1. To screen out “lesser” musicians.  You are not running the local philharmonic.  Musicians in church need to use their gifts to honor God and bless others, not live up to your expectations.
  2. To help you achieve your “dream” music team.  It’s not about you.  Period.  Get your musical kicks elsewhere.
  3. To impress professional musicians.  It’s not about them, either.  Oh, and impressing others means you’re still stuck on stroking your own ego, which we just mentioned.
  4. To impress your musical and worship colleagues.  Last time I checked this was not about you.  Again.
  5. To achieve your worldwide mission to restore the arts through the church.
I have been guilty of using every one of these excuses either consciously or subconsciously as a reason to use notated music.  I love to be good at music, and I can be a perfectionist in a moment if I am not careful.

Humans have an amazing tendency to be selfish and arrogant, even in church leadership.  Actually, Andy Stanley has said in a recent podcast Courage in Leadership that leaders are even more susceptible than the average person.  We as leaders have to constantly guard against self-centered-ness.

Christ is all about people, and we should be, too.

Why you should use notated music with your worship team:

  1. Every musician, especially those in the church, should be committed to improving their ability.  In the Parable of the Talents Jesus tells the story of three servants to whom the master entrusts his wealth.  Two servants double his investment, but the third is afraid and hides the master’s money.  The master comes back and is furious with the lazy servant.  Jesus expects us to improve and maximize the investment he has made in us.  We want children to graduate from picture books because they can find a much wider world waiting for them; why do we not want adults to see the wider world waiting for them through notated music?
  2. Notated charts unify worship teams.  One of the reasons I notate the melodies and harmonies of worship songs is to answer questions before they are asked.  Any musician on the team can pull out the chart and know exactly where they are supposed to sing harmony or unison, and exactly what those parts are.  The same goes for the rhythm players.  So much rehearsal time can be wasted arguing over what note someone is supposed to sing.  Good leaders answer questions before they are asked.
  3. Notated charts ensure a reliable experience for your team members.  Musicians love to know what to expect, so when you provide reliable charts that look exactly the same every time you are helping them to learn and feel at ease, and you are also saving tons of prep/rehearsal time for them.
  4. Notated charts help ensure the congregation hears a consistent product.  One of the best ways to annoy your church attendees is to sing a song’s melody slightly different every week.  These are amateur musicians at best, shower singers most often, and they are used to learning songs that are exactly the same every time they hear them.  Do you want to up your engagement in the services?  Sing a melody exactly the same every time.
  5. Notated charts save rehearsal time.  In the long run well written and notated charts can save you tons of time in rehearsal, and who doesn’t love that?  Yes, I said the long run, but it is worth it.  Love your team by giving them more time at home.
  6. Notated charts enable your team to play more difficult music.  Above you see the first page of a chart I made for Paradise by Coldplay.  Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, used this song yesterday in their Easter services.  This song is too complex to be well adapted from a chord chart.

You may have noticed by now that every one of these reasons have to do with improving the worship experience for either the congregation or the musicians.  Embracing notated charts can open up great possibilities for unifying your musicians, engaging your congregation, and realizing your senior pastor’s vision.

How could your church benefit from notated charts?

5 Steps to Improve Your Preparation

Do you remember the parable of the talents?  In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the story of a man going on a journey who entrusts his property to three servants.  Two of the servants invest the talents and double their investment.  The third, however, buries his talent and returns it unimproved.  The master is furious with him, gives his talent to the one with ten, and then throws out the lazy servant.

Until God returns we are to be improving the talents God has given us, not accepting mediocrity.  In Luke 12:48 Jesus tells us that “to whom much was given, of him much will be required.”  Much has been given to us as worship leaders, and Christ expects us to use and improve it wisely.

Here are 5 steps that can help you improve your worship leadership and make the most of the talents God has given you.  When I have followed these principles, I have been able to plan more completely, worship more deeply, and lead more effectively.

Please note that I am assuming that you have an active relationship with Christ through prayer and Scripture reading; without an active relationship these steps will simply make you a better musician, not a better worship leader.

1.  Listen.  I always provide an example mp3 for me and my team members to base our song preparation upon.  Listening well means

  • clearly hearing your part on the recording
  • hearing how you are or are not matching your part on the recording.
  • adjusting your playing or singing to match the recording

The improvisational and seasoned musicians will balk at using recordings as a guide, arguing that we should not be a cover band.  True, but the band that recorded the song has spent countless hours perfecting an arrangement that is orchestrated well and flows well.  We would be wise to make use of their practice and not re-invent the wheel, particularly in an environment where we are teaching volunteers how to play as a band.  Consider the recording a free masterclass with world class musicians.

You can do this while driving, walking, or any number of things; just get the music in your blood.

2.  Read.  The chart you provide for the vocalists and instrumentalists should completely mirror your example recording to reinforce the listening we just discussed and to teach reading skills.  Reading is

  • being able to decode and follow the written music in your preparation and in rehearsal if necessary
  • being able to match the written music with what you hear in the recording to give you a fuller picture of how to prepare
  • being able to notice when something in the written music does not match with the recording so that you can address it before the rehearsal

Part of your preparation should always include sitting down and listening to the recording with the music in hand, followed by playing/singing through the music with the recording.

Did I mention that following these steps will reduce rehearsal time?  Who wouldn’t want that?

3.  Feel.  After you have learned all of the songs you need to personally practice the songs as a set; don’t wait for rehearsal to practice the songs as a set.  Feeling is

  • being able to experience a song well enough to feel and sense how it should connect to the next song, move from section to section, and fit into the bigger picture of the service.

At Lakeshore Community Church the Creative Arts Pastor, Frank De Luccio, refers to the service as a story, and the main point of the service as the moral of the story.  Worship leaders and musicians must be able to feel how a song fits into the story.  When I have made mistakes in worship planning I have often tracked the mistake back to not truly feeling how a piece fits into the big picture.

In order to feel through a set of songs, sit down and listen to them without your instrument or the music or moving; be completely still.

4.  Worship.  Worshipping is

  • knowing your music so well (usually by memory) that you can actually worship individually and as a team and not just play or sing on Sunday, in the Sunday morning run-through, or in rehearsal.

We should be at this level before the mid-week rehearsal.  Am I always there?  No, but I should be.  After all, we are here to lead worship, aren’t we?  I am playing keyboards for a multi-church service this week, and writing this post has been a good reminder of what my priorities need to be as I prepare.

Musicians: To get to this place you need to play or sing and feel through your music often in the days before rehearsal.

Leaders: If you are in charge of planning, your team members will prepare better or worse based on whether or not you have the music to them a week ahead of rehearsal or not ahead at all.  You are responsible for their success.

5.  Lead.  Actually, this step is not a step at all.  If we have listened and read well, felt through the music, and worshipped personally to the music, we will be ready to actually lead others in worship.  You have heard me say it before, but it is true: You can only lead someone somewhere after you have been there yourself.

What practical steps do you take to prepare for worship?