5 Obstacles Between You and the Work You Love

Many of us know what we love to do but do something else with our time.  Why?  What obstacles are standing between us and what we love?

horse and jockey jumping gate

Recently my blogging has waned, and part of that change was planned.  I have much on my plate and I decided not long ago that writing three times a week is unreasonable for my stage in life.

The part that was not planned is not blogging at all.

I have always enjoyed writing, but particularly so in the past two years.  I have enjoyed connecting with people through ideas I share, but writing has also stretched my mind and helped me to process my own heart issues.

Recently, though, I have found myself not writing at all, and I have begun wondering why that is the case.  What obstacles have been keeping me from writing, which I love?

Here are the obstacles I found.  Some of these obstacles are not within my control, but some are.  Perhaps you can relate.

  1. Life Chaos.  Some life events are beyond our control.  Three times this summer I have had the boys by myself for a week at a time.  I love my boys and I want this special, focused time as a family, but managing a full time job and having the boys with me 24/7 ups the chaos in my life.
  2. Exhaustion.  I have been very tired this summer.  Some of this is due to obstacle number 1, but much of this is due to the fact that I am a night owl with morning responsibilities.  I can change the second one.
  3. Changing Priorities.  Sometimes being drawn away from things we love signals a change in our priorities, as it has with me.  This summer I have not been as diligent at protecting time for me, thus my writing and other things have suffered.  Priorities can also change for good reasons, such as the fact that I have not written as much in order to focus on other projects and relationships.
  4. Difficulty.  Doing what you love can be hard.  Now that I have been writing steadily for two years I have to work a little harder at finding fresh topics.  I am very human; I like easy things, not hard ones.  I tend to think what I love should be easy, which is rarely the case.  We value the things we earn more than the things we take.
  5. Laziness.  I will admit it.  I like to do nothing.  At all.  Sometimes this takes the form of much needed and healthy spiritual retreat time.  Other times, however, I want to do nothing because it means I can, well, do nothing.

Those are my obstacles.  What are yours?

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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?

A Grid for Choosing Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few applications:

Heart

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

Soul

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

Mind

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

Strength

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

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

Practicing What I Preach

The trouble with giving advice is that eventually you have to follow your own advice.  Lately I have been reminded of my advice to others on creating space in their lives for themselves, and of how poorly I have been doing that myself.

Here is what I have often told others:

  • Meet with God often. God is your strength, not your own abilities. Just this morning our pastor was speaking from Galatians 3:1-5 and reminding us that everything – salvation, personal growth, and God’s miraculous work in and through us – is completely based on our faith in God. That faith cannot grow without time spent in the Word and in the presence of God. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” Romans 10:17 (ESV)
  • Make yourself a high priority. If you do not take care of yourself you will not be of any use to others. In fact, you will drag others down. After your relationship with God you need to come next.

Our tendency as humans is to “white knuckle” our way through life. We see something that needs to change and we grit our teeth and try to make it happen. That is a recipe for failure. I tried that approach to saving my first marriage and failed. True change comes through Christ from the inside out, not by bootstrap determination. While there are things we can and should do to take care of ourselves, we cannot really take care of ourselves properly without a constant reliance on God.

Practically speaking and aside from time with God, here are a few things I am trying to do in order to keep myself a priority.

  1. Rest. Honestly, I don’t sleep enough. I get to bed late and then am not quite fully “there” first thing in the morning. Granted, I am not a morning person, but going to bed really late doesn’t help. This past week I went to bed twice after midnight, which is a serious no-no for me. I know some of you night owls can pull off pranks like that, but not me.
  2. Retreat. A week or so ago I took a partial-day retreat. Well, let’s say I tried. The goal was to get away from the distractions, spend some extra time with God, and then do some big picture thinking about work. I was able to do some of each, but family things distracted me. I was not able to fully unplug. I used to take these retreats every month but have gotten away from the practice. Next time I will be truly unplugging.
  3. Recoup. God established the Sabbath for a reason. He rested on the 7th day, but we motor right on through in our work and activities without a break because it all “has to get done.” Stop. Just today I had to remind myself not to do church work because I had the afternoon off. All sorts of details and plans were running through my mind, but I had to set them down so I could catch a nap and spend time with my boys.

These are just three areas where I need to improve.

How about you? How do you keep yourself as a priority in your life?

Relationships in Life and Ministry

Finding our way through relationships in life and ministry can be a sticky business.

We, as a culture, are obsessed with finding our way. Google, Mapquest, TomTom, Rand McNally, Magellan, and so many others have made their fortunes telling us which way to go.

We treat the Bible like a spiritual atlas, a training manual, and proclaim finding our way in life the highest purpose of sacred writings.  When we inevitably lose our direction the fault lies with God and religion rather than ourselves.  A religious center in it’s own right, Apple has been criticized for pushing out a less than perfect maps app because of the problems people have had finding their way.

Churches are no different.  Leaders spend thousands of dollars travelling across the world to hear other leaders speak about what God is doing in their churches and in their lives.  We benchmark and read and compare and do case studies all in hope of finding the next step up for our ministries.

Did Jesus die on the cross just so he could get permission to put up road signs in our lives?  Did the Father sacrifice his only son so that we could feel better knowing where we are going now or in the future?  Better yet, have countless numbers of Christian believers over the centuries been martyred for the sake of a driver’s safety course?

Perhaps not.

What if how you find direction in life is more important than what direction you take?  What if who you travel with is more important than your destination?  What if God cares more about you than he cares about your direction in life?

I am as guilty as anyone else of chasing after direction rather than chasing after God.  Instead of drawing me nearer to God, sometimes advance planning and vision casting turn into daydreaming and organizational lust.

The human condition defaults us towards fulfilling personal dreams rather than dreaming the dreams of God.  Selfishness is a tricky fellow who has learned to hide in the nooks and crannies of our visioneering and direction seeking.

Every now and then we need a vision root canal, a time where we dig the selfishness and direction addiction out of our souls and re-orient towards the primary direction and director, Jesus Christ.  This root canal requires only three tools:

  • Time.  Set aside blocks of time with no distraction (including electronic devices) and bring only your Bible and a notebook and pencil.  Go to a private and reflective place where you can rest and sit in God’s presence.
  • Repentance.  Acknowledge where you have let your agenda, your selfishness, cloud over your vision.  Ask God to forgive you and give you a fresh start, then commit to doing what he tells you to do.
  • Openness.  Ask the Holy Spirit to give you an uncommonly open and sensitive heart to whatever God may want to reveal to you.

I remember taking a day away a number of years ago.  I walked into my room with a list of things I wanted God to answer, directional issues where I felt I needed a divine road sign.  As I spent time in silence, rest, reading and prayer, God somehow impressed upon me how insignificant my issues were in the grand scheme of his universe, and how much he just wanted me to be with him.

What he provided that day was so more worthwhile and effective than any answer I would have gotten to my list of questions.  Oddly enough, as I embraced the way he had spoken to me that day the easier my decisions became.  I got the direction I needed, but out of a relationship with the God of the universe and not through searching my Bible like a road atlas.

Where have you allowed direction seeking and vision casting to take priority over a deep, meaningful relationship with God?

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?

[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?