Why You Shouldn’t Read This Blog

I get tired of headlines that say, “How a One-Legged Man Won the 100 Meter Dash and So Can You,” and other such ridiculous stories.  Usually they end up trying to sell you something.  The title should be more like “Why You Should Let Me Sell You Something You Don’t Need.”

So in the interest of truth in advertising, I decided I would tell you why you shouldn’t read this blog.

  1. Because I have it all together.  Definitely not.  I am as broken as the next guy.
  2. Because you need a quick fix.  There is no such thing as a quick fix.  As one person from copyblogger said, “Shortcuts are always the longest.”
  3. Because I am the best at what I do.  No, you can probably find quite a few people who are better at this than I am.
  4. Because your mother told you to.  Um, yeah, this is not a good reason, unless your mother is a personal friend of mine.  In that case, maybe.

On the other hand, here are some reasons why I would hope you and others would read this blog.

  1. You need encouragement.  We live in a very negative world.  The media always seems to be looking for the next shooting or scandal.  I want to be a place where you can find something positive to chew on.
  2. You want to become a better worship leader and musician.  I want you to avoid pitfalls that I have conveniently found for you.  I am also passionate about worship, worship leadership, and music, and I will give you everything I’ve got in the hopes of helping you get a step ahead.
  3. You are a new leader.  This blog is definitely for you.  I remember stepping into my first full time worship leadership job and discovering over time how green I was.  I needed some place to go to get my questions answered.  Fortunately God provided a friend or two on staff to support me.  If I don’t have the answer I will find it, because I want you to have the support I would have wanted.
  4. You need to be reminded that God is faithful.  He is.  I can promise you that, and I will continue to remind you.  I know this by experience.
  5. You need to know that good things can come out of failure.  As Seth Godin says, failure and being a failure are two different things.  God uses our failures and mistakes to help us grow.  I know.  Going through a divorce was the most difficult thing in my life, but it probably has been the best growth experience I have ever had.

So now you know.

And I hope you stick around and invite your friends to read this blog for all the right reasons.

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How Do I Make My Volunteers Feel Valued?

Simple.  Value what they value.

“Easier said than done,” you say.

Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Here are some ways to find out what your volunteers value:

  1. Ask them.  I am amazed at how often I or anyone else can miss the obvious.
  2. Remember what you valued when you were a volunteer.  You haven’t been a leader all your life, most likely.  What did you care about when you were just a band member?
  3. Listen to what they talk about.  Again, this is blatantly obvious, but I can miss it sometimes.
  4. Ask them about the best gift they have ever received, and why it was the best gift.

In the past I have found that volunteers value several things.

  1. Time.  Especially with families, time is of the essence, as they say.  One of the best ways you can value your volunteers is by beginning and ending on time.  I try to make it a point to begin on time regardless of whether or not everyone has arrived.  There has to be a benefit to arriving on time or early, and there needs to be a penalty of arriving late, even if the penalty is unspoken.
  2. Appreciation.  Volunteers will pour out their lives for you if you simply thank them sincerely for what they do.  Incidentally, you also need to live out your appreciation.  You can’t bawl out your musician for destroying a musical phrase, then “thank” them for sacrificing their time to be on the team, and then expect them to feel appreciated.  Your attitude and actions, as well as your words, need to be appreciative to them and their families.
  3. Pastoral leadership.  Being a pastor really has nothing to do with ordination or licensure.  Pastoral leadership has everything to do with your heart.  You can be a janitor and also pastor your volunteers; you simply need to care for them, ask them about their lives, pray with them, and follow up on their concerns to see how they are doing.  Just because you are not ordained does not mean you get to care less; you must still pastor your volunteers if you want them to grow and love serving with you.

What do your volunteers value?

To go deeper, check out this post on empathy by Seth Godin, “If I Were You . . .”

Setting Your Compass

Remember the little girl in The Matrix who could bend the spoon? She told Neo all he had to do was believe that “There is no spoon.”

The other day Seth Godin published a blog titled The Map Has Been Replaced by the Compass, and it got me to thinking about The Matrix.  There is no map anymore.  The job that used to exist doesn’t exist anymore.  The plan that was foolproof isn’t foolproof anymore.  The future that seemed so certain isn’t so certain anymore.  No longer can you pull a textbook off of the shelf and find out exactly what you need to do.  All you have is a compass.

What is a compass in everyday life?  Everyone has a compass, and everyone gets to choose what sets their compass.  Two things trump all other influences: the Word of God and your heart.

The Word of God is eternal, infallible, and God’s direct word to you.  Through study and prayer God leads us through every situation we face.  His Word can calm us when we are stressed, help us set our priorities straight, and give us insight as we make decisions.

Knowing your heart is critical.  For many years I did not realize that I could not really sense what my heart was telling me in day to day situations.  Put me on a stage in front of people and I could sense what to do very easily, but with my family and friends I was nervous about what people thought of me and what God thought of me.  After a lot of challenges the past few years I have come to know my heart more clearly.  I can tell (most times) when I am at peace about something and when I am not, when I am happy and when I am putting on a show.  If you are feeling anxious about a decision, you probably should hold off on making it.  If you are facing a lot of difficulty, ask yourself if you need to be working hard or if you are working hard because you are trying to make something happen.  If you are trying to make something happen, you should consider backing off.

Of course, each person is different.  That’s why it is so important to know your own heart and be tuned in to what God is saying through his Word.  Every other influence is secondary.  If you are married, you must first know your own heart and what you feel God is speaking to you.  Then, and only then, can you have a meaningful discussion with your spouse about what he or she is hearing from God and in her heart.  If you reverse that process you put your entire relationship and self identity in jeopardy because you are not fully relating to your spouse; you will end up reflecting what you think your spouse wants to see or hear.  9 times out of 10 you will get it wrong.  Trust me.

Doing the hard and scary work of really getting to know your own heart is worth it, and so is seeking a relationship with God.  True peace can only come on this path.

What sets your compass?  How do you listen to your heart and to what God is saying?

the artistic age and music education

Last fall, as part of an application to an online doctoral program, I wrote an essay in response to the following statement:

“Technological developments over the past 10 years or so hold the potential to revolutionize music education.”

The essay:

To paraphrase Seth Godin, “An artistic age is dawning as the industrial age founders.”  Music educators must pursue new answers to new challenges and new skills for new tools in order to equip today’s students for success.

I have two boys, and friends and relatives always tell me, “They will grow up before you know it.”  The same adage is true in regards to technology and how we live life: “Life will change before you know it.”  Life is changing and the challenges of today require not only different solutions than would have been suggested a generation ago, but also different ways of thinking.

Over the past ten years we have seen immense leaps forward in the power and availability of technology, and in how technology interacts with everyday life.  In 2000 the average computer had a speed of around 500 Mhz; now a new computer usually boasts speeds of at least 2 Ghz, a 300% increase.  In addition a whole new generation of tools has been introduced: iPods, iPhones, iPads, and iCloud, just to name a few.  Perhaps we should call this generation the “iGeneration.”  And not to miss the obvious, I am writing this essay in part to apply for a respected degree offered online, something which was not even possible 10 years ago.

The possibilities for education are massive simply due to the ability to connect over long distances via Skype, Facebook, and many other applications.  No longer does a piano or composition instructor need to find students in their own neighborhood or city.  Now a teacher can simultaneously teach students from around the world while sitting in his or her living room, a bedroom, an office, a park, or wherever they choose.  The Eastman School of Music recently built a state-of-the-art recital hall which has built-in video conferencing technology so that masterclasses can be held across continents, a development possible because of the advances of the past 10-15 years.

This new reality brings new responsibilities to bear on the educator of today and tomorrow.  Schools much build students who know how to use the tools of today.  Educators must also build students into artists rather than assembly line thinkers.  The industrial age brought the ability to mass produce large quantities of identical products.  This new artistic age brings the ability for individuals around the world to create large quantities of unique and high quality products.  No longer is quantity or even quality a measure of potential success; anyone with a few basic tools can produce large quantities of high quality products.  Or, to speak in music education terms, now many more educators can produce high quality students in great numbers because teachers now have access to the entire world.

The question, then, is this: “If quantity and quality are more readily available than ever before, how does a student distinguish himself from the masses?”  The answer comes in whether or not a student is willing to instigate creative and unique ideas and techniques.  A great example is the organist Camperon Carpenter.  His performances and techniques either outrage the establishment or delight the playful, but the most important point is that he has established himself as different, unique, creative.

Now is uniqueness for uniqueness’ sake desirable?  Of course not.  At one of my previous church positions an individual applied for the newly vacant senior pastor position with a cover letter decorated with playful stickers. Unique, definitely.  Effective, no.  His effort completely backfired, to say the least.  Creativity, however, that takes what is known or unknown and extends it to new places with maturity and vision, that will be successful.

Unfortunately, educational systems today are based on an industrial, assembly line approach to life and success.  This approach is dying or even gone.  More than ever schools and colleges have the responsibility to unleash young minds to think creatively.  Survival for a student in the artistic age must include excellence and the ability to produce, but success and distinctiveness for today’s student require an entirely new ability to dream and create what has not been and revise what once was into something new.  Schools, and not just students, must change, which means that the change must begin with teachers if it is to begin at all.

failing well

Just because you fail does not mean you are a failure.

Seth Godin preaches this mantra.  I do not know why I only began to grasp that idea after hearing it from him when the Scripture preaches the same thing.  In Christ we can begin again.  We can fail and try again.

I have lived most of my life up until recently consciously or subconsciously feeling like a failure because I failed at some point.  I’m changing that.

I have failed many times.  I am divorced, something I never dreamed would happen.  Does that make me a failure?  No.  I surely took the long route to learning some things, but God takes me right where I am and those failures have no power over me.

In college I entered the piano concerto competition twice at the University of Florida and once at the state MTNA level and lost all three times.  Does that make me a failure?  No.  I played some fabulous music and learned a lot about myself in the process.

Several times I have raised my voice at my two wonderful boys.  Does that make me a failure?  No.  I am human and I do not always manage my frustrations well.

The beauty of the Gospel is that I am allowed to learn by failing, not just by succeeding.  In fact, in some weird twist of reality, I find that I learn more from my mistakes than from my successes.

If you struggle with accepting yourself and your failures, read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.

From a business standpoint I recommend anything by Seth Godin.  He will help you understand the value of failure in the practical things of life.

How do deal with failure?

beginning each day

Seth Godin asked the question in his blog (my paraphrase), “Do you begin your day with input or creative output?”

This question caught my attention because I often begin the day, as I am certain many others do, by reading my Facebook page, email, and so forth.  Once I have had breakfast I then spend time reading or listening to Scripture and praying.  Only then do I begin creative output, or output of any kind.  I began to wonder if I have things out of order.

As a result, this morning I began differently.  When I got up I did not look at email, Facebook, or anything else.  Instead I got ready for the day and then sat down for some Scripture and prayer over some yogurt.  After checking my finances and getting everything up to date I am now writing and working on a project, all before taking input from technology.  I feel refreshed and able to meet the day.  Of course, a good night’s rest didn’t hurt.

I always try to keep Scripture and prayer early in the day because God sets the tone of my heart through Scripture and I need his wisdom and strength to succeed each day.  Email and Facebook, however, have the opposite effect.  Instead of filling me up they drain me and fracture my thoughts so that I cannot clearly define what it is I need to be working on.

Check with me in a week, but my goal is now to begin each day technology free.

How about you?  What is your daily beginning routine, and how do you “fill your cup” each morning?

get your blog on

In the past 6 months I have come across several blogs which I really enjoy, and I want to share them with you.  Here they are, with a few notes from their bios on their respective sites.

Michael Hyatt is the Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world and the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S.  He writes on leadership, productivity, publishing, social media, and, on occasion, stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into one of those categories.  He also occasionally writes about the resources he is discovering.  I find his writing to be very concise, practical, and encouraging.  He is the reason I have really delved into the use of Evernote, about which he has blogged extensively in the interest of increasing productivity.

Seth Godin thinks completely outside the box, and I love that.  I need that.  He has written thirteen books that have been translated into more than thirty languages, every one of which has become a bestseller.  He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and most of all, challenging everything.  Incidentally, his blog may be the most popular blog in the world written by a single individual.  I guess I am helping to preserve that title for him.

Recently, as a result of reading Michael Hyatt’s blog, I added Rachelle Gardner to my list of blogs.  She is an agent with WordServe Literary Group based in Denver, Colorado, and her passion is partnering with authors to bring worthwhile books to publication.  I have found the few posts and her interview with Michael Hyatt which I have seen to be very insightful and enjoyable.

Two weeks ago when I started this blog I was attending the Global Leadership Summit put on by Willow Creek Association, and one of the speakers was Michelle A. Rhee, Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst.org.  Michelle is an advocate for students, thus the name of her organization StudentsFirst.  As late as 2010 she was the Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, and was responsible for a controversial but successful overhaul of the education system there.  She is an engaging speaker, and everyone who cares about their children getting a good education should pay attention to what she and StudentsFirst are doing.

I also pay attention to The Drudge Report when it comes to news.

I am learning a lot from these writers and sources, and I suspect that you will, too.