Two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life, Prologue

What are the key truths you live by?  Have you ever thought about what principles guide your life?

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We all have them.

We all have core beliefs that shape how we live.  Some of us have intentionally chosen those beliefs, and some of us are riding on the coattails of others.  We are trying to be like (insert name here), so our values mirror our idol.  We often do not think twice about the values of the person we are following.

In the next several weeks I want to share what I believe are two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life.  These two truths are only a drop in the bucket, but they are two of the principles I value.

In presenting these truths I run the risk of someone thinking I “have it all together.”  Well, let’s put that one to rest.  I do not.

My life is fulfilling in many ways, but there are many areas of my life that need work, just like yours.

I invite you to comment and join in the journey with me.  Part 1 coming next week.

How to Be an Engaging Worship Leader

Perhaps the most persistent topic in worship discussions among church leadership is the engagement of the congregation. We try to measure it, observe it, record it, and dissect it so that we can have worship services that are participatory experiences rather than observation events.

We often overlook the most critical piece in engagement: the worship leader.

You cannot have an engaged congregation without an engaging worship leader.

I have struggled through this discussion many times. I have been scrutinized, encouraged, probed, and challenged on this issue more times than I can recount.

I distinctly remember one week years ago when I was reviewing the traditional service I was leading at the time. I was encouraged to change the way I seated the congregation after a hymn.

That’s right. I was instructed on the statement, “You may be seated.”

At the time I was trying to be as unintrusive about direction as possible in hopes of creating a more worshipful environment. I found, though, that people needed absolutely clear direction, and non-verbal signs were not always clear enough for them.

The suggestion for me was to say the phrase, “You may be seated,” more firmly and clearly. Apparently I had a way of saying it quietly and trailing off. Now I am much more firm in my directions.

This may seem like nit-picking, and, in a way, it felt that way at the time. Over time, however, I have come to value that piece of advice and have used it to guide my leadership. As a result, people respond better to my leadership, which creates better engagement.

The point is that you and I as worship leaders are the biggest factor in congregational engagement. We can discuss the culture of the church, the ages of the people attending and their backgrounds, the lighting, and the projection for hours, but if you and I, the worship leaders, are not engaging, all of the other discussions are pointless.

What does an engaging worship leader look like? Here are 10 characteristics of an engaging worship leader.

  1. Humility. People want to engage with a humble leader. Why? Because a worship leader who is all about himself leaves no room for the congregation to participate; the worship service becomes all about him rather than about worshiping God.
  2. Winsomeness. Sugar draws more flies than vinegar, the old saying goes. The same is true for worship leaders. Be warm and have a sense of humor. You don’t need to be a comedian, and you don’t have to smile all of the time, but you need have a spirit of optimism. People are drawn to positive leaders.
  3. Passion. A guaranteed way to kill a worship service is to lead like the deadpan teacher in the classic movie, Ferris Bueler’s Day Off: “Bueler? . . . Bueler? . . . Bueler?” If the life of Christ is not visibly in you then the congregation will be unresponsive.
  4. Confidence. An engaging worship leader gives direction, prays, and sings with confidence. The congregation needs to feel like they are being led confidently. Insecurity kills engagement.
  5. Transparency. Be open about your struggles. In one worship service I talked briefly about how difficult my divorce was and how it brought me closer to Christ. Later I found out that my comments were a key turning point for someone in the service. The Holy Spirit used those words to encourage this person to return to a deeper relationship with Christ. Your brokenness is your most engaging tool. You need to have balance and discretion in how you share your struggles, but you need to share them.
  6. Authentic Faith. You need to be close with Christ. There is no formula for this relationship, and this relationship is not legalistic. I could give you a checklist: read your Bible, pray, meditate, memorize Scripture, listen to sermons, read books, and on and on. All of those things are phenomenal resources and I recommend them, but they do not create a relationship with Christ. They are tools. Make Christ your focus and your desire. Spend time with him. Ask him to bring you closer to him. Then use the tools I mentioned and any others you discover.
  7. Relevance. Acknowledge the reality we live in through your leadership. The message of “Jesus saves” must be linked with “We are broken” for people to believe you. Leaders who are only sunshine all the time will seem false, but leaders who are depressed about reality will be a downer. A balanced view of brokenness and a Savior who can redeem brokenness will draw people to Christ.
  8. Authentic Emotion. An engaging worship leader has appropriate emotions. If the song you are leading is celebrative, a smile and bright face are essential. If the song you are leading is a lament, however, a hopeful but more somber face is needed. Appropriate emotional expression will make a worship leader feel real to a congregation. I am not saying to manipulate the people through “performing” emotions. People will read right through that. The emotions on your face need to come from your life experiences.
  9. Truth. Do not be afraid to speak truth when you lead. People want to hear the truth spoken in a gracious way, so, as the Holy Spirit guides you, share truth with them. Of course, you will only have truth to share if you have an authentic and growing relationship with Christ. Otherwise your statements of truth will come across as moralistic platitudes.
  10. Skill. Few things will hinder a worship service like a leader who does not know their music, their role, and their instrument well. You need to be so good that people can see Christ through your singing, playing, or speaking, even when you are playing or singing a solo.

Worship engagement begins with the worship leader, and I have failed as much as anyone else. Fortunately, you will notice that nowhere here did I mention a need to have a certain “worship leader” gene; all of these things can be cultivated if Christ is truly calling you to lead worship.

What can you do to be a more engaging worship leader?

3 Truths About New Beginnings

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

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

What truths have I learned about starting new things?

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

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

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

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

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

What have you learned this past week?

The Truth about God

God is not confusing.

Huh?

That’s right.

But aren’t all of those seemingly contradictory things about God (perfect love and justice, loves all people but convicts the guilty, present everywhere but individually involved, the Trinity, etc.) extremely complex and confusing?

God is definitely complex and hard to understand sometimes, but he is never confusing. God is very clear in Scriptures that Satan is the author of confusion.

So when you and I face a difficult situation and we feel extremely confused, we can be certain that God is not the one confusing us.

We are, or Satan is.

We are flawed human beings corrupted by evil, and consequently we have a hard time seeing clearly. Satan, on the other hand, has no interest in allowing us to see clearly.

So when you or I feel confused, here are some steps to clarity.

1. Press into God. if God is the source of clarity, it only makes sense to pursue him more. Entering into the confusion only leads to more confusion.

2. Get objective feedback. Solomon tells us that there is wisdom in seeking the counsel of many wise people. Don’t isolate. Seek out one or two trusted people to be your advisors.

3. Deal with it. Don’t ignore the situation. Wade in and wrestle it out. Peace waits on the other side.

Where are you struggling with confusion?