How Do You Discern a Call to Ministry?

There are a ton of Facebook groups that are related to various aspects of music ministry that have been really helpful for me. There’s lots of helpful links, discussions and discussion about helpful equipment and programs that have come out. One time, someone asked a question that sparked an interesting debate. The questioner asked: “I have recently been called into worship ministry. How long do I wait before I start asking people to call me a worship leader?” This lead to me thinking about my call to ministry, as well as the call to ministry of a number of my friends, and there are two aspects to a call to ministry that must be in place in order for the call to be true.

  • Being gifted in the are you think you’re being called.

Many times people think they have a gifting in an area, but the outworking of that leaves something to be desired. This seems to happen often in relation to music ministry. People think that because they’ve sung karaoke, or because they’re great aunt twice removed on their mother’s side once told them they have a good voice they are the world’s greatest singer. If you haven’t ever watched it, look on YouTube for some examples of the early episodes of the each season of American Idol. Sometimes people are very misled in their giftings!

Another piece of this is: are you working at and growing in the area of ministry to which you think you’re called? If you’re called to a particular ministry, then try to grow in it. Get involved in a church and find ways to serve and grow if you think you’re being led in that direction. Who knows, you may work your way into a job!

  • Being recognized by a local church and being commissioned by them.

This is even more important than the previous point. Unless a church calls and commissions you to serve them, you may be misled in your calling. I spent many hours in seminary classes with people who thought they were called to ministry, but didn’t exemplify many fruit of the Spirit, or a humble willingness to seek to learn. Al Mohler has said that unless a church would be willing to hire a person as a pastor they shouldn’t encourage them to attend seminary. This doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a job after seminary, but you should be trying to find ways to grow in your gifting even in seminary so that you can more faithfully discern how God has uniquely wired you to serve in his kingdom. This may also allow you to grow in some areas of weakness that will make you better suited for your first ministry call after school. The ultimate goal, however, is to be faithful wherever you are.

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What Defines a Hymn?

Throughout church history there have been debates on what is acceptable and permissible to be sung at a church. I’ve read books that argue that we should only sing songs from the book of Psalms. I’ve got churches just down the road from where I live that play top 40 hits as a part of their Sunday morning worship. I’ve also got people in the church I currently serve who talk to me like the only thing we should sing on Sunday morning are hymns (generally meaning older songs). So that leads to the question: how do we define what a hymn is? Augustine, writing in the 4thCentury stated that a hymn is comprised of 3 things: “song, and praise, and that of God.” So it must be sung, it must be praise, and it must be to God. Let’s take a look at these 3, and then 3 more that didn’t make Augustine’s list.

  1. Sung

This one should go without saying, in order to be a hymn, it must be sung. It’s hard to have a hymn without singing! This obviously isn’t including instrumental music, which can also serve a role in a service, but for Augustine, a hymn must be sung.

  1. Praise

According to a quick Google search, to praise is to “express warm approval or admiration of.” In the case of a hymn, we are demonstrating admiration of God, which ties us in to the next point. My question with this, is what do you do when you are not exactly in admiration of God? I’m currently reading through Job and have been reminded how difficult life can be. I also see Psalms where they aren’t praising God, such as the imprecatory Psalms. So maybe this point isn’t as helpful in defining a hymn.

  1. To God

Finally, Augustine says a hymn must be to God. This will come up in one of my 3 points, but what about Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:19 where we’re called to address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs? Or what about Psalms like 42 and 43, where the Psalmist speaks to his soul, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are in turmoil within me?” Apparently we can have songs that are addressed not just to God!

 

So 3 more things that I would add that Augustine didn’t include in his definition are:

  1. Scripture saturated.

A phrase that I like to use is “be steeped in God’s Word.” Just as tea is made by soaking leaves in water, so should our lives as Christians be steeped in God’s Word. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christdwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Songs are an amazing way to allow the Word of Christ to soak into our lives. This is why I create Spotify playlists, and give chord charts to anyone who asks, I want our songs to affect our lives.

  1. Addressing One Another AND God

Songs can be addressed to God, but part of the reason we sing is to “address one another.” (see above) But we’re also called to sing praises to God. This is a healthy tension that we walk when choosing the songs we sing, but we are called to do both.

  1. Don’t just sing hymns

Both Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 talk about singing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Psalm 98:1 says “Sing to the Lord a new song.” I am so tired of the “contemporary versus hymns” debate and wish people would instead focus on the content of what we’re singing. There are some incredible hymns that are being written today, just as there were some terrible hymns written hundreds of years ago! (and bad songs being written today just as there are good hymns from hundreds of years ago) But the Bible doesn’t tell us what kinds of songs to sing, nor what instruments we’re supposed to use, nor what melodies we’re supposed to sing. So let’s sing a wide variety of Scripture saturated songs that allow us to teach and admonish one another, and encouraging each other all the more as we see the day of the Lord’s return drawing even closer!

Re-Oriented to God

Why do we gather together every Sunday morning? Wouldn’t it be far nice to go play golf, sleep in, or go eat brunch with your family? I spent some time last week reading Resonant Witness, edited by Jeremy Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie, and was struck by the line, “In worship, we are re-oriented to God.” James K.A. Smith has done a great job with his cultural liturgy series on addressing how all humans are created as worshippers who are shaped and formed by our practices. The events we participate in, the rhythms that we practice in our lives, and even the way we approach our spending of money all shape our worldviews. This means it is vital for us to spend regular time worshipping together to re-orient ourselves to who God is, what he is like, and what he expects from us.

This also gets to the point and purpose of the gathered church. Many churches pick one side or the other saying it’s either for Christians, or it’s for the unchurched. Others will try to balance that out and say it’s both. But the real purpose for the gathered church is for God. With the focus and purpose being on God, we then have to articulate how we go about focusing on God, which gets to our liturgies. Another book I’m currently reading, Reformation Worship, states, “The mission of the church, Christ’s bride, is worship and witness.” Once again, it’s easy to focus on one or the other, it’s much more difficult to encourage a faithful pursuit of both areas. We are commanded to meet together (Hebrews 10:25), and to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19).

Our worship services, or liturgies, either help or hinder us from seeing God as he truly is (see ‘The Visible Gospel’ for one way for us to structure our services to better understand God). For many people, this is unfortunately the only time they set aside each week to “fix their eyes on Christ” (Hebrews 12:2), so it is vital for us to be faithful with our task as worship leaders to plan our liturgies in such a way that they help us marvel at God’s goodness and grace in our lives.

Resources for Church Music Teams

One thing I’ve been asked through my years in ministry is what are some good resources for those who are feeling called to oversee or help out in a worship ministry? So here’s a list of the best resources I’ve found, I’ve ordered them in the order of significance I’ve found them to be:

Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin. I’ll read and recommend pretty much everything he’s done! This book gives a great theological base while tying it to the practical elements of what a worship leader is called to do.
True Worshippers by Bob Kauflin. This is a follow up to Worship Matters, and is aimed at the congregation. Helpful for a worship pastor to think through what he should expect of the congregation.
The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks. Each chapter is a different area the worship pastor at least needs to be aware of and thinking through on a regular basis. If you’re interested, the list is: The worship pastor as…. Church lover, corporate mystic, doxological philosopher, disciple maker, prayer leader, theological dietician, war general, watchful prophet, missionary, artist chaplain, caregiver, mortician, emotional shepherd, liturgical architect, curator, tour guide, failure.
Christ Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. Similarly to Rhythms of Grace (see below), Chapell takes it to the New Testament to present and how the various elements of church services through history have all attempted to be demonstrations of the gospel message.
Doxology & Theology edited by Matt Boswell. A number of worship pastors across the country contributed to this one, but it addresses how doxology and theology are two sides of the same coin. If our theology (study and understanding of God and who He is) does not affect and allow our doxology (praise of God) to become deeper and richer then it’s useless.
Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper. Cosper walks through the Bible and how the story of the Bible should shape our worship services.
Worship By the Book edited by D.A. Carson. This is an older one, but gives 3 ideas about how to structure a worship service, from high church to low church.
Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith. Smith is a philosopher at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, this is one of a three part series where he directs the cultural liturgies of our day and shows how those affect us, and also how we should be intentional with our worship liturgies because we are shaped and formed by that which we most love.
The Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards. This one should be read by every worship pastor! It’s a classic that talks about the need for both emotions and intellect in our worship (loving God with our heart, mind, soul and strength)
Gather God’s People by Brian Croft and Jason Adkins. I just read this one, it adheres pretty closely to the regulative principle (in a church service, we can only do that which is specifically described in Scripture), and I don’t agree with their idea of singing “Psalms,” (as in Ephesians 5:19, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs), but they’ve got some great things to think about as far as what the Bible actually tells us about how we should corporately worship.
Reformation Worship by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey. I just started this one after getting a recommendation from Mark Dever at T4G. It’s already given me some great nuggets anythings to think through and about. They take a look at some various church liturgies from 1523-1586, with some comments and updated translations. So this includes liturgies from Calvin, Knox, Luther, Cranmer and many others. I realize it’s a hefty book, and very expensive, but from my just starting it, it looks like it will be a really helpful resource.
Online Resources:
-Bob Kauflin blogs at Worship Matters regularly.
Doxology and Theology. This started as the book, it’s the worship branch of The Gospel Coalition. They also do a conference regularly.
Worthily Magnify. This is by a worship pastor name Jamie Brown. He’s at an Anglican Church, and I don’t agree with everything he writes, but it’s some good stuff to think about.
Worship Matters Video Intensive. I waited YEARS for him to do this! I’m currently taking my leaders at church through this, it’s Bob walking through his book in a video format, with discussion questions.
I’m always looking for new books or resources for us to use that are helpful for us to think biblically and theologically about how we craft our worship services, but this list will keep you busy for quite a few months, and give you many good ideas about how to better plan and structure our corporate worship services.

The Visible Gospel

It seems that one of the trendy things for Christians today is to leave the church. For many, church is seen as the biggest problem with Christianity, a place full of hypocrites and those pursuing wealth. Yet individual Christianity is not an option. We are called to “not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some,” and are called to encourage each other on a daily basis. One of the primary reasons we are commanded to meet together is because we so often neglect or marginalize the gospel in our daily lives. I stumbled across a video today in which Jerry Bridges explains why you never outgrow the gospel. In the video, he states, “The gospel is for sinners, and if we do not acknowledge ourselves as sinners, then we tend not to put much value in the gospel.” Tim Keller has similarly said, “The gospel is not just the ABC of the Christian life but the A to Z of the Christian life.” So how do we remember the gospel on a regular basis? One way is through our church services, which are meant to be the gospel made visible.

In order to demonstrate the gospel, we first need to understand what the gospel is. 9Marks has a helpful definition that is broken down into 4 parts: God, man, Christ, response. God has created the world and everything in it, including man. Man sinned, separating himself from God and other men. The only way to be reconciled back to God is through Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin. That sacrifice leads to a call for everyone to respond by repenting of sin and trusting in God to be saved. These 4 parts should affect the way we plan and structure our worship services, with thought given to how each of these parts can become a regular part of our worship. So what does that look like? Here are some ways I’ve tried to work this in to each of our services.

1.God

Each service begins with a call to worship, where we are reminded who God is. That he is completely separate from us, completely holy, and is thus worthy of our worship. I also try to begin our services singing about who God is, so last week we began by singing “All the Earth,” and this week we sang “Blessed Be Your Name.” These songs remind us who God is, that he has created everything in the world and orchestrates everything according to his perfect plan.

2.Man

This element seems to run contrary to the previous one (how can there be an emphasis on man when our focus needs to be on God?) But we need to remember that we are all sinners and apart from God’s grace are destined for an eternity in hell, separated from God. We need to remember that we have no hope apart from God’s work, which will be demonstrated in the next point. So to demonstrate our sin, we will sing something like “Lamb of God,” or this past week we read question number 16 from the New City Catechism: “What is sin? Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.” This is also a great time to read a public confession of sin, or create a time of silence for people to confess their sins privately to God.

3. Christ

Then we see that we are not left without hope, because Christ has defeated sin and death and has thus reconciled us to himself through his death on the cross. Some of my personal favorite songs to use to remind us of this message are “O Praise the Name,” “At the Cross (Love Ran Red),” and “Man of Sorrows.” These songs do an incredible job of pointing to our need for a Savior and remind us to respond to God in awe and worship – with our whole lives.

4. Response

Finally, we are called to respond. This can be done through singing, Scripture reading, the sermon, or the benediction. I am not a big fan of alter calls, because they tend to be emotional manipulation, but there needs to be times for people to respond to the gospel message, which can be as easy as inviting people to talk with you after the service. A couple that we’ve ended with recently are “His Mercy Is More,” and “The Stand.” These call us to respond to who God is and what he has done in and through us – even in the past hour we’ve spent together, gathering around His Word! We also include a benediction, which is a Scripture reading encouraging us to allow the sermon to influence our lives. The Bible has many benedictions throughout it that can be helpful conclusions to our time together, such as Hebrews 12:1-2, Hebrews 13:20-21, Jude 24-25, and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24.

While these elements do not need to be a part of every service, and sometimes it’s more helpful to focus on just one part of the gospel to better allow it to permeate into our thinking, these should serve as the regular structure of our services to allow us to better steep in the goodness of God through the gospel message. It’s vital that we think through the elements of our services to allow our congregations to see the gospel throughout everything we do! As John Calvin said, “Without the gospel everything is useless and vain.”

The Need to Ask Questions

I have read a couple articles a while back about Rob Bell and the fallout from his book Love Wins that came out 5 years ago. Bell was most popular for asking really good questions about things many Christians assumed to be true, but either didn’t have the confidence or desire to question what they’d been told their whole lives. There seemed to be a resurgence in asking questions when I was growing up. Rob Bell was hitting his stride, Donald Miller was Blue Like Jazz, and youth group was where we’d go to have fun. I agree that it’s an incredibly important aspect of our faith to ask questions, God will NEVER be fully understood, but there are some things that are true, and will remain true, and we need to remember to proclaim.

In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This is a statement we can be sure about. It’s so easy in churches to get bogged down in the confusion of eschatology or blow small comments out of proportion instead of keeping our focus on Christ. One of the most impactful verses for me in my biblical interpretation over the past few years has been Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” The point and purpose of the Bible is to point us to Jesus. It’s a book for him and about him, and he should be the focus of all of our lives. This also needs to be the focus of our corporate times of worship. If Jesus is the focus, it shouldn’t matter what kind of music we sing, how long the services are, how long you stand or sit, or how many people you’re forced to interact with. The point and purpose needs to be Jesus.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t ask questions at all! Some of my biggest times of growth have come from asking questions, or someone asking me a question I didn’t know the answer to. But, as Augustine said, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” We can trust in the God that has chosen to continually reveal himself to us through his Word and his people. This is why it’s so important for us to gather as the body. The church doesn’t exist as a single component of the body (you can’t have church by yourself in the mountains), but when we gather, we are to remind each other of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will never completely understand everything, but we serve and worship the God who does.

Passively Engaging with God

One of the most difficult aspects for me during a worship service is to be actively engaged with what is happening. Someone moving down the row from me, or someone coming in late, or a child crying or a funny joke all distract me from the primary purpose I’m there: to commune with the family of God and to spend time in awe of who God is. It takes a concerted effort to be engaging with people and with everything that happens during the service. This is the difference between being an active participant and being a passive participant.

Being a passive participant means I expect everything to go my way, for the music to be my favorites that I enjoy, for the sermon to be perfectly applicable to me and relate to me. This leads to both an entertainment model of church and a me-centric model of church. Church is all about me and what I get and want from the weekly services.

Being an active participant means I look for opportunities to serve those around me. Instead of wanting the music to be my favorites, I look for the ways these songs can serve us as a whole. I actively listen to the sermon and think through ways I can encourage the pastor for being faithful to the Word, ways I can grow as a believer, and support those around me.

This is part of the reason I ask for people to stand when we sing. By standing people are forced to be more engaged in what they are doing. Not to mention, it’s much easier to sing with correct posture, like you have when you stand.

Instead of looking for ways that we can get something, I hope we as a church can look for ways that we can engage with the Word of God and allow that to change our lives and the ways we interact with each other.

Worship in Adversity

We began a new series this week at Grace on the life of Elijah titled ‘Adversity.’ As I confessed during the beginning of the corporate singing, it was pretty tough to find songs that we know that deal with this important issue. This week I found a blog by a pastor at New Life Downtown in Colorado Springs who asked the question: how many minor keys are we singing at church? Looking at the 104 top CCLI songs from the past 25 years, there were 7.

Paul in Romans 12:15 tells believers, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” In my experience, we tend to do a great job rejoicing with those who rejoice (at least outwardly, even if inwardly we’re jealous) while a poor job at mourning with those who are mourning. It seems that we want people to mourn for a short time and then move on to being happy. Instead of actually mourning we offer poor platitudes, while not actually relating to any seen or felt needs.

This is also true of some songs that deal with our response to difficult situations. In trying to find songs that related to this theme, one of the first that came to mind was Matt Redman’s ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’ He wrote that right after 9/11 when he realized that many of the songs the church sings don’t have any aspect to dealing with difficulties. Yet that song is still in a major key and resolves in a hopeful statement.

I introduced a new song to the church this week, ‘Give Me Faith’ by Elevation Worship that hopefully helps put words to how we as believers can deal with difficult situations that arise: through faith. Hebrews 11 talks about the faith that many people have demonstrated throughout history. My hope and prayer as we go through this sermon series is that we can  pray for the faith to trust God even when our lives feel like a mess.

Singing Through Generational Trends

One of the most difficult things of leading congregational worship through singing is the wide range of opinions people bring to church. Some listen to only top-40 radio, some blast KLOVE all day, others don’t listen to any music, and others only listen to classical. How do we bring all of those together on a Sunday morning? This is an area I have struggled to work through since I began serving in the church.

First, remember that no one will enjoy the same thing. The point and purpose of our corporate gatherings are not to appeal to the masses, but to encourage better pursuit of God. Every week it seems that there are some people that like every song I do, and other people that hate every song I do. And there’s weeks where I feel the same! Ultimately this isn’t about us, but about God.

Second, listen to various genres of music. All genres have some music merit that people can learn from. This is a great reminder that it isn’t just about an individuals preferences. God was a creative God who made things as seemingly mundane as ants all the way up to the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. If God finds pleasure in everything he made, I think we can find pleasure in various forms of music.

Third, learn to speak the language of difference generations. Many of the complaints lobbed at me about newer songs it that they “lack the depth of the old hymns.” I think this may have been true 10-15 years ago when “worship music” was just gaining traction, but I don’t think this same complaint hold weight today when there are such rich and deep songs that have been written over the past 5 years. At the same time, there is a rich history that is connected to the hymns of centuries ago, and refusing to do any hymns loses our sense of connectedness to our history. In my interactions with many people who prefer hymns, I ask them to think through the words we sing in the newer songs. Are any of them biblically erroneous or leading people to not think rightly of God? Or is it merely a preference for a specific style of music?

Fourth, have a long-term view and plan in mind. Looking at the day-to-day doesn’t give a good perspective of how people are growing. Instead of being discouraged, think of specific ways you can help the congregation to grow over the next month. We have eternity to look forward to getting this down right, so don’t be discouraged by what seems to be a lack of growth on earth.

Finally, love and pray for your congregation. You have been tasked with the great honor to point people to Christ through your singing. Do your best to be honoring and loving toward those who may malign you. And remember that the reason we gather together is for God, not for us.

 

Transitioning Out

Over the past month, I have been in the process of transitioning out of the current church I serve and preparing to move and begin a new season of ministry in Longmont, Colorado focusing exclusively on worship through music. This process began last fall when I was talking to the youth pastor at this new church who has been a friend for a few years, and told my that my name had been brought up when the church decided it was time to hire a worship pastor. I officially applied for the position this past February, candidated last month and got called to the position a week later. Thus I have been wrestling through how to transition out of one church and into another without (hopefully!) dropping the ball at either place. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the past few weeks.

It’s going to be hard.

I should have known this from the beginning, but I didn’t expect it to be as emotional as it was. I’ve enjoyed serving here for almost 4 years and have grown close to many people in the church. It’s been a joy to serve and I’ve had many opportunities to serve in so many different areas than I expected and have grown in my ability to lead people through music, pouring everything I could into the ministry here. Thinking that I won’t get to serve with them anymore isn’t easy to think through!

-Make Instruction Books

I quickly realized that my weekly to do list is bigger than I realized! Not as far as time, but as far as the steps it takes to get the music “stuff” ready each week! I need to pick songs that correlate to the sermon, think through any special events that week (missions moments, special announcements), Scripture readings, getting all the computers ready with the loops, lyrics and other slides, and then making sure planning center is right and everyone has the music in the right keys! During my time here I didn’t think through any of these processes but just do them! I took screen shots of each step of the process and included instructions about how to use all the main programs (for us here it’s Proclaim, Planning Center and Mainstage).

-Think Through All Your Subscriptions

Most music related things today seem to be subscription based, like Planning Center. Everything we’ve done here is currently tied to my account and church credit card which will soon be deactivated! I think I’ve transitioned them all to a different person and card, but I’m really hoping I didn’t miss anything!

-Ministry Is Relationships

Make sure you spend time with the people you’ve invested in. If this means setting up a meal for the ministries you’ve been most involved in, get it done. I was able to have a reception in between services this past Sunday to connect with a number of people, but it was very quick and I only was able to talk to people briefly. I did a music team meal, and a youth leader meal as both a way to say thank you for our time together, but also to just hang out with those people I’ve gotten close to over my years here.

-The Ministry Is Not Yours

This time has been a good reminder to me that this church isn’t all about me. Sure, I’ve left my mark on the areas I’m involved in and (again, hopefully!) positively in people’s lives, but the ministry will go on without me. This is hard to admit and even now hard to see how sometimes, but I know that God is in control. I hope we all have a mindset similar to John the Baptist who viewed his ministry as one of preparation (Mark 1:7-8).