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.

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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).

3 Most Important Words in Ministry

It seems that every time I’ve caught up on my blogs the past couple weeks there’s been something new that the world needs to know about Mark Driscoll or that Christianity is falling apart at the seems. I am someone who has benefited greatly from Driscoll’s ministry in the past and am saddened that it’s gotten to the point that he needs to take an extended break from ministry-yet as I continue to read and learn and grow in my faith and ministry, I’ve discovered there’s a little phrase that is incredible important to use. I would even go so far to say they’re the 3 most important words in ministry, and in life:

I don’t know.

I’ve read before that when you preach, even if you only believe something 51% to be true, you should preach it like you believe it 100% and I think that’s a bunch of garbage. As evidenced recently with Driscoll (and Mahaney and Piper before him) those in pastoral ministry don’t seem to have a problem of thinking too little of themselves, and this is true of those in smaller churches as well. One of the most fascinating things I discovered early on in ministry is that you’re expected to be an expert on any topic people in the congregation want to talk to you about, from the latest technology and apps to social networking to politics to finances to theology. Of those listed, I REALLY enjoy 1 and enjoy 1 other. When you’re regularly asked about your advice on certain topics and have been given the room to be the authority it can be very easy to get a big head. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with people have been because I’ve been willing to admit that I don’t know.

In our culture we seem to make ourselves the experts on everything. We can read the 140 character summary of every news event and form our opinions based on the few words we see. I think more of us need to be willing that we don’t know everything and have an honest conversation where we can learn and grow from each other.

What don’t you know?

On Friends and Struggles

It’s fairly well understood now that the 20s are some of the hardest times for people. Many of us are in jobs we don’t love, watching the skills we’ve spent a couple decades developing seem to waste away. Or others are in their dreams job enjoying waking up and going to work every morning. Some of us are riding solo, whether impatiently or patiently, while others are blissfully enjoying married life, maybe even with kids. There’s also the seemingly transient nature of the 20s where people move across the country for a better job after you met them a month earlier. The past few years for me have been full of so many of these changes: from graduating college then moving back home where I didn’t have any friends, to moving in with guys I met at a small group, then leaving them 10 months later to take a position 1000 miles away in the church I currently work at to now looking at starting seminary this fall. The past four months have been some sweeping changes for me as God has revealed some incredible things to me on what it means to be a friend and what it means to struggle.

I’ve been doing an early morning study with my roommates going through the  book “The Dudes Guide to Manhood” by Darrin Patrick. This weeks chapter was on being a friend, and the following sentences struck me:

“Guys actually enjoy serving each other. We are willing to load moving trucks and work on major landscaping projects together. What we don’t like is being served.”
-105

I think this is true not only of guys, but of gals as well. I so often find myself wanting to take care of everything by myself, without asking anyone for help. I still sometimes feel as if I have something to prove. I hate admitting I have weaknesses and am in regular need of help from those around me. I don’t even like telling a girl I’m interested in that I have weaknesses and struggles and have glaring areas that I struggle with.

On Struggles

Last month (April) was an incredibly busy month for me with Easter planning. I also had decided it would be a good year to add a new Easter service on Thursday night, celebrating the Last Supper. This meant I had to plan a Maundy Thursday service, a Good Friday service and an Easter service, one of which the church hadn’t done before. I struggled praying and searching for different ideas on how to make each service unique but still meaningful, and then also got sick with 2 ear infections and a sinus infection. To top it all off, I was in the midst of applying for a scholarship that would pay for all my tuition for seminary, and I’d been told they had some big concerns with awarding me the scholarship. It felt like God was pulling the rug out from underneath my feet and my foundation was crumbling. I was stretched to the max and worried about how I was now going to pay for seminary. Then God threw another curveball.

Two hours after I got the call sharing the concerns with awarding me the scholarship for seminary, I got a call from said seminary telling me they had decided to award me the scholarship despite their hesitations. All this was 2 hours before the first of 3 services that weekend. Then God reminded me that He loves pouring His blessings out on His children as all three services were incredibly fruitful and a blessing to those who came.

On Friends

Throughout this difficult month, there were a number of people who took time to pray with me and pray for me. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Ultimately this verse finds it’s fulfillment in God’s Son, Jesus Christ who is now our adopted brother through his work on the cross. But I also believe that God sends people into our lives who are an earthly representation of Christ to us. I think of the friends I was blessed with in high school, and then in college, and then post college and now in the church I serve. I know I have weaknesses and struggles that they can help me with and use as an opportunity to pray with me, pray for me, serve me and ultimately point me back to Christ.

“Authentic friendship is not one-sided. It is an equal commitment from both parties. True friends give and receive.

“True friends know you and want to be known by you-celebrate you and are willing to be celebrated by you. They challenge you and seek to be challenged by you. And they serve you and are willing to be served by you.”
-Darrin Patrick The Dudes Guide to Manhood, 103

I fear there are many people in the church today – particularly men – who are unwilling to let someone get close enough to them to experience the incredible blessings that come from being a part of a fellowship of believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV) As has been pointed out many times before, this needs to happen within the confines of a local church. This is why it’s crucial to get plugged in to a local church. But while it is at the minimum church involvement, it can and should involve so much more than that. There should be a group of like-minded people with whom you regularly spend time, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens iron.” (Proverbs 27:17) There should be a group of people who know why you are the way you are and what makes you tick. And what if there isn’t a group like this at your church? Then create one. It’s incredibly easy to find people would be willing to get together over a cup of coffee or a meal and share what’s going on with them. Ask questions and seek to get to know them on a deeper level then what they enjoy eating.

Same Sex Attraction in the Church

I’ve dealt with the issue of same sex attraction a number of times on this blog, but because I it isn’t an issue I’ve struggled with, I can often have trouble relating to those who do experience those attractions. This article, titled ‘Same-Sex Attraction in the Church‘ is incredibly helpful in thinking through what it means personally for those struggling with this issue. The article is written by Sam Allberry who is a pastor in the UK. Yet he is committed to the biblical definition of genders and is not acting upon his temptations.

The more I’ve read about this the more I’ve felt like a kindred spirit for those who struggle with same sex attraction. One line in this article stuck out to me when Sam wrote, “We need to respect that singleness is not necessarily a sign that someone is postponing growing up.” Yes and amen! Being a single pastor is difficult, and it seems like everyone has someone they think you should get together with. Yet right now, because I don’t have a significant other, I’m able to devote much more time to my ministry and the spending time with those in the church. Do I want to be married? Absolutely! But for right now in the season I’m in, God’s doing some amazing things in me and through me and it’s a joy to be able to see Him working all things out for my good and his glory.

Dealing with the “Gray Matters”

I was first introduced to Brett McCracken during my time at Taylor University when he came to speak about his first book “Hipster Christianity.” My time in college was right in the middle of the emergence of the “cool Christianity” taking off where many my age were dealing with the issues raise by the Emergent Church and doing our best to reconcile these new issues with our generally conservative Evangelical upbringing. I quickly found myself spending time with those of the more reformed persuasion popularized by Collin Hansen’s “Young, Restless and Reformed.” Along with our questions of faith came the questions of the legalistic upbringing we experienced including, but not limited to: no drinking, no dancing, no smoking, no R rated movies (unless it’s about Jesus), no swearing and no cards. (Ok, the no cards rule was my grandma’s when my dad and I took them out to play some Rook). As my friends and I grew during college we were also expected to sign an agreement saying we would continue to uphold these things during our time in college (Taylor recently lifted their ban on dancing, but I was already gone). 4 years after I heard Brett speak, I finally got around to reading his newer book “Grey Matters.” In it, Brett wrestles with 4 areas that have been divisive among Christians for many years: food, movies, music and alcohol, the latter being the most divisive in recent years (see John McArthur’s letter to the Young, Restless and Reformed).

Throughout the book Brett doesn’t shy away from recognizing that these areas can be divisive for people and does a fantastic job of acknowledging problems on both sides of these issues. The most surprising one for me was the section on food. How many of spend any time thinking about what we’re eating and why? Or why some foods taste so good and others don’t (those that don’t seem to always be the healthy ones. What’s the deal with that!?). Yet through all 4 of these areas discussed, they offer opportunities for us to worship God as we’re commanded to do in 1 Corinthians 10:31.

One of the keys that emerged from the book for me was how community changes all these areas. I really enjoy cooking-thinking through the spices and different ingredients can be combined together to form something that doesn’t taste anything like the separate ingredients on their own. And even better: pairing said meal with a good wine or beer. Yet when I cook a big meal and sit down to eat by myself, it’s never as enjoyable. I generally try to invite someone or someone’s over to enjoy it with me. There’s something even better about eating within the context of a community. And this is true of the other areas discussed as well.

All of us have a favorite band that we could listen to on repeat all day (or bands). How many people have you told about your favorite bands by giving them a CD or having them listen with you? And the same thing is said about movies. They’re so much more enjoyable when you can discuss the movie with someone later. And finally, the four letter word in some Christian circles: alcohol. Being able to discuss the different flavors accented by a beer or wine is a very enjoyable community experience that allows us to learn from each other (as long as everyone is legally able to partake, if you’re in the US and under the age of 21, this shouldn’t take place).

So I’m grateful that I finally took the time to read this book, it’s very helpful in thinking through a number of the ramifications that come from dealing with these gray areas in life, and all of them can either help or hinder our worship of God. How do you think you can use gray areas as an opportunity to worship God within the context of community?

Are You Boring?

For much of my life I’ve tried very hard to be someone who is interesting and will stick out in a crowd. This is generally easy for me because of my outgoing and extroverted nature. In fact, most people I’ve met wouldn’t describe themselves as boring people. After I turned 25, I realized I’m not nearly as exciting as I try to make myself seem. In fact, I might even be considered boring. I get up around the same time every day, do the same things during the day, and then go to the same church every Sunday to meet with and encourage those around me. This week I read the book ‘Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life‘ after seeing it recommended on Tim Challies’ website a while ago, it had been on my list for a while.

Starting with Shane Claiborne, there has seemed to be a resurgence in living a “radical” or “sold-out” life to Christ. And generally this means that the way Americans live is bad and living on 10% of what we make should be the mark of a REAL Christian. Yet what about those who don’t make six-figure salaries, but are faithful in the jobs they’ve been giving? Those that lead their families faithfully, help serve in their church body and commune with God regularly? Is there room for a person like that in Christianity? I sure hope so, because that is essentially my life. In the introduction to the book, Michael says, “Chasing dreams isn’t the problem. Neither is maximizing what you have to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. The problem is in our definition of significance.” Throughout the rest of the book he does a wonderful job showing how the gospel affects our entire lives and purpose as we live out our boring lives to the praise and glory of God.

The first few chapters lay the groundwork for the specifics of following Christ in a boring life. First the story of Saul, who was called to be king when he was looking for donkeys. Is there anything more dull or boring than looking for donkeys? Yet God met him while he was looking for his families’ lost donkeys and used it as an opportunity to grab hold of Saul’s life and redirect his path. The problem is not many of us view or ordinary lives in view of God’s continual grace and guidance of our lives. We see ourselves as ordinary people, yet through Christ’s work in our lives we are anything but ordinary. Michael argues that the key to this is finding our contentment in Christ. He argues, “True contentment isn’t about settling for less. It’s about seeing the true value of what we already do have in Christ.”

This contentment and peace that comes from trusting that God is working in the ordinary means leads to a thankful and repentant heart trusting that God is using us for his glory. This includes regular times in God’s word, relationships with those around us, our spouse, our kids, our finances, our jobs, and our Sunday morning gatherings. All of these areas are things we see as ordinary parts of our lives, but because they have been infused by an extraordinary God, they are no longer ordinary. We are to continue to follow Christ in our daily monotonous lives. That is a truly extraordinary life. A life that is “radical” and “sold out” to Christ.

I would whole heartedly recommend this book to you. It removes the pressures of performance in our modern culture and allows you to rest in the grace and truth of what Christ has done for us. It views life through the lens of the gospel and demonstrates how to glorify God in the moments we consider boring and routine.

Love God and Love Others

This has become one of the biggest themes I’ve heard repeated throughout the church recently. We are called to love God and love others. This is very true and what Jesus commanded in Matthew 22:34:40. In fact, Jesus said that those two commandments sum up the entire Law and the Prophets, so the message of the Old Testament is the same as the New: love God and love others. I worry that we have forgotten to first part of that phrase, and the only true way that we are able to love others, by loving God first and foremost above everything else. Jesus even takes it further than summing up the Law and the Prophets by telling his disciples in John 13 that love should be the mark of every Christian, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This commandment is the very foundation of our faith and is revealed to us in the beginning of Scripture in the creation of the world. 

John 1, echoing the phrasing of Genesis 1 tells us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through him…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” God didn’t have a need to create us to receive for honor or worship, but chose to create us from an outpouring of his love and perfect fellowship that he has experienced among the Trinity for eternity. Tim Keller in his book Center Church writes that, “he created us to share in his love and service.” The holy and perfect God chose to share his love in his creation of us. Then in the overflow of that love, he allows us to enter into a relationship with him as sons and daughters. He was the one who initially modeled the “love God and love others” within the Trinity. The commandments that sum up our entire Scriptures have been forever displayed by God to bring about his glory. Then as we continue to love God we are able to even more abundantly love others. The overflow of God’s love in our lives should pour over into the lives of those around us – both believers in the church, and nonbelievers we are sharing the Gospel with in word and in deed. 

This whole idea leads me to my focus the past few months – my love of the church. The way we are expected to show our love to our brothers and sisters is through the church. We meet together to: “encourage one another” (Heb 10:25), partake in the Lord’s supper (1 Cor 11:17-34), “address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19) and “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). These things should be a part of all of our meetings and allow us to grow and “stir one another up to love and good works” (Heb 10:24). Love is best demonstrated within the local church and helps us better demonstrate Christ’s love to the world. How have you demonstrated Christ’s love this week? How can you better demonstrate Christ’s love?

Will the Real Church Members Please Stand Up?

I am tired of hearing so many complaints thrown against the church from those who no longer even attend church. There, I’ve said it and feel like a weight is finally off my chest. It’s really easy to stand against something you’re not involved in. We do this so regularly in our own lives. “Yes, I’m a Christian, but I’m not like THOSE Christians.” We build ourselves a nice little fence and are content to live inside it for the rest of our lives, leaving no room to be pushed, prodded or encouraged to think outside our fence. And unfortunately, that means we have a tendency to put God in our own little fence and refuse to allow Him to grow outside of it. As a much more published author than I has said, “Your God is too small.

As has already been said by many people, they love Jesus but not the church. Unfortunately, that’s like saying you love a friend but can’t stand their spouse (admit it, you have one of those friends too!). And when you’re not regularly involved in something it’s really easy to judge it based on a preconceived notion. This has happened to me recently with the movie Gravity. The previews didn’t interest me at all so I didn’t think I’d be interested in seeing it at all, yet when I finally got around to seeing it, I was blown away! There’s a similar phenomenon with those disenchanted with attending church regularly. You can’t judge a church body accurately by a one week visit. It takes time to dig in and get to know the people that make up the church. And guess what happens when you start getting to know them? Issues come up, just as they do in every family I’ve ever met.

With many of those my own age who I’ve talked to, I’ve seen the reoccurring theme of always wanting and expecting the best things right now. We want the best/dream job right out of college, we want the most ideal church body that will serve all my needs, we want the killer body, the perfect significant other, the nicest car and the list could go on. The biggest lesson that has repeatedly come up in my life is that I need to do a better job of waiting and being patient. I don’t have my 401k set up perfectly, I don’t drive the nicest car, and I don’t even have a significant other! But God has me in this season for a reason, and I’m learning and growing through it. And one of the biggest ways I’ve grown has been because of the local church I’m involved in. I regularly spend time with people who are completely different than me. They vote differently, eat differently, read differently, talk differently and dress differently. And that’s good. That’s the way God has intended it. We are all works in progress who are regularly needing the reminder to be more like Christ.

So in this day of un-involvement and complaining, my biggest question is: what are you doing to change it? If there isn’t a church nearby that you like and connect with, how could you make it better? Is there a ministry area you could become involved in and help grow? It’s so easy to complain and blame these issues on other people, it’s much harder, but much more vital, to get plugged in and involved in people’s lives. So let’s spend more time together pushing each other to become more like Christ.

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.”

-1 Corinthians 11:1