April 10 Devotional

Today is generally referred to as Good Friday in the church calendar, and the reason it’s good is because our sins were paid for! We no long need to bear the penalty for them. I’ll be working on editing a Good Friday video that Pastor Jeff and I recorded yesterday, so that will be going live on our website at 6 PM tonight, you’ll be able to watch it on the front page of our WEBSITE.
 
Today we’re going to be reading from Romans 5:6-11:
 
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
 
This is a beautiful picture of what Christ has accomplished for us in His death on the cross. Paul begins by calling all of us weak. So weak that in other places of the Bible we’re referred to as dead! (See Ezekiel 37 for the most graphic depiction of this) Yet even when we were at our weakest point, God considered that the be the right time. Have you ever had a conversation with someone where they said the right thing but at completely the wrong time? Or maybe you’ve been in that situation: you ask someone how they are, they say they’re good and how are you, and you reply I’m good how are you again? You’re saying the socially acceptable thing, but you said it at the wrong time! What this text is telling us is God sent Jesus to die for us in the right way at exactly the right time! And not only were we weak and helpless, God did this while we were still at enmity with Him. Opposed to everything He stands for. Disobeying Him in thought, word, and in deed. So because of our disobedience and sin, Jesus had to die for us. Can you imagine the weight that Jesus felt as He was carrying His cross? Yes, the physical weight of the cross itself, but the spiritual and emotional weight of dying for those who were in the process of killing them. And then in the midst of his suffering and grief, He shouts to His Father: “Forgive them! For they know not what they do!” Even in His death He was looking for the interests of others.
 
But that’s not all! Paul goes on to remind us that not only did Jesus die in our place, but now because of that we have an even better reason to hope and rejoice: we have now been saved from God’s wrath. Instead of His wrath being poured out on us, He poured it out on His Son on the cross. And what that means is God has reconciled His enemies to himself. He has brought everyone He’s saved into eternal life with Him! So because of that, as Paul says, we now can rejoice! We can celebrate! We can dance! John Stott, a pastor and theologian who lived last century said, “We should be the most positive people in the world. We cannot mooch round the place with a dropping, hang-dog expression. We cannot drag our way through life, moaning and groaning. We cannot always be looking on the dark side of everything, as negative prophets of doom. No, “we exult in God.” Then every part of our life becomes suffused with glory. Christian worship becomes a joyful celebration of God and Christian living a joyful service of God. So come, let us exult in God together!
SONG:
Today’s song is titled ‘Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love’ by the Gettys. You can listen to it on YOUTUBEor SPOTIFY. And don’t forget! I’ve still been updating the playlist including all the songs I’ve sent out! You can listen to it HERE.

March 29 Devotional

Don’t forget to log on to YOUTUBE this morning at 10 AM to watch our livestream!
Today we’ll be reading from Acts 2:42-47:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament that describes what the early church looked like. And in this case it’s the EARLY EARLY church! The Holy Spirit had just come down like fire and rested upon the apostles, Peter preached his first sermon, and the response was 3,000 new believers in response to just 1 message! The church quickly went from 120 people in the upper room, many of whom had spent years with Jesus, to 3,120 who were now committing to following Christ!
Part of the reason I like this so much is it boils down the essentials of what a church service looks like to 4 piece. We begin with teaching. The verbal structure of this signifies that they continually devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. That is they were hungry to hear from God. They needed the growth that comes from spending time in God’s Word, and before they had a full Bible like we do, they had the apostles, who had lived life with Jesus, being trained by him.
Next is the fellowship. Fellowship is often misunderstood today, as it’s not a wing of a church building! As the passage goes on to signify, fellowship involves sacrificial giving, either of your time or your possessions. Fellowship must go much deeper than simply spending time together, as it means knowing what is going on in each other’s lives. The good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. This one if somewhat hard for us right now, as it’s nearly impossible to spend time together in fellowship, so remember this feeling right now, and don’t forget to be intentional about fellowship when we can finally meet again!
Thirdly is the breaking of bread and prayers. Because they talk about the food they were eating later, I think this is referring to the regular practice of the Lord’s Supper (which is why I prefer to celebrate the Lord’s Supper weekly, but that’s a different discussion!). Both of these things signify crucial matters to the gathering of God’s people: prayer and communion. If everything we do is not girded in prayer, then we’re wasting time! And if we’re not obeying our Lord who commanded us to remember his death, burial, and resurrection, then we’re sinning.
The last part is the last verse, the outward reach and evangelism that was taking place because of their love for each other. The previous verse says they have favor with all the people (we know it’s not everyone, because just a few chapters later Stephen is killed). But in response to their faithful living and witness, people were continually putting their hope and faith in Christ. This is a great reminder for us to live different lives in the world around us. Lives that are marked by love, compassion, and generosity and lives that look for ways to share the good news of what Jesus has done with others. 
 
SONG:
Today’s song is titled ‘My Worth Is Not in What I Own’ and has a line in the 5th verse that strikes me to the heart every time I hear it: “Two wonders here that I confess, my worth and my unworthiness.” What a beautiful way to describe the current tension we feel in our lives! You can listen to it on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY.

March 26 Devotional

Today we’ll be taking a look at one of Jesus’ interactions with his disciples in John 6:60-69:
 
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
 
This section follows right after a lengthy exposition where Jesus has been telling his followers he was the bread of life. Large crowds had been continuing to follow him around because they’d heard how he fed the 5,000 and wanted their needs supplied as well. Earlier, the Jews had been grumbling because he said he is the bread of life, and none of them were cannibals! So then we zoom in Jesus’ closest disciples, those with whom he’d be living, walking, and eating. They’d heard his teachings and mostly believed in him. Until now.
 
The disciples first response is one of incredulity. Jesus words have cut them to the heart and they’re struggling to believe. Augustine of Hippo once said of Christianity, “I believe in order to understand.” There are some things in the Christian faith that we don’t and won’t ever understand, so in the midst of that we believe that God is still good and working everything out for our good (Rom. 8).
 
One thing I want to focus on today is Jesus’ response. There’s a temptation for anyone when they’re reading the Bible to leave these people as two dimensional characters instead of remembering they were real flesh and blood people who really lived, experienced the same things we experience, yet in this case Jesus is God! So because of that temptation I think we can miss that Jesus experience emotions. How do you think Jesus felt in the midst of this story? Right in the middle it says “MANY of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” Those that he had given so much time and energy to just abandoned him, so (I think) in an act of desperation, he looked at the twelve and asked them the same thing.
 
Peter, who gets it wrong as often as he gets it right, hits a grand slam with his response! Jesus alone has the words of eternal life (we sing that together at church in the song ’Show Us Christ’). What are you doing to feast on his words? The only place we can find these eternal words is in God’s Word! I’d encourage you to spend some time while you’re at home digging in to it! Spend time praying through the Psalms, or using one of the resources I’ve sent out to learn more about God and connect with him in some new ways!
 
Today’s song is an exposition of the pain many of us as humans experience, yet in the midst of that God is good and true. It’s by one of my favorite artists, Andrew Peterson, and it’s called ‘Always Good’ you can listen on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY.
 
FREE STUFF:
Ligonier Ministries, the organization founded by the late R.C. Sproul is giving away all their teaching resources through June 30. I’d strongly recommend pretty much everything Sproul does (with the exception of his view on baptism!). But you can see the resources available HERE.

March 25 Devotional

Today we’ll be reading from James 4:13-17:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

This passage always brings me comfort in the midst of the uncertainty swirling around me because it reminds me how small I am and how big God is. James begins by reminding us just how uncertain all our plans are. As we looked at on Monday, one aspect of The Lord’s Prayer is praying that God’s will be done on earth, just the same as it is in heaven. Not our will, but God’s will. I fear so often we’re so focused on our will that we completely forget to think of God’s will in our lives.

One of the ways the Puritans (the early Christians in the USA) tried to ensure everything they did was submitted to the Lord’s will was by writing the Latin phrase Deo Volente (meaning “God willing”) on many of their letters, and many early Methodists also picked this idea up and would write “D.V.” on their letters. I’m not trying to say we need to begin signing our letters the same way, but I do want us to begin thinking about tour lives that way! 

James goes on to remind us how fleeting our lives are. In the scope of eternity, the 78.69 year life expectancy average we have in the United States is just a blink. And what we do with our time on earth will determine where we spend that eternity, so don’t waste your time here! Because our lives are so short and we don’t know how long we have, we are to rely completely on the Lord, and submit everything we do to him. Then we can be confident that He is working in us that which is pleasing according to His will. This leads us to the last phrase, we cannot be believers only by listening and growing smarter. We must be hearers and doers of the Word, people who are putting what we learn into practice, and now is a great time to do that! I saw an article on the Times Call this morning featuring someone from church who has put together a supply kiosk at his house! That is a great example of not just believing in God, but putting that belief into practice. 

Today’s song was sent to me by a friend, and is called ‘All Things Together.’ You can listen to it on YOUTUBEor SPOTIFY. And don’t forget, if you want to listen to all the songs I’ve sent out, I have a playlist that gets updated everyday with the new song, you can listen HERE.

 

FREE STUFF:

The Gospel Coalition has a list of 30 things to watch to help you pass the time! Most of them are free, but a couple you have to rent. Almost everything is on either Amazon Prime or Netflix. Some of my favorites were: A Quiet Place (don’t watch if you don’t like intense movies!), Christopher Robin, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, Hook (yes, this is the classic Robin Williams film!), Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings trilogy (if you haven’t ever seen them PLEASE do your duty to your fellow human and watch this!), Mary Poppins Returns, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse, The Riot and the Dance (if you like Planet Earth but would prefer it from a Christian perspective, watch this!). 

March 24 Devotional

Today we’ll look at another Psalm, Psalm 42:
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.
The primary question that should jump out to you as you read this Psalm is: what are you longing for? As the days are continuing on, and as the shelter in place orders continue to spread, I find myself increasingly drawn to want to be out there doing something. There’s something weird in the American psyche that has a knee jerk reaction to disobey whatever we’re told to do 🙂 And I confess that I find myself drawn to the same thing! 
 
Notice as well, what is it that the writer is missing? Meeting together as God’s people to focus exclusively on Him! I find myself missing the same things right now! I miss being able to get coffee together, to sit down and chat as we practice music together, to meet for lunch, all the things that make up being a part of the body of Christ. There should be a sense of longing in the midst of this season where we can’t meet. Yes, Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts can do in a pinch, but they’re a poor substitute for actually meeting together. 
 
Lastly, notice how the write speaks to himself, or as I’ve heard others say, he preaches to himself. He says “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” I would imagine that (like me!) many of you are feeling that way right now too. My retirement portfolio is not looking too hot, I can’t go in to work, my kids are going stir crazy already, and we’re probably going to be confined to our houses by the end of the week, if things continue to progress as they have been. Yet in the midst of the questioning, we can also urge ourselves on, as the writer goes on to say “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Even in the midst of what’s going on around us, we are commanded to hope. Hope is the byproduct of the Christian life, where we can put our full confidence in God, because He has proven Himself faithful over and over and over again. So today, put your hope in God, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7).
The song to listen to today is called ‘Lord from Sorrows Deep I Call (Psalm 42)’ by the Gettys which you can listen to on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY.
BONUS SONG: Sandra McCracken also has an arraignment based on this Psalm called ‘My Help, My God’ which is fun to listen to and compare the two versions and what they emphasize. You can listen to this one on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY as well!
Don’t forget, if you want to listen to the ongoing playlist in it’s entirety, you can listen to it on SPOTIFY.
 
FREE STUFF:
If you’ve got kids, Adventure in Odyssey is offering a FREE 4 week trial to listen to every episode they’ve ever created. When I was growing up I measure road trips by how many episodes we could get through, so they are VERY good! You can sign up HERE.

March 22 Devotional

Today, we’re going to take a look at Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And 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.
I wanted to dive in to this one today as it’s the first Sunday for at least a couple Sundays where we AREN’T meeting together! So are we being disobedient to the Bible? But let’s start at the very beginning of these verses. The first exhortation here is to hold fast to the confession of our hope. This hope is seen back in Hebrews 6:19-20 “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inter place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” This hope is Jesus, and our confession is in Him. Think of the role that an anchor plays in a boat. I’m not much of a sailor myself, but I know how anchors work! They keep the boat anchored in the midst of the storms and trials going on around them, just as Christ does for us! And the reason He can be our hope is because He is faithful. So even in the midst of the coronavirus spreading around us, God is faithful because He cannot change. I was messaging a friend last night about his area going on lock down for the next 30 days on Tuesday, meaning he’s not allowed out of his house! But in the midst of that he’s still hopeful!
And that hope is contagious, as the author goes on to say “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” When we’re hopeful we can remind each other to remain hopeful! And that is made manifest in our love and good works toward each other, which is most evident in our gathering. So what do we do with that verse of not neglecting to meet together? One thing this reminds us is that what we’re experiencing now is not normal. The church has met regularly for millennia, and not meeting is not the norm! But what we need to remember is that we’re not willingly choosing to forego the corporate gathering. There should be a sense of mourning today that we can’t meet together, and create a longing in us for the day when we can finally meet in person again!
And beyond all of this, because of the access we have to technology, we can continue encouraging one another. I’d encourage you today to reach out to the people you normally see at church and see how they’re doing. Find someone you can pray with and for, and continue encouraging them to continue clinging to Christ as the anchor of their soul in the midst of the storm swirling around us.
Today’s song is called ‘We Will Feast in the House of Zion’ which talks about the day we can all look forward to where we will see Jesus face to face and never be separated by sickness or death again! You can listen to it on YOUTUBE or SPOTIFY.
One other note today, many organizations are giving content away to keep you busy during this time, so I’ll occasionally recommend some as I come across them. One that I use often is all the study material that Crossway gives away at esv.org. The English Standard Version is the translation we preach from and use at Grace and is my favorite for studying, and they’re letting anyone anywhere access all their study materials (commentaries, notes, etc) for free here: https://www.crossway.org/articles/free-digital-resources-during-coronavirus-9-study-bibles-original-language-resources-and-more/ I’d strongly recommend using them for the next couple months to dig in to God’s Word!

The Trellis and the Vine Quotes

I just reread The Trellis and the Vine after first reading it in college right after it came out. I was once again reminded why I enjoyed it so much the first time! There’s a lot of great things to take away from it, so here are the quotes that stuck out to me this time. My biggest takeaway: Start small, meet with 2 people and pray for the Lord to multiply the efforts.
“The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in the gospel.” (8)
“Trellis work…tends to take over from vine work. Perhaps it’s because trellis work is easier and less personally threatening. Vine work is personal and requires much prayer…trellis work also looks more impressive than vine work. It’s more visible and structural.” (9)
“To be a disciple is to be called to make new disciples….our goal is not to make church members or members of our institution, but genuine disciples of Jesus.” (14)
“We will be arguing that structures don’t grow ministry any more than trellises grow vines, and that most churches need to make a conscious shift-away from erecting and maintaining structures, and towards growing people who are disciple-making disciples of Christ.” (17)
“If we want our strategy to be people-focused, we should concentrate on training, which increases the number and effectiveness of gospel communicators.” (19)
“Instead of using our volunteers, we should consider how we can encourage them and help them grow in the knowledge and love of Christ, because service flows from Christian growth and not growth from service.” (20)
“If we just focus on gap filling, we’ll never move out of maintenance mode.” (20)
“If ministry in our churches is based on reacting to the problems people raise, many will receive no attention because they are more reserved in sharing their problems…If you take a problem approach to ministry, people with the most critical needs will dominate your programs, and these needs will wear you out and exhaust you, and reduce the effectiveness of your other ministries.” (22)
“Elders and congregational leaders should be active vine-growers themselves before we consider giving them responsibility for oversight.” (24)
“We must be exporters of trained people instead of hoarders of trained people.” (25)
“Heb. 3:12-13. This can only mean that God wants all Christians to be speaking to each other regularly, urging and encouraging each other to stick with Christ.” (46)
“Everyone should be pursuing the same goal, which is to edify the congregation in love.” (48)
“What we are really talking about is a Bible-reading movement.” (57)
“This is why unity is so important in the congregation, and why complaining, grumbling and discord is so totally out of place.” (65)
“Gospel partnership is the normal Christian life.” (66)
“Leaders, pastors and elders are responsible to teach, to warn, to rebuke, and to encourage. They are foreman and organizers, guardians and mobilizers, teachers and models. They provide the conditions under which the rest of the gospel partners can also get on with vine work-with prayerfully speaking God’s truth to others.” (67)
“In the New Testament, training is much more about Christian thinking and living than about particular skills or competencies. We see this in the pastor epistles, in the words that are translated as ‘training’ in our Bibles.” (70)
“The heart of training is not to impart a skill, but to impart sound doctrine.” (71)
“Training is inescapably relational.” (75)
“If a trainer is committed to a relational approach, training programs enhance rather than detract from the personal training.” (77)
“We want to see people grow in: Conviction – their knowledge of God and understanding of the Bible Character – the godly character and life that accords with sound doctrine Competancy – the ability to prayerfully speak God’s word to others in a variety of ways.” (78)
“The gospel by its very nature produces growth.” (82)
“We must be willing to lose people from our own congregation if that is better for the growth of the gospel” (83)
4 steps to growth: “At the outreachstage, people come into contact with the word of truth for the first time…Once people respond to the gospel message and put their faith in Christ, some sort of initial follow-up is needed to establish them in the faith and teach them the basics…Then follows the lifelong process of growth as a Christian disciple-growing in the knowledge of God and the godly character that flows from that knowledge…The fourth stage training is not a sequential one…to grow like Christ is to grow in love and a desire to serve and minister to others.” (84-5)
“There are three approaches or emphases that we wish to examine which we will call: the pastor as service-providing clergyman, the pastor as CEO, the pastor as trainer.” (94)
Clergyman: “Perhaps the most striking disadvantage of this way of hiking about ministry is that it feeds upon and encourages the culture of ‘consumerism’ that is already rife in our culture…in this sort of church culture, it becomes very easy for the congregation to think of church almost entirely in terms of ‘what I get out of it,’ and thus to slip easily into criticism and complaint when things aren’t to their liking.” (95)
CEO “One of the key strengths and advantages of the church growth approach has been its promotion of congregational involvement.” (97)
“Unless Christians are taught and trained to meet with each other, and to urge and spur one another on to love and good works, the small-group structure will not be effective for spiritual growth.” (100)
“One of the first steps in applying these challenges is to conduct an honest assessment of all your congregational programs, activities and structures, and assess them against the criteria of gospel growth. How many of them are still useful vehicles for outreach, follow-up, growth or training? Is there duplication? Are some structures or regular activities long past their use-by date?” (108)
“If we pour all our time into caring for those who need help, the stable Christians will stagnate and never be trained to minister to others…ministry becomes all about problems and counseling, and not about the gospel and growing in godliness.” (111)
“Churches don’t make disciples; disciples make disciples.” (117)
“A co-worker must be completely dependable in rightly handling the word of truth.” (119)
“We wait to long to recruit someone, and they make family or career decisions that close off ministry options.” (149)
“What are you more interested in: the growth of your particular congregation, or the growth of the kingdom of God?” (149)
“Christian ministry is really not very complicated.” (151)
“The word ‘disciple’ means, above all else, ‘learner’ or ‘pupil’…the essence of ‘vine work’ is the prayerful, Spirit-backed speaking of the message of the Bible by one person to another (or to more than one).” (153)
“This training is not simply the imparting of certain skills or techniques. It involves nurturing and teaching people in their understanding and knowledge (their convictions), in their godliness and way of life (their character), and in their abilities and practical experience of ministering to others (their competence).” (155)
“What stands in the way of Christ’s disciple-making vision in Christian congregations? In most cases, it’s not a lack of people to train, or non-Christians to reach out to , but stifling patterns and traditions of church life.” (156)
“Building some form of regular training and ‘ministry talk’ into the agenda of church council meetings is very useful.” (161)
The principle is: do a deep work in the lives of a few.” (161)
“The most important factor is how much we love the message of God, and how much we love the people all around us who need to hear it.” (170)
“Take someone with you.” (170)
“Is there a core group of people who understand the priorities of the church and can effectively train others in those priorities?” (173)
“If people in your congregation do not want to serve, then how effectively are they being taught and discipled? Do your people know that laying down their lives for others is an integral part of being Christian?” (175)
“The people in these communities no longer see themselves as consumers of spectators, but as servants wanting to see others grow.” (178)
“If small groups are not led and run well, they can easily become ineffective or even dangerous structures where people gather to share their ignorance, and where there is no genuine pastoral oversight. Without training, delegation of pastoral ministry and responsibility to a small-group structure is an abdication of pastoral stewardship.” (179)
“Some administrative of organizational chaos can be managed, but the chaos of sin or false teaching does real damage.” (183)

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.

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).