Always Have a Plan, Never Trust It

The path of wisdom is filled with tension. Wisdom often appears to be in contradiction with herself. A clear example of this is seen in Proverbs 26:4-5. It reads,

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”

Wha??

Many of Jesus’ teachings are filled with this tension as well. One moment He tells His disciples, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works” (Matthew 5:16) and the next, “beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (6:1). Or, “Honor your father and mother” (19:19) and “hate your father and mother” (Luke 14:26).

We shouldn’t be surprised to find this tension when it comes to what Scriptures say about planning. Proverbs 21:5 appears to praise diligent planning whereas James 4:13-17 appears to cast it in a negative light.

So, which is it? Do we plan or do we trust God? The answer is Yes.

We can see this tension played out in the Apostle Paul’s life. He was a man with a mission. He had made it his ambition to preach the Gospel in places it hadn’t yet reached (Romans 15:20). He had been set apart by the Holy Spirit and his community for this very thing (Acts 13:1-3).

He didn’t just sit around waiting for it to happen. He used the best of the knowledge and wisdom he had at the time to make a plan.

We read in Acts 16:7 that this plan included bringing the gospel to the province of Bithynia. However, something interesting happened: Jesus stood in the way of the plan and didn’t “allow them” to enter. So, they went down to Troas where one night, Paul received the “new plan” from Jesus in a dream.

What I learn from this is that Paul was a planner, and it was a good thing that he was. Often his plans resulted in the power of the gospel being unleashed in new areas. However, though he had a plan, he didn’t seem to trust it. He was open and able to discern whenever the Lord was saying, “change of plans, Paul!”

My goal as a worship leader is to always have a plan, but never trust it. I’m fairly clear of what God has called me to do but in many ways, it’s up to me to figure out how I’m going to do it. However, as I make and execute my plan I need to keep my eyes on Jesus and not the plan. My heart needs to be in a posture that allows me to readily respond to any changes to the plan that He initiates.

One of the areas this plays itself out week after week is in the rehearsing and executing of our worship service on Sunday mornings. I believe it’s my responsibility to prepare and provide a solid plan for my worship team when we gather for rehearsals during the week. However, I try to do so with a listening ear because God might want to alter my plan through the ideas and impressions of my team members.

Then, when Sunday rolls around, I try to lead in a way that allows the Holy Spirit to redirect the plan in the moment. This can come from an impression I feel, something one of my musicians or singers does, a prompting from a staff member or from the congregation.

I admit, the “always have a plan” part is easy for me whereas the “never trust it” part can be a challenge.  I’m convinced, though, that there’s no other way to lead.

What about you? Which side of this tension do you feel you need to grow in?


If you’re interested in growing in your ability to be redirected in the moment without a trainwreck occuring, read  “What Jason Bourne Taught Me About Worship Leading” for ideas.

If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it to your timeline or with someone you think might enjoy it as well. – LWL

Worship Leader, Don’t Be a Jackass

Once upon a time, there was a young donkey named Thomas who lived in a small village east of Jerusalem. Being the youngest of four didn’t stop Thomas from having great aspirations for his life.

Thomas often shared these aspirations with his older brothers in the form of statements like, “Just you wait, I’m going to be the greatest donkey that ever lived one day!” His brothers found these proclamations endearing. They had always been fond of their baby brother and knew that he meant well.

One day Thomas’ normally quiet village was filled with the hustle and bustle of travelers who had come from all over. Upon inquiring of his brothers, he learned that all the excitement was due to a great feast in Jerusalem.

The energy in the air was irresistible to Thomas and he soon found himself in the middle of the commotion. The poor little donkey had only drunk in the new sounds and sights a few minutes before his owner noticed he’d wandered off and, upon fetching him, tied him to a nearby post.

Thomas hadn’t been tied up long before two men approached him excitedly, untied him and led him away. Though happy to be unrestrained, Thomas felt a bit uneasy about what these two strange men had in store. His uneasiness was stilled when the two men brought him to another man who had the kindest expression Thomas had ever seen on someone.

The kind man’s gentle yet firm stroke on his back somehow assured Thomas that whatever was about to happen was going to be ok. Some cloaks were placed on Thomas’ back and the kind man mounted him. This was Thomas’ first time to ever be mounted and he found it to be more comfortable and dignifying than he had once imagined.

Thomas was ecstatic when he realized that he and his kind rider were being led into Jerusalem. He had dreamt his whole life of the day he would enter the “big city.”

Thomas’ excitement quickly transformed into disbelief as he beheld people’s reception of him. Despite being an insignificant donkey from a small town, people were rolling out the red carpet before him, as it were, throwing their coats to the ground.

Some of the people bowed low as he passed while others jumped up and down with excitement. All that could be heard in the air was singing, shouting and the sound of rejoicing. Undoubtedly, this was the proudest moment of Thomas’ brief life.

Upon arriving at their destination the kind rider gave Thomas one last pat and dismounted him. Thomas couldn’t wait to run home to his brothers and parents and tell them about his unbelievable day.

When he arrived home he called all of his family to come quickly and hear about his amazing experience. He told them how he was led like royalty into the big city and how thousands of men, women, and children cheered for him and celebrated his entry. He told them how for the first time in his life he truly felt significant.

When he was done recounting the events of the day Thomas’ mother looked lovingly into his big eyes and said, “Dear son, you are significant. You are the only one of you that God has made and ever will make. But all of those people weren’t cheering for you, they were cheering for their King.”

Week after week, we worship leaders have the amazing honor and privilege of standing before God’s people to help them encounter their King. Let’s not forget who all of the praise and excitement is for.

All of the celebration on the first Palm Sunday wasn’t for the jackass, it was for their King.

Worship leader, don’t be a jackass.


 Thanks to Matt Redman who told a version of this story at a worship conference I attended in 2002 as well as to Ray Fowler who included a version in a sermon he gave.  
If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it to your timeline or with someone you think might enjoy it as well. – LWL

Cotton Candy, Dangerous Games We Play, and the Praise of Man

I love Jesus. There are so many reasons to love Him but there’s one, in particular, I’ve really appreciated of late. It’s the fact that He is in such a unique position to help me, and all of mankind, unlike anyone else.

You see, as a man, He is intimately acquainted with all of our longings and struggles as He too experienced them. And yet, as God, He is intimately acquainted with the human design because He is its architect. He created us with inescapable longings and He alone knows what can fully satisfy them.

One of the many tragedies of mankind’s fall from the face-to-face intimacy we had with God in the Garden is that having rejected the light of that intimacy, we destined ourselves to lifetimes of stumbling around the darkness searching for the answers to these longings. You could say our history of war, oppression, disease etc… is the fruit of these futile searches.

Back to Jesus. When He walked the earth thousands of years ago it was His mission to clear the way and point us back to the face-to-face relationship with God. It was to shine His light on our fruitless searching and direct us to the true answers to our longings.

One of the many instances Jesus did this is recorded in Matthew 6:1-18 where He instructed His disciples to do good works in order to be seen by the Father, not others. If you aren’t familiar with this passage, click here to read it.

Being the architect of the human design as well as having become part of it (you’re normal if this idea makes your brain hurt) Jesus knew we were created with a need for validation, praise, honor etc… He knew that stumbling through the darkness in search of its fulfillment would lead people to all kinds of crazy and destructive things. He also knew the true answer to this longing. This is the basis for this passage of Scripture.

Jesus was well aware of how much of the religious community of His day sought to find the fulfillment of this longing. Their acts of righteousness weren’t performed as acts of worship but as a frivolous game of “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

The rules were simple:

1. I do something religious.
2. You see it and praise me for it.
3. You do something religious.
4. I see it and praise you for it.
5. Go back to #1.

Jesus instructs His disciples to not get caught up in this game of futility and seek the validation and praise that comes from the Father (v. 1, 4, 6, 18).

One of the dangers of this game is that it creates in its “players” a false sense of fulfillment similar to the false fullness that a child experiences when he eats too much cotton candy. Come dinner time the child doesn’t feel hungry despite the fact that underneath the veneer of “fullness” created by the cotton candy his body is crying out for true nutrition.

We can miss out on the truly satisfying praise that comes straight from the Father’s heart because we settle for the counterfeit satisfaction that comes from the praise of man. In John 5:44 Jesus rebuked those who were content to play the game and not “seek the glory that comes from the only God.”

There is a glory that comes from God and a glory that comes from man and I have tasted them both. Once you taste the approval that comes from God you can’t conceive of ever returning to the game.

As worship leaders, we have a particular challenge before us. Each Sunday our love for Jesus is put on a stage for all to see and admire. Add to this the honor that grows in people’s hearts as they begin to associate us with experiencing God’s presence. When this admiration and honor is expressed to us we have the option of either devouring it in an attempt to satiate our longings for validation and praise or we can graciously thank them for their kind words, turn around and lay each of them before the Father’s throne and receive the truly fulfilling validation and praise that comes from His glowing, Fatherly heart.


If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it to your timeline or with someone you think might enjoy it as well. – LWL

Modified photo courtesy of Vera Reis.

What Jason Bourne Taught Me About Leading Worship

One of my favorite scenes from the Bourne Identity takes place in the diner where Bourne is sharing with his new friend and hostage, Marie, his perplexity with his extraordinary situational awareness. You can view the clip here if you’d like.
He couldn’t understand how someone who didn’t know his own identity would know things like where all the diner exits were, the license plate numbers of all the cars parked outside and where the most likely place to find a gun was. This enhanced situational awareness was second nature to him.
Jason Bourne’s situational awareness inspires me as a worship leader. Specifically when it comes to navigating through a set list. Seriously, when I am leading a song I want to know what all my options are at any given moment without even having to think about it. Here’s why…
A lot has been said about excellence in worship and I’m a huge proponent of it when it comes to bringing our best in our service of God and others. However, I don’t  just want excellence, I want excellence that breathes.
Worship is a relationship so, in my opinion, it must be free to breathe. Like with any healthy relationship there needs to be space for spontaneity and flexibility. Excellence that doesn’t breathe can come across as plastic, disingenuous (that word would tank me in a spelling bee) and, at worse, lifeless.
However, I don’t value spontaneity and flexibility for the sake of spontaneity and flexibility. I value them inasmuch as they enable us to respond in the moment to the Lord or a congregation of worshipers.
Here are a few questions we can ask when preparing songs that will increase our “situational awareness.”
1. What’s the best “space vamp?”
The space vamp is the chord progression that will be played and repeated in the case you feel the need to create some, well, space within a song. There may be times when you sense a need to create space in order to pray, share something, or simply have room to breathe in what the Lord is saying or doing in a given moment. It’s important that everyone on the team knows what to vamp in these moments.
If the purpose of the space is to allow the congregation to pour out their hearts in spontaneous song, it might be a good idea to use a simple progression. A “one-four” progression, for example.
2. Where can we camp out?

In other words, what part(s) of the song is conducive to camping out and repeating? The most obvious answer would be the chorus but I’m more interested in the less obvious places.

For instance, in Leeland‘s song “Lion and the Lamb,” the bridge is an obvious place where you could camp out but a not so obvious place would be playing the IV and V chord and repeating the phrase from the chorus, “And every knee will bow before Him.”

There’s no telling what specific truth the Lord might highlight or the congregation might really latch ahold of within a specific song. My goal is to know how we could highlight that truth by camping out on a specific part of the song. It could even be a part of a verse that is repeated.
3. Is there another song that could be woven into this one?

Sometimes a song can be taken to a new level when a part of another song in the same key and similar tempo is interwoven seamlessly.

Something like this happened last Sunday in our worship time. At the end of the song “Resurrecting” by Elevation, we seamlessly added the bridge of Hillsong’s “Stronger” (“let your name be lifted higher”). It just happened in the moment and because it was the same key and similar theme, it fit really well.  It added something to the song.

Just because Jason Bourne knew the location of all of the exits in the diner didn’t mean he was going to use all of them. However, he could use any one of them if needed. Similarly, my goal is simply to know my options, not necessarily use all of them.
Knowing our options can help us respond in the moment to the Lord and the congregation. Worship is a relationship and relationships need room to breathe.

How to Know When You’ve Succeeded As a Worship Leader

I’m a fixer. I absolutely love to fix things. I also love clarity. The great thing about the business of “fixing things” is that it’s extremely clear when I’m successful and extremely clear when I’m not. Does the lawn mower cut grass after I’m done “fixing it?” Yes: Success! No: Fail! If only all of life’s endeavors communicated success this clearly.

I’m a worshiper. I absolutely love to worship and I absolutely love bringing others along with me. However, if I’m honest, the ambiguity of knowing whether or not I was successful at doing so has always been a challenge for me.

How do I measure my success as a worship leader? Do I place all of the praises and criticisms of my “performance” on the scale to determine which one wins out? Or, do I measure it based on the number of raised hands versus blank stares before me on a Sunday? Or worse yet, do I base it on how I felt?

Honestly, over the years I’ve used each one of these methods, and others, to measure my success as a worship leader. At the end of the day, I’ve found them to be unreliable.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying these things are completely useless when it comes to evaluating a worship service, just that I don’t believe that any one of them is fit to have the final say as to whether or not I was successful.

I wonder if Jesus has any light to shed on this topic. Hmm…

He does! According to John 17:4 Jesus considered Himself very successful: “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work You gave me to do.”

Somehow, the fact that the very ones He came to serve wanted to erase Him from the face of the earth didn’t tarnish His sense of success. Nor did He let the fact that the number of His followers dwindled down to almost nothing affect it.

So what gives? How did Jesus measure His success?

I believe His words in John 8:29 give us our answer: “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”

Lest we make this verse irrelevant to us by playing the “Well, He was Jesus” card, allow me to bring it down to our level.

Jesus’ personal sense of success did not come from external factors like how people responded to Him. His sense of success came from a clear conscience that resulted from the belief that, to the best of His knowledge, He was doing all that God had asked Him to do.

So, how does this apply to me as a worship leader? Well, ultimately, my sense of success is not determined by people’s response to my leadership. It is determined by a clear conscience that, to the best of my knowledge, I’m doing what I believe God has asked me to do as a worship leader.

(NOTE: If the whole congregation gets mad and throws rotten fruit at me every time I lead, then there is a problem that needs addressing but I hesitate to conclude that it’s because I am a failure.)

What has God asked me to do as a worship leader?

I believe He’s called me first and foremost to be a worshiper with my life, not only my vocal cords.

Next, out of this love relationship with Him, He’s called me to take on the mindset of a servant and assist others in encountering Him in worship.

He’s asked me to do this prayerfully and to do it using all of the gifts, natural and spiritual, He’s given me (not someone else). This includes my spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, experience, favorite color, nunchuck skills etc…

Last but not least, He’s asked me to trust Him to make clear to me the areas I need to grow in and choose not live in unhealthy introspection.

When I do these things, regardless of how people respond to my leadership, I can know that I am successful as a worship leader. When I do what pleases Him, I am successful.

“It is our constant ambition to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:9 AMP).

4 Ways for Worship Leaders to Stay Inspired (and Not Become Expired)

One thing I’ve learned after 20 years of following Jesus and 15 years of worship ministry is that spiritual boredom is inevitable. It seems my heart naturally drifts towards a state of dullness if allowed to do so. Just as pulling weeds is an inevitable and recurring enterprise for anyone desiring a vibrant lawn in Austin, Texas, so is overcoming spiritual boredom for anyone desiring a vibrant heart and ministry.

If you’ve found this to be your experience too, take heart, we’re not alone. It seems the apostle Paul’s familiarity with this tendency in his own life gave him the wherewithal to exhort the Roman believers to “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11 NIV)

The literal translation for “spiritual fervor” here is “boiling over in spirit.” All believers are exhorted here to do whatever is necessary to have spirits that are boiling over towards the Lord and in our service to Him. But as someone who serves others by influencing them towards God in worship, I feel the need to take this exhortation all the more seriously.

I regularly experience the “drift towards dullness” in two primary areas. The first is in my relationship with God and the second is in the medium that I use to help others connect with God, namely, music. Here are 4 simple and practical ways I’ve learned to steer my heart away from the dullness in these two areas.

1. Get Up and Get Out. It may be necessary to mention that when I speak of being “bored with the Lord” I say so realizing fully that in my relationship with Him I’m actually the boring one. There’s absolutely nothing boring about God. If you have doubts about this read Revelation 4 and refamiliarize yourself with the energy, life, and excitement around His throne. Or, read the Gospels and observe how Jesus brought the party everywhere He went.  100% of the time I’m bored with God, the problem is on my end.

Having said that, there are many times my heart has grown dull from my inability to connect with the All-Exciting One. When this happens, and it’s inevitable that it will, I follow the example of the young bride in the Song of Solomon who when unable to find her lover in the “tried and true” places she got up and went to find him (SOS 3:1-4).

There are times when sitting on the couch with my Bible, journal, and cup of coffee just doesn’t do it for me. In these moments sometimes I may need to go for a walk, turn on some music, surround myself with nature etc… The goal here is to knock my heart out of autopilot.

Something else I’ve done is thought of areas of my life where I did feel excitement and I went to that “place” and brought God into it. Maybe your thing is art galleries. Go to the gallery and bring God into Your experience. Talk to Him about the art. Thank Him for it etc…  I’ve found that these types of things can “jump start” our hearts sometimes.

2. Get Some New Material. Often times my boredom is caused by the fact that I’m simply tired of talking about the same old things with God. In these instances, I find it helpful to listen to podcasts or teachings that aren’t from the same stream I’m used to drinking from. It could be a podcast, a book, a blog, a commentary or even a new Bible translation.

The point is to get some fresh input from outside sources that make you think. The more challenging the better. But don’t just take it into yourself, take it with you into your times with the Lord. Dialogue with Him about the content. Search Scripture to see if it’s actually true.

3. Make Like Taylor Swift and Cross Over. It would be safe to say that most of the worship music we lead in our churches are of a specific genre. Because of this, I as a musician can become very bored with music. It can all start to sound the same.

I’m not necessarily knocking western worship musicians because I “is” one. I’m also not necessarily suggesting you overturn your church’s worship culture by “crossing over” to a totally different genre of music. It’s likely that the church you serve connects with a specific genre of music and that’s ok.

However, what I would encourage you to do if you find yourself feeling uninspired musically is to cross over in regards to the music genres you listen to. Even genres you aren’t naturally drawn to. Listen to them and try to find things that you appreciate and could possibly use in your context.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of EDM (electronic dance music). My goal isn’t to make Sunday morning a rave but it’s been very refreshing and even inspiring as a musician to think of how I can pull some of the EDM qualities I like into our worship.

4. Learn Some New Tricks. Chances are if you are bored with your instrument it’s because you are no longer being challenged. You may either need to learn a new instrument or figure out how to take your current skill to the next level.

I’ve been playing acoustic guitar for almost 20 years and don’t really have much to show for it. Last year I took an acoustic guitar course with Berklee Online and it stopped me from chopping my guitar up into firewood.

Learning alternate tunings beyond DADGAD was really refreshing. I was getting sounds out of my instrument that I had never heard before. It really saved me as a guitarist.

Take lessons, watch Youtube videos, learn a new piece etc… It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you’re being challenged.

One of the only ways I know how to not become expired as a leader, musician or worshiper is to stay inspired. How would you add to this list?

3 Ways for Worship Leaders to Let God Do the Heavy Lifting

A “can-do” attitude is something to be praised.  I, however, am often guilty of fraternizing with its less commendable cousin, the “must-do” attitude.  My “must-do” attitude is what convinced me the other day to carry a couch up the stairs to our bedroom all by myself.  It’s a symptom of not realizing that despite the fact I share a first name with Clark Kent, I am not Superman and I have limits.  My “must-do” attitude often leads to self-injury and wounded pride.

Unfortunately, I have been guilty over the years of bringing this attitude into worship leading and it too has resulted in a type of self-injury.  But, by God’s grace, He has lovingly taught me and is still teaching me, to acknowledge my limits and allow Him to do the “heavy lifting” involved in worship leading.  The following are three realizations that have helped me do this:

1. It’s Not My Job to Make People Worship.

I am blessed to be part of a church family that absolutely loves to worship.  Having said that, there are services where the congregation seems less engaged than others.

I used to measure my success as a worship leader by the level of engagement in the room.  Then I realized that it wasn’t my job to make people worship nor did I have the ability to do so even if it was.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe I have the ability to influence people towards engagement in worship but beyond that, it’s out of my control.  I’ll continue to pray, prepare, practice, get better etc… to increase that ability to influence but at the end of the day, I know that there is Someone else who is much better at moving hearts to worship.

There is no one more excited about influencing people to worship God than the Holy Spirit.  When we gather for worship He Himself is already drawing hearts.  He is stirring passion in people by revealing to them the beauty and irresistible goodness of God.

Consequently, I don’t need to cajole people when I’m leading worship.  I don’t need to command them to engage.  I can lead from a place of rest trusting that the Holy Spirit is doing the heavy lifting of wooing hearts to Jesus.

2. It’s Not My Job to Make God “Show Up.”

I used to believe that it was the worship teams job to “usher in” the presence of God.  I’m not saying there isn’t anything true about that idea, just that there are some whacky ideas that can spawn from such phrases.

I would find myself praying beforehand and during worship from a place of almost begging God to show up.  Prayers like, “please come Lord Jesus!”  I hate to say it but a part of me approached worship from the same mindset of the 450 prophets in 1 Kings 18 who thought they could summon their god by working themselves into a physical and emotional frenzy.  Yikes.

Then I came to realize that God was actually more excited about meeting with us then we could ever be about meeting with Him.  Matter of fact, Jesus is so crazy about being present with His people that in Matthew 18:20 He promised that whenever we would gather He would be present. And the “presence” Jesus promised wasn’t a “fly on the wall” type presence where He would simply stand in the corner and observe but a “moving, speaking, healing etc…” type presence in our midst.

Consequently, I don’t need to feel the heavy weight of somehow pulling God into the room.  I can lead worship from a place of faith that God is indeed present and we just need to acknowledge and open our hearts to Him.

3. There’s No Such Thing As the Perfect Set List.

When I first began leading worship the task of putting together a set list was a heavy task.  After all, there was a scroll in God’s right hand containing the set list for a specific worship time and it was my job to pray it (or pry it) out of His hands.  Right?

Then I heard Irish worship leader Kathryn Scott say something brilliant:  “A set list is like a car.  And it doesn’t matter what kind it is.  It will get you where you want to go as long as you drive it in the right direction.”

I’m all for asking God to guide the preparation process.  There are even times I believe He will lead me to include certain songs.  But in the grand scheme of things all we need is a few songs that are true and engaging and God will breathe on them because that’s what He does.

Consequently, I don’t feel like I need to pry the scroll out of His hands.  I can simply, yet prayerfully, select a few songs and rely on His ability and eagerness to use them to draw hearts to Himself.

Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).  These words are to be more than just a warm and fuzzy idea.  I believe with all my heart they can be, and should be, our experience if we choose to let Him do all of the heavy lifting in worship leading.

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How Relational Is Your God?

We are relational beings.  Some would say the reason for this is purely evolutionary in that it increases one’s chance of survival.  True as that may be, there is a much deeper reason for our relational nature, namely, that we were created in the image of a relational God.

The Creator of everything seen and unseen is a relational God.  The school of thought referred to as “Deism” would have us believe that upon finishing creation God simply stepped away from it, leaving it to operate completely on its own apart from any further intervention or interaction on His part.  Thankfully, this is not at all the picture that Scripture paints for us.

Scripture offers us a picture of a God who is highly relational.  One who has existed in relationship for eternity.  This picture of an eternally relational God comes to a crescendo in the New Testament but is hinted at throughout the Old.

At the very beginning, in Genesis 1, we find a God who exists and operates within relationship.  Verse 26 lets us eavesdrop on a conversation within God’s divine community, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'”

One of the most beautiful statements about the nature of God came from the Apostle John’s pen, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Not that God is loving, though He certainly is, but that God is love.  Love is central to the nature of God.

One of the things about love is that it cannot exist outside of the context of a relationship.  Love without a relationship is as nonsensical as directions without a destination.

Not only does Genesis 1 reveal that God existed in relationship before man came along, but that He intended to invite man into that relationship.

Even the way in which He created man was intimate.  Each time He created something in Genesis 1 he simply spoke it into existence, “Let there be ______.”  However, when we read the account of man’s creation we find something much more intimate.

Genesis 2:7 says that God “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils…”

The Hebrew word used for “form” here is yatsar which carries with it the connotation of something being squeezed similar to the way a potter “forms” pottery.  So, here we get a picture of God getting His hands dirty, picking up the dirt and squeezing it in His hands as He made man.  That’s an intimate picture.

Next, we have Him breathing into man’s nostrils.  This is very up close and personal, I’d say.  Certainly, the Omnipotent One who spoke light into existence didn’t need to bend down and breathe into Adam’s nostrils.  But this is how He chose to do it.

Once man is created, we don’t see God step out of the picture and become “the man upstairs.”  We see Him dwelling with man in relationship.  We find Him walking among him in the garden, conversing with him as a father with his child.

The eternally relational God created mankind for relationship and He still walks and talks with His people.

Worship leaders, we have the awesome privilege of ushering His children into intimacy with Him whenever we lead worship.  Many of His people live as “practical deists.”  They don’t live with the sense of God’s “ever-presence” in their lives.  How can we call people to live in the reality that He is ever with us, ever moving, ever speaking, ever listening, ever loving…?

Well, we can proclaim it.  We can lead songs that reflect it.  We can pray it.  We can create space for people to experience it.  And probably most effective of all, we can live it.

We are highly relational beings created in the image of a highly relational God.

Ski Lifts and Set Lists (3 Things They Have In Common)

In my opinion, riding a ski lift is loads of fun.  I’m not sure what I enjoy more, the beautiful view from the 40 feet elevation or the rush of adrenaline from knowing how easy it would be to fall those 40 feet to the ground.  Whatever the reason is, it’s an enjoyable experience.

Lately, I’ve reflected on the similarities between ski lifts and the set lists we use in corporate worship.  I’m not sure why, though, because I haven’t been skiing in over 15 years!  Nonetheless, here are a few of the things they share in common.

1. No One Goes Skiing for the Ski Lifts.
Imagine having coffee with a friend who just returned from a week long ski trip.  Upon inquiring about their trip you learn that all they did was ride the ski lift up and down the mountain for a week.  Your thought in that moment? What a waste!

Why?  Because no one takes off of work and spends hundreds of dollars to simply ride up and down a mountain in a gondola.

Unlike our fictitious friend, no one goes skiing for the ski lifts.  They go skiing for the exhilarating experience of racing down powder-packed mountains at 20+ mph.  Not to mention the breathtaking views from the mountain tops.

Similarly, whether they realize it or not, most people don’t come to our churches to sing our set lists.  As great as they are, I’m sure, they are looking for something much more substantial.

They come for the exhilarating experience of encountering God in a fulfilling, transforming and empowering way and for the breathtaking views of His glory and truth.  They come hoping to lay hold of the joy, strength, pleasure, peace, comfort, encouragement, healing etc… that can only be found in His presence.

2. A Ski Lift Is a Vehicle.
The whole purpose of the ski lift is to get people somewhere.  Technically, it’s not even necessary.  Before ski lifts were used people “simply” hiked up the mountain.  Thankfully, however, some really nice people invented ski lifts to expedite the process for the rest of us non-Bear Grylls types.

Likewise, the whole purpose of a set list is to get people somewhere.  And yes, just like the ski lift, it’s really not necessary.  However, a group of “filled and skilled” musicians with a good set list sure can expedite the process of getting a large room full of people up the mountain of worship.

3. There Comes a Time to Get Off of the Lift.
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve ridden a ski lift, the “dismount” at the top of the mountain still feels a bit awkward to me.  But, if I’m going to ski down the mountain, I’m going to have to push through the awkwardness and just do it.  Otherwise, I’ll have to ride the lift down and catch up with my friends later.

Similarly, there are many times in worship when, in order to really go somewhere and find that exhilarating God-encounter, we need to “get off of the lift.”

As worship leaders, this means moving beyond the boundaries of the planned set list.  This may look like repeating a part of the song, a moment of silence, an unplanned song, musical space for the congregation to pour out their hearts using their own words, responding to a prophetic word, a spontaneous song, reading a Scripture etc…

I imagine some of you are like me in that getting off of the lift/moving beyond the plan can feel a bit awkward at times.  The reward, however, makes it so worth it.

In conclusion, let’s keep doing the work of preparing engaging, truth-filled set lists for those we serve.  But let’s fix our eyes on and lead our communities to what lies beyond them:  exhilarating experiences of encountering God’s fulfilling, transforming and empowering presence.

 PHOTO:  Lifting by Chris Martino

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3 Lessons from the Wildest Worship Leader That Ever Lived

You could say that John the Baptist was the wildest worship leader that ever lived.  To our knowledge, he wasn’t wielding an electric guitar in the wilderness but, in my opinion, musical skill isn’t the most important attribute of a worship leader.  What defines a worship leader has more to do with the heart than the hands.

Without a doubt, John the Baptist had the heart of a worship leader.  The following are three of the many lessons I’ve learned from the life of this wild worship leader.

1. Make His Joy Your Joy.
The main reason I view John the Baptist as a worship leader is because of what drove him.  This drive is revealed in John 3:29, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”

In first century Jewish culture the friend of the bridegroom (akin to our “best man”) notified the bride of the bridegroom’s coming when it was time for the wedding.  His joy was to facilitate the much anticipated coming together of the bride and the bridegroom.

John the Baptist’s deepest passion and highest joy was in facilitating the coming together of Jesus and His bride.  His personal joy was tied into Jesus’ joy as the bridegroom coming for His bride.  When they did come together, John, much like the friend of the bridegroom, backed out of the spotlight.

A worship leader is someone who desires to facilitate the joining together of Jesus and His people and knows when to take himself/herself out of the picture as it begins to happen.

2. Straighten the Path.
Since the coming together of Jesus and His bride was John’s ultimate goal, it was in his heart to see that every obstacle was removed from the path.

John used Isaiah 40:3 to explain to the inquiring Pharisees who he was, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23).

John boiled his purpose down to this:  make it as easy as possible for Jesus and His people to come together.  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  His aim was to straighten the path.

The majority of the obstacles between God and His people were in their heads.  Their minds were filled with inaccurate views of what God was like.  This always leads to impure hearts and unclean hands.  This is why John’s message was one of repentance which simply means, “get rid of your stinkin’ thinkin’.”

A worship leader is someone who works to make it as easy as possible (not to be confused with as cheap as possible) for God’s people to encounter Him.

3. Hold People Loosely.
John was concerned with promoting Jesus’ name and ministry, not his own.  He did this even to the point of frustrating the religious leaders.  After answering their inquiries into who he was by only telling them who he wasn’t he finally gave them this answer:  I am a voice.  Not a face, not a name, just a voice.  (see John 1:19-23).

The only name John was concerned with was Jesus’.

It’s amazing to me that John’s disciples didn’t even get this.  They found Jesus’ increasing influence and John’s decreasing influence to be alarming.  Their insecurity led them to warn John of what was happening (John 3:26) to which he beautifully replied,  “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”

John was secure.  Because of this, he held people loosely.  He even encouraged his disciples to leave him and follow Jesus (John 1:35-37).  John knew that if losing his followers was a win for Jesus, it was a win for him too.

A secure worship leader holds his/her team members and congregation loosely because they know that God’s “River” is much, much bigger than their little tributary (i.e. church/ministry).

These are just three of a number of lessons I’ve learned from, who I believe, was the wildest worship leader that ever lived.

 


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