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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dragons that Can Destroy Your Ministry

     In C. S. Lewis’, The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader” Edmund and Lucy are forced to stay with relatives due to circumstances during the war. Their frustration is magnified through the actions and dealings with their self-centered cousin, Eustace, who becomes swept into Narnia with his two cousins. In one scene, Eustace is transformed into a dragon, the visible expression of his inner character.  Since his condition could not be hidden, he is forced to confront his true nature and begins making choices to serve those around him. He finally comes to a point of self-sacrifice, not wanting to be a burden to the group knowing that they had no way of maintaining him for the rest of their voyage.

It is at this point that he meets Aslan, the Lion, who tells him he must follow him, but to do that he would have to  “undress” first.  After shedding three skins, Eustace realizes he can’t get deep enough to get them all, upon which Aslan tells him, “You will have to let me undress you.” The Lion’s claws torn through the dragon’s skin with searing pain and then tossed the boy into a nearby pool of water. The transformation was complete, Eustace was a not only a boy again, but now restored for fellowship with the others through the power of Aslan.

The greatness of Lewis’ work is that his writing is effective at so many levels and the previous story is particularly timely for those involved in ministry. We all have “stuff” inside us– dragons, so to speak. No, I am not referring to demon possession, that is a subject for another time. I am referring to attitudes and responses that, if left unchecked, will destroy our lives, our homes, and our ministries.  Unfortunately, many of these are not as obvious as the one Eustace had and many times we can be completely unaware that they are lurking within us.  This is in part because we tend to focus on the symptoms and not the cause, choosing to minimize their importance.

What are some of these symptoms that would indicate there might be deeper issues beneath the surface? Since entire books exist on the subject, I will just mention a few.

1. Ignoring or minimizing how much impact the patterns our parents and family have in how we approach and deal with issues.
– Some families avoid conflicts at all costs, rather than learning to deal with issues. They lock up hurts, emotions, etc., in hope that as long as no one says anything, the issue will just go away. Many times all this accomplishes is an explosion of frustration at a later time, ulcers, or some other physical issue.

Leadership that avoids conflicts at any cost many times is a result of such patterns modeled at home or some traumatic event in which conflict was poorly handled.  A more biblical response is to learn to speak the truth in love. We must learn to recognize when we are being driven by past patterns rather than by biblical truth.

2. Ignoring or minimizing past traumatic events and how they may be affecting our responses.
– Tragedy, divorce, abandonment by a parent, prolonged illness, being fired from a job, loss of a child or sibling, being unjustly accused, promotion or recognition of a colleague when you did most of the work, etc., all these can have a major impact on how we perceive problems and respond to them.  Time is needed to admit the loss, grieve the loss, confirm that God is still in control, that He loves us and has a plan for our lives, and that we can trust Him now and in the future.

Leaders who have failed to deal and process loss can be greatly affected and not even be aware of why they react as they do. Some of the decisions they make may seem illogical or ill-timed. Time must be taken to step back and ask, “Why am I responding in this way?  “What is the truth of God in this situation?”

3. Emotional responses that seem to be excessive, or emotional explosions over minor issues.
– Some people seem to be time bombs waiting to explode and those who live around themwalk in fear of the next explosion.  Underlying anger may also take another form of strong sarcasm directed at the individuals perceived as responsible for the problems. Both of these anger issues are like a fire in that anyone in proximity can be burned, whether or not they were the indented target.

Like the previous issue, the first step is to not minimize our action or response, but to ask ourselves, “Why am I responding in this way?  “What is the truth of God in this situation?”

4. Taking a defensive posture at any perceived threat to our position or worth.
– When someone offers a commentary or evaluation of what might have been done or said differently, sometimes there is a quick and immediate defense, and an effort to argue down the other person. Rather than receiving such comments as being an evaluation of an action or activity, the person perceives it as a personal attack. The further explanations only lead to a more divisive atmosphere and then the defensive person attempts to enlist others into the “camp” that sides with the opinion of one of the two sides. Many times this is a response from a very insecure individual.

          We must come to the realization that our worth doesn’t come from who we are, or what we’ve done, but Whose we are. Our worth comes from what God has done in us through Jesus Christ. Nothing we can do can make God loves us more and nothing we can do can make Him love us less. What God did through His Son on the Cross is what has been put into the lives of those who have Him as their Savior. Our worth comes from what God has done in our lives, not anything we might be able to do or not do.

5. The need for total control.
– Part of leadership is precisely being in the lead and supposedly knowing and directing an organization or event. However, for some leaders, there exists a need to control every detail of every part of the event. Micromanaging minimizes the recognition that God has gifted others with abilities and ideas that might be even better than that of the leader.  Tragically, some leaders purposely enlist those with lesser abilities so that they, as the leader, will not be shown lacking. This lack of humility might also be related to the previous “dragon” in that there is an absence of understanding that our worth of a person doesn’t come from our performance, but what Christ has done in us.

We must remind ourselves that it is God who equips and that there are many who might have abilities that far surpass our own. Wise is the leader who is secure enough in Christ to seek out and enable others for the tasks without feeling the need to get the praise for what is accomplished. Maturity and wisdom realize that only God is in total control and we are not. We are mere stewards of what He has given us and the tasks He has called us to do and it doesn’t matter who receives the credit, only He is worthy of the glory.

I am fully aware that there are many more “dragons” and many times these overlap, become entwined, and are very difficult to separate and deal with.  Many times we need to enlist the help of a professional that can help us sort through. We need not be ashamed to seek help; we are all commanded to “bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We all have dragons; we must ask God to begin to “undragon us” so that we can recognize what our dragons are and then ask Him to help us learn how to deal with them.  A very helpful resource for me has been Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

What Is the Biblical View on the Role of a Worship Pastor/Leader?

I received this interesting question from a previous student of mine: What is the theological view/biblical view on the role of a worship pastor/leader in the context of the church? What is their job from a biblical standpoint? And how does that translate to being full-time staff? I think this person has experienced full-time worship pastors and leaders that end up on a weekly basis only selecting and leading songs for Sundays and maybe Wednesdays and not really doing much else. 

While much could [and should] be written about this here are some brief comments that I hope stir some conversation to address the issue:

Biblical Ideas
Scripture does not give specific instruction about "Worship Leaders" as understood today.  The role of the Levite in the OT was not carried through in the NT; however, new roles developed as needs arose, i.e. deacons, etc. Jesus gave specific instructions about worship in John 4, related to worshiping in "spirit and in truth," which was for all believers, but nothing specifically for worship leaders. Paul addressed worship issues in I Corinthians [abuse of Lord's Supper, speaking in tongues] and some general principles about the use of music [Eph. 5:19 & Col. 3:16].

Is There More?
We know that we are all commanded to worship, which is the obedient response to God's revealed nature and character. We know we are called to do this when we gather as the Body of Christ for worship on Sunday.  Looking back, after the end of nearly 300 years of persecution after the death of Christ during Constantine, as the smaller groups began to grow, the need/desire to have a place that was adequate to hold the meetings together also grew. Without the constant threat of persecution, large congregations arose. What might have been spontaneous worship in a small group developed into worship being led by those gifted in those areas? 

The Arian Heresy led to the Council of Laodicea in which the congregation was forbidden to sing during worship. It wasn't until the Reformation that Luther recovered congregational song. The idea of trained musicians in worship was carried over from the developments in the Middle Ages and eventually developed over the centuries.  Even after the worship controversy over singing only psalms or singing hymns, years passed before the non-catholic churches addressed the need for a person to coordinate the music/worship activities. The rise of the Evangelist/Singer teams like Moody and Sankey did much to set a new kind of model for evangelical congregations.

The reason to see the history of all this is to realize that roles changed and developed according to the need of the times. Just as there was not a command that directed the early disciples to start a deacon ministry, but followed God's direction to do so according to the need, so the leadership of the church has the freedom to hear the Spirit direct in ways that address specific needs to that particular congregation. In many cases, this development has led to the need for someone to coordinate the worship ministry.

Fast forwarding to recent days, some of those who lead the worship ministry see their responsibility more in terms of the visible presence in a congregational setting, and not the full breadth of what worship ministry entails. Some worship leaders are in the position much by “default,” that is, there wasn’t anyone else around and were called upon to “help with the worship service” because they could play a guitar or keyboard.  Though their musical training may be limited, they do the best they can and see their function within the church only in that capacity.

However, a growing number of congregations look that this position as described and wonder “Should we pay a full-time salary to someone who only leads a few songs on Sunday?” Yes, their may be a small band or praise team, but the question still arises.  I think the answer lies in the difference in understanding the difference between a worship ministry and just a worship leader.

What is the difference? 
Worship ministry must include:
[1] a leader with a strong personal understanding and continued personal growth in all the aspects of worship: musical, theological, and relational;
[2] commitment to planning/leading and helping the congregation understand and participate in worship,
[3] as instructed in Col. 3:16, a commitment to utilize the music as a tool for the instruction of God's Word;
[4] commitment to training and mentoring younger worship leadership, which would include working with children and youth in music and worship.

Worship leadership that fails to complete at least these 4 basic areas seems short-sighted and fails to understand the role and responsibility of a worship ministry.  A ministry that is engaged in the four areas above could easily be a full-time job and for many others a robust part-time job.

One of the reasons we teach and train as we do here in the Seminary is because we are trying to address the full spectrum of worship leadership, not just how to play and sing on a guitar. Yes, our churches are clamoring for worship leaders, but if all we are doing is putting someone in front of a congregation to lead a song, then we are failing to address the greater issues about worship ministry and discipleship.

I would encourage the lay worship leader to get more training to help fulfill the call to worship ministry. I would encourage churches to help these individuals get the preparation they need to develop skills in personal discipleship and growth, worship planning and leading, theological understanding that can evaluate doctrinal weaknesses in songs and how to correct them, and training children and youth in worship ministry. Until we can address the larger issue of Worship Ministry, we are failing to provide a solid biblical foundation from which our worship can grow.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Corporate Confession: Brokenness that Restores Our Focus

Worship involves celebration, certainly, and done wholeheartedly! We have and need to continue to fill our lives with as many ways to thank God for all that He has done and continues to do; to praise Him for all that He is.  At the same time, if we focus only the celebration we will miss much of the fullness of worship.

Though not all the psalms were designed for public corporate worship, the largest number of the most common theme of the psalms is the theme of lament. Just as we take all our personal joys and sorrows to our loving Father in our private time of worship, we need to remember that we need to take our joys and sorrows into our corporate worship.

The Old Testament is full of examples of great celebrations, but also when God's chosen people gathered for solemn assemblies, times of mourning and confession. One such example is found in the book of  Ezra, when after the miraculous return of the exiles, many disregarded God's law and allowed intermarriage, planting the seeds of idolatry that was one of the causes for the exile in the first place. Upon discovering this tragedy, Ezra tears his clothes, weeping over the sin of his people. Soon others begin to join him and the public confession of sin and repentance begins.

Without going into too many details and naming people, many of our churches are suffering from leaders and members trapped in the grasp of pornography, addictions,  greed, and a lack of brokenness for the world around us. What should our response be? I believe that a time of public confession, crying out to God for our nation, brokenness over senseless murders on our streets and in our schools, homes divided, and even believers divided.

We need the power of God's Spirit, a cleansing that begins in the house of God. Would that God's people might gather together to mourn over all lives lost and our willingness to offer criticism and blame, but not to actively engage in becoming part of the solution through the power of the Gospel.    I realize that some will misinterpret these intentions, but I believe strongly that part of what is lacking in our worship is a corporate call to repentance and music that can become part of that process.  I would offer this song as part of the process. For those leading worship, feel free to follow this link and use the song in worship, if you so desire.

Monday, December 4, 2017

I Just Love to Hear that Preacher!

Perhaps you have heard this, or even said it yourself. I’m sure most of us have heard men and women of God whom God has used in a mighty way in our lives and in the lives of others. Perhaps you may not have been aware that the above title was found in the book of Ezekiel:

In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!” ...“As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them, you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel  33:21, 30-33

Granted, I have paraphrased what the people said, but it is, in essence, the same. Let’s get some context before we go any further. Jerusalem had fallen; the Babylonians had conquered the city and the news reaches the exiles in Babylonia. [For the more of the story, go to Jeremiah 39.] Chapter 33 begins with God calling on the prophet to be the faithful watchman so as not to incur guilt by failing to warn the Israelites of their sin. God calls the people to repent of their evil ways and then exposes their sin and false motives. 

Here is a summary is the heart of the message to the exiles:

– The exiles have a desire to “hear” God’s prophet:
As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord

– The exiles had an established habit to go and hear what the prophet had to say:
 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words

– However, they only listen, never with the intent to put into practice or have any personal application to what is being said:
 but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain   They even speak of love, but their motives are impure and their actions betray them.

– They treat what they hear as entertainment.
Indeed, to them, you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice

– God encourages the prophet to continue to be faithful regardless.
When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.

So what does that have to do with us?  Great question; I’m glad you asked. When we go to worship, are we going just “enjoy the music” or “enjoy the preacher?” If we fail to see growth in our walk with Christ or fail to see our attitudes and responses become more conformed to that of Christ after worship, then we are walking perilously close to what we see in the verses above.

Notice that they had an established habit of hearing God’s Word, but that there was a refusal for God’s Word to change their established habits that were contrary to that Word. Another way to describe it was they enjoyed being entertained, but not transformed. Even when we look for “inspiration” during a worship we betray a focus on self; Worship is God-centered. Inspiration may make us feel better, but true worship can transform us.

Stop and reflect on your worship. Are you being transformed, day by day more into the image of God’s Son?  It is time to take seriously the words of the prophet Ezekiel.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The greatest thing...

My life as a believer and disciple of Jesus Christ has not been without highs and lows, periods of inexpressible joy and deep heartache and sorrow.  I have noticed one thing that as I walked through these seasons of ups and downs, a specific aspect of the God’s nature and character, a new, or at least a better-understood truth would seem to surface and overshadow the rest.  Until we are alone, we not able to truly grasp the depth of Christ as friend, or
... until everything around us seems to be falling apart, that we grasp that Christ is our Rock,
... until the situation is hopeless that He is our hope,
... until sick that He is our healer.

God uses all the circumstances of our lives to reveal Himself to us and to learn to trust Him and to have a more intimate relationship with Him.  Sometimes when we in the process of learning, that particular part of God’s character may seem to the “most important of all the rest.”  We begin to see it everywhere and in almost everything. God’s Word seems to shout out this truth from almost every page. If we are not careful, we will begin to minimize other aspects of the nature of God because now we have “found the key that unlocks all other secrets.” 

It reminds me of when I was young, my grandfather bought a new red pickup and was so proud of it, he loved to drive it around the small rural community in which they lived. Not long afterward, something very interesting happened. Soon he began to notice that there were a bunch of red pickups around the town that he had never even noticed before. In a similar way, once we discover a new truth in the Word, it is not unusual to begin to see it “everywhere” and wonder why everyone else doesn’t see it as well. If we follow down that path, we will begin to see others as immature, or at least not as far along in the faith as ourselves who have this superior knowledge. [Paul and the early church had to deal with these issues as well, but that is not the central focus of this post.] Such prideful thoughts and actions will only lead to grief until we confess and forsake them. 

If we fail to grow and only continue to focus on the truth we have learned, then our growth will become stagnate.  As someone has said, “if all you have in your hand is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail.”  God’s nature and character is much greater than we can imagine and we must keep on deepening our relationship with Him so we can continue to grow in Who He is. Focusing on only one aspect is like saying that the most important part of a wrench is the part that fits on the bolt; however, the truth is without the handle the part that fits the bolt would be useless. A wrench is not a wrench unless it has both; they were never intended to be separated.

As finite creations, we are incapable of grasping it all, so our loving Father feeds us with the different foods and in the forms that are best for us and give Him glory. The process is not without pain, but it is not without joy, either. Just as there are changes in our physical growth, our understanding of God develops with the seasons of our lives.  Our growth and development does not minimize the importance of the former truths we learned, ut reveals that our infinite and almighty Creator is beyond our comprehension. When God opens a door to reveal more of who He is, we need to remember that it is just a door and not confuse it with the entire building.

Let me break this down just a little more. When we come to Christ, we are overwhelmed with all that God in Christ as done to redeem us; the grace of God is beyond our capacity to understand.  Later, we may begin to focus on the depth of the cost that Christ suffered, or the power of the resurrection and victory over death and hell, or consummation of time itself and spending eternity with God in heaven.  The emphasis we give as we grow in Christ to these truths [and many others], does not lessen the importance of those we are not emphasizing, but highlight the fact that we are simply incapable of grasping it all. The truth is that the only way that we could grasp it all would be if we were God, Himself. We need to rejoice in His greatness, not lament our limitations.

What is the takeaway from this?  
1. We get to know God deeper as we go through difficulty and problems of life, since they are the classroom in which we are to learn God’s nature and character as we study His Word.
2. As we have various seasons of life, childhood, youth, young adulthood, parenthood or singleness, older adulthood, and the various responsibilities and challenges that accompany each stage, we will have seasons in our spiritual growth and understanding.
3. We should not stop and focus on just one stage, but welcome other stages as they come. [Many times a new one will begin before the last reaches its end.]
4. We dare not look down on others who are going through other stages that we might have already gone through, but love and encourage them.
5. God is beyond our understanding, but He desires for us to get to know Him, trust Him and share this truth with others.