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Monday, September 9, 2019

“Spiritual Bullies and Worship Leadership”

Here are just a few thoughts that I am sharing with my students this semester about Servant Leadership. [For this commentary, let’s call Worship Leaders, Servant Worshipers.]

Spiritual Bullies look at those “under” and around them as objects to control;
Servant Worshipers see those around them as someone for whom Christ died, and desire to know what God is doing in their life and to come alongside what God is doing.

Spiritual Bullies are more concerned with how those with whom they work will affect the reputation as a leader;
Servant Worshipers give their reputations over to God, knowing that God’s evaluation of their actions is of greater importance.

Spiritual Bullies gain their sense of self-worth from their ability to perform;
Servant Worshipers realize that their self worth comes from what God has done in them through Christ.

Spiritual Bullies use people for their own advancement, playing favorites with those who can do the most for that goal;
Servant Worshipers focus on the growth of those within their realm of responsibility, regardless of how much they might be able to advance their position or prestige.

Spiritual Bullies focus on the amount of knowledge they acquire;
Servant Worshipers focus on being able to apply what they know and share what they have learned in a manner that is modeled and understandable.

My prayer is that the influence we have on others reflects the nature and character of Jesus Christ.  Just a few thoughts... 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Your wife has... cancer.

Not the words we wanted to hear and certainly not in our plans for the summer. We live in a fallen world that is racked with disease and Christians are not exempt from them. Still, in the back of our minds, cancer is what happens to others, not to us. Suddenly our lives were filled with doctor appointments, lab tests, etc., and notebooks of what has to be done and what not do. Moments of frustration and hurt watching the one you love suffer as a result of the chemicals pumped in her body to eliminate that which would kill her. The pain is still pain and we have only begun the journey.  Overwhelming, yet God’s grace has been there through it all. We have even seen how He had been preparing us and providing for us long before we received the news.

Not surprisingly, Scripture and my devotional time have become more meaningful and critical to the day to day confronting of the new realities in our lives. Today as I was reading in I Corinthians 11, I was reminded of all that Paul had gone through as he sought to be obedient to God’s calling in his life. In the context, Paul is defending his apostleship to the church at Corinth against the “super-apostles” whose boasting and domineering leadership were causing trouble for the church. Rather than boast of all the miracles that had been a part of his ministry and the great expansion of the Gospel because of what he had done, his focus was on his difficulty and suffering. 

For Paul, living in obedience was not a denial of the hardships, pain, and suffering that accompanies following Christ, but the acceptance that these things would be a part of developing the character of Christ in his life.  In “living in the victory of Christ,” Paul showed complete transparency of the trouble and hardships he had and was facing. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 1:8 he stated: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”  Strong words from the same man who said that he could “do all things through Christ.”

Rather than base his apostleship on a false philosophy that says “a loving God would never allow His loved ones to suffer,” or “following Christ means going from victory to victory in power,” Paul chooses to reveal the truth that even Jesus suffered and we should expect no less.  In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul shared “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. [2] ... you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out." [14-15] Obviously, part of the instruction Paul gave to new believers was the reality of suffering for the cause of Christ. 

Not all suffering is a result of following Christ, however, as we follow Christ we must anticipate that suffering will be a part of the journey. Sickness is real. Pain really does hurt. Going through times of suffering does not mean that God is far away; on the contrary, His presence may be even nearer. We lean not on false or trumped up emotions, but on the promise of God’s Word that the Spirit of God lives in us and He is with us until the end of time. Our focus must be on giving Him glory and relying on Who He Is. The pain will remain, our understanding that God is still in control, that He loves us and that He has a plan for our lives and can help us trust Him that, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” [Job 13:15]

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Why Skill-based Music Study is Needed in the Seminary Setting

Questions have risen over the past few years as to the necessity of skill-based music study, especially in the seminary setting. Students may come having played keyboard or guitar, or sung in their praise band and at least believe that they function well in that setting. They realize that they need more training, especially in worship studies because that where their interests lie. When they begin to look over what an accredited music degree is going to involve, some decide that it has little or no relevance to what they believe they need and opt for a non-skill based track. While some of these tracks provide a good overview of worship, they are not designed to address the skill-based needs the student might have. The following are some thoughts and considerations that need to be discussed and my desire is not so much criticize the one, but validate the critical need for the other.

1. Students don’t know what they don’t know. Please pardon the obvious in this statement, but let me illustrate. Even for a student that comes with some skilled-based experience, that experience has generally been limited and specific to a local situation. For the student to not continue to develop those skills reveals a belief that those skills will be adequate for future changes that will undoubtedly come. The lack of continued skill development those sets the student up for possible failure in the future.

2. An educational system that is driven solely by student desires will most certainly be lacking. I doubt that many would want to go to a doctor that only took the courses that he or she thought were interesting and wanted to take. The reasoning is that doctors with great knowledge and experience in the field designed the basics of what a doctor needs to know; the specializations follow a foundational program of study. In a similar fashion, there exists foundational course work for skilled-based programs of study from years of research and experience. Some institutions have followed the student-driven model, leaving the students to seek skill development on their own, or failing to get the needed training. Rather then an either/or situation, balance can be achieved in meeting students needs and desires without eliminating the standards by reframing the standards in a contemporary context.

3. Without getting too technical, brain development must also be taken into consideration. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to develop and that not until the mid-twenties. This part of the brain manages higher functions such as the analysis of future consequences. The dilemma comes when a student fresh out of high school goes to college and is asked to focus on a specific area that will determine his work, income, and livelihood for at least the foreseeable future and the very part of the brain that is responsible for such decisions is not fully developed. Rather than trying to address this dilemma, some institutions cater only to what the student can discern with limited foresight.

4. Students can obtain skill-based education in secular institutions and many that come to our seminaries have attended such institutions. The difference is the context from which the material is taught and the biblical worldview from which the material is presented. For example, music history taught from a biblical worldview can lay the foundation for students to understand much of the contemporary music and music theory can be readily applied to aid in the musical part of worship.

5. Accessibility and affordability are crucial elements of skill-based education.  While financial issues are not the main issue, they remain an integral part of the equation, especially in graduate training.. For the student, the cost for private lessons are added to the tuition; for the institution, maintaining faculty for skill-based education remains one of the most expensive budget items. Some institutions have completely eliminated skill-based programs principally for budget reasons. While this may address one issue, it fails to address the issue of adequate training and preparation for worship leadership. While the “trend” to cut programs has spread, the growing need in churches is for more skilled musicians and skilled-based professors to teach them has grown even greater. Graduate programs such as the DMA are crucial to the skill-based needs in the educational system and especially those based in a biblical worldview. One recourse has been to fill the gap with an adjunct teacher model, so that skill driven education can be maintained. Great care must be taken with this model that those filling the gaps be able to teach out of the biblical worldview, otherwise, the distinctiveness of the biblical context from which the subjects are approached will be lost.

6. After years of multi-venue worship, a growing number of churches are focusing on multi-generational worship and desiring one person who can not only lead a single style-driven worship service but one that is more inclusive that unites the church as a whole. This leader must have the skills to lead and direct some kind of choral group and coordinate youth and children’s musical groups for outreach and to aid in training future leaders. The performer/worship leader model is fading and many churches are looking for someone who can do more than just lead a few songs and look good on Sunday. The development of such skills is beyond the popular week or weekend workshop’s capacity and design, whose strength is disseminating a specific content in a short period of time, not skill development.

As I stated earlier, my goal is to bring this growing crisis to the discussion table. I realize that some may disagree on some, perhaps all of what is presented. I am very grateful for the training I have received at both a Baptist University and two seminaries. After nearly 50 years of ministry [including 20 with the IMB and then 17 years at NOBTS], I believe we are at a critical period in which secular culture, recovery from the worship wars, economic pressures, changes in student population, generational issues, and faulty discipleship in our churches are forming a “perfect storm” that we must address. I pray we may seek God’s wisdom and leadership as we face these days ahead discovering solutions that continue to meet the needs of our churches and students.

Friday, March 8, 2019

“And give us today our daily bread...” some insights...

We have heard and recited it thousands of times, so much so that we might have missed one of the profound truths it contains. The Model Prayer Jesus gave in Matthew 6:9-13 is a storehouse of insight on which we need to meditate often.  One truth in particular that has recently come to focus in my devotional time is the phrase, “ and give us today our daily bread.”

I’m sure that the disciples would have remembered how the children of Israel would have gathered manna daily during their sojourning in the wilderness and were commanded to only gather enough for that day, except in preparation for the Sabbath. Through this, they were to learn not only was God in control but that they needed to learn to trust Him for daily provisions. When they failed to do so as commanded, they were rebuked by God through Moses.

In learning to trust God on a daily basis for food, they would learn more of Who He was and is; the Ever-present “I AM” and Lord over all things. Yet, I believe that there is more than just understanding that God is our daily provider for food.  The prophet Jeremiah gives us insight into his Lamentations, specifically in 3:21-24:
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

In the midst of the tragedy of the fall of Judah and the prophet’s lament of all that the sin of Israel had caused, he sounds a note of hope: God’s great love and mercy still surrounded them; God’s “compassions never fail, they are new every morning.” God’s faithfulness is shown by His daily granting His love, mercy, and compassion, day after day. Part of the “daily bread” we need is this realization of His giving the love and mercy we will need for that day.  As Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So we must appropriate that love and mercy for this day and trust that tomorrow it will be there as well.

When we begin to look at a problem, difficulty, or circumstance in its entirety, it will seem like too much and we get overwhelmed. Our solution is to trust in the God that provides for us today; to thank Him for “today’s bread,” for today’s love and mercy and not worry about tomorrow. We must be obedient today and trust Him for the future. In Philippians 2:13 in the Living Translation, Paul states: “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Commit to being obedient for today; claim the promise of God that He is the One that can give you the power to be obedient, but the desire to do so as well. We may feel too weak to do so, but we can identify with Paul again: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” [2 Corinthians 12:9]

Let “today’s bread” be not only the physical food that you may eat, but also the love, mercy, and grace that God gives His children as they trust in Him. Don’t give up focusing on the enormity of the task ahead, but trust the loving Father for the grace of that day

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Note to my younger self...

I responded to God’s call to ministry when I was 17 and started leading worship in a small church not long afterward. God’s mercy and grace were abundant as I was helped and encouraged, corrected and guided by some loving and wise pastors and laymen and women during those early years. I was “adopted” by several families who made sure that “single young fellow” would have something to eat or someplace to rest.

In my limited experience, I was confident in what I knew and my abilities and had a sincere desire to serve. 

Like many beginning in the ministry, the expression “you don’t know what you don’t know” fit me like a glove.

So if given the opportunity to tell my younger self some things, I believe I would start with these things:

1. Spiritual knowledge is not the same as spiritual health
Knowing some biblical knowledge is not the same as understanding the Word and applying it to your life. Though I had a regular time in the Word, I lacked tools in discernment and how to make application in my everyday life. Spiritual knowledge is not the same as spiritual health.

As Peter Scazzero shares we can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. I desperately needed help learning how to be healthy emotionally. I needed help dealing with issues in my life. Somehow I thought I would just pick it up along the way or something.

2. The song of the Church started long before me…
I needed a biblical understanding of what worship was and wasn’t. I knew my experience, but had never studied worship, read much on worship, or how what I was doing fit into it all. I knew what I liked and didn’t like. I was trying the measure the distance of the earth to the moon with the short little ruler of my experience; worship was so much more than I understood. How we had gotten to the point of where we were in congregational worship had no connection in my mind of where we were going.

History was ok and some of the stories were great, but as far as I was concerned, life was always going to be singing, youth musicals, and new music. I didn’t really need the old stuff. I needed to see that the song of the Church started long before I arrived and will be going on long after I am gone. I needed to grasp what had gone on in the past to help me deal with the future.

3. I need to live in the acceptance that only Christ can give
My self-worth is based on what God in Christ has done in my life, not what I could accomplish or how well I could perform. I secretly longed for approval from friends, and others that could validate my worth and value. Little did I realize that I was giving them a power that they could never really give and could not serve to fill the vacuum I felt inside.

I really needed to see that Christ in me “was the hope of glory.” I no longer needed to be driven by the comments of those around me for my security, but instead, live in the love and acceptance that only Christ could give.

4. The right to be heard is earned through trust
Developing strong relationships are basic to life, ministry, and discipleship. We will earn the right to be heard by the trust we had developed more than the position we hold. Learning how to become a servant leader, focusing more on what God is doing in someone's life and joining in that, is more important than trying to develop relationships that will "help further my career."

If I could go back and share with my younger self some things, there would be a lot I would want to share, but I think I would start with these.