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Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Secret Poison in the Ministry...

At times our expectations tend toward believing that we shouldn’t have to go through hardships or major difficulties. Perhaps we were sincerely trying to follow His will and our circumstances actually become worse: we lose a job, a ministry, a loved one dies, or some other tragedy, and it seems like God left the picture, failed to help, or just didn’t care. It just doesn’t seem fair. These difficulties are frequently connected to the people around us. 

Often those new in the ministry soon find that situations and people are not exactly what they thought they were. People, once respected, say and do things that cause hurt, sometimes with a seemingly reckless abandon. Sometimes this hurt comes from those closest to us, and the deepest pain comes from those who are closest to us.

How the Poison Begins...
If we are not careful, we will begin to harbor a resentful attitude born out of our hurt. Since we “know God is good,” we may give an outward acceptance of the hurt, but inwardly resentment settles in our heart.  The resentful attitude is often reflected in a suppressed anger that masquerades as sarcasm. Sarcasm can be a light-hearted poke at one’s own weaknesses: “I would never go past the speed limit...I’m too busy on the phone to pay attention to the signs.” However, there is another level of sarcasm that is intended to be humorous or witty on the surface, but underneath the surface is suppressed anger and resentment. The focus of this kind of sarcasm generally is veiled humor making light of or cutting down another person, group of people, church, institution, or business. It is this kind of sarcasm that can poison the spirit of an individual and spread to an entire worship team, church, or group.  For example, I once read a review of a concert pianist in which the critic stated: “The artist displayed the full range of emotions from ‘A’ to ‘B’.”  Obviously, the critic wasn’t too impressed with the performance and couched his comments in sarcasm.

What We Can Do
How do we deal with these issues? Without trying too sound simplistic, we need to start at the beginning: We need to identify the past hurts, offenses, disappointments, etc., and admit the deep feelings we have of resentment, anger, or bitterness and confess those to the Lord. We must be honest with God of our doubt of His doing the right thing, our confusion of the outcomes, and lack of faith and trust in His love.  We then need to recall how He has provided, helped, moved in the past, and how He saved and redeemed us. We need to confess renewed faith in His love and His plan for our lives and thank Him for all He as done; praise Him for who He is. This may be a repeated task each time that feeling of irritation or anger rises up inside of us. We will either reinforce a godly response or allow the sarcastic remarks to continue, refusing to deal with the cause and allow the situation to worsen.

Learning to Forgive
We need to forgive those who have offended us. What does it mean to forgive? First, let’s look at what forgiveness is not:
– Forgetting [We are not commanded to forget; in the case of abuse, it may not be safe to forget, but we are commanded to forgive.]
– Pretending that unacceptable behavior is acceptable [It is not ignoring the offense.]
– No longer feeling the pain or grieving
– Automatically trusting [Just because we forgive does not mean that we automatically place ourselves in a dangerous situation.]
– Lack of consequences
– Reconciliation [In reconciliation, the offender admits to the wrong and repents, that is, turns away from committing the offense again. A person can forgive the offender, but if the offender fails to confess and repent, reconciliation cannot occur.]
What IS forgiveness then?  Forgiveness is: Giving up the perceived right to get even; giving up the attitude “You owe me;” a canceled debt.

Forgiveness is a releasing of the consequences of what should happen into the hands of the only One who knows all there is to know about the situation and circumstances. We forgive by an act of the will, not whether we feel like doing so; it is an act of obedience, not a feeling. It is very doubtful that you will “feel” like forgiving. We do not wait until we “feel” right; we respond right and our feelings will catch up.

Forgiveness is first something between you and God; you forgive without telling the person who offended you that you have forgiven them. Of course, if they have asked you to forgive them, you respond with a “yes,” or a clarification -if necessary- of what the true offense was. But, unless they ask you to forgive them, telling someone that you forgive them only complicates the issue, and puts you into the role of the convictor, which belongs to the Holy Spirit.  We are commanded to “speak the truth in love,” which does mean that we go to the person that offended us and say, “I was offended when you... naming the offense.” But no matter what their response is, we are still commanded to forgive.

We also need to seek forgiveness from those we have offended. We should not say, “I know I offended you, but you offended me as well...” We ask confessing the attitude that caused the offense: not, “forgive me for gossiping about you...” [the first thing they will want to know is what you said], but “forgive me for a lack of love” [the attitude which was behind the action].

Forgiving [Matthew 18] and seeking forgiveness [Matthew 5:24] are an important part of worship and maintaining the right relationships within the Body of Christ. Sarcasm is a “red flag” that we may need to do some forgiveness work. Learning how to have victory over sarcasm helps us become leaders that reflect God’s nature and character.

Making sarcastic comments just didn’t happen overnight, nor will it stop overnight. We must first recognize the behavior as a problem, deal with the causes, then commit ourselves to thank God for His love and work in our lives and realize that He is concerned about the development of Christ’s nature in our lives.  Suffering and difficulty become the training ground in which we grow in our understanding of Who He is. It is in sickness we grow to know Him as Healer; loneliness, as Friend; insecurity, as Rock and Refuge, etc. 

God grants us grace to respond correctly when we are offended. We are commanded to forgive, that is, to release to God the vengeance we want to give the offender. As the Scripture says, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” — we are not in a position to know all the circumstances, nor God’s future plans.   Responding rightly will help us avoid falling into the sarcasm trap.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Five Blind Spots in Worship Ministry

A blind spot is an area “in which a person is unable to see or hear satisfactorily.” [] Here are fine in which we need to call to our attention. In the case of driving a car, ignoring to check the blind spots can lead to tragic consequences. Failure to become aware of blind spots in our worship ministry can also become tragic.

1. Sensitivity and Balance: I’m grateful for recent numerous articles recognizing that Worship leadership needs to be sensitive to the “singability” of a song for the congregation; that just because it might be popular, doesn’t mean it is congregational. Secondly, balance. If worship leadership is using only the “latest and greatest,” then the congregation never develops a canon of worship songs they can sing from their hearts by memory that the Spirit uses in times of crisis or great need.  I’m glad that these are being addressed publicly, but am still concerned that the problem remains an issue.

2. Integrity and skill: We all desire that those leading have the necessary musical skills to play, lead, and run the technology for the worship service, We also desire the sincerity of heart in those leading, rather than sensing that what is happening on the platform is professional entertainment for our enjoyment. Though we desire this, we seem to be at a loss as to how to reach it. While musical training is a must, I believe in large part our lack of spiritual maturity is a result of a lack of emotional as well as spiritual health. I would refer to Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and his Emotionally Healthy Leader books as excellent resources.

3. Training and Mentoring: Of course we desire that the Worship Leadership have adequate training, but of equal concern is our blindness to developing a pool of worship leaders in our youth and children. We have forgotten that many of those leading worship now were children or youth in someone’s choir years ago.  With the declining condition of music education in many of our schools, the church may be one of the last opportunities some children have to discover musical ability as well as what biblical worship and worship leadership is all about, rather than the “American Idol” model for musicians so prevalent in our culture. Some churches have rediscovered the power of training children and youth in worship, but very few.

4. Family and Ministry: Of all the illustrations that Jesus could have used to describe His relationship with the Church, He called her His Bride. As Scazzero says, our marriages are a testimony and witness to the world; unfortunately, in many cases, they are not. When almost half of those actively in ministry are addicted to pornography [an estimated 3-4 out of every 10] and the divorce rate of almost 50% among believers, the failure of Christ’s desired testimony is a living tragedy.  Too often we have equated success in ministry as the ultimate goal, rather than a biblical model of the marriages as a base from which we can help heal those in our church body and community. [This is not to downplay the importance of those called to singleness; the focus here is on marriages.  Single ministers, as well as married ones, can be consumed by activity and miss what God is trying to do in their lives.] 

5. Worshiping Worship: Though it may seem odd, our focus on worship can morph into worshiping worship, not too unlike the adolescent who “is in love with the idea of being in love.” We can slip into worshiping the worship experience more than the God of praise and adoration. Biblical worship is the obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God and while our emotions are often a product of that obedient response, they are not the measure of our worship experience.

While some of these are being addressed, I am concerned that too many of them remain “blind spots” in our worship ministry and will weaken our effectiveness.

Friday, July 27, 2018

13 Reminders

Before school begins soon and I generally like to post some goals that I desire for the students which God allows me to teach, but this year I am changing things just a bit and am listing 13 reminders for me as a teacher:

1. Content and application are two sides of the same coin; teaching is incomplete attempting only one.
2. Skills needed for our ministries must be honed by proper application and practice. "Practice does not make perfect; Correct practice makes perfect." Until we move from understanding the skill to rightly doing the skill we cannot be effective.
3. We teach people, not textbooks; the materials are only a means by which we can share, love and disciple.
4. Respect is earned, not forced. Respect gained by fear leads to avoidance; respect gained by love and trust deepens both. Respect is a two-way street.
5. Anger and impatience are like fire; they can burn and hurt all those around, whether intended or not.
6. The Holy Spirit is the source of creativity; my sensitivity to His working either leads me to join or makes me a hindrance.
7. My response to the students around me must be centered on seeing what God is doing in their lives, not how they respond to me.
8. Fresh study will bring more fruit than simply recycling old notes.
9. The calling and privilege to teach came from God and He has the authority to remove it anytime He pleases.
10. My joy and self-worth come from what God has done through Christ, not from my own efforts. “He who began the good work in me will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ.” [Phil 1:6]
11. We speak the truth in love so that the nature and character of Christ are foremost in all we do and say.
12. My emotional responses are the red flags of warning and caution that can reveal areas in my life which are not consistent with the nature and character of Christ.
13. Becoming wisely transparent about personal weakness and struggles can be a help and encouragement to others as we grow in our sensitivity to our great need and dependence on Christ.
I'm not responsible for trying to convince students how smart I am or how much I know, but to join in what God is doing in their lives through the skills and knowledge He has given me.

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.