Don’t You Know

A while back I posted about building a spiritual fire in worship ministry, followed by a post on bringing the heat. I used the “fire triangle” as an analogy. To have a fire, you need fuel, heat, and oxygen. Remove any one of the three, and you no longer have a fire. The fuel for worship ministry is technical excellence, the foundation on which we build everything else. The heat is the excellence of heart, the passion and the energy we bring into our ministry.

My worship pastor pointed out that even with both technical and heart excellence, we still require the action of the Holy Spirit in order for worship to be meaningful and effective.

“Apart from Me you can do nothing” – Jesus.

The movement of God is absolutely a necessary part of the “fire triangle” of our worship. And every worshiper I know is well aware of that fact.

What I also note is, so many act like we have to beg God to show up and then hope for the best.

We often use terms like “leading people into His presence” or “taking the congregation somewhere we’ve already been” in terms of going somewhere else to get to God. We speak of inviting or welcoming God’s presence into the sanctuary or place of worship. We ask God to come join us.

We forget:  God is in us.

The big change in the New Testament gospel message isn’t simply that our sins are forgiven. Don’t get me wrong, that’s huge and I’m grateful. But that was a means to an end. Our sins separated us from God (see Isaiah 59:2). The cross does away with them. Our salvation by grace through faith in Christ unites us with God – puts His presence right inside of us, which was the promise all along. Emmanuel, God with us.

Everywhere we go, God is there. Not just in the sense of “omnipresence” like God is invisibly but spiritually everywhere and there’s no place we could go where He cannot (Psalm 139 speaks to this).

No, God is alive and active inside of His people. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God is working in us, Christ in us – the hope of glory.

So the question isn’t “Will God show up today?” or “Did we welcome His presence properly?”

The question is, “Did I set my mind on Him? Did I recognize His already-present activity in our midst? Did I come here with my agenda and idea about how things would go, or did I set all that aside with the recognition of His presence among His people?”

One of my pastors spoke of invoking the presence of God on a daily basis – not that we have power to command God to show up, but we have the ability to remember and remind ourselves that God is already here.

He would ask, using 1 Corinthians 6:19, “Don’t you know?” And the question is valid, because so often our words reflect that we’re not appreciating this spiritual reality.

Oxygen is all around us. Sure, there are ways to smother a fire, just as we can quench the Spirit. And there are special moments where God moves in a powerful and unexpected way, breathing on our embers and causing a flame of revival or a deep response to spring up from the smallest fire.

But if we’re committed to living for God, we’re going to be experiencing His presence as routinely as we breathe in and breathe out. He becomes a part of our lives.

<blockquote>”19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB</blockquote>

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May Collective

A few weeks ago, our church and partner churches got our worship teams together for the monthly Collective – our opportunity to train our minds and hearts for ministry the way we practice our instruments and vocals for performance.

Pastor Mike King shared his thoughts about worship and ministry. Some of it is specific to our church(es) but a lot of it relates to any worshiper or worship team. That’s what I’ve tried to capture here:

Worship teams aren’t resident rock stars, they’re conduits of community. They’re a key part of building connections within the Body. They’re not outside or above or separated just because they get up on stage on Sunday. We’re all going after encountering God together.

Worshipers have to consider identity – do we believe we are at least called to something?
Don’t find identity in what we do, but in who we are.

Mike uses an idea of three buckets side by side to explain this identity:
First, the Character bucket – things that fill you up and define who you are
i.e. devotion time, worship time, time with spouse, with kids, maybe some wholesome hobby.

Next, the Love bucket – glimpsing God and seeing things differently, starting to care about what God cares about, finding out what God says about us.
Knowing the love of God enables us to be a spokesperson of the love of God

Finally, the Mission bucket or Do bucket = what we do, what we’re called to.
We all love the do bucket because it’s easy, it’s what we know to do. Doing things is the default answer to any crisis or confusion we face.

We can’t find our identity in the do bucket. That’s full of what we do. We can’t start with whats. Start with why. Start with vision.

We must not be interested in notoriety, but interested in legacy. What is the impact we’re leaving behind?

Remember that everything we do is – or should be – in response to the greatness of God.

Have we encountered Him? As soon as we glimpse who He is, He reminds us who we are… not who we used to be, but who we’re going to be by grace.

So, with all that in mind, here’s five key steps Pastor King suggested:

1. Change how we view ministry in worship. Own it like you made it, like you mean it. Worship is not just the music pastor’s thing, and we all have to do his work. It’s OUR work. Change takes strong leadership and it’s not fun; we need leaders to step up.

2. Define results. How do you know where you’re going, or what your goal is? How can you communicate what the future looks like if you don’t know? Generally worship teams are way more concerned about spiritual health than ministry performance. Don’t worry about doing things, worry about what we ARE. Understand the vision on the pastor’s heart, then adopt it as yours.

3. Live transparently. Rock bottom is not a place of shame, judgment, disgust–those are the words we associate not with hitting rock bottom but with people seeing us there. We want to present the nice image. Why wait until life falls apart to change? Find accountability. Build relationships. God moving in the church is always challenged. This step is the most important thing we can do. Dangerous vulnerability, honesty, and transparency. If we can’t open the secret closet of skeletons with the people in this room, why are we serving together?

4. Take time to pause, to celebrate wins. For example, after the crazy eight service Easter weekend…. Week 1, celebrate the wins. Week 2, evaluate what we could do better. Don’t just focus on what went wrong, but be glad for what goes right.

5. Pray like you mean it. If you don’t have a prayer life, you don’t have a worship life. Our culture shifted from servants of the King to creating worship stars. Great leaders take people places that they visit often, so if we’re hoping to lead people into God’s presence, we need a personal worship life. We need time spent learning the love language of the King, hearing His thoughts about our world.

Reflection time:
What bucket do we focus on? what are we using to fill each one? what does God want to reroute in our lives?
Who are you?
What has He called you to?
Are you owning His calling in your life?
Are you responding to Jesus because of His greatness?

Needless to say, it was a challenging time of checking the direction we’re headed and the priorities we’ve set. Hopefully some of Pastor King’s comments encourage you to pursue a deeper intimacy with God as well.

Flavor

I’m chilling in my recliner, putting my foot up (in a cast, post-surgery), and browsing through other A to Z blog challenge participants’ sites. (Here’s a list if you’re wondering how many people are doing this.)

To top off the relaxing atmosphere, I have a cup of my favorite coffee – extra bold Sumatra from the Keurig. Truth be told, the Keurig coffee tastes different to me. I don’t like it as much as a normal pot of Sumatra. But it’s still good, and I’m content.

There’s sort of a maple flavor to it, in my head. When I first tried it, I was deployed to the Mideast. Starbucks used to print a suggestion on the bag about what food would complement the coffee, and their Sumatra suggestion was “a syrupy stack of pancakes before the house wakes up.” The suggestion was perfect, and for the next few days, I kept checking at the chow hall to see if they had pancakes. (Of course, they did not.)

Not everyone likes the coffee. My wife hates anything made by the Keurig. Some of my friends hate the extra dark roast. Some of them, who shall not be named as friends, even go so far as to dislike coffee. (Kidding.)

And that’s all right. Everyone has their favorite flavor, none better than another.

An important lesson in worship is to not treat preferences like doctrine.

Every individual has a preference about music, about songs, about how they seek God. Worship teams are made of individuals, so it’s not surprising that teams end up having a sort of flavor to them as well.

Maybe you don’t like hymns. Maybe you don’t like Gospel, or maybe David Crowder drives you nuts. Maybe Jesus Culture is really irritating with those high synth pads. Or maybe it’s country music that’s the worst. (it is.)

We can all have our tastes. What we can’t permit is for our tastes to turn into judgment against another style of worship and music. When you think of the worst worship style you’ve ever heard, what comes to mind?

I can’t guess for you, but I can tell you mine.

I’ve never been a fan of certain kinds of Gospel. Gospel choirs are awesome, and the way that the choirs blend three or four different parts together into a smooth song, that blows my mind. But when the leader gives vocal cues to every single word before the choir sings it, oh, that drives me nuts.

I am also not a fan of breathy recordings or constant vocalizing. When someone sings the Star Spangled Banner, and the “Oh” in “Oh say can you see” has a dozen notes, I’m already done listening. If it sounds like the person just finished a marathon, exhaling audibly with every word, that doesn’t strike me as “passionate” or “emotional.”

And yet I’ve been in churches with that style of music and seen congregations deeply committed to worshiping God — in spite of all the obvious flaws in the musical style!

Of course, the worship is meant to minister to the congregation, not just to my tastes. More important than that, God’s the One the worship is for, not me. And He’s willing to accept all my clunky notes, all my shallow lyrics, and all my half-hearted efforts. He even accepts the very best I have to offer, like a father hanging a crayon drawing on the cubicle wall or refrigerator.

There’s no right flavor, just as there’s no best style, no perfect choice of song. There’s just giving our best and letting others do the same.

Excellence

There’s always a debate in the worship music community, an either-or choice that every team faces to some extent:

Musicianship versus heart.

“Do we focus on a great musical performance, even if that makes the music seem stiff? Or do we focus on spiritual intimacy and a heart after God, even if our music ends up being less professional or skillful?”

Of course, a lot of the answer depends on the pastor(s) and the leadership of the team.

I’ve worked on teams led by high school band teachers. Not surprisingly, those teams are focused on getting the exact notes right, with every song planned out in advance. The whole team knows exactly who’s playing what at what time, and there’s nothing vague. I’ve had pastors who ensure song lists are planned out months in advance, every detail of the worship set laid out step by step before the service starts. “People come here expecting excellence,” one pastor told me. “So we would never deviate from the plan, because that invites disaster.”

However, it becomes easy for the worship to feel like a show, the congregation merely spectators. When we focus too much on musicianship and structure, there are no surprises… but then there are no surprises. We risk shutting out the very One we’re supposedly seeking. With too much structure, we can’t take note of how the congregation is reacting, or perhaps even where the Spirit is leading. A song might resonate with the Body, people might be responding to God moving in their midst… but we already planned that we would do verse 1, chorus, verse 2, chorus, repeat chorus, four measure interlude, bridge, chorus twice, tag the last line twice, end.

Does that mean we should instead focus on the heart?

I’ve been on teams (and led teams) where structure took a back seat. “I’d rather have someone singing off-key on fire for God, than a talented singer who’s all about themselves.” It takes time and effort, but once a team gets to know each other, the members can usually follow the flow set by the leader, which provides flexibility in the service. If a song is clearly having a meaningful impact on the congregation, the team can hang out for a while. If God’s Spirit is moving in an unexpected way, or if there is a song that complements the message, the team can switch in the middle of the service, to make the most of the moment.

Sounds great! And yet this can also cause great tension and disarray. When things go wrong, it’s difficult to recover. I’ve seen worship leaders stop in the middle of a song and say, “All right, that’s not it, sorry, let’s get this right.” I’ve had pastors tell me after the service, “Whatever that was, don’t ever do that again.” I’ve seen frustration when the band has to flex to a different key or a new song we haven’t practiced. Some members of the team might be spending hours practicing in order to play the planned set – only to have their hard work go to waste when the set list suddenly changes.

Well-meaning worship leaders have aimed for the stars, hoping to create an awesome opportunity to encounter God… and yet the congregation seems unmoved, lost or left behind while we charge ahead in our drive for intimacy. When we focus too much on the heart, there can be very pleasant surprises… but then there are some train wrecks. We risk losing our connection to our fellow worshipers in the congregation, or even in the band.

So what should we do?

I believe we must aim for excellence, and excellence as a worship team means incorporating both skillful performance with sincerity of heart. The team members must cultivate the right attitude and stay tuned in to what God is doing in the service, but they also must practice and play with all the skill they possess. A sense of structure is necessary so that everyone knows what to expect, but a close relationship with the rest of the band provides opportunity to adapt in the middle of the set as the congregation responds to God.

There’s no reason to make a false dilemma out of this subject, as though we must trade one for the other. One might as well ask which leg one can do without.