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I am a follower of Jesus.
Like you, I am faced with choices, desires, options, and possibilities. Some options are obviously contrary to the heart of God, and so I know not to consider them as viable. But what about those other options? What about my desires, dreams, and hopes? Everyone has them, or had them at one time.
As a follower of Jesus, there are many paths that are considered acceptable by my church culture. If I want to pursue something, and it has a “Jesus element” to it, then I usually get approval by most people that I know. There are other activities that are considered good and acceptable by my popular culture, and are not obviously “wrong”, and so once again I receive a nod of approval.
Following Jesus is completely contrary to the two scenarios that I have just described. Neither public approval nor my church culture approval is enough to validate a trajectory for my life. My own desires, predispositions, and tendencies are not to be the compass for my existence. Someone has said that, “the enemy of the best is the good”. It is incredibly easy to be a few degrees off regarding what one ought to be doing with their life. A few degrees off doesn’t seem like much when a pilot first takes off, but obviously, the further he flies, the more off course he gets. Such can be the outcome of a person’s life. We can be well intentioned, but way off course. We can “land” in a place that is distant from where we should have landed.
To some I may sound idealistic. To others, legalistic and confined. I have considered those possibilities as well. I have wondered if I ought not allow myself to be more free, to follow the impulses and passions of my heart.
As I understand it, following Jesus is neither a matter of pragmatism, or logic. Pragmatism dictates that we ought to do the things that “works”. Logic is the thing that seems obvious.
A Christian man might be a very talented athlete, with a great possibility of a professional career. Pragmatism and logic would dictate that that is the course he ought to pursue, but it may not necessarily be the path that God has chosen for him. Just because a man can follow a path and be successful at it doesn’t mean that he should. Two examples of this come to mind: Jim Elliot, and Eric Liddell. Both men were incredibly gifted athletes, but both set aside their athletic pursuits to pursue a greater prize.
People undoubtedly called Elliot and Liddell foolish for choosing Christian service over athletic careers, but both men stayed their courses as they felt led by God, and their lives and deaths have become models of faith for the Christian Church. Pragmatism and logic would have dictated different paths for Elliot and Liddell. Their personal passion for sports, coupled with their athletic talents would have seemed to be evidence of an athletic career, but the Spirit of God had a greater plan.
Let me conclude with some scripture that points to what I am suggesting.
Philippians 3:12-14 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
John 8:29 And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.
Both Paul and Jesus could have been incredibly successful in the eyes of the world if they had chosen different paths. Paul would have been a shaper of culture, a great author, and a philosopher. Jesus could have changed the temporary course of history for Israel by driving out the Romans, and He would have been an amazing king.
Aren’t we glad that neither of them chose the good instead of the best? Aren’t we glad that they did not allow pragmatism and logic to dictate their actions?
Dear reader, if you are a Christ follower, don’t miss the best because you choose the good. Don’t allow pragmatism or logic to dictate you life path. Just because you can do something well, and because you have a passion for it doesn’t mean that those pursuits should be the focus of your life. God may allow you to pursue some things as part time hobbies, but keep the main thing the main thing.
The good Bible teaching that occurs in many churches is not enough to equip Christ following congregants to interact effectively with the world. In fact, I believe that some pastors are unconsciously hindering their flocks, and are, as a result, “ill-equipping” them for the work of ministry.
I recently heard a tremendous quote, and I will try to paraphrase. The speaker spoke of the American Church and said, “We are a subculture of a sub culture. We read each other’s book, we sing each other’s songs, and we scratch each other’s backs”.
I completely agree that the Body of Christ is a sub culture, and that each movement or denomination is a further sub culture, and finally, that each individual church within a movement or denomination is a sub, sub, sub culture. There is nothing wrong with that…to a point.
Each culture and sub culture has its own language. The lack of awareness that we (the Church) have regarding our sub, sub culture language is the thing that concerns me. What do we sound like to the world?
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This is an article I wrote for Cross Connection, a blog committed to church ministry.
Criticism can be hard to swallow. Regarding criticism, it has been said, “Your friends have everything to lose, and your enemies have nothing to lose”. In other words, listening to criticism can be a helpful thing, if the criticism is true and accurate. Your friends take the risk of you getting angry at them, so they take a chance in sharing a criticism with you. Your enemies don’t care if you like what they say or not, so they can be blunt. In either scenario, there may be things to learn.
But I think I have a better idea than listening to critics, and it is this: Critique yourself. Examine yourself. There is Biblical precedent for it.
The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged”. (1 Corinthians 11:31)
The church at Corinth was mishandling the Lord’s Supper, and God had judged some of them. That was the immediate context of the passage, but there is an application that can be extracted from that verse. We ought to judge ourselves in regards to how well we are doing as worship leaders.
I’d rather be an honest critic of myself, than be surprised by the words of another. It just makes sense to me that worship leaders ought to examine how they are doing regarding the ministry that God has given them.
Here is what I suggest:
Listen to yourself. I regularly listen to the recorded worship sessions from our church. I am often disappointed in my playing and singing, but I am able to identify mistakes that I regularly make, and have an awareness of what needs to be worked on. There might be a certain note that is consistently off pitch. Maybe a phrase could be sung better. Sometimes during the worship leading, I am ‘really feeling it”, and it seems to be “right”, until listen back to the recording, and discovering that I rushed the song, or played it too slowly. Listening to myself has helped me identify problematic areas of my playing, singing, and leading.
Sometimes the recording off the soundboard may not be a good representation of what the church is hearing. I suggest that the serious worship leader use some kind of recording device to record the sound of the room. The Zoom H1 digital recorder can be purchased for about $125, and gives the worship leader a clear representation of what the worship experience sounds like. It is a great investment for the serious worship leader. Older models can be found for $60-75 on Craigslist or eBay.
Better than listening to yourself, is watching yourself. The congregation watches us for at least part of the time. What they see can affect them positively or negatively. We all have funny idiosyncrasies. We might have poor posture, and that makes us look lazy. Some people have distracting facial expressions when they play or sing. I regularly watch myself both play and preach. We are fortunate to have a good video system, so I see “every little thing”. :-/
Have a friend video record you with their iPhone. Set up an inexpensive video camera, and have the band examine itself. I would rather discover visual distractions and correct them, than to force the congregation to endure them until I figure them out.
Worship leading is a platform ministry. We are in front of people. How you stand, sing, play makes a difference. Some clothes may not be flattering to you, and might be a distraction. Certainly, modesty in dress should be practiced. We look in the mirror before we leave the house. I think it is a good idea to “look in the mirror” regarding our worship leading.
So Mr./Mrs./Miss Worship Leader….critique yourself. Listen, watch, and make adjustments as needed. Your church will appreciate it, and the worship experience will be enhanced.
There are those who lead songs at church, and those who lead worship. There is a huge difference. Leading worship songs is something that somebody does. Being a worship leader is something that someone is.
Familiarity With Worship Music
Worship leaders listen to worship music. They listen to a lot of it. They learn songs, and can sing or play many songs from memory. At the very least, there is a familiarity with many songs. They understand different styles of worship music, and though they may not be able to play all those styles, they know how a style of music ought to sound.
Knowing a lot of music allows the worship leader to be spontaneous during a worship gathering. He/she might include a song that wasn’t planned for, but is perfect for the moment. Sometimes a worship leader will think of a song that would be perfect for the moment, but cannot play it for lack of familiarity with that song. That is a lost opportunity. Worship leaders need to listen to a lot of worship music. They need to have a big repertoire. They need to be able to play dozens of songs by memory.
Music charts should be there as a reference, not as a lifeline. The worship leader ought to be able to play most of his/her songs by memory, which allows for freedom of expression as opposed to a desperate dependence on the written music. When the worship leader is struggling with a song because of lack of familiarity, the congregation feels it. Know the music, and practice it frequently.
A preacher needs to be able to spontaneously quote any number of scripture passages as the Spirit leads. The same is true for a worship leader. He/she needs to be able to bring up a song as the Spirit leads. The band needs to be able to follow.
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(Editor’s note: I have a lot of stuff bouncing around in my head regarding worship leading. Check back soon for more. Blessings.)
Worship leaders need to realize the holiness of the activity they are involved in. They stand before people, and sing to the Creator of the universe. They stand before God, and sing directly to Him. They use their God given gifts and talents to worship God in such a way that inspires others to join in. Leading worship must be viewed as a holy endeavor. God is holy, and our worship of God must be holy as well.
Consider the worship of God that was offered by the seraphim in Isaiah 6:1-4. We read, “ 1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!”
These mighty angelic beings cover their eyes and their feet. It has been said that they covered their eyes, because they were not worthy to look upon God, and that they covered their feet as a sign of humility. Their worship of God was a result of their clear view of His holiness, and their actual giving of worship reflected their understanding of God’s holiness. There was humility and adoration because they had a clear understanding of the holiness of God.
As a worship leader, do you think about the holiness of God? Are you in awe of God’s holiness? He is completely above and apart from anything common, mundane, unclean, or immoral. Holiness means to be separate, different. God is infinitely higher than the most holy man on Earth.
Is your view of God is that He is “a lot better than you”, or that he is infinitely better than you? Do you experience any reverential fear of God as you ascend to the front of the church to offer Him praise? Is there any sense of your own unholiness? Is there a deeper desire to grow in holiness, that you might more rightly represent God, and be sensitive to His Spirit?
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John 21:19-22 19This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” 20Then Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also had leaned on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” 21Peter, seeing him, said to Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” 22Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”
The year was 1984. I had just quit the band Undercover, which at the time, was hugely popular and used by God. I was walking through Knott’s Berry Farm on one of the Christian Music Nights they had once a year. This year, I was not on stage, as I had been previously. I was just a guy in the crowd, wandering around from stage to stage, watching the bands, getting recognized a bit, but feeling quite alone and confused.
I was wondering about what my immediate future held. I was feeling drawn to the pastoral ministry, but still feeling like I had some music left in me: songs to write, concerts to perform etc. I was walking through Knott’s hoping for and looking for some direction.
God spoke clearly to me that night. He didn’t speak to me about the particular direction of what I was supposed to do, but of how I was supposed to live. The reminder that I received was that I needed to not worry about what other people were doing and saying, or what God was doing in and through other people. My responsibility was and still is, to follow Jesus.
Fast forward 27 years. My need to follow Jesus hasn’t changed. The voices of the experts have changed a bit. I am offered much advice from pewsitters and church growth experts about how to serve Jesus. I don’t discount that some of that advice is good, but it never has and never will be better advice than what I receive from Jesus.
I still don’t need to worry about what others are doing and saying. Yes, there are some good thoughts I can learn from. There are examples of outstanding works being done that I can gather from, but the greatest advice and direction I can get needs to come to me from Jesus. He speaks through His Word, and He speaks by His spirit through impressions, thoughts, leanings, and holy hunches.
My life is unique, as is yours. No one knows what you need more than God. Listen for His voice first and foremost. Don’t just agree with me, but do it. Learn the art of quite reflection, prayer, and Bible reading. Until that is done, restrain yourself from other voices.
“You follow Me” is advice I still need to follow.
Mark 14:3-9 3And being in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as He sat at the table, a woman came having an alabaster flask of very costly oil of spikenard. Then she broke the flask and poured it on His head. 4But there were some who were indignant among themselves, and said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted? 5For it might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they criticized her sharply.
6But Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a good work for Me. 7For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always. 8She has done what she could. She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial. 9Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.”
Many who love Jesus give of themselves to Him.
They give time, money, talents, material possessions.
They forsake personal gain, high paying careers, and upward mobility.
Some would say that they give too much.
Parents may encourage their child to go to college and prepare for a good career, rather than go to Bible college and prepare for a life of godly service.
They would never tell their child to not be a Christian; they would just tell them to have a “balanced” life, and be sure to have a good career first. They may suggest that their child not get too fanatical about their Christian faith. They would emphasize that it’s a tough world out there, so their child needs to “look out for #1”.
There are many other examples of how people that give their lives to Jesus are warned or corrected by others who are around Jesus. The disciples were with Jesus all the time, had seen the miracles, and heard Him teach, but they thought that what this was did was “a waste”. They justified their opinion by saying that some good social act could have been done instead. Helping the poor is important, but it wasn’t more important at that moment.
They made the mistake that so many Christians make: they miss the best and suggest the good. They are committed, but not too committed. They worship and serve, to a point. They give, but are careful to not go beyond what is reasonable. They try to be “reasonable” in their Christian life, and are careful to maintain a “balance”.
I never read about keeping a balance. I read about being led by the Holy Spirit.
Like the woman who poured out the costly ointment, some Christians pour out their lives to God.
Like the woman, they are told that what they have done is extravagant and extreme.
Jesus had a different opinion, and defended her.
Be careful about how you judge such things.
When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, the mob came to arrest Him, led by Judas. Peter sought to protect Jesus, and swung his sword, cutting off a man’s ear. Jesus healed the man, and then said to Peter…
“…do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26:53, 54)
Jesus told Peter that he could have prayed for twelve legions of angels to protect Him for this crowd.
1 Legion = 6,000 angels.
12 Legions = 72,000 angels
In 2 Kings 19:35, one angel killed 185,000 soldiers in one night.
Jesus could have been defended against 13,320,000,000 people.
Thirteen billion, three hundred and twenty million.
Twice the Earth’s present population.
Those are staggering numbers, but the numbers aren’t the point.
The point is this: Jesus would not use the provision of God to avoid the will of God.
That which was rightfully available for Jesus could have been used by Jesus to avoid the will of the Father.
Question yourself: do you ever use the provision of God to avoid the will of God?
If you avoid the will of God, (disobey), then you are using the provision of God for purposes that are contrary to the will of God. You use your mind, body, money, talents, family, friends, job…..you use blessings from God to avoid doing the will of God.
Instead of obeying God, you stay busy with the life God provided, you hide in the home God provided, you drive away on the car God provided, you do the lesser instead of the greater with the talent and mind God provided.
Dear Christian…everything you have is the provision of God.
May we not use the provision of God to avoid the will of God.
It has been said that the church is a hospital. A place where hurting people go to be healed up by God and His people. A place where the wounded can go and not be expected to do much. In part, I agree with that concept. Church should be a place where the wounded can go and experience healing.
But is church “just” a hospital.
Think about your last visit to a hospital. You went to be taken care of. You expected people to do things for you. If they didn’t help you get better, you got frustrated, because it’s their job to “make you better”.
If they were successful, and you felt better, you left. In fact, you probably couldn’t wait to leave. You didn’t stay to involve yourself with other patients. You didn’t consider the needs of the caregivers, staff, doctors, or nurses. You got better, and then you left.
A church is a hospital, but it is much more. It is a family, a community, a body. If people come to be healed, then good, they should. But if, when they have become healthy (God knows when that is) and then they decide that “their felt needs” have been met, and then they leave, then they have missed much of what Church is designed by God to be. They have gone from being a patient to a consumer. They have gone from being needy to being self focused, or at least ignorant that there are other patients that could use their help.
It is true that one church might help bring healing to someone, who God then directs to serve somewhere else. That person sees the Church as more than a hospital. That’s good.
I am sympathetic to people’s needs for healing. But I know that the Church is designed by God to be much more than a hospital. It is designed to be a family.
Being a patient means you receive. Being a family member means you give. Let’s not do the first and neglect the second.