As someone who struggles with chronic overthinking, I feel like I have quite a bit of experience in this area. I have read many books, studied this subject, watched the trends, followed what others in the field are doing and whatever else you can think of. I’ve gone to conferences where we learn different techniques and purchased products that will make things work better or enhance the experience. I’ve labored in my office over ideas and thoughts and how to make things move the way I think they should. I’ve spent countless hours on the phone talking to people I respect that give me ideas and perspective that I may not have had on my own. What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned? You just have to play the games.

Some of my friends here might beat me up for this one, but they both happened in the same day. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t use the analogy that was dropped in my lap. Simply put, the Raiders were not supposed to beat the 49ers yesterday. I watched most of the game, and I must say, on the field they had every right to win that game. Oakland played better football for 60 minutes. In the end, there was a pretty substantial divide created here in the Bay Area of happy and sad.

We have been in the midst of a time here where we have been overthinking (at least in my own opinion) worship. Yesterday, we pretty much didn’t do that and had one of the more dynamic mornings that we have had in a while. Why? Because you have to play the games. I can think about what I want it to look like for hours. But sometimes you have to throw the convention out the window and just worship. There are so many things floating around about how to do things, or the best approach, what’s too much or not enough, song styles, etc. But sometimes it’s just all about pinning your ears back and doing what you do best, and that’s praising God. Sometimes you have to just play the games.

This same concept works wherever you are in life. You may be trying to make a major life decision. You might be struggling with a long time addiction. You might even be considering changing professions. I don’t know what that thing is that you are currently dealing with, but at some point you will run out of scenarios and ideas that may or may not work. Eventually you’re going to have to make a decision and go with it. Sometimes you just have to play the games. That’s my encouragement for you today.

Because The Cross is The Catalyst

Posted by worship180 under redefine

What if the church is being given an opportunity to shine a light in the midst of the darkness? What if these perilous times are here for us to be the ones to draw everyone to the same place? Can you imagine what the church could do with this chance? We need something to divert our attention. We need something else to focus on. We need something that everyone can focus on. Together.

Even as I write this I know the answer is simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. I present the best focal point I have. Because the cross is the catalyst for change. I look at everything that is going on around me right now and the only answer I have is the cross. We could continue to speak about the issues in the world. We could continue to talk about the issues in the church. We could continue to talk about the issues in your home or with your family. But without the cross, you aren’t going to see the significant change you are looking for. The word catalyst is huge, at least it is to me. Why? Because Hebrews 13:8. Because the cross causes significant change in your without changing itself. The cross causes significant change in this world without changing itself. The cross causes change in your home, in your church–wherever–without changing itself. That’s a catalyst.

You can’t get close to it without it affecting you. So the question is, how close are you willing to get to the cross? It might not look like what you think. You may come to the cross looking for someone or something else to change. It’s more than likely going to change you. It might not change the situation you are looking at, but it will change you and how you look at it. Your best bet for significant change is to bring someone else with you to the cross and let it change you both.

I have started this blog post like 6 different times today. No matter what approach I try to take on all of the things happening in the world today, I keep coming back to the cross. That’s the best answer I can come up with. Do you have to shoot someone in the face when they are unarmed? I don’t think so. Do you have to strangle a man to death for selling cigarettes on the street? I don’t think so. Did a man have to be beaten with hammers in the street? I don’t think so. Hasn’t there been enough injustice floating around in the world? Very much so. Have we seen the end of it? I don’t think so. The frenetic levels of racial tension are creating some interesting discussions, especially in social media. I tend to stay away from those. It’s not that I don’t have thoughts and opinions about what is going on in our world. That’s not true at all. It is mostly because I spend a lot of time watching people. I watch to see how people respond to the things happening around them. Difficult times seem to draw out the true colors of man, and those colors help you to know where people stand. That is the most difficult thing about all of this from my position. Why? Because the cross isn’t black or white.

See, I personally see some major trust issues in all these situations. For black people, there is a lack of trust in the law based (pretty accurately, I might add) on history. For white people, there is a belief that anyone that hasn’t made it to whatever level they have achieved must not be trying hard enough. Black people think that everyone is against them. White people believe that everyone else is lazy and don’t want to do better. A lot of this stems from the fact that there are very few relationships between those particular parties. I grew up in University City. I remember playing basketball, baseball AND football in the street with the police in my neighborhood. Black and white. They knew our names and we knew theirs. Most importantly, they had our trust. I knew who I could expect to see if something went down in my neighborhood. So I come from that side of having trust in the people that patrol our city. Does that mean I was always treated fairly by the police in my neighborhood? Not at all. I can recall many times where I was judged harshly and actually not believed by police. I can assure that that none of those times involved the police that took the time to know me. Why do I share that? I share that because it wasn’t about race. It wasn’t about anything other than relationships. I have a much better time trust people that I know. If I’m in a situation that I don’t know my surroundings, I’m going to naturally be a little bit more on edge. Probably more than I should be, seeing that I scare a lot of people just by waking up and walking around. But that’s another story… Before I started writing this, I ran across and article by NBA analyst Kenny Smith that he wrote to Charles Barkley. I love it because he said pretty much what I have been feeling about this the whole time. You can read it here.

Problems arise when we put anything above Christ. I cannot be more black than I am Christian. Whenever that happens then I’m not focused on the cross. Because the cross isn’t black. I can’t care more about anything more than I care about the cross. Neither can you. It won’t work. You may be tired of the injustice that is seemingly running rampant in this country. You may not understand why everyone is so bitter. You may be married to or related to an officer. But none of those things can overshadow the cross. Once they do, your judgement is severely clouded. Mike or Eric or Trayvon or Zemir were not the first people to die from unjust surroundings. And unless something changes in the next 15 seconds, they won’t be the last. Injustice remains. Profiling remains. Misunderstanding remains. All of these things remain in our world. Why? Because it’s the world. I can’t expect the world to be anything different. Much like I don’t expect my daughter to be a boy, I don’t expect the world to act like I expect Christians to act. But I do expect Christians to act like Christians. And what should they be doing? Looking to the cross. Why? Because the cross isn’t black or white.

 

::Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.:: Hebrews 11:1

I remember learning that scripture when I was little along with it’s companion in verse 6. They would be, and continue to be, constant reminders of God being there even when I couldn’t see Him. As I got older, there was also the reminder of Him being there even when I didn’t feel him. Now working in the church for so many years, I have the reminder of Him being there even when we plan Him out. Or when we move on our own accord. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, just because we work in a church doesn’t mean that it’s always just prayer and praise and decisions forged in the heart of God and shone down to us in glowing lights in our meeting rooms. There are times when we get wrapped up in doing what we think is best and letting that dictate all the things around us. I sometimes do it when I put my Sunday mornings together. We’ve done things in a similar way so many times that everyone knows what to do. So we are happy that there is such a well-oiled machine. So happy in fact, that if anything goes awry, we aren’t always so quick to recover. And then we discuss later how things didn’t go the way we planned. All of these thoughts and conversations are based on what we see.

Sometimes it’s as if we have planned God right out of His own house. Believing that if we don’t see those results or people’s reactions that things aren’t happening. Or if there is something difficult to work through that this must not be God because he’s the God of all things being easy for His people. Or he’s the God of all the things that we like. If we are only going to move when we can see what’s happening or can already know the end result (and like it), that’s not faith. Sometimes that thing right in front of you is really hard to handle. Continuing to believe that God is there to help with hard things helps you to fight through whatever that situation is. Sometimes you’re in a situation that is not to the best of your liking. Sometimes something happens that you don’t agree with. Continuing to believe that there is more means that there is something that God is wanting you to work through or grow through. Most importantly it’s continuing to believe that God is still there. God is still there when your boss is tough. God is still there when you get older and everything around you is changing and these young kids are bothering you with their new stuff. God is still there when you get some bad news. God is still there when you are continuing to fight with a stronghold in your life.  God is still there.

Where has your faith gone? Are you continuing to believe in more than what you see? Have you stopped believing in what is next because you are so focused on what’s right now? Have you stopped waiting because you are so focused on instant gratification? Where has your faith gone?

So, that title is pretty self explanatory really. So let’s jump in…

First things first, I’ve been totally convicted as of late. I’ve known that I need to keep writing. Writing gets some of the thoughts out of my brain and helps me focus on the tasks at hand. In this job there are a LOT of tasks at hand right now. Which is funny that I’ve decided to start writing again. So why did I stop? I stopped because I felt like I didn’t have anything else to say. It wasn’t about the number of viewers or subscribers. The numbers had actually gone up a little. It wasn’t about any controversial comments or things. That might mean that I’m not saying enough. Either way, I felt like I had run out of things to say. As if I had given all I could give to the world. It’s extremely arrogant when you think about it, even though that wasn’t really my approach at the time. I just felt like the well had run dry. What I’ve found is that I haven’t spent as much time at the right well. I was able to pull a lot from my own brain and experiences, yet I wasn’t spending much time sharing from my heart as God placed things in it. So, it was as if I said God was done working through me. Well, I’m not dead, so that can’t be the case.

So it would seem pretty simple why I decided to write again. God is still showing me things about worship that I feel the need to share. There’s a little more to it than that though. My heart’s desire has always been to speak to the deeper parts of worship, more than just the songs that we sing on Sunday. But to the heart of the matter. There is a continuous need to speak to the heart of worship, which means there is a need for me to continue to write about it. Also, for those of you that do what I do, you know we don’t always have the chance to share a lot on Sunday morning, so this is the forum for that as well.

Whatever the end result may be, I know that this is here because God says so. So I’m going to keep writing. Read it if you like. Share it with others if something speaks to you. Happy December. Jesus is coming and there’s gonna be a party!

I was having a conversation with someone not too long ago and they mentioned how there hasn’t been any real significant worship wars as of late. Then I read an article that sort of said the same thing. For a second I assumed that I had been transported into a future time where people in church didn’t have opinions and was just cool with everything. Then I realized that I was still had some of my hair left and my kids were the same age. I was a little confused until I settled into the statement and SLIGHTLY agreed with where they were coming from. While it is true that we haven’t had the major war or conversation about hymn versus contemporary or organ versus electric guitar or choir versus praise team (or whatever you call the 3-8 people standing in the front of your stage with mics). It seems that we are in this holding pattern where some of the older people in our churches have sort of resigned to accept where music is within our churches. They have either adopted it or just struggle through it by using the handed out ear plugs at the door or going to different churches. So yes, I would say that has settled for now.

But there is another ‘war’ that has been brewing for quite awhile, and I tend to think this one is scarier than the normal one. The articles I’m starting to see and the conversations that are swirling around are starting to sound a little like a tiff between brothers and sisters. From the surface it sort of looks like brothers and sisters holding each other accountable to stay true to the Word and present solid, Gospel-centric music to their churches. But as a worship pastor and someone who spends a lot of time reading articles and listening to music, it sounds more like each person shifting the blame of our current situations within the local church on someone else. Some say that there isn’t enough music written by the people within the church, so churches are writing their own music (granted, they probably shouldn’t be, but whatever). Others are saying, stop singing so much of your own music because people don’t know it and don’t connect. Some say that people aren’t singing because the lights are too low and it has become a performance that the congregation isn’t invited to be a part of. Some say that people are tired of singing those songs so you’d get more participation if you kept it fresh. Some say the music is too loud and people can’t hear themselves sing. Some say that people don’t really want to hear themselves sing, so when you create that opportunity they tend to clam up. All of these things are being presented and reasons why people aren’t singing in church or connecting with the song portion of the worship gathering.

I have my own personal reasons behind why I believe these things happen, but this isn’t necessarily the time or place. You can always call or email me if you want to hear my thoughts about it. Or comment on this blog. Either way, the bigger issue is that these conversations and statements tend to come off as “if you stop doing what you are doing and do the better thing that I’m suggesting and doing in my suddenly thriving worship ministry, your church would be better”. Infighting is the worst. There was an article recently that talked about the impending crash of worship ministry in churches and I am still trying to decide what I think about it. I am about to attend the same National Worship Leader Conference that the writer attended and maybe I’ll have some thoughts about it after I get back from there. What I do know is that there are wars still happening, and you don’t have to look real hard to see them.

Am I way off base? Am I on target? What have you noticed?

A couple weekends ago I had the privilege of speaking at a conference. People have asked me to share things before, but not on this grand of scale. I was one of 40 breakout sessions for a 2 days conference on multicultural discipleship. I was asked to speak on worship in the multicultural environment. It seemed rather overwhelming at first, but once I started speaking it was really cool. I found that I have spent a lot of time learning things from experience that I didn’t think people cared to know from me. I was so overwhelmed by the response to my sessions. As a result I’ve been asked to share in depth with some other churches.

It sparked something in me that I forgot was there. A few years ago before we started working at churches, my wife and I were consulting with churches who were getting started with their worship teams. We spent a lot of time helping them prepare worship for their church as well as developing leaders to help them sustain their music ministries. It was a lot of fun and we loved sharing our knowledge with other churches. We haven’t done it in awhile because I’ve been working full time at church. I now have a few opportunities to do that again and am excited about what the future holds. It’s funny how things come full circle, and how the Lord prepares you for things.

Music is always changing. We know that. It doesn’t tend to change as quickly within the walls of the local church. We all know that as well. It is not an easy task to get people to continue moving forward. Right now we are in the midst of this push back towards the power synth sounds of the 80s. I personally wasn’t a huge fan the first time, so I’ve been personally struggling with this shift for a little while. I saw it as early as 2009 with the release of The Power of One by Israel Houghton. The opening of that song was strong and I immediately thought, “Is this where we are going now?” Now, don’t get me wrong, I love that album. That’s not what I’m saying. I just remember thinking that we might be heading straight back to the heavy synth sounds and I didn’t know what I thought. Then it kept going. Planetshakers, then Jesus Culture. More and more groups started grabbing onto this sound. Then Hillsong United came out with Aftermath and then Zion. I wasn’t happy with either because the initial sounds weren’t doing it for me. It wasn’t until I went back to a few of these with a more open mind and started to realize that there was some good music in there that I was completely overlooking because of personal taste.

I share this because I know that I’m not the only one who may have felt some of these initial thoughts. And if I am the only one, then I’ll accept that too (not really, someone out there is lying). As a worship pastor, part of my job is keeping up with where music is and where it is going. The second part of that is always challenging. In most local churches this is generally difficult for whomever is making the musical choices. You have to pick music for a large, picky, diverse group of people, and that is never easy. You’ve got people who like it loud, people who like it soft. People who like the newest song on the CCM station that’s not really a good song for corporate worship but they want you to sing it anyway. There’s the group of people who think that we need more hymns. There are ones who think the drums are always too loud and those who wish that your voice was not so loud in the mix (I have a big mouth. Sorry!). I could go on and on, but you get the point. I used to struggle a lot more with the idea of what to do to make the most people happy. I realized after a few years that if I kept that mindset I’d go crazy and blow stuff up. I’d probably also still be doing hymns from a pipe organ.

What I had to learn, and what a we have to keep in mind is that musical styles change just like clothing styles (I seriously saw a dude rocking the bibs with one strap unhooked the other day. I’m excited and slightly scared about that one coming back). One thing that continues to stay the same is the Gospel. It’s a lot easier to stay consistent with WHAT being said as opposed to HOW it’s being said. I’ve taken the approach of let the Gospel go forth. How is not determined by me. That allows me to personally begin to enjoy albums like Hillsong Young and Free. Or at least be able to listen deeper, to the words more than just the strong keyboards at the beginning.

How do you handle the ever changing musical styles around you?

Happy New Year to all! To any new readers, welcome. This is an actual blog that has an actual writer who has taken a really long break while adjusting to a whole bunch of change in the past 12-13 months. For all of you, old friends and new, I went through a long season where I felt like I didn’t really have anything to say. That is a terrible season. As I’ve made some adjustments to my life and finally found my groove, I’m realizing that I wasn’t quite done yet.

One would hope that I would have a great love for the church, seeing that I spend anywhere between 50-80 hours there weekly. You would be correct, I absolutely love Bridges Community Church. I still can’t believe that I’m blessed to be a part of such an awesome team. It’s overwhelming sometimes. But outside of the sheer joy of working at a church, I still love the church because of what she represents. The church has a specific purpose in the eyes of Christ and that’s a pretty special thing in my mind. The church has done a great job of being strategically and aggressively placed throughout the church and even the world. That is one of the main reasons why I love the church. We got part of what we were supposed to do really well. We have gone out into the world (Matthew 28:19) and made space for ourselves and given ourselves a platform to be heard. Even here in California, there are a plethora of churches. Nothing like my years living in the Bible belt, but there are still churches in the Bay Area.

Secondly, I love that churches are continuing to fight through the adversity that we knew would come because of whom we choose to follow. I am always amazed at the people who are looking for this saving from hardships and “Best Life Now” mentality after becoming a Christian. The struggle to follow Christ is a real and well documented one. As this world and the people in it continue to evolve, it will get harder and harder to shine the light of Christ in the ever deepening darkness. But the church for the most part realizes that the light of Christ is a saving one and cannot be extinguished. As a result, we push forward.

We still have the ability to be relevant. I know some people could care less about relevancy, and I also know that the desire to stay relevant can be a very slippery slope if not handled delicately. However, I love how a lot of churches have dedicated time, money and manpower to making sure they are doing whatever is available to them to reach people for Christ. I love looking at the ways churches are using technology and social media to expand their reach. I like to see how they are creating awesome spaces on their campuses that are interesting and engaging. I love how they are constantly moving forward while staying true to the groove that works for them.

I guess this is as great a segue as any, but all of these things are some of the reasons why I get frustrated with the church as well. There is a fine line between relevancy and the Keeping Up With the Joneses mentality. It bothers me when sometimes you can’t tell if it’s church or a concert. It bothers me when we disguise the Word so heavily that people aren’t sure what we are talking about and who we stand for. It bothers me when we lose our edge and stop becoming aggressive in reaching people. Not aggressive in the Turn or Burn kinda way, but more in the Come Because Our Building is Nice and Shiny and We Aren’t Really In The Position to Chase You And It’s Really Better This Way kinda way. When we become so inward focused that we find it uninteresting to even associate with non-Christians accept for to “get them right”.

Ultimately, I still love the church because Christ still loves the church. In my desire to be like Him, I want to love the things that He loves. At Bridges we are taking some major steps this new year to refocus the lens a little to make sure that we are looking at the right things. I believe that our new Breaking the Mold campaign has the ability to be very influential in getting us to turn our eyes back toward the ones we need to be looking at. I’m also (naturally) excited about our focus for worship this year. Personally, I had been dealing with some jaded feelings towards church and worship this past year, and it was causing me to have real negative outlooks on the whole process. I have had to also take some time to refocus and look at who I am and what I’m supposed be doing. I didn’t feel like I was doing this, but Stephen Miller‘s book, Worship Leaders,  We Are Not Rock Stars, gave me some renewed focus. Hopefully, I can speak to more of that in the days to come.

I’m excited about this year for my personal church, and the church in general. We have another awesome opportunity to share the light of Christ in this dark world and be effective in setting ourselves apart from without alienating. The Word of God never changes. The Blood will never lose its power. When the church keeps those things in the forefront, that’s when she is effective in doing her job. I’m excited about that this year. What about you?

Updates and Such

Posted by worship180 under Uncategorized

I feel like a bit of a failure not writing anything here in so long. I keep saying that I will and then I kinda don’t. There are so many things I’m learning about worship everyday and I should be sharing those things. However, this is TOTALLY not one of those times.

I got to go see the St. Louis Cardinals play at Dodger Stadium last night in Game 4 of the NLCS and it was awesome! My good friend Kim called me and asked me to come on JoyFM and talk about that experience a little bit. So I did. People have asked to hear it since some missed it and so I’m sharing that here right now because it’s probably the easiest way to do so.

In the mean time, know that I’m about to start peppering you all with questions that I’ve come up with about what you think about worship and how it affects you. Along with some other things. But first this post is about baseball and how awesome it is. Be blessed friends!

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