October 03, 2018 - No Comments!

Older + Younger

We’ve been walking through the Lord’s Prayer over the last several weeks at Doxa. This last week we looked at the phrase, “forgive us as we forgive others”. Our teaching pastor spent time looking back at the prodigal son story, many of us are familiar with.

Preachers have often stood behind a pulpit and asked their congregations which brother they identify with. My answer has always been both. I can easily reach for self-righteousness as I can shame. I can hold others in derision and then do the same for myself. I can feel entitled and unworthy in the span of 10 minutes. To that end, I wrote this for our liturgy and read this as a call to worship in our gatherings last Sunday.

I am the younger
I want my inheritance now
I don’t like waiting
you say you’re good, but look at all this mud
I knew I couldn’t trust you

I am the older
oh, ‘they’ get to come back
they haven’t hit rock bottom
they don’t mean it
they’ll mess up again
and you’ll look like a fool

I am the younger
I’ve messed up big this time
now I’ve done it
this is my third strike
your doubts about me are true
I’ve burned this bridge for the last time

I am the older
sure they said sorry
but I’m not sure they mean it
they just want a hand out
they just want to walk over me again
they’ll never change

I am the younger
if I keep my distance, i won’t feel guilty
you can’t hug me if your arms are crossed
I’m running out of options
maybe I should go back
maybe I could work for him

I am the older
they doesn’t deserve this
I haven’t struggled with that for minutes
someone is going to teach them a lesson
I mean, I guess he’s home,
that’s not so bad

I am the younger
the father knows me, sees me, and forgives me

I am the older
the father knows me, sees me, and forgives me

August 24, 2018 - No Comments!

Everyday Endings

The good people over at Saturate recently posted my final installment in the Gospel Liturgy series. Many of the questions I get around this topic are addressed there so read the series for a brief but hopefully helpful explanation about how I incorporate these elements in our gatherings.

Additionally, you can view some sample Gospel Liturgy slides that are used in our gatherings here. We use these to visually cue our congregation with both the categories and content of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

If you yourself would like help building out a Gospel Liturgy for your church, or if you’d like hands-on training for your worship leader, I offer coaching around these topics. I’d love to help you shape your gatherings with gospel intentionality. Let me know if you’re interested!

July 03, 2018 - No Comments!

Voices

This last Sunday we launched our third annual “Voices” series where we invite outside speakers to come challenge our community. It’s one of my favorite “traditions” we have as a church.

The series revolves around the themes of needing wisdom from others, the benefit of an outside perspectives, and being mindful of what voices we listen to in our lives.

As always, we make an effort for our liturgy to be shaped by the themes of the series we are working through. To that end, I wrote and read this in our confessional moment in the gatherings Sunday.

CONFESSION OF VOICES
We respond to God because of his grace. We need his grace because we fall short. Because we fall short we confess when we gather. To help us remember what is true, to invite humility, and recognize that we are not God. Confession is an opportunity to enjoy God and His grace.

We always have a renewed reason to respond, because God’s grace has recently responded to the recent ways in which we have not loved him and others.

So let us confess:

We have fallen more in love with the sound of our own voice than yours.

We have held others to higher standards than ourselves, and thus shut out their voices from our lives.

We have elevated our preferences and diminished others needs.

We have sought to be right more than to understand.

We have taken your presence for granted, forgetting that you sit over all creation and have no obligation to be near us, yet choose to never leave us.

God, may we experience your compassion in the way we sinfully choose to heed other voices. May we listen to your voice above all others. your voice is one of grace, truth, and empathy.

May 03, 2018 - No Comments!

A Liturgy for Lust

We recently covered the portion of the Sermon on the Mount on lust and sexuality. I knew leading up to this Sunday that the “confession” portion would need extra attention and care, and that the Call to Worship would need to connect the dots topically as directly as possible. To that end, the prayer below was used for our Call to Worship, a prayer I found and adapted for our Sunday.

Lord Jesus Christ, 
We confess that you are our Creator 
(John 1:3) 
including our minds, hearts, souls, and sexuality. 

We confess that you are our Savior, 
that you have ransomed us with your blood 
(1 Corinthians 15:3, Matthew 20:28). 
We have been bought with the blood of Jesus Christ; 
our life and our bodies belong to God 
(1 Corinthians 6:19–20). 

Jesus, we present ourselves to you now t
o be made whole and holy in every way, 
including our sexuality and the desires of our hearts. 

You ask us to present our bodies to you as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) 
and the parts of our bodies 
as instruments of righteousness 
(Romans 6:13). 

Worship Leader: The Lord of all creation knows all, sees all, and yet still loves His people.
(here the prayer moves to individual emphasis)

I offer you our body,
my sexuality, my gender
and my sexual nature to you. 

Be Lord over all of me Jesus Christ.
I desire the joy and fullness 
that only comes from walking with you.

Amen.

February 28, 2018 - No Comments!

The Nicene Creed

One of the many elements we employ in our liturgy are prayers and creeds from church history. The “low hanging fruit” in this area are certainly the foundational creeds that all Christians (let’s be honest, all Christians can’t agree on anything) hold as helpful, true, and clarifying. The top three most widely accepted and accessible would inarguably be the Nicene, Apostles’, and Athanasian Creeds.

The Nicene Creed, so named because it was adopted by the Church in Nicaea (modern day Turkey) by an important meeting known as the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The Nicene Creed’s history is fascinating, particularly that it has weathered the test of time so well. Very few things have endured the combative and complicated path of church history as well as this creed. Most creeds were penned to combat specific heresies on the rise, in this case Arianism, which posited that Christ was created by the Father and as such, less than the Father in “godness”.

One of my favorite effects of using creeds in our gatherings is the unifying power it brings, not just historically but even to those in the room from different backgrounds.

The version we used last Sunday is formally called the Reformed Version, and I believe it to be helpful in its choice of terms, particularly with how the word Catholic has changed over time. Consider using this in your gatherings sometime!

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.


Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.

He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.

The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.

We believe in one holy universal and apostolic church.
We affirm one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,
and to life in the world to come.
Amen.

November 27, 2017 - 1 comment.

MOUNTAINS AND VALLEYS

Worship leading is a beautiful privilege and massive responsibility. I have found it is a struggle to hold both of these truths in tension all the time. This past week reminded me rather pointedly that both of these statements are equally true and essential. Godly leadership requires that you have to maintain humility and an open posture for feedback while keeping a thick skin and expecting scrutiny.

Inside of 24 hours this weekend, I had a congregation member attack me via text while another one gift me something very thoughtful as a gesture of appreciation. High mountains and low valleys are part of being in ministry to be sure, but I so desperately need grace and Christ’s presence to level the terrain. I don’t often respond the way I want to. I weather one storm to be spun around by the next. And then in his kindness, God sends an encourager, an ally, or a grateful word.

Feeling a bit beat up and rattled, I wrote this confession for our gatherings on Sunday, mostly because I needed it:

Though made in the image of a giving God,
we have withheld from others.

Though made in the image of a patient God,
we have lost our patience.

Though made in the image of a Savior that willingly took our punishment,
we defend ourselves and demonize others.

Though made in the image of a God of kindness,
we consider our own needs above others.

As always, I’m thankful for a God who is for me, who never provokes us, puts words in our mouths, or assumes the worst. In fact, I am increasingly convinced that he is for me…a truth I’ve known in my head for two decades but a “heart belief” I’ve found slippery. My faith is small and my Savior is great.

October 08, 2017 - No Comments!

Hear My Complaint, Lord

Recently, I used Psalm 55 as a call to worship. I read the section below over our congregation:

“Give ear to my prayer, O God,
and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
and in anger they bear a grudge against me.”

My daughter is five years old. She is beautiful and sharp, but has a propensity towards the glass being half-empty. The running joke in my home is that she starts every afterschool conversation with us with the same phrase:

“Welllllllll, one bad thing was that…”

Shes five. There’s a lot of hard things happening in the world of a five year old. We rehearse with her how to find the good in any situation. We walk her through how to recall God’s grace over our family’s life. We practice making a list of the things we are thankful for. And yet, every drive home from school sounds the same.

I’m not sure that most of us are much different. I think I’d be a bit embarrassed if I was able to see in real-time the percentage of my conversations with God that hover around dissatisfaction compared to contentment. Don’t get me wrong, God desires to hear our longings and desires for his kingdom to replace what is broken in this world. But I’d also bet I kind of sound like my daughter most of the time too. I don’t think our discontentment is the only thing God wants to hear cross our lips.

My experience tells me that complaining and gratitude are both highly contagious, and tend to gain momentum with repetition. To put it another way, if you are always on the hunt for what’s wrong or needing fixing, you’ll find it every time.

I want to roll out of bed with a disposition towards celebration. I want to surround myself with people that are joyful and focused on the good things we share. I want to place myself in the fray with celebrators. I want to hear evidence of God’s grace in everyday conversations and not just dedicated prayer times with other leaders. I want to run to God with all of my anxieties and complaints, and all of my gratitude that things won’t stay like this forever.

Lord, help me see the good.

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July 25, 2017 - No Comments!

How To Choose A Worship Leader

NOTE: This post originally appeared on The Resurgence which has since closed.

Many teaching pastors talk about their worship leader the way an apologetic dad talks about their uncoordinated child at a soccer game.

“He’s got potential.”
“She’s having fun, isn’t she?”
“If we could get some better players around him, he’d really shine.”

Church leaders, and planters in particular, know all too well that you have to make the best of your situation and use what you have. Yet, when it comes to the music portion of a worship gathering this often translates into a leader getting thrown on stage that learned five chords in her dorm room last semester, or a guy that couldn’t explain the gospel if a $10,000 gift card to “Guitar Center” was on the line.

We all start somewhere, but what is an acceptable starting point? How do you pick and develop the leader that will play an integral part in your gatherings? How do you choose between a leader that is godly and one that is musically gifted?

It’s a mistake to assume that because the teaching pastor carries the primary responsibility of doctrine and vision, that the worship leader can be any guy in a plaid shirt deep v current uniform who can nail the latest worship anthem. Below you’ll read some key questions to ask yourself of any new music leader you’re looking at bringing in or developing. Note that I have not specifically devoted this to paid hires, because candidly, I don’t think it matters.

Repentant and Humble Heart Required

The scriptures repeatedly address the heart in the context of worship (John 4:23-24, Amos 5:21-24). Worship is always a heart issue. Look for leaders (and volunteers for that matter) that love who Jesus is more than their act of service to him. Do you sense an adoration of Christ in their life? Are they quick to confess? Are they teachable? What makes their heart beat faster; musical excellence or gospel transformation in people’s lives?

Challenge your worship leader in character issues, and name pride when you see it, in a loving but truthful way. While you aren’t looking for a perfect track record, you do want to see a pattern of repentance. Do they own their mistakes? Do they show a desire to grow? These are essential elements of any healthy leader, even those just starting out.

Skillful Leading is Also Important to God

Despite the common refrain of “as long as their heart is in the right place”, the idea that skill doesn’t matter to God is simply not biblical. God raises up godly and skilled artisans to serve in their craft. This doesn’t mean your worship leader needs to have his own record on iTunes, but it does mean that “sloppiness drains the vertical dimension out of gathered worship” (Keller). Skill does not make our sacrifice more acceptable to God, but it does help us serve our purpose as worship leaders more effectively. Being properly trained and prepared helps keep the focus where it belongs, on Jesus. Can your worship leader lead with an appropriate level of skill? Are they competent on their instrument of choice? Can they speak with clarity when they address the congregation?

Be Wary of Those More Eager to Lead Than Serve

Most church plants will have a few eager folks that want leadership roles out of the gates. A good worship leader will invite the elders or pastors in the church to confirm their calling. If someone approaches you and says: “God told me I am supposed to lead worship here,” you should be very cautious. It is the exception to the rule that a person making that sort of uninvited claim turns out to be a solid leader. You would be hard pressed to find a place where the “be faithful with little, before you are entrusted with much” concept is better applied than leading worship. Does your leader love to meet the needs of others or have the spotlight?

Look Up, Look Down

An essential part of selecting a worship leader is determining their chemistry with those they report to and those they’ll lead. Will they encourage and challenge (in healthy ways) those above and below them on the “org chart”? Can you see volunteer musicians following their lead? Do you picture this person being easy to work with when planning Sundays? Does your worship leader care about the people they lead? Would you want the congregation to follow their example off-stage?

“Look for leaders and volunteers that love the person Jesus more than their act of service to him.”

I’m pleading with you to not overlook character issues for the sake of coverage. Don’t assume that somehow a teaching pastor that “gets it” will balance out an incompetent or self-serving music leader. If it’s your job to hire/find a music leader, make your application and audition process robust enough to assess their understanding of the gospel, spiritual maturity, and level of skill. These all mater, and while it may take time to get there, you want to be sure you are partnering with someone with your eyes wide open.

I Don’t Have the Leader You’re Describing

You may not have the leader you’d love to have today. Look around and ask “who could be that leader with investment in a year or two?” I’ve said before, investing in your worship leader is a smart move for a variety of reasons. If you think you’re too busy, consider the following: your average church-goers will give you 54 hours of their attention annually. Depending on your liturgy, your worship leader will get roughly 18-27 of those hours. Your worship leader sounds like a wise place to invest your time, doesn’t it?

If you’d like to discuss a leadership development plan for your current leader, or want to train up a new music leader, let me know. Don’t buy the lie that placing an unqualified leader on stage is better than going without corporate worship in song for a season. If you feel unqualified to make an evaluation, reach out and I’d be happy to help. Every leader (including you and I) needs continued development. Your music leader might need theological training or a voice lesson. Mechanics can be trained more easily that character.

No matter the size of your church, don’t propagate the prevalent double-standard where other spiritual leaders are tested for competency and character, but worship leaders get a hall pass. It will take effort and time but you can have both. Aren’t the Savior and his bride worth it?

 

Resource

Here is a brief downloadable PDF of some questions to ask in the audition process of a worship leader or volunteer. It’s not fool-proof, but simply a tool to identify both red flags that may come back to bite you later, and strengths that will serve you well down the road. As always, pray for wisdom and discernment when appointing leaders, and let them be tested.

 

DOWNLOAD THE RESOURCE

Prayer

Father, guide us by your Spirit in raising up worship leaders that adore your Son and desire to serve and equip the saints you entrust to us…leaders that love you more than their gifting, more than emotional highs, and more than perfect productions. Strengthen the unity between lead/teaching pastors and worship leaders. Protect our flocks from wolves, and help us to discern between those that need coaching and those that need to be pulled out of leadership. Grow us in our love for your people as shepherds. Shape our gatherings to bring you glory.

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July 19, 2017 - No Comments!

Two Threats to Sundays – Part 2

twoTHREATS

Hopefully, you’ve read part one of this series and read a bit on why I’m taking the time to detail these powerful threats to our Sunday gatherings.

I’ve already described a bit about why we need both “pedals on the bike”. Sundays are essential but not sufficient for discipleship. Sunday gatherings do not form Christians sufficiently nor is our Christianity supposed to fit inside an hour once a week.

And before you say, “that’s obvious and everyone knows it”, I’ll bet you at least a few things in your current ministry work against this truth.

To begin, let’s look at a few symptoms of undervaluing the Sunday gathering. These are signs that you’re probably expecting too little of your 60-90 minutes together. Listen to this first symptom and ask if maybe you don’t personally fall into this camp…maybe there are ways that you yourself undervalue Sundays.

SYMPTOM #1. YOU ARE HYPER CRITICAL

From the moment we step foot on the property, many of us become “secret shoppers”, publicly privately making notes of all the imperfections, people that bother us, and what we would do different. Many of us worship leaders do this to protect ourselves from critique. Others do it because we simply have a hard time celebrating wins. The comments from the congregation often don’t help:

“That doesn’t look right. That doesn’t sound right. They aren’t living right.”

“I didn’t like that sermon, When are we going to talk about (insert favorite topic, probably an area of Christian living that by God’s grace we have never wrestled with).”

“Please tell me they aren’t doing announcements again.”

“This is not how I would do things.”

“Where’s my favorite worship leader playing my favorite songs at my favorite volume?”

Have you heard these statements between services? Have you heard these things inside your own heart?

If so, I would argue that our/their view of Sunday is too small. If Sunday is simply an event to be run smoothly, we have removed the authority and joy of our Triune God and replaced God with our own assessment and opinion. If we reduce the saints gathered to an experience for our own whims and preferences, then it would follow that we are the purpose and highest judge of the time together. The “experience” of Sunday becomes king, and execution becomes the idol. This reduces Sundays to a meeting that needs well-trained event planners instead of expectant kids awaiting their Father’s words and movement.

What is Sunday then? It’s a collision of the Triune God and the pinnacle of His creation. It’s a time and place where the Spirit is present in a unique way, and in His kindness, the Father recalibrates the hearts of believers towards ultimate joy and satisfaction. It’s a time to be reminded of grace anew, and to respond accordingly through song, communion, baptisms, prayers, and time together…and maybe a doughnut and coffee.

REMEDY #1. ASK BIGGER QUESTIONS

How do we break out of the hypercritical death-spiral? Rather than getting hung up on which parts of the gathering don’t suit you or which parts didn’t go perfect (as if that were the grand plan and intention), take a cue from Colossians 3 and think on what is above. Remember that much of God’s purpose for our time together will happen in human hearts, outside of our view.

For the person singing off key, ask, “does her voice please the father?” For the typo on the slide, ask “is Jesus disgusted by this and now distant?” When the song begins that you don’t care for, ask God, “who in this room needs to hear this, and is there something I need to hear?” Ask God to help you pray for others.

“This reduces Sundays to a meeting that needs well-trained event planners instead of expectant kids awaiting their Father’s words and movement.”

If Jesus is not hyper-critical of you but instead in his omniscience is gracious and merciful, how would that shape how we approach the gathering? If Jesus isn’t sitting with arms crossed in judgement of our mistakes and misguided attempts at throwing a good celebration, should we be?

Now, Keller has famously said that, “sloppiness in the horizontal distracts from the vertical” in corporate worship, and I couldn’t agree more. We know Sundays are in fact important. If Sunday’s do matter then, what is a godly criteria? What kind of questions should we be asking? Whatever you believe about God should help answer that question.

  • Were we a warm family?  Did I make an effort to love someone, encourage someone, welcome someone in to the community? (God is hospitable)
  • Did we preach and sing things that are true? Did we share the gospel message clearly? (God is true and worthy of praise)
  • Was the focus on Jesus? (Jesus is above all)
  • Did we pay attention to who was among us? (insider language ostracizing new people, not defining terms, etc) (God is welcoming)
  •  Did we offer hope to those in hard places? (God is comforting)

There’s certainly nothing wrong with evaluating our time together. In fact, we do that as a staff every Monday together. But we’re all a lot better off if the critical, nit-picky spirit in us dies, and instead we look for wins and ask good, thoughtful, “above” kinds of questions.

The cure for picking apart Sundays is asking bigger questions. You’ll not be able to approach Sundays the same way if you remember how God sees us and our simple times together.

Tune in for part 3 for another symptom that we (or someone you know) is making too little of our weekly times of worship together.

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June 22, 2017 - No Comments!

Get Upstream


Just east of my home, the Snoqualmie River meanders for 45 miles through homes, farmlands, two counties, and then feeds into the famous Puget Sound. The river begins in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness way up in the Cascade Mountains. It’s there in the mountains that the source waters run and collide together to form the river before it begins its push down through western Washington.

Most (but not all) of my coaching clients are bi-vocational worship leaders in churches of 500 people of less. They are neck deep in all of the challenges that come along with wearing multiple hats and leading worship while balancing a hundred other things. They want to build great teams and have fun being creative in the local church.

That said, most of them reach out after they are overwhelmed or drowning a bit. This is natural I suppose, similar to how preventative medicine has been scientifically proven to be cheaper and more effective, and yet most of us elect to avoid the doctor’s office until a problem arises with our bodies. I’m no doctor, but I have seen a parallel in the worship leaders I coach.

My favorite clients are those that are trying to prepare in advance for the challenges coming for them. One of these leaders is Sarah. Yes, that’s her real name. Sarah is a delight. Sarah isn’t on staff at a church. She isn’t even in full time vocational ministry. She’s in a small town and has no aspirations of being in a big city.

Sarah is also clear in her calling to grow as a worship leader, so we’ve worked together for the last 6 months around how she can be best equipped for that future. Sarah wanted to get upstream, and learn how to organize, lead, and care for a worship ministry. She’s already grown a ton and now has tangible skills in her pocket that she didn’t a few months ago. I don’t share this story as some kind of humble-brag, but for clarity. Many of the leaders I speak with seem surprised that someone like Sarah makes for a great client. I tell them what I’ll say again now: I’d take a dozen more Sarah’s because she’s getting upstream and preparing herself for what’s ahead. She comes prepared, asks good questions, takes feedback with humility, and follows through on her “assignments”. She’s growing because she’s putting in the work. A few thoughts from her:

“Donald makes long-distance coaching effective…He cares genuinely about my growth as a leader and my growth in my relationship with Christ, with every meeting being centered around the gospel. The coaching has played an integral part in my development as a worship leader and leader. He has helped me to understand how to apply my gifts to serving God’s people through worship and relationship. I appreciate his wisdom, creativity, and insight when it comes to working with a team. I’ve grown as a worshipper, as a worship leader, and am more confident in my identity in Christ because of our time together.”

Sarah has invested in being the leader she wants to be in the future…she’s been pro-active instead of reactive. Be like Sarah. Get ahead of what’s coming. Ask questions of those further down the road than you around how you can grow in the areas of leadership that don’t come natural to you, and how you can leverage the strengths you already have.

Some good “upstream questions”:

-What will my team (up, down, and laterally) need from me in 6-12 months?
-What do I want the worship or arts ministry to look like this time next year?
-What do I need to do in my church to make disciples in the next year?
-Do I have any life stage changes coming (engagement, birth of a child, graduating college) and how can I plan for that?
-What do I want my volunteers and congregation to experience or learn this year?

I love the local church and local church leaders. If you or someone you know would benefit from some one-on-one coaching towards leadership development, organizing and recruiting artists, or growing your worship/arts ministry, let’s chat.

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