Thursday, May 10, 2018

Break Down the Walls

I'm not sure what the age is, but eventually in everyone's life there are moments when you say to yourself "if only I knew then what I know now".  I'm currently in the middle of one of those times.  It's like a light bulb has flipped on in my head.

I've spent most of my professional ministerial career planning, practicing, and preparing.  There is always more to do, so it never stops.  And that nonstop pace includes Sunday and Wednesdays.  So, up until service time I am always working on some last minute detail.  And then once the music is done, I head to the sound desk where there is more to do.  It never stops.  For most of my career it has been like this.  I'm a worker at heart, so this feels very natural to me.  

But recently, it dawned on me how much I have been missing and neglecting in my role as Worship Pastor.  I want our church to be a church that worships.  I want our Worship Team to be the best that they can be musically and spiritually.  But the thing that I've been missing out on is the importance of building relationships.  Not only with the worship team and tech team (I try to do that), but with the congregation.  Too many times I'm running to or from the stage trying to get something done right before a service begins and I'm just flying right by people that I need to reach out to.  Our people want more from me and our Worship Team than to just hear us sing or play.  They want and need us to lead them.  But we make that difficult when we don't take the time to get to know them. 

So, now when the music is done I walk slowly around the edge of the congregation and shake hands, hug necks, give high fives to kids, and smile and say to hello to as many people as I can.  Before services I try not to rush around quite so much.  I try to talk to as many people as I can.  My hope is that if they know me better, they'll be more open to me leading them in worship.  

If you are a worship leader, then let me encourage you to do the same.  Let's break down the walls between our people and our stages and let the people really get to know us.

Worship Big!

Brad


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Refined Through Fire

Have you ever considered how much trials affect every aspect of life? Recently, I’ve done that exact thing. Everyone goes through difficulties, and everyone experiences their effects. In our human finiteness, we tend to look at things from a very subjective point of view. That being said, it’s easy for us to think that our hardships are just utterly relentless. Sometimes it’s almost like the break in the storm is always just out of sight, or the light at the end of the tunnel is just out of reach. To be frank, all the despair in life just makes you feel stuck sometimes. That feeling has this uncanny way of sneaking in and affecting one mentally and spiritually, which in turn, affects one’s worship. You see, when our minds become preoccupied with the affliction that we face, our attention can be diverted from God. As worship leaders, our job is to facilitate worship to people so that they may experience the fullness of Jesus’ presence. The condition of our hearts plays a tremendous role in the way worship ministers to people. For example, when one leads worship with a prideful heart, it can be an obstruction to others. Absent-minded or diverted worship leading can have the same effect. One Sunday morning quite recently, my heart was burdened with things that I had been dealing with. I had just finished playing the worship set for that day when a member of our congregation pulled me aside and said: “You didn’t seem like yourself up there today. You didn’t seem into it.” That was all they said. I didn’t think anyone really noticed that I was disheartened that day, but that person did, and it affected them. 

It became clear to me just how important it is to be 100% intentional in my worship, even if that requires me to “suppress my mess” or lay down my burdens. So, how are we supposed to do that? How do we respond to our difficult circumstances so that our worship is wholly unreserved? Some time ago, the bible study group that I’m a part of did a wonderful study on the book of James, and I was reminded of a truth that holds the answer to those questions. James 1: 2-4 says: “Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” In the study, that passage was compared to the process of refining silver. Initially, silver is laden with all sorts
of impurities. To refine the silver, the silversmith must heat it to its boiling point. This causes all the impurities to rise to the surface, which the silversmith carefully removes. Once that is done, he allows the silver to cool. He continues this process of heating and purifying the silver until he can see a perfect reflection of himself in it. That’s when he knows the silver has been fully purified. 

God does that exact same thing in our lives. He refines us through the trials in our lives so that when completed, He may see a reflection of Himself when He looks at us. You see, it’s only when we walk through fire that we can be purified. The beautiful thing about it is that no matter how high the flames get, we will always be carried through by One who loves us with the most ardent and infinite love imaginable. That knowledge is so important to us as worshipers and lovers of Jesus. We can offer Him our uninhibited praise because we know that our trials are meant to purify us so that we may be a reflection of Christ. I sincerely hope that upon reading this, you would always be encouraged by this one thing: we are refined through fire, but He ​NEVER​ fails to walk us through!  

Keep smiling,  

Maddie 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

What You Do

We all have something we aspire to be great at.  Whether your gift is singing, playing an instrument, playing a sport or something in between, you want to be good at something.  I think it's human nature and it pushes us to push ourselves from within.  As Christians, we want to lay our absolute best before the feet of Jesus.  But what does that mean? What is your best?

In the time that I've spent on our worship team, I've served in a few different roles, and continue to jump around.  I really enjoy playing electric guitar one week, bass guitar the next, maybe some acoustic and some occasional piano playing here and there.  That's what keeps me on my toes.  I remember when I first started as a volunteer on the team.  Playing rhythm electric every other week was plenty to keep me busy.  Since then, things have progressed.  I've journeyed through several different internal musical paths on the type of musician that I wanted to be.  Early on, even before joining a band or team in some capacity, I wanted to be the among the best guitar players; guys that I would read about in Guitar World magazine.  Don't get me wrong, I still want to be the best that I can be, but the inner-workings and the details of that goal that I had as an 8 year old, just learning to play guitar, have changed.  

Being a part of a worship team with different instruments and different people has really helped me to see what I can be good at.  A few years ago when we decided we wanted to record our own worship album, I saw something inside of me being brought to light. Something that I never knew was really there.  I had an opportunity to arrange music and to hear it in a different way than ever before.  Those are the things that led me branch out my range of ability on a worship team.  

As a 26 year old, I still want to be the best guitar player that I can be.  I've played guitar now for 18 years and I'm definitely not the greatest. I'm not like some 13 year-olds on YouTube who can shred unbelievably.  I'm way far from that.  I'd be a fish out of water in a 5 piece Jazz band. Those things serve me no purpose in my career and field of study. But is it okay if I say my goal isn't to be the best among everyone else?  But, if you need someone who is versatile in a worship setting who has a decent ear for what needs to happen and where things can go, then I'm your guy.  It's my goal to be the best that I can be.  The best guitar, bass or piano player that I can be.  The best husband and father that I can be.  The best follower of Jesus that I can be.   

I've learned that there will always be someone who is seemingly better or more talented, but so what?  Be the best you can be today.  Become great at what YOU do.  Let that be your offering at the feet of Jesus.

Peace,

Justin

Friday, April 20, 2018

Enjoying God

Recently, I was reading a book about worship and the author wrote something that really caught my attention.  He wrote that "a lot people know God, but not everyone enjoys Him".  Now, I believe that statement can correspond to many different aspects of the Christian life, but I would like to focus on how I see that affecting worship.  

As a worship leader, I see people each and every week given the opportunity to participate in worship and experience the presence of God.  Some choose to participate and others don't.  Over the years I've learned that some people just won't sing or clap or even smile.  And I guess I've learned to just accept it.

Now, these are good, Christian people.  They enjoy God's promises, His protections, His provisions, and His precepts (and other words that start with a p), but for some reason, they don't enjoy His presence.  It's really kind of sad.  And it's not that I'm upset at them for not participating in our times of worship.  I realized a long time ago that it's not my job to make people worship.  It's that I want them to truly experience the life changing presence of God for themselves.

Because, ultimately, we want our times of worship to be the highlight of people's weeks.  We want them to experience the power and awesomeness of God's presence in new and amazing ways each time we gather!  We want people to do more than just know God.  We want them to enjoy Him!

So, as worship leaders, what can we do to help them?  I believe the biggest thing we can do is to set an example for them.  The Bible says to sing (Psalm 95:1) and clap (Psalm 47:1) and lift up holy hands (Psalm 63:4).  So, that's what we need to do.  We need to remember that people are always watching us.  We have to demonstrate for people what true Biblical worship looks like.  And if we can do that, then maybe we can help people experience and enjoy the presence of God in ways that they never have before.  

Worship Big!

Brad




Thursday, April 5, 2018

I Say Go For It

In some of the blogs I’ve written for the worship blog I will end it with the words “I say go for it" followed by my name. I would like to explain what I mean by that. Anyone who knows me well would most likely say that I’m always up for an “adventure”.  Whether that be trying spicy food or skydiving, it's true for the most part. I’ve heard professional musicians and movie stars when asked about giving advice say “take every opportunity you can”. In other words go for it. They say this because, with every time you do something, new especially, you learn and grow from it, even if you fail (this is very important). 

When Nikki and I joined MPBC we joined the choir shortly there after, and I’m glad we did. Through this we met, and made friends with a lot of people that otherwise we may not have. Also through this I began to kind of be interested in learning the drums. I just wanted to try it. I could hear the basic beat and I thought why not? I took lessons for a while from Brad and practiced at home on my basic electric set by Yamaha. I then began to learn more advanced things and I got an acoustic set. After about a 1 1/2 years of practice, I started playing with the worship team. 

I’ve been playing in the band for about 2 ½ years now and you know what, I’ve still got a lot to learn. But it’s been worth it. When I was a younger man, and played ball, I would be so hard on myself for messing up one little thing that I would get in my own head and then mess up even more.  It would feed on itself. As I get older, I realize that time keeps on ticking at the same rate, 1 second per 1 second, if you mess up or not. It could be a total train wreck on stage on Sunday and eventually the set list would end, and Monday still rolls around.

So, where does this help or encourage you? Whatever it is you are thinking about trying, TRY IT. If you want learn an instrument, go back to school, teach a Sunday school class, learn to crochet, or start a dog training school, I say go for it. Obviously you should seek wise counsel, and pray about all things, but what I’m saying is don’t live life in fear. Fear will handicap you if you let it. 

To expand a little more, I would also say that “going for it” doesn't mean without control. For example, the way I play the drums on "I'm Going Free (Jailbreak)" is different than how I play on "What a Beautiful Name". One is fun and one is powerful. So, when each song comes around I try to play it in a way that compliments the message. Imagine if we played "Lord, I Need You" the same way as "Victor's Crown"? It would not fit the song. 

Anything new you try will be the same way. You will need a different mindset to start a business than you would to learn an instrument. Both are challenging but in different ways. But they both require a first step. Whatever it is you decide to go for, go for it to the fullest measure that it will require. Be bold in the face of a challenge, trust in the Lord, and realize that you may fail. But in the words of… well maybe you know who said it, "Failure, the best teacher is".


1 Corinthians 9 24:26- Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives a prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.

I say go for it!

Derek

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Reckless Love

I’m sure you guys have heard the new song Reckless Love by Cory Asbury.  If not, I’m attaching a video so go listen first, then read!:


When I first heard it, I was slightly confused by the chorus… “leaves the 99”.  I wasn’t totally sure what that was all about.  So, I did a little research and found this verse:

Luke 15:3-7

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!


In this passage, it is so evident that God just wants me- a dumb little sheep that loses its way on the way home.  And when He finds me...when I’ve tucked my tail and come running scared to death, with no hope, on the edge, He finds me.  He embraces me.  God, the Creator of the universe rejoices over ME.  What an overwhelming love that God has for me!  

When you are the one that has lost your way, EVERY SINGLE TIME God will come chasing you down, fighting the battles to ensure your safe return.  His love is reckless.  He would move mountains to have a relationship with us.  His love is never ending.  We can never outrun His love for us.   

As we enter into Passion Pay weekend and Easter coming up next weekend, I hope that you will be inspired to reflect on the way that we are loved so recklessly that Jesus offered up His life, took on each of our sins, our pains, our sorrows, our secrets, our scars, so that He could prove His love for each soul.  And yes, He did it for the one.  When Jesus was suffering on the cross, it was for the ONE.  There is nothing that will stop the love of Christ from reaching into the darkest parts of us to bring the light of eternal life and redemption to our lives.  

I hope this encourages you this week!  

Savannah

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

To Play Like the Original Song or Not?

I have a few disclaimers to share before moving forward:

1.  I will be showing my age.

2.  This may be for just other musicians on other praise teams.

3.  You may find this extremely boring.

I’ve been a part of various forums online for quite some time now, and one topic that tends to come up every now and then is how closely should the musicians play the original tracks?  Should we try to learn each note for note, or do we simply use the tracks as a “suggestion” and do whatever feels best?

In order to give my opinion, I thought it would be interesting to give a little bit (or a lot) of history of my experiences in playing praise and worship over the past 20 years or so.

When I first started playing praise and worship music, in my experiences, there was no “standard” way of playing many of the songs that we did.  

Some of these standards include the following:

"Shout to the Lord"

"Lord, I Lift Your Name on High"

"Open the Eyes of my Heart"

"I/We Exalt Thee"

"Here I am to Worship"

"Wonderful, Merciful Savior" 

For millennials, all of this will seem very foreign and weird.  You know what?  It was a lot of work, but anything worth doing takes time, energy, and most of the time, money.  So here goes:

When I was first learning many of the “standards,” most of the time there was no CD available because they were expensive. You have to keep in mind that this was about 7-8 years before downloading and sort-of-illegal file sharing.  See, if anyone wanted to learn the latest and greatest worship music straight from the track, he or she had to go to a Christian bookstore, possibly order the CD for $17.99, and wait about a week to get it (The local place got in shipments every Thursday.  If it didn’t come in that week, maybe the next Thursday it would come in.  If it was really new and in demand, sometimes it would take several weeks.  Please note that I’m not bashing the local place.  I loved it!  However back then, this was just the way it was done.).  Sometimes, you would take your chances and drive to the not-so-local place an hour or so away and hope and pray they had it in stock.  You could call ahead to see if they had it in stock, but sometimes you would get there and it would be sold.  Don’t ask me how I know. 

Because of the lack of readily available music, the VAST majority of worship music I learned was through word of mouth, much like the way stories have been passed down.  There was a lot of sitting around with worn out crummy guitars, under-powered bass rigs, and drums that were decades old with the original heads.  But that’s what we had to learn on, and I think we did ok. 

Many of the worship leaders I worked with back then tended to be a little more “loosey-goosey” in terms of how to start songs and when to stop.  There was just as much “learning the leader” and other band members as there was learning the song.  We all learned to “read” each other.  Head nods, bobbing guitar headstocks, facial gestures, winks, foot taps, eye-to-eye glances, etc. were all crucial to starting together, stopping together, and adding extra verses and choruses as needed.  It was very on-the-fly playing.  One of my most memorable moments is when the leader started a worship song I had never heard before.  Like, ever.  Keep in mind that this wasn’t during a practice; this was on a Sunday morning!  In a loud whisper, I got the worship leader’s attention and I said, “I’ve never heard this song before in my life!” and without skipping a beat, she said, “It’s a slow song!  You’ll do fine!”  This is one of the times where I wish I could go back and take a look at my own face to see what it looked like!  Everything ended up ok that day.  Back then, this was just par for the course.

During these years, there was a lot of great worship music for me despite a few train wrecks along the way.  But we all learned with each other and from each other.  It was fun and a little nerve-wracking at the same time because I sort of had an “idea” of what the worship was going to be like on a given Sunday morning or Wednesday night.  As far as playing like the original song?  Well, it was about as far away from it as you can get aside from possibly the melody.  Back then, I really didn’t see the point of learning a song exactly like the original; I didn’t really see the value in it.  I mean, as long as we get through the song, everything’s fine, right?

Maybe then, but not now.

Let’s fast forward to today.  Right now, there are three services at Mount Pleasant.  We have three different drummers, and there are several folks taking lessons right now who may end up playing in our church someday.  In addition, we have quite a BIG handful of other musicians who play week in and week out and over a dozen different singers (not counting choir members).  So that we are all on the same page from week to week, we use an app which provides each person with an MP3 of each song, an MP3 of each instrument isolated so everyone can practice along on his/her specific instrument in addition to links to YouTube tutorials for just about every instrument as well.  While Brad does an excellent job in keeping us consistent with our teams (for example, I usually play 1st and 3rd Sundays every month), worship teams shift due to sickness, vacations, work trips, mission trips, etc. (Especially in the summer.)

Because the singer and musician lineup can change from week to week, I do my best to learn as closely to the original song as I can which is a far cry from the way I used to learn songs.  My number one job, as a drummer, is (and has always been) to make everyone else sound as good as they possibly can.  I’m there to support the music that’s happening around me – it’s my job to NOT “stick out” (although sometimes it’s nearly impossible).  Learning a song close to the original helps keep everyone on track, no matter who is singing or playing that given week.  While I do take a little “license” with a few drum patterns and fills, I like to think that when I show up for practice or for service, everyone knows what he or she is getting from me, and I try to be as consistent as I can because when there is a click track/metronome clicking in all of our ears, the last thing we need is a “surprise.”  By learning songs close to the original, the chances of anyone being thrown off by a weird pattern or drum fill is minimized.  With playing drums, there is absolutely nowhere to “hide” which is both exciting and a little frightening at the same time.  All in all, these days I attempt to play closely to the original because it’s what works best for our church.

So, all of this leads me to the original question – should worship musicians play like the original track or should they simply see the original tracks as a suggestion?

My answer?  It depends.

When I first started playing worship music, our church needed the freedom for our worship team to take quite a bit of license with the music.  So many of us were new to this, and we just had to feel our way through a lot of worship music, and by doing this, we all developed in our playing in addition to a lot of non-verbal communication.  I’d say simply using the music more as a guide works well with smaller churches where instrumentation may be limited and possibly where time constraints aren’t as prevalent.  Also, if the musicians are new, it helps to simplify.

These days, with three services and a tight schedule, the music needs to be somewhat predictable.  This is not to say that our time of worship isn’t powerful and moving; however, if we are going to serve as many as we do, there needs to be some order.  This is what I feel works best for us right now. 

Overall, simply do what works best for your church, and do so with a servant’s heart. 

Martin