Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Resolutions?

     Well, it's that time of year again.  Christmas has past and we're headed towards New Year's Day.  And you know what that means.  It's time for people to make resolutions for the new year that will most likely be broken by January 2nd. I'm not a big fan of new year's resolutions.  They are too easily broken and forgotten.  I would rather just set goals for the new year and see if over the next 365 days I can reach them.  Do you have any goals for the new year?  If so, are any of them related to music and worship?  It seems like most of the time when people set goals for themselves (or even resolutions) they are generally based on losing weight, exercising more, or spending more time with our families.  And those goals are great.  But for those of us involved in music ministry and worship leadership, shouldn't we also have goals that involve music and worship?

     For this upcoming year I definitely have some musical goals for myself.  First off, I want to continue to get better on the drums.  I feel as though I've reached the point of being an average drummer, but by the end of the year I'd like to be a better than average drummer.  I know our "first string" drummer at church would love to have a couple more Sundays off a year.  But for that to happen, I've got to keep improving.  Secondly, I would like to start working on playing the electric and bass guitars.  I know I can do it, but like everything else, it's just a matter of making the time for it.  Another goal I have is to start writing worship songs again.  A couple of years ago I was writing 1 song a week.  Last year I only wrote 2 or 3 songs for the entire year.  I'm not a great song writer, but for me to get better at it, I've got to keep working on it.

     But I don't just have musical goals for myself.  I also have goals that are worship related.  I want to be a better worship leader, so I want to be more spiritually prepared each and every time I set foot on the stage.  I need to spend more time in prayer each week seeking God.  Hopefully, the closer I am to God, the easier it will be to lead people to Him.  I also want to read 1 really deep theology book this year.  Theology books aren't easy, but I know that they can really stretch me.  Another goal I have is to continue to watch and study really good worship leaders.  Some people are truly gifted when it comes to leading worship and I want to be better.  I always enjoy picking up something new by watching others.

     So, what are your goals for this year?  If you are a worship leader or musician, you need to keep pushing yourself.  There is always more to learn and experience.  We serve a God who is worthy of our best, not just for what we settle for.  So, push yourself and strive for more this year.

Worship Big!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Silent Night, Holy Night

     As a Worship Pastor, I have worked in and led worship in a number of churches.  They have all been Baptist churches and had there own ways of looking at music and worship.  Most of them had very traditional music histories and therefore believed that all music within the church had to be done a certain way.  Typically that meant hymns being accompanied by piano and organ.  Now, when I was hired at each one of these places, I was told that the church leadership believed that the music and worship within the church needed to change.  So, I would start changing things.  I would start playing my acoustic guitar and teaching the congregation these new things called "praise and worship" songs.  For the most part they were accepted well as long as I didn't mess up their traditional hymns.  And by "mess up", they meant for me to NOT play my guitar on any of the hymns.  Because as they would tell me, "all hymns were written for the piano and organ".  Well, if you know anything about church music history, then you know that statement isn't true.  And one of my favorite examples is the Christmas hymn "Silent Night, Holy Night". 

     "Silent Night" was written in the 1800's for a  church in Austria by Father Joseph Mohr.  At the time, Father Joseph was upset because the church organ was broken and there wouldn't be any music at their Christmas Eve service.  But in the midst of his worry the words to a new song came to his mind and he began to write the words we all know so well:  "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright..."  He then took his new lyrics to their organist who came up with the tune that we still sing to this day.  Later that night at the Christmas Eve service, "Silent Night, Holy Night" was sung for the very first time accompanied by the acoustic guitar.  And just think, if the organ had not been broken, there would have been no "Silent Night".   

     Here's a video of MPBC doing "Silent Night, Holy Night" being accompanied by acoustic guitar.  Enjoy and Merry Christmas everyone!

Worship Big!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Transcendent Moments

Have you ever experienced anything truly amazing that God has done or created?  Like, have you ever been to the beach and looked out at the ocean and thought about how big it truly is?  And in that moment did it make you feel small?  And make you realize how big God is and how small we are?  Isaiah 40:12 says that “God held the oceans in the palm of his hand”.  Wow!  He’s so big; he has held the oceans in his hands.  Unbelievable! 

Or have you ever looked up in the sky on a cloudless night sky and looked at all the stars and thought about how big the universe is?  Or the fact that God made the whole universe and yet he still cared enough to make you?  Those aren’t just amazing moments.  Those are TRANSCENDENT moments.  Transcendence means something outside of our senses.  It’s beyond what we can see or hear or taste or smell or touch.  And transcendence is something that we all long for. 

In 1943, Psychologist Abraham Maslow published his findings on human needs.  If you ever took a psychology class in college, you probably got to study his findings.  He believed that man’s greatest need is “self-actualization”.  Basically to “be all you can be”. 

But what most people don’t know is that in 1971 he had to change his final analysis because he found that his test subjects weren’t satisfied with their own accomplishments and in reality wanted something greater than themselves.  What they wanted was to experience moments of transcendence.  And just like them, each one of us wants to experience something greater than ourselves.  And there’s a reason for that.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says “God has placed eternity in the hearts of men.”  Just think about that.  God has placed a piece of eternity into your heart and mine.  A piece of forever is in you and me.  That piece of eternity makes us long for more out of life than what we can see or hear or taste or smell or touch.  We have this longing to interact with something or someone greater than ourselves.  That longing is for God!  I believe there are moments in life when we do interact with that piece of eternity inside our hearts and we connect with God and He connects with us in a way that is stronger and deeper than we experience in everyday life.  We get to have TRANSCENDENT moments with Him.

I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoy music so much.  Music stirs that piece of eternity within my heart and connects me to God.  It transcends what I can truly understand.  In those moments, God comes near, and that longing in my heart gets filled. The same is true for you as well.  When we listen to music or play music or participate in worship, that piece of eternity in our hearts gets stirred and we get to experience transcendent moments with God.  We get to experience His presence.  And that’s what makes music and worship so special.  His presence!

Worship Big!


Monday, December 9, 2013

Playing on a Worship Team with Your Spouse

When I was in my 20s, music was my life.  I really felt like I was called to some capacity of music ministry, and I did everything in my power to “make it” as a full-time musician short of moving to Nashville.  The music that I was playing at the time was Christian-based music, and I found myself in a variety of venues almost each week.  I think at one time, I was playing in two different bands in addition to playing on a praise team at church.  I was usually either working full time or part time, and I was in and out of college during this time as well.  To say I was busy is an understatement.  It was not an uncommon week to have college classes 4-5 days a week, work 20 hours a week, have a couple of rehearsals, and about 2-3 gigs, then have to play worship music on Sunday mornings.  

During this time, I had always dreamed of marrying someone that would do music with me.  When I met Marci, we were both on the praise team.  Within a couple of years, we were engaged and married.  During our engagement, I asked Marci if she had ever thought about playing an instrument on the praise team, and she mentioned that she might want to give the bass guitar a try.  So for her wedding present, Marci got her first bass guitar and that was that. 

Fast forward to now:  A little over 11 years and three kids later, we are still at it.  So what has this experience taught me?  What’s it like to being married to someone else on the praise team? 

First and foremost:  This is NOT for everyone.  I’ve been a part of bands/groups/teams in which there were married couples on the team.  Some have been great to work with.  Others fought like cats and dogs and brought their problems with them to practices and performances.  Listen, if you don’t get along with your spouse, as in you are both having some serious issues, do not be on a praise team together.  I would even go as far to say that if you are having major marital problems, I would advise to not be on the praise team at all until your house is in order.  Your family should come before anything except for Jesus himself.  Your marriage and home life should be a much higher priority than church life, including playing on a praise team.  Your marriage does not need to be perfect; no one’s is.  Everyone has his/her moments and seasons.  However, major issues need resolution before being involved in a worship ministry.

I’m going to avoid as much lovey-dovey stuff as possible, and try to speak rather practically about being on a team with your spouse from my perspective.

The Good:

First and foremost, there’s nothing like worshiping together.  I could probably write a book on this.  I’ll just have to say it’s pretty awesome.

Second, because we are married, we have had to learn communicate; as a result, we’ve sort of developed our own vocabulary when discussing bass guitar/kick drum patterns (for those of you that aren’t musicians, the kick drum and the bass guitar play a lot of the same patterns…most of the time anyways). I’m not going to bother trying to go into some of these things because it would make no sense to write them down.  We also do a pretty good job of working through parts together and helping each other out.


Third, our kids get to watch us.  It’s sort of strange to think that our kids have never known us to NOT play music together.  This is a picture of Marci teaching bass lessons at church back when we first started MPBC.  Little Aedan is helping her with the sheet music:

This is a picture of Marci with Aedan strapped on her back when he was much younger.

Here’s Everett following suit, taking Aedan’s place on Marci’s back:

Here’s one of Emma Kate helping me play as I was working on songs:

The Drawbacks:

While it is a huge blessing to be able to play with a spouse, there are some drawbacks to playing together.  First, there is an incredible amount of juggling we have to do in order to make each week happen.  Here’s what we go through on a week-to-week basis: 

Wednesdays: I sometimes go straight from work to home (I have about a 45-50 minute commute on a good day), scarf down supper in about 10 minutes, load the car with kids, go to church at 6:00pm, come home after services/classes at 7:30 and leave Marci at church for choir practice.  I then wait on Marci’s folks to show up while listening to our worship music for that week and/or charting out new music to be played that night, get back to church between 8:00/8:15pm.  We can sometimes get out of practice between 9:30/10:00pm, but it’s been known to go longer.  We usually make it home by 10:30pm.  These days, I just meet Marci at church after I get off of work, but now she actually has to pack my supper along with 3 kids and all of their stuff.  Needless today, we are pretty exhausted by the end of the night.

Sundays:  We leave the house at 7:30am with three kids in tow (with church clothes packed), go over to Marci’s parents’ house to drop off the kids, and then we have to be at church at 7:45am.  During invitation of first service, either Marci or I sneaks out, drives over to her parents’ house, picks the kids up, drives back to church for Sunday school.  After Sunday school, we go back to the Reach Center, and play for second service.  For second service, Marci has Everett strapped on her back with her bass guitar strap run underneath her carrier (We’ve not quite figured out how to keep Everett from playing with her in-ear monitors yet, but we are working on it).  The older two kids are usually sitting on the front row so that we can keep an eye on them.

We’ve run into a variety issues when doing all of this.  What do you do when one of the kids gets sick?  What if they mess up their clothes?  What if Everett decides, for whatever reason, that he wants to cry all through the worship set?  What if the kids get hungry because they skipped breakfast and Marci and I are on stage?  What if one of the kids gets up and runs to the bathroom 4-5 times during the set?  Couple these issues with unavoidable technical glitches, like what if Marci’s bass pickups go out again?  What if the plug-in jack starts crackling?  What happens if I drop a stick, forget a last-minute change, or botch the welcome time…again?  I think that we’ve had all of these happen at least once.  Oh yeah, during all of this, we are supposed to be concentrating on leading people in worship because it’s not about us, right?

When we are on the same schedule, we can just get plain tired.  When we get home, we still have to cook food for the kids, clean the mess, etc. – all the things that goes along with raising kids.

Don’t get me wrong; I would much rather be playing with the team than not, but it can be refreshing when Marci and I both have the “day off” and can “just be members.”  It’s amazing how relaxing it can be to simply show up to church and then go home.  At the same time, I’m sort of blown away that this is probably how the majority of people that come to church do it.  They show up, and they leave.  No practicing anything through the week, “optional” Wednesday night services, and just being a member without being involved. To be totally transparent, it sort of bugs me a little – show up, get fed, and go home, then sit around and possibly wonder why God isn’t using them.  Anyways, I’m getting too far from my original post.

I’ll close with this:  A few weeks ago, we saw some folks that attend our church out in town.  We stopped to talk for a while, and the gentleman said, “Wow, I’ll bet that y’all just sit around and play music all of the time.”  No.  I mean, ummm, no.  While it would be a lot of fun to do that, there’s no way we have time or the energy.  

Being on the worship team with your spouse can be a huge blessing; I know that it is for me.  It can also be challenging if there a lack of stability.  Juggling each week can be shaky at times, but the blessings that we receive from serving are uncountable.  It is a privilege and an honor to serve Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, and I am doubly blessed because I get to serve with the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  


Monday, December 2, 2013

Pleasing Man vs. Ministering to God

            I believe as a worship leader, it can be easy to confuse ministering to the Lord and ministering to man.  It is easy to get so caught up in leading a congregation in worship that we lose sight of the ultimate goal.  We often want so badly for others to have a meeting with the Lord that we ourselves miss out on that meeting.  As leaders, it is crucial that we also take part in this meeting.

Our Identity In Christ

            As human beings, we all have identities, and they are found in different things.  I'll use a music reference of this if I may for an example.  Imagine a bass player; that person calls themselves a bass player because they play bass and they play regularly whether that be on stage, or at home, etc.  They identify themselves as such because they simply play bass.  However, if that person doesn't get the opportunity to play their instrument on stage or at home, their identity is damaged and they feel their sense of value and worth are detracted from. 

            In this post, I'd like to focus for a minute on our identity in Christ.  The Bible defines us as several things.  The Bible says that we are chosen and dearly loved, the Bible calls us children of God, but for our purposes, I want to look at the fact that God says that we are Priests. 

"You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ"  1 Peter 2:5

 "But you are a chosen people, a royal Priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light." 

1 Peter 2:9

            That last verse even goes into a job description for us: we are made Priests so that we can declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light. 

            Now, our identity, who we see ourselves as, makes a huge difference in the way we function, how we live, and the choices we make.  If we do not see ourselves as priests, that then relieves us of any responsibility that a priest holds.  But, what happens if we take on the role of a priest? 

Our Role as a Leader

            If we see ourselves as priests, that will change everything.  It will change the way we relate to God and other people.  If we see ourselves as priests, we have the right and responsibility to do what priests do. 

            I have a list of things that we are able to do once we have taken on the role of the priesthood.  To do this, I would like to use the Levites as examples..

    1) Build/Host Tabernacle - To get something out of the way here, I want us to understand that the word "tabernacle" is much more simple than we think.  It is just a fancy word for "tent".  In the Bible, when you see Moses' tabernacle, it just means Moses' tent.  The Hebrews referred to this as a tent of meeting.


The idea behind tabernacle is exactly how the Hebrews defined it; a place of meeting.  When you go to church, do you have some sort of an expectation that you are going to meet with God?  It is a body of people coming together with God being the focus.  So, with that said, here is where being a priest comes into play:  In the Bible, only priests were allowed to set up tabernacle.  Only priests are able to host meetings with God.  So as a worship leader, if you do not see yourself as a priest, do you see where this can be an issue?  This is part of the joy of the priesthood!  We have the ability to set up a meeting between God and man. 

2)  Carry the Presence of God - At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD to stand before the LORD to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day.  Deuteronomy 10:8

The Ark of the Covenant always represents the presence of God here on earth.  This was the Levites responsibility to do so, as was their responsibility to set up and carry the rest of Moses' tabernacle.  As it was their responsibility, it is ours as well, and our joy.  We carry the presence of God where ever we go.  This also can pose a problem.  What if we don't see and identify ourselves correctly?   As a worship leader, we carry the Presence of God onto that stage; it is crucial that we recognize this. 

Think about the fact that we are ambassadors.  Where ever an ambassador goes, the laws of his mother nation apply in that place, like diplomatic immunity.  If a United States ambassador goes into a foreign nation, where he is standing just became the United States of America, even though he may be standing on German soil, U.S. laws now apply there as well.  The same goes for us as followers and as priests.  Where ever we go, we are able to bring the Kingdom of God into that place, because the Kingdom of God is our mother nation.  That is why I believe we are able to bring a small piece of heaven to people that we come in contact with.  When we contact someone without God, the laws of the kingdom of this world, the laws of sickness, death and decay, no longer apply because we are in that place.  Isn't that interesting? 

3)  Minister to God - Look at that passage again in Deuteronomy 10:8.  It mentions ministering to the Lord.  This is going to be the point of what I am trying to say in all of this.  As priests and especially as worship leaders, our primary focus is NOT to minister to man.  We should focus on ministering to God and His pleasures, His desires, His will, His glory and His entertainment.  As worship leaders, our focus should not be on ministering to the people in the congregation.  That means, our primary concern must be of the will of the Lord.  If the target of our ministry is pleasing the people in our congregation, we will always have a ministry that falls short.  We want to target our ministry on pleasing God and His tastes. 

            Also, as people, as humans, we do not have the ability to meet the needs of others.  We don't have the ability to take care of everyone's problems or even provide them an answer for everything.  But, we minister to the One who is able.  I think we as leaders in the Church would be more effective if we step away from people's needs and concerns and focus on pleasing the heart of God, because He can take care of all the things that we cannot in people's lives. 

Final Thoughts

   As I mentioned in the beginning, it's easy to get so caught up in leading a congregation that we often miss out on the meeting that we took part in setting up.  If we have an effective ministry, it will be because our focus is on Jesus alone.  I think that is something that we all know, but is easy to lose sight of.

    Want to know something else that's pretty interesting?  Do you know what happens when we minister to the heart of God?...

He shows up. 

That's the ultimate goal.