Thursday, May 31, 2018

I Have a Secret

A while back, a friend of mine on Facebook posted something like this:

The phrases “Going to the beach” and “Going to the beach with four kids” may sound a lot alike, but they are two totally different experiences!

I think I replied something to this effect:

You didn’t go on vacation…you went on a trip!  There is a significant difference between the two! 😊

For those of you with kids, you can probably agree wholeheartedly with these statements.  Remember going on vacation with a toddler?  Or maybe a baby?  I definitely remember!  While it has its exciting moments, it’s a lot of work.  I know for my family, the preparation started about a week before we left.  I know I would always make sure that the car was in decent shape: checking the A/C or heat, making sure the tires were good enough shape, changing the oil if needed, checking fluids and belts, checking for leaky hoses, and then cleaning the car with a wash, a vacuum, and possibly a wax.  Marci was always very busy in the days leading up to a trip with the kids.  She started washing clothes days in advance, and we would work together to get the house clean before we left. 

When we finally got to our destination, we would let our little ones play in the pool, the sand, or walk around the hotel room, amusement park, resort, etc.  Marci and I simply couldn’t spread out our towels on the beach and say to our kids, “Y’all have a good time! We will be over here napping and reading books while you play in the ocean!”  As a matter of fact, those first few years, it was rare that we even sat down!  We had to keep a close eye on them, especially around crowds or around water.  In addition to this, there were other things we were in charge of as well:

We still had to worry about getting the kids down for naps.  
There were still bath times and trips to the grocery store.  
There were still diapers and dishes.  
There was laundry.
There was still fussing.
There was still sleeplessness.
There was still, well, all of the things we had to do home…we were just in a different place!

There was so much to worry about…from finances, to safety, to food, to traveling, to gas, to car maintenance, etc., there was not a lot of time to rest and relax and just enjoy each moment.  On the flip side, what did the kids have to worry about?  Very little! Well they’re kids, so they shouldn’t have to.  It’s not their job to worry about anything.  Don’t get me wrong…there were moments that happened during these times that I’ll never forget that will stay with me for a lifetime.  However, looking back, I believe these trips were more for the kids than they were for me.  While I’m very thankful for these experiences, to be honest with you, I was happy to get home a lot of the time.  I think after some of these trips, I wanted to get back to work and get some rest!

So at this point you may be asking, so what’s this secret, and what does going on a trip with little kids have to do with playing worship music?  A lot, actually.

First, I must share my secret.  You ready? (I’m not sure I am!) Either way, here goes:  

When I’m playing music in front of the congregation, I’m usually not worshiping.  

Yes, you read that correctly – I’m not worshiping the vast majority of the time while I’m playing in front of the congregation.  This is not a dance around wording and semantics; this is blunt honesty.  

You see, when it comes to playing on the praise team, I have too much to worry while I’m playing (In case you are interested, this should give you a good idea of what all I have to concentrate on while I’m playing:  When I’m playing the drums, I have about 30-40 other singers and musicians depending on me to play the right parts at the right time.  So, if the Spirit so moved me to step down from my drums and kneel at the altar, I would do it; however, my doing so would do a couple of things:

1.) It would draw unnecessary attention to myself, and 
2.) It would cause an absolute musical train wreck.  

While I’m not saying that there’s zero chance of this ever happening (I mean, the Holy Spirit can do whatever He wants to, right?), I believe that my primary purpose is to LEAD others in their worship, not to focus on MY worship.  Confused yet? Let me put it this way. Simply put, I believe my purposes of playing on the praise team are as follows:

A.) to provide the music for the congregation so that they may worship freely, 
B.) play skillfully as to not to be a distraction for the congregation and other musicians/singers who are leading, and 
C.) smile, make eye contact, and attempt to connect with the congregation so that they can be led to the feet of the throne.

So if I’m not worshiping the entire time, what am I doing and what’s the point of me even doing this?  Well, to be quite honest, my job is not to worship – my job is to provide an opportunity for the congregation to worship.  This the primary difference between being a worship LEADER and someone in the congregation.  To me, this parallels the idea of going on vacation with the kids.  While I may have a good time on the beach with my little kids, my purpose in going to the beach with them is not so they can watch me have a good time and get much-needed rest.  On the same note, I’m not in front of people so they can see me worship.  Does it happen sometimes?  Sure, but not very often because that’s not the purpose in my being there.  If I wanted to be in front of church for the sole purpose of people watching me worship, well, maybe I would be better off in the congregation.  

The way I see it, being on a worship team is a lot like being a parent taking kids on a trip somewhere.  There is an absolute ton of prep work that goes into it, and there are many things to think about the entire time you are there.  While you are on the trip, you may have a moment or two of relaxation (much like there are moments of worship while playing on a team), but being there is more about others than you.  When I show up on my weeks off of the worship team, it’s a great experience to walk in and enjoy our time of worship.  I’m free to do whatever I want.  I can sit and pray, stand and raise my hands, stand in silence with my eyes shut, etc.  The worship team’s job is to provide the environment for me when I’m in the congregation.  I don’t have to worry about anything, just like a kid whose parents have taken them on a trip.  In much the same way, the worship team “drives” the congregation to the destination, and everything is provided; all they have to do is simply worship and enjoy what’s going on around them, and it’s the worship team’s job to provide this each week.  Playing music and being a parent are both ministries that, at times, can provide worship and relaxation, but that’s not the point of either of these roles I play.

A couple of final thoughts.  First, I have felt like this for years.  This is nothing new for me, and for the longest time I thought something was wrong with me. There were so many instances where I thought I should “feel” something as I was playing, but it wasn’t there.  You know what? That’s ok.  Being a leader is all about leading others, not chasing feelings.  Second, I hope that this doesn’t come across as a “Woe is me, I can’t worship at church” sort of blog.  Believe me when I say that I do have my moments of worship, but they happen at different times as opposed to playing the drums at church.  My moments of worship happen more as I’m doing devotions in the quiet of my home before everyone else gets up.  They happen as I drive to work in the fall when the sun rises just above the mountains and the light hits all of the oranges, yellows, and browns.  They happen when my kids ask me to pray with them and for them.  They happen as I lie awake at night with worry and peace washes over.  They happen when I’m wrenching on my truck, and I’m able to fix whatever was wrong (There’s usually a bit of repentance that goes along with it!).  In addition to all of these, moments of worship happen as I’m in the congregation.  Maybe they don’t happen a lot as I’m actively playing, but that’s ok.

I stopped chasing a feeling a long time ago, and I’m much better for it.


Thursday, May 24, 2018

30,000 Foot View

One thing I enjoy about playing the drums is that I have a very good seat to see the “mood” in the entire Reach Center before and during our worship time. This mood can vary greatly from energetic to kinda ho hum, and sometimes both on the same Sunday. Sometimes, different sides of the room have a totally different feel at the same time.

There is one specific time every Sunday, however, that is full of smiles, greetings, laughter and just joy; that time being the “welcome those around you” time. Immediately after Dale or Brad or whoever says “now let’s take a minute and welcome those around you” the entire place just comes to life with all of the aforementioned actions. You see people leave their seats and go hug someone or laughter over something relevant only to those involved. People smile and shake hands. Others may be planning their evening together and some share encouragement to those broken by life (but you’d never know it due to the mask we must put on when we enter God’s House).

I truly enjoy watching this from the “30,000 ft view” because no one notices the drummer during this time, which is a perfect opportunity to observe the small details that would be overlooked easily. This fellowship is vitally important to having strength in Christ because, well, strength comes in numbers.

Example, I once heard a message preached about how lions and wolves hunt. You’ve seen the shows on Nat-Geo and
Animal Planet (you know with the British or Australian narrators) with these predators on the hunt and how they follow a similar strategy; which is to single out one from the pack and take it down. If the kill is not immediately effective they will chase, wound, fatigue, and just keep the prey away from the group. The lions and wolves rarely go after an alpha male or the matriarch female. The reason... strength comes with numbers.

The preacher then paralleled this to our faith by asking which person is more likely to become prey, the one who attends church regularly and is active within that church, or the one who is “kinda” there? He went into more depth than this with all kinds of principles, but I want to focus on this only. You see the ones who gather regularly are in the group, but those who are “kinda” there are falling away from the herd, and the further they get the more vulnerable they are to attack. This attack is not physical but spiritual.

So, the spiritual is where we need strength and being with other Christians is one way to find this strength. Just being with the masses is one thing, but finding a few solid friends in Christ takes it to a new level. This is why I enjoy the Welcome Time so much. Because I see people making acquaintances, and shoring up already strong foundations. People are refreshed and encouraged, even if it’s only 20 seconds. Then we hit the tracks and we're off into worship, as it reverts back to the “mood” that’s in the room (this mood is an odd thing sometimes which I could expand on further but we have not the time).

So, how bout this: the next time you get to “welcome those around you” you go and bear hug someone or just speak a kind word because you never know how close the predators may be.

I Say Go For It!


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!


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,