Ten Commandments That Will Make Creatives Want to Quit

1Every church has “creatives” in the congregation and/or on the staff who have an artistic temperament, who are passionate about music/art/worship/liturgy, who have a lot of ideas swirling around in their heads, and who feel perpetually misunderstood.

Some of this is the fault of the creatives. They have a responsibility to be stewards of their gifts for the edification of the Church just like anyone else, but too often treat their God-given gifts like weapons they can point at people to get what they want, or like wild animals that can’t be leashed.

But a lot of creatives are driven to insanity – and to the point of wanting to quit – by the Church because of all the rules and regulations it imposes on them, thereby stifling and squashing the very gifts God has given them.

Here are ten commandments that will make creative want to quit:

1. Thou shalt not ask why
Creatives want to know details/context/background so they can use their gifts as effectively as possible, and so they can make suggestions for how people might be more genuinely blessed. Yes, creatives like blessing people.

2. Thou shalt not make anyone upset
Tell a creative not to upset anyone, and you’re basically telling them that to be timid is to be strong.

3. Thou shalt not re-invent anything
Creatives don’t always want to make a copy of a copy of a copy. They want a blank canvas from time to time.

4. Thou shalt not push the envelope
Give creative people in your congregation and/or on your staff the freedom and permission to experiment and to make mistakes in an atmosphere of grace.

5. Thou shalt not give input
Sometimes creatives have really bad ideas. Sometimes they have really good ideas. Listen to them.

6. Thou shalt not have support
Most creatives work better when they know the Church has their back.

7. Thou shalt not be defended
And when creatives are criticized and attacked, if they aren’t defended by the Church, they’ll be less motivated to pour their hearts out next time.

8. Thou shalt not receive affirmation
When a creative person in the Church pours their heart into a project, an event, a production, or a service, a lack of a “thank you” or “well done” or “here’s what I liked” can be debilitating.

9. Thou shalt not be paid fairly
The Church has a terrible reputation for treating creatives like they’re not worth much, primarily by expecting them to always work for free or at a discounted rate.

10. Thou shalt not sit in the driver’s seat
Most creatives want the opportunity to lead something. They want the freedom to see something through from start to finish, and they want to know they’re trusted and respected.

Give a creative person a little bit of context, a lot of freedom and grace, the right to speak up, support and back-up when they need it, affirmation, fair pay, and a leadership role, and they will be much likely to serve with joy for a long period of time.

Smother a creative person with commandments, and they’ll quickly move elsewhere!

Ministry Misses Before Ministry Hits

1It was a job I really wanted, at a church I had long admired from afar, with a pastor who was famous, in a part of the country that was beautiful, in a city near some of my extended family, with a high enough profile that if I got the job, I thought I’d get some bragging rights.

I had dreamed about what it would be like to have this job. And one Sunday evening, out of nowhere, I received an invitation to apply, directly from the pastor himself.

I could hear angels singing. I knew this was the answer to my prayers. In my mind, it was a done deal, less than an hour after hearing about the opening. The red carpet had been rolled out for my visit and I was sure I had landed the job of all jobs.

I visited a few weeks later and from the get-go, things didn’t go so well. A major storm descended on the area, throwing everything into chaos and nearly canceling services on Sunday. Didn’t this storm know that this was my weekend to shine?

The service ended up happening, and everything went really well. Until lunch with the pastor. I got the distinct impression that he knew fairly quickly that I wasn’t his guy, and the more I tried to impress him, the more stupid things I said.

They had already asked me to make a second visit, which I did several weeks later. But by then, the red carpet had been rolled up, the angel choirs were no longer singing, the lunch invitation was rescinded, and I found myself pulling out of the process before my plane even lifted off the runway. I couldn’t handle the prospect of being told I wasn’t good enough.

I was devastated, confused, and felt like I had missed God’s will.

Almost exactly a year later, another job opportunity presented itself. This was a job I didn’t particularly want, in an area of the country that didn’t excite me, at a place I had never even heard of before, with people who weren’t famous. But God clearly led me to apply. I didn’t have most of the qualifications they were looking for, but it never hurts to try, right?

The process played out over a few months, and lo and behold I receive an invitation to visit. Still wounded from my previous interview attempt, I went with trepidation, assuming I wouldn’t impress them either.

The visit was surprisingly sweet and invigorating. I found myself wanting this job, warming to the area of the country, enjoying the people, and wondering how in the world God could be doing this. I was offered the position, made a second visit with Catherine to scope out the area, and was one phone call away from accepting the job when God pulled the plug and made it clear that he was saying “no”. So I pulled out of the process and found myself, yet again, very confused.

“Let’s make 2014 a year of contentment” were my famous words to Catherine, after we had ridden these two wild potential-job rollercoasters, and experienced the emotional ups and downs that could drive any couple to a few dozen brinks. We were expecting our third child around Christmas 2013, and we resolved to just hunker down and not look at any potential jobs for a year.

That all came crashing down on my first day back at work after paternity leave in early 2014. My first day back in the office, it was clear to me that God was saying “you’re done here”.

That night, kneeling on our living room floor, I begged God to make his path clear. In one of my most honest prayers ever, I pleaded with him to finally show us what door to walk through and to end our waiting game.

The very next day I saw the posting for Director of Worship and Arts at Truro Church in Fairfax, VA. The same church were Catherine and I had met, where our fathers had been associate pastors, where my family had some considerable baggage, where I had led worship during High School, and where I had literally NEVER thought about serving as a worship pastor.

But when I saw that post – I had two thoughts instantly: First, “oh no” (because I knew some of the challenges, and the weight of the responsibilities that would await me there). Secondly, “this is it, isn’t it, God?”

Yes, it was.

In the first case (when I thought I knew what God was doing), God stripped me of my pride and spared me from stepping into an environment for which I wasn’t prepared.

In the second case (when I had no clue what God was doing), God re-invigorated me and gave me a nearly-complete dry run of how to explore and discern a ministry opportunity.

And in the final case (when God brought me and my family back to Truro), God showed me that he had been preparing me for this role all along, keeping me totally in the dark about it, and like a good Father, opening the door when it was time. When it was his time.

God uses ministry misses to prepare you for ministry hits. Like Aslan in C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, he might even have to wound you a little bit in order to make you run faster. You won’t have any idea what he’s up to. You’ll be confused. Maybe even devastated. But if all you experience is success after success, promotion after promotion, and red carpets and angelic choirs and famous pastors, then you are literally living in place that’s called La La Land.

Embrace a full-hearted trust in a good God, a loving Father, and a sovereign King, who will put you exactly where he wants you, and will oftentimes lead you on several roller coasters in order to grow you up and strengthen your gifts before you land.

Keeping Things Professional

1I’m still young, but call me old school. Worship leaders should act professionally. And they should help their teams/bands/choirs/volunteers/crew act professionally too. There should an atmosphere of professionalism around the people who serve up-front and/or behind the scenes in a worship service, across the spectrum of worship expressions from traditional robed-choirs to casual rock bands. Why? Because everything we do preaches a message. And sloppiness, unpreparedness, franticness, and too-cool-for-school-ness all preach a lack of a sense of honor: honor towards the people in the room, and honor towards the One to whom we’re (hopefully) pointing. We become ineffective when we lose our love for our congregations, and we become loud clanging cymbals.

I’ve led in all sorts of environments. From very traditional (suit and tie, choir, organ, handbells, liturgy) to very casual (jeans and a t-shirt, band, loud, informal), and I’m not advocating or pushing one style over another. I’m a Psalm 150 type of guy, who believes that God can use anything (and any kind of music) for his glory, and who considers context to be key when deciding what kind of music serves a particular group of people best.

And in every context a worship leader could be called into to serve, that calling is an honor. And those people need to see Jesus. And that worship leader can do certain things to help them see Jesus more clearly, or on the flip side, do things to draw attention to him/herself. And just as performancism is dangerous in pointing people towards the performers, so too is a lack of professionalism.

A worship leader who keeps things professional:
Is well-prepared, and expects (and helps) the people on the platform with him/her to to be well-prepared as well.
Doesn’t rehearse when people are coming in to be seated before a service starts. He/she knows when to stop.
Doesn’t address the congregation like they’re stupid, or like they’re his/her buddies from high school, but like they’re adults and worthy of respect.
Doesn’t dress in such a way that causes him to stand out like a flip-flop in a sea of tuxedos, or like a bow-tie in a sea of cargo shorts. He can adjust here and there so that he doesn’t go against the contextual grain, so to speak.
Knows his/her parameters. You’ve been given 20 minutes? Go 19 minutes.
Treats the technical volunteers/team with respect… not like they’re his/her roadies.
– Keeps the platform tidy (cleans up cluttered cables, leftover pizza boxes from rehearsal, and puts cases in the back during the service).
– Cares about/works toward the success of an entire service, not just their “worship set”.
Is a team player. You’re not the star, you’re just one of the parts of a body.

A worship leader shouldn’t put on a facade, or assume a cherub-like perfectionism when he/she stands before a congregation, but they should certainly take on a heightened sensitivity towards avoiding acting in a flippant or annoying manner. From the high-church/smells-and-bells to the low-church/rock-and-roll environments, the people entrusted with leadership should pursue modeling a confident, humble, prepared, and professional approach to their role, within their unique contexts. Relax and be yourself, but do so with a servant’s heart for the people in the pews.

Acting in a professional manner helps accomplish one of the primary goals of worship leaders: that we can decrease, and that Jesus can increase. It reflects our love for the people we’re leading, and it helps make sure that only clanging cymbals our people are hearing are coming from the drum set.

Responding To The Increasingly Short Shelf-Life Of Worship Songs

1Things are not as simple for worship leaders/church music directors as they used to be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly a more complicated thing.

There are now more songs to choose from than ever, at an increasingly rapid speed, coming from big publishers, independent artists, local churches, Christian radio, social media feeds, conferences, carrier pigeons, and their distant relatives, hipsters. Just when we’ve gotten a handle on introducing a new song to our congregation that was written in 2012, a newer new song comes along that’s even newer, making the new song we thought was new feel pretty old. Confused? You should be.

Studio albums. Live albums. EPs. Singles. Free downloads. Deluxe versions. Acoustic versions. Recorded on a beach versions. Recorded on top of a mountain versions. A lot of it is really good stuff! A lot of it is not-so-good stuff… And when you add it all together, it’s just a lot of new stuff to sort through, even if you had nothing else to do all week long than listen to all the new stuff. And even then you’d be out-of-touch if you took a few weeks off.

In the ancient past, known as the “1990s”, when a “new” song really caught on, like “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord” or “Shout to the Lord”, that new song (for better or worse…) stuck around in a church’s repertoire for a substantial period of time, even until present-day. Nowadays, in the era of worship song abundance (again, not a bad thing, just a more complicated thing), when a new song catches on, it might disappear several months later when new crop of new songs come on the scene.

What’s the result? Two things are happening: First, worship leaders are overwhelmed and inundated, possibly discouraged that they can’t keep up, and either resisting or succumbing to the pressure and marketing that screams at them to stay relevant. Second, congregations are being asked to learn more new songs than they can handle, aren’t given the opportunity to sing these new songs for years and years, are being fed songs that might not be particularly nourishing.

(Big caveat: not every new song should have “lasting power”. Some new songs will last for centuries to come. Some will (and should) be retired after a season. This is OK. We know that the New Testament church sang “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). We have many of those still today (i.e. the Psalms). But others have fallen away. So, some songs were good enough for the Apostles themselves to sing for a season before being retired. So we should be OK with singing songs that won’t necessarily be sung hundreds of years from now. We just have to be careful to keep our repertoire in a healthy balance. Caveat over.)

Because of the increasingly short shelf-life of modern worship music, worship leaders should make sure we:

Stay mindful of what’s out there
Don’t bury yourself in a cave of stuff-you-like-that-you’ve-used-before. Be willing to listen to new music, and incorporate what will work in your context.

Don’t stress out about keeping up with it all
It’s simply impossible, unless you have tons of time, to keep up with all the new stuff that’s out there.

Be OK with being a late adopter
It’s amazing how waiting a few years will allow the very best of the new stuff to rise to the top of the pile.

Have high standards
Biblical faithfulness, theological correctness, gospel centeredness, musical richness, and congregational accessibility are the five big boxes you should be able to check. If a new song is really popular but doesn’t check all five of those boxes, then maybe you shouldn’t use it.

Distinguish between usefulnesses
Of all the thousands of new songs that will be written this year, maybe just five of those should find their way on to your congregation’s lips. The other songs might be all be wonderful, but it doesn’t mean they’re useful for incorporation into your church’s repertoire.

Choose songs for the congregation you have
Certain songs will work well in big churches with big bands but flop in smaller churches with smaller bands. And likewise, certain songs will work well in your local context that no one else has ever heard of before! You have to be willing to put blinders on when choosing songs for your congregation, and choose what serves them the best.

Build a solid repertoire – not a cool playlist
A congregation will sing with confidence when they know the songs. A congregation will sing with timidity when they don’t. A solid repertoire cultivates congregational confidence. An ever-changing (but cool!) playlist cultivates insecurity. Focus primarily on helping people exalt Jesus in song, and let the copyright dates take a back seat.

Things aren’t as simple as they used to be, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We have more resources to draw from than ever to help our congregations worship God in song. May we think wisely, pastorally, and discerningly as we adjust to the shortening shelf-life of what’s being produced, and remain faithful to proclaim the never-changing, always-relevant Good News.

Never Beat The Sheep

A few years ago, a friend loaned me a book by Bill Hybels entitled Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs, with 76 short and succinct chapters with different leadership tips he’s learned over the years. I found parts of the book helpful, other parts not helpful, but one chapter really stood out to me.

Towards the end of the book he encourages leaders to “never beat the sheep”, because he knows that this is a temptation for anyone in a leadership role. We don’t get the results we want, so it must be the sheep’s fault. To get them in line, we want to “beat” them in order to straighten them out and whip them into shape.

He talks about a small groups pastor who came into his office one day furious at his volunteer leaders because not even half of them had signed up for a training retreat. Upon further investigation, it turns out that the retreat was really expensive, really far away, and being held at a really bad time. Maybe the problem wasn’t with the sheep after all!

He writes:

If your sheep aren’t responding the way you think they should, put down your stick and ask a few questions first. See if you served your sheep well, because when they’re served well, they tend to serve well in return. Never beat the sheep, my friend. A word of loving admonition every once in a while might be appropriate, but put the stick away. Permanently.

Worship leaders need to hear this word. We can get really frustrated with our sheep from time to time and think that if we could only whip them into shape then we’d see the results we want.

Maybe it’s our congregation. They always come to church late. They don’t engage in worship very much. They talk during the songs. They don’t come to mid-week worship nights.

Maybe it’s our worship team. Attendance at monthly meetings is always lousy. The drummer is always late to rehearsal. They don’t prepare at home.

Or maybe we tried something new. We invited our team on a worship conference and no one signed up. We asked our team to read a chapter of a book on worship before they came to rehearsal and not a single person did. We announced worship team auditions several months in advance and no one came forward.

In every case (and in almost every one I speak from experience), the temptation is going to be to want to beat the sheep. Send a stern email. Make it required or else they’re off the team! Give a glare during rehearsal. Never offer the opportunity again just to punish them.

But most of the time when you don’t get the results you wanted, it’s an opportunity for you to step back and take a look in the mirror. We can be too quick to pick up the stick to beat the sheep. Address your own issues first, do some tweaking and some re-grouping, and then love your sheep as well as you can. They respond to that a lot better.

Worship Leaders, Love Your Families

1Just a little over ten years ago I started in full-time ministry as a single guy, with no children, and all the flexibility in the world to build my work schedule around my commitments and my interests.

Fast forward to today and I’m happily married with three little girls. Now, my schedule and my commitments have a direct impact on the four people who share a home with me. When I’m home, when I’m not home, what nights (and how many nights) I’m out of the house at bedtime, how early I leave in the morning, whether or not I miss dinner, whether or not I’m distracted by my emails/unfinished work on my laptop or phone, whether or not I have the time to unload the dishwasher before I leave for work, and whether or not I actually take time off, has ramifications that extend far beyond what I may feel like doing, or what I’m told I “need” to do.

Now I have a choice, I can continue to build my calendar based on what’s good for me, or based on what’s best for my family. And this choice is made in a hundred different ways, through little things that add up.

It’s all well and good for me to get to the church office, or get to rehearsal, or get to a service for which I’m leading worship, but if I prioritize these things over the needs of my family, then something isn’t quite right. The rubber meets the road with a spouse and/or kids at home. If my most valuable commodity really is my time, then how I decide to spend that time will determine what I value.

Yes, there are busy seasons, there are sacrifices you and your family make, and your work commitments will occasionally cause strain within your family.

But in order to value your family as you should, you simply have to protect your time with them, especially at the times that really (and practically) matter.

You have to say no to certain things. You have to guard your evenings and days off as the property of your family, and keep people from intruding on that property more than they should. You have to think of little things you can initiate that add up to big things like lunches or quick coffees with your family in the midst of a busy day. You have to love your families more than you love your job, and you have to realize that the loudest way you can proclaim this love for them is by your presence with them when they need it.

Back in July, my amazing wife Catherine shared her perspective as a ministry wife in her post “From a Worship Leader’s Wife“. She shared some good insight for wives about how to support their husbands in ministry, and I was glad to see it bless a lot of different readers.

A few days ago we got a question on that post from a worship leader’s wife who is struggling with the the demands of ministry, especially with a toddler at home. Catherine responded to her in the comment thread, and I’d encourage wives of worship leaders to check it out if they need encouragement.

But this post today is aimed at the men who, like me, have a family at home while we’re doing our worship leader thing. And my main point is this: prioritize time with your family over time at work. As much as possible, submit your own schedule to the needs of your wife and kids. Be physically present. Be home at bedtime and then rush back to church for evening meetings if you need to. Take Sundays off even if things won’t go as smoothly without you there. Be late to things. Have strong boundaries. Whatever it takes, for your particular family, and their particular needs. This might mean you’re not in your office as much as some other people around you. But who cares? Worship leaders, love your families.

The Difference Between A Mentor And A Meanie

Your effectiveness in ministry will largely rest on whether or not you have wise, Godly, and humble mentors around you. These mentors can encourage, challenge, occasionally chastise, and regularly pray for you and your ministry. You can call on them when you face difficult tests, and you can count on them to have what’s best and biblical for you in mind when they offer you counsel.

Your effectiveness in ministry will also largely rest on whether or not you can distinguish between these kinds of mentors and their imposters: meanies. These kinds of people approach you from a position of counsel, but all they have to offer is critical observations, ungracious words, unfair judgments, and bad advice. They don’t know you, they don’t particularly love you, and their influence isn’t good for you. Actually, their influence can crush you and mess you up for a long time.

Here are some key differences between ministry mentors and ministry meanies.

1. A mentor says hard things to you in a way that builds you up. A meanie says harsh things to you that leave you feeling like you’ve been beat up.

2. A mentor loves you. A meanie judges you.

3. A mentor encourages you. A meanie discourages you.

4. A mentor comes to you from a position of humility, being no better than you. A meanie comes to you from a position of arrogance, as one who is superior to you.

5. A mentor reminds you of the Gospel. A meanie reminds you of your failings.

6. A mentor checks in with you for no other reason than to connect. A meanie only connects with you to criticize you.

7. A mentor has a lot of patience. A meanie has a list of grievances.

8. A mentor builds you up to encourage your strengths as gifts from God. A meanie tears you down and suppresses your strengths as if they’re problems to be managed.

9. A mentor helps you think wisely. A meanie tells you how to think their way.

10. A mentor pushes you to stand up and take wise risks. A meanie pushes you to sit down and play it safe.

Not only should those of us in ministry learn how to distinguish between mentors and meanies, but once we identify the meanies, we need to avoid them. Yes, love them. But protect yourself, your ministry, and your family from their toxicity.

Instead, pursue Godly mentors who will be a gospel-presence in your life, resulting in you blossoming in effectiveness in the soil of God’s grace.