So You Want To Write A Worship Song

1Yesterday I had the privilege of teaching a seminar at the National Worship Leader Conference held in Centerville, VA. The title given to my seminar was “You CAN Write a Worship Song”. Obviously, with my reputation as the writer of such well-known songs as “Be Thou My Vision”, “It is Well with My Soul”, and “How Great Thou Art”, I was the perfect person for this seminar.

Yeah, right.

I had to laugh when I got the email asking me to teach this seminar. It came on the very day I had been working on a song I was trying to write, and literally saying to myself (and my wife) “I can’t write a worship song”. God has a sense of humor.

I’ve written a few songs that have seemed to work well in a congregational setting. I’ve written far more songs that have never seen the light of day. So I share the following song writing advice as encouragement first and foremost to MYSELF, and then hopefully it can be helpful to you too.

The most important thing in a discussion about writing songs for worship is to agree on the fundamentals of worship leading. Why? Because songs are the tip of the worship spear. I suggest that the fundamentals of worship leading can be summed up with the “three Cs”: Christ centered, congregationally accessible, and consistent.

If our heart is for Christ to be exalted, for people to be singing along and magnifying the Lord together, and for our congregations to experience this kind of focus on a consistent basis (even from song to song, much less Sunday to Sunday), then that will impact not only our worship leading, but also our song writing. If the soil of our hearts is conditioned rightly, then the songs that sprout up will be fruitful.

The second most important thing in a discussion about writing songs for worship is to distinguish between the KIND of song we’re writing. I suggest there are three types: personal, presentational, and congregational. The first two types are not meant for the congregation to sing along. In the “personal” category, you can write whatever you want. It’s for your own personal devotional life. In the “presentational” category, you are writing songs to be sung FOR your people, almost like a message is preached over them. There’s nothing wrong with personal or presentational songs. But we go off track as worship leaders when we expect our congregations to sing along with them.

Writing congregational worship songs is tricky. It’s not as easy as it looks, there are a lot of competing pressures and temptations pulling on us, we struggle with cliches and overused chord progressions, and we always have the nagging desire for our desire to get picked up by Chris Tomlin. So how do we proceed with writing congregational worship songs?

Ten quick tips:

  1. Write for your people
  • Picture them in your mind.
  • Don’t write for an arena if you’re not in an arena, or for a big band if you don’t use a big band. Write for your people who stand in front of you
  1. Write for a specific purpose/season
  • Ask “What is our congregation’s SONG during this season?”. Or “where am I unable to find an existing song to serve this particular purpose?”.
  • The Psalms are always tied to an event… Are your songs?
  1. Write a lot
  • I once heard Keith and Kristyn say that they may write hundreds of songs per year. They might only harvest 5-10 usable ones out of that lot. And this is the Gettys we’re talking about! If we only try to write a song once every few months, it’s no wonder that perfect songs aren’t just flowing from our fingertips.
  • Exercise your muscles or they atrophy! Write more than you’re writing now and you’ll improve as a writer.
  1. Write with focus
  • What is this song about? It should be about one thing. Can the title of your song fit into any verse or bridge?
  • Stay focused.
  1. Write enjoyable melodies
  • Lyrics matter most. But melodies make those lyrics memorable! Oh the power of an enjoyable, memorable, melody. Can people remember the melody, or the main melodic hook, of your song after hearing it once, or at most, twice? If not, you have work to do.
  1. Regurgitate biblical truth
  • Scripture is the sword of the Spirit!
  • What are you listening to? What are you reading?
  • Experiencing writer’s block? The problem (I guarantee it) is a problem FIRST of diet.
  1. Remove filler
  • “Don’t bore us. Get to the chorus”
  • Get to the point.
  • I like to ask myself a strange question when I write: “What would I want to sing if I stood up in the middle of international arrivals at Dulles Airport?” I would need to say what I wanted to say pretty clearly. I would want to get the meat of who God is pretty quickly.
  1. Request and receive feedback
  • Record it. Send it out. Get feedback. Make changes.
  • Every good song writer in the world does this.
  • Bob Kauflin did this with me (and the filler point too) with my song “Come You Sinners”. My first draft had a chorus full of “oh oh ohs” and cliches. He said I could do better. He was write. I went back to the drawing board, which is when the Augustine quote came to mind, and a more interesting melody came out of nowhere. I’m glad he gave me his honest critique.
  1. Resist the urge to pursue fame
  • The odds of getting attacked by an elephant hiding in the trunk of your car are probably greater than you making it big with your worship song.
  • Wanting your worship songs to get famous will seriously impede your ability to write for YOUR PEOPLE.
  • We need more faithful, pastoral worship leaders, who SHUN the spotlight. The worship world has enough celebrities. Serve your people, and write for them.
  1. Repeat as needed
  • Don’t get discouraged
  • Even if no one else ever hears or sings your song, you should still write
  • Why? Because you’ve been raised from death to life.

Lessons From My Lamenting

1Three weeks ago my father passed away unexpectedly at the age of 62. Writing (and reading) that sentence still doesn’t seem real.

I don’t know where I am in the whole stages of grief thing. It depends on the day, on the time of day, and sometimes on the minute of the day. I have every bit of confidence that my father’s life now with Christ is “far better” than his life was here on earth (Philippians 1:23), but that doesn’t stop me from wishing he had remained “in the flesh” a little bit longer (Philippians 1:24). Yes, I am rejoicing. But I am lamenting.

And I can’t just turn that lamenting off when I lead worship these days. In my planning and in my leading, I am finding myself grappling with how this experiencing is shaping me.

I want to sing what’s true
Sentimentality is paper thin. Gospel truth is rock solid. I’m more mindful now than ever before of how much it matters that we sing is true. If it’s not true, then it’s simply a waste of time. I need the word of Christ to dwell richly in me these days, and I need to be taught and admonished in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16) lest I begin to grieve as if I have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). The good news of Jesus Christ is worth singing about, even in a time of mourning and loss.

I want to sing what my father is singing
My father knew and loved Jesus. He is with Jesus now, and he is joining in with the “great multitude… from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!‘” (Revelation 7:9-10)

My father is worshipping Jesus now in heaven, and yet I can join in with him (and the saints and angels) from here on earth. My father is with Jesus, and yet I felt close to him as I led worship on Sunday, knowing that he and I were doing the same thing but in different locations. 

I don’t want my emotions manipulated when I sing
My emotions are raw right now. One moment I’m fine, and the next moment (hypothetically speaking, of course…) I’m in a puddle of tears at a Tex-Mex Restaurant with chips and salsa stuffed in my mouth while the waitress is bringing my food.  When I’m choosing or leading music these days, I’m freshly aware of just how unhelpful it is to go after a particular emotional response. I want to go after proclaiming and rejoicing in the Living One who died, who is alive forevermore, and who has the keys of Death and Hades in his hands (Revelation 1:18) and let the emotional response (if any) flow from that.

I need the hope of the resurrection, or else all of this singing is in vain
Paul says bluntly: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14)

Thank God that my hope, and your hope, is grounded in a Risen Savior, who has raised us up with him (Ephesians 2:6). I can sing (and invite others to sing with me) from a place of lament, because the cause of my lament (i.e. death) has been defeated by Jesus Himself.

Remembering Marshall Harrison Brown

1A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in my Wednesday night seminary class when I got a phone call that would change everything. It was my brother calling to say that my dad had been found unresponsive on his apartment floor, and I needed to get over there right away. I’ve never driven so fast in my life.

I arrived, and was able to see my dad still barely alive, before the paramedics arrived and attempted to stabilize him. They tried their hardest on the ambulance, and the doctors did their best at the hospital, but to no avail. My dad died of heart failure as a result of undiagnosed cardiomyopathy the evening of April 13th, 2016.

Marshall Harrison Brown was born in North Miami, Florida, in 1953, the only son of Jerry and Emma Brown. He met and married my mom at The Church of the Resurrection in Miami, and they moved to Alexandria, Virginia in the late 1970’s to attend Virginia Theological Seminary. Graduating with his masters of divinity, my dad went into full-time pastoral ministry serving different churches in Florida throughout the 80’s and 90’s, before coming to Virginia in 2000. My brothers (Tim and Matt) and I tagged along for the ride, and oh what a ride it was.

Last Wednesday, April 20th, hundreds of people gathered at Truro Anglican Church (where I now serve as Director of Worship and Arts, and where my father had once served as an associate pastor in the early 2000’s) for my dad’s funeral. We celebrated and proclaimed the good news of the gospel together, and while we mourned the loss of a good man, we rejoiced in the hope of Jesus, the resurrection and the life.

I offered a few words of remembrance at the service. You can listen to/read what I said below.


Good morning.

On behalf of my entire family, thank you all for coming this morning. But much more importantly, thank you for your love for us, and your love for my dad. He was a good man. He was a great sinner. And he has a great Savior.

My dad was a man of deep giftedness.

He had such amazing pastoral skills. In these last few days it’s been overwhelming to hear and read so many stories of the lives, marriages, and difficult situations where God used my dad in meaningful ways. Whether it was his preaching, his pastoral care, his hospital visits, his counseling, or the smile that you’ve written about in your notes to us, God used my dad to point countless lives to Jesus, and that is a legacy I will give my life to carry on.

My dad was also a man of good humor.

He knew how to tell a good joke, how to break the ice, and how to make people laugh. One of my favorite stories is from his third year of seminary, around the time the Episcopal church was revising its prayer book. Dad, being assigned to field work at a church in Mt. Vernon, was approached by an older lady from the congregation after the service who said: “If Jesus could see what they’ve done to his prayer book, he’d roll over in his grave”.

And if you thought my dad was funny in public, I got to hear his jokes at home. I don’t think he’d mind me sharing his code name for the “Craft Guild” at one of our previous churches in the Florida Panhandle: “Stitch and Bitch”.

He was a good dad to my brothers and me.

He was present in our lives, encouraging, strong, tender, and always telling us how proud he was of us, and how much he loved us. He gave us freedom to grow up and make mistakes, and he would rescue us when we had gotten in over our heads. Most importantly, he planted the seeds and watered the soil so that my brothers and I would hear and respond to the good news of the gospel. He knew and he shared the freedom of Christ.

But my dad was also a man who knew great bondage in his life.

He fought, and he struggled, and sometimes he won, and sometimes he lost, in the battle against sin, and in the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. He was a normal, sinful man. But he was also a pastor called to a certain standard. And for how he fell short of that standard, on my dad’s behalf, I’d like to ask you to forgive him.

Over the last several years, it had been hard for me to forgive him. I didn’t see him or talk to him much, while I waited to see what kind of man he would be and what kind of decisions he would make. Several months ago we began to rebuild our relationship, and talk again, and get coffee, and exchange text messages, and I saw a humbled man. A contrite man. A more feeble man. A good man.

And you can learn a lot about a man when you go through the place where he lived, and through his belongings, as I have begun to do over the last few days. I see a man who had a devotional, or a bible, or a journal, or a prayer book, or a book on the hard sayings of Jesus, or a workbook on finding freedom in Christ, on every table or nightstand or dresser or chair. Until the last day of his life, my dad was pursuing Jesus. I am proud of him.

You know the depth of my dad’s giftedness. And my dad knew the depth of his sin. And the good news of the gospel is that Jesus took the punishment for my dad’s sin, and my sin, and your sin, on the cross. There is a grace that is greater than all our sin. It’s amazing grace. And it not only saves wretches like us. But it leads us home.

That grace has led my dad home.

Until the end, my dad “fought the good fight, he finished the race, and he kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). And that faith is in a Redeemer whose nail-scared hands reached down to my dad on his apartment floor, and said “come with me, Marshall, you’re free”. God’s grace reaches downward, and it reaches deeper than our sin, and it leads us home.

And that is my dad’s last sermon to us today.

That our hope is not in our giftedness, or our charm, or our reputations.

And our salvation is not won or lost depending on our performance.

Our hope, and our salvation, is in Christ alone. It was won by Christ alone.

Marshall Brown’s life – all of it – from beginning to end, the good and the bad, the successes and failures, are hidden in Christ. He was a good man. He was a great sinner. He has a great Savior.

The hard news of this week is that my dad is no longer here.

The good news of the gospel is that my dad is risen.

Amen.

When Your Congregation Isn’t Singing: 15 Questions

 

1Every worship leader has the experience from time to time of a service that just seems to fall flat. The songs didn’t work, or the musicians didn’t gel, or the technology didn’t cooperate, or the congregation didn’t respond. Whatever the reason(s), even in the most passionate of congregations, there are times when the singing isn’t exactly robust.

But when that’s the regular pattern, and when the congregational singing is consistently paltry, what is a worship leader to do? I would suggest that if a worship leader is observing (over a period of months or years) his or her congregation isn’t singing, that some difficult questions need to be honestly asked and answered.

In no particular order or importance, here are ten questions a worship leader (and his or her pastor) should consider:

1. Are the songs too high? If they are, people will tune out. From C to shining C is a good rule for the average range of most singers, allowing for occasional dips down to As and Bs, and occasional peaks up to Ds or Es.

2. Are the songs too unfamiliar? Too many new songs will overwhelm people. Introduce new/unfamiliar songs at doable pace of one or two per month, with enough revisiting of those new songs that people can grab onto them. Follow up new songs with familiar songs to build back capital.

3. Are the songs worth singing? Maybe your congregation isn’t singing along because the song isn’t particularly strong, or intended for congregational use, or something that connects at a corporate level. Have a high bar for what you put on your people’s lips. A good song, at a certain level, is almost irresistible to sing.

4. Is the volume too loud? If people can’t hear themselves (or the people around them) sing, then they will deduce that their singing isn’t important, or needed, or valued, or even worth the effort.

5. Is the volume too low? If people don’t feel supported and safe enough to sing at a comfortable volume without feeling exposed and alone, then they will hold back and stay tentative.

6. Is the room too dark? Restaurants turn down lights so people feel isolated even though they’re in close quarters. Concerts turn down lights so people look at the stage. School teachers turn down lights so their students quiet down. People are conditioned to become more insular in dark lighting, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that when churches turn down the lights during the singing, it actually has a detrimental impact on the goal of fostering congregational singing.

7. Is it all about the platform? The more pronounced the division between the platform and the congregation, the weaker the singing. The more continuity there is between the platform and the congregation, the stronger the singing. The congregation should not feel like their contribution is meaningless. Just the opposite.

8. Is the pastor un-engaged? This probably deserves the # 1 spot on this list. An un-engaged or disinterested pastor will do more to discourage congregational singing than all the other factors on this list combined. A congregation watches, studies, and ultimately emulates its pastor.

9. Is the worship leadership inconsistent? When a congregation encounters a different leader every week, drawing from different kinds of repertoires, teaching different songs, using different bands, and leading in a different kind of way, then they become defensive. The worship leadership (even if it’s shared amongst different people) needs to be consistent in repertoire, tone, philosophy, and approach, or else the congregation will tune out.

10. Is the melody clear? Call me old fashioned, but there is a right way to sing a song, and a wrong way to sing a song. A worship leader (and the vocalists and/or choir) should sing the song the right way. They should sing the melody correctly. And the sound engineer needs to make sure that melody is crystal clear. Then the congregation will know what they’re supposed to sing. (Sometimes it really is as simple as this.)

11. Are the lyrics readable? Whether you project the lyrics, or print them, or use a hymnal, or a combination of different methods, the lyrics need to be readable, in a big enough font, and presented at the right time. Badly done projection, late slides, too-small-fonts, typos, or all-of-the-above can do more to discourage singing than we realize.

12. Are the people regularly – and literally – invited to participate? Don’t underestimate the power of consistently saying things like “Let’s sing this together”, or “we’re going to learn a new song together”, or “we learned this song together last week, and we’re going to sing it again now, so please join in as soon as you’re comfortable”. Little phrases – said well – can send a regular message that you place a high priority on the idea of people singing together.

13. Have you prayed? Pray before you lead worship, with your worship team/choir/organist/instrumentalists, and ask humbly and boldly for God’s help, blessing, guidance, and power. Ask God to help your congregation see Jesus clearly, to worship him with freedom and joy, and to give you a heart of love for His people.

14. Have you tailored the arrangements to your congregation? Serve your congregation by tailoring the keys, introductions, interludes, transitions, etc. to them. Don’t just do a certain song a certain way because that’s the way it was recorded. Intentionally arrange a song to serve the actual people who will be standing before you at a given service.

15. Is Jesus at the center? If our worship is only possible because of Jesus, and if the scriptures really are all pointing to Jesus, and if the Holy Spirit really is always glorifying Jesus, and if the worship of heaven is now and evermore will be centered on Jesus, and if the deep need of every person in our congregation is nothing more and nothing less than Jesus, than the principle responsibility of a worship leader is to exalt Jesus. Choose songs that exalt Jesus. Do everything you can to point away from yourself, your name, your fame, your platform, and your presence, and point to Jesus. You will be moving in step with God Himself, and over the course of time, through faithful and pastoral leadership, you will see (and hear) a congregation more enticed to sing to the “heavenly anthem” that “drowns all music but its own”.

When You Get The Flu On Easter

It all started last Saturday night with the tell-tale whole-body shivers. I had watched my kids battling ear-infections and strep throat earlier in Holy Week, and I had skated above their germs and fevers, while I practically lived at church with rehearsals and services most evenings. But on Saturday night, just before it was time to set the 4:30am alarm for Easter morning, I knew my body was about to be hit by something bad.

I woke up on Easter Sunday with the flu. Fever, chills, shivers, cough, body aches, you name it. I loaded up on DayQuil and headed in for our 7:00am sunrise service. Halfway through our 9:15am service, the DayQuil ran off and my fever spiked again. Down went the magic potion again, and temporary relief was mine, though I still felt subhuman. I got through our 11:30am service, left afterwards without talking with (and thus contaminating) hardly anyone, and fell into bed for a nap, while my entire family feasted on London Broil, lamb, potatoes, veggies, and about 4 different desserts. Without me.

Then it was off to our evening service, feeling like I was going to fall over and fall apart any moment. On the way home from that final service, I could feel my body disengaging from “Easter-services” mode, and preparing for “get run over by a semi-truck” mode. The next several days were pretty much spent in bed, unable to do much of anything, while Catherine (who had just had to endure several weeks of an increased parental burden while I prepped for Holy Week) bore the parental/cooking/house-cleaning/bedtimes/bathtimes/etc. load on her own, in addition to taking care of her sick husband.

On Friday I began to come up for air, and feel normal enough to be able to be helpful and functional. Which is good. Because now Catherine has the flu (or something like it). And our oldest daughter now has a fever too.

Needless to say, it has been a difficult seven days in the Brown family!

It has been a humbling week: God reminded me – through the experience of having the flu on Easter Sunday – of my total dependence on his power, his strength, his leading, and his upholding. I was not only praying for God’s help because it’s the worship leader thing to do… I was praying for God’s help because I had no strength on my own. I hope I remember this lesson on the Sundays when I feel fine.

It’s been an insightful week: God used this sickness to bring my work to a complete halt. I couldn’t send emails, I couldn’t return phone calls or texts, I couldn’t even think straight enough to plan this weekend’s upcoming services. I couldn’t do anything. And yet he’s taken care of everything with my family (mainly through my amazing wife), and everything for this coming weekend (mainly through the incredible worship and arts team at my church who are all phenomenal at their jobs). God really does take care of things, and our constant busyness gives us such a false sense of our own control of our lives. He reminded me of that again this week.

And it’s been a challenging week: God used my Easter-day flu to completely change my plans for how this week would look. I was planning on taking my kids out a lot, enjoying the spring weather, taking my family to see the cherry blossoms, giving Catherine a break after all she had done on her own… But none of that happened. God had other plans. He made our whole family slow down. Way down. It was frustrating. But he knew we all needed it.

I’m eager to be done with this sickness all the way, and to no longer have to cough incredibly painful coughs every 15 seconds. I hate to see Catherine (and my kids) not feeling well, with the same tell-tale whole-body shivers and flushed cheeks. But when you get the flu on Easter (or strep, or ear-infections, or maybe all of the above), it’s yet another opportunity run to Jesus and trust in his sustaining grace. If I declare this as a worship leader every Sunday, I better be able to declare it when sickness hits my household!

May God continue to teach me to run to him – either in sickness and in health – and lean on him completely not only in my worship leading role, but especially in my family role. May the grace of God not just be the theme of my songs, but also the theme in my home as well. And even when I get the flu on Easter.

Thinking in Thirds

1There are few responsibilities that a worship leader should take more seriously than choosing songs for his or her congregation to sing. In the words of the theologian Gordon Fee, “show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology”. With centuries of older songs, and an ever-increasing library of new songs from which we can choose, how is a worship leader supposed to prioritize what to put on their congregations’ lips?

I have found it helpful to think in thirds. Visualize each of these thirds as a slice of one whole pie. The size of each slice will change depending on your own context, culture, and even particular service and/or venue. But a healthy repertoire, with the goal of shaping your congregation’s sung theology in a balanced way, will typically draw from these three thirds.

The ancient
Every church should have a list of at least (!) 20-30 ancient hymns that their church can sing. Why? Because we don’t want to fall into what C.S. Lewis describes as “chronological snobbery”, a trap which ensnares far too many worship leaders, causing us to think that newer is better, and older is worse. We have centuries of well-written and robustly-scriptural hymns that we would be fools to ignore. Do them as written, do them with a rock band, do them with new choruses, or do them with organ and timpani. But do them.

The proven
It’s been about 50 years since the worship renewal movement hit, thus spawning hundreds of thousands of new songs. It’s been long enough now for us to know which ones are worth keeping and which ones are not. It wouldn’t be a good idea to be “stuck” in the 80s or 90s, but it would be an equally bad idea to pretend they didn’t happen either. Sure, most of them have lost their new-car smell by now, and might make the chronologically-snobbish among us tempted to turn up our noses, but some of them deserve an occasional place in our repertoires, if for no other reason than to simply honor those people in our congregations for whom those songs are actually quite helpful.

The modern
So we have the ancient hymns, the proven and tested songs of previous decades, and the new songs being written by the Church today. By focusing first on the biblical faithfulness of the lyrics, second on the congregational accessibility of the music, and third on the particular and pastoral usefulness in your own context, you can filter out a substantial amount of new music. Then, you add to your church’s repertoire new and fresh songs that help your congregation (in the words of John Piper) “see and savor Jesus Christ”. Some of these songs will last for decades, and join the slice of the pie I call “the proven”. Who knows, maybe in 100 years they’ll be classified as “the ancient” by your grandkids. Or maybe they’ll fall away in a few years’ time. And that’s OK.

The goal for all worship leaders should be to maintain a repertoire of songs that serves the congregation whom God has called them to serve. In my setting at Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Virginia, that means I keep these three slices pretty even with one another (with the second slice, “the recent”, being the smallest, and the two other slices “the ancient” and “the modern” being bigger).

None of our respective “pies” will look exactly the same.

But, as worship leaders, if we’re thinking discerningly, and choosing songs wisely, then hopefully the songs that we’re choosing will help our congregations have a sung theology that has sufficient enough roots that it’s also able to branch out.

How God Uses Criticism and Encouragement For Your Good (And His Glory Too)

1Several years ago, in the middle of a Sunday morning service (actually in the middle of a song I was leading), I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. When the song finished, I was taken aback by an angry text message, written by someone who happened to be in the service at that time, and was clearly not happy with the music. This person also somehow happened to have my phone number, and felt compelled to share their displeasure with me. To say that this caught me off guard would be an understatement.

After the service, I was walking down to my office, when someone stopped me to offer effusive, specific, and heartfelt thanks for the music that morning. This was more than a “thanks for the music this morning” word of appreciation. This was genuine (and meaningful!) encouragement from someone who had been deeply affected by the music and wanted to thank the person who had planned and led it. To say that this was good timing by this individual would be another huge understatement.

Unfortunately, the person who had sent the angry text message didn’t let their displeasure end there. The following week brought a meeting with this person, complete with personal attacks, and piercing words. I’m grateful for the friendship of Godly men and counselors who helped me process that meeting afterwards, so I could look at it objectively and with mercy in my heart toward the person who was so unhappy.

I’m also grateful that God, in his providence and because of what he knew was about to hit me in those meetings, had put an encourager in my path on my way to my office after the now-infamous service. The encourager had absolutely no way of knowing what had come through on my phone just 30-minutes earlier. And they had no way of knowing what was going to come later in the week. They didn’t know how strategically God was using them to preempt what could have been a more devastating experience of destructive criticism.

 

What is God up to when he allows us to be criticized – and sometimes criticized harshly?

He’s pointing us to his Son, who was  “…despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV). Because of this, God is actually making criticism lose its power, and maybe even its sting. We have nothing to complain about, and we have nothing to fear. Jesus knows what criticism feels like, and he literally didn’t deserve a single bit of it. So whether or we feel like we deserve the criticism we inevitably receive, God uses it to humble us and point us yet again to Jesus.

What is God up to when he sends encouragement our way?

Again, he’s pointing us to his Son, who was, and is, infinitely worthy of nothing else besides “…blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might”. (Revelation 7:12 ESV). Because of this, when we’re encouraged, we can receive it as a gift from God himself, and return and deflect the praise to him. God uses encouragement for a number of reasons in our lives, but ultimately and most importantly, it’s an opportunity for us to “turn (it) back to praise” Jesus, who is literally the only one who deserves it.

So, worship leaders, as you do what God’s called you to do, and receive the eventual and dreaded criticism (maybe even a text in the middle of a song!), and the eventual and appreciated encouragement, you can look to Jesus in either case, and find your identity and purpose in him.