Advertising One Service By Insulting Another

I’m always amazed when I visit a church in person or check out a church’s website and see that they advertise certain services by insulting other ones. Maybe a church is starting an evening service and trying to market it. Or maybe across campus in the gym the church offers a contemporary service and they need to advertise it. Sometimes in a quest to describe what one service is like, they end up insulting another service at the same church.

These aren’t exact quotes – but I think you’ll be able to think of some churches (maybe your own) who use similar phrasing:

Come to the 7:00pm Sunday evening service and experience relevant preaching and Spirit-led worship.

Does this mean the 10:30am service’s preaching isn’t relevant and the worship isn’t Spirit-led?

Sunday mornings at 10:00am in the Fellowship Hall: a place to encounter God without all the formality.

In other words: you can’t encounter God in the Sanctuary where it’s more formal.

Our Saturday service features a message you can relate to and music the kids will enjoy.

So I can’t relate to the message on Sunday mornings and the music is terrible?

You get the point. In our quest to describe services in our church’s brochures and write pithy little blurbs on the website we often run the risk of, intentionally or unintentionally, insulting other services at our church. We imply that they aren’t as good, you might want to try this other one instead, and the people who go to those services are missing out.

One obvious way to display that “…in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13) is to go out of our way to honor one another. It’s dishonoring to insult other services, worship styles, liturgies, or approaches to corporate worship. And it’s really tacky to put those insults in writing for the whole world to see. Listing the time, place, and general flavor of the service is enough. Be careful not to add in commentary while you’re at it.

The Pre-Service Distraction

On each of the last three Sundays, about 15 minutes before the service was supposed to start, I was faced with out-of-the-blue things that had the potential of completely throwing and/or my worship team off for the whole service.

One Sunday as I walked into our back room to put my guitar cases away, I overhead a member of the congregation calling the service at which I lead the music the “shake your booty service”.

The next Sunday we wasted 10 of the 15 minutes we had for a sound check by trying to find those adaptors that let you plug a little headphone connector into a larger jack. Oh, and the sound guy couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t getting the bass guitar at the board. He finally figured it out but this meant we pretty much had no time to get a mix or our monitors settled.

The following Sunday we were rehearsing before the service and when we finished rehearsing one chorus of a song, I heard my drummer say, “there’s a mouse in here!” Sure enough, there were two mice running around inside the drum booth (or as we affectionately refer to it, the “space pod”), and when my drummer felt something underneath his foot, he looked down to discover a mouse. Lovely. Oh, and my singer that morning happened to have a phobia of rodents and was doing her best not to have a panic attack right then and there.

One Sunday it’s a critical comment. The next it’s an AV issue. And the following it’s something completely random like mice in the drum cage. They get me frustrated, tempt me to say short-tempered things, and make me feel tense and anxious. What’s going on here?

Well, some of it is just the way things go. People aren’t perfect and those imperfect people sometimes say hurtful things at bad times. Sound systems do funny things and adaptors disappear. And, I suppose if I was a mouse living in a church, the drum space pod would be a nice quiet place six and a half days out of the week.

But there’s a spiritual dynamic to it also. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that on the day that God’s people are gathering to glorify him, Satan will be actively seeking to steal that glory away. He has a history of that.

Whenever you lead worship, watch out for pre-service distractions (or even mid and post-service too!) since they can easily throw you off your game. You’ll need to keep your cool (I wrote some thoughts on this a while ago) and keep your focus. Don’t be surprised when they come up. Just deal with them humbly, prayerfully and light-heartedly and try to stay focused on the glory of God and the congregation that has gathered. Unless you feel a mice under your foot, in which case a scream might be appropriate.

When People Keep Coming to Church Late

Yesterday I received a very kind email from a worship team member at a church who asked how I would address this situation at their church:

We are trying to address an increasing issue of late arrival. We are a large church with two Sunday morning services and one Sunday evening service.

We start on time and our worship is near the begining of our service. We are finding that the sanctuary is not often filled until 20 minutes after the service starts. The worship time has finished by then.

Addressing tardiness is, in my view, 100% the responsibility of the pastor. He is the shepherd of the flock, and it’s his duty to cultivate sheep who see corporate worship as something that is crucial, and who see God’s greatness and glory in Jesus Christ as being reason enough for our getting to church on time. You should feel free, as a layperson or as a worship leader, to communicate your concern to your pastor, and tell him that you think he needs to address this issue with the congregation. Love, support, and submit to him, but don’t be afraid to tell him what you think. If your congregation is regularly very late to a service, he needs to say something and you’re right to encourage him to do so.

The worship leader should never address tardiness from the platform. I’ve seen worship leaders do this and it always creates a very tense dynamic. It feels like you show up late to someone’s house for dinner, and instead of welcoming you in and being a good host, they berate you for being late. Would you want to eat with that person? Would you even want to take your coat off and go inside? I wouldn’t. I’d rather get back in the car and go home. Same principle applies to latecomers and church. The worship leader has reason to be frustrated, but he has to keep trucking and be as good a host as he can be. Leave it to the pastor to address tardiness.

Some people are late because they’re just really bad at being on time. They’re late to everything: dentist appointments, their own wedding, work, and movies. I don’t know if there’s any hope for these people.

Some are late because of genuine hindrances like traffic, parking problems, getting four kids dressed, in their car seats, and in their Sunday school rooms, or newcomers who don’t really know where they’re going. Churches have a responsibility to think through every possible hindrance, and make their campus, schedule, and signage as conducive to moving a mass of people (and visitors especially) to their destinations with ease. If your church is laid out like a maze, don’t be surprised when tons of people come in late.

But some are late because they want to skip the worship. They don’t want to have to stand there and sing the songs. They’d rather take their time getting to church and get there after the singing is over, and be in time for the sermon. They see the time of singing together as being optional and unimportant. Again, I go back to the pastor. If your pastor agrees with this view, then I don’t think you’ll see a change in your congregation. For example, I know that in many churches the pastor isn’t even in the room during the singing. He shows up 30 minutes later when he appears on stage to preach. This sends a message to the congregation that the singing is something that can be skipped.

But hopefully, your pastor would be grieved by a congregation who sees corporate (sung) worship as being unimportant. The responsibility of changing this culture falls to him, and he’ll need your help and prayers as he seeks to change it.

To this end, I’d encourage you and your pastor to watch and seek to emulate this exhortation from Joshua Harris, the senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, as he seeks to shepherd his sheep to come to church eager, expectant and early.

The Difference a Few Words Can Make

What’s the difference between saying “let’s clap our hands” and “let’s celebrate God’s greatness by clapping our hands together”?

Just a few words.

And a big distinction.

In the first case, I’m asking people to respond to my desire for them to clap – by clapping.

In the second case, I’m asking people to respond to the greatness and glory of God by clapping.

Would most people notice the difference? Maybe not. Is it a huge difference? No. But do those few words make any difference? I would argue that they do.

The scary reality is that if a worship leader asks a congregation to do something, a good majority of people will do it. For example, if I got up on Sunday morning and said “let’s kneel as we sing this song”, then most people will kneel. Will they know why I’m asking them to kneel? No. They’re mainly kneeling because I asked them to.

Some worship leaders get used to this power, and get in the habit of giving short posture instructions every know and then. If you’re really brave you’ll say something like “let’s lift up a shout!” and maybe some brave people will.

We don’t often get the opportunity to give lengthy exhortations and/or teachings on the topic of physical expressiveness in worship. Sometimes (most of the time?) all we get is those five seconds in between a chorus and a verse. If we beef up those few-seconds-long exhortations with a bit more God-centered truth, the cumulative effect over a year could be substantial.

I encourage all of us to look for ways to add context to our brief exhortations, if and when they occur. Instead of “let’s lift our hands” try “let’s exalt our Savior with our bodies and lift our hands in praise”. Instead of “clap your hands everybody!” try “In Psalm 47 we’re encouraged to ‘clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!’ let’s respond to God’s glory by clapping our hands together.”

It might feel clunky and unnatural at first. You’ll definitely revert backwards once in a while. But stretch yourself and feed your congregation, a few words at a time.

Here’s an example of how I did this a few Sunday mornings ago at my church while leading Matt Redman’s “The Glory of Our King”.

Cold Turkey for Easter

This past weekend I decided it was time to break my addiction to chord charts. Yes, it was Easter weekend and I was leading the music at five services, but after the first service on Saturday night I realized that if I wanted to play the piano more creatively and lead the band and congregation more skillfully, it was the right time to do it.

So with the exception of a song we did that was Psalm 98 set to music, I led four Sunday services with no music in front of me.

I knew the chords. Once in a while I would forget how a certain chord progression was supposed to go, but since I wasn’t the only one playing, I just relied on the band in those moments until they jogged my memory.

I (mostly) knew the words. Every now and then I’d glance at the screen if I forget how the next verse of a song started, but most of the time I didn’t need to.

I knew which ones I didn’t know well. Like I said before, there was one song I didn’t know well enough to lead from memory, so I made sure I had music in front of me for that one. But as for the other songs, I didn’t need the music, so I went without. And I was fine.

I was able to play more creatively and sensitively because I wasn’t compulsively staring at a piece of paper the entire time. Being freed to play from my heart allowed me to try different things, play less, and enjoy it more.

And I was able to lead the band and congregation more skillfully because my attention wasn’t being directed towards a chord chart as often. I could look around, make eye contact with band members, and concentrate more on what we were singing and what God was doing.

I’m going to continue working on trying to break my addiction to chord charts. I’ll need to make sure I’m comfortable and familiar with the songs’ chords and lyrics, and be smart enough to know which songs I shouldn’t attempt to lead from memory. But I’ve gotten much too accustomed to not simply referring to chord charts occasionally – but staring at them mindlessly and unnecessarily. It’s a bad and unhealthy habit.

Of course it’s a good idea to rehearse with the music in front of you so you can learn it. And then once the service starts it’s probably smart to have it close by. But if at all possible, get comfortable enough with whatever songs you’re leading that you could get through them competently even if a gust of wind knocked your music stand down.

Now, if you’ll be less effective at leading your worship team and congregation, and play less skillfully if you don’t have music in front of you, then you should probably keep the music in front of you. But perhaps you can start by leading one song without music – or one verse or chorus – whatever you can do.

But if your affection for chord charts is limiting your effectiveness as a worship leader, then it’s probably a good idea to learn how to live without them.