“Respond to This”

Last Sunday morning at my church, one of our associate pastors, Bill Haley, preached a message titled “Jesus is Supreme: Don’t Neglect His Offer”. It was based on Hebrews 2:1-4, and was a call “not to neglect so great a salvation”. It was powerful.

As I began thinking and praying about what songs we should sing this weekend (Bill is preaching again, on Hebrews 2:9-18), I really felt strongly that we should spend the first half of our time together continuing to consider and respond to what we heard last week.

I asked Jon Crocker, my friend and brother-in-law, if he would be able to take some audio clips of Bill’s sermon from last week and make a short video with them for us to watch during our opening time of singing. He said if I gave him the audio clips, he’d be happy to do it.

So on Tuesday night I emailed Jon a transcript of what sound bites I wanted him to edit into a three-and-a-half minute long video. In three days, he put this video together, and we showed it at our weekend services:

Are there ways you can use creative gifts in your congregation to do things like this? People are usually glad to help if you ask them.

Are you moving on from last week’s message too quickly? Think about ways you can reinforce and respond to the previous week’s message.

Does your use of media (specifically videos like this) point people to Jesus? Fancy backgrounds, countdowns, lights, set designs, and videos can cost a lost of time and money but have zero lasting effect on people. Integrate media into your services intentionally and prayerfully. 

Things to Keep in Mind When You’re Driving Home On Sunday

Services are finished and you’re on your way home. Maybe you had a great Sunday where everything clicked. Maybe it was a rough Sunday where everything seemed to fall flat. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Whatever the case, it’s Sunday afternoon and you’re pretty tired. Where does your mind turn?

Depending on the Sunday, you might be tempted to discouragement, or pride, or envy, or frustration. I know that, for me, I’m often tempted to replay in my head things I did well over and over, or obsess over things I could have done better.

Every worship leader, after pouring themselves into a service with several days (if not weeks) of planning and rehearsing, struggles with the post-service let-down. Here are some things I’ve found helpful to keep in mind when I’m driving home on Sunday afternoon:

I am very small. God is very big.
Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power”. So don’t get caught up in yourself. The world revolves around Jesus, not you or your church.

God sees different things than I see
Maybe I’m discouraged because people didn’t “look engaged”. Keep in mind that “…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

The things that frustrate you are good for you
Your drummer can’t keep a beat, your pastor doesn’t sing along, your lyrics operator pulled up last week’s file and didn’t realize until halfway through the second song, no one sang along, your guitar string broke again, etc., etc.

All of these things will make you a better worship leader. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3.

The church needs more worship leaders who will be joyfully “steadfast” in serving their congregations and worship teams.

A week from now you’ll get another chance
If God is “greatly to be praised”, and if “his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3), then no single service will ever be too bad or too good to follow-up one week later. It really isn’t about you! This is really, really good news.

God is receiving unceasing worship right now around the throne
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, 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!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” (Revelation 7:9-12)

Never forget that when your Sunday service starts, you’re merely joining in. And when your service ends, the praises keep on going and going and going.

Stay humble
I will never forget the day I was taking a walk and lamenting all the “ways” I wasn’t “getting my way”, when God spoke loudly and clearly to me “Lucifer fell because he wanted my glory”. These words still ring in my ears.

When I demonstrate pride, I demonstrate a desire to receive the glory that God alone is due. God warns us clearly that he “opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. (James 4:6).

Earnestly, actively, intentionally, and brutally attack pride in your heart, especially when you get in your car to drive home after leading worship.

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).

What Are Your “Go-To” Songs?

Fill in the blanks:

When I really want to get a service started off strong, we’ll sing _____.

On Easter Sunday we always start off by singing _____.

When the sermon has been on the topic of mission, I love to sing _____.

If we want to sing a song about being “in Christ”, then _____ is perfect!

If we sing _____ then I love following it up by singing _____.

_____ is my go-to song for starting off communion.

We all have our “go-to” songs. We’ve tried them and they’ve worked. Not only have they worked but they’ve worked really well. I love starting off a service with “Beautiful One” by Tim Hughes or closing a communion service with “Let Your Kingdom Come” by Bob Kauflin, or singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” as the opening hymn on Christmas Eve. It’s nice to fall back on those tried-and-true songs when I can’t think of anything better to use or don’t have the time or energy to try something different.

I’ve been realizing lately that my tendency to gravitate towards the same songs in the same slot time after time can contribute to a staleness and predictability in our services. God never ceases to be indescribably great and beautiful, but singing the same song about him being the “beautiful one” can become monotonous and seem rote. God’s greatness is unsearchable, but singing about “how great” our God is with the same song once a month for four years can get boring. I’ve likened it before to making a copy of a copy – you gradually lose crispness and vibrancy with each one.

I’m learning that in order to help people be aware that we can never sing enough about the cross, I need to help them articulate praise to the Lamb who was slain in as many combinations of words and melodies as possible. To help people come into a worship service reminded afresh of God’s greatness and kindness we can’t sing the same three songs on a rotating basis. If I want a Christmas Eve service to help shake people out of their last-minute-shopping-stress-coma, I need to think about whether “O Come All Ye Faithful” really is the best opening hymn, or if something else would be more effective.

Newness and creativity for the sake of being new and creative is idolatry. But newness and creativity for the sake of helping people see and encounter the glory of God afresh is worth the time and worth the effort, and one of our jobs as worship leaders.

Look for different and varied sources of congregational worship songs from which you can draw. Visit other churches or watch their services online. Put your most frequently sung songs “on the bench” for six months and force yourself to sing something different. Take a risk. Instead of starting off a service with a fast song, start it off slow. Read an appropriate Psalm corporately in between verses of a song. Anything to help you avoid doing the same song you always do in the same way you always do it.

What are your “go-to” songs? Try “not-going” to them for a while. It’s a good exercise in staying fresh.

How Long Does Your Sunday Service Last?

It’s Monday afternoon and the Sanctuary is empty. The lights are off, the microphones are put away, the guitars are in their cases, the projectors are powered down, and the room is totally quiet. The people who just 24 hours earlier had filled the room are now scattered around the city – at their jobs, in class, at home, in their cars, at the Doctor’s office, in court, at an airport, in meetings, or maybe sitting on the couch.

We sang a handful of songs yesterday morning. We heard God’s word read to us and preached to us, we prayed together, and we shared the Lord’s Supper. From beginning to end the service took a little over an hour and a half. But for those people who are now scattered around the city, did it last any longer than that?

I ask myself: for the man who left his house at 5:30am to beat the traffic on his way to a job that he hates, or the Mom who couldn’t get any sleep because the stomach flu has now struck all five children, or the guy who left church yesterday afternoon and proceeded to get drunk at a downtown party that lasted until 3am – might the songs that we were singing just 24 hours ago have lasted into today?

It’s easy for worship leaders to get caught up in what they’re seeing in the room as they’re leading. Do people look engaged? How many hands are raised? Are people clapping? Is that guy scowling at me? How does it sound? Did people like that last song? Can anyone hear the electric guitar? On and on the questions go.

Sure, we should be concerned that people are engaged with God as they sing to him, that expressiveness is encouraged and modeled, and that the musicians lead effectively and skillfully. But it is possible to get so concerned with the here-and-now “how is this service going right at this moment” questions that we forget to ask ourselves the questions that matter more.

Are we singing songs that feed people with God’s truth? Am I seeking to point people to the glory of God in Jesus Christ? Are we, in our planning and in our leading, dependent on the Holy Spirit? Was Jesus made central today?

The fact is that very few people can remember a single song we sang yesterday. Even fewer will be able to remember them the next day. By the end of this week, hardly anyone could name a single song we sang this past Sunday.

This always amazes me, by the way, since I could probably tell you what songs we sang on a particular Sunday a couple of years ago. I think about songs a lot – which ones to sing, where we should sing them, how we should respond to a particular sermon most effectively, etc. –  and for some reason, I am able to remember them for months, if not years, later. Most people (thankfully) are not like this.

So on a Monday afternoon, a little over 24 hours since our Sunday morning service ended, it’s good to ask myself “how long did that service last?”

I want to plan services and choose songs that will feed people long after they go home, long after they get to the office, and long after the lies and deceptions of the world start grabbing hold.

For the woman who has lost all hope – she needs to know that “on Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…” not that I pick the newest and coolest songs.

For the man who is seeking pleasure from the world – he needs to know that “wonderful, so wonderful is (Jesus’) unfailing love” and that Jesus’ “cross has spoken mercy over me…” not that my bass player and drummer are totally locked in together.

This is incredibly freeing for worship leaders. And it’s incredibly serious.

Choose songs and plan services that will last longer than an hour and a half, and longer than Monday morning. Use every opportunity you have to point people to the glory of God and the truth of his word which never passes away.

How to Ask Your Congregation to Stand Up

pewsIn the more informal services at my church, the worship leader is usually the one who invites people to stand at the beginning of the service. In other churches or in more formal services, either the church’s pastor will do this, or the first hymn will just start and signal that everyone should probably stand up.

I’ve seen worship leaders invite their congregations to stand in some pretty funny ways.

Some are timid or nervous and don’t quite know what to say. They might say something like “uh, hi everyone, please find your seat, uh, please stand up, and please, uh let’s sing this first song ‘How Great is Our God’”.

Well, if you say so.

Some are overconfident and come across like they had a bit too much coffee to drink. “Hello everybody! I said hello everybody! Alright, that sounds more like it. Now let’s stand to our feet and worship the Lord! I said let’s stand to our feet and worship the Lord! Are you with me? Yeah! One, two, three, four!

I think I might have a headache.

Others just say random things like “get on up!” (reminds me of a James Brown song) or “please rise” (reminds me of a legal proceeding).

When it comes to the very first thing a worship leader says in an entire service, it’s important that they not come across as nervous, annoyingly enthusiastic, flippant, or robotic.

Just relax, make eye contact, and say something simple like “good morning everyone, why don’t we stand together and sing to the Lord”. It’s confident, simple, and clear. Or “let’s stand together this morning and proclaim God’s glory as we sing”. It doesn’t need to be fancy or eloquent. It shouldn’t be more than a sentence or two.

It’s not the most difficult thing in the world – and it may come easily to many worship leaders – but it’s easy to overlook until you get onto the platform on Sunday morning. Just treat your congregation like your family and kindly invite them to stand. An awkward start is just plain awkward. A smooth start makes things easier.

Oftentimes at my church we’ll start playing a few measures of the opening song, and then I’ll ask the congregation to stand before we start singing. Here’s an example of how I did that a few months ago before singing “Praise the Lord” by Bob Kauflin and Doug Plank from Sovereign Grace Music (it’s on their Psalms CD). You’ll hear people chattering at first, and even a bit during the first verse, but slowly people join in, and by the chorus we’re all singing together.