Brenda and I have the honor of co-teaching at a marriage retreat this weekend. In one of the the sessions, Brenda will bring an important message about prayer as it relates to worship, faith and obedience. I want to share her message in advance as I feel its content is vital to our success as Christ-followers. As you will see, Brenda is an incredible thinker, writer—and to top it off—she’s incredibly beautiful!
I. WORSHIP A GREAT GOD
In order to worship God, we need to understand how big a God He is (Deuteronomy 10:17). “God is infinitely bigger than your biggest problem or your biggest dream. His grace is infinitely bigger than your biggest sin.” There is no limit to God’s power. Let that sink in. There’s nothing he can’t do. He has good things in store for us and wants us to ask Him for them. BUT He also wants us to worship Him, recognizing what a good and faithful father He is.
We all seek to give good gifts to our children, and keep them from harm. God feels the same way about us. He has the advantage of anticipating what’s ahead (Jeremiah 29:11)—and its good! because He already knows all about it. The enemy’s job is to make us doubt that God would WANT to do those things for us. The enemy seeks to deflate our enthusiasm. The enemy seeks to diminish our sense of anticipation for the future. God wants to lift us up, encourage us and take us to new heights. He has so much good in store for us; it is literally beyond our imagination (Ephesians 3:20).
Never say “Will He?” (this deflates our prayers)
II. GOD RESPONDS TO OUR WORSHIP
Part of our worship is prayer. When you consider worship, it really is a type of prayer. God always responds to our prayers. ALWAYS. He will never forget us, forsake us, or leave us hanging. He’s in the room when we’re praying. He’s particularly interested when we are praying and worshiping with others (Acts 1:14). Spouses especially!!
The enemy will do everything in his power, and with the entities at his fingertips, to thwart our prayers and worship (1 Peter 5:8). He will distract, sidetrack, push back, fiddle with, trip you up; name it – he will do whatever it takes to stop you from praying and worshiping. Make it your mission daily, and even multiple times a day to pray and worship.
Be specific – write it down and circle it
III. PERSISTENCE IS KEY
Praying and worshiping God with persistence are essential. Faithfulness to your spouse, to your church, to your commitments adds power that is unseen. The widow wore out the judge with her persistence (Luke 18:1-5). Jericho was brought down with persistence (Joshua 6:1-20). Moses got Pharaoh to release the Israelites with persistence (Exodus 11:1). Illness is cured with persistent treatment and meds. Weight loss is accomplished with persistent exercise and diet. Skill is achieved with persistent practice. DON’T GIVE UP. Today is the only day you have to worry about, so just win today’s battle. You CAN do it. And remember, people are watching (Hebrews 12:1). Your victory may be the very thing that changes the direction of someone else’s life. That’s reason enough to keep praying and worshiping. Honor God publicly by sharing your victory (2 Timothy 2:2).
Success is a derivative of persistence
Mastering the skill of an effective musical artist requires a lifetime of practice, patience and persistence. Many people call it quits way too early while on the road to musical maturity. They either get discouraged—because it’s too tough or it’s taking too long—or they are intimidated by others who are more advanced.
Artists like Linda Ronstadt have worked an entire career to perfect their craft. In an article from Rock Seller Magazine, Linda tells of three areas upon which every musical artist must concentrate in order to grow as a performer. I believe what Ronstadt says is applicable to worship leaders as well:
“I always say there are three elements that go into music. There’s story, there’s voice and there’s musicianship. Some people are stronger in one area than another. I was strong on story and strong on voice but not as strong on musicianship but that came later and I learned after a while. I thought I just couldn’t learn because I didn’t have it. I didn’t realize people spend years in conservatories honing these skills. (laughs) And I never did any of that. I couldn’t read music and wasn’t very proficient at an instrument, which was a huge mistake because I could have been. I can pick up the guitar and play it but I never really worked at it because there were so many good guitar players around. I mean, why bother? That was a big mistake” (Article by Ken Sharp—Rock Cellar Magazine, Oct. 3, 2013).
Let’s apply Linda Ronstadt’s three elements—voice, story and musicianship— to the role of worship leader, singer and musician in the church.
As worship leaders, artists, musicians and singers, we must always convey honesty in every song we present. We must learn to deliver the message with the emotion, tenderness, tragedy and earnestness that each song’s story demands. Our skill in song delivery is what will help a congregation believe what we’re singing. Our goal is that they join us on the journey toward the throne of God.
We not only tell the story with our voices, but with our body language and our facial expressions as well.
Linda Ronstadt’s voice is spectacular, and most of us will never attain her stature as a singer. But we can still be effective worship leaders, even with all our flaws and shortcomings.
There are four basic qualities—especially in modern worship— that are essential for a lead vocalist: 1) to sing on pitch, 2) to avoid excessive vibrato, 3) to have vocal character that fits well with pop music stylings, and 4) to blend well with other singers.
In worship, the congregation is the lead singer. So it’s important to choose keys that are suitable for our congregations to sing. Below is a simple diagram that shows the limited range of an average congregation. Choose song keys that allow the melodies to stay within these musical margins, and I bet your congregations will sing along like never before!
|(Diagram: courtesy of Jamie Harvill, from his book, Worship Foundry)|
It’s essential to also mention that a tenor and soprano’s vocal ranges fall comfortably within this congregational singing range. Altos and baritones, while keying songs for the melody to stay within this range, may find it difficult to sing.
Whatever your particular vocal range, worship the Lord with everything you have. Always be yourself, and allow your unique vocal quality to shine.
One of the greatest hinderances for worship leaders and singers is a lack of musicianship. It’s important to know the technical ins and outs of music when working out songs and worship sets. Take Ronstadt’s advice and become proficient in chords and harmony.
Learn to recognize and break down the inner workings of each song you use. Study music theory. Gain knowledge about each instrument in the band and how to communicate with your musicians in a musically literate way. Learn to pick out vocal parts and to articulate dynamic nuances to your singers. These skills will garner respect and confidence from fellow staff and team members.
Take Ronstadt’s advice and do your best to hone all three elements: story, voice and musicianship. Our teams and congregations will surely be blessed, but most of all, God will be honored!
CHECK OUT JAMIE’S NEW BOOK:
You’ll find a goldmine of helpful hints on how to be more effective as a worship leader. Click here: Worship Foundry, to purchase your copy today!
Last week I landed my blog post with this statement:
“Worship—our response to a great and glorious God—will be the fuel that propels the church forward, even into evolving cultures, style changes, through difficulties, famines and stock market crashes. Worship is the priority of the church. All activities—evangelism, spiritual formation, ministry, corporate worship, etc.—must lead to the great result: the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:11-14).”
I cannot overemphasize this. As I look at the church in America, it seems we’ve veered off of the main path. I won’t go into the same issues that I wrote about last week, but I do want to offer here today what I think is the most important act of worship from any believer or any church.
Is it singing worship songs or preaching? No. Is it reading our Bibles? No. Is it a consistent early-morning time of devotion? No. Is it being an incredible neighbor? No. Is it going to church, giving tithe, teaching a class? No. I could go on and on, but what I really want to highlight is where many American Christians draw the line: when worship hurts.
What? Worship can hurt?…..Yes! True worship is expressed to the fullest when our sacrifice of praise costs us dearly. It’s when we are brought to our knees, when more is required from us than what we see is humanly possible (as if any work of God is “humanly possible”)… That’s when we come face to face with true worship.
Worship is obedience—to whatever extent God demands.
Scripture has much to say about this:
Jesus, in John 14:15, said: “If you love me, keep my commands” (NIV).
Another time, as Jesus was speaking, “…a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ [Jesus] replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it'” (Luke 11:27-28, NIV).
There is a big distinction between “hearing” the Word and “doing it.”
James 1:22–25 states: “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it” (NLT).
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:2–3, ESV).
Abraham is one of the greatest archetypes of faith and obedience.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” (Hebrews 11:8-12, NIV).
In Genesis 22 we see the obedience of Abraham, who’s willingness to offer his own son on an altar was the ultimate and most painful and costly form of devotion to God.
“When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’ Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son” (NIV).
In Genesis 22:18, this terrifying tale of absolute surrender to God was summed up with the declaration: “…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you [Abraham] have obeyed me” (NIV).
Our troubles may seem to be a curse. When we are passing through the “valley of the shadow of death,” it may seem that we’ve been abandoned by God. But this is where worship is most painful and costly—and possibly where our worship is expressed to the fullest: When we keep on going in obedience, with the Word of God on our hearts and His promises on our tongues, even when our pathway is obscured by darkness and doubt. During challenging times we can be comforted by an entry in Paul’s own faith-journal from 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,which recalls one of the many difficult points in his life. We read of it here :
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many” (NIV).
Let’s stay the course and, through obedience, allow God to be glorified…even when it hurts.
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to see that many churches in North America today have become more and more consumer-oriented. I’m amazed how we as Christ-followers have fallen into doldrums with what church is all about. It’s kind of like Christmas, when all of the presents have been opened and we didn’t get what we were expecting; we’re left dissatisfied. I can hear a distant echo of U2’s Bono singing, “And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”
Many of our churches are like an athlete who looks well and fit on the outside but, unaware, harbors serious medical problems on the inside. Yes, many a modern small-town church sanctuary—with all of its staging, lights and sound—probably blows away any local entertainment venue for miles. Many of our facilities are gorgeous, wonderfully constructed and clean, and have safe and secure nursery and childcare facilities. They have a winsome, capable staff, social media presence, and maybe even a place on the schedule of a local cable channel.
“But we still haven’t found what we’re looking for…”
We all prayed back in the 80s and 90s for a way out of the stagnant post-WWII church culture that had led to a decline in church attendance. In 1990, we looked to George Barna’s book, The Frog In the Kettle, and found that if we didn’t make changes to the way we approached church, and ignored the ever-morphing cultural landscape in America, that those generations following ours would never want to set foot in a sanctuary—for the first time or ever again.
So, here we are, after the huge “Community Church” push that came out of the purpose-driven and seeker-sensitive influences that preceded and accompanied the “Frog in the Kettle” book era. As a result, and to attract people, many denominational churches ditched their “Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, fill-in-the-blank” name tags for ones that made their theological persuasion obscure. Now the trend is to name churches like our youth groups—with summer blockbuster titles such as: Ignite Church, Explosion Church…Kaboom! Church!
Does a name change actually change anything?
There is even talk about age discrimination in the church today. I’ve heard in some circles that a 35-year-old musician may be too old to play on a church stage. (Thank God, at 53, my church lets me be the Music Director, and I still rock my electric guitar every Sunday). Many full-time ministry positions in churches have become part-time, and as a result are potentially allowing various ministry needs to fall through the cracks. I get it: In the age of spiraling medical insurance costs, and with a stagnant economy, we all need to cut back.
The bigger concern is: Are we really fulfilling the Great Commission—to go and make disciples (Matthew28:18-20)— or are we just building churches? There’s a HUGE difference in those two philosophies. I believe when we’re making disciples, we’re growing the church not just in numbers, but in depth—one soul at a time. In comparing the two philosophies, building churches is all about the big—the masses, events, breaking through culture, and can lead to a corporate mentality. Making disciples, on the other hand, happens one person at a time; it’s up-close and personal, can get messy, and it’s much slower, resulting in smaller numbers than the other.
I’m sure many churches have accomplished both philosophical goals to some extent. But I still think it’s important that we look back on the past 25 years and evaluate if we’ve really “found what we were looking for.”
We desperately continue to find ways to fill the chairs in our sanctuaries, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to populate our services. Some of the most talked about modern models of evangelism and church planting are healthily being debated:
– organic vs structured
– attractional vs sent
– monologues vs social action and conversation
– events vs relational mission
A hybrid approach is most favored among many, including church planter Jonny Woodrow from England, who says, “[We need] all of them! We need to break down a wall that has divided the organic, sent, relational and conversational church from the structured, attractional, events-based, monologue church. The debate along the wall is all about which will be more contagious: which model will spread faster and more efficiently? But beneath this debate, the real divide for many is over which side encapsulates the most authentic experience of New Testament Christianity.”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (NIV).
Worship—our response to a great and glorious God—will be the fuel that propels the church forward, even into evolving cultures, style changes, through difficulties, famines and stock market crashes. Worship is the priority of the church. All activities—evangelism, spiritual formation, ministry, corporate worship, etc.—must lead to the great result: the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:11-14).
I hope we find what’s missing, make corrections, and get on with “church” as it is meant to be. There are souls in the balance.
A good work environment is a top reason many stay at a certain job for a long time. Churches can expect the same thing, even with their volunteers. The environment in which we serve is crucial. Most of the responsibility—beside the attitudes of the individuals on our teams—depends on leadership.
One of the best books on music I’ve read in a long time has been Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music, written by the great music producer, Phil Ramone. In it, Ramone defines the role of record producer as roughly equivalent to that of a film director, creating and managing an environment in which to coax the best work out of his performers.
Worship leaders can help or hurt the emotional environment of their teams by either fostering an uplifting, supportive vibe in rehearsal and performance, or one that is critical and uptight. As a music producer, worship leader and music director myself, I try to avoid being critical, too demanding, judgmental or negative. A person with an artistic temperament will fold like a lawn chair when the environment is full of negativity and verbal criticism—especially when they feel degraded in front of others. Musicians and singers are artists, so good leaders must be mindful to foster camaraderie within the team, and a positive, nurturing atmosphere during rehearsals and in the services—if they hope for a sweet spirit of worship to flourish in their church.
How do we foster a creative environment? “‘Joviality,’ says Ramone, ‘taking your time…Convincing people that they are really good and getting them to play at a new level, that’s what I look for. And understanding what the assignment is [in our case it’s leading or congregations to the throne of God through worship], because that’s forgotten for most of the time. People can perform and play well, but the actual intent in what they’re trying to do in the music can be lost. Trying to get everybody on the same page is what being a good producer is about'” (Sound On Sound, April 2005).
Producer John Burk, after Ramone’s death in 2013, recalled co-producing Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company with the legendary producer. He said, “It’s funny: If you weren’t paying attention, it would seem like Phil was this guy hanging out, telling stories and making everyone laugh. From him I learned how to create an environment. He knew how to get the flow right and let the artists work at their own pace. He used to say half the battle is letting them know that you care about them” (Phil Gallo, Billboard Magazine, March 30, 2013).
As worship leaders, we can learn much from Phil Ramone. We must be sensitive to maintain a creative environment for our teams. To push beyond the emotional limits of our team members will only lead to diminishing returns.