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Great article by Tim Hughes. Tim is a worship leader in the UK that wrote the song, Here I am to Worship. I have had the opportunity to see him at a worshiptogether.com conference and hear him speak and really liked him. He makes some good points in the following article, which I know challenges me a bit.  Doing things that stretches us and takes us out of our comfort zone can be a good thing. Worth the read:

Something has been stirring in my heart. There’s an unsettling; a cry for more in our worship.

Over the last decade there have been many amazing songs written that have inspired the Church and drawn millions of people into a response of worship. The quality and choice of excellent worship songs has perhaps never been better. But are we missing something?

Reading Martin Smith’s book “Delirious” I was struck by his comments:

“We’ve become too song focused, and in truth I believe that we need to be more worship focused. We’ve lost the ability to push aside the songs and replace them with 25 minutes of crying out, opening our hearts and heads with the raw worship of God who’s within us. With Kevin (Prosch – a pioneer of spontaneity and prophetic worship in the 1990’s) you never knew what was going to happen at any point in a worship session, but in church today, often 6 songs in 29 minutes, you make sure you get your 2 most popular ones in there so they get a decent boost up the CCLI charts.”

I fear that for many of us in our corporate expression of worship we’ve allowed the song to become king! Are we more focused on getting the songs right and the arrangements sounding huge, than we are on preparing our hearts? Are we expectant in leading a time of worship because of a great new song that connects or because God is at work?

I’m desperate to see more freedom in our worship. To move beyond the songs. The songs in themselves have never been the final destination in our worship. Simply a vehicle to facilitate our worship. How amazing would it be to spend 30 minutes standing in silence in our times of worship simply because people are blown away by the majesty of God? Wouldn’t it be exciting to see congregations take over the worship spending 20 minutes singing their own songs and words in response to God’s mercy?

Worship is a spiritual activity. If we want to recapture more of God in our worship, more freedom and more of God’s power, it will come through following the lead of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been thinking about how we can step out more in the spontaneous. Not for the sake of it, but simply because we’re hungry for a more authentic, raw and profound encounter in worship. Here’s some thoughts:

1. PRIVATE CRY: Someone once said, “worship leading is taking your private cry and making it public.” How much are we spending time alone crying out to God? Singing our own songs? Offering up our messy and heartfelt cry? If we want to step out and lead in this – we’ve got to engage with it ourselves.

2. LEAD WITH THE END IN MIND: In the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ Steven Covey writes about the importance in leadership to begin with the end in mind. When leading worship what are we trying to accomplish? Is it to teach great new songs? Is it to encourage people to ‘feel great?’ Surely it’s about people being freed and released to meet and encounter Christ. To spend time in his presence. To respond with gratitude and thanksgiving. Ultimately it’s about relationship – intimacy. Worship is about glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

I’ve observed in the way I lead worship that often I try and make each session of worship the most amazing time. Nothing wrong in that – but in doing so I came to realise that I wasn’t taking risks. I was in danger of focusing so much on the present that I wasn’t leading with the end in mind. I wasn’t thinking about where I wanted to see the worshipping life of the church in 6 months. I was taking all the leadership and responsibility of leading of worship on myself rather than placing the responsibility on the congregation. As worship leaders we need to be training, encouraging and inspiring people in their worship. We need to release their song and cry of praise and adoration. We’re not about performing, we’re about encouraging participation. We don’t want consumers, we want a people consumed with God! In releasing this, let’s not be afraid of mess and a few mistakes. It’s part of the journey. It’s part of relationship.

3. RADICAL FRINGE: This isn’t about a haircut – but it’s great to find places to step out in spontaneous, free flowing worship. Whether it’s a group of mates, a prayer meeting or creative worship night. We’re currently trying to put a few dates in the diary where the agenda is simply to meet with God and to step out. There’s no pressure of leading a congregation. It’s relaxed and a safe place to experiment and grow in this stuff.

God is up to something. I believe there’s a real need for worship leaders to seek more of God’s Sprit and lead in our worship. Never at the expense of content and sound theology, but surely there is a place where we move beyond the songs and find ourselves overwhelmed and undone.

We were able to go to this concert in KC a couple of months ago at the Sprint Center. Although we barely got in to see a packed out show, and I think they will unfortunately have to rethink the no advance ticket sales policy, it was really cool to see the following in my inbox this morning:

Dear Joe,

There is only one thing you can say when you open up the music industries premier magazine for live touring (Pollstar) and read this…

World Rankings – 1st Quarter 2011

#5 LADY GAGA
#4 X-FACTOR LIVE
#3 U2
#2 BON JOVI
#1 WINTER JAM

“It’s a GOD thing!!!”

Over 500,000 of you from the Winter Jam Nation, showed up to smash our previous attendance records and most importantly raise the roof in worship to our One True God!

So THANK YOU for being a part of history and trust us when we say you don’t want to miss the Winter Jam 2012 Tour Spectacular. Watch your emails and visitJamTour.com regularly for all the latest!

See you next year,

Next weekend, Dustin Crotinger and myself will be taking part in a Kairos Torch prison ministry event at the Topeka Juvenile Correctional Facility. It is a really amazing weekend where the JO’s learn about themselves, about forgiveness, and about Jesus.  I will be leading the music next weekend, with just me and my guitar. I’ve done it before, but never by myself, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the songs. I think I’ve got some good ones picked out, hopefully some that they will really be able to connect to and learn quickly. Usually, you have them for 10-15 minutes and you can do around 3 songs each time. There is maybe 3 or 4 times for these short sets on Sat. and Sunday, so it’s important to have them get comfortable with the music quickly and hopefully it doesn’t take long for some keeper songs to rise to the top.

This is a little different crowd so song selection has to be thought out well. You don’t want to start out with the really personal intimate songs right away, because that’s just not where all of them are at. But at the same time you don’t want a song that doesn’t really say anything either, because this is a great chance to put some truth in their hearts. I like songs that teach them some truth about God, is accessible, and is quickly learned. We will have a theme song for the weekend called “He Knows My Name” which goes along great with one of the messages of the weekend. It is a slower type song but has a great message. Here are the lyrics:

I have a Maker
He formed my heart
Before even time began
My life was in his hands
I have a Father
He calls me His own
He’ll never leave me
No matter where I go

He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And He hears me when I call

Since When Did Bunnies Have Eggs?

Resurgence » Worldviews

How in the world did the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, the most sacred and central event in Christianity, come to be represented by a fluffy bunny who mysteriously has colored eggs and gives out cheap candy to kids?

The Easter Bunny is a commercialized cultural commonplace around the world (though it may be losing ground to the Easter Bilby in Australia), yet for all its familiarity, the Easter Bunny’s true origins are a mystery.

Eggs and Bunnies

Eggs and rabbits have been used as traditional symbols of springtime fertility and rebirth by various cultures throughout history. Eggs symbolize new life about to emerge, while hares and rabbits are conspicuous in the spring because they breed… like rabbits. The hare’s association with Easter may be a holdover from the ancient pagan spring festivals of Europe. According to Bede, an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon church historian, the British pagans used to celebrate a spring feast in honor of the goddess Eostre, who was represented by the hare.

Eostre and the Hare

When Pope Gregory the Great (540-604) sent missionaries to the British Isles, he instructed them to adapt the existing religious places and festivals for Christian use. He wrote, “Since the people are accustomed, when they assemble for sacrifice, to kill many oxen in sacrifice to the devils, it seems reasonable to appoint a festival for the people by way of exchange. The people must learn to slay their cattle not in honor of the devil, but in honor of God and for their own food…” Because the celebration of the Resurrection replaced the old spring feast of Eostre, the Christian holiday came to be called Easter, and Eostre’s pet animal the hare apparently came along for the ride.

Osterhase

The first known mention of the actual Easter Bunny comes from Germany in the 1600s, where the cute little guy was known as the Osterhase, or “Oschter Haws.” German immigrants came to America with a tradition in which the kids would build nests around the house out of hats and bonnets, and if they had been good children, Osterhase would leave brightly-colored eggs in the nests. The tradition grew and spread over time, and eventually Osterhase turned into the Easter Bunny and began giving out chocolate and candy as well as eggs.

The Resurrection

Easter is still celebrated as a major holiday all around the globe, but the truth of Jesus’ gory crucifixion and glorious resurrection is often obscured by the garish cartoon bunny in the stores and the gaudy displays of springtime fashion among the religious. Traditions of cute bunnies, marshmallowy creatures, colored eggs, and little girls in pink dresses are harmless enough, but at the same time we must not let anything obstruct our view of the earth-shattering reality represented by Easter. There’s nothing cute or cuddly about the fact that we killed God. When we were his enemies, he came to us, suffered in our place through the horror that was Good Friday, and rose from his grave on Easter Sunday so that we will one day rise from ours. The curse is broken, and we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus because we know we will one day experience it (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Let’s be joyful, let’s never shrink from speaking about Jesus’ death and resurrection, and let’s never trivialize it.

Logging Prayer Miles for the Kingdom

Apr. 12, 2011

Christ-followers as far away as India are answering the call to join the Million Mile Prayer Walk challenge. As a rally cry for earnest discipleship, The Wesleyan Church invites you to join thousands of us in a Million Mile Prayer Walk (MMPW), with each “mile” representing someone spending 20 minutes in intercessory prayer for spiritual awakening and transformation. Launched before the Lenten season, churches and individuals have been posting prayer miles on the Prayer Wall where participants can check their progress and find prayer resources.

Pastor Akashdeep of Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan, India, comes from a family of Hindu priests. He came  to know Jesus in 2005 and now pastors a home church. Searching the web for information on prayer groups, he found the MMPW site. Akashdeep says in an email, “I do not know anything about you. But I know one thing is that you also have burden for prayer. And that tells me that your and my blood type is same—that’s ‘J’ meaning Jesus.” His small group meets every Monday and has logged 640 prayer miles.

Marcia Stafford, prayer director for Greenville Community Church (a Wesleyan church in Greenville, Michigan), reports 4,681 miles for her congregation. Exuding a passionate spirit, she says the MMPW was an answer to prayer. Her prayer group had been praying for more people to pray. Marcia adds, “When you do something for 40 days, it becomes a habit, so people will pray more just by doing the Prayer Walk.”

Many established church prayer groups decided to partner with the MMPW because, as Joan Crooks of Oakway Wesleyan Church in Westminster, South Carolina, says, “It is such a great opportunity to join other Wesleyans to cry out to God for the lost to come to know and love Him.” Calene Pence of Fall Creek Wesleyan Church in Fishers, Indiana, belongs to a church prayer group that “sits” rather than walks. They firmly believe that this weekly prayer time is the most powerful activity they can do for their church. Pastor Doug Dennis of Neighbors Grove Wesleyan Church in Asheboro, North Carolina, says the MMPW “has been effective as an expression of our renewed emphasis on prayer and renewal.”

How can you participate? Just pray. Then, report the “prayer miles” on the MMPW pedometer. Don’t forget to update your miles regularly. Visit the Million Mile Prayer Walk Prayer Wall for answers to all your questions. As one prayer walker put it, “We can participate with what God is doing through prayer. It is a participation sport!”

A few weeks ago, Pastor Larry gave a sermon about how Peter went up on the roof and had a vision about eating what God had declared clean. Next thing he knows a believer, that also happens to be a Gentile shows up, and Peter realizes that Jesus is for everybody and not just for Jews.

The circumstances leading up to all of that is a good example of a divine appointment. Two different parties had to be faithful to what God was telling them, for the whole thing to work out.

You have probably heard the phrase Divine Appointment before, but that sermon really hit home that I don’t go around looking for those opportunities enough. How many opportunities has God put right in my path that I was just to dull, or too busy to notice? Probably way more than I would like to admit I”m sure.

I really want to be more in tune with God as I go about my everyday life so that I can act when he is calling me to do something.  Has God been giving you some Divine Appointments lately?

 

I work a very public job where it can feel at times like you are in a fishbowl. It’s not a terribly bad thing, but as the Health and Wellness Director for a large YMCA, I know that people are listening to my conversations with other members, staff, etc, and it is something that I need to be aware of as I lead others at work.

Worship leading is an up front thing as well. Just last week, I really noticed something that some people were doing as I was leading worship.  They were watching me! And our screen for words is off to the right, so most people are looking at that.  Now I could totally Jesus Juke at this point and say something about how we need to become smaller, which is totally true, but the reality in our services is that not everyone is going to have eyes closed, with hands raised, lost in worship. I have noticed that younger people, teenagers, kids, will often times be looking right at the worship leader.

This made me think about what I was doing as I was leading worship.  Was I outwardly showing what was going on in my heart? For better or worse? If we didn’t hit that transition well, was that coming through in a look of frustration, or was I prepared enough to be able to just worship the Lord and have that love for Jesus come through in a visual way.

Have you ever seen someone for the first time, watched them for a little bit, and just knew they loved Jesus? Wow, that is what I want to come through as we lead worship!

I can remember one time a number of years ago someone telling me at church that computers were of the devil.” Wow”, I thought,  no wiggle room there. Of course, we had switched over from the transparencies on the projector to powerpoint on the laptop, and were probably having issues that day. But I think he was being serious more or less. Basically saying that because of all the bad things that are on the internet or how some people think that the mark of the beast will be in a microchip, etc. then it was best to stay away from anything that had to do with computers.

So what’s a wise worship leader to do? Go with the Amish themed worship set or an experience that rivals the best Pink Floyd show?

The following from techsteward.net gives us some good principles to go by in regards to technology. And I think it can apply to a lot of things that are of this world and are not inherently sinful (God made it and then we screwed it up) but can be redeemed by the grace of God. The four principles go by pretty fast, so don’t miss them. Here they are:

“He begins with four biblical principles. First, God created technology. He made the physical elements like silicon that we use to make digital devices. He made the forces of electricity and magnetism that allow technology to work. And he made human minds and gave them the creativity to build computers, cell phones and iPads.

Second, because God created technology, it is not inherently sinful; instead (principle three) it has many good uses—including bringing BreakPoint to you every day. Finally and tragically, Murray notes,technology has been abused because we are sinners.”

Have you ever thought about some of the stuff we say as Christians to one another that sound perfectly normal to us but to someone who isn’t around “church culture”  it can sound kind of strange? I have heard this referred to as “Christianese” and we can easily use language that means one thing to us, but sounds totally foreign to someone else.

For example, the other day in the office I made a reference to going to worship practice later in the evening and someone that overheard me said, “You have to practice worship? What does that look like?”

What are some of the things we say that would make no sense to the “world?” Have you ever had this experience?

Being organized is a good thing for a worship team. Taking time to plan out a worship set is very important as you pray, listen to that still, small voice, and go with the songs you feel like you are being led to do.  Sometimes, themes emerge in planning, and sometimes they emerge during the actual service, and sometimes you don’t know why God gave you those songs, but He knows. So while planning is important, communicating that plan to a worship team is valuable as well.

Sometimes surprises are good and exciting, and sometimes you wish you had a little warning ahead of time.  Just showing up to practice with a list of songs or not having songs at all most likely falls into the category of surprises that your worship team will quickly grow weary of.  I know that sometimes worship leaders might change songs during a set or on Sunday morning, depending on how he or she is being led by the Holy Spirit, but in most cases when I hear of leaders doing this kind of thing, they will still rehearse songs within a set structure and then they have freedom within that structure to follow the guiding of the Holy Spirit. So what tools do we use to communicate to our team?

One really popular online planning tool that I have had experience with in the past is http://www.planningcenteronline.com. This online planning site is really popular and for good reason.  It is internet based and password protected, so it can be accessed anywhere, and as an administrator the leaders in various ministries in the church can use it to communicate with their team about who is available to serve, the song lists, the service plans, it hosts mp3’s of songs so that team members can listen and practice along, team members can click whether they are available or not for certain Sunday’s, etc. The list goes on. This is a great tool if you have multiple worship team members or worship bands that you need to communicate with and schedule. But of course, it costs money!

So for our purposes as a smaller sized church with a small but growing worship team, I have had good success with the planning tool at http://www.lifewayworship.com. This site has a handy service planning tool, which will allow you to pick out songs, drop and click different service elements in, and it will add up service length time. It gives Scripture references for all the songs, which I like alot, and although I rarely use this, it has a Song Mapping feature, which lets you move around verses, choruses, bridges, etc. so you can hear what various arrangements sound like. Another great, great feature of lifewayworship is they have sheet music for $1.49 a song. That is a great price! Most online sheet music sites are $4.99 or up for a single song. We really like the full arrangements with the bass parts instead of just the lead sheets which are easier to come by, so for us, the sheet music price is great.

O.k. this next part is a little technical, but I use another free online tool called CutePDF writer, which acts as a printer and takes whatever document you send to your printer and turns it into a pdf file that you can save. With the service plan that I have created at lifewayworship, I just click print, select CutePDF writer as my printer and now the service plan is saved as a pdf document. I can email this out to the worship team a few days before our practice, along with pdf files of our songs and they can see what is coming up. If a song is new I can include a link to a YouTube video of the song and they can listen to it that way.

By the time we practice on Wednesday night, everyone knows the set list, they have printed out the songs if they don’t have them already, and they have even listened to the new ones on YouTube. Of course, it helps to have a worship team that is really, really good about being prepared for practice! Ours is beyond great in that regard!

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