Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Do we really need to boycott the worship industry?

Boycotts are just not my thing and I'm not really sure that it's appropriate for the church at large to support them as a general rule. However, Jonathan Aigner's article titled, "It's Time to Boycott the Worship Industry" raises some keen points that are worth taking a good hard gander at. There are pros and cons to everything on this earth- worship industry included. Aigner's article, regardless of whether we agree or disagree on his individual points, creates a great starting place to discuss worship practices in our churches and worship teams.

First and foremost, Aigner discusses the topic of money, saying that the worship industry is driven by its money making capacities which affects the quality of music and theology that is produced. This is a good point - if we are taking music from the worship industry to use for worship services in our churches, what standards are we using to make sure that these songs are appropriate? There are quite a few songs that I must admit I disagree with theologically, but they receive an abundance of air play. Because they are popular and performed by famous Christian musicians, they are accepted as "gospel truth," but as a worship leader, I feel they don't have a place in our worship services. 

The United Methodist Church examined the top 100 CCLI songs (many of which are directly from the worship industry) for theological content and singability. You can find their results here. While they examined each song with rigorous standards, the results were pretty positive for the music they believed to be in accordance with the doctrine of the United Methodist Church. However, they only posted the songs they felt they could endorse. I would love to see the list that they felt were not appropriate for church use and the reasons why. I commend the UMC for creating a focus group that strives to make certain our worship is sound.

Another point on money - according to, Chris Tomlin's net worth is approximately 2 million dollars. For an average worship leader like myself, that's a lot of cash! And that makes it seem like his music is money driven. Then again, compared to Justin Bieber's net worth of $200 million, it's just a drop in the bucket. Furthermore, the Bible tells us that a laborer is worthy of his hire, and perhaps the grueling schedule of touring life is worth a couple million.

Speaking of Christ Tomlin, Aigner also discusses the idea that the worship industry creates musical idols, such as Tomlin himself. That's a great point, because we need to make sure that our worship music centers on Jesus, and not on someone else. It is difficult for us average folks to measure up to the talent, level of production, and team of support that Chris Tomlin has for his musical aspirations, so there is really no hope of us creating music like his anyway. Regardless, God loves diversity; He didn't create us to be carbon copies of someone else. But perhaps Chris Tomlin is as popular as he is because his music is theologically sound and beautiful (although not too many folks can sing in his keys!). His music is consistently excellent, theologically sound, and well-written, so why not use it?

The best point, in my opinion, that Aigner makes in his article is that the worship industry follows culture and is aimed at creating a passive audience rather than passionate worshippers. This is a great point. As worship leaders and ministry leaders, we aim to cultivate the congregation's response to God for who He is and what He has done. We give words and music to their experience so they can worship, but if we are using music that is created for passivity, where is the congregation's voice? On the other hand, the benefit to using popular music in the worship service is that the congregation already knows it. For those that listen to Christian radio, it is easy to introduce a hot, new song because the congregation has heard it over the airwaves again and again. And they are excited to use these songs in their worship repertoire. Would the congregation have a fuller, more passionate, more true response to God if we used only original music that was not a part of the worship industry or CCM movement?

If you know your church music history, you might be aware that many of the old favorite hymns were once popular tunes of their day, some even originating as drinking songs in old time bars and pubs. The music was relatable to the people because it followed the cultural norms of the day. They could easily learn it and sing it. It is the theology and musicianship that have made these songs stand the test of time. Only future generations will know if today's worship music will last.

Aigner also discusses the emotionalism of songs from the worship industry as well as the need to stop allowing ourselves to be satisfied with watered down worship songs. His points are excellent and his logic is clear and well -written. He gave me a great pause and a small chuckle with this line: "It’s time to end the Tomlinization, dethrone our jesusy American Idols, and once again foster creative beauty and artistry, especially in our children." It's a great point - but I don't think we need to boycott the worship industry in order to do this. I wonder if Aigner listens to music at all outside of church? What could he possibly listen to on the radio or on a CD that doesn't involve the music industry in some way? And I wonder what Aigner's solutions are for today's busy, bi-vocational worship leaders who just don't have time to find music that isn't from the worship industry?

I like Aigner's article even if I do disagree with some points, and I appreciate his willingness to share ideas that may not be popular, even if they are worthy to be discussed. I also like Chris Tomlin's music, and I use it in my church's worship because it is theologically sound and beautiful and people are already familiar with it. Next time, we'll talk about how we can have our worship industry and great worship music, too.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Words Matter

What you say is important. I’m pretty sure that God designed it to be that way. The books of Genesis and John both speak about some very important words that God used. We see that Jesus is the Word of God. (John 1:1-5). God’s Words created the world in which we live. He spoke—and it came into existence out of nothing. God’s Words create life. Jesus used His Words to heal, to forgive, to preach, and to save. He is the Word and His words changed eternity. The Bible is God’s Word to us. And prophets in the Old Testament would receive and share a Word from the Lord. If God used words in such important aspects of the life He gave us, then we can be pretty sure that God places a lot of importance on words. What we say matters.

We’ve all had times when we fumbled for words, said the wrong thing, sounded tacky, or unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings. We make mistakes. And we make mistakes with our words. But it’s time for the Church, church leaders, and everyone who associates with the body of Christ, to strongly consider the importance of their words and the effect those words have on others around them. We need to be intentional with our words. It matters.

1. Person-first Wording.
As a church, if we are striving to be inclusive in our worship services and in our churches (and if we’re not, why aren’t we?), then we need to look at the words we use in reference to those in our ministry. Specifically, person-first wording should infiltrate all of our speech patterns...

Goal Setting: Growing Spiritually as a Worship Team

St. Augustine said there were really 2 churches: the visible and the invisible church. The visible church is the people that we see each week, those that show up for services, who serve as an usher, who do childcare, who are on the worship team.  And then there is the invisible church - the church that only God sees - these are the true believers. According to Augustine, only God can truly know whether someone is a believer with a growing, dynamic relationship with Jesus or whether they just claim to be.

It's not really our job to know.

With that in mind, I think that in an ideal world, the worship team would be comprised of spiritual giants, those that make my faith journey look new and immature, as it probably is. But the reality of our worship teams is that we probably have a few spiritually mature Christians, a few who may never have accepted Jesus into their hearts, and the rest are somewhere in between - maybe they believe in Christ, but who couldn't grow deeper and fall farther in love with Him? So how do we grow spiritually as a worship team?

Devotions - group devotions are a great way to grow spiritually as a group. Many teams will choose a book of the Bible to study, or choose a book by a devotional author, or even take turns leading a devotional or study. They don't have to be long to be effective. You might want to focus on what it means to worship God, or you might focus on the attributes of God, or study verse by verse through a particular book such as James or even John. You don't have to reinvent the wheel - there are plenty of materials available at your local Christian book store (Rory Noland has great materials for worship teams!) Or look on youtube for free devotional videos, just make sure to preview them first! Ask God to put something on your heart to share with your team. If possible, create a plan so that you can provide continuity and consistency. If you haven't done devotions as a group before, is God revealing to you that you He wants you to?

Do life together - One of my favorite seasons of worship leading came out of a team that really did life together, and they did it with or without me present.  They treated the team as if it was it's own small group. There were dinners out, dinners at each other's houses, picnics, helping each other move, praying for each other, visiting in each other in hard times. There was a little fighting and drama, as you might find in any creative group of people, but then there was much forgiveness and reconciliation. And there was so much love and opportunity to be like Christ. The team truly learned what it was to be a Christ centered community and grew together in Christ.

Pray together. Pray for each other and pray together - during rehearsal, outside of rehearsal, before church services. Prayer is powerful. As the leader, take it upon yourself to teach your team to pray well. There are many methods for a balanced prayer life - I like the ACTS method - Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Spend a little time praying in each category so that your prayer times - both corporate and individual - don't become a laundry list of wishes for God to accomplish, but rather, focus on Him and become a conversation with Him.

Connect the Dots. One of my favorite - and to me, one of the most important - ways to grow together is through the music that we use to worship God. If a song isn't worth talking about, it's not good enough to sing. If it is worthy of being sung in the service, then it must have good theological or relational content. Take the time to explain why you sing this particular song and what it means. Read through the words together - how do they enhance each member's relationship with God? Are there any theological implications that need to be discussed? What Scripture is being referenced in the song? Pray the song. Then sing the song, together, to God. Don't worry about rehearsing it for a few minutes and just spend time in the practice of worshipping God through music.

Worship together. We spend a lot of time hashing out notes, reviewing song forms, and parts, and chord changes, and that pesky bridge that never sounds right.... But sometimes you need to just let it all go and practice worship. Have you ever considered taking your team on - or creating your own - spiritual retreat for an evening or weekend so that your team can worship together?

Do a service project.  Your team can grow together as a group and spiritually by serving God and the community outside of the church. Be creative and have fun with it - work at a soup kitchen, collect clothing, help build a house, or just do odd jobs for someone who is disabled, or go un-Christmas caroling to a shut in. Be the hands and feet of Jesus to someone who needs it and you'll see Christ working on the hearts of your team.

Get help. It doesn't hurt to bring someone in if you feel like your team has hit a spiritual rut. Maybe a mentor, a pastor, a friend from another church. Have your special guest share their story, their perspective, or ideas from their team. Take your team to a worship conference ( or watch a webinar or interview online. Or have a team from another church come and lead your team in worship, and vice versa, so that someone can help your team worship as they help others to worship.

Be a model.  The best thing you can do as a leader to help your team grow spiritually is to be in a state of growth yourself.  As Christians, we have never 'arrived' at maturity. We are never done learning, we never can say we have grown close enough to God or become Christ-like enough. Are you struggling with something? Share with your team if it's appropriate. Where is God working on your heart? Where is He working in your life? What are you doing to grow closer to God? (See this post if you need ideas!)

We are never too mature to revisit favorite Bible stories. We never outgrow the content of our Sunday school lessons. But sometimes, we allow ourselves to be immune to God's Word because, if we are long standing church members, we've heard it all before. And sometimes, we may have heard a verse but never let it change our hearts. Sometimes, we find people on our worship teams that haven't ever given their hearts to Jesus even though they know all the Bible stories. Then there are times when God shows us something fresh and new from the same scripture passage we've read again and again and again. Never underestimate the power of God's Word to change your heart and help your team grow.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Goal Setting: Growing Spiritually as a Worship Leader

As a worship leader, I feel like my work is never done. I never feel like a song is complete, so I could practice forever and a day and still feel like a song is never quite ready. There is always a little bit more creativity I could I put into a worship service, a Scripture that fits better, a prayer that needs edited just a bit more. I always feel the need to do 'just a little bit more.'  But there is a problem with my pursuit of perfection. First, it isn't actually attainable. Live music has so many variables that no performance of it will ever be good enough. And second, heading for perfection, rather than excellence, is incredibly time consuming. And that's not good.

Satan wants me to be too busy. He doesn't mind if I spend hours and hours practicing some minuscule part, because all of that time I spend on something unnecessary or unattainable is time that I am not spending with God. And herein lies the problem. 

Ministry is busy - there is always something else to be done, a phone call to be made, a person to see, a song to write, a chord chart to practice, or a rehearsal to plan. But the work of ministry must be second to something else - our time with God. In my opinion, nothing causing ministry burn out faster than letting the busyness of ministry get in the way of growing in our relationship with Christ. 

So the question is, how do we grow spiritually as a worship leader or person in ministry? 

First, I think it's important to realize that this will look different for each person, but certainly is not less critical for anyone. We need to stay connected to God. We cannot help others to worship God, respond to God, or experience God if we are not doing those things ourselves. And, like everything else in my hectic life, if I don't plan it, I won't do it. I find that it works best to make a plan for a 2 to 4 week period, then evaluate to see if it worked, and adjust for the next 2 to 4 week period. This helps me stay flexible for busy seasons like Easter and Christmas, but keeps me on track and disciplined. Without a plan, it just doesn't happen. 

As a mom of 6 small children, it takes a lot of planning. My wee ones are up at 5 and not in bed until 8pm. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get them to nap all at the same time. Someone is always awake and someone is always demanding my attention. And that's ok, because that's what small children need most. My house is big enough to fit our needs, but doesn't leave a lot of space for private, intimate moments with God.  I have to be creative. 

For one thing, getting up earlier doesn't really help. I am too tired at 4am to even think about reading my Bible, much less staying awake for prayer time. I've tried it. And all it did was hurt and make me tired and cranky.  Sure, I can blog with toddlers milling about, I can even practice choir music with my loves playing along side of me. But private time with God? That's much harder to do amidst of a big family. 

I find that I am at my best later in the evening, when the kids are asleep. And while I always have a plethora of work and housework to catch up on, I know I have to prioritize time with God before anything else. And while spending time with God for the sake of a sermon or set list is important, it doesn't usually count for personal prayer and worship.  So I have to set a time when my husband is available to handle a baby feeding or a toddler nightmare, and block it out just for me and God. (Trust me, this is no small feat and I have failed repeatedly).

Sometimes, it works out to just sit down and open my Bible and read something. But I would rather be intentional about what and how I'm reading, in order to give me something to think about and look forward to. has many Bible reading plans that can go straight to your email inbox. One of my favorite plans is to read the Bible in 90 days. It takes a bit of a commitment, but what a great way to get a picture of the Bible as a love letter written to us through the life of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, I like using the Bible on my iPad. Sometimes, I prefer a real book, with printed pages and a space to make notes. Pick the one that works for you right now in this place and time of your life. 

I also like to journal a bit as I spend time with God. I like to journal my prayers, incorporating adoration and praise, confession, thanksgiving, and of course supplication for myself and others. I like to jot down anything from my reading that stands out - perhaps a name of God, an attribute of God, or thoughts that God has given me about His Word. And I like to ponder about what God is doing in my life - where is He at work? What is He working on in my heart? What does He want me to do or to be? Or to stop doing or being? And I try to spend some time just being in God's presence, and being still and listening for Him to speak. 

The more time I spend with God the more I want and need to spend time with Him. Making that time takes a bit of discipline and creativity, but using that time with God restores me and helps me to care for my family and be prepared mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for leading worship. How about you? What methods do you use to grow spiritually? How do you grow closer to God in the midst of a hectic season in life?

Next time, we'll talk about other ways we can spend time with God, to remember that we are always in His presence and continue to grow spiritually. 

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