Archive for December, 2009

Some of you know that I grew up in the church of Christ, a denomination which believes that by eschewing instruments in worship, they are reading the NT perfectly literally. Setting aside the theological issues, I know this–I appreciate a capella singing in a way that few others in the world can!

This past Sunday I joined my parents at their church and felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as the song leader blew into his pitch pipe and the congregation “tuned up.” Seriously. By the second or third note of each song, we had full four-part harmony, typically with no books or written music because they are now posting song lyrics on an overhead. It’s a new church plant with nearly 200 members and boy can those people sing!

For me, the purest moment in God’s presence happens through music. It doesn’t matter if I am signing, playing, listening to something, writing a song, leading worship or Christmas carols–God is there in a tangible way for me.

So it was quite a shock when a dear friend at a former church job confessed to me that she didn’t like music and found ways to avoid the “worship service” at our church.

That was the moment I became enthralled with the idea of immersive worship–finding ways beyond music to help people meet God in the same way I do with music. I’m afraid a lot of the worship pastors at churches don’t give much consideration to the people who are not musical. It takes more work than some worship pastors have time to put in, honestly. But I am dedicated to those ideas.

So I asked my friend what would help her worship. This particular lady loved to write short dramatic scripts. I worked with the pastor to create a position for her on the worship team in which she wrote and directed a short play or skit in every corporate service. Many more people wanted to be involved in her drama ministry than in my worship ministry! That was compelling to me.

Yes, I know. Drama ministries are not new. The big difference was that this one wasn’t slick, professional, or paid. Nor was it run by the youth group and simply tolerated by the church. It was fully implemented into each worship service and themed series. She called on different members of the congregation each week to be a part of it. Every piece was original–written by my friend or someone else in the congregation. We immersed people in the creative experience and week after week someone new asked if they could get involved.

Being creative doesn’t have to mean reinventing the wheel–maybe simply redesigning it to fit the group you work with.


Lest anyone misread, I want to clarify:

I wrote the last post at the end of a long day, but I was inspired to get something down. When I came back this morning and re-read it, I was a little shocked. Here is what I did not intend.

I did not intend to imply that I am or ever was some sort of super-pastor. Nor did I intend to imply that God doesn’t care when we are tired, hurt, or less than whole physically or emotionally. Oh my sweet Lord, that is so not the case!

What I hoped to say, and failed, was that I don’t have to “praise God with my whole heart” as the song says. He is just as willing to accept the praise of my un-whole heart.

It is also important to me to note that most of those examples represented times when I did not feel very worshipful. I often had a very bad attitude about having to go to work to do this job to which I was called. The beauty of worship, though, is that it transcends me. God almost always used us most powerfully in corporate worship when we were sniping at each other behind the scenes, playing the music poorly, making mistakes in presentation like the wrong slides with a song, or so tired or sore that we were practically phoning it in.

Every time that happened, I was humbled. The lesson I learned, and the one I wanted to communicate on Monday, was that I could still worship and lead at worship when I wasn’t at my best. I didn’t have to wait until I felt like it. God feels like it all the time, and that’s more than enough for me.

Tired praise

Probably the most important lesson I have learned as a worship leader is that I do not have to “be ready” to worship. When I apprenticed at Hope Church, I often drove over the mountain at 5 am. When I worked at Center City, there was one summer when I was so sick, I didn’t get out of bed for a month for ANYTHING–but I went in to lead worship every Sunday. When I was at The Journey, I propped my surgery-booted foot on a chair and led from a stool.

God is ready for you no matter where you are emotionally, physically. I just drove in from Las Vegas (where I have been without wireless access for nearly a week) and I really wanted to just go to bed and save my next post for tomorrow. But even when I am tired, I can find something that is praiseworthy to mention.

Las Vegas is a nasty place, and about three hours into our drive away from there this morning we finally started seeing some beautiful red rocks and living cactus. My driving buddy and I sang along with Celine Dion at the top of our lungs for miles on end. At sunset, we were near Grants, New Mexico, and we watched the changing colors in our rearview as well as on the mesas ahead of us, while the sun filtered through the clouds in a huge spray of light across the interstate.

How can I have a fun day with a good friend and see so much beauty and arrive safe at home and not take twenty minutes to post a blog that gives some praise to the day’s creator?

Every breath of this fresh, cigarette-free air is heavenly. The thought of sleeping in my own bed causes a warm-snuggly visceral reaction! And my sweet pup was just wiggling with joy when I came in the door. Life is good.

Tired body, check. Good time with God today, check. I can recognize the song of my heart even as my eyelids droop and my fingers begin to mislead me on the keyboard. Sweetest of dreams.

Bringing Art to the Church

So the conversation after the MONOTATION workshop (check out the cool new pix being added every day) was whether art could be better incorporated into a worship service and if so, how. I have lots of ideas on this topic beginning with the resounding “Yes, art can be incorporated.” As to the ‘how,’ well, it’s a process.

I don’t really want to dwell on the process, even though I have had years to think about and practice it. What I want to do is offer reflections on every day worship, provide some teaching opportunities, and maybe create a library of practical ideas that can be implemented in services or cohort meetings or gatherings or conferences with a minimal amount of effort. I understand how important that is–simplicity of ideas always makes them easier to implement. And a busy worship leader might want to do more than music, but where will the time come from? As my good friend and mentor Ken Green says, “Music isn’t magic.”

Instead of trying to redesign worship every week or squeeze something in to an event that might not otherwise fit, a first step might be to find ways to experience other art forms in our own lives. By other, I mean “other than music.” We can tend to focus so much energy on our music that we forget that we love to visit museums or pull out our cameras.

This is why I took on hosting a MONOTATION workshop. I’m no photographer (just take a look at the two sad little pictures I’ve posted on the community site and you’ll agree!). But getting out of the house with my camera and looking at the world around me with a different perspective was immensely rewarding.

So for this week I challenged myself with taking some pictures, and next week maybe I will visit the Episcopal church again to soak in the liturgy (which is very artistic to my mind) and perhaps the week after that I will LISTEN to carolers sing (instead of insisting on being a caroler myself). I want to write, I want to paint, I want to create a computer game. And if I can’t be a part of the creation of some new art, then I should be still and allow someone else’s art to inspire and uplift me.

And in that activity or passivity, I will look for the worship opportunities that are all around me.