Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I WANT TO LEAD WORSHIP. BY THE WAY...I'M GAY

In the past two months, I've heard of three different situations where worship leaders have had team members reveal to them they are gay. Since this has happened to me previously on two different occasions, I thought it might be beneficial to share my experience and mistakes I've made along the way in dealing with these situations.

In the hopes that you'll keep reading to the end, rather than tell you up front my position on homosexuality for a Christian, I'll let you read my experiences. You'll be able to figure it out.

SITUATION #1:

I realized there was an openly gay 17-year-old young man on our worship team only two weeks after I had started a new position as worship pastor.  I guess you could call it my "initiation". I received an email from a worship team member asking me to look at the young man's Facebook page.  This team member did not ask me to kick the young man off the team; they just wanted me to be aware and seek God on how to deal with it, if necessary.

Sure enough...the profile picture was of this young man and his partner with whom he was, according to his status, "in a relationship".  My first response was that of compassion.  My second response was shear terror.  I didn't want to be that bigoted, intolerant, homophobic "church" person who singled out sins and judged people, so I messaged him to let him know that I had seen his relationship status and to find out if we could sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about it.  Honestly, I just wanted to let him know he was loved and find out how he was dealing with his same-sex attraction as a Christian.  Surprisingly, he was very open to the idea of meeting.  We set a time and I began to pray about what God would have us talk about.

Unfortunately, that the was the last conversation I ever had with him.  I wasn't prepared for what would happen that evening; I got a call from his dad (his parents attended church "off and on").  Obviously a loving and caring father, he wanted to protect his son from judgmental people like me. This is one thing I really respected about him.  He began to share with me the background of how long they'd known their son was gay and that it didn't change their love for him.  I affirmed this!  He then went on to ask me the dreaded question I wasn't prepared to answer..."What is your position on being gay and will you allow him to continue to serve on the worship team?"  Even now, I wish I could take back my response.  Feeling pinned against a wall,  I began to tell him what our church believed the Bible had to say about homosexuality and that while his son would always be welcome at the church, I could not allow someone in an openly gay relationship to serve as a leader on the worship team.

I didn't get another word in the entire conversation. He became livid and I realized I had made a huge mistake.  He had obviously done his research and came back at me with, "Don't you think God makes people that way?" He began to bring up all the verses about Noah, David and Jonathan, Paul's "opinion", how the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is misinterpreted, God's view of infidelity and picking out certain sins, judgmental Christians, planks and specks, , etc.  He  let me know that they would never come back to our church again and hung up angry, citing that I had taken away his son's ability to use his gift to worship God.  Honestly, it felt like the young man's father was dealing with issues of his own.  I was dumbfounded and frustrated at the same time.  It made me realize how sly Satan's schemes are.  He uses even our best intentions to place a barrier between lies and truth.

Immediately, I called my pastor to let him know what had just taken place. I told him exactly what was said and how it was said.  He was so kind! He affirmed me to let me know I had done the right thing (even though, now, we both know it could have been handled better).  Then he called the young man's father himself to talk about it.  Later that evening my pastor called me back to let me know that the father expressed the same things to him and that they would be leaving the church.  My heart was broken and I was exhausted!

If I had to do it over again, I would have responded to the young man's dad with, "Every situation is different and I can't be the judge or make a decision without getting to know him."  At least then, I may have had the opportunity to meet with him. There were so many things I wanted to say to him.  I know for sure that the first thing wouldn't have been "This is what my church believes...".   I honestly don't know how it would have turned out.  I do know that if he had told me he had accepted who he was as a homosexual and wanted to continue to act on his same-sex desires, I would have handled it like all other known sins on our team and in the church.  I would have asked him to take a break from leading worship for a while so we could provide some spiritual guidance.

Needless to say, word got out about what went down. The responses of church members were all over the place.  Some showed incredible support.  Others, depending on who they got the story from, thought I was a jerk for kicking him out of the church.  I wasn't prepared to be misquoted. God had to teach me how to respond without being defensive.  Once people heard exactly how the situation was handled, they were saddened but understood.  I was grateful for my pastor's support through the whole matter.

SITUATION #2:

A 23-year-old man who had been attending our church emailed me to let me know he was interested in auditioning for the worship team as a vocalist.  With our teams having more female singers than male, I was excited to have a male vocalist who wanted to join the team.  I asked him to give me a little background about himself along with answers to my usual questions..."Which service do you attend?"..."How long have you been going to the church?"..."Have you put your faith in Jesus?"  He shared with me that he had put his faith in Jesus a long time ago and that his father was a pastor but he wasn't comfortable at his dad's church.  He explained that he had served on a couple of worship teams before and understood the responsibility that comes with it.  Then came the kicker: "I am currently a homosexual."

The thing that opened the door for discussion was how he prefaced his revelation with "I am not without issues, however." It indicated to me that he saw his identity as a child of God, not in his sexual orientation.  This brought hope!

This was my response:
Hey _____,
I think it's really cool that you feel comfortable enough to be honest and transparent with me about your struggles.  We need more of that in the church.
You're right, we ALL have different issues and no issue is worse than another....
I went on to explain how I struggle with the sins of pride and gluttony. Then I continued:
...From what I can tell, you view your attraction to the same sex as a "struggle" that you're working through.  If so, that's right where God wants you.  It may be uncomfortable, but be assured that He's completing His work in you.  I wish all Christians could come to this place in their walk with God.  Unfortunately, what I've seen is that the struggle with same-sex attraction becomes too great for most and it's easier to accept it as "who they are" instead of as a result of our fallen nature that has been given to a child of the King for a specific purpose.  Instead, they blame God. They don't like the feelings of guilt, so they quench the Holy Spirit and flesh out their sinful desires instead of realizing God's perfect design and unconditional love.  
I then went on to ask him specifics about how he was dealing with his same-sex attraction and offered to answer any questions and let him know I looked forward to getting to know him as a friend, artist and worship leader.

His response was almost immediate:
First of all, thank you for your understanding.  Second, lately I've been realizing what this struggle is about.  Honestly, through all my desires for a family, a wife, and being a pastor like my father have never left me.  I have not been giving into my homosexual desires as much.  Though, I'm not without fault.  I've slipped.  But every time I do, I stop and think and pray.  I'm not perfect, but I'm trying.  I find sometimes that too much time alone keeps me separated and in doubt.  I want to be closer to people who can encourage me and help me if I fall, ya know.  Thanks!
While some would have been disappointed by his "slips" and used that as a reason to keep him from being on the team, I WAS ELATED!  In his own way, he was expressing a desire to surrender to God and that's all I was looking for, no matter what his sin or how often he was messing up.  I determined to be part of the group who would encourage and help him on his journey!  That's why, after his audition, I asked him to become part of the worship team.

So... have I had homosexual Christians on my worship teams?  YES! ...and I'm so glad I have!  I've also had adulterers, liars, and envious thieves, but it's because they've all come to the place where they've realized their choices have broken the heart of God and they've experienced His grace and forgiveness.....over and over and over and over again. And I've had the opportunity to see God's grace produce life-change right in front of my eyes. So cool!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ONE AREA WE OVERLOOK IN HELPING OUR BANDS ACHIEVE THEIR FULLEST POTENTIAL

Every effective worship leader works on ways to help their band members become better players, worshipers, and team players.  Over the years, I've seen and offered this investment many different ways in the form of conferences, workshops, intensives, labs, etc.  We spend time learning and working through musical techniques while emphasizing spiritual preparation with the hopes that, in the end, it will help our music be a beautiful offering.

There is one area, however, that I believe we tend to overlook when helping our band members achieve their fullest potential as worship leaders:  we must teach them to INGEST AND EXPRESS THE LYRICS OF THE SONG THROUGH THEIR PLAYING.  Too often our instrumentalists fall into one of three categories: 1) They get so focused on the mechanical aspect of the music that their heart disconnects from the story they are telling or the message they are offering. They believe that the lyrics are only pertinent to the vocalists.  2) They become so familiar with a song that their playing becomes predictable and one-dimensional.  Sure, they're singing along, but the lyrics have lost their potency in their heart and is reflected in their playing. 3) They are waiting on the "stronger" band members to lead the way.  Have you ever had that moment when the band is supposed to build and nothing happens?  Encouraging each band member to know where the lyrics are taking them will force them to take ownership for their own playing and minimize those dreaded drop-outs or extra rhythm at the ends of phrases.

As worship leaders, we need to continue to ask our band questions like, "Why do we crescendo there?"..."Why are the bass and drums moving into a 16th note pattern right there?"..."Why does the rhythm stop at that point?"  The answers to these questions must be more than a simple, "Because that's the way recording does it."..."Because we're going into the chorus."..."Because we want the vocals to shine."

The lyrics are the key to inspirational playing! They are not something that only the vocalists need to concern themselves with. The way the band plays should reflect the lyrics being expressed.  Music is designed to enhance our poems, stories, and offerings.  It cannot be disconnected as an entity in itself.  Even during instrumental solos, the overall theme of the song should inspire the solo.

Let me give an example: Last weekend we use the song "Never Once" by Matt Redman during our worship gathering.  We'd led this song several times.  I wouldn't say it was super familiar, but it wasn't brand new, either.  I love this song because it reflects on God's faithfulness through the struggles of life. The chorus is a realization that through all we've been through, God has been there.  Musically, it's a point of emphatic declaration compared to the verses.  We'll, during rehearsal, when the band got to the chorus, they played it exactly like they were playing the verses.  There was no dynamic difference at all.  It was a great opportunity for me to share this idea of the lyrics driving how we play.  I talked through the lyrics with them to remind them of the where we were leading the congregation and did it again...a completely different energy resulted.  The lyrics came to life!

What are some ways you help your band members achieve the next level in their playing?


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I NEVER KNOW WHAT TO SAY WHEN LEADING WORSHIP

One question that I see a lot from young worship leaders is how to speak or what to say while leading worship. For me, talking was my biggest insecurity because I didn't want to say something awkward and felt safe within the song lyrics. Over time, I've been able to step out from behind the lyrics and have seen how valuable it is in engaging people's hearts in worship.

I don't claim to have all the answers but there are a few "DO's" and "DONT'S" I've learned over the years which have helped me in setting up, transitioning and closing corporate worship times.

DO:
Study the lyrics of the songs you'll be leading in advance.
As you read/sing/pray through the lyrics during preparation, ask God to show you a verse or a short illustration that you can use which will allow the lyrics to evoke a deeper personal response as people are singing them. What you say should just be an extension of what God is showing you in your daily spiritual walk.

Begin corporate worship with a definition of worship.
Understand that your corporate worship gathering will most likely consist of a few non-believers and/or young believers...those who may not understand why we stand and sing together. Providing a definition of what worship is and how your church expresses it (singing, clapping, raising hands) helps them understand what is going on around them.

Direct verbal transitions toward God, not people.
Most worship songs are prayers set to a melody.  Allow your speaking to be an extension of the song, not a pep rally cheer. The congregation is much more likely to engage when the worship leader is modeling worship, not demanding or coercing it.  Your transition prayer doesn't have to be super eloquent and should not be very long.  Perhaps it's just thanking God for a truth about Himself that He revealed to you during your preparation or even while you were leading the song. If possible, write it out ahead of time and memorize it if you have to. Eventually, it will flow naturally.

Encourage members of your worship team to share during corporate worship.
I know in larger churches it can be difficult for people in the congregation to really get to know the people on your worship team. The less people know you, the harder it is for them to trust and follow your leadership.  I encourage our team to listen to the lyrics during their weekly preparation and then I challenge them at rehearsal to share what God revealed to them.  Sometimes, if I believe what they share is what our church needs to hear, I'll have them share it during worship.  I give them a time limit and help them frame what they're going to say. This allows the congregation to see the non-performance side of our worship team while building trust with the congregation.

DONT:
Go longer than 90 seconds.
After that, people tune out and don't care about what you have to say anymore.  Going longer can be an irritant to your pastor as well.  You don't want to cut into his teaching time or steal his thunder.

Point out how the congregation is NOT demonstrating the desired response.
Putting the congregation on a guilt trip is the biggest worship killer out there. Instead, give people permission to express their worship as God leads.  Growing up in a conservative Baptist church, the only biblical expression I saw was singing. If people understand there are other expressions described in Scripture and that it's OK, more people will begin to demonstrate the response we're looking for.

Preach
Don't use corporate worship as a time to give a mini-sermon on how the congregation should be worshiping.  Either ask your pastor to do that or see if he'll allow you to speak on a given Sunday.

Use filler
Make your prayers and illustrations inentional and different from the lyrics that are sung.  Never lead into a phrase by quoting it before it's sung or by repeating a line you've just sung.  This also applies to ending every song with "amen" or some other cliche phrase.  Be aware of bad habits that have crept into your worship leading.

I hope this helps. I know that putting these things into practice have really helped me become a better worship leader.

I'd be interested in hearing what you've done to help your speaking/transitioning during corporate worship.



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE DESTINATION


I spent a lot of time working on my car last month...

I replaced the side door after it got smashed in, changed out all the fluids, replaced the rear brakes, replaced the front grill, washed it, vacuumed it, and buffed out all the scratches. Needless to say, when I was done it was nice to stand back, admire it and turn it on to hear how nicely the engine was running. Then it hit me... all of my work and admiration is pointless unless I take it for a drive somewhere.


Corporate worship in many of our churches today is much like how I approached my car. We put a ton of work into production excellence and even stand in the congregation and admire our worship band (like I did my spruced-up car) with the goal of magnifying Jesus and allowing His Spirit to move in people's hearts. But could we have it all wrong? Have we quenched the Spirit's power in our worship by describing our services solely in terms of appearance and sound? Have we talked so much about the style, the size, the quality and the comfort of our worship that we set people up to "admire" the "ride" without ever getting in and allowing it to take them to a destination?

Or have we kept people from going for a ride altogether because the description of our worship didn't fit their "features list".  Let's not forget that worship is expressed in all shapes and sizes.  In preparing for and promoting our worship, let's not lock the door before people ever have a chance to get in. I liken it to renting a car to drive to my favorite vacation spot. When I go to pick it up, the rental company doesn't have the car I requested.  While taken aback, I'll put up with a color I don't like, a less than adequate stereo system and limited head room because I know where I'm headed. Those coming into worship want to go somewhere and will put up with a little discomfort once they know the ride is worth taking.


Worship Leaders, set a plan in place for excellence of art, pleasing aesthetics and increasing involvement but PLEASE don't use these internal goals as a way to externally promote or respond in worship at your church.  Do everything you can to steer away from appeasing the consumer mentality in our worship settings today. Describe the destination, not the ride.

While the appearance and sound of your worship should be a priority to you, your pastor and the artists on your team, they mean very little to the people in your congregation who are hurting, self-reliant, stagnant, and broken. They're desiring something deeper...and so is God.

So as you prepare to lead, make your #1 goal to pray that God will promote and facilitate His presence, pleasure, power and purpose through you and your team and allow the other goals to follow behind.  If you do this, people will engage and God's heart will rejoice! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is Your Worship Team Healthy?

The most effective worship team is the one which functions with a clear vision, unified by the power of the Holy Spirit. That's why we set aside nights and weekends a few times a year for team building, vision casting and to honor our team members.  The great thing about team nights and retreats is that they work for any size worship ministry.  Team building can be accomplished through something as simple as treating your team to coffee or a snack after rehearsal.  However, if you want to do more in-depth vision casting, a team night or retreat is the best atmosphere.

Not only do these times provide spiritual refreshment and refocus, they also allow us to provide musical development and build community.  Here at Deep Creek, we've accomplished this through corporate worship (which they DO NOT lead), personal devotion, prayer, breakouts, games, sharing, writing and more. Sometimes we even use these times to preview and prepare new music for a night of worship or seasonal outreach event.

From time to time, it's important for our teams to be encouraged and inspired by someone other than myself in a location that's not the same place they worship every week.  So this year for our annual retreat, we're going to a retreat center less than an hour away and I'm bringing in a friend from out of state who is the worship pastor of a very successful worship ministry.  I've given him an overview of our ministry, it's strengths and weaknesses, and a general theme.  The two of us will lead worship and tag team the main teaching times.

My prayer is that our time together will be allow God to move us forward with a clearer vision of where He wants to to take us and hearts surrendered to His leading.

We can all benefit from sharing creative ways we accomplish team building, spiritual depth, musical growth and vision casting.  If you've utilized a retreat or team night in your ministry, please share what you've done!


Friday, November 22, 2013

Using Kids To Lead Worship

Twice a year, we have our KFC (Kids For Christ) Choir lead worship in our main weekend worship gatherings. These weekends are always a highlight for our church and for our worship team.  We love these kids and they do an amazing job!  They helped lead worship this past weekend and it made me think of the benefit it's been to our church.

I'm sure many of you utilize your children to lead worship for their peers, but if you don't utilize your children to help lead worship for the main worship services, here are a couple of reasons we've come up with for why we believe it's a good thing:

  1. As the children prepare for leading worship, we emphasize the idea of offering "worship", not a performance. It's a time for us to teach them that voices and talent are given to us to use as an expression of God's glory, not our own.  We help them understand that they will be "leading" the congregation in offering praise to God.  This helps them understand that they are not the "star" of the show, but instruments God uses so He can be the star.
  2. Having children lead worship this young is great training ground for a smooth transition into the adult worship team.  We allow 14-year-olds on our worship team; so for the kids in the choir, it puts a desire in their heart to continue on when they get into middle school.  These kids also have a much easier time expressing their worship in front of people because being on a stage is not foreign to them.
  3. Teaching these children to lead modern worship gives them a love for modern worship music that will carry with them through their high school and college years. These are the years that children who are raised in the church tend to walk away.  If we can foster a love for worship music, it will be something they will turn back to down the road.
Here's the video of our kids leading worship last Sunday.


Do you use your children to lead worship?  What benefits have you seen?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fixed or Rotating Worship Team?

I'v seen two major approaches to developing and scheduling worship teams...The FIXED TEAM approach and the ROTATING TEAM approach. 

Some leaders like to choose a FIXED TEAM that they work with week after week. The argument with this approach is that the members get to know each other intimately and are able to connect musically, emotionally and spiritually with great ease and comfort.  This is a bonded, high-functioning team with great flexibility and freedom.  They've learned to work off of each other and can anticipate each other's moves.  Because they play and sing every week, they keep their skills well-honed and lead worship with excellence and limited distraction. 

Some leaders choose ROTATING TEAMS.  Leaders who use this approach have team members sing or play about once or twice a month and typically serve with a different group of people each time they lead.  This approach allows many more volunteers to serve and use their gifts in the church.  It also gives leaders a great opportunity to mentor and train artists within their church.  This approach requires a larger investment of time and energy on the part of the leader to create excellence and spiritual connectedness in worship but keeps worship team members from "burn out" with a pool of people ready to fill in when a team member gets sick or has to go out of town.

I know that a leader's approach will depend a lot on the amount of time they have to invest in their ministry, the size of their ministry and the resources they have to pull from.  This post is not to say one approach is better than the other.  There are pros and cons to both depending on the situation.

That being said, I've had the privilege of serving in churches where there is a good amount of talent.  As a pastor, I believe my role needs to be what's outlined in Ephesians 4:11-12; an equipper of worshiping artists to do the work on ministry. In light of that, for me to pick a team of the most gifted in our church and using only them has never been an option for me. I know it would allow our church to have consistent excellence, more creativity in worship and a lot less work for me but I would feel as if I wasn't fulfilling my role as a pastor; I want to allow every gifted person in our congregation an opportunity to grow and use their gifts for leading worship.

I understand the necessity of excellence and creativity in our worship, especially in today's culture which can be very critical of the church and its music. To me, it's worth the extra effort and sacrifice of a musically professional presentation to see people grow in their artistic expression and work toward excellence.  When we create fixed teams that make leading easier, we have to guard against going into "auto pilot".  There's a little bit of insecurity and thus, dependence on the Holy Spirit with a rotating team that doesn't always exist in a fixed team setting.  Let' s not assume that the Holy Spirit doesn't use this dependence to reach even the most cynical critic.

So what situation are you in?  Do you use a FIXED TEAM approach or a ROTATING TEAM approach?  Why? 

If you use the FIXED TEAM approach, how do you deal with new musicians who come into your church?  What do you do when someone on your team needs to take a break and you need someone to fill in?

If you use the ROTATING TEAM approach, how do you work to develop musical excellence and spiritual bonding when you don't have the same team every week?

Let's get the ideas rolling.