Saturday, November 28, 2015

An Interview

Last month a friend fulfilled a seminary assignment to interview a worship leader by interviewing me. He sent me the questions and here is how I responded...

Ten Question for a ministry music leader:

1. Give a brief summary of your calling, education and time spent in music ministry. 

I began leading songs at 12 years old as a part of a “Leadership Training” experience at the Boys’ Jim Club of America (long story). We were taught how to lead hymns, beat time, and guide the congregation. At 21 I became a full-time youth pastor, and playing guitar while leading songs was just part of what youth pastors did. The church saw how I led the youth and soon I began leading worship for some Sunday services, again, mostly hymns. From that point on, music has always been a part of whatever ministry in which I was involved. I served as a full-time music minister for two years and tried to transition that church out of the traditional format and into a more contemporary way, but it was the mid 80’s and the church wasn’t ready. I served as an associate pastor, senior pastor, and church planter, and in each setting I was also a (or the) worship leader. My philosophy of worship grew the entire time as the church entered the era of the “worship wars.” My beliefs and practices were refined and my knowledge increased significantly. My primary calling is to preach and teach the Word of God. I believe preaching has the BEST potential for producing genuine fruit in the lives of the hearers. To serve also as a worship leader has been a wonderful addition. I’m compelled to preach. I’m privileged to lead worship.

I have a BA in music education from Cal State San Bernardino, and a M.Div. from the Master’s Seminary. I was one of the primary chapel worship leaders during my seminary days. I’ve led for conferences and special events in addition to regular worship services.

2. How would define your philosophy of church music?

Music in the church has two critical dimensions. Ephesians 5:18-21 explains how music is to function in the church.

·         First, we sing “to one another” songs that repeat and affirm the Word of God and sound doctrine (psalms, hymns); we also sing songs of testimony that personalize those truths (spiritual songs). 

·         Second, we sing “to God” from the heart (making melody in our hearts to God, as Paul wrote).

All of the instructions in the Bible related to music and the content of our worship services – and there are a lot if you include the Psalms and key New Testament passages like I Corinthians 14 – fit with and color these two dimensions.

Further, according to Ephesians, singing is a part of being “filled with the Spirit.” Those who are filled show it by worshiping in song. Those who need to be filled can worship in song as a means of coming under the governing influence of the Holy Spirit.

Worship that ignores the inner element of “melody to God” can be stale, rote, and hypocritical. Worship that ignores the “to one another” aspect—the corporate side of affirming truth together—can be shallow, experiential (as in “not grounded in truth”), and at worst self-deceiving. Both dimensions must be present for the worship to be truly healthy.

3. How would you define worship?

Worship is the response we have to God—the appropriate reaction to His person and work. Worship begins with God revealing Himself to us, and He does so through Christ. Therefore worship happens when we respond to what He has revealed in an appropriate way. Singing to His glory is one proper response. Serving others is another equally valid form of worship. Sitting under the preaching of the Word with a heart of submission is also an act of worship.

The reason singing is such an important part of that response is because God has commanded it. (And isn’t it amazing that God commands us to do something that is so enjoyable and uplifting to our souls? How like Him!)

This “response to God” is best defined by our Lord Himself when He taught that worship takes place in “Spirit and truth” (John 4). It involves both the doctrinal/propositional proclamation of truth in the context of honesty and transparency before God and man (this is obvious from the context in which Jesus spoke these words). But it also involves the inner man, regenerated by the Spirit and communing with God from the inside out.

4. How do you see the role of pastor and music leader? 

My role is to…

·         Teach the congregation how to worship.
·         Use the Scriptures in a way that fuels the congregation’s passion for Christ.
·         Provide the means of the congregation’s expression of worship (plan the service, play the music, lead the songs, arrange the tech, etc.)
·         Shepherd the ministry in a way that protects the sheep from falsehood and distraction
·         Get out of the way and let the people praise.

5. What are your strengths and weaknesses in music ministry?

Strengths:

·         Passion for the glory of Christ in the church
·         Knowledge of the Word
·         Effective administrator
·         Proficient musician/director/writer/arranger
·         Team player
·         Proven trainer and volunteer leader

Weaknesses:

·         I don’t sound like Josh Groban or the guy from Third Day.
·         I don’t pray enough or study the Word on my own enough. But will I ever?

6. What are some of your concerns in church music?

Listed in no order of importance…

·         The performance mindset that pervades our churches, limits the number of participants on the platform, turns the services into a show and denigrates the need for the members of the congregation to be a legitimate part of the worship.
·         The shallow and vapid content of a lot of new worship music.
·         The musical immaturity of a lot of the new worship music. Can we PLEASE use more than four chords?
·         The loss of choirs and special ensembles (I know that sounds like a contradiction to my first bullet point, but there is a way for such music to be done for edification and the glory of Christ that utilizes principles from the Old Testament temple practices in the modern church. Choirs and ensembles actually increase participation in ministry and provide additional opportunities for the shepherding of God’s people.)
·         The industry that worship music has become. Churches need to develop their own sounds with their own gifts as they sing their own music mixed with the songs of the church at large.
·         Can we PLEASE turn the lights BACK ON?!!? We are singing to each other as God commanded, not having a personal slow dance.

7. What are some strengths in church music?

Some of the best music for congregational worship is being written right now (it’s just being trodden under foot by the repetitive and experiential drivel that permeates our churches). The Getty’s are producing wonderful songs, as is Sovereign Grace, Indelible Grace, and a few others.

8. What are some highs and lows you have experienced?

Where do I begin? Some of the most meaningful moments in my life have taken place during worship, and some of my greatest frustrations.

High:

Singing songs of the faith with thousands of pastors at Together for the Gospel in 2008. I was in tears as the words and the affirmation of God’s people overwhelmed my heart.

Recording a worship CD.

Leading worship as a guest at a church and having the people genuinely affected.

Singing “How Firm a Foundation” the night I graduated from seminary and realizing how utterly true it was.

Hearing Phil Keaggy perform “The Maker of the Universe” for the first time.

Introducing drums to the church.

Having four full worship teams in one mid-size church and enjoying a wonderful variety of gifts and a growing number of participants.

Low:

Sitting in church when the worship is weak and knowing it could be so much better but not having any influence though I have years of experience.

Being seen as “old” by the current crop of worship leaders.

Realizing some people were more concerned with whether or not a singer was off key than the condition of the singer’s heart.

9. In your opinion what role does music play in church?

See #1.


10. If you could make one statement about church music ministry and knew every worship leader in America was going to hear it, what would you say? 

You are teaching your people whether you know it or not. Realize it! The words of your songs and the way you contextualize them in the service – these are teaching times. Don’t waste them. Don’t minimize God’s Word. Maximize it. Fuel your people’s praise with truth. Guide them. Shepherd them from the front.


Oh, and turn the lights back on. Please.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Concerning Refugees

Thoughts about Refugees

I agree – it’s dangerous to allow the Syrian refugees entrance into our country.

I agree – it’s almost certain we would be opening our doors to radicalized Muslims who would eventually harm, maim, and kill our citizens.

I agree – one of the government’s key roles is the protection of the citizenry.

I agree – it will be nearly impossible to properly examine all refugees in a way that guarantees the safety of our people.

I agree – the surrounding nations should be absorbing these spiritual, geopolitical, and racial “next-of-kin.”

I agree – our nation’s leadership cannot be trusted to do the right thing; they are corrupt and bent on pursuing party/personal agenda.

But, but, but…

As Christians, we need our conversation to reflect more than the statistical probability of terrorists arriving on our shores.

I’m thinking about the good Samaritan.
  • He cared for an enemy, and had no promise the victim wouldn’t scorn him down the road.
  • He cared for a victim who was abandoned by his own kind.
  • He covered the significant expense without expecting a return.
  • He was commended by Christ for showing genuine love to a neighbor.

Again, these truths need to be part of the conversation we have as believers. Compassion demands it, if not simple obedience to our Lord.