Saturday, August 17, 2013

When worship becomes its own object

I imagine there are some well-known worship leaders who achieved the influence they have today unintentionally.  I picture them developing a recognition of the influence they had at some point in their life and deciding to respond to it faithfully, with no other aim than to be good stewards of the opportunities for influence that God had given them.  I imagine God responding with "well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things." (Matthew 25:21)

But I presently observe a landscape in which young people are making it their aim to become well-known worship leaders.  Their goal from the start is to gain influence and renown - ostensibly in order to use those things as tools to build a platform from which they will lead others in worship of God.  An entire industry has sprouted to support this popular aim.  Schools, materials, marketing aids, conferences and the like have all been established to help aspiring worship leaders establish themselves as notable forces in the business of proclaiming God's supremacy and fame.
Is the pursuit of influence a worthy goal?  What about the influence we have where we are right now?  Are we stewarding that well?  
I laugh nervously every time I see a worship recording which features a picture of the performing artist on the cover.  It is a nervous laugh because I note how normative it has become to idolize those who encourage us to cast down our idols, and I consider my own complacency (at least) and complicity (at worst) in such a movement.

How can all this be an acceptable byproduct of the worship of God?  I wonder if the truth for some of us is that the worship of God has actually become a byproduct of our personal desire for notoriety, or a cause in pursuit of which we might, seemingly justifiably, make a name for ourselves.  Could there be anything more terrifying?

At times it seems that we have made an object out of worship.  But worship is not an object; worship is a response to an object.  When it becomes the object, it becomes idolatrous.

Prelude to a resurgence

Precidentially, I've been driven to spates of reflective blogging by some kind of external backpressure - often but not always related to a new season of planning, teaching and training for CTI Music Ministries, the organization I direct. We are on the verge of such a season, and I, therefore, appear to be on the verge of such a spate.

There are four specific areas to which I believe God is drawing my attention as we conclude the summer season of ministry and shift into our longer-range "fulltime" ministry year. These are concepts that I am encouraged to begin exploring more fully in our teaching, training, and methodology. Accordingly, I expect to be blogging about them in order to expand the conversation beyond my immediate sphere of influence.  So I encourage your comments and messages related to the posts that will follow.

The four areas are:

  1. Gospel centrality 
  2. Message delivery
  3. Worship leadership
  4. Sabbath rest 

May God be glorified in the outworking of our consideration of and reflection on these concepts!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Ministry fundraising: God's provision for His work and His glory

Earlier last year I was introduced to the notion that giving should be a transformational (as opposed to merely transactional) relationship. This view of the relationship between donors and beneficiaries holds that both parties should be transformed by the interaction. My exposure to this concept marked the start of an evolution in my overall thinking about fundraising and the sheepish, reluctant, or outright apathetic attitude that many of us in ministry commonly exhibit towards it.

Here are two principles that I am beginning to understand in a new way as they relate to ministry fundraising:
  1. God’s purpose is His glory
    I’m seemingly on a perpetual quest to discover my purpose in any particular ministry setting, and I know many other missionaries or vocational ministers who exhibit this same drive. Recently, I’ve realized that we can always answer the question “What is my purpose or reason for being involved in this ministry?” with “To glorify God” – and that answer will be sufficient. (This is the chief end of man according to the Westminster shorter catechism.)

    God is glorified when His greatness is proclaimed! We glorify Him by bearing witness to His greatness - sharing with others our firsthand accounts of what we see God doing within us and through us in ministry. This is exactly the sharing relationship we seek to maintain with those who support us.

  2. God has chosen to make provision for our ministry by spreading His resources out across His body.
    As if by divine design, we cannot usually be supported in our ministry without first connecting with other people and inviting them to be a part of it too. It is as if God wants more people involved in our ministry than just us, but He has left it up to us to get them involved.

    In his letter to Titus, Paul writes: “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful. “ (Titus 3:14, NASB.) When we share our support need with others, we provide them with an opportunity to engage in a good deed, meet a pressing need, and be fruitful. In this way, our ministry is expanded beyond the people we meet on the mission field as God uses it to form the hearts of those who help send us there (even as he uses it to teach us about His generous nature and His faithfulness.)

    We’re quick to highlight the verse about the harvest being plentiful but the workers being few (Luke 10:1-3, Matthew 9:36-38) and make the association with too few missionaries being deployed to harvest souls for the kingdom. Could it also be that too few of us are connecting with the body to harvest the plentiful provision that God has planted there and ordained for His work and His glory?
In light of these two principles, I draw the following conclusions:
  1. We must faithfully connect with other people and “bear witness” to what we see God doing in order to “harvest” the provision He has made for our continued ministry.
  2. In so doing, we align ourselves with His greater purposes by glorifying Him and providing a discipleship opportunity for His people.
In a forthcoming post, I’ll address the implications these conclusions ought to have on the way we communicate with those who support us (and even with those who don’t.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Generosity and fear

A challenge this week, from Andy Stanley:
I see two kinds of givers: people who give what’s left over, and people who give off the top and live on what’s left over.

The first group isn’t greedy. They just see themselves as responsible for meeting their own needs. And whatever’s left over goes to helping God’s work.

The second group sees everything as belonging to God, including the responsibility to meet their daily needs. Therefore they’re free to take on the mission of stewarding God’s resources as their generosity dictates. Generosity is their priority, although they don’t give carelessly. They give thoughtfully and effortlessly.
The problem with giving leftovers is that your generosity can never exceed your ability to meet your own needs. If you prosper, there may be some left over. But the minute you face financial uncertainty, generosity takes a backseat.

Isn’t it rational to trust God with your finances, since all of it belongs to Him? And isn’t it rational to trust God with something that’s beyond your control anyway? Therefore, doesn’t that make it irrational to trust God for your eternal destiny, yet decline His invitation to direct your finances?

Fear has a way of twisting the truth.
from Fields of Gold

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Be still and know...

"Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth."
- Psalm 46:10

This is among the most difficult Biblical commands for a ministry to heed.  It is also one of the greatest truths that we can be reminded of.

We often find ourselves being busy, and forgetting that He is God.  It is for this reason that we intentionally schedule time to pause, reflect, pray and worship during the busiest season in our ministry cycle.

Our entire year is spent preparing for our summer ministry.  It is the season in which the most is at stake for us, vision-wise.  Our community is at its largest:  58 young Christian musicians to train in servanthood, awareness, and the active sharing of their faith this year (not to mention a lot of music); a training community of 28 in which to further develop Christian leadership and character; six global ministry partnerships to resource and support, and dozens of community volunteers to coordinate.

Twice each summer, we have ten days in which to train three separate teams in all of the musical, spiritual, physical, logistical and emotional aspects of being disciples of Christ individually while being an international music ministry corporately.  Four days of intensive leadership preparation precede this time of training.  Our days begin before 8, and run until after 8 the same evening.  Our staff splits time between the office and the training site.

Amidst the spiritual, there is an intense amount of practical and detail-based work to focus on.  So during this season, we specifically identify one person who has both the authority and responsibility to continually draw our focus back to the reason for all we do.  Before the bustle of training begins each morning, we set aside 45 minutes for each team member to reflect on specific passages of scripture, and we as a leadership team gather to pray for the day and the needs of the training community.  This is followed by a time of corporate worship and devotion.

Last week we had our final day of training before our first set of teams for this summer were sent out.  We felt we had more to accomplish than the hours would allow that day, and we questioned whether or not we had the time to dedicate to our normal devotions and worship that morning.  In that moment, the Spirit reinforced a truth that we had been reminded of throughout the season:  that what we labor for is accomplished “'not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6)

And so, at the prompting of the Spirit (and the insistence of the person to whom we had given this authority)… we were still.

During our time of worship that morning, we sang these words:

You are with me still, Your love will endure
You are with me still, Your promise is sure
You are with me still, Your mercy remains
You are with me still, You give strength as I wait 

We had not the might or the power to accomplish the things we felt we needed to that day.  Our strength was gone… but He gave strength as we waited.  And as we celebrated these truths, God poured His spirit out in a time of healing, confession and restoration among several in our community.  He was exalted among us that day! 

There is a promise to be found beyond the command to be still in Psalm 46.  God says “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  This is His purpose… His plan.  His promise is sure:  His word will not return to him void.  He invites us to participate.  But He does not depend on us.  We can be a part of it, or we can stand on the sidelines.

That morning, when we heeded His call to be still, we were privileged to see Him exalted, and to know without a doubt that it had been not by our power or might, but by His Spirit.  What a privilege to know that He is God, and to be a part of His plan!

Lyrics from “You Are With Me Still” - Caleb Clements, Todd Proctor, Travis Collins, Brandon Collins © 2009 Sandpiper Songs (ASCAP)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Leadership in Ministry, Part II: Leading as a follower

NOTE:  This post is part of a blog training series on leadership development, originally authored for CTI Music Ministries.     Read the series introduction | view the whole series

"Leaders can inspire, teach, entertain, and in many other ways shape the framework upon which an adventure can unfold. Within that framework, however, group members must bear much of the responsibility for the quality of their own experience." – Robert Birkby (author of the Boy Scout Handbook, 10th ed.)

Last week we equated the Christian life with the continual process of being formed in the image of Christ, and Christian leadership with the intentional use of our influence to spur others on towards that same goal of spiritual formation. Since this is exactly what our ministry is about through the fulltime program, we came to the realization that our current ministry is therefore an exercise in Christian leadership, regardless of whether or not we currently have the positional title of "leader."

None of our discussions or definitions about leadership thus far have involved position… so what prohibits us from exhibiting good leadership in our various roles as followers? After all, if leadership is a measure of our impact on others, then we're more than just capable of leading as followers… the reality of our leadership is inescapable!

  • As followers, we have the ability to shape our culture.
  • As followers, we can choose to be intentional with our influence.
  • As followers, we're free to cultivate an others-focused value in ourselves and serve those around us.
  • As followers, we are capable of spurring others on towards being formed in the image of Christ.
  • And, as followers, we can do all of these things without undermining the positional leader above us.
  • In fact, we're often more liberated to do these things than the positional leader is!
Part of the mandate of a CTI team leader is to release the members of their team into their unique giftings through an environment the group members couldn't have cultivated on their own. Team leaders help create and manage the framework upon which the CTI experience unfolds for their team members. They shape the structure, but each team member must choose what to do with the opportunities that the experience affords them.

We expect our positional leaders to be liberators. Their team members are the ones who have been liberated. It follows, then, that team members must choose what to do with the opportunities that they've been liberated towards in the same way that the servants in Matthew 25 had to choose what to do with the property entrusted to them by their master.

If we wait for the "position" of leadership to be ascribed to us before we start thinking of ourselves as shapers of our culture, we'll be wasting much more than just the influence already entrusted to us - we'll also be wasting some of the best opportunities we might ever be given to use it. I say this because of a reality that may surprise you: as the official responsibilities of leadership increase, so does the difficulty of liberating yourself to do the very things you're trying to liberate others to do.

You have much more influence as a follower than you think you do. You also have much more freedom to use it than you might if you were the positional leader instead of the follower. So what practical things can you do to exhibit good leadership as a follower? As is often the case, some of the best lessons can be learned through examples where the desired outcome was not achieved.

While visiting teams in the middle of their winter tours, I've often picked up on a singular pervasive trend that I refer to as consumerism. Team leaders are frazzled, buried in minutia and unable to catch their own spiritual and literal breath, because their team members have fallen into the pattern of consuming the leader's services instead of collaborating with their leader to help the entire team succeed at what it has been set apart to do. The leader has effectively become a "soccer mom" to the team, seen to exist mostly for the purpose of handling the administrative details of team life.

We could offer a long list of specific examples, but it should be sufficient to highlight some general tendencies that exist when this consumeristic mindset has taken hold:

  1. Team members generally still consider themselves available for ministry, but they're not inclined to seek it out. Instead, they'll take the more reactionary approach of waiting for ministry opportunities to come to them.
  2. Team members will generally overlook their own ability to stay informed about upcoming ministry opportunities through the resources available to them, preferring instead to wait for the leader to inform them of their schedule and the surrounding details.
  3. Team members tend to not take ownership of their potential opportunities for impact, and team leaders end up getting taxed for information that team members can acquire on their own (such as "where are we going this Friday, and how long will it take to drive there?") This drains the leader of their ability to offer more relevant direction that might be stimulated by questions such as "Do we have any history with this venue that could help us know what to expect?" or "How can we best prepare for our ministry among these people?" Answers to these questions would present opportunities for team members themselves to choose how they would invest in such opportunities. If the leader is not able to provide this information, their ability to liberate team members into opportunities to develop and use their giftings is greatly reduced.
  4. Team members will avoid taking the social risk of initiating conversations with outsiders, preferring instead to wait until they are formally introduced and "set up" for ministry interaction.
  5. Team members aren't actively looking for ways they can serve their leader so that the leader can be freed up to do the things that only the leader can do.
  6. Teams are not in the habit of actively preparing their hearts and minds for ministry before they reach a venue or while waiting in the van for the leader to make initial contact.
  7. Team members have begun to see their musical ability as the ultimate expression of their ministry and may develop resentment or bitterness about situations where they don't feel like their gift is being adequately supported by the ministry structure around them (i.e. poor attendance at concerts, seemingly irrelevant bookings or holes in the schedule.)
Trends such as these indicate either that team members don't fully understand the leadership impact they can have as followers, or that they have chosen to bury their influence in the ground and return it to the master uninvested.

The more you understand about leadership, the more capable you are of contributing to the common goal, regardless of whether or not you are the positional leader specifically assigned to the moment. In some ways, you're uniquely equipped to contribute more towards that goal now than you would be if you were the positional leader.

Don't wait for the "position" of leadership to be ascribed to you before engaging in opportunities to shape your culture, use your influence with intentionality, serve those around you or spur others on towards being formed in the image of Christ. Lead as a follower while you have the opportunity and freedom to do so. And understand that learning to lead as a follower is essential preparation for the even less glamorous job of leading as a positional leader (Matthew 25:21).

Week 6 reflection questions:

  1. What do you make of the notion that you have more opportunity to lead (as we've defined leadership) as a follower than you might as a positional leader?
  2. Are there ways in which you are currently more a consumer of your team leader and the ministry experience instead of a collaborator? (team leaders, be bold to offer your perspective on this one for the sake of everyone's growth!)
  3. What are some collaborative counterpoints to the consumeristic examples given above?
  4. Do you feel like your gifts are being adequately supported? Who bears the ultimate responsibility to see that they are?
This week's concept:
CONSUMERISM (taking advantage of the services of a person or an experience without contributing towards the shared goal in return) vs. COLLABORATION (using your influence to help others in reaching a shared goal.)

This week's quote:
"Leaders can inspire, teach, entertain, and in many other ways shape the framework upon which an adventure can unfold. Within that framework, however, group members must bear much of the responsibility for the quality of their own experience." – Robert Birkby

This week's assignment:
Examine yourself this week to discover where you a consumer instead of a collaborator. Ask God to reveal to you the opportunities you are missing out on, and to give you the boldness and courage to take advantage of them for His glory.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Leadership in Ministry, Part I: Christian living vs. Christian leading

NOTE:  This post is part of a blog training series on leadership development, originally authored for CTI Music Ministries.     Read the series introduction | view the whole series

“If the purpose of ministry is to convince people to live the kind of life Jesus invites us to live, how can the church be built on people who give up living the kind of life Jesus invites us to live?” – John Ortberg

Over the last several weeks, we have come to appreciate the fact that that our actions and attitudes have the potential to influence someone towards Christ-likeness or away from it. We’ve discovered that our leadership is defined by what we do with this influence, and we’ve cited the Great Commission as our scriptural mandate for Christian leadership.

I think it is important at this stage to back up a bit and underscore the fact that this commission into Christian leadership was the last instruction Jesus gave his disciples. The mandate to “go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life” wasn’t given until this way of life we were to train others in had been fully demonstrated.

Before we can live out the great commission, we must strive to live out the greatest commandment. We need to love the Lord with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:29-31.) Living the kind of life Jesus invites us to live is a prerequisite to training others in it.

We must be disciples before we can make disciples of all nations. If we’re not being guided first by the greatest commandment, we can do great damage while trying to live out the great commission.

Christian living means being continually formed in the image of Christ. Christian leading means intentionally using our influence to spur others on towards being formed in the image of Christ… to help others achieve this same goal that we ourselves are daily striving for.

Isn’t that exactly what your current ministry is all about?

If so, doesn’t that mean that your current ministry is itself an exercise in Christian leadership, regardless of whether or not you’ve been given the title of “leader”? (more on that next week.)

The greatest myth that the world reinforces about leadership is that you have to be at the top to lead. Scripture tells us that Christ led from the bottom – he left the highest place and “made himself nothing.” Christ led in meekness.

This kind of thinking is upside-down to a world that equates leadership with power (see our common cultural assumptions about leadership in our post from week 1.) Leading from the bottom doesn’t result in much earthly recognition or reward, so it’s not very gratifying to those who hunger for this kind of approval. It takes a lot of persistence to stick to a path of personal life choices based on doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility considering others better than ourselves. The world will not affirm this path, so we must seek our encouragement from a source that is not of the world.

If you’ve been diligent with our weekly assignments so far, you’ve been asking God to help you identify those moments when your tendency is to serve yourself, and to help you cultivate an awareness of the impact you have on others and a passion to serve them above your own interests. Such a prayer focus is critical for ministry leadership, because it is only through prayerful communion with God that we receive the encouragement we need to live and lead this way.

Among the greatest scriptural exhortations given to “ordinary” men and women are Paul’s words in Colossians 3, written not to the leaders, but to the husbands, fathers, wives, children, and slaves in the church at Colosse: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24.)

We must take this exhortation to heart if we are to receive any encouragement in our leadership in ministry. Remember that it is the Lord Christ you are serving. It is Him that you are working for. You may not receive the approval of men. You don’t need it. You will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Keep your focus on serving Him, for He is the only one who can truly say the words “Well done, good and faithful servant” to you.

Learning to receive this approval from our Father, rather than from men, is also essential preparation for future positional ministry leadership. If our course is not firmly rooted in the approval of the One in whose name we lead, we will be easily swayed by the glamour of the world’s approval.

If you’re not ready to work as for the Lord, not for men, then positional ministry leadership is a dangerous place for you to be.

Week 5 reflection questions:

1. Do you put more emphasis on the great commission than the greatest commandment?

2. We’ve said that Christian living means being continually formed in the image of Christ, and Christian leading means intentionally using our influence to spur others on towards being formed in the image of Christ. This is a great definition of your current ministry, which makes you a leader right now.
  • a.  Does this concept scare you, or excite you?
  • b.  Does this realization have any impact on how you view the significance of your present ministry?
3. The founder of Christian leadership led from the bottom, in meekness. This doesn’t make sense to the world, but it is the path we are called to as ministry leaders. As you approach a season in which you may be called upon to be a positional ministry leader, what personal preparations do you need to make in order to align yourself more with Christ’s leadership model and less with what the world says about leadership?

4. Are you someone who thrives on the approval of men? What can you do to take the exhortation of Colossians 3 to heart and firmly root yourself in the approval of the One in whose name you lead?

This week’s definition:
CHRISTIAN LIVING = being continually formed in the image of Christ.

This week’s quote:
“If the purpose of ministry is to convince people to live the kind of life Jesus invites us to live, how can the church be built on people who give up living the kind of life Jesus invites us to live?” – John Ortberg

This week’s assignment:
Are you living the kind of life Jesus invites you to live, or have you given up that pursuit? Are you being continually formed in His image?

Get back to the basics this week. Evaluate your decisions in the light of the greatest commandment instead of the great commission, and make it your focus to work for the Lord, not for men. These will be essential disciplines for your continual development towards positional ministry leadership. They will also help you develop the frame of mind you’ll need for next week’s post.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Good leadership vs. Godly leadership

We must cultivate an others-focused value in ourselves if we want to develop godly leadership.

If influence is a measure of our capacity to shape our culture and the people around us, and leadership is a measure of how we use that capacity, then we need one more qualifier in order to determine the overall value of our leadership:  We need to know what it is that we should use be using that influence for.

A person who has some amount of influence with the people in their world but does nothing with it is a poor leader and a poor steward.  Another who has some amount of influence with the people in their world and uses it to promote chaos and disruption might be a great and effective leader, but their leadership won’t increase the Master’s profit.

What makes the difference between a good leader and a godly one? 

Good leadership simply requires us to make use of the capacity we’ve been given to influence others.  Godly leadership requires us to use it for a specific purpose.  Jesus himself left us with instructions about what this purpose was.  You know these instructions well:

“Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life…” (Matthew 28:19a, MSG)

The Great Commission makes it clear that God’s desire is for us to use our influence to train people in the way of Christ-likeness.  Godly leadership, then, means using our influence to spur others on towards being formed in the image of Christ.  Developing that kind of leadership requires us to make an intentional choice to use our influence to serve someone other than ourselves.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2: 3-4)

Godly leadership isn’t about native ability, raw potential, charisma, tenacity or drive.  It’s about intentionally using our influence to serve others.  Those who exhibit godly leadership seek to maintain an “others-focused” state of mind.  They consider the needs of others before the needs of self.  They are aware that their actions impact those around them, and they intentionally choose to see that impact as more important than their own interests.

The Apostle Paul articulated this concept beautifully in his exhortation to the church at Corinth: “I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life.” (I Cor. 9:22, MSG, emphasis added.)  Paul had influence among people, and he intentionally used it to serve them in order to spur them on towards Christ-likeness.

But outward actions alone do not define godly leadership.  We can force ourselves to act in a way that isn’t true to what we value or believe, but we know that God does not look at the outward appearance – he looks at the heart (see I Samuel 16:7.) 

Our actions flow from our hearts, our beliefs and values.  Godly leadership must therefore begin not with our outward actions, but with our inward attitudes.  As Paul goes on to say in Philippians 2: 

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
        taking the very nature of a servant…  (
vv 5-7)

God himself came to the earth to serve the ones that He created.  Motivated by love, His purpose for serving us was so that we might be restored to fellowship with Him.  We who seek to be formed in his image should do likewise.  Our attitude should be the same as his: others-focused. 

We must cultivate an others-focused value in ourselves if we want to develop godly leadership. 


Week 3 reflection questions:

1.       Our definition this week equates godly leadership with using our influence to spur others on towards being formed in the image of Christ.  We can sum this up in the term disciple-making – the task Jesus commissioned us to.  Is this something that you currently have a passion for?
a.       If not, do you think it’s something you should be asking God to grow a passion for in you?

2.       What are some common ways that we tend to look out for our own interests at the expense of the interests of others?  In what situations do you find it more natural to serve yourself first?

3.       List some situations in which it’s easy to overlook the impact your actions can have on others.

4.       What steps do you need to take to cultivate an others-focus?  How can you ensure that this is more than just an outward action with no associated change in your heart?

This week’s definition:
GODLY LEADERSHIP = using our influence to spur others on towards being formed in the image of Christ. 

This week’s quote: 
We must cultivate an others-focused value in ourselves if we want to develop godly leadership. 

This week’s assignment: 
Continue your prayer focus about your attitude this week.  Ask God to develop your passion for serving others, and to cultivate an “others first” awareness in your heart.