No Competition

Tom Lane/Article from Worship Musician Magazine:

Some of the most vivid memories I have as a kid involve baseball. We lived at the ball fields, it was a community event, and when we weren’t there we were in our yards or the streets throwing the ball. I loved the smell of my leather glove and would put it over my face and just breath it in. I oiled it regularly so it could withstand the red clay dirt and chalk from the field. I was just a so so player compared to some of my buddies that were naturals, but it was none the less a huge part of my life. When we faced teams that we knew weren’t as good as we were I remember we used to say, “no competition!” We’d even yell it from the dugout at them.

Competition starts early and isn’t all bad. It’s challenging, fun, and in some ways prepares us for the real world where survival is a reality. There’s a time and place for it certainly, but one place it doesn’t need to exist is within The Church. It’s counter productive and totally opposite the heart of God. No player on our team is insignificant, no matter how weak. No team is worse than another because they each serve a purpose and matter to The Lord, and more importantly, they’re part of our family!

Though I don’t think it’s intentional, one thing that sometimes accompanies thriving churches and movements is an air of arrogance and pride. When amazing things are going on it’s natural as humans to feel a sense of identity and ownership. But at the end of the day our own success and growth, are never simply just for our own good and glory. It’s all to give away, to share, to spill over into our world; so that none miss the opportunity to know Jesus, and the hope he is for salvation.

We would all likely say that it’s a blessing to have an abundance of musicians, singers, artists, resources, tools, etc. in our churches. There are some profound and shining examples of churches that are growing and impacting. There are far more churches that are much smaller in size and scale that don’t, and may never, have as much. In truth they’re a more realistic picture of most of the rest in the world. The big, huge, and high profile are really the minority. The tendency is sometimes to criticize the high profile and dismiss what God has genuinely done among them. But that’s not good or right to do because again, we’re not in a competition with them. Another historical tendency is to become so enamored and involved with our own movements that we lose sight of the Kingdom view. Jesus is always concerned with his kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven, it’s the whole body of Christ and not just a few of the bright lights that is responsible for living out the kingdom and it’s values.

One way we can avoid becoming self consumed as we grow is to make humility and sharing a goal and priority. The more genuine relationships are, the less we feel a spirit of competition. In truth the heart of the church should be to expand more by helping others go do it, than to grow our own particular congregation to mammoth size. We should be planters and sharers, not gatherers and hoarders. When we reach out and develop relationships, we are more inclined to help them succeed and give them what we can because we’re invested.

Regarding worship teams, if we made sharing what we have as much a part of the plan as the services, we’d ultimately create more room for others to participate with their gifts and talents. We’d also shift more of the emphasis from the platform and focus it outwards, where matters even more! The goal of our corporate worship times as a body is never solely about our own experience and encounter. We cannot separate ourselves from the missional heart of God: to reach out, go, serve, and share. If our worship doesn’t transcend the corporate time and spill over into our daily lives as living sacrifices and testimonies, then it’s of no more use than a great pep rally really.

As we strive to build good worship ministries and raise up other worshipers, let’s be mindful to do more than create artists platforms. Here are some practical suggestions that apply to us all, big or small.

  1. If we have multiple leaders, teams, musicians, etc., adopt smaller churches or gatherings and share them. Seek out opportunities and needs, offer what we have.
  2. Encourage our own to find opportunities to serve aside from the platform.
  3. Invest in relationships with other area churches and leaders, benefit from one another.
  4. Foster a planting mentality, encourage our own to initiate opportunities, gatherings, or any other creative idea that reaches outside of our own congregation into the community.
  5. Partner with other ministries, churches, and leaders. Doesn’t really matter what you do, just do something together.
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Killing Criticism

Tom Lane/Article from Worship Musician Magazine:

One of the true enemies of worship is criticism, I’m amazed at how much it permeates the Church and worship. Everyone has an opinion and many feel obliged to give it regularly. We critique services like we do broadway productions or touring shows and hold lengthy meetings to evaluate seconds and minutes of the program so as to continue to improve it.

Sadly we are also some of the most offended people when the Word tells us not to be. So we send emails or make comments that hurt and wound others as if it’s a right. No matter how well intentioned we may be, it’s wrong! If we are so focused on things that offend or displease us that we allow ourselves to fester and brew with criticism, our hearts may well be nowhere near worship. What it signifies is that we need to grow up and deal with our own issues.

We’ve heard, said, and sung that worship is not about us yet our responses are often like children when they don’t get what they want. Whether on a team where criticism is rampant or in a church where it’s tolerated constantly we need to call it out, be sorry for it, and stop it. It impedes our personal and corporate worship as well our growth and maturity as believers.

The promise of God is that if He is lifted up He will then draw people unto Himself—all by Himself. It has been proven over and over for generations that He is able to do that. So our work is not to impress others into the kingdom, meaning that the production of worship is never more important than the spirit of unity. If it’s his kindness that leads us to repentance then at the very least our worship expressions should be rooted in kindness and humility, which is the opposite spirit of criticism. It’s hard to lift up one voice if we’re divided and diluted in our praise.

It breaks God’s heart when we try to move past sins without confessing and dealing with them. I’m not actually talking about our own personal sins though it’s the same thing, I’m taking about how we as a body seek to have encounters with God in worship while at the same time overlooking or avoiding dealing with our own corporate issues and sins. In this case criticism, but it can be a host of other things that we neglect to deal with.

It is on us as pastors, teaches, and leaders to lead and instruct on what worship is and is not. We’re not to be judges, spiritual police, or dictators, but servants and shepherds. We have to humbly and lovingly defend and protect from intruders and divisions. We shouldn’t allow a critical spirit to live and thrive in our own lives, our teams, and our churches. We have to remind that this is not how The Lord has called us to be. If we set that tone and pace then others begin to understand that it’s not tolerated. Just like gossip, if we don’t participate in it the gossipers begin to get the picture and stop approaching us with more gossip.

We spend a lot of time and words talking about the musical portion of worship, making our bands sound good and improving skill etc. All of it’s important if it truly helps us serve the Church. But what The Church really is, is God’s representation and body here on earth. We are supposed to be a sweet aroma, salt and light to people. Not another place where we come to feel more out of place, critiqued, or unaccepted. We can’t afford to miss the point of God’s presence being the true changing force and factor in worship. Since he’s chosen to use us and work through us we have the unique choice of being either fully surrendered or not, and if we are then we’ll not act like babies towards each other, we’ll grow up and mature in Christ as Paul says.

If we’re aiming to be a relevant, vibrant, thriving in the love and power of God kind of Church, then we have to be genuine and real, willing to stop and confess our failures. People are drawn to that kind of authenticity, to friendship and belonging. It’s extremely hard to feel any sense of belonging when criticism is a part of the environment. Let’s talk about it as the problem it is and change that about ourselves!







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Younger Voices

Tom Lane/Article from Worship Musician Magazine:

We are blessed to live in a time when so many resources are available to us in the Church. Not only in the way of technology but leadership and talent. I’m amazed at the level of gifting especially among young people. I know there have always been gifted people in every generation but it seems to be present at a much younger age than I remember in my youth.

When I step back for a birds-eye view of the last 30 years, I see a story that has repeated itself in the history of the Church. God is always preparing ahead, as one move is sweeping the world and shaping the Church for a current generation, the groundwork for the next is being laid concurrently. Times are always changing but He is never void of a plan. The hope is that God’s people will recognize the Joshua’s and Caleb’s among us, and help them fulfill the purposes of God for them.

It’s one thing to plan things that we think are relevant and appealing to the generation we’re trying to reach, but in most cases we are far more effective when we make room for those who speak the language of their own generation. Historically that can be awkward, because in essence it means moving over and letting others do what we’d like to be doing ourselves.

For my wife and I in the ministry we’re involved with, younger voices are something we not only value, we have come to need them our lives as they keep us young, reinvigorate, and inspire us. Instead of posing a threat to anything we do, they give us purpose to keep doing it! They also hold pieces of the puzzle we don’t that are critical for reaching our generation with the Gospel— the bigger picture.

One such voice is Jillian Harding; a gifted artist, writer, worship leader and our friend. Thought you’d enjoy her thoughts on leading worship.

When The Set List Runs Away With You
(Jillian Harding)

There have been times when I have led worship and it felt like I was on a runaway horse. That horse was going where it was going and it was taking me with it. In hindsight, the problem was due to a lack of flexibility. Our band hit the first chord and we were off running from verse to chorus, instrumental build to bridge, final chorus and on to the next song we rode. The fault was not in the song selection or arrangements. Our problem was that we were galloping on from one song through the next without being fully present in the moment.

Being present is a matter of focusing our hearts toward God in worship instead of being consumed with the job of leading songs. A great set list is not worth anything if it has run away with us and become only fleeting words on our lips. It is important to take the time to have our hearts and minds present in each moment instead of always having our minds set on where we are going and if we are going to get there in time to meet the thirty-minute deadline. When we have lyrics, and chords, and arrangements to remember it can be easy to forget that our responsibility is not primarily to lead a song, but to lead worship. Leading worship requires us to be attentive to the position of our hearts and the Spirit, not just the technicalities of making it through a set list.

There is more to leading worship than following a script. Songs benefit from us allowing them to breathe. Scripted worship leading makes it easy for us to play as individuals instead of as a community. When our only responsibility is to know our lines and cues forwards and backwards our worship can become a little like a karaoke play-along. This makes us inflexible because we have our noses in our charts and are not prepared to do anything except gallop through the script.

The band I most often play with at my church has found that we can take the reins and be more fully present by being attentive to each other as we play. We are taking the time to recognize that we are a community in worship, not just individuals. By interacting with each other while we play it allows each song to breathe. The songs come alive when we learn to read each other’s mannerisms and respond to each other’s worship. There is a give and take that happens as we move through the songs together, and we become more acutely aware of how we are together composing our worship. Instead of being driven by a script we are driven by our corporate worship expression.

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Songs And Arrangements (Connecting with your people!)

 Tom Lane/Article from Worship Musician Magazine:

Songs are amazing vehicles that deliver heart, passion, truth, doctrine, and so on. My brain is full of them and there’s a running soundtrack for my life recallable at any time. People connect with good songs and like what they like, often without any explanation. Though not all have the same tastes, the power of songs affects us much the same; deep down, permeating the soul and manipulating our emotions. So needless to say, how we approach and play them is worth consideration.

Arrangements give life to songs, sometimes elevating them from their original form, but not always as it can also work just the opposite. Once songs are completed and chosen for whatever purpose, the arrangement is usually the next step in presenting it. In the same way that I can say something and it be taken one way, you could say the exact same thing and it be taken completely differently; arrangements influence perception and emotion.

It’s been said of worship songs that they are tools to help us communicate and engage with God. They can help or hinder, encourage or discourage, connect or NOT. For sure there are songs that seem to have a life and sweep through the church at large. The Church has always had favorites, and the cycle normally goes; we use them continuously, wear them slap out, shelve them, and the really great ones come back around and live on in history.

There is some tension in the Church regarding worship and it’s nothing new. It’s the ongoing reality that as one generation ages, another is taking it’s place. God’s desire is that they be joined and connected, not divided. Transition is always awkward, but doesn’t have to be a fight. Both generations deserve the freedom to be who they are, but also the honor and support of the other. What kills unified worship in The Church is the spirit of Criticism! Especially for what we don’t like, but God doesn’t ask us to worship Him only if everything is as we like it.

As mature believers and worshippers of God we should be able to get beyond the style and delivery of a song, and engage with Him in worship. If we can’t then the issue is not ultimately the song or the leader; in essence we are giving the power to someone else to dictate our response to Him. Sadly there are many that miss the point and place such expectations on worship leadership to ‘get them there.’ Songs and leaders can help but do not negate personal responsibility and will! The attitude and posture of our own hearts is solely up to each of us.

That said, we can help encourage unity by how we lead and what we sing. Songs are good connectors, and arrangements can actually help us build bridges among the generations represented in our churches. As a worship leader I communicate with my teams that my preference is, for them to know the song and it’s sections more than the arrangement. The main reason being it leaves me free to be more sensitive to the people I’m leading. If the band is listening to me, and to each other then we all move together dynamically. So the arrangement we played in the 9:am service could be totally different in the 11:am service and we didn’t have to rehearse it. But there are also times I’ll have them learn an arrangement and stick to it for any number of reasons.  There is time and place for both, and the bigger picture is that I want the song to serve the need and moment, more than I want the band to play it exactly like the record.

If we’re sensitive and caring of those we minister to and lead, we’ll not simply inflict our own preferences on them; with no regard to where they come from, who they are, and what they relate to. Not everyone loves the four on the floor kick drum at 120-130 BPM at 9:AM on Sunday morning, or the tribal toms over ethereal pads and eighth note guitar lines—for hours on end. Likewise if there are young people in your midst, they likely don’t relate as much to hymns and older songs, or pipe organs. The goal is to find what is the most helpful and authentic where we are.

It’s awesome to see younger and older leaders serving the other with grace and humility, even when it’s not their vibe or comfort zone. There’s much to be said for honoring the context and culture of others, for in doing so we bestow honor on them! “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” Ps. 133:1

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