Church Life Recap

On Tuesday of this week we concluded our first Church Life Conference here on the campus of Trinity Baptist Church and Trinity Baptist College. It was a great time of fellowship, worship, and networking with other ministry leaders from across the country. I want to take a few moments and reflect on some of my take-a-ways from the conference.

It was a great honor to have Charles Billingsley with us for our Sunday night “kick-off” along with his pastor, Jonathan Falwell, Pastor of Thomas Road Baptist in Lynchburg, VA. Charles joined with our Celebration Choir and Orchestra and led us into a wonderful time in God’s presence. Charles is a masterful communicator, a phenomenal talent and most of all, an authentic worshipper and follower of Christ.

On Monday, Charles led worship in our morning sessions as well as an afternoon session for worship leaders and other church musicians. He dealt with the idea of “Transitioning Your Worship without Starting a Worship War”.  This is a very relevant topic for most of us who find ourselves in transitionary ministry of some kind. Actually, like Charles said, if you’re alive, whether you like it or not, you’re in transition.

On Tuesday, I led corporate worship along with the Trinity Baptist College worship team, Lifesong. This is a talented group with a heart for worship and they did a fantastic job. If you are interested in having them in your church you can get more information by clicking here. It was also great to have the Nelons leading us in worship and providing special music. The Nelons (pronounced “Nee-lons”) serve as Artists in Residence here at Trinity Baptist College. They are a multi Dove award-winning group that has tremendous talent and a heart for the local church. You can find more about their ministry by clicking here.

We also introduced a couple new songs written by Trinity alumni, Joel Carney and Shannon Foldy, as well as a custom hymn arrangement of “Our Great Savior” entitled “What a Savior You Are”.  It was a privilege to share these with the attendees and many of them purchased music to take these songs to their churches. “Isaiah 53” really connected well and is an incredible description of the sacrifice of Christ as well as an opportunity for us to respond to Him in worship. If you are interested in sheet music and demo tracks of these songs, you can contact music@tbc.org and we will be happy to take care of that for you.

On Tuesday afternoon, Lindsey Terry, author and worship ministry leader for many years, spoke into our lives and gave us a great perspective on worship ministry as seen from over four decades of leadership. I am delighted as I recall his stories of conversations with song writers over the years. I encourage you to check out his website here and check out the many resources that he has available to help educate us and help bring greater depth and understanding to so many of the songs that we sing.

I was thrilled to be able to speak with several old and new friends. It’s amazing that, though we have such variety and diversity in our ministries, we have so many of the same challenges and opportunities before us. I am grateful for the opportunity to exchange ideas and sharpen each other as “iron sharpens iron”.

One of the topics that kept coming up during several conversations was the idea of “balanced vs. blended” as well as how we can have a comprehensive ministry that is biblically sound as well as culturally engaging. I will be discussing this idea in my next post and look forward to continuing this conversation.

I am already looking forward to next year’s conference. We will be continuing the conversation of many facets of church life at www.churchlifeconference.com and keep checking back for updates and video posts of the conference sessions. For those of you in music and worship ministry, we will be continuing the conversation right here as well. I look forward to your comments and continuing our discussion on how we can make our worship ministries as effective and God-honoring as they can be.

Worship: the head or the heart?

We are so good at making God into our own image. If you’ve been a believer for any length of time, just look around–better yet, look within. If you happen to be a person that is in touch with your emotions, then you probably believe that God is a God of mercy, compassion and second chances. If you are a person who naturally thinks very left-brained and you go through life making very rational, logical choices, then you are more apt to believe that God is a God of principle, righteousness, and judgment. These just simply come easier for us, because they’re consistent with our personalities. I’ll admit, these are very sweeping generalizations, but if we look within and look around, by and large, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that it is largely the case.

Leading corporate worship on a weekly basis allows me the opportunity to witness this first-hand. I see people throughout our auditorium responding to God in various ways: some acknowledging the truth and doctrine of a song with a gentle head-nod; some acknowledging with reckless abandon, their brokenness before God with great outward demonstration; and some in vehement protest to the response of others. Most of the time, this is very consistent with our own personalities. I do not necessarily believe this is a bad thing. However, I believe that in the body of Christ, we have a lot to learn from one another, and more importantly, from God Himself.

The truth is that God is all of those things. He is merciful, compassionate, holy, and righteous. Take the apostle Paul, for instance. Before his conversion, Paul (Saul) was a zealot against Christianity. He had people killed and thrown into prison for their beliefs. He was “principled” in his disdain for Christianity. After his conversion, Paul was still a zealot but with a different focus and direction. Take Peter and Barnabas, on the other hand, who were more in touch with their emotions and the thoughts and feelings of those around them. Paul said (Galatians 2) that Peter even led Barnabas astray in his fear of what people thought. Paul, consistent with his personality, withstood them “to the face” concerning their hypocrisy toward the Gentiles (for fear of what the Jews thought).  In this story, Paul, acting consistent with his personality AND the Scripture was right. Peter and Barnabas were living hypocritically. Score: Paul 1 – Barnabas 0.

Now take a look at the other side of the coin. Barnabas and Paul in Acts 15, had a disagreement so sharp concerning the “worthiness” of one of their companions (John Mark) that it caused them to go their separate ways for a time. Barnabas, acting consistent with his personality, saw something in John Mark that Paul did not see (or didn’t want to see). John Mark had abandoned them before and Paul didn’t want anything to do with him. Barnabas, acting in compassion and grace, saw John Mark’s potential and determined to give him a second chance. In time, Paul later recognizes John Mark’s value by his own admition, no thanks to him (2 Tim. 4:11). Score now: Paul 1 – Barnabas 1.

What does this all have to do with worship? We often respond to God’s truth in ways that are consistent with our own personality. This is not necessarily wrong. However, in the Spirit-led life, none of us get “off the hook”. Brokenness does not get off with a “head nod”. Nor does an outward demonstration get off with inconsistent living and poor choices. Throughout Scripture God is always demonstrating the balance of the head and the heart. Take John chapter four–Spirit and truth; Philippians 4–hearts and minds; 2 Tim. 1 – love and a sound mind. The list could go on and on. 2 Timothy chapter 2 summarizes this well–“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Don’t be angry (heart) or unbelieving (mind). Also, don’t be judgmental of the worship of others. When God’s people come together in spirit and truth, without wrath and doubting, something very powerful happens. That is what God desires from his people.

We are all different. God wants to use all of us and created us with a specific purpose and plan. We all have a lot to learn from God by walking daily in His truth and being led by His Spirit. We also have a lot to learn from each other. That is the beauty of the Body of Christ. The fact is, God wants ALL of us–our head and our heart. Let’s remember that we are ALL made in God’s image, but let’s be careful not to make God into our image.

I am Blessed: (it’s better than being bitter).

Choices in life are interesting. Most of the time the choices we make occur long before what can be observed as the “point of decision”. Often decisions begin as a statement that is embraced by our attitude and then fleshed out in our daily living. Such as the statement: “I am blessed”. What a powerful affirmation! That statement alone, if fully embraced, can radically change our lives and the lives of those around us.

It is impossible to be bitter if you believe that you are blessed. This weekend at Trinity, one of our soloists (go get ’em Kristin!) will be singing a powerful song of affirmation entitled (you guessed it!), “Blessed”. I have included the lyrics below for you to ponder as you approach the weekend (or tune in online if you’re reading this after July 12). The remarkable thing about this song is that it was co-authored by Ginny Owens, who is blind and has an interesting story.

She grew up as the oldest of two kids in Jackson, Miss., where she started playing the piano when she was 2. She lost her sight to a congenital eye disease around the same time. For Ginny, music was always a hobby. In many ways it was a relief because it was such a great way to express many of the thoughts and feelings she had trouble articulating. In fact, She wrote her first song when she was only 7 or 8 years old. When she moved to Nashville to major in music education at Belmont University, she had every intention of teaching high school music after graduation. Instead, she found herself getting discovered by a friend who took an interest in her songwriting. Since then she has released 4 albums and has traveled extensively throughout the U. S. and the world though she is a self-confessed “homebody” and introvert.

As you reflect on the lyrics below, remind yourself of how blessed you are. You may or may not have your eyesight, health, or a lot of material wealth, but know that you are loved by the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Get this song on iTunes. Rachael Lampa - Blessed: The Best of Rachael Lampa

BLESSED
Cindy Morgan | Ginny Owens

Verse 1
I may never climb a mountain
So I can see the world from there
I may never ride the waves
And taste the salty ocean air
Or build a bridge
That will last a hundred years
But no matter where the road leads
One thing is always clear

Chorus
I am blessed
I am blessed
From when I rise up in the morning
‘Til I lay my head to rest
I feel You near me
You soothe me when I’m weary
Oh Lord, for all the worst and all the best
I am blessed

Verse 2
All along the road less travelled
I have crawled and I have run
I have wandered through the wind and rain
Until I found the sun
The watching eyes ask me why
I walk this narrow way
I will gladly give the reason
For the hope I have today

Bridge
You’ve given me joy
You’ve given me love
You give me strength
When I want to give up
You came from heaven to rescue my soul
And this is the reason I know
I know

CCLI Song No. 3120381
© 2000 Word Music, LLC | Above the Rim Music | BMG Songs, Inc. (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.) | (Admin. by BMG Music Publishing). All rights reserved. Used by permission.
CCLI License # 287059

Key Thoughts on Corporate Worship

Corporate worship is based first and foremost on our common relationship in Christ. At first glance, this sounds pretty elementary and foundational to Christian doctrine. However, if you’ve ever tried to unify a diverse and multi-generational body in worship lately, you might find that it is easier said than done. Does that negate the truth of our unity in Christ? Not at all. However, the unnecessary conflict (some conflict is both healthy and necessary) exposes the fact that we enter into corporate worship with motives and expectations that aren’t based on our unity in Christ. Also, how we deal with that conflict is a tell-tale sign of where we are in our own relationship with God as well as an indicator of our love for our fellow believer.

So, what are the principles that should guide corporate worship in the church? Are we left to the whims of culture or are we confined solely to the traditions of man as they’ve been handed down to us? Is there middle ground, or is that simply compromise? These are questions that I have asked over the years.

As a leader, I want my actions and decisions to be founded on practical principles that won’t change through the passing of time. Does that mean that I lock myself in a cultural time-bubble, stick my head in the sand and decide right now THIS is the way it should be? I think not. I don’t want to make blanket statements today that I have to retract 20 years from now simply because I succumb to pressure or because I realize that my past decisions were based more on comfort and convenience than on what is biblical, practical, and effective.

Below, I have lined out some key thoughts that help guide me in my decisions for corporate worship. I pray that as we seek the Lord and learn to love people, our churches will once again experience the joy and unity of our common relationship with Christ.

Principle #1: Though Christianity is supracultural in its origin and truth, it is cultural in its application—this includes the arts when used as medium to the gospel message. (Acts 2; Acts 17:26-30; 1 Cor 9:19-22)

Principle #2: Through Christ, the church has experienced the redemption of articles and practices that may have at one time been considered common or undesirable for believers (Acts 10:9-15; 1 Tim 4:1-5; 1 Cor. 10:29-31; Titus 1:15).

Principle #3: God is both transcendent and immanent in His relationship with His people and the nature of this relationship will be evident in a balanced view of this truth as it relates to corporate worship. The fear of God is our foundation for our friendship with Him (Acts 17:24-27; Psalm 25:14).

Principle #4: Recognition should be made that sola Scriptura requires consistent reevaluation of even the most revered human traditions (Matt 15:3-6; Mark 7:9-13; Col 2:8; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Principle #5: Clear communication is vital to corporate worship, and communication must be contemporary, at least in the sense of being familiar to the hearers. Anything that varies greatly from common forms and styles will do more to detract from the message rather than contribute to its communication (1 Cor 14:7-9).

Principle #6: Sensitivity to the potential presence of unbelievers in corporate worship gatherings should influence, at least to some degree, the elements of public worship events (1 Cor 14:23-25).

Principle #7: The Great Commission requires us to engage with the culture of people outside the church (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 17; Romans 15:20; 1 Cor 9:19-23).

Principle #8: Maintaining unity among the diversity of the church’s membership requires that we defer to one another in love, being willing to submit one another’s preferences to that which is most edifying to the church body as a whole (John 13:35; 1 Thes 3:12; Gal 5:13; Eph 5:21).

Principle #9: Expressions of art have no inherent power other than what the creators and interpreters of the art willingly give to it (Isaiah 2:8; 2 Tim 1:7; 1 Cor 8:1-13). This has two main implications concerning corporate worship music: (1 Cor 6:12).

  1. There is no music that is unlawful for Christian expression in and of itself. However, not all music may be appropriate for all cultural contexts. (1 Cor 10:23)
  2. There is no particular music and/or artistic expression that is necessary for corporate worship. However, certain expressions/styles will be more appropriate for particular cultural contexts. (Psalm 34:18; John 4:20-24)

Principle #10: God accepts and desires the worship of people from every race, nation, and tribe. (Psalm 66:4; Rev. 14:6-7;  Rev. 5:9-10; John 4). These distinctions are largely cultural and the Scripture does not prohibit the free expression of worship based on cultural grounds only, unless the heart of the one who offers is not authentic (spirit and truth), or the expression is expressly forbidden in Scripture. (Mark 7:7; Gen. 4:4-7).

Let me know your thoughts.

Exposure, Experience and (ah…) Vacation.

I am writing this sitting on the Gulf Coast of Alabama at Orange Beach. (I know, I live in Florida but am vacationing in Alabama…what’s up with that??? It’s a long story, but we’re here with some good friends). I have had the time to think, process, and simply relax. It has been so timely and Randi and I have enjoyed the time away. This has also given me the opportunity to “catch up” on a few things that I’ve wanted to do for several weeks/months.

I am often asked for the resources and materials that we use at Trinity to aid and influence our corporate worship. Here I hope that you will find this site both informational and inspiring. You will notice that to the right there are links to several resources that we use regularly. I’ve also included some posts from another blog site that I have posted several weeks/months ago that are relevant to this site. These resources, hopefully, will be helpful to you whether you find yourself in a new church plant or in an existing meg-church or somewhere in between.

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned is that there is nothing new “under the sun” (if it was true for Solomon several thousand years ago, I’m sure it’s true for me). Chances are, if I need it, someone else has as well. Usually someone a lot more intelligent and experienced than myself has already come up with a solution to my problem long before I was even aware I had one.

I hope you will find these resources helpful to your ministry. If you have any that you would recommend, please send them my way. I’m always looking for new  ideas and resources to help our congregation experience God corporately in a fresh way.

I’ve found that there are two vital elements to successful leadership: 1) Exposure and 2) Experience. I hope that this site will be informative enough to help expose all of us to new ideas as well as inspirational enough to motivate us to use them. Without exposure we simply are bound to the hamster wheel of what we already know (which usually isn’t much). I’ve met people in ministry for 30 years who have claimed to have 30 years experience. Often, I have found that they have had one year of experience repeated 29 times.

With exposure, we have the ability to experience and process new ideas as they relate to ministry. However, it is actually getting out there and using these ideas that gives us the experience and fortitude to be effective. Otherwise, we become highly theoretical and idealistic with little to show for it.

I’ll close with this quote that I came across the other day “We must think like a man of action and act like a man of thought.” (even though the author, Henri Bergson, was not a believer, I believe this is a truism–see James chapter two and the entire book of Acts).  If we will be diligent in both our thinking and our actions, we can change this world for Christ.

The Holy Spirit and the Federal Reserve

What we believe is fundamental to and acts as the primary influence on our behavior. As I contemplate on my own life and the lives of those that I lead (family, church, and other influences), I can’t help but observe behavior that I find contrary to what I/we say that we believe. Why is that?

I now turn to the current state of the economy to help us flesh this out. I am not an economist (nor am I the son of an economist), however, there are some basic principles of our current financial system that most of us understand (I often wonder about our politicians, however).

Until the U.S. effectively went off of the Gold Standard in 1933, any printed money was simply a “promise to pay”, or promissory note. That meant that you could exchange that printed money for a predetermined amount of gold or “real money”. Prior to 1933, if someone were to hand you a $100 bill, you might say it was “good as gold”. Possessing that $100 bill (especially prior to 1933), could effectively cause your behavior to change, and rightfully so, even though you have never, and probably never planned on seeing any gold. Today, it is significantly more complicated and much more “hi-tech”, but I still dare to say that possession of a $100 bill could still substantially change your behavior.

You see, a true promissory note differs from an IOU in that the lender can effectively call the “note” due at any time and it has no maturity period. It is not necessarily an acknowledgment of a debt but in fact a true promise to pay at any time (at the choosing of the one who holds the “note” or promise). You see, God does not “owe” us anything, but in fact has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through His Spirit (2 Peter 1:3). His promises to us are spiritual certainties (2 Cor. 1:20), though in our flesh we may not have full understanding or “sight” right now (Heb. 11). He is simply waiting for us in faith to “cash in” on what He has already promised.

I say all this to make a point. Of course any promise of God is far more trustworthy than any denomination of money. However, often we don’t behave that way. The Scripture tells us that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh, and that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. If we truly believed this, our lives would be much more extraordinary. We would exhibit a freedom and power that this world would find contagious. All that is required is that we have faith enough to “cash in” on God’s promises and put a little more faith in the Scripture than we do in good ‘ole “Uncle Sam”. Our lives and the lives of those around us will be radically changed if we do.

Rescued People Sing Better

We (Trinity Baptist Church) are preparing for our Tuesday Thanksgiving service which has typically highlighted the ministry of the Trinity Rescue Mission and Rehabilitation Farm. This afforded me the opportunity to go down to “the farm”, as it is so affectionately called, and “lead” my brothers there in worship. However, what I received was far more than I could have ever given. My soul was refreshed from the authentic worship that flowed out of these men (though my body is exhausted from constant Christmas preparations, oh and did I mention their chapel is at 7am!).

I’ve made an observation before, having worked with other urban and rescue ministries in the past, that rescued people simply sing better. Of course, it’s not necessarily about the singing (and I didn’t even say they sound better), but it is about their worship. What most of us often fail to realize is that we have all been rescued. No matter what your background may have been before you met Christ, you have been rescued (Ps 40:2; Titus 3:5).

You see, this morning, the style of the music wasn’t an issue at all. We poured our hearts out to God together singing everything from “old” camp-meeting style songs to what many would consider a more “cutting edge” styling. All that mattered to these men was singing, speaking, and listening to the “Voice of Truth” that would keep them on solid ground so that they might live in obedience today. All was sung with the same conviction and strength.

Much like when a fireman is on the ladder and in the fire pulling people from the flames, it is not the time to debate on whether or not the ladder being used was a good choice. All that matters is that the people are rescued. When the debate does come, it is usually from those standing in safety and comfort, far from the front lines, who take the time to criticize those that care enough to take the risks–to get their hands a little dirty (Mark 7:1-15).

As you go about this day, take the time to remember how Jesus has rescued you and remember the “risks” that He has taken to call you His own. I don’t know about you, but I often remember the times that I have failed, and how that God, even knowing this, chose to rescue me anyway. When I take the time to listen to “the Voice of Truth” and remember where and how God rescued me…I sing better, too.

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