Imagine the Unknown

Shimon Perez once said:

People prefer remembering to imagining. Memory deals with familiar things; imagination deals with the unknown. Imagination can be frightening – it requires risking a departure from the familiar.

We love the safety of the familiar; the tried and true. It’s safe because it’s predictable. But growth, innovation and transformation comes from taking risks; of walking into new frontiers of unfamiliar territory.

People often say this as a foundational principle of worship leadership: “You can’t lead people to where you haven’t been before”. I understand the motivation behind such a statement. But when you think about it, is it true?

We talk about this in the context of God’s presence. Now, I’m not trying to detract from the idea of wholehearted preparation and a worship leader’s private devotion unto God. These are noble things. But every now and then, doesn’t the leader find him or herself in a place that they’ve never been before (with congregation in tow?) Doesn’t God surprise us with His limitless and uncontainable presence when we least expect it?

By definition, I think true leadership does sometimes require us to lead our people into places we’ve never been before. Courage in the face of uncertainty is a hallmark of leadership.

I was talking to a friend of mine recently and he had the most radical thought about an inter-church worship gathering. Anointed and excellent musicians who serve hard often don’t get the chance to truly worship on a Sunday. So the idea was that we would gather musicians together in a circle and just worship together. We’d be proficient enough to “go with the flow”. But (for once), it won’t be about musical excellence and precision. It won’t matter if it doesn’t sound good. Because there won’t be a secondary audience next to God. We would just worship together and if anyone wanted to take up an instrument, they can just do it. By the same token, if you want to lay down your instrument, you can do that too. No fixed agenda – just a bunch of worshipping musicians and singers enjoying God’s presence.

I loved the idea. So we’re going to do it.

We haven’t gone there before. But we are going to try anyway. We want to do something different. Will it work? Who knows? I know my friend’s motivation is pure. If it falls in a heap, we will have learnt something anyway. So what is there to lose? And yet, there is so much to gain.

So watch this space!  We are aiming for a date in September!

Come See a Test that Told Me Everything About Myself

I’m not a big fan of psychometric testing. They always seem to ask too many questions about too many details and you never quite know what, or how, to answer. But I recently did a test as part of Metro Worship Academy’s Interpersonal Relationships Module and I was blown away by the results. It was as if the someone was exercising the gift of knowledge about me – accurately!

The FIRO-B test measures your interpersonal needs in three areas:

  1. Inclusion: the need to form new relationships and to associate with others;
  2. Control: which is about decision making, influence and authority; and
  3. Affection: the need to form emotional ties and the extent of closeness with people.

The test measures your expressed need (ie the extent you initiate the behaviour) and your wanted needs (the extent to which you want or will accept that behaviour from others) in relation to each of the three areas of need.

Here are my results!

Overall Interpersonal Needs

  • “Your involvement with others is sometimes a source of satisfaction, but it depends on the people and the context”
  • “You work most effectively alone, or with others when the objectives are focused”
  • “You probably enjoy work that involves concentration on data or ideas and occasional discussions with or presentation to others”
  • You probably consider yourself more introverted than extroverted.”

Total Expressed vs Total Wanted Behaviours

  • “You prefer to wait and see what others will do before taking action. In some situations you may feel inhibited from doing or expressing what you want. You value reliability in others because it helps you predict how they will behave and therefore how you should act.”

Total Needs

  • “In a new situation you are likely to focus on understanding the order and structure of the organisation or of the situation. You will want to know who is in charge, how decisions are made, rules and policies, and the priorities of the various tasks. Once you are comfortable in the Control area, you may then concentrate on satisfying or expressing your needs for Inclusion and Affection.”

Patterns of Need Fulfillment for Inclusion

  • “You prefer working with a small group of people”
  • “You find recognition less important than accomplishment”
  • “You need time alone to do your best work”

Patterns of Need Fulfillment for Control

  • “You may accept direction from those in authority”
  • “You may not be interested in gaining influence.”
  • “You are a loyal and cooperative member of the organisation”
  • “You like to perform your work according to standard operating procedures”
  • “You may be frustrated by inconsistencies”
  • “You may feel the need to check your decisions with others”

Patterns of Need Fulfillment for Affection

  • “You may have difficulty saying no to requests to take on more work.”
  • “You may avoid conflicts yourself but be willing to help others resolve theirs.”
  • “You may attempt to gain closeness with others by managing undesirable projects.”

Leadership

You will strive to be leader who:

  • “integrates divergent interests”
  • “shares decisions”
  • “uses democratic decision-making processes”
  • “is able to build a sense of ownership”
  • “wants to have a noticeable impact, to leave your mark”
  • “likes to be viewed as a popular leader”
  • “is gratified by public recognition”

Yup, all of the above describes me to a tee. I’m just wondering how answering 20 short questions gave the marker such remarkable insight into my inner psyche.

What really set me free about the test however was what Michael Battersby taught the class about how to apply the FIRO-B results. Too often, we often see certain personality traits as weaknesses that need to be built on and improved. But Michael taught us that in fact, the results are simply descriptions of our needs – they are part of the way we were created and we shouldn’t feel bad about them. Rather, they help us understand why certain things give us a sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction and how to modify our environment and expectations.  But it doesn’t mean that we are less of a person because we are wired a particular way!

In a worship team context, there are usually different personalities and temperaments. Some of them can be quite extreme. It’s what you get for hanging with artistic people. So I want to encourage you to get to know your team. Understand what makes them tick and what ticks them off. And let’s see if we can accommodate each other’s expectations. But also let others know what our expectations are, like my need for control and structure! You’ll make a better team!

So what sort of leader are you anyway? Feel free to share!

From the Archives: Next Generational Leadership

It’s actually been a while since my last blog post. In the last couple of months, I have had many ministry opportunities come my way which have kept me pretty busy (hence the radio silence), including taking up a bigger role in my home church. This evening, I was working on an assignment as part of my course of study at Metro Worship Academy and I was writing a book review on Lamar Boschman’s Future Worship. As I was getting distracted reading through my blog (and considering what it means when Boschman talks about the birth of a new worship culture), I came across this post on “Next Generational Leadership”. I was again struck by the relevance of what I wrote here last year to my current journey some months later. So I’m regurgitating this post because for me, it has taken on new meaning in a new context. Especially when I again see the great pool of talent in the generation of leaders that are coming after me.

I was off work today, recovering from a cold, and I spent a good deal of the day devouring Ross Parsley’s new book, Messy Church. Yesterday, I suggested that everyone should get a copy of it. See my post here.

I’m about halfway through the book and what Parsley is advocating is to see the church and its mission through an entirely new lens: the church, not as a well-oiled corporate machine, but as family, where life reigns over structure, relationship reigns over protocol. And where there is life, there is usually mess. But it’s okay for church to be messy.

I couldn’t agree more.

Part of the appeal of this book is that many of the lessons learnt were forged in the context of worship ministry, when Parsley was the worship pastor of New Life Church. It is interesting to see how worship ministry is often the place where a lot of the issues of church are often played out most sharply.

As I read this book, I saw a lot of my own philosophies of worship ministry being articulated, and articulated well.

In 2010, when I was one of the worship ministry leaders setting up a new satellite service planted by my then church, one of the things I was keen to do was to involve and grow the next generation of leaders. My co-leader and I decided to establish what we called a “Think Tank”, a group of emerging leaders in the worship ministry who would bring fresh and innovative ideas into worship ministry, but who would also get the opportunity to work alongside, and to glean from, more seasoned leaders. I even challenged some of them that in two years’ time, they could take over my job and I would remain to stand alongside them, rather than to lead them.

Parsley presses the need for a multigenerational approach to ministry, which he calls the “family worship table”. The key is to invite the younger generation to the table, because freshness and innovation lay with that generation. He says:

“The family worship table” was a way to describe our multigenerational approach that would help every age-group embrace people at different points on the age continuum….

The commitment to use Sundays as a gathering place for the “family worship table” began when I started thinking about how to integrate fresh faces and young hearts into the leadership of worship at New Life Church. We made a shift in our church to remain musically relevant, and I struggled to get people to understand what we were doing. New Life had always been a charismatic church theologically, but our style and culture had stagnated. We were thriving spiritually but hadn’t progressed in our expression artistically or musically…. The church continued to grow, and we built the foundations of a successful worship ministry with strong musicians and biblical teaching, but we weren’t moving culturally at the speed we needed to. I recruited some young college graduates to inject life into our ministry and help chart the course ahead….

Slowly, we began to change and experience genuine multigenerational worship. New Life was a thriving and healthy church, but as we began to change musically and artistically, the process uncovered some poor attitudes and selfishness in some who had been there for a while. Some of the family did not want to invite the kids to the table. They wanted them to stay at their own kids’ table.

Parsley goes on to make a pretty bold claim: “Young people create the culture of our tables, our churches, and our country… Our job as parents is to raise them – to influence them and give them our hearts”.

My own experience agrees with this statement. The older I get, and the longer I have been in worship ministry, the more I realise how “uncool” I’m becoming. Even using the word “uncool” betrays my lack of “coolness”. Young people interact and integrate with, and influence, culture in a way I can’t even begin to grasp. Some of the guys in our “Think Tank” were actually “back seat driving” our worship culture by telling me to listen to new songs and to deploy them in our worship sets. In the end, our ministry owed a lot to the young people for pushing us all forward.

However, we are often like Eliab (David’s older brother) and Saul. When Goliath stood there day after day, taunting the armies of Israel, Saul was paralysed, with no new strategies for victory. In comes David the young punk to deliver some cheese to his brothers. And Eliab tells him (with a great deal of indignation perhaps), “Shouldn’t you be back home looking after the sheep?” When David finally gets to confront Goliath, Saul gives his armour to David: ill-fitting, heavy and speaking of old methods and paradigms. Instead, David rejects the old, and launches an assault that is completely innovative (but birthed by God): a sling and a smooth-stone to the forehead of the giant.

Many of us who have been in the game a long time are reluctant to hand control over to the young, because in our minds, they are tempestuous upstarts who lack credible experience. If we let them play, we become like Saul, forcing old paradigms and old wineskins in the hope of somehow containing the new flow of the Spirit and the new wine.

By the way, anyone who thinks that we don’t need to keep renewing our worship expression stands on dangerously tenuous ground. We simply can’t keep singing the songs that are 20 years old and expect the next generation to connect with them. Personally, I love the songs of the 90s because they were the songs I was first taught as a young Christian. But stylistically, they mean nothing to the present generation. They simply make the church look old and weary. Of course, there can be space for blending of old and new (I often like to throw in an old song into every worship set) but if we don’t keep moving forward, as they say, we are actually moving backward.

Parsley goes on to say:

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could take the maturity, wisdom and resources of age and put them together with the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity of youth? Our churches would be an unstoppable force in our communities….

Creating opportunities for young and inexperienced leaders is one of the most effective tools we have to continue to make the church dynamic and relevant in our culture. Helping young leaders is extremely challenging because it demands accountability, it involves some risk, and it can be downright messy; but it is indispensable to a church that is committed to longevity.”

I don’t think the question we should ask is whether our young people are ready. If we ask that, we will always conclude that they are not. The question is whether the older generation is ready to stand alongside the youth, to nurture them, to father them, to guide them and to create safe spaces for them to take risks and push established boundaries.

So, this is a call for worship ministry leaders to participate in the “family worship table”, to build up the next generation of leaders of our churches and ministries.

Will it work? I believe that the results speak for themselves. New Life Church and Desperation Band, through Parsley’s leadership, remains one of the cutting edge forces in the worship landscape today, producing worship music that is relevant, edgy and yet congregation-friendly. And that sort of legacy can be ours too.

Five Facets of a Worship Leader

Worship leadership 101: a worship leader does a whole lot more than singing songs in front of a congregation on a Sunday. This is obvious. The task of a worship leader is so much more than that. In fact a worship leader is called to help shape the corporate worship life of a congregation.

Here are at least 5 functions which I believe a worship leader must fulfil:

1.  The Worship Leader as Worshipper

The worship leader must first be a worshipper.  What you do in public should be an outflow of your personal devotion.

Matt Redman once coined the phrase “lead worshipper”. This means that  a worship leader is the first to worship, i.e. the worship leader leads by their example of worship.

2.  The Worship Leader as Leader

The worship leader leads.  A worship leader must be able to influence people into following him.  John Maxwell quotes the following proverb:  ‘He who thinks he leads but has no followers is only taking a walk.’

As a worship leader, you lead two groups of people.  First, you lead the congregation. Lead them by giving them examples of how to express worship to God in a corporate setting. If you don’t lift up your hands, you can’t expect the congregation to do the same.

The second group of people you lead is the band. Make sure you give them a direction and vision for where you want to take the service. Even though I’m not a technical musician, I always approach a worship set having mapped out its ebb and flow; its dynamics and the spiritual direction. I’m also at pains to make sure that I give the musicians and singers a set of accurate chord charts well in advance so they can practise and have some certainty to navigate with me. I do what I can as a leader, then I delegate the more complicated technical stuff to the music director!

As a worship leader, you should also lead confidently.

3.  The Worship Leader as Facilitator

I like the term “worship facilitator” because it makes it clear that the worship leader is not the only person who “does” the worship. The whole congregation must engage and the role of the worship leader is to make it as easy as possible for as many members of the congregation to engage in worship.

This will mean choosing songs that are easy for the congregation to sing; pitched comfortably; properly directing the congregation to participate.  Most of all, it means not making the stage the focus of attention!

4.  The Worship Leader as Pastor

Although the worship leader must be worshipping, they should not get ‘lost in worship’.  It is important to be keenly aware of how people are responding and how the Spirit is moving.

I have always thought that I wasn’t a “pastoring” kind of person, which is why worship ministry is great fit for me. I thought I could simply “inspire from afar”.  But good worship leading is practised in the trenches, especially if you are leading a congregation regularly.  You have to interact with people in the life of the church, get to know them better, talk to them, get a feel for their expectations etc. And serve with them, in cell groups, on mission trips, in prayer meetings.

Too often worship leaders have a sense of contempt for the people – “they don’t understand how to worship”, “why can’t they worship like me”, “if only they did God would really show up”, etc…. That’s called pride.

I heard Andrew Ironside say this once: if you’ve got a few minutes before the start of the service and the sound’s not ready, you have a duty to make sure the sound is good so that the people can worship.  He said that the worse thing you could do in that instance was to pray!

It was a bit of a hyperbole, but you get his point.  The worship leader must love the people he leads.

5.  The Worship Leader as Prophet

A worship leader must continue to break new ground in worship expression, for example, in introducing new styles of worship and new songs.

Why?  Because otherwise, we can rely so much more on tradition and ritual than to really worship God.  Can you imagine waking up one morning and saying to your wife: “Honey, truly thou art beautiful and thou dost smell like the sweet fragrance of a bouquet of flowers”?

The next day, you do the same thing.

And then the next day.

In due time, what was once a sweet spontaneous gesture has become a rote thoughtless ritualistic repetition.

Yet, many of us hang on to tired old familiar songs and expressions even though they have ceased to be meaningful to us, and presumably also to God.

Worship leaders need to continue to keep on the prophetic edge, in the sense of both exploring new songs and new expressions and also in allowing a sense of unpredictability to come into the worship.

But it is also very important to balance the ‘prophetic’ and ‘pastoral’ role.  That is, we need to find the right balance between the desire to break new ground and the desire to take people with us.

So those are the five functions I think worship leaders need to fulfill. Are there more? Share your thoughts with us!

Next Generational Leadership

I was off work today, recovering from a cold, and I spent a good deal of the day devouring Ross Parsley’s new book, Messy Church. Yesterday, I suggested that everyone should get a copy of it. See my post here.

I’m about halfway through the book and what Parsley is advocating is to see the church and its mission through an entirely new lens: the church, not as a well-oiled corporate machine, but as family, where life reigns over structure, relationship reigns over protocol. And where there is life, there is usually mess. But it’s okay for church to be messy.

I couldn’t agree more.

Part of the appeal of this book is that many of the lessons learnt were forged in the context of worship ministry, when Parsley was the worship pastor of New Life Church. It is interesting to see how worship ministry is often the place where a lot of the issues of church are often played out most sharply.

As I read this book, I saw a lot of my own philosophies of worship ministry being articulated, and articulated well.

In 2010, when I was one of the worship ministry leaders setting up a new satellite service planted by my then church, one of the things I was keen to do was to involve and grow the next generation of leaders. My co-leader and I decided to establish what we called a “Think Tank”, a group of emerging leaders in the worship ministry who would bring fresh and innovative ideas into worship ministry, but who would also get the opportunity to work alongside, and to glean from, more seasoned leaders. I even challenged some of them that in two years’ time, they could take over my job and I would remain to stand alongside them, rather than to lead them.

Parsley presses the need for a multigenerational approach to ministry, which he calls the “family worship table”. The key is to invite the younger generation to the table, because freshness and innovation lay with that generation. He says:

“The family worship table” was a way to describe our multigenerational approach that would help every age-group embrace people at different points on the age continuum….

The commitment to use Sundays as a gathering place for the “family worship table” began when I started thinking about how to integrate fresh faces and young hearts into the leadership of worship at New Life Church. We made a shift in our church to remain musically relevant, and I struggled to get people to understand what we were doing. New Life had always been a charismatic church theologically, but our style and culture had stagnated. We were thriving spiritually but hadn’t progressed in our expression artistically or musically…. The church continued to grow, and we built the foundations of a successful worship ministry with strong musicians and biblical teaching, but we weren’t moving culturally at the speed we needed to. I recruited some young college graduates to inject life into our ministry and help chart the course ahead….

Slowly, we began to change and experience genuine multigenerational worship. New Life was a thriving and healthy church, but as we began to change musically and artistically, the process uncovered some poor attitudes and selfishness in some who had been there for a while. Some of the family did not want to invite the kids to the table. They wanted them to stay at their own kids’ table.

Parsley goes on to make a pretty bold claim: “Young people create the culture of our tables, our churches, and our country… Our job as parents is to raise them – to influence them and give them our hearts”.

My own experience agrees with this statement. The older I get, and the longer I have been in worship ministry, the more I realise how “uncool” I’m becoming. Even using the word “uncool” betrays my lack of “coolness”. Young people interact and integrate with, and influence, culture in a way I can’t even begin to grasp. Some of the guys in our “Think Tank” were actually “back seat driving” our worship culture by telling me to listen to new songs and to deploy them in our worship sets. In the end, our ministry owed a lot to the young people for pushing us all forward.

However, we are often like Eliab (David’s older brother) and Saul. When Goliath stood there day after day, taunting the armies of Israel, Saul was paralysed, with no new strategies for victory. In comes David the young punk to deliver some cheese to his brothers. And Eliab tells him (with a great deal of indignation perhaps), “Shouldn’t you be back home looking after the sheep?” When David finally gets to confront Goliath, Saul gives his armour to David: ill-fitting, heavy and speaking of old methods and paradigms. Instead, David rejects the old, and launches an assault that is completely innovative (but birthed by God): a sling and a smooth-stone to the forehead of the giant.

Many of us who have been in the game a long time are reluctant to hand control over to the young, because in our minds, they are tempestuous upstarts who lack credible experience. If we let them play, we become like Saul, forcing old paradigms and old wineskins in the hope of somehow containing the new flow of the Spirit and the new wine.

By the way, anyone who thinks that we don’t need to keep renewing our worship expression stands on dangerously tenuous ground. We simply can’t keep singing the songs that are 20 years old and expect the next generation to connect with them. Personally, I love the songs of the 90s because they were the songs I was first taught as a young Christian. But stylistically, they mean nothing to the present generation. They simply make the church look old and weary. Of course, there can be space for blending of old and new (I often like to throw in an old song into every worship set) but if we don’t keep moving forward, as they say, we are actually moving backward.

Parsley goes on to say:

Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could take the maturity, wisdom and resources of age and put them together with the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity of youth? Our churches would be an unstoppable force in our communities….

Creating opportunities for young and inexperienced leaders is one of the most effective tools we have to continue to make the church dynamic and relevant in our culture. Helping young leaders is extremely challenging because it demands accountability, it involves some risk, and it can be downright messy; but it is indispensable to a church that is committed to longevity.”

I don’t think the question we should ask is whether our young people are ready. If we ask that, we will always conclude that they are not. The question is whether the older generation is ready to stand alongside the youth, to nurture them, to father them, to guide them and to create save spaces for them to take risks and push established boundaries.

So, this is a call for worship ministry leaders to participate in the “family worship table”, to build up the next generation of leaders of our churches and ministries.

Will it work? I believe that the results speak for themselves. New Life Church and Desperation Band, through Parsley’s leadership, remains one of the cutting edge forces in the worship landscape today, producing worship music that is relevant, edgy and yet congregation-friendly. And that sort of legacy can be ours too.