From the Archives: The Worship Team as a Mentoring Family

So yesterday, one of the guys I was mentoring had a day off. Instead of just spending the morning running errands, or relaxing on his own, he decided to gather a couple of others just to chat and share life together. I think in every ministry, we need to cultivate a mentoring culture; of doing life together and learning together. 

It is often said that worship ministry is one of the most important ministries in the church. But that’s probably not true: in my view, all ministries are equally important.

Worship ministry does, however, have some distinctives: one of which is its visibility – which is why the congregation tends to elevate its importance. Another is this: unlike most ministries, it is a seedbed for tension and conflict.

Have you experienced this? I certainly have. I remember once, many years ago, I had just started out back-up singing. Back then, no one really taught you how to do anything and I think I got into the team just because I sang really loudly (and because they wanted some of the youth to start serving in the team). So I just went all out. I wasn’t concerned at all about blending with the other singers (I thought blending was a culinary term) and I even tried singing harmonies (when I clearly couldn’t). The more experienced singer next to me didn’t give a moment’s hesitation before launching out in correction. He looked me in the eye and said “Look, if you can’t sing harmony – DON’T”. That got me to shut up for a while…

Then I became a better singer. Now, I could do harmonies, except the other guy had been in the team for a long time and he always gets to sing the tenor part. So sometimes, I launch straight into the harmony at the beginning of the song before he gets a chance to work the harmony in. So much for team spirit… And I was really despising the new singer who clearly didn’t know how to blend.

That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Through my many years of worship ministry, I’ve witnessed all sorts of emotional manipulation, bad attitudes, internal jostling, pride and criticism (the non-constructive type) – and I’m just talking about myself.

But of course, there are also the triumphs of musically “nailing a set”, the celebrating together, watching each other grow and achieving goals that make worship ministry thoroughly rewarding.

This sort of thing happens in every ministry, but moreso, I believe, in worship ministry. Because it’s so visible. So technical. And people are so passionate. And because it’s a team ministry right from the get-go.

Which is why I thought the following passage in 1 Chron 25:6-8 was really interesting in describing how David ordered his worship ministers and musicians:

All these men were under the supervision of their father for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God.

Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288. Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.

There are a few important principles we can draw from this.

The passage says “all these men were under the supervision of their father”. This suggests that worship ministry is a family affair.

I remember a few years back when my old church started rostering into bands. It meant that for a season, the same musicians and singers would have to serve together; get a sense of each other’s styles, strengths and weaknesses and also get used to each other’s personalities. A lot of us grew really close. Because there were a few young-uns on the team, Ling and I used to have to give them transport to rehearsals. Instead of just going to rehearsal, we made a meal of it – literally. We made it a habit to eat together before Wednesday night rehearsals. We got to not only make music together, but we shared our hopes, dreams, struggles and disappointments. Because our lives became more intertwined, a by-product was that we flowed better as a team.

So it became quite easy for me to say to our singers, for example, that we needed a bit more work. So we hired Stephanie Truscott and she came to tutor our singers for a few weeks. Okay, so we didn’t turn into a gospel choir, but we certainly learned how to blend a lot better.

Now, nothing irks you more than your family members. This is where the proverb “iron sharpens iron” becomes the most real. But as a result, we grow in character.

Developing the “family” idea further, here’s the crux of the passage: father and son served together. And this suggests mentoring!

Over the years in worship ministry, I’ve been mentored by some excellent worship leaders. I don’t know where I got my style from (because they all led worship very different to me). Perhaps it was through all the years of listening to Ron Kenoly CDs and my wanting to be a big black guy – well at least I achieved the first half of my goal.

One of my first mentors used to feed me new cassettes (yes it was that long ago) and articles on worship. (We were meant to pass the articles onto others, but I just hoarded them). By doing that, he was resourcing me. He helped me to learn new songs but also appreciate the theological anchor of worship.

He also gave me a lot of constructive criticism and correction. This was important as I began to learn to lead worship because until then, all I had to go by was the way worship leaders led on the different cassette tapes that I had and watching worship leaders during church services. Under this mentor, I was given insight into the nitty-gritty’s and nuts-and-bolts of worship leading. What he was doing was honing my craft. And of course, you don’t develop a good attitude by reading a book, so my mentor would give me a gentle rebuke where necessary.

Another mentor I had (my next worship pastor) imparted in me a heart for intercessory worship and revival. She would pray and well up in tears. She gave me fresh insight into the link between worship, intercession and the transformation of the nations. I still carry this burden to this day.

But she also released me into my potential, believing that I could be more than I imagined. She began pushing me out of my comfort zone and also began connecting me with others of the same heart and mind, including people who had beaten the trail before me. I still work with some of those people today.

And then I came across a psalmist, who inspired me to dream even bigger. He shared stories of massive gatherings in Singapore where churches would gather together in worship, regardless of background or denomination. And I started to wonder not when, but how soon, it could all happen in Perth.

In worship ministry, spiritual fathers and spiritual sons, mentors and disciples, serve together side by side to advance the kingdom of God.

What was the result? This passage says that they were “all trained and skilled”. You might say that high level skill was a prerequisite for their serving but I like to think that not all Levites were born with a timbrel in their hands. Rather, within their own families, the “trade skills” were passed on from father to son. And presumably so was the passion for God’s presence!

In this mentoring environment, we not only become better worship musicians and singers, our anointing increases and our spiritual sensitivity is sharpened. But a far more important result was that as worship happened 24/7 in the Tabernacle of David, the heavens were opened and the kingdom boundaries were broadened. The nation experienced unprecedented prosperity!

And this is why I enjoy worship ministry so much. There is definitely that amazing thrill I get when I see God’s people worshipping together and the presence of God fills a room. But I also enjoy it because it is ministry where “old and young”, “teacher and student” can stand side-by-side and minister together; where we get the opportunity to minister intergenerationally; where mentors can resource, correct, release, connect and inspire the next generation; and we can together, through worship, see our cities and nations transformed.

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.

Why We Need Young Musicians in Our Worship Teams

Here’s a quote which Ray Badham shared from Ric Charlesworth (a well-known hockey coach) during the last week at Arrows College as he taught on team building:

Young talented players simultaneously threaten, inspire and awaken those who are too comfortable. They bring innocence and excitement and often possess skills different from those of established team members. They can help individuals and the group rediscover their passion and enthusiasm for the game. They are at once free of expectations yet, while they may have doubts, they seem less burdened by them than many senior players with whom they are competing. It seems they feel they have less to lose.

What they lack in finesse and subtlety, they make up in vibrancy, desire and willingness to learn and improve. They often play an important role in the rediscovery of these qualities by others in the team, and they remind everyone that nothing is certain or lasts forever.

What profound thoughts! This is why we need young musicians to serve side by side with older musicians. This is why worship ministry must model a multigenerational approach to ministry in the church.

The Worship Team as a Mentoring Family

It is often said that worship ministry is one of the most important ministries in the church. But that’s probably not true: in my view, all ministries are equally important.

Worship ministry does, however, have some distinctives: one of which is its visibility – which is why the congregation tends to elevate its importance. Another is this: unlike most ministries, it is a seedbed for tension and conflict.

Have you experienced this? I certainly have. I remember once, many years ago, I had just started out back-up singing. Back then, no one really taught you how to do anything and I think I got into the team just because I sang really loudly (and because they wanted some of the youth to start serving in the team). So I just went all out. I wasn’t concerned at all about blending with the other singers (I thought blending was a culinary term) and I even tried singing harmonies (when I clearly couldn’t). The more experienced singer next to me didn’t give a moment’s hesitation before launching out in correction. He looked me in the eye and said “Look, if you can’t sing harmony – DON’T”. That got me to shut up for a while…

Then I became a better singer. Now, I could do harmonies, except the other guy had been in the team for a long time and he always gets to sing the tenor part. So sometimes, I launch straight into the harmony at the beginning of the song before he gets a chance to work the harmony in. So much for team spirit… And I was really despising the new singer who clearly didn’t know how to blend.

That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Through my many years of worship ministry, I’ve witnessed all sorts of emotional manipulation, bad attitudes, internal jostling, pride and criticism (the non-constructive type) – and I’m just talking about myself.

But of course, there are also the triumphs of musically “nailing a set”, the celebrating together, watching each other grow and achieving goals that make worship ministry thoroughly rewarding.

This sort of thing happens in every ministry, but moreso, I believe, in worship ministry. Because it’s so visible. So technical. And people are so passionate. And because it’s a team ministry right from the get-go.

Which is why I thought the following passage in 1 Chron 25:6-8 was really interesting in describing how David ordered his worship ministers and musicians:

All these men were under the supervision of their father for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God.

Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288. Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.

There are a few important principles we can draw from this.

The passage says “all these men were under the supervision of their father”. This suggests that worship ministry is a family affair.

I remember a few years back when my old church started rostering into bands. It meant that for a season, the same musicians and singers would have to serve together; get a sense of each other’s styles, strengths and weaknesses and also get used to each other’s personalities. A lot of us grew really close. Because there were a few young-uns on the team, Ling and I used to have to give them transport to rehearsals. Instead of just going to rehearsal, we made a meal of it – literally. We made it a habit to eat together before Wednesday night rehearsals. We got to not only make music together, but we shared our hopes, dreams, struggles and disappointments. Because our lives became more intertwined, a by-product was that we flowed better as a team.

So it became quite easy for me to say to our singers, for example, that we needed a bit more work. So we hired Stephanie Truscott and she came to tutor our singers for a few weeks. Okay, so we didn’t turn into a gospel choir, but we certainly learned how to blend a lot better.

Now, nothing irks you more than your family members. This is where the proverb “iron sharpens iron” becomes the most real. But as a result, we grow in character.

Developing the “family” idea further, here’s the crux of the passage: father and son served together. And this suggests mentoring!

Over the years in worship ministry, I’ve been mentored by some excellent worship leaders. I don’t know where I got my style from (because they all led worship very different to me). Perhaps it was through all the years of listening to Ron Kenoly CDs and my wanting to be a big black guy – well at least I achieved the first half of my goal.

One of my first mentors used to feed me new cassettes (yes it was that long ago) and articles on worship. (We were meant to pass the articles onto others, but I just hoarded them). By doing that, he was resourcing me. He helped me to learn new songs but also appreciate the theological anchor of worship.

He also gave me a lot of constructive criticism and correction. This was important as I began to learn to lead worship because until then, all I had to go by was the way worship leaders led on the different cassette tapes that I had and watching worship leaders during church services. Under this mentor, I was given insight into the nitty-gritty’s and nuts-and-bolts of worship leading. What he was doing was honing my craft. And of course, you don’t develop a good attitude by reading a book, so my mentor would give me a gentle rebuke where necessary.

Another mentor I had (my next worship pastor) imparted in me a heart for intercessory worship and revival. She would pray and well up in tears. She gave me fresh insight into the link between worship, intercession and the transformation of the nations. I still carry this burden to this day.

But she also released me into my potential, believing that I could be more than I imagined. She began pushing me out of my comfort zone and also began connecting me with others of the same heart and mind, including people who had beaten the trail before me. I still work with some of those people today.

And then I came across a psalmist, who inspired me to dream even bigger. He shared stories of massive gatherings in Singapore where churches would gather together in worship, regardless of background or denomination. And I started to wonder not when, but how soon, it could all happen in Perth.

In worship ministry, spiritual fathers and spiritual sons, mentors and disciples, serve together side by side to advance the kingdom of God.

What was the result? This passage says that they were “all trained and skilled”. You might say that high level skill was a prerequisite for their serving but I like to think that not all Levites were born with a timbrel in their hands. Rather, within their own families, the “trade skills” were passed on from father to son. And presumably so was the passion for God’s presence!

In this mentoring environment, we not only become better worship musicians and singers, our anointing increases and our spiritual sensitivity is sharpened. But a far more important result was that as worship happened 24/7 in the Tabernacle of David, the heavens were opened and the kingdom boundaries were broadened. The nation experienced unprecedented prosperity!

And this is why I enjoy worship ministry so much. There is definitely that amazing thrill I get when I see God’s people worshipping together and the presence of God fills a room. But I also enjoy it because it is ministry where “old and young”, “teacher and student” can stand side-by-side and minister together; where we get the opportunity to minister intergenerationally; where mentors can resource, correct, release, connect and inspire the next generation; and we can together, through worship, see our cities and nations transformed.

Reflections on Cindy Ratcliff’s Visit to Perth

It has been an amazing start to the weekend, first with Cindy Ratcliff’s ministry to the worship teams from different Perth churches on Thursday night, and then with the Just Worship event last night at Metrochurch, during which Cindy led worship.

My wife and I were really thrilled because at the end of the evening, we got to take a photo with Cindy and her husband Marcus. Our good friend and worship leader, Joanna, also got into the photo!

What really blew my mind was the fact that Cindy, her husband and their team didn’t have to come to Perth. But not only did they come, they did so at their own cost. Why? Simply for the purpose of, as Marcus Ratcliff puts it, “to leave a deposit”. I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant by the “deposit” and in what form exactly it took, but here are some thoughts and principles which I felt were deposited in me as I reflected on the last two evenings:

1.  A Call for Worship Ministers to Prayerfully Plan the Journey of Worship

As I mentioned in my previous post, when I first heard the We Speak to Nations album (Lakewood’s first live release), there was a real sense of capturing the atmosphere of worship rather than a showcasing of new songs.  

During last night’s worship, even though Cindy did do a few new songs, there was a planned focus, flow and progression in her worship set which, in my view, is missing in many churches today.  I could be wrong on this, but in my experience, a lot of worship leaders are still putting songs together which don’t necessarily mesh thematically or flow in tempo and feel.

We need to recover the sense of worship as journey.

2.  The True Mark of Leadership is Humility and Servanthood

Because I’ve been making all this fuss about Cindy Ratcliff in the last couple of days, some people were remarking that maybe I had put her on a pedestal.  Perhaps… But I think we have a lot to learn from her about leadership.

Cindy leads a worship team of 1000 people, some of whom are recording artists and world-class musicians, yet she comes across as level, easy-going, normal and above all, humble.  There was never any hint of her coming across with a sense of entitlement.

It reminds me of Philippians 2:5-11:

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever…

Behind every leader that God elevates is the spirit of servanthood.

3.  It Happens to the Best of Them

I often get annoyed when little technical things go wrong.  But last night, about 30 seconds into the first song, the projection of the words failed.

I have seen worship leaders react in a number of ways when things like that happen, but Cindy’s approach was completely seasoned by humility.  After the first song, she welcomed the crowd and very seamlessly made the point that the technicians were doing their best to get the words up, but she encouraged us that even if the words don’t come up, we should try our best to sing along and she will prompt us with the lyrics where appropriate – because after all, we were there to worship God together.

When things like this happen, they often reveal the attitude of our hearts.  Do we get frustrated and annoyed? Or can we let go and do our best in the situation before us?

4.  Excellence, Heart and Faithful Ministry

I’ve been pressing this point of late, but I believe that excellence in ministry is not an afterthought or a secondary requirement.  I see excellence and the heart of worship as two sides of the same coin.

And when the two combine, a powerful synergy is created.

I have worked with bands where because the music isn’t tight, everyone has had to work extra hard to carry each other (this is a difficult concept to articulate, but if you’ve been part of a band, you’ll know what I mean). I’ve also been in bands where the musicians are technically excellent, able to support and cover each other, and where musicians are humble enough to let others soar at opportune moments.  In those times, a worship leader doesn’t have to do much, but you begin to realise that everyone on stage is, in effect, leading worship together.  It’s the difference between my coming out of a worship set feeling exhausted, and coming out of it feeling light and invigorated.

The musicianship was of a such a calibre last night.  Even though there were only 3 musos and a bass track, the music just enveloped you and made it easy for you to engage with God.

5.  Worship Meets Justice

I love “Just Worship” events because as far as worship is concerned, it’s where the rubber hits the road. It’s about worship which pleases the Lord, not just singing him nice songs in an electrified atmosphere to make ourselves feel good, but where worship and justice intersect.

Micah 6:6-8 says this:

How can I stand up before God
and show proper respect to the high God?
Should I bring an armload of offerings
topped off with yearling calves?
Would God be impressed with thousands of rams,
with buckets and barrels of olive oil?…

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
take God seriously.

The Contemporary English Version says that God demands that “we see that justice is done”. Justice completes our act of worship. In worship, we bless God so that He blesses us, so that we, in turn, might be a blessing.  This is the cycle of worship.

So, I am glad to say that in an atmosphere of powerful worship and encounter last night, those who gathered raised $20,000, every single cent of which will go to Telethon to help children with medical needs in our community.

I am grateful to God for sending Cindy Ratcliff and her team to deposit something into my heart, and into our city, which I’m sure has left us all transformed.

 

Cindy Ratcliff’s Insights into Worship Ministry

I just got back from an amazing evening at Metrochurch’s OneNight with Cindy Ratcliff, the Senior Worship Leader of Lakewood Church. I had always been a big fan of Cindy’s ever since I heard the album We Speak to Nations. That album was for me a return from an artist-centric approach to worship music back to the grassroots of home-grown church worship (albeit on a scale that most of us wouldn’t usually experience). There is an unusual sense of God’s presence particular in the medley culminating in the song “Show Me Your Glory”.

After hearing Cindy in person, I am now even more of a fan. I was impressed by the strength of her leadership in a ministry with people like Israel Houghton, Steve and Da’dra Crawford (from the Christian group, Anointed) and world-class vocalists and musos. But even more impressive was her transparency, humility and sensitivity to the Spirit.

Cindy shared insights into worship ministry in the context of her own journey to Lakewood and building a worship team which numbers about 1000 members today (that’s right, their worship team is larger than most churches!). I thought I might just quickly record some of her thoughts here:

// As worship ministers, we need to guard the condition of our hearts. The purity of our hearts displays the glory of God.

// What you do in private sets the stage for what you do in public.

// Submit to your leaders and champion their vision. Your ability to submit sets an example of how people should follow you.

// Choose to think the best of the people in your team, even though it’s much easier to think the worst of them. Doing this helps diffuse conflict quickly.

// Be yourself – be confident in who God has made you to be.

// The job of the leaders in the ministry is to provide a touchstone and sense of family for members of the team and to provide prayer support. They do not do counselling. For counselling, these are referred to trained counsellors in the church.

// Have accountability to people close to you (like your spouse – they are like your personal Holy Spirit!). They keep things from getting to your head.

// About worship musicians who play on the secular stage: they are not there to partake, but to impart. In other words, they are sent out as missionaries as positive influences in the secular arena.

Above all, from what I heard tonight, I think the secret to Cindy’s success in ministry is her reliance on the Holy Spirit. Worship ministry often throws up tricky questions like “how do you balance skill and heart?” or “do you allow non-Christians to play on your band?” Cindy’s response to these questions was about knowing what is right for your team in a particular season or situation. More than a prescription (on the one hand) or gut instinct (on the other), I am again reminded that effective leadership requires that we lean in and listen to what the Spirit is saying, just like how Jesus would only do what He saw the Father doing.

 

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.

The Team that Jams Together, Stays Together

During the years that I was in the leadership of a worship ministry, we used to put jam sessions on our yearly program, but most of the time, no one ever seemed interested and the whole idea of jamming, driven by the mandate of leadership, just seemed a little contrived.

This afternoon, a few of us braved the afternoon heat to get together for a jam session.  I have to say that not having been part of a band for the last few months, playing music with a bunch of people was refreshing.  And I don’t really enjoy playing guitar in a band setting, so that’s saying a lot. (Check out the Set Lists section to see what songs we did).

It was fun because it was grassroots-driven and organic.  It wasn’t part of a church program; it wasn’t a ministry requirement.  In fact, the whole idea came about because my sister-in-law is learning the drums and we thought it was about time she got to try it out in a band setting.  And she was good!

Jamming is a great way for musos to express their creativity, try out different things and generally do the thing they love doing:  playing music!

My wife said this to me the other day, which I thought was imminently wise:  musos should jam more because it helps “get it out of their system” so that when they go on stage on Sunday, they can just focus on the worship aspect.  Worshipping on a Sunday demands a different focus.  Musicality is only the foundation:  what brings the fire is the sacrifice.  In Genesis 22, the first mention of the word “worship” in the Old Testament was in reference to the fact that Abraham was about to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.  Rom 12:1 says that our acceptable worship is to offer ourselves as “living sacrifices”.  The substance of worship is sacrifice.

But musicians are also wired as musicians.  They have to do stuff with their hands.  Have you been to a worship rehearsal and the sound guy stands in the back in frustration trying to get the musos’ attention?  That’s because musos can’t keep still (except maybe the bassist!).  They just have to keep making noise, even if it results in a cacophony of mismatched rhythms and different keys as they warm up.

Because I’m more a worship planner than a musician, I enjoy worship rehearsals more because I like riding the flow and seeing how the Holy Spirit moves in worship.  But I see the point of the jam session.  It’s a creative outlet and it’s fun.

I’ve read somewhere that worship shouldn’t be fun.  I disagree.  God is into joy.  In His presence, there is fullness of … serious pondering?  Deep spiritual truths?  No, there is “fullness of joy”!  I don’t mean that life won’t throw up challenges and trials, but the whole idea of the gospel is to free us from being captive to our circumstances; to bring joy in the midst of pain or struggle.

I have also heard that worship is a holy pursuit, so it shouldn’t be profaned.  But every Christian is a worshipper.  But only musicians are musicians.  Even if the musician isn’t totally focussed on God during their jamming, that doesn’t make it profane.  It’s just that they are practising and honing their craft and perfecting their offering.  And having fun in the process!  It has nothing to do with offering unauthorised fires of the Hophni and Phinehas variety.

Hopefully, as musos jam together more, they will being to walk more faithfully in their musical gifting; encourage each other to greater excellence and truly provide a strong,consistent and anointed platform for the Holy Spirit to flow.  I’m looking forward to jamming again!

In Honour of the Worship Revolution Band 2010/11

I can’t believe we are now in the second last week of 2011. It’s been an amazing year full of God’s faithfulness and favour. In another post, I will reflect more broadly about this year, which was filled with some amazing transitions (though not yet complete) and faith-building experiences.

But today, I want to honour and appreciate a bunch of people with whom I have had the privilege to serve alongside for most of 2010 and for half of 2011.

The Worship Revolution Band started in around May 2010 as part of a restructuring of the worship team in our church. We finally went from a rostering system to being allocated specific bands.

We took the opportunity to cast a bold vision and set some crazy goals for ourselves, with our main outlook being to reform and energise the worship of our church. We reached some milestones, fell way short on others, but after about a year of being together, I can look back and say that we were well on our way to achieving our primary objective.

We defined our culture as being spiritual (who isn’t?… well, I suppose the carnal ones amongst us might not be, but I could only see our team members being full of Jesus and therefore spiritual), unified, fresh, authentic and fun. We didn’t want to miss out on fun, because serving God should be fun and fulfilling.

Together, we wanted to spur one another on, bring cohesion to the band, improve together and celebrate our progress.

After many months of learning to function together, we started to add fuel to the function of worship to unleash the fire of worship. We wanted to balance excellence against the prophetic and the spontaneous. We learnt together (some of our guys went to group singing lessons with Stephanie Truscott) and inspired each other.

Here are the people who made the Worship Revolution Band one of my most fulfilling ministries in recent memory:

  • Co-Worship Leader: Derwin Bong. A young, passionate and sensitive worship leader. I hope he leads worship again soon. City of Perth, look out.
  • Music Director: Addie Choon. We worked really well together because Derwin and I could cast the vision and direction and Addie would make it happen musically. A really talented guy who plays bass and keyboard with a very keen understanding of worship ministry.
  • Vocal Director: Kelwin Wong. One of the few people I know who can harmonise with himself in three parts. Known for recording harmonies so the singers could learn their parts before rehearsals. One day, he will star in a musical!
  • Singers: Ling Chua (my awesome wife and a worship leader in her own right), Kelwin, Tri Tran (one of the hardest working people in our team!), Minh Lam (our resident culture-vulture. One day, he will help the church cross the culture divide), Melissa Loong (faithful minister and super creative) and Liz Tran (one amazing female vocalist!).
  • Keyboards: in the early days, Jeremy Wong (who retired to become a missionary-in-training; one of the most radical, sold-out-for-Jesus types I know) and Matthias Yap (an upcoming keyboardist we were privileged to serve with).
  • Bass: Addie
  • Guitar: Ivan Manalip, a faithful guy who wins the most-improved award.
  • Drums: Samson Tan, a great personal inspiration to me, revivalist and all-round nice-guy and Bernard Lim, who always thinks outside the box and challenges me creatively. Really enjoyed working with Bernie.
  • PA: Wei Koay, a faithful servant who is always willing to sacrifice huge chunks of his time to serve the Kingdom.
  • Honourary AV (we didn’t have AV people on our band, but we claim these guys): Jess Tran and Adrian Chee, our great friends and who always celebrated with us.
  • Honourary Dancers: Joan Manalip (one of the most creative and inspiring worship dancers) and Sharon Chia (another great friend on the journey who we’ve claimed as a “daughter” even though she isn’t that young anymore!).

So, as we end 2011, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to my awesome co-labourers, friends and inspirers. You have made my own journey a fruitful and fulfilling one. I hope to serve with you guys again one day!

With much love,
Lester