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Modern worship songs. No matter which side of the fence you are on, we can all agree that modern worship songs dominate the conversation when talking about Christian music. What is appropriate and where do we draw the line? That is a question that is asked by most church leaders who are looking to update their song list while remaining faithful to the purpose of worship, which is to honor God with every part from the Call to Worship all the way to the closing song.
The worship service is designed to be a place where humans come into the presence of the Lord, and that is a special event!
I'm not going to head down the road of what style of music is preferred, but I will echo the statement made by one of my professors: If you can't tell the difference between a worship song and a song written for your girlfriend, it is not a worship song.
Lyrics can make or break a good worship song, but the lyrics are just the tip of the iceberg. The problem goes much deeper than what is happening on the stage in front of us. When talking about church growth and attracting people to church, the common area of improvement is in the music, but I would suggest that there is an elephant in the room that nobody sees.
We are afraid that people won't like Jesus unless He is seen hanging out with the cool kids during lunch, wearing the latest fashion items, listening to the best music from this generation, and always looking out for other people's approval.
When we see people reject Jesus, instead of asking what is wrong with that person, we often ask what is wrong with our church? What is wrong with Jesus? How can we make Jesus more appealing to the younger generation? I rarely us the caps lock when I type, but for the next sentence, I feel like this is appropriate:
JESUS IS NOT AN INSECURE PRETEEN!
We all know the type. Some of us may have been that person once or twice in our lives. Either the boy or the girl is secure in the relationship, but the other one is not, and when there is any sign of trouble, the insecure partner freaks out and starts making changes to accommodate the wishes of the other person. On the surface, this may look like a good thing because there is value in keeping the peace, but there comes a point where the accommodating partner loses his/her identity while trying to bend over backwards for the other person.
The same can be said for churches where the people freak out because tension is in the air.
Since the church is the family of God, there are times when the family members will not get along with each other, and sometimes the differences are not reconcilable. At that point, a decision must be made to either repair the relationship or move on. If a person has clearly rejected the church and does not want anything to do with the church, is it healthy to make changes to accommodate that person? The answer to that question lies in how you interpret the 99 and 1.
Matthew 18 and Luke 15 talk about the man who had a hundred sheep and one wandered away from the flock. The man leaves the 99 sheep and goes after the 1 that was lost. I don't want to dive into a lengthy discourse on the passage, but I would like to point out that the man did not spend time changing the 99 sheep in order to become more appealing to the one who got lost. Along with that, we need to understand that the one sheep got lost, it did not stomp out of the flock in anger because the man did not play the sheep's favorite worship song. (By the way, this applies to favorite hymns too!)
We need to be secure in the fact that Jesus does not need to be changed in order to accommodate the disgruntled church members. He does not need to be seen hanging around the cool kids during lunch either. No, Jesus is not an insecure preteen, so we need to stop acting like He is.
Sometimes, life can get in the way of trying to keep a good routine. It has been a while since my last post, but hopefully, I can get back to writing on a regular basis. My goal is at least once per month as long as I have something fruitful to write about.
I remember when I began several years ago, a friend of mine told me that she doesn't mind reading what I write as long as it is not about the belly button lint I found, so I try to make sure I write because I have something to say and not because I am trying to keep a schedule. Having said all that, here we go.
The movie "Cars 3" finally showed up on Netflix so we got the opportunity to watch it. That's how we poor people watch movies, but I digress. This was an interesting one to watch because the trailer for the movie showed Lightning McQueen in a horrible wreck and then the screen went black. I remember the Wee Ones being upset because we had no idea about how this was going to end.
The good news is that Lightning McQueen survived the wreck and he was working on returning to the race track for a major portion of the movie.
At this point in his career, he and the other veterans were heading towards retirement as the new generation of race cars took over. Of course, this was not something he wanted to accept, but the reality was that it was time to pass the baton.
I really liked this movie because of the references to the "Good Ole Days" of racing, and the scenes involving the old racetrack. Just like the first movie, I was able to share some history with the Wee Ones as we watched.
When Lightning McQueen started training again, it was completely different from the way he was taught. Instead of going to the track and burning rubber, he was inside a building with simulators and personal coaches.
He entered a modern building with all kinds of bells and whistles, went into the grand lobby that boasted of the owner's financial success, and on the other side of the room were a few cars in training on the simulators.
The cars were making progress until they started thinking about what they were doing.
When one of the cars started slowing down and getting nervous, the coach pressed a button that changed the picture on the screen so the car would see something that helped him relax. After seeing the picture and calming down, his speed increased and he was running the way he was designed to run. What happened?
The car was getting inside his own head and that was causing him to slow down and panic.
We always perform our best when we relax and stop worrying about our present situation. The car was designed to go fast, but when he thought too much about going fast, he would slow down. This happens in the church too.
When we allow ourselves to get inside our own heads, the church cannot "Perform" at its best.
I don't like using the word "Perform" because too many people get hung up on it, but the church does perform a service for God when it carries on its ministry. And if we are not performing at our best, God is not being glorified by what we do. Of course, our best will depend on our skill and ability so we need to keep in mind that while we may not be the best church in the community, we are capable of being the best church we can be for our present situation.
How can we become the best church we can be? There is a one-word answer for that: R-E-L-A-X
If we allow ourselves to worry about that which is beyond our control, we hold ourselves back and the results are a mediocre church. We also send a message that we are not completely confident in the church's ability to succeed on its own. This is why many churches make changes based on fear instead of improving their ministry after spending much time in prayer and discussion.
When thinking about ministry struggles, the problem is usually not with the church's design, it is our inability to calm down and let the church be the church that it was designed to be.
I'm not talking about favoring one method over another. I am talking about our need to stop trying everything that is shiny and new without taking the time to make sure it will work for our present context. I am not against innovation as long as it has a purpose, but if we relax and work with what we already have, we might be surprised at how effective our ministry can be.
God designed the church, and it is capable of succeeding as long as we stop getting in the way and trying to improve what is already good.
"We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours." - John of Salisbury
Anybody who has heard my story would be familiar with preachers named Paul Carrier, Tom Morgart, and Keith Davenport.
Paul Carrier was the preacher who baptized me when I was 12, gave me my first experiences with taking notes from the sermons and he showed me how to feed a congregation through Biblically based sermons every week. He also led a Men's retreat at my church in Mountain City GA before he passed away. I was able to visit him towards the end of his life and he encouraged me to keep going and told me that he was proud of how I turned out.
Tom Morgart was very much like Paul Carrier with the Biblically based sermons, and he showed me how to involve every member of the family as part of the ministry of the church. He also showed tough love at a time when I was not willing to listen. Now I realize that if I paid attention to his counsel, I would have avoided a very dark period in my life.
Paul Carrier was there at the beginning of my spiritual journey and Tom Morgart was there during the second half of my high school years. They were both special in my life, but Keith Davenport became the family minister after my parents joined his church.
Keith Davenport showed me how to be a great shepherd by building relationships with the people. He was there for me during the years after high school and he was there when I returned after my dark period that I call the Jonah/Prodigal Son years.
Those three ministers are familiar for those who know my story, but there is a fourth minister who was there for a season, and his name is Mike Portwood.
Mike Portwood recently transitioned, and he is now enjoying his reward for being a good and faithful servant. This event brought me back to the few years I attended Snellville Christian Church.
The years I spent at Snellville Christian Church were short, but they made a lasting impact thanks to Mike Portwood.
At that point in my life, I was arrogant, full of myself, and mad at the world because nobody wanted me to be a youth minister. Of course, I never actually applied for a position with the church and I didn't have any formal education, but I just knew that none of that stuff mattered, and my limited experience with youth ministry was enough for me to be the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of all time) of youth ministry.
Looking back on that period in my life makes me laugh, but it also embarrasses me because my attitude was so poor and my ego was huge.
I decided that since the churches were not taking me seriously, I was going to "Go rogue" and create my own ministry to help the youth groups of the church. Yeah, as ridiculous as it sounds, my view was that distorted. I actually thought that even though churches would not hire me as their youth minister, they would allow me to help their youth groups through my own ministry to the churches.
I sent out a letter with several big names because I knew that the churches would take me seriously if I showed them how well connected I was with their favorite preachers. I was oozing with arrogance and that was when I received the wakeup call that saved my place in the ministry.
A few weeks after mailing the letters, I got a call from Mike Portwood who wanted to spend some time with me during the week. Since I was singing in the choir, I thought it may have had something to do with a recent conversation I had with the music minister who was looking to use me for some specials during the service. However, that was not the reason for the visit.
That one conversation I had with Mike Portwood in his office changed my course and my life was finally back on track.
I sat down on the other side of his desk, and he pulls out the letter I mailed to him. My heart sunk because I knew I got caught. He told me that he called the people in my letter to verify the references, and he had some interesting conversations. At this point, I was ready to walk out because I did not want to hear the lecture about lying to churches and ultimately to God.
Mike Portwood could have ripped me apart and destroy my chances of entering the ministry full-time, but he saw something in me that he knew was worth saving.
He was like a loving father helping his son learn the correct way to accomplish his goals, but I was like the rebellious teenager who knew more about life than any adult who tried to teach me. The conversation continued, and I was preparing for the punch in the gut, but instead, I got the hand on my shoulder and a word of encouragement.
I was told that if I became a youth minister, I would probably have about 2 years' worth of good material, and then the well would dry up. If I went to Bible college and earned a degree, I would deepen the well so there would be plenty of the Living Water to keep my youth group hydrated. That phrase "Deepen the well" became part of my vocabulary anytime I lead a Bible Study today.
After thinking about going to college when my friends have already spent most of their years attending classes, I was frustrated because they would be graduating while I would be getting started. It was not fair that I would have to suffer through college when I was old enough to work in churches. At least, that was what I told myself, and that was why I was sitting in the office watching my hopes and dreams break apart.
I decided to express my true feelings to Mike Portwood and told him that I felt like the train was leaving the station, and I was running to catch it. I just knew that he would be understanding and he would tell me to keep running because one day, I would catch that train and live happily ever after. Of course, that was not what he said because that was not what I needed to hear.
After telling him that I felt like I was trying to catch the train before it left the station, he said, "It already left. You have to wait for the next train and get on."
That was the wakeup call I needed. After a couple of weeks of sulking, I took his advice and signed up for a couple of classes at Atlanta Christian College. Eventually, I ended up transferring to Florida Christian College and then attending the seminary at Cincinnati Christian University. Now I have an MDIV and a great church where I am living out the upward call of Christ!
Thank you Mike Portwood for telling me exactly what I needed to hear at a time when I was not willing to listen. I heard you and eventually took your advice. When I make it to heaven, I will shake your hand and tell you what I never told you while you were still here on earth. Thanks for helping me become a full-time minister!
As I look back at 2017, the year has been a good one. A full-time ministry position at a church in Florida, being selected to lead a major transition for a convention, accepting a lead preaching position at a mega church in Oklahoma, and being hired at a Christian University are all great accomplishments. And NONE of them were mine.
I am proud of my friends and what they have done, but some people wonder if I might be jealous. Am I jealous? I thought about it, and decided that it is probably best to leave the green eye monster out of this.
Even though our accomplishments may not be big when compared to others, we had a pretty good year for the Lord here in Greenwood SC.
Our church is in a good place, and we are moving forward to become even better as the new year approaches! We have many positive opportunities on the horizon, and I am excited to see where we will be this time next year! The Lord is good for us too, not just the popular churches.
Here is my point. There was only 1 Apostle Peter, none of us can be him. There was only 1 Apostle Paul, none of us can be him either. Somebody has to be the guy who speaks at Pentecost, but there also has to be those who work with the people on a less popular level. There are other Apostles who did something great, and the Lord was good for them too!
Check out Matthew 10:2-4: " The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;  Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;  Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him."
I wonder if Andrew felt slighted when he was never mentioned beyond the first chapter of Acts. After all, he is the one who brought his brother Peter to Jesus. He is forever known as the brother of Peter, but what about his accomplishments? Does God care about him too?
Andrew does get some credit since he was the one who brought people to Jesus, but poor Thaddaeus is like Rodney Dangerfield, he does not get any respect.
In the NFL draft, there is a name for the last person who was picked, he is called Mr. Irrelevant. This is not exactly a ringing endorsement for a player hoping to make the team in August. When looking at the Apostles, my heart goes out to their version of Mr. Irrelevant, Matthias. He was the one chosen to replace Judas, and he got upstaged by a former Pharisee turned Apostle named Paul! It was Matthias' time to shine and he never got a chance to be recognized after the lots were cast.
Mr. Irrelevant may not get respect, but at least he was chosen to be part of the NFL.
Can you imagine how the guy after the last guy picked felt on Draft Day? His dreams of becoming an NFL player may not be realized, or his path just got that much harder if he decided to keep trying. At least the last guy drafted had a better chance of making the team. The lesser known Apostles may not get the publicity, but they were still working for the Lord!
Preachers of lesser known churches may not get the publicity that the nationally known churches get, but the Lord still needs them, and the people who attend their churches can benefit from having them around. Never forget that it does not matter how you compare to others in a similar position as you. What matters is how you challenge yourself to become the best at what you do for the One who has given you the ability to do it!
Last Sunday, I had the great privilege of being able to sing with the Chancel Choir at First Presbyterian for their Festiva Christmas Concert. Since we have no choir at our church, this is my chance to work out my Baritone voice and be part of a great group of singers who share my love for music.
For our concert, we had the children singing with us and the Emerald Bells along with others playing instruments. While we were at dress rehearsal, I was watching the Emerald Bells play, and I saw the sheet music being used. I have seen many different types of sheet music, and they are usually customized to the instrument being played. However, the hand bells had the same sheet of music for each part, so they had to circle their notes with red ink and watch for their moment to be heard.
The Emerald Bells had many different sounds, but they formed one song.
The part that impressed me the most was the way the bells worked together to create a beautiful song. With the director counting the beat, each bell would ring at the appointed time with the right amount of intensity to blend with the other bells. If one bell would have been louder than the others, the whole song would not sound right. The bell ringers must have been extremely patient and committed to the finished product in order to finish the required practices needed for the concert.
The director had to pull the entire group together so they could maintain unity throughout the entire song.
There were many different parts involved, but the finished product was one complete song, and this is not by accident. In the same way, the birth of Jesus was one complete event with many different parts involved.
When I think about the narratives describing the birth of Jesus, I can't help but admire the work of the master artist.Â With each detail unfolding at just the right time with the right amount of intensity, every part of the Original Christmas Story worked in perfect harmony with the master plan, and the end result is the masterpiece we have in the Bible.
Can you imagine what would happen in one part of the Original Christmas Story clashed with the big picture?
Even the smallest detail would have created issues for the nativity scene if it was not part of the master plan. This is what makes the birth of Christ that much more amazing! God made the plan to come to earth at just the right time, into the right family, under the right conditions for maximum reach, with the right followers to carry on after the ascension, and now we are the ones who benefit from this masterpiece.
As we celebrate Christmas and the coming of the Christ child, we should remember that this did not happen by accident. There was a master plan created by the master artist who made a way for us to make it to heaven.