Special Call to Prayer

Special call to prayer from SBC President J.D. Greear

With the announcement of Dr. Kelly’s retirement from New Orleans Seminary, there are currently five (5) SBC entities searching for a new leader. In light of this reality, SBC President, Dr. J.D. Greear, has asked all Southern Baptists to join him in day of prayer and fasting on Monday, October 8. Specifically he requests we pray:

  • For wisdom for the search committee in assessing what is needed most for effective ministry in the 21st century
  • For boldness for the search committee in asking the difficult questions
  • For loving-kindness for the search committee as they interact with one another
  • For favor, that God’s face would shine upon us as a people—not for our sake, but that Jesus’ name would be known to the ends of the earth.

I know Louisiana Baptists will gladly join him, and our brothers and sisters across the country, in bringing these requests before our heavenly Father.

Thank you Louisiana Baptists for your prayers and participation.

A Culture of Crisis

Before cell phones do you remember the beeper?

It was a small device worn on your belt. When someone needed to get in touch with you they would call your beeper and their number would show up on your small, monochrome display.

I signed up for a service plan and told my family they could call any time and if it was an emergency, enter 911 after our home phone number. My youngest daughter took this to heart and every time she would call my beeper the display would light up with our home phone number followed by 91111111111111!

This meant a crisis was looming – at least in her mind.

Today we live in a crisis culture. Our news feeds are filled with crises…

  • Immigration crisis
  • Financial crisis
  • Humanitarian crisis
  • Healthcare crisis
  • Prescription drug crisis

The 24-hour news cycle magnifies almost every news story, accident, and social media post to “crisis level.”

Churches are not exempt from crisis. Over last 15-20 years we’ve experienced our own crises over issues like worship styles; hymns or choruses; hymnals or slides; pianos and organs or praise bands; traditional, blended or contemporary worship; your Sunday best or come as you are casual.

A quick review of our declining baptisms reveals an evangelism crisis. We’re either not sharing our faith or we are sharing and people are simply not responding as they once did. During the recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas it was interesting to hear several motions addressing our declining evangelistic endeavors.

I wonder if we’re seeing another crisis in the church. Let’s call it a crisis of complacency. We see the news, either on television or via our social media feeds and we are troubled, shocked or even saddened. We shake our heads, say a brief prayer and even make a quick online donation as we continue on our way.

When Jonah was running from God’s call to go to Nineveh, he hopped a boat heading in the opposite direction.  Exhausted from his efforts to escape God’s clear calling, he went below deck and dosed off.  While he slept, the sailors fought for their lives. They used all of their sailing skills to combat the elements, but the storm was so severe the ship was breaking apart. After doing all they knew to do, the captain went below and asked the slumbering prophet, “How can you sleep?”

In spite of his deliberate disobedience, Jonah at least gave an honest answer: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will be calm. I know that it’s my fault this great storm has come upon you.”

I wonder if maybe, just maybe, we, those of us who profess to be followers of Christ, are at the core of some of the crises we face today. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying everything that is wrong with our culture is our fault – but I am saying some of it could be.

We are the ones called to be salt and light.

We are the ones called to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

We are the ones who are called to love one another in such a way that the world would know we belong to Jesus.

We are the ones called to go to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in.

Would things calm down, even just a little, if we awakened from our sleep and began to be obedient to what we know God has called us to be and do?

During one storm, the disciples were in the boat with Jesus trying to get to the other side of the sea. As the storm worsened, so did their fear. Things finally reached a point where they awakened Jesus and asked Him, “Don’t you care that we are about to perish?”

I wonder if our culture drives by our church buildings and asks the same thing.

Let’s not forget that we have the answer to life’s big questions. We know what to do – how to act, how to live.  And like Jonah, we know where we’re supposed to go – to the ends of the earth, to the highways and hedges. We’re just not doing it.

Each of us must ask ourselves the “why” question. It’s easy to look at the culture and try to pin the blame on Jesus, “Don’t you care …” The real challenge comes when we have to respond to His question, “Where is your faith?”

If we want to change our culture, if we want to calm some of the storms in our culture, we must seed God’s truth into people’s homes and hearts.

Only God’s truth can calm the storms that rock our culture.

Only God’s truth can bridge the divides Satan has created.

Only God’s truth can spread His love which can conquer a multitude of evils.

Here for You is an attempt to begin this process. By leveraging current communication platforms to creatively and consistently share God’s word, we can spread the seeds of truth which can begin to defuse our culture of crisis and allow our light to shine further and brighter as we walk with Jesus in loving obedience.

Behind each Here For You commercial are important, soul-waking messages that are simple and yet so needed today. Messages like:

It’s never too late to come back to God.

No marriage is too far gone.

God restores the broken parts of our lives.

You can get involved by visiting HereForYou.org and posting these 30 second slices of life on your social media pages and sharing them with friends. You can also invest in this effort by giving to the Here for You campaign and the Georgia Barnette State Missions Offering. Bottom line – we need 300-400 churches to give $100 per month to this strategic initiative. This will provide the needed resources to empower this effort statewide.

We can’t avert every crisis, but we can look in the mirror of God’s word, confess any areas of disobedience that may be contributing to the chaos and begin to intentionally scatter the calming seeds of God’s truth

I believe this is doable. I pray you agree.

Reflections on a Half Century of Ministry

I made the decision. I am going to attend the fifty year reunion of my high school graduating class in a few weeks. As I read posts about this event on social media, I think everyone in the class must be having the same questions I do: (1) where did all the time go, and (2) who are all these senior citizens? I am passing/approaching the half-century mark in other areas as well. I preached my first sermon just over fifty years ago. The fiftieth anniversary of my wedding is a few months away as is that of my ordination to the ministry. There is something sobering about measuring life events in segments of fifty years.

As I look back on the past half century, I remember the aspirations I had at the beginning. It was my desire that my life and ministry would be faithful, fulfilling, and fruitful. Have I hit the mark? Others (and ultimately God) will be the final arbiters; but I hope that there is evidence of my having lived consistently with these aims.

Faithfulness

I remember sitting in a restaurant as a high-schooler while my dad had a cup of coffee with a colleague. At one point, the man said, “David, what are you going to be?” My dad answered for me. “David is planning to go into ministry.” There was an awkward pause. Then the guy replied, “Well, a lot of young guys think that for a while. But then they move on to other things.” So much for a word of encouragement. He probably thought he was just being a realist. But I have imagined a conversation from time to time where I would say to him, “Still here!”

I am thankful that, after all these years, I am still pursuing my calling. I make no claim of doing it perfectly and no one recognizes more than I that God’s grace has been operating vigorously to keep me from veering onto destructive, disqualifying paths. Any number of the seven deadly sins are always lurking nearby to trip me up so that Satan might sift me like wheat.

That is why, in my first few days as a pastor, I adopted my motto for ministry: “O Lord God of the armies of heaven, don’t let me be a stumbling block to those who trust in you. O God of Israel, don’t let me cause them to be confused.” (Ps 69:6, The Living Bible). While this prayer is admittedly defensive, it has reminded me of the value of faithfulness for the long haul. If you are on the front end of ministry currently, a great aspiration for you would be “to finish well.”

Fulfillment

I like what I am doing. I grew comfortable a long while back telling people (when they inquired about my occupation) that I am a Baptist preacher. They don’t always know what to say about that. One guy responded, “Well, I guess you get to work with a nice group of people.” Yes and no.

Ministry hasn’t always been easy, but it has always been fulfilling. In fact, for me, the more difficult assignments were often the most fulfilling. I do not mean to minimize the struggles some in ministry have faced. The circumstances can sometimes be grueling, even brutal. But I want to challenge my fellow strugglers to remember their high calling, to consider it joy to serve the Lord, and to be happy in their labor.

Ministry for Jesus ought to be satisfying. The satisfaction should come more from the what of your service than the where of your service. I find my ministry fulfilling because the cause is right. I find my ministry fulfilling because it is purposeful. I find my ministry fulfilling because it pleases God.  God’s ministers should say with Paul: I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

Fruitfulness

A psychology professor once taught me that there are two kinds of people: “get ahead” people and “get by” people. I have always wanted to get ahead–to achieve, to be successful, to be fruitful. (The caption on a picture of me and the other class officers in our senior yearbook reads: Climbing the Ladder of Success).

I applied the same drive to ministry. While we ought to avoid the excesses “get ahead” people can fall into (pride, self-sufficiency, misplaced priorities, burn out, etc.), there is nothing virtuous in laziness, lack of ambition, or being a slacker. God will evaluate our “fruitfulness.” Will it be gold, silver, precious stones or wood, hay, and stubble?

I want to be a good steward of my opportunities to bear fruit for the Kingdom. I look back thankfully on those individuals who came to salvation as we prayed together, on those families who renewed their commitment to God and one another, to those churches that sacrificed to be on mission, to those strategies that led to spiritual and numerical advance.

Carlos McLeod, the late Texas Baptist evangelism director, told of his boyhood days and picking cotton. When he was tempted to hide behind the plants and not do his work, he would remember that his father would be waiting at the end of the day to weigh the cotton he had picked. He didn’t want to disappoint his father by a paltry amount in his sack. Then, Dr. McLeod challenged us all: We have an eternal harvest to reap. Let’s not appear before the Father empty handed.

 

Thank you, Lord, for 50 years and counting. May God grant us all the gift of a faithful, fulfilling, fruitful ministry for Jesus sake!

4 Pivotal Steps for Pastors in Transition

We often think about Pastor Search teams vetting pastors, but for the pastor in transition, it is so important that a pastor vet a church. Wise pastoral candidates will not avoid this important step. Here are some common steps that some pastors take to learn more about a prospective church. But how?

  1. Seek the LORD diligently in prayer to discern whether He would have you consider the church. Every important move you make should be immersed in prayer.
  2. Research the prospective church thoroughly.
  • Read any documentation that is available: purpose, mission, vision, values, bylaws, etc.
  • Read about the staff, if any.
  • If a calendar is posted, review the activities. Is it current?
  • If newsletters or bulletins are archived, read some.
  • Is there a worship service video archive? If so, view some to get a feel for the worship.
  1. Make some key contacts:
  • Director of Missions for that area. Ask what he knows about the church. Stable? Strengths? Weaknesses? Troubled? Cooperative? Where did the last pastor go? Was he terminated? Pressured to resign?
  • Former pastor(s) to learn more about the church, his ministry, and his departure.
  • Former staff members to learn more about the church, the former pastor, and their respective departures.
  • State convention office to request a historical statistical report for the church and to ask what they may know about the church and the former pastor’s ministry.
  • Neighboring pastors to ask what they may know about the church and the former pastor’s ministry.
  • Neighboring businesses to ask what they may know about the church.

Again, seek the LORD diligently in prayer to discern whether He would have you consider the church.

Remember that ultimately, “the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” (Acts 20:28)

  1. Be upfront about your questions and concerns. Don’t hesitate to discuss with the pastor search committee any concerns that may arise.

Excellence in The Big Easy

12 Things Franklin Avenue Taught Me about Doing it Right

This past weekend I had the privilege of presenting a keynote address and then leading two breakout conferences at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church’s annual teacher training event. You may have heard about this great New Orleans church – Dr. Fred Luter is the senior pastor and he is also the past president of the Southern Baptist Convention. This annual training event has grown year-over-year, and attendance at this year’s event was projected to be 800 people from 40+ churches.

The Sunday School Director, Minister Keith James, and the Assistant Sunday School Director, Valerie Burton, led an amazing event. Words will not come close to describing the atmosphere of excellence that I experienced, but I’m going to give it a try, anyway, and tell you where I experienced excellence. The people of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church absolutely knocked it out of the park last Saturday. I told them, and I sincerely meant it, that there is no way anyone, anywhere, will ever displace them as the place where excellence reigns. Here’s how they did it:

  1. There was excellence in communication. Prior to the conference, Keith James reached out to me with an invitation and clearly defined the parameters of my responsibilities. He followed up often, clarified questions I had, and continued to guide me through the pre-conference time. Once I landed at the airport and made my way to the hotel on Friday, I received a communication from Keith – he checked on me to make sure I had made it to town safely, and that all was well with the hotel they selected for me.
  2. There was excellence in printed materials. Keith and Valerie made sure that the conference brochure, a multi-page full-color piece, had clear directions for people so they were not confused about their conference and lunch options. Valerie even spent a few minutes before releasing conference attendees to their first workshop explaining the schedule, the people’s options, and other key pieces of information. It was all contained in the excellent conference brochure.
  3. There was excellence in the parking lot. As I pulled onto the church’s property that Saturday morning, I was greeted by two gentlemen who were directing traffic. 800 people were about to descend upon the church’s property, and these brothers in Christ were outside in the warm, muggy early morning hours guiding people to parking spaces. I was quickly directed to a secured lot where I parked and headed to the main entrance, only to be greeted by several others.
  4. There was excellence in the lunch hour. Two things really impressed me about the way Franklin Avenue managed the massive lunch hour. No, make it four things:  (1) the meal was excellent…boxed sandwiches from Honey Baked Ham (2) I was ushered to the front of the line and told to eat so that I had time to relax before my final workshop of the day (3) the praise team that led morning worship shifted gears and provided some beautiful singing while the rest of us ate lunch (4) the conference attendees were broken into two large groups and they ate at two different times to make sure everyone was accommodated. This was done through colored wristbands. Just excellent!
  5. There was excellence prior to the conference. No one could have prepared me to have a hostess attached to me, but she was great. Yoskia (I am sure I just butchered the spelling!) brought me a breakfast tray to their Green Room. It was there that I was able to eat a bite, review my notes, pray, and clear my head before going out to deliver the keynote. Her service to me was so greatly appreciated! That’s never happened anywhere I’ve spoken and trained before, and it was a humbling experience. She continually checked back with me, but didn’t hover. She was available, but did not overwhelm me. Great job!
  6. There was excellence during the conference. I had two wonderful assistants during the breakout conferences I led. Gabrielle (Gabby) and Leslie made sure my handouts were passed out to all of the participants. Gabby had a series of signs with numbers on them; she held up these “countdown” signs starting at 15 minutes before I was supposed to finish my presentation. Every five minutes, Gabby held up a new sign showing me how many minutes remained. This was so helpful and kept me right on track. It was a “little” thing, but made a big difference. And that’s where excellence takes place – in the little things.
  7. There was excellence in evaluation. After each of my workshops, Gabby came to the microphone and instructed the people to fill out the evaluation form while the conference was fresh on their minds. These eval forms help Franklin Avenue personnel know what to tweak for next year’s event. Some presenters will be invited back based on the evals, others may not. Conference topics may be adjusted. Without the evaluation forms, excellence would not be achieved year after year.
  8. There was excellence in the volunteer team’s dress. The volunteers were easy to identify in their matching t-shirts. If you had a question, you knew who to reach out to at the event.
  9. There was excellence in the pre-conference worship. The worship team had the place hopping! The music was uplifting, energizing, and prepared our hearts for the day as we worshipped the One whom we all serve.
  10. There was excellence in the technical support personnel. Normally I’m running a PowerPoint slideshow, speaking, juggling a microphone, and trying to teach or speak. Not so at Franklin Avenue! My PowerPoint was emailed to Keith James, who turned it over to his technical team. They loaded it into their software, and throughout the keynote address and two workshops, someone in the sound booth advanced the slides and kept right up with me as I spoke. What a relief that was not to have to try to juggle everything!
  11. There was excellence in the planning. Valerie Burton told the participants that the planning for this year’s event began the day after last year’s conference ended. Now that’s excellence! You start very, very early. You dream, plan and envision. Excellence is intentional.
  12. There was excellence in prayer. One hour before the conference began, volunteers gathered to pray for me, the other conference presenters, and the participants. The entire event was covered in prayer, and I saw Proverbs 21:31 lived out. That verse says, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but victory comes from the Lord.” The people at Franklin Avenue had prepared and prepared for this event, yet did not trust their own hard work and ingenuity. Instead, they cried out to God to bless the event and the guest speakers/presenters.

I am sure I missed some other ways that Franklin Avenue achieved excellence. I thought I used to put on good training events, but I was humbled this past weekend when I realized that my new friends at Franklin Avenue are at a level almost none of us achieve. Their example has raised the bar for me, and they have made me a better event planner because of their great example. I hope to be invited back some time in the future. I’d love to go back and invest in these dear brothers and sisters in the Lord. I love what they are doing, I love their pursuit of excellence, and I love their passion for training leaders.

Well done, good and faithful servants! I’m glad to know you and know of your great ministry.

Ken Braddy led hundreds of workshops and conferences around the country. He speaks to groups of pastors, church staff, and leaders of Bible study groups. He serves as manager of Adult Ongoing Bible Studies at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, TN.

Who Will Care for These?

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). Jesus emphasized the care for the poor, needy, and estranged. He called us to care for those around us. As we care for others, we care for Him.

This past week a very disturbing but not unexpected report came out about the church habits of children with autism, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities, depression, and conduct disorders. The report indicated that the odds of a child with autism never attending religious services were nearly twice as high as children with no chronic health conditions. The odds were the same in all of the at risk areas.

Many of these children who are most in need of social interaction are those least likely to receive it.

By the way, studies show that children with chronic and persistent health conditions show improved mental and emotional health, higher self-esteem, and overall well-being when they attend church regularly. That is the kind of results we see for the population at large.

It simply does us good to attend religious services.

Why do these children not attend?

First, this is an invisible need. This population is unseen because of the difficulty of attending church and when they do attend they have a negative experience and don’t return.

Second, churches are not generally prepared for children with these kind of needs. I understand why. In reality, most churches have difficulty taking care of healthy children.

This kind of need is exactly what we learned when we began our Special Needs Ministry at our church. Families feel lost and uncared for. Many families feel that the church is telling them not to return. 

It is obviously time for church people to see themselves as ministers rather than spectators. We must look differently at the world and our response to it. We must become those who care for the hurting among us. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

What can we do?

We can plan, prepare, and volunteer. And, we can pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would send laborers into His harvest.

Would you be that laborer?

Whatever Happened to Hope?

How do you explain an extraordinarily gifted and successful person who seemingly has it all and ends it all? Suicide confounds us, especially high-profile suicides.

When we hear that a famous chef, a popular designer or entertainer decides life is not worth living, it often leaves us feeling bewildered. By the world’s standards, they were successful. They had notoriety, money and all of the trappings of the “good life,” but if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find these high profile suicides are symptomatic of a larger problem.

According to a June article in USA Today, suicides are up 30% since 1999 – totaling nearly 45,000 people per year. In fact, suicides claim more lives than car accidents. First responders seem particularly vulnerable. A recent study indicated more firefighters and police officers die by suicide than all line-of-duty deaths combined. And we’ve all read too many posts relating to suicides attributed to cyber bullying.

Writing from a Roman prison, Paul identified the underlying issue when he reminded the believers in Ephesus of their former condition, “You lived in this world without God and without hope.” (Eph. 2:12, NLT).

In order to see examples of this lifestyle, spend a few minutes on social media or watch any number of popular programs, especially reality TV. You’ll see plenty of examples of what it means to be hollow and hopeless.

People give up when there is no hope.

People die when there is no hope.

Those who are left grieve when there is no hope.

Headlines today often reflect more than actual events. Frequently they describe and define a society living without God and without hope.

Solomon said it best, “A hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Prov. 13:12). And today this sickness has gone viral.

What do you do? What can you do?

For those who claim to be Christ-followers, it’s tempting to throw up our hands and think, “Well, this is what God said it would be like in the last days so – come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

The good news is that God has given us an antidote for the virus. But will we share it?

We don’t need to be reactive people. Instead we need to be a proactive people. Be ready to respond. Be ready to give hope.

Here for You, Louisiana Baptists multi-media evangelism strategy, is a response. A response by you, Louisiana Baptists, to those living without God and without hope.

Instead of sitting around and complaining about the condition of the culture, we are going inside the devices people are using and the programs they are watching with the only thing that provides hope – truth, God’s truth.

As we continue to leverage current communications platforms to seed the truth of God’s word inside every heart and every home, we’re seeding the path to freedom. We’re pointing those without hope to the only God who provides hope.

When is the last time you took a proactive approach? Start now. Take a moment, go to www.HereForYou.org and share truth, share hope with your friends and family via social media.

Whatever happened to hope? Check your newsfeed, check your inbox and stay tuned. Lord willing, we’re taking hope statewide in February 2019.

When is VBS Really Over?

When is VBS really over? Friday afternoon or evening? How about when the last child and his or her family are enrolled in a Sunday School class? Make follow-up with prospects discovered during VBS a part of your planning now.

Fast forward about three months. Can you hear a church leader say,

THE SUMMER IS OVER, SCHOOL HAS BEGUN, AND VBS IS HISTORY!
(Or, is it?)

Months of preparation, effort, energy, time, and money has been expended in getting ready for Vacation Bible School. Now it’s Friday, the children are gone, and the workers are finishing taking down decorations and cleaning up their rooms. Maybe there’s the closing VBS Celebration Sunday night, but for all practical purposes, VBS is over for another year. Or is it?

Why do we have VBS? To have an intensive week of Bible studies, mission stories, upbeat music, recreation, and snacks? Yes to all of the above. But the main reason we have VBS is to discover prospects: boys and girls and their parents in our communities who are not involved in a church or Bible study; people who need the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

VBS is not over when the last child leaves, the last decoration is packed away, or the closing night celebration ends. VBS is not over until every child and parent in the community has come to Christ.

Do you remember those enrollment/registration cards you had each child fill out during VBS? Please don’t put a rubber band around the cards and set them on a shelf in the Sunday School office. Those cards are invaluable! They are the reason for VBS! Make copies and have people pray for the names on the cards. Study the cards for names of those who do not have a church home. Send a postcard or letter thanking them for coming and inviting them to Sunday School.

But don’t stop there! Assign the prospects to the appropriate preschool, children, youth, and adult Sunday School classes for follow-up as well. Think long-term relationship-building. Use a variety of ways to build friendships with prospects: week one, make a quick front-door home visit leaving SS literature or a magazine; week two, send a postcard; week three, make a phone call; week four, send a text or email. Invite prospects to other church events and activities.

VBS is not over until every child and parent in the community has come to Christ.

If there is indifference toward attending SS or church, then focus on ministry to them rather than just trying to get them to attend. For example, ask for prayer concerns, and then follow-up a week or so later. Build relationships without just focusing on their attendance. Keep ministering to your prospects, whether they come or not. Be a friend in Christ’s Name.

VBS is not over on Friday or Sunday afternoon, or even at the end of the summer. The work of contacting and cultivating boys and girls, men and women should continue. Keep those enrollment/registration cards visible and work them. Think long-term and continue cultivating friendships.

For more information on VBS follow-up or Sunday School, contact: Jeff Ingram, adult ministry strategist for Louisiana Baptists, Jeff.Ingram@LouisianaBaptists.org, or 318.448.3402.

34 Tips for Creating Powerful Worship Experiences and Vibrant Worship Teams

In the spirit of Throwback Thursday we’re featuring one of our most popular posts. If you are kicking the creativity up a notch or simply trying to do a better job bringing glory to God on Sunday morning, this one’s for you! Please share with your worship leaders.

We go to seminary, study Greek, learn about computers, eat casseroles, visit hospitals, and do 10,000 other things as leaders. But isn’t it amazing that simple, practical truths can make or break our ministry? Standards and principles are things that must start out intentionally, and then, after a while, they become instinctive. Here are a few of those values I learned from pastors, deacons, worship leaders, my dad (lots from my dad!), and, yes, my wife and kids.

These aren’t new concepts to creative planning, but they are surefire truths that will keep you and your team growing over the long haul of team planning and worship development.

1. Study Your People

This is a simple concept that is rarely done. So often our calendars, agendas, to-do lists, and book studies overshadow the people we try to bring into the presence of God. Strategies and action plans are all great things, but we can get so focused on our plans that we forget who our people are. So, it’s important to study your people. What do your people do? What inspires them? What makes them laugh? Who makes them laugh? When do you see them falling into never-never land on Sunday morning? Study them. Ask them. Get feedback. I’m waiting for the helmet cam for children so we can see worship through their eyes. People have issues! I know, that’s turned into a major catchphrase of the new century, but it is so true. Find out what their issues are and help them discover, or rediscover, God in the midst of it all.

2. Ready, Fire, Aim

I learned this from an old country pastor before it became a popular business strategy. Simply spoken, take a shot at new stuff in a small way. See if you hit the target and then aim accordingly. Many churches spend half their time, resources, and emotional energy aiming. They aim, and aim, and aim some more. They go to Chicago or Los Angeles and aim. They read a book, take a nap, get up, and aim some more. Then when they finally fire, they fire at the point of no return. A ton of money has been spent, subcommittees have slaved over the issues, then $20,000 and 13 business meetings later the strategy is unveiled. If it backfires after so many hours and meetings, then the entire leadership feels demoralized. So, start small. Fire experimental peashooters before you pull out the thermonuclear version.

3. Create a Vision for Your Worship

Know where you are going and how to get there. Very basic. Just remember: “No Vision, No Life.” That’s as old as Proverbs 28:19. Make your vision work through teamwork. Create ownership and multiply the buy-in through vision casting.

4. Reignite Your Passion for God

If you don’t have a passion for God and a passion to lead people into worship, then sell life insurance or market cereal. This is God-stuff. Passion isn’t just a strong emotion. It is a commitment to a dream in which you’re willing to lay everything on the table and say, “Lord, I don’t care what the cost is. I want to see You in all Your power and glory. I want to experience worship and ministry that is truly transformational. I’m tired of the regular song and dance. I want to see You high and lifted up. I want the holy smoke and fire that accompanies Your presence.” As the church of Laodicea reminds us, if we have no fire, no passion, we leave a bad taste in God’s mouth.

5. Never Kill an Idea Before You Write it Down

During brainstorming worship ideas, as well as church growth ideas, we need to be careful about trashing other people’s ideas before they have been fully communicated and considered. Lay down a ground rule: there are no bad ideas at first glance. Why? Because we all have bad ideas from time to time. If you are facilitating a brainstorming meeting and immediately give a thumbs-down to every new idea, you will cultivate timidity and self-consciousness in your team. No one likes to have their ideas body-slammed three seconds after they speak. After this brainstorming period, you can begin the process of appraising what ideas work and what ideas are simply…well…ideas.

6. Don’t Count on Success, but Never Expect Failure

Yes, this seems very ironic. But if your team is counting on home runs every time they try to lead people into worship, then frustration will soon follow. In the same breath, we must do everything we can to achieve our goals. It’s true: God doesn’t ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful. Results are a God thing, not an us thing.

7. Do Something Each Month in Worship that Frightens You

If you want to grow, you should be prepared to risk. As a rule of thumb, do something every month that scares you. If you grow in your faith and tenacity, do something every week that scares you. It might be asking a 7th grader to pray the benediction. It may be singing in the middle of the sermon. It may be asking a visitor about his relationship with Christ after a service is over. If you’re shaking in your boots sometime during your ministry, you might feel uncomfortable, but at least you know you have a pulse.

8. Think About One Person in the Congregation and Plan a Worship Service that Allows that Person to Truly Worship

Like the culture around us, we have become a politically correct body. So many churches fail to reach anyone because they are afraid they might exclude someone. Don’t sweat speaking directly to youth in adult worship. We are a family, and sometimes transformation happens through overheard proclamation of truth. Sometimes we truly can’t see the tree because all we can see is the forest. Minister distinctively to one person in the body, and, chances are, the ripple effect will transform the entire church.

9. Don’t Try to Turn Smallville into Willow Creek in One Month

It’s the old Sunday after youth camp effect. We got go to conferences, great conferences. Great ideas! We have the passion! It’s all good. We are ready to hurdle every obstacle to make the cover of GC, then reality sets in. We changed, but the people are the same peo- ple from whom you flew away the week before. I love the ancient Chinese proverb: “Oh snail, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but slowly.” In other words, shoot for the stars, but realize that the warp-drive technology is not quite there yet. Be intentional and smart with your changes. And, of course, choose the hill on which you are willing to die. Jesus is patient with you; be patient with your people. Lead them through the process and help them understand the reasons for change. Baffle them with your grasp of common sense.

10. Don’t be Afraid of Emotions, but Don’t Try to Manufacture or Manipulate the Worshipers Emotions, Either

Our obsession should not be: “How can I really tear ’em up this Sunday? What could I do to give those people a really misty eyed, three-tissue sniffer moment?” Your focus should be to bring people into an encounter with God. On the other hand, how can a person who understands this incredible grace mes- sage avoid getting emotional? Some people in your congregation grew up in a paradigm that said emotions are weakness. Don’t cry. You aren’t a man if you cry. Don’t shout, or dance, or laugh. It just isn’t spiritual. Worship leaders need to realize this is not a biblical precept. In truth, it’s a very errant stance. I suppose it’s fine to offer your community unemotional, cerebral, fact-only worship, but I don’t think you’d want to classify it as biblical. You’ll end up painting yourself into a corner.

11. Don’t Take the Name of the Lord in Vain

As we all know, I didn’t come up with this on my own. Basically, the tip here is that when we lead in worship and plan worship in a team, perhaps the quickest way to sabotage the work is to give vague vetoes and blame it on God. Example: Pastor Dave walks into the sanctuary where the ensemble is practicing their part in worship. Dave, after a long sigh, says, “Folks, I don’t think God wants us to use that song.” That might work once or twice, but, after a while, people catch on to the fact that God is your fire escape rather than your Shepherd. I know there are times when we do get a specific word from the Lord, but God more often works when we meet Him in our planning meetings.

12. Most Great Leaders and Creative Thinkers are Untamed Monomaniacs, with a Streak of Obsession, Who Believe Strongly in Their Ministry

Want to have an impact? Discover the obsession for ministry. Everyone should have a standard for which they are willing to bleed in this mission. What’s yours? If it didn’t pop into your brain the moment you finished reading the question, then it might be time to grab your Bible and your toothbrush and head to the wilderness until you do.

13. Read Your Plan Out Loud

This is very practical and very simple. Most people will not read your plan; they will hear your plan. Close the door and read your plan out loud. How does it sound?

14. Exile the Left Brain When Beginning Your Work

Whenever you are working alone on a sermon, a project, a poem, a dramatic sketch, or an idea, your creative side (the right brain or the artist) needs to be able to work without the detailed side (the left brain, or the editor) looking over his shoulder. The important thing when you begin to work is to keep creating without assessing what you are doing while you are doing it. So many times the right brain is stifled because the left brain is asking: “Did I spell that right? Do I really think this will work? I don’t know if this is good enough. I wonder what Roger, the chairman of the church council, will think?” The left brain needs to leave the right brain alone; otherwise, the right brain will never get anything done. After your artistic work is complete, begin the tough, painful left-brain work. It’s important late and fatal early.

15. Keep Toys Close to You

You are at your best when you are like a child. Jesus reminded us of that. Give yourself space, and don’t take yourself too seriously, or you will miss the joy of walking in grace. One way I keep fresh, alive, and responsive is to keep a toy within arm’s length. It’s a fact that you need short intervals of time where you can disengage. When you have the opportunity, play! Also have some fun as a team. It will increase the esprit de corps of your team.

16. Don’t Just Sit There, Write Something

Make it a goal to write something every day. A great way to do this is to take a calendar and try to fill up each day’s space. Write about everything. Try writing a story. Write about things you love. Write about things that annoy you. Write about your passions. Write about your day. Write your prayers. It will be a priceless reminder in years to come of God’s grace. Write anything. Just keep the pen moving!

17. Set Small Goals and Reward Yourself When You Achieve Them

If you finish a task, reach a goal, or see transformation take place in worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, or discipleship, celebrate it. Let everyone on the team in on small victories and achievements. As in the story of the 10 lepers, don’t be like the 9 who received transformation and forgot to thank God. Have few secret victo- ries. Rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Set visible, reachable goals and let the benediction be party hats and confetti.

18. Avoid Lip Worship

Lip worship is worship that is totally auditory. A person who totally relies on lip worship will fail to powerfully communicate to 95.86 percent of the crowd. (Sounds scientific, right? Did I just make up that stat? Uh…well…yep.) But seriously, we have a plethora of learning styles in the congrega- tion. Some people are auditory learners, but many are kinetic learners, natural learners, verbal learners, logical learners, physical learners, concrete learners, emotional learners, visual learners, olfactory learners, musical learners, gustatory learners, interactive learners, analytical learners, and so forth.

19. Avoid Tip Worship

Tip worship is worship in which the sole driving force of worship is life application and very little Bible. This is currently a very popular strategy, which works effectively if it is biblically based. The Bible is very practical. When the application fits, by all means, communicate it. But may we never turn worship into the Oprah Winfrey show.

20. Avoid Rip Worship

Rip worship is when we load the congregation down with guilt and shame. Our duty in worship is not to rip the congregation or to use worship as our personal bully pulpit. Who wants to be part of that? I don’t believe families spring from their beds on Sunday morning saying, “Hey! This is the day the Lord has made! Let’s get ready and go to church for our weekly flogging! This is our chance to feel totally inadequate. Let’s go!”

21. Avoid Flip Worship

Flip worship is worship that is done without acknowledging what a vast and important responsibility worship leadership really is. Flip worship is a kind of worship that says, “Let’s get this thing over with so we can get home in time for the Colts’ game.” Flip worship doesn’t ever get nervous. It never sheds a tear. It reeks of sarcasm and apathy. God, protect Your people from the poison of flip worship and flip worship leaders.

22. Avoid Hip Worship

Hip worship is worship that is totally (as the old saying goes) from the hip. Things unexpectedly happen, not because God came, but because there was not a plan or even a thought. Granted, there will be times when God will call on you to shoot from the hip, but usually shooting from the hip will do little toward developing trust in the ensemble.

23. If You’re in It for the Money, Go Home

Capitalism has no place in the church. If you base your ministry on the financial litmus tests, you will miss out on every spiritual victory. Jesus didn’t knock over the tables in the temple by accident. He made a whip to defend God’s people from charlatans who were trying to turn the temple into a corporation. The “pastor as CEO” paradigm is about as old school as Ahab.

24. Be Prepared to Record Ideas While Driving

If you are like me, you get lots of ideas when you are driving from your personal Jerusalem to Jericho. Take a micro-cassette player with you. I am convinced that great ideas invariably occur between lane changes.

25. Once You’re Through Reading, Then You’re Through Growing

What book is next in line after you finish the one you’re on right now? If you don’t know the answer to that question, beware. Books are a lifelong source of inspiration and mental enhancement. The right books build strong leaders and will help you avoid spiritual osteoporosis.

26. Prevent Right Brain Freeze

If you are stumped on how to communicate a concept, if you are running out of ideas and strategies, or if you are running out of options in creating that aha moment in worship, you may want to take a time-out and disengage. Try listening to music, walking, reading aloud, dialoguing with a friend or associate, lying down in the church lawn for a minute, changing pens, or any approach that might pull you out of the ordinary, so you can jump-start your creative synapses.

27. Early Planning and Creating Gives You More Room for Improvement

One of my mentors once told me there’s no such thing as an overnight success in ministry. In other words, God’s work is planned long beforehand, if not by us, certainly by Him. Do a quick character study of Bible heroes. Was Moses an overnight success? Try telling him that in the wilderness of Midian! Or would Joseph consider himself an overnight success as he reflected on his exciting days in a jail with a baker and a cupbearer? Or what about card-carrying, AARP members like Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, or a 67-year-old Daniel in the lions’ den? In the same way, we need to have slow, persistent, diligent, day-by-day, tenacious, mustard-seed planning. In ministry, you’ll usually lose when you use a no-huddle approach in worship.

28. Write Ideas Without Thinking of What Vehicle You’ll Use in the Final Process

Don’t immediately think of a vehicle before you think of a concept. Great team planners will see the message first. We shouldn’t say, “Golly, we haven’t had a monologue in a while. Let’s try to do one this Sunday.” That’s a backward approach, which caters to form rather than content.

29. Weave Your Worship and Plan Your Pauses

Your worship should be seamless. Work on transitions. For instance:

  • The pianist begins playing during the last four lines of the script.
  • The ensemble approaches the microphones during the last chorus of the hymn.
  • The reader approaches the pulpit during the prayer.

Make your transitions smooth. This is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve had the blessing of visiting hundreds of churches. I’ve had some astounding worship experiences. But, very few churches have effectively pulled off transitional moments. When transitions aren’t attended to, the service is like driving a car with a bad transmission. The flow becomes jerky and predictable. I love planned silence in worship. Reflective times can be very insightful and emotive, but 15 seconds of awkward, no-clue, ambivalent nothingness is abhorrent.

30. Prepare Well

Getting to Sunday morning is the dessert of the process. If a worship team is prepared, then even the platform people are liberated from the tyranny of self-consciousness and escorted into the pres- ence of God, along with those who worship. Constantly worrying about what’s next and whether you can pull off your plans makes you a “dish-cleaning Martha” instead of a “worship- driven Mary.” Let’s choose the better.

31. Realize the Worship is Difficult

As my grandfather would say, “This ain’t tiddledywinks, my boy!” Worship is a lifelong work of art. No one ever arrives at the ultimate worship plateau. Watch what happens when you think you have arrived. God always seems to remind us of the reality of our own infancy. It is truly a process, not a destination. We are being transformed from glory to glory to glory.

32. Use Technology, Keeping in Mind That Only You can Prevent Lousy Workmanship

In other words, you can have all the bells and whistles of 21st-century worship technology and still crank out mediocrity. Leaning on bells and whistles to replace perspiration is a formula for failure.

33. Become a Workaholic

Become addicted to glorifying God on Sundays. He is worthy of our worship. A minister who doesn’t worship is like a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood. Do I want that man to operate on me? No way! If you can’t wait for another chance to experience God in corporate worship, then your people will follow your hunger for passionate, holy worship. By the way, may I rant for a sentence or two? If I see one more pastor flipping through his Bible, checking notes, and not singing or worshiping during the service, I think I’ll scream. What an insult to the team! What an insult to God! (Sorry about that! I just had to get it off my chest.) What that behavior says to a worship team and to the congregation is that corporate worship is just all fizz. My part supersedes everything else. The same is true of musicians who take a trip to la-la land during the message. Wherever we are, there we should be. All of us! That’s what worship should be.

34. Every Now and Then, Do a Post Mortem of the Worship Experience

(What did we do well, or badly? Where could we have improved?) Learn from mistakes and, as a team, talk about how to avoid the mistakes. Laugh together, and don’t turn the postmortem into a gripe session.

Ask these questions:

  • Did it work?
  • Was it adequate?
  • How could we have improved?
  • Did we offer people an opportunity to be trans- formed?
  • What feedback did you receive?
  • Are we in a rut or on a roll?
  • Did we, as leaders, worship?
  • Did we improve the mix by using more than two or three communication strategies?

Pray, asking God to continue transforming people through the experience, worship, and truths that we experienced.

What are some tips that have helped you create powerful, creative worship? We’d love to hear from you! We are all on the same journey.

Devotional Journaling Tips

I have been a devotional journaler for about 21 years now. I started this devotional habit after completing the Experiencing God study in 1997!

Journaling helps me pour out my ideas and prayers to God, along with processing life and what I’m reading/studying in the Bible. I’ve written about the daily devotional habits I aim for here.

Making journaling work for me requires a plan. Recently, I’ve found a helpful rhythm with three categories that help me process and pour out my prayers and ideas to God.

  1. GIVING THANKS – What do I need to thank God for today? I’ve heard people talk about gratitude journals for years. As I get older and difficulties and worries add up, I’ve found it helpful and invigorating to write out 10 to 20 things I’m thankful for each morning. This simple practice works! And it’s biblical! “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.” Psalm 107:1. No matter what, we almost always have more to be thankful for than to be worried about!
  2. GIVING UP / GIVING TO GOD – What is too big for me to handle today?  Life on mission, parenting, getting older, being a leader – it all brings you up against your limitations regularly. I’ve found it helpful to admit and write out the things I will not be able to handle on my own and that I’m struggling with in life on this particular day or week. This is practicing in writing the admonition of 1 Peter 5:7 – “Casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.” Looking back at the list, I can see God’s hand at work and recognize that I’m never alone in the big battles I’m facing in life.
  3. GIVING AWAY –  What opportunities do I have coming up for mission and generosity? This is a time to think through opportunities for mission and generosity that this day and the near future will bring. Busyness is an enemy of thoughtfulness, kindness, evangelism, and being on mission for others. A few minutes each morning helps me plan ahead, ask for God’s help, and make the most of every opportunity (Ephesians 5:16).

Along with 15-30 minutes of reading and responding to the Bible, these three categories are helping me be more meaningful in my devotional life and more prepared for my day on mission with God.

Any tips, struggles, ideas from your devotional life? Let us hear from you on Twitter or Facebook.

Read this blog in its original context here.