Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Death and Hope

During my studies at SSU for my Masters of Ministry, Pete Fitch gave us an expression for a spiritual condition to aim for and to practice: Fat Souls.

It could be my appetite for Guinness or for food in general, but this practice of a mode of being has stuck with me.  Sometimes I feel myself getting thin, sometimes it sneaks up on me but whenever I sense it I know my practices have not been keeping my soul fat enough to withstand the weight of the world that is constantly pressing in on me. 

And I try to do something about it.

After an incredibly intense 10 days, I arranged for the Elusive and myself to retreat to the mountains for 48 hours. A time to rest, reorient and renew in the Appalachians at a Christian conference center called, Ridgecrest.  They offer this ridiculous deal for pastors for which we are grateful and try to take advantage of a couple times each year.

I went tired but also excited.  I’m supposed to be starting work on a second Masters next week and I wanted to be rested up for it.

Our second night there coincided with the start of the South East Vineyard Regional Worship leaders retreat and so we snuck in to see and hear old friends and new friends.  Legends John and Marie Barnett led worship that night and the Swirlmaster, David Ruis, spoke.

During worship, I died.  During the message, I received hope.

I don’t remember how many songs we were in to the worship set, but it wasn’t long before I knew the Spirit was speaking to me.  There are times where I ‘sense’ the Spirit speaking to me, I get ideas or impressions but there are other times where I ‘know’ the Spirit is speaking to me, I recognize that Voice that is neither mine nor the enemies, neither vague nor opaque. And as I worshipped with a room full of people jumping in with both feet, led by two people who live what they sing and who embody “a sacrifice of praise,” God was inviting me to die.

I was supposed to start school again next week, I was excited, looking forward to it and full of anticipation.  And the Spirit took it all apart, took me right down to my core again, challenged me and called me to something else.  I had a choice and I chose to die to my dream. I wasn’t happy about it.  I didn’t feel some spiritual euphoria as a result.  But I did feel peace.  Or maybe ‘resolved’ is a better word. I told the Elusive the next day. And the next day I withdrew from the school.

I still don’t feel happy about it.  Maybe what I feel is a small slice of what Paul felt when the Spirit prevented him from going to Bithynia (which I hear is lovely).

As Jon Foreman sings: "Friend, all along / Thought I was learning how to take / How to bend not how to break / How to live not how to cry, but really / I've been learning how to die / I've been learning how to die"

I was undone during the worship.  When David Ruis spoke to us, I was filled with hope. 

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I often think I might be mad, alone, a voice out in the wilderness (the crazy - tinfoil hat kind, not the John kind). David’s message gave me hope for myself (I haven’t completely lost the plot) and for us as a movement, a collection of saints moving together further up and further into the story of God. I won't try to recap, but if you get the chance to hear or watch the message when it's available, you should.  It's a message for all of us.  It's a message that reminded me of what I love about the Vineyard.

My soul got fatter this week, even as I feel a significant sense of personal loss.  Weird, right?  

Sometimes I attend gatherings of my Tribe and I’m left feeling that sense of being the “odd duck.” Tuesday night felt like I was in one of the very best expressions of who our Tribe is and what I believe our Tribe is called to be. It was a night of beauty, of honesty, of simplicity, depth and Kingdom and Spirit and power.


I’m grateful for the Swirl that is our Vineyard worship community and the friends who created the space for my Liminal moment Tuesday night.  I’m grateful for a safe place to die and for a resurrection of hope.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ordaining Amy

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of organizing and leading an ordination service for my friend, Amy.

Personally, I like Thomas Oden’s somewhat sacramental view of ordination and the meaning and purposes he unpacks in his book, Pastoral Theology. Ordination is far more, (if Oden is right – and I think he is) than conferring a title or making something legal or official.  Ordination is a vow, a sacred commitment, that is reciprocal in nature.  The Ordained owns their calling and declares their willingness to be responsible for and to the community of faith.  The ordaining community of faith affirms the calling and declares their willingness to cooperate with and support the Ordained in all ways needed.

The Scripture that we read for Amy’s ordination was from 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verses 12-17. It’s a favorite of mine, with deep significance for me about own sense of the call to ministry.
While I didn’t share these specific thoughts with Amy and the saints assembled, I’m putting them up here as a record, a stone of remembering for me and for her in future days.

1 Timothy 1:12-17 NLT
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him,13 even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 14 Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.
15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

A few personal observations from the Text that resonate within my soul, 29 years on this journey of my own.

God will enable you where he has called you. (vs. 12)
You did not imagine God’s call on your life.  As the community of faith and as faithful friends, we’ve gathered here to affirm that we see what you feel, God has called you to represent him, to share his story and his love with the world around you.

Your ordination is not based on human will but God’s will and he will empower you by his Holy Spirit for every situation you find yourself in, every trial you face, every soul you are called to care for.  Our calling is not based on our adequacy or superior ability but rather God’s willingness to use the imperfect, the limping, the misfits and the weak to reveal his own great power.  God is with you. 

And that is always enough.

Your past does not determine your future. (vs. 13)
There are all kinds of things about our pasts that try to intrude on our present experiences and our understanding of who we are or who we’re not.

The good news from Jesus is this, “behold, I make all things new.” And “anyone in Christ is a new creation.”

God has set you free to engage with him in writing the chapters of your story that are still to come. Many people will continue to offer to write your story for you.  Politely decline these offers.  Listen and follow and play the part God gives you and resist the pressure to play the parts others want you to play.

Jesus offers us a new perspective on the future, a new freedom, new possibilities, he removes human limitations and prejudices and he alone determines the story of your life.

Two practices that last: faith and love. (vs. 14)
Out of all the things man has made the ministry of the gospel, the two greatest practices we are called to engage in are faith and love.

Trust God and demonstrate the reality of God to the hearts that surround you by showing what God can do with a life that is committed to trusting him with your past, trusting him in your present and trusting him for your future.

Love others as Christ has loved you.  Do what love does and embody for the whole world this truth – that God is love and that love wins. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

You are being called into the company of Wounded Healers. (vs 15, 16)
Good leaders, wise leaders and honest leaders walk with a limp.

Don’t hide your imperfections and wounds from the world.  Embrace your limp and live transparently with a world that clings to their masks. Let your liberty and freedom create a hunger for those you do life with to live true faced with you.

Liberate souls and disarm the Powers by celebrating your weaknesses because when you are weak, he is strong. These words from God are true for you and me and call us out from behind our masks to be true faced to those we know: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 

The scars of Jesus and our own scars, not our pretend perfection and flawlessness, are what will bring healing and hope to those with whom we journey

He is God, you are not. (vs. 17)
Two great truths that every pastor or minister of the gospel needs to remember at all times:
There is a God.  You are not him.

We are not ordaining you to be our, or anyone else’s savior, that job’s already been filled.
We are not asking you to be perfect or challenging you to always say and do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reasons.

You won’t.  You can’t.

Be perfectly imperfect and trust God. 

Rest. 
Rely.
Find your identity in your being and not your doing.

I have been directly involved in two ordinations in my lifetime.  The first was a woman within a tradition that allowed her to preach on the mission field but not in her home church.  Amy’s, my second, felt redemptive in that I have come to understand that God has called Amy and God has called many women, to preach and teach and lead – and her freedom to be who God created her to be, provided by Jesus, also liberates me.  I have never known anyone whose calling was more certain to me than Amy’s.  I’m grateful for the grace that allowed me to be part of her service of ordination and the affirmation of the church that this seemed right to us and to the Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Soul Blisters

During my youth ministry days there were many uncomfortable moments.

My first was the first morning I taught the Junior High/Senior High Sunday School class.  I was still in Bible College at the time, relatively young, and during the night a giant zit had emerged just beside my nose and just below the frame of my glasses.  It was physically impossible for the Junior High guys NOT to say something about the zit.  But they could have at least let me pretend to get through the lesson first.  The comments, stares and pointing fingers continued through the worship service that followed.  Good times.

Many times passed between that and the time I noticed a couple had “disappeared” during a youth lock-in.  Not in Bible College any more, it was my full-time gig and new missing kids never ends well.  I left a couple other leaders in charge and started checking behind the closed doors of Sunday School classrooms all over the building.  This led to awkward and uncomfortable moment #927 when I caught the young couple in flagrante delicto. Sadly, I was more embarrassed than they were. The times they were a changin’.

The truly uncomfortable moment I want to tell you about though happened during my last youth ministry.  We had a pretty cool youth ministry, incorporating video into our gatherings, real cutting edge, paradigm shifting kind of stuff.  This particular night, we were watching a video by Carman, the Italian-American rap “artist.” In this particular video, in true, dramatic Carman fashion, his character was saved at the last minute from martyrdom and some seriously kick-butt, Frank Peretti style – angels came to his rescue.  The kids were cheering, reacting just the way they were supposed to and then the uncomfortableness came when one of my adult leaders casually said to the cheering kids, “You know, in real life, hundreds of Christians had their heads cut off, were burned at the stake, thrown to lions and torn into pieces and there weren’t any angels that came in to save them at the last second.”

Downer.

Thus ended my chance for the altar call to end all altar calls that usually started with talk of destiny and ended with a story about a close friend dying in a car accident on their way home from youth group without ever making a decision to follow Jesus. Cue tears, cue raised hands, cue inspirational “fight song” style worship song to send kids back to school to be overcomers.

Downer.

But the truth is that all those young people were given the gift of a liminal moment that night.  A chance to cross the line between immature and mature faith. A chance to move beyond the God who protects us from the lions and tigers and bears, oh my! And to move forward with the God who sometimes walks with us into the lion’s jaws. A chance to grow past the God of my indestructible youth to the God who “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”  A chance to let go of the bedtime story God who manages my portfolio for the highest possible dividends and embrace the God who may be pleased to let my business crash and go bust because He’s more interested in giving me something far more precious than success and wealth.

Downer.  These are not the platitudes with which you gather crowds, build ministries or secure air time.

Out of 13 Apostles, 12 were martyred and 1 was exiled.  I’m thankful for the great men of faith today who have figured out that these early believers got it wrong.  That, in fact, God wants me to have my best life now.  Who have helped me see that if walk faithfully with God (which includes my tithe to the local church) that I am guaranteed good things from God, protection from burly angels who have been working out, and that no evil will touch me.  God’s finally stopped letting us be slaughtered and started guaranteeing our parking spaces. I’m not sure when God switched this up but I’m glad to be living on this side of it.

But what if the reality of our journey with God is that He hasn’t really changed nor have His ways and plans changed?  What if God’s priority is still transformation, redemption and a relationship not for my purposes, but for His? What if I’m not David and my problems aren’t Goliath and following God doesn’t guarantee me a long life or one that could even remotely be called successful by the people who put people on the covers of magazines or elect them to be president of something? What if God is really all about delighting in some obscure nun who dies at 24 from tuberculosis and can only contribute something insignificant to the world called, “the little way”?

What if our journey is less about getting pumped up to face another week and more about a long obedience in the same direction?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My Problem with Worship part 4: (A multi-part post...)

You can find part one here, part two here and part three here.

So, my big idea is this, as we’ve commodified worship a number of unintended but detrimental consequences have occurred. The story behind Matt Redman’s song, “The Heart of Worship” illustrates one pastor and a congregation’s effort to face and overcome some of these consequences.  That a song about that church’s struggle with worship being reduced to our musical preferences became a huge successful song on the worship charts is a perfect illustration of the power of the Powers.

We will sing about not singing and the irony will be lost on us.

That’s not Matt Redman’s fault, that’s my fault, I led that song a lot without even once thinking about the irony.  The best way to worship with that song is likely not to sing it and instead, share the story and invite people to bring their own offerings.

Not thinking about what we’re singing is, for me, an issue.

In part one, I wrote, “We have neglected to pay attention to what we sing.  Our songs will shape our theology if our theology hasn’t shaped our songs.  I’m part of a movement that holds at its core a belief in an enacted inaugurated eschatology. My experience is we quite often sing songs coming from other perspectives that are inherently based on other central beliefs that are in conflict with our own.  We have sacrificed good theology for “a good beat I can dance to.”  We don’t have to, we just do. I believe that within our movement we’ll soon wake up to find the songs we sing have moved us a long way from the radical middle.”

The context of my thoughts about this is the movement of which I am a part.  But I think anyone, in any church with a statement of faith, a mission statement or even a motto needs to give this some consideration. What in the world are you saying with your songs?

I remember attending a worship service at a church several years ago that sang a song whose title I can only guess is, "Money Cometh," based on the repetitive phrase in the chorus.  I attended another church that sang Kevin Prosch's song, "Show Your Power" and found myself awkwardly singing different lyrics than the rest of the congregation when we came to the line that Prosch wrote, "We ask not for riches but look to the cross..." They would not sing, "We ask not for riches..." negative faith baby.  So the lyrics were were written so they could ask for riches while they looked at the Cross. 

A few years ago, as a church planting pastor and a worship leader, I attended a small gathering of academics and theologians – professors and smart people and such – to talk about post-modern hermeneutics.  I was the dimmest bulb in the room and my mind was blown over and over.  During a break, I was standing by two other participants and listening as they were talking about a very popular worship song at the time.  “When it gets to…” and he quoted the line, “I stop singing and look around to see if anyone else seems aware of what they’re singing.”  Having just led that song the Sunday before, it had never occurred to me to stop, nor had I really thought much about that particular line – because the chorus was awesome and I sounded really good on it too.

Considering what they were saying, I realized I didn't believe what I was singing either, it painted a very ugly picture of God if a person thought about it, and I didn't want our church singing that line either.

Overhearing their brief exchange started me thinking more about what I was singing.  It made me realize that the songs we sing shape what we believe about God as much or more than the messages I preached.  Never once did I hang out with someone during the week when I heard them unconsciously repeating lines from my message but I often heard people singing a line or two to themselves from a song from the past Sunday morning worship time. I never had someone ask me, mid-week, if I would repeat the message from a week before, but I did have people ask if we were doing that song again.


Our songs don’t reinforce the pulpit; our songs are pulpits.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

My Problem with Worship interlude: (A multi-part post in which I offend many friends)

One of my favorite stories about worship leading comes from Eddie Espinosa.

Eddie tells a story about one of the members of his worship team coming to him to complain that worship had become boring and flat.  His band member zeroed in on the problem, Eddie always had a prepared set list for worship and what he needed to do was toss the list and follow the Spirit.

Eddie listened, didn’t argue and took in what his bandmate was telling him.

And then he went home and prepared for worship the next Sunday just the same way he always did.  He prayed, listened, considered songs, listened and came up with a list.

But this time he made two small changes.  He hid the list.  He didn’t give the list to his bandmates.  The other change was that he asked God for permission not to follow His lead.  What he meant was that while he normally would drop in a song if he sensed the Spirit leading in a particular direction in the midst of worship, this time he would stick to the list, no matter what.  He felt God was with him.

Sunday morning the band sound checked, ran over a couple songs, seemingly at random and then chilled until the service started.  Once the worship service started, Eddie played his set list just as he had prepared it, start to finish.

Worship went so well that his complaining bandmate came to him after the service really excited.  Instead of complaints he told Eddie how amazing the morning worship had been and he told Eddie he knew exactly why it had been so good…because he’d thrown out the list!

And that’s when Eddie told him the truth.  He’d used the list, just like he had every other time. And he’s done the songs in the order they were on the list, just like every other time.

Eddie’s story isn’t about making a list or not making a list, but it does reveal just how subjective our singing experience can be. 

As a worship leader I’ve led some Sunday mornings where I was pretty sure God had left the building and I wished I could’ve gone with Him.  And then mid-week I’ve received an email about how “powerful” the worship time had been that week for someone there.  Other times I’ve felt like we were in the groove and if we were ever anointed it had been that Sunday, only to have another leader tell me how flat and dull worship had seemed that morning.

As a preacher, I’ve preached sermons I felt went nowhere and sermons I felt were almost worthy adding to the back of the Bible.  And just like with the worship songs, the reactions from others have been contrary to my own experience and perspective.  There’s a lot of subjectivity that takes place on a Sunday morning but to be honest, most of the pressure for how a morning goes lands on the worship leader.

They succeeded/failed to create the atmosphere for the Holy Spirit to move.
They succeeded/failed in getting hearts to open up to what God wanted to do.
They succeeded/failed in ushering us into the secret place.

It wasn’t me screaming at my wife on the way to the service, or yelling at my kids all morning to get them ready.  It wasn’t that I haven’t looked at my Bible app since we left the service last Sunday.  It has nothing to do with my total disengagement with prayer since the last Amen the previous week.  The problem rests solely with our worship leader not jiggling the right levers that got me with the feels.  It was the poor song selection.  It was the bands lack of attention to their transitions.  Or it was simply because the stupid fog machine broke down between first and second service and I can’t get my praise on without diffused light and copious amounts of fog.

Worship is a performance but it never has to be entertainment, even if we are entertained.  A performance is something we do together, share together and own together.  Entertainment is something we grade, we consume and when it doesn’t keep us engaged we move on to another vendor. 

Internal. External.


There is a subjective nature to our worship service that begs for leaders, senior leaders, who will trust their worship leaders and work collaboratively with them.  We need senior leaders to communicate with our congregations that we are all responsible for our worship experience and Sunday mornings are the summation of our experience that started on Monday morning and not a pep rally to get us through the week.

and thus I conclude this interlude...tomorrow I conclude my ranting...

on worship.

As always, leave your comments after the beep, I love to hear from you.

*Eddie's story appeared in Things they Didn't Teach Me in Worship Leading School, Tom Kraeuter, Emerald Books, 1995.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My Problem with Worship pt. 3 (A multi-part post in which I offend many friends)

Part one is here.  Part two is here.

Let me sum up the big idea of part one and two – we have turned worship into a commodity. We leverage it to obtain market share and we treat songwriters, worship leaders and worship music like cogs in our machine.  This has created a number of unintended consequences.

Back in the day, John Wimber, who became the catalyst of the Vineyard Movement, knew music and knew musicians because he was one.  That’s exactly the kind of leader you want to lead a movement with the songs of worship and the experience of the presence of God at its core. Heart of an artist, mind of a strategist, imperfectly perfect to nurture the vulnerable and artistic hearts that gathered to sing and seek, hungry for an authentic experience of God’s presence.

John’s leadership was critical because he understood that the journey to the heart of God always had a singular result – to be propelled back out into the world to love the lost and least, to be the Church. Worship was more than the songs we were singing in the Vineyard, worship was a life laid down in surrender and obedience – a willingness to be a fool for Christ.

And then, worship became popular.

I remember when Christian radio wasn’t playing worship because everyone wanted to listen to contemporary Christian music – it was about God, it was about living for God but it wasn’t usually about God or to God.  It was more often a sermon set to music, sometimes heavy on emotion – “hey kid, who are those Christmas shoes for?” – but it moved away from worship songs.

And then, worship became popular.

The Vineyard had a lot to do with this – not exclusively, but the Vineyard was very influential in making worship (and forgive me for this expression) relevant again. John and the Vineyard influence went overseas – not to plant Vineyards at first, but to come alongside and work together with the churches in the U.K. that were hungry and open to what John and the Vineyard had to offer. It was like fanning a flame or pouring gas on a match – like all these songwriters had just been waiting for someone to say it was o.k. to give birth to new songs and new sounds.  John brought a spark but the tinder was there and ready.

And then, worship became very popular.

And then someone said, “Hey, we can make some money off this!”

Little companies sprang up and big companies bought them and worship as a commodity quickly took shape. And worship filled the airwaves again.

First we bought CDs packed full of amazing songs.  Then we bought CDs with a couple amazing songs.  Then we bought CDs hoping for at least one amazing songs.  Because when we commodify something, we lose interest in quality in our drive to have product to sell.  Eventually we saturate the market to the maximum of what it will bear. And then just a little bit more.

And we start ripping songs, trading and sharing songs because as consumers we know the man is sticking it to us with a 12 song CD that only has two tracks we really like so we’re totally justified in sharing and not paying for our tunes ‘cause, y’know, it’s the man. 

And the artists suffered.  The creators piece of the pie became infinitesimally smaller.  Getting on a CD now was just “giving people exposure” for which they should be thankful and they should stop asking or royalties.

What does all this have to do with how worship became songs?

As we commodified worship, it required us to elevate singing in order to secure our futures.  It’s like toothpaste or shampoo – in order to get your dollars, we have to make the paste about more than teeth and the shampoo about more than soap for your hair.  We’re selling you a brand, a lifestyle, a chance at romance, self-esteem and admiration.  We can’t really brand serving homeless people a meal or speaking out against human trafficking or showing hospitality to strangers or building a racially diverse community or doing most of the things that love does.  Mind you, we’ll brand it and commodify it when and where we can, but it’s just a lot harder than commodifying songs to sing.

Rather than following the Wimberism that the “meat is in the streets,” the commodification of worship has led us to believe that what we do in here is the meat.

And so we influence the Church at large to embrace the belief that songs are our worship.  When we sing is when God shows up.  Because we’re doing this song, miracles can finally happen here.  Social Justice is a code for liberal theology and works based faith, we’ve transcended that with worship and the Spirit will change the world in response to the sweet songs of love we gather to sing.  I don’t need to tell anyone about Jesus or live like Jesus with my neighbor, I just worship him and people walking by will be hit with waves of the Holy Spirit and want to follow him.

Then we started judging Sunday morning worship by whether we did that song we really like, the one that gives us the feels.  Was “Oceans” in the set? Then the anointing was present.  Was “Oceans” still in the worship set? The anointing has obviously left that worship leader/team.  And we’ve reduced our worship experience to measuring the ability of the leader and team to give us the feels rather than our ability to pour out our hearts to God, lose and find ourselves in the Father’s heart and to be compelled by his great love back out into a world full of pain and need.

Recently, I heard someone say, to oppose the powers, you’ve got to oppose the Powers.

I’m writing this as a follower Jesus who loves to worship with songs, who learned to play guitar so he could write songs and sings songs to Jesus.  I’m writing this as a follower of Jesus who has been shaped by worship music by people with last names like Barnett, Tuttle, Doerksen, Park, Smith, Ruis, Prosch, Redman, Mark, Beeching, Hughes, Houston and others.  I am not suggesting that present day worshipers don’t minister to people beyond their songs.  I am simply observing that powers have generally coopted our worship wherever possible, commodified it and marketed it to the singers of the songs by reducing worship to this single expression for which we can be charged a reasonable fee.

And our artists become baristas. (no offense to baristas, I need you too!)


I will now put on my tinfoil hat and sit quietly in my corner.


Monday, August 8, 2016

My Problem with Worship pt. 2: (A multi-post in which I offend many friends)


Since this is a blog and not a thesis, I’m going to make some observations that I won’t be able to back up with statistics or footnotes to research.  This doesn’t mean that my observations have no merit or are not true.  But they will just be observations that come from my experience.  Feel free to tell me how it really is.

In my original post I wrote, “We’ve created a culture that has mistakenly come to believe that worship is primarily songs we sing about God or to God and that loving God is best and most adequately accomplished through singing songs.”

I am convinced this belief has taken root in our church culture because we have commodified worship.  We’ve found a way to harness the winds of heaven in a way to benefit ourselves. And by “we,” I specifically mean those in senior leadership of the Church. Worship has become a commodity by which we secure market shares and fortify our positions.

I’m old enough to remember when contemporary worship started to gain traction.  I’m a veteran of the ‘worship wars.’  I can still recall when, “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me…” was both contemporary and risky to sing on a Sunday morning. I’ve survived a church split where the style of worship was ground zero for the pent up frustrations of two similar but distinct groups of people.

But we’ve crossed the Rubicon, even if skirmishes continue to break out in some places.

And do you know when the tipping point came?

Ever see a gas war?  I used to drive through a small town with 3 gas stations situated on 3 corners of a 4 way intersection.  They always had the same price on gas.

Until one of them blinked.
And then down came the price for a time. First in one, then in the other two. Market driven competition.

In the worship wars, someone blinked.

Someone told their former senior pastor they were now going to another church because they used guitars and drums in their worship.  Blink.

It was less an ideological shift and more a pragmatic shift.  Not for everyone, but for the mainstream folks, we went from killing the musical prophets one month to investing in new sound systems the next.  And in most places, non-musical pastors started telling gifted musical people how to play, what to play and with whom to play.

And as soon as we pastors saw how the musical people created “the feels” for people, we both feared and adored them.  We feared them for their influence and we adored them for their influence.  The fault was not in our stars, but in ourselves.

And frankly, we still fear and adore those who lead our worship.  And so we’ve been handicapped from the start of this adventure. Senior leaders know that those who gather can just as easily scatter and often have.  So senior leaders do what every human is tempted to do when they are scared: they control.

And there are so many ways to control.

Sometimes we control with honey.  We make promises that range from paid salaries or stipends to goals of getting your music recorded and published.  We tell you how wonderful you are and valuable you are, under the umbrella of our covering. Or some other non-sense that puts you under me.

Sometimes we control with a stick.  We berate worship leaders on their song choices, the length of time the songs took that service, the lack of response from the congregation.  We wonder to our worship leaders if maybe they aren’t harboring some hidden sin.  We accuse them of building their own empires or having a “spirit of pride.” And we keep those who are wired to be sensitive and who tend towards self-doubt off balance and disempowered. Hungry for our benevolent approval or fearful of our anointed disappointment.

And so we created an us vs. them world, when really there’s only ever us.

But as soon as you’re a “them” and you’re not an “us,” it’s ever so easy to turn you and what you do into a commodity.  Rather than I/Thou, we maintain an I/It relationship which never produces life. 

Never.

What happens next?  Tuesday…how worship came to mean singing.