Friday, August 28, 2009

Worship Leadership With The Servant's Heart

Worship styles and approaches are a dime a dozen these days. Some churches feel more like concert halls. Sometimes, this is the result of the layout and design of the space where worship takes place. Sometimes, it happens in traditional church spaces because of the heart attitude of the leadership or musicians.

I serve a small, new bilingual congregation on the U.S.-Mexico Border. I come here with a servant's heart. The pastor is not perfect but neither am I. I want the music in this church to reach a professional level, but I expect several years will be required. But I am determined to work with them to gradually grow. As important as what I do musically is the attitude I take toward relationships. How I treat people and how I treat worship matter.

Part of the responsibility I have as lead worshiper is to be a good shepherd, herding them into God's house weekly and helping them feel comfortable there. It's not just about my musical style and taste or my demand for what I want. I get some of what I want, not all of it. I am there to serve their needs. I am there to meet them where they are, pour the love of God upon them through my example -- my passion, my music, etc. -- and help them grow to love worship more. In the process, they will come to know and love God more and better. The most important thing is that they can follow and join in as they are comfortable and that they feel loved and accepted there.

If I have to play guitar for a while instead of piano, I don't complain about that. I am His servant and He called me here. If you come to serve on our worship team, you must believe God has called you to us, and you must humble yourself, set aside your wants and needs and serve. I want to see a good servant's heart in you by the way you volunteer to help clean up, and working with me on the tunes. I want you to be willing to do whatever is needed to help God's people worship. Whether they can sing or play an instrument or not, they need you to help lead them, and that's why God called you there.

When I hear people express frustration that the music may not be energetic enough because of this or that or not what they like because of this or that -- to be honest, I think that comes from a self-serving place, not the heart of God. I think serving God requires us to be open to doing things however we need to do them to meet the needs of His people where He has us at any moment. It is hard to do, but it is our call. It is not about professional musicianship or sound or musical styles. It is not about worship that sounds every Sunday like it came off a CD. It is okay to want all those things and to have the goal of getting there, but coming in demanding them as the only acceptable way is not.

You may be a talented musician and a good and Godly man, but you need to search your heart about these things so that you have the right attitude before God. Whether you serve here or end up elsewhere, your heart attitude is very important. I have to check my heart every day. I'm an artist. I have an ego. I fight that demon. But most of all I am a child of God, who has been blessed to be called to serve His people, and am daily humbled by that privilege. And God rewards us when we serve Him faithfully without concern for such things.

I don't want people to walk away feeling like it was a great concert or great music set. I want the worship music so interwoven with the message the Lord is bringing that day that the music itself is almost incidental -- opportunities for God's people to echo their hearts' cry and speak back to him.It's not about my glory. It's not about people saying "Bryan makes great music." If people walk out the door saying "Wow. Bryan did great today," I have failed. What I want them to do is walk out the door saying: "Wow, I really felt the presence of the Lord here today. Wow, God's presence here was so strong today. Wow, God really touched me today."

If they say those things, then something far more important than quality music has happened. If they say those things, they have had a true encounter with the real, true, living God. And not even the most professional sounding, highest energy, best written music can ever top that. Encountering God is what it's all about and that should be our entire focus and the goal of everything we do. If we get blessed in the process that can only come from God's presence not satisfying ourselves.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Okay, call me old fashioned, but I am clashing with the consumer culture and have been for a long time. I still remember the days when parts didn't cost as much as the original item, when companies took pride in warranties and good maintenance for customers, when items were actually made to last and companies were actually sorry they let their customers down when a product was deemed inferior. It seems those days are gone, and I mourn the loss.

The change happened, historically, after World War II. All of a sudden, inventors like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were demoted as heroes to be replaced by accountants, business leaders and managers. These people didn't have the slightest idea how cars or machines worked or even how to make or fix them, but they did know how to cut down on costs in making them, how to cut employees, parts, or design costs to save the "bottom line." "Bottom Line" became the new buzz word. Marketing went into overdrive to convince people that buying new was better than keeping old. Everyone needs a new car, why keep fixing the old one? With this mentality, maintenance and long lasting products were not a major concern. In the process, Board meetings became less customer satisfaction focused and far more stock price/investor focused.

I think we should rue the day this occurred. My laptop screen got cracked once, and it was over 50% of the cost of the laptop to replace it. My digital camera screen cracked once and the manufacturer suggested replacement. Replacement keys for my keyboard went up to $30 or more a piece. And they didn't seem to last they way they used to. Apparently, the way I play, care for my things, etc. is expected to change if I want things to last. Otherwise, I need to plan on upping my investment by replacing or repairing far more often. This makes me rethink what I buy, when I buy it, and whom I buy it from. And it also makes me sometimes regret not thinking harder in making those decisions.

I still don't buy the idea that when you make and market product, you shouldn't be willing to stake your reputation on it. To me, what I put out there is a statement on who I am, and I honestly don't relate well to people who don't think the same way. It matters a great deal to me when someone accuses me of not meeting their expectations. And I think our society would be a better place if more people still cared about that and acted accordingly. Especially manufacturers and service companies. The fact that they don't is proved every time one of us spends endless time with a computer voice on the phone, trying to reach a real person who can help us resolve an issue. I have come to despise those computer voices -- so impersonal and without emotion. I miss the days when doing business with someone was like building an important relationship. It mattered more and I cared about the seller too.

Call me old-fashioned if you want to. But that's what I believe. For what it's worth...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Border Life

In her book, On The Border Of Opportunity, Marlean Pugach writes: "I want to cross, I want to know the other side, I want to see how life is or is not like mine when I get there, or at least I want to think about it." This pretty much sums up my philosophy toward other cultures. I love to go and explore the differences, the contrasts. I love to see a new way of viewing the world and note how that differs from my own. I love to discover things that break me out of my box. I love to learn and grow.

I have not lived in the borderland very long. But over the past few months here, and several years traveling to and from this area, I have been a bit surprised about the attitude many people here have toward the border. I am aware, having grown up in the Midwest, that many Americans do not share my fascination with other cultures or people who are different from them. Many American shun it and simply write it off as strange and ignorant. I guess I expected people who live in the border region to be a bit more open. I figured crossing over was more of a part of daily life than it seems to be for many people. Instead, people avoid it. Partially, this is due to violence, which is understandable. But even the information on that is so biased and not representative of reality that I find it sad more people are not interested in the larger city just a few minutes away by car across a few bridges.

We love going to Juárez. In fact, we have not gone enough. I am looking forward to my classes starting in two weeks so I can go over once a week. We went there when I taught in June and to buy some groceries. But when we go, we are excited to explore. We like the new foods, musical sounds, etc. We like to explore what's different from what we know and what's similar. For my wife, this takes on different shades than for me, because she's from Brazil. The similarities to what she knows are different than the ones I see to my world. I don't find driving in Juárez as scary as I had been told. We have never felt in danger. And we generally enjoy the hospitality and friendliness of the locals.

I hope people outgrow the fear as the violence calms, which inevitably it will some day. I also hope that some people will start being more interested in who we are as a region. You can't really hope to understand the culture of this place without understanding something about Mexico and the Mexican people. Not to mention Spanish. It's just too interwoven into life here. We have Mexican sections in grocery stores, even whole large stores of Mexican groceries. Spanish radio stations galore in every format. We have more Hispanic faces than Anglos. It is a part of El Paso's identity and it's sad to see people shunning it.

I am looking forward to learning more. Reading every book I can find. Asking questions of people. Exploring. And I plan to continue doing that. To me, it makes me feel a part of things. I wish more others wanted to do the same.

For what it's worth...