September 24, 2011

Navigating the Line

I’m learning that there’s a fine line between prophet and pharisee.
A prophet calls out a culture on the ways it has strayed from truth and warns of the consequences of bad decisions; a pharisee condemns a culture for every minutiae.
A prophet speaks of the One who sent her; a pharisee speaks of himself and those like him.  
A prophet speaks because he cares for those whom he addresses; a pharisee cares only for her perceived superiority over those whom she pities. 
A prophet speaks to people now, here; a pharisee speaks to everyone at all times. 
A prophet is proactive; a pharisee is reactive.

Worship arts pastors, being of creative mind and spirit, often take on the role of prophet for their church culture, sometimes intentionally, but more often not. Our creativity is often at odds with a culture that prefers to mass-produce, our art at odds with a sports-infused populace, our lingering poetry counter to a bullet-point society. It is only natural that we challenge the status quo, as our personalities and our preferences fit the job description. But the danger is that we can become that which we prophesy against; in our cry against perpetual busy-ness, we become too busy ourselves; in our cry for families to spend time together, we neglect our own; in our crusade against consumer-driven worship gatherings, we don’t have time to curate with integrity and simply throw together whatever comes to the top of our minds. We can become pharisees in the midst of our role.

C.S. Lewis is known for saying that all vices are merely virtues taken out of their proper place. The role of the worship pastor is no different; when we do our jobs properly, the people rejoice because they have encountered God, not us. A worship pastor, like a prophet, points to God, calling attention to His mercy, His holiness, His grace, His justice, His love. But when we distort that calling, we begin pointing towards ourselves, to our congregation, to our culture, and we become pharisees.
When we try to enforce our way on others instead of collaborating, we become pharisees.
When we curate a worship gathering with our own tastes in mind rather than what is best for the community, we become pharisees. 
When we condemn others without intense self-examination, we become pharisees. 
When we don’t acknowledge the diversity of tastes and talents in others, and instead mandate our tastes and talents as the preference of God, we become pharisees. 
When we ask others to make sacrifices without first becoming living sacrifices ourselves, we become pharisees. 
When we don’t set aside time to simply be creative (but instead mass-produce what everyone else is doing), we become pharisees. 
When we see resources to be used rather than people to be encouraged, we are pharisees.
When we see only ritual instead of relationship, we are pharisees.

A friend and mentor of mine often says that, to detect counterfeit money, bank tellers are not given a class on what counterfeit looks like, but rather are given time to spend with the real thing. In knowing the real thing inside and out, the counterfeits become obvious. So too, I’m learning that we worship arts pastors need to spend time with the real thing if our gifts and passions and callings are to be used well. For if we don’t know God, all our planning becomes clanging cymbals in the ears of those we lead, and WE become the distraction. While the truth of the matter tends to find itself in the middle somewhere, let’s recommit - daily if necessary - to spending time with the real thing. Let us be prophets, and not pharisees.

September 23, 2011

Worship Connect | Cause for Celebration

I love that I get to contribute to the Worship Connect Blog for the Covenant. I'd love your input over there in the comments section; let's talk about celebration!

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The occasion of several birthdays in our worship arts family this week got me thinking about the importance of celebration. Throughout the scriptures, celebration plays a key role in the life of the Hebrews; Joseph threw his brothers a party, David danced, Ezra read from the scriptures to a multitude with rapt attention, Isaiah saw the angels singing “Holy Holy Holy,” Jesus and the disciples ate together on many occasions.  But we’re left with a picture at the end of the second testament that outdoes them all; a new city descending to a new earth, gleaming and brilliant with light, and a spotless bride dressed to match her husband. A wedding, and a banquet. A dawn breaking. A brand new beginning. And then the passage abruptly ends; we don’t get to keep reading the next adventure …

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Read the rest here.

September 16, 2011


One thing that I don’t know what to do with concerning “the gospel” (the good news recorded in the scriptures) is that it seems to me that in order to accept the good news, we first have to agree with the bad news.  It's starting to bug me a little; we have to accept that our world is broken in order to accept that it needs fixing, but more than that, for those of us westerners/americans who subscribe to a general humanist-flavored worldview (and we all do, to some extent), the bad news is that not only is our world screwed up, but so are we.  Individually, we are messed up.

I am the problem.

And so are you.

And that doesn’t sit well with Americans.  All of us want to not be the one screwed up.  Nobody wants to be responsible.  “It’s not my fault” is a refrain you can hear EVERYWHERE.  I say it. You say it. Everybody says it. Nobody wants to be wrong about something. And yet the good news requires, it seems to me, that we accept that something about us is wrong.

All together.



We all participate in this broken world. I choose to buy products regularly that are assembled in impoverished developing nations where the people are paid so poorly for their lengthy labor that they can barely afford a decent meal for their family that day, thereby perpetuating a broken system that hurts people. I have hurt people emotionally. I’ve ignored people who needed recognition. I’ve recognized people who didn’t. I’ve bought into a culture - hook line and sinker - that says some people are more important than others, that some people get special treatment simply for having more money than me, for having a nicer smile than me or who simply are celebrity because they say they are. I’ve bought into that.

And so have you.

Now maybe we don’t think so. I know I don’t much think about it while I’m brushing my teeth or eating a hot dog. It’s like water to a fish; it’s just there, but the truth is that I live my life in such a way that validates those principles as reality. My behavior says it louder than my voice ever could.

And so does yours.

Bill Hybels presented the idea of getting from “here” to “there” a few years ago at a leadership summit. In order to start the journey, for him, you need to make “here” look really bad so that “there” looks more appealing.  I know it’s so cliche for evangelicals in particular to say things like “if you were to die today, would you go to heaven?” but I wonder sometimes if that’s really the right track, that starting with the problem and ending with the solution is how to go about this whole thing.  It would also make sense to me that anybody immersed in our culture like fish in water would have a hard time with that, pointing at them and saying things like “see the crazy fundamentalist?”  [side note: I know many evangelicals bring it on themselves by saying stupid things that don’t have anything to do with the gospel, like how you should divorce your Alzheimer’s wife, something totally un-Jesus, and by being “against culture” because it’s easier to dismiss the whole thing by demonizing the other than it is to be discerning and figure out where we ought to agree with our culture.]  But the fact of the matter is that just because it’s uncomfortable to be wrong, to be broken, to be in need of a savior … that doesn’t mean it’s untrue, and it doesn’t mean we should shut up about it.




Here’s the thing though: it’s not really good news to tell somebody that God’s here to redeem you if you don’t think you need redeeming.  It’s more of an annoyance.  Think of it, if you’re a Christian and a Hindu were to come up to you and tell you that you’re broken and that Ganesh has all the answers, what would you say?  You’d laugh at them, most likely, or you’d get really uncomfortable and try to avoid making eye contact.  Maybe you’d get mad and ask what right they have to tell you something about Ganesh, and who ever heard of THAT god anyway, it’s not real. … Sound familiar?

But I also know that many people already recognize a broken world when they see one.  Going up to somebody in the subway and telling them they’re going to hell isn’t really that helpful if the person doesn’t believe hell exists or - worse - if they already think they’re IN hell. You have to speak a language they understand, and to learn that language, you kind of have to know them first.  You don’t get to tell somebody they’re broken until you know who they are.  In today’s world, we have to belong before we’ll believe; we have to know that these people care about us and have our best interests at heart before we’ll trust them to suggest to us what’s what.  We need to know them, and they need to know us.

And so to me, it’s really good that Truth with a capital-T is a Person, not some abstract concept.  Truth is in a relationship, not a belief.  When we say we know Truth, it’s not a list of bullet-points we can memorize and put on a powerpoint, but rather it’s more like knowing my friend Mike.  I know that Mike really likes music and can play a mean lead electric, that he can speak some Japanese, that sushi and Chipotle are always on his menu.  But I also know he’s got my back; we’ve been through some stuff that’s built trust between us, and if he were to tell me that I messed up (and he has), I’d believe him far more readily than Bob the Televangelist. I can tell you all about Mike, but until you spend time with him (and you should), you can’t trust him the way I do.