Do you suffer from G.A.S.?

BOSS Guitar Effects Pedal

I confess — I suffer from, Gear Acquisition Syndrome.  G.A.S., as I call it, strikes with little warning.  For the guitarist, it hits the hardest.  Come on, guitar players, you know what I’m talking about — the inability to resist that 3rd trip to Guitar Center this week or throwing away the latest Sweetwater Music catalog or deleting the latest “deals” email from Musician’s Friend.  Before you know it, you’ve acquired yet another guitar, effects pedal, or a sackful of indispensable accessories.

One of my students asked me this week… Pat, I was wondering if I ever got an effects board, what you would recommend?

I can spot the tell-tale signs of G.A.S.  Poor kid.  He’s been secretly drooling over my POD HD 500.  (The result of a particularly intense attack of G.A.S. I had a couple of years ago.)  It isn’t unusual to covet your teacher’s gear.  I remember taking lessons from (Name drop warning!) Preston Reed back in the early 90’s.  He used D’Angelico strings and Goldengate thumb picks back then…and in no time, so was I.

Every young guitar player risks being seduced by all the cool gear and easily tricked into thinking, “If I just had that cool effects pedal, I could play that song.”  (Come to think of it, the same thing happens to old guitar players, too!)  The coolest old-school guitar sounds, which all these fancy effects devices are trying to emulate anyway, were accomplished with an amp, guitar, and a set of nimble fingers calloused by hours in the woodshed.  I remember what a humbling lesson it was for me when I realized that shelling out a wad of hard-earned cash wasn’t changing the fact that my playing stunk.  The truth is… working on your playing technique is always the best thing you can do.

As I continued to ponder my student’s question, I recalled some sage advise my friend, Michael Muilenburg once said.  “Never underestimate the tone that comes from a player’s fingers.”

That’s it!  That recollection inspired me to encourage my student to advance his skill and to resist the onset of G.A.S.  Which is exactly what I did…and then I promptly invited him to come with me on a trip to Guitar Center over Christmas break!

Developing a love for God’s Word

I got this text from a ministry leader friend the other day:

How do you develop a love for God’s Word? I’ve realized lately that I’m hungry for His presence, so I worship and pray, but I rarely go to the Word. I want to go to the Word, but I struggle as my instant reaction is “school work.” When I do go to the Word it’s for a ministry purpose, not because I want to spend time with Him.

What has helped me the most to cultivate a desire to read the Bible? Regular Bible study. For me, during the last 3 years, that’s been going to Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). It keeps me in the Word daily. It causes me to interact with the Bible. Countless times I have encountered His presence. As I read and study, He gives me direction, He loves me and embraces me, He disciplines me, He forgives me and extends his mercy and grace to me.

I’m not saying that you have to go to BSF to experience God. What I am saying is that God can be known and experienced through a daily discipline of Bible study. Now, you said it…. that’s sounds like “work.” Yup. It is. No doubt about it. But so is any relationship worth nurturing.

Here’s a thought, what if you connect your worship and prayer life with Bible reading? Try reading the book of Ephesians – it’s only 6 chapters. But before you read it, express your heart to God through worship and prayer. Tell Him that you long to experience His presence through His Word. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you through His Word and give you a lasting hunger for it. Sing to Him.  Pray to Him.  Read His Word.

Remember that it is through Jesus alone that we come close to God. John 1:1 tells us that Jesus isn’t in the Word, he IS the Word. I love this quote from Bob Kauflin’s book, Worship Matters:

“Biblically speaking, no worship leader, pastor, band, or song will ever bring us close to God. We can’t shout, dance, or prophesy our way into God’s presence. Worship itself cannot lead us into God’s presence. Only Jesus himself can bring us into God’s presence, and he has done it through a single sacrifice that will never be repeated—only joyfully recounted and trusted in.”

Thoughts on NWLC KS 2013 – Pt. 1

Having just returned from the National Worship Leader Worship in Leawood, KS., I am going to collect some of my thoughts and share them with you here.  If you attended or plan to attend one of the other NWLC gatherings around the country this year, share your experiences in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

The folks at Worship Leader Magazine never fail to put on a first-rate conference.  Even though this was my 5th consecutive conference, I still find new and interesting workshops that help equip me for ministry.  I’m blown away at how many of the speakers and clinicians spoke directly into what’s happening in my life and ministry.  For example, my church is going through a lead pastor transition so the first workshop I put on my schedule focused on the relationship between the lead pastor and worship leader.  My take-aways from that workshop were many and I feel ready to put my best foot forward when I meet our new pastor.

I continually find the conference in touch with what’s happening in local church ministry.  For example, I’ve written a couple of posts here about a pressure that I believe exists to take things to the “next level.”  (Check out Down To The Next Level – Part 1 and Part 2)  People from your church attend a worship concert on Friday night, complete with all the lights, haze, projectors, and sound system and then want you to produce the same experience on Sunday morning!  Let me be clear – I am all for the worship concert.  It’s a good thing and I love to go them.  Yet, it’s clear they’ve affected the way we do modern church.  In fact, so much so, that this was addressed at NWLC 13 by several general session speakers and clinicians.  And just yesterday I came across a tweet from @weareworship sharing an article from Paul Baloche describing this very issue as a “challenge facing us all.”

Author Ian Morgan Cron offered a workshop called “You Are What You Eat” – How a modern, non-liturgical church can unleash the trans-formative power of the Lord’s Supper in weekly worship.  He used this video to get the conversation started:

I loved his definition of what a worship leader does.  Have you been tempted to (as Ian put it) grab God and bring Him down so everyone in this space can have a seismic experience?  (Me: busted!)  Do you resonate with his observation that we (the church) have gotten into a situation where we have to keep amping it up?  

Pastor Steve Berger spoke to us passionately at one of our general sessions about the “Spirit” part of worshiping in Spirit and truth from John 4. One main theme in his message was that worshiping in the Spirit is a supernatural thing.  In Rev. 1:10 John was in the Spirit and heard/saw/experienced supernatural things.  Pastor Berger cautioned us that when we try to create the supernatural on our own (through effects, lighting, etc.) we diminish the real supernatural in our midst.  He said, “Let’s not substitute natural things for our supernatural God.”  

I’ll stop here for now and share more at a later time.  I really would love to hear from you whether you attended NWLC 13 or not.  Please share your thoughts below.  Thanks! -Pat

Leading Surrender

WorshipBackground

A good friend of mine, who is a pastor, mentioned a phrase to me recently that really got me thinking.  He said, “Excellence and humility is what we are called to in worship.”

Let’s think about that for a minute.  Humility?  Absolutely.  Look at the meaning of the word worship from John 4 in Strong’s Concordance.  That’s certainly a picture of humility before the Lord.  Excellence?  Hmmm…I don’t know about that.  That is a potentially dangerous word when spoken to musicians.  The “E” word can translate as “you must be perfect.”  Musicians train from a young age striving for the perfect performance.  Failure to execute perfectly translates into not being good enough.  And in the church, that can mean the musician is left feeling that missing that one note has caused the Holy Spirit to flee somehow.  When I began worship leading 15 years ago, I heard that word used a lot to describe what worship ministries are called to.  It was common at that time to hear conference speakers or other notable leaders to say boldly, “God calls us to excellence in worship.”  I must admit, I went along with the idea.  I mean, it sounds good, doesn’t it?

The whole idea of striving for excellence in worship began to unravel for me a couple of years ago.  I heard a well-respected clinician at the National Worship Leader Conference (NWLC) say, “Perfectionism is an idol.”  That made my ears (and everyone elses in the room) perk up.  At the same time, I see an ever-increasing pressure to take worship team performance to the next level.  (For more on that, read my posts Down To The Next Level Part 1 and Part 2.)  I have another dear, respected friend who has led many terrific, mostly volunteer music ministries for many churches.  He acknowledges that the pursuit of “excellence” is causing his current church to hire an increasing number of professional musicians resulting in the removal of less talented volunteers.  Oh, and did I mention the $15k for the new stage lighting system?

In the church I serve, I’ve been the worship director since its beginning as a church plant in 2003.  I remember our church plant coach warning me specifically that if I sought only pro players for the worship band, I could expect that no one from the congregation would be interested in trying out for the worship team.  They’re unable to see themselves as being good enough.

I see in scripture where musicians should be “skilled” and “trained” – so there’s certainly biblical underpinning.  In fact, I frequently preach Psalms 33:3 and 1 Chronicles 25:6-7 to my worship teams.  (I first learned those scriptures from Paul Baloche.  Check out Paul’s thoughts on Performance vs. Worship Leading.)  Scripture shows us that our offering of worship should cost us something (1 Chronicles 21:24) and that we should hold nothing back. (Romans 12:1)

Holding up “excellence” as THE standard for the worship musician presents an overwhelming task, particularly for anyone early in their musical and spiritual development.  Shouldn’t we be meeting folks where they’re at and then equipping them for ministry?  I think we would see far more spiritual growth, musical skill, and creative freedom if we, as worship leaders, sought to inspire our worship teams to make incremental steps to grow all the talents that God has given them.

God gives us talent – practice turns talent into skill – and skill is an offering to the Lord.  (Psalms 33:3)  I try to instill this idea into worship teams – that practice is an offering – growing in your skill is an offering – rehearsals are offerings to the Lord.  Preparation and planning are offerings to the Lord.  Seeing the entire process of the musician’s preparation for Sunday morning as worship takes the focus off of the Sunday morning performance and places it where it belongs – in our every day life with God!

In worship, I don’t think excellence is the goal.  I think the offering of our whole selves to God in complete surrender is the goal.  Don’t seek excellence, seek God.  Excellence means you “excel” at something – at a high level.  Should we be known as churches that excel at execution of Sunday morning worship or as churches that excel at whole-hearted surrender to God?

I continued to dialogue with my pastor friend about this.  As we exchanged emails, he was able to further clarify what he was trying to say – God calls us to surrender so that He can mold us into something excellent for Him!  A heart, soul, mind, and spirit in total surrender to God (Spirit and Truth Worship) is excellent!  It excels!  That kind of worship is our “highest” praise.  That kind of excellence comes not by leading in excellence, but by leading in surrender, humility, leading a life with the forehead on the floor.  Another way to say it might be…”surrender leads to excellence.”   Leading in excellence is just me trying to be good enough.  Leading in surrender is something that allows God to make me into something excellent for Him.  God calls us to surrender, then He makes us excellent for Him.

Deep Impact

Have you ever wondered if your music ministry is having any lasting impact?  My friend, Bill Stai, called me recently to tell me about a music ministry he’d started and how it might have more impact.  I was so inspired by what Bill was up to that I couldn’t wait to share it with you here on worshipBOOST.

Bill and I share a love for music and ministry.  He’s been both a pastor and a musician.  (Do you ever really retire from either one?  I don’t think so!)  We also share a heart for prison ministry.  He’s skilled in carpentry and musical instrument building.  (Bill used to make instruments for Musicmakers in Stillwater, MN.)  In fact, he built a mountain dulcimer a couple of years ago with an idea in mind that he would learn how to play the old hymns on it and perform them at Three Links Care Center.  He developed a unique modal tuning for his dulcimer and learned all the chord shapes that would allow him to play both the melody and chord accompaniment.  Over the months that followed, he taught himself how to play about 30 hymn favorites by heart.  Which brings me back to Bill’s phone call…

As the his church’s worship director, Bill wanted me to know that he was regularly visiting Three Links Care Center to play hymns and to share his faith in Christ.  He wondered if I would accompany him on one of his “gigs” so that I could see what he was doing.  It was important to him to make the connection between his music ministry at the care center and our church’s music ministry.  Bill sees what he’s doing as an extension of our church in the community.  Before the phone call ended, he asked if I might have any ideas about how he could have more impact.  I readily agreed to join him at the next opportunity.

A couple of weeks later, we met at the care center.  As we walked in, I quickly realized that Bill had developed friendships with staff and residents alike.  He knew many by their first names and they knew his.  At our first stop, Bill set down his instrument case and opened the latches.  He opened the case revealing his beautiful hand-made mountain dulcimer.  It’s a lovely instrument and larger than I had imagined.  He sat down in a chair with the instrument on his lap.  Connected to the dulcimer was a small hand-made strap that went around his waist to make sure it stayed on his lap.  He placed a plastic thumbpick and two metal fingerpicks on his right hand and began to play.

What happened next was remarkable.  There was a resident that was sitting with her back to Bill.  As he began to play, she turned her head towards the music and said, “That’s so beautiful.  May dad plays that song all the time.  I can hear him singing.”

I accompanied Bill to another location at the care center.  When we arrived, again he was greeted warmly by the staff and residents.  There were just 3 people in the living room when he began to play, but soon the sounds of Bill’s mountain dulcimer had the room filled.  I watched an amazing transformation take place on the faces of seemingly inattentive residents as they heard the familiar melodies.  Eyes opened and sparkled.  Some began to sing.  At one point, Bill paused and shared his faith.  He asked the question, “Why was Jesus so scared (to the point of sweating blood) in the Garden of Gethsemane.”  [See Luke 22:44]  Bill reminded us that Jesus felt completely abandoned as the sin of the world was placed upon him and was separated from his father in heaven.  He shared how Jesus experienced complete abandonment and loneliness.  (A concept that his audience is altogether too familiar with.)  Then Bill shared the hope that faith in Jesus and his saving work on the cross can give us complete assurance that we will never, ever be abandoned by God.  And then Bill resumed playing hymns like The Wonderful Cross, Amazing Grace, and Beautiful Savior.

As I walked back to my car, I couldn’t help feeling my heart lifted along with the residents of Three Links that were touched by Bill’s visit.  I was drawn by the simplicity of his music.  I was impressed by the relationships that he had built with so many staff and residents.  I was encouraged as he shared his faith with authenticity.  As a musician, I respected Bill for the amount of effort he put into preparing himself – building his own instrument, figuring out an altered tuning, learning all the chord shapes and memorizing the music – I was so inspired by his humble offering.

Remember how Bill asked me to give him suggestions on how to give his ministry more impact?  Bill, my friend, you’re doing just fine.  Actually, I think I learned a few things from you.

When Music Matters

I just got home from my church staff meeting.  I’ve served this church as a worship director for 10 years now.  As a staff, we’ve been through a lot together.  Today’s meeting was a time of sharing, planning, encouragement, laughter, and some tears.  I feel blessed and invigorated.  Arriving home afterwards, I sat down with some lunch and answered emails.  I came across a “caringbridge” notification for a dear friend that’s been fighting mantle cell lymphoma cancer for 5 years.  His wife has faithfully shared their journey since day one, and it’s such an amazing story!  (She really should gather up all the journal entries and publish a book!)  I felt compelled to share today’s entry because it serves as a reminder to me (and all who serve in any music ministry) of how God can use us.  The Gospel message we’ve been entrusted to deliver can always be counted on to bring Hope when and wherever it’s needed most.  I’m humbled and grateful that I get to do what I do and that I serve alongside so many wonderful people at my church.  Ministers of music  – where ever you are across this world – be encouraged that your faithfulness in music ministry matters!

Pat

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More Birthdays

Written by my friend, Rollie Brandt.

The campaign for The American Cancer Society lately is to focus on celebrating “more birthdays!”  It’s a great thought isn’t it? Since we started down this cancer journey in June of 2008, (when daughter Heidi set up this CaringBridge Site), we HAVE celebrated more birthdays!  I can’t resist calling out tomorrow!  … the 5th BIRTHDAY Phil’s been blessed with since this all began!  FIVE more birthdays!  Right now Phil’s in remission, yet life isn’t what he’d like it to be. The drugs have taken a toll, especially Prednisone. We hold on to HOPE however, that over the next several months as it’s very slowly tapered, Phil can return to more of his “old self” and gain back strength. It’s really difficult for any of us to really understand what he feels like. Once in a while he’s encouraged by a conversation with someone who HAS been on the dreaded Prednisone who really “gets it.”  One friend at work told me it’s kind of like having MS, the way your muscles feel…  So he just keeps putting one foot in front of the other, like he has for 5 years.

I’m just happy Phil’s here to celebrate ANOTHER birthday tomorrow!

This has been a real learning experiences along the way to say the least, facing many fears while being helped and loved by so many people; growing in so many ways, including our Faith in God. I take a lot of comfort from spiritually inspiring songs I listen to regularly.  Take some time to click on the links for these 2 songs…

The song Long Way Home by Steven Curtis Chapman reminds us “even on the best days, He says to remember we’re not home yet, so don’t get too comfortable ’cause really all we are is just pilgrims passing through.”

From the song Blessings –  “what if your blessings come through rain drops, what if your healing comes through tears, what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near. What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise.”

We Are Not Robots

Here’s a post I saw today on Twitter from WorshipLinks.  The post is called We Are Not Robots and is written by Steve Brown, worship coordinator at Messiah Lutheran Church in South Windsor, CT.