How do you help your church worship?

Hey all you worship leaders out there! How would you complete this sentence…

I help my congregation worship by ____________________________________.

I’m approaching 2,000 views on worshipBOOST – from all over the world. Please share your ideas about how you help your congregation worship in the comments below.

Pat

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

Fingerpicking Without Thinking

One of my Skype students asked me this week about how to improve at fingerpicking while leading worship – without having to think too much.  Honestly the only way to play in any style without having to think too much is to practice, practice, practice, etc.  The goal is to get to that place where all the technical skills become second nature.  To that end, I offer this little fingerpicking exercise.  I’ve included the chord diagrams and TAB.  Just click on this:   Fingerstyle Exercise by Pat Shelby

Have fun!  Leave a comment if you have any questions.

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.”

Down To The Next Level, Pt. 2

Before reading this post, be sure to read Down To The Next Level, Pt. 1

In this post, I want to explore further the role of the worship leader and why our churches hunger to reach a new level of worship.

I closed Pt. 1 with Jesus telling us in John 4:23 that the Father is looking for “Spirit and Truth” worshipers. The original Greek transliteration for the word worship here is proskyneō and means to kiss the hand in reverence, or to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. If we want to reach a new level of worship, we must bow down.

I recently used Russell Henderson’s post Worship Leader or Cheer Leader? as a devotional for my worship team, church staff, and vision team (elders). It sparked a lot of great discussion. I asked each group if they think we are reaching the level of intimacy with God that David wrote about in Psalm 139, one respondent asked, “Are we prepared to meet God on Sunday morning or are we just showing up?” That kind of brings the question back to each of us, doesn’t it? Didn’t Stuart Smalley (of SNL fame) help us notice that when we point a finger of blame at someone, 3 fingers are pointing back at us?! 😉

Let’s first establish the source of this hunger to reach a greater intimacy with God. In the book, The Pursuit of God, by A.W. Tozer, the author helps us understand that the hunger for God originates with God. No self-effort will allow us to take credit. (John 6:44)

We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: “Thy right hand upholdeth me.”

Everything starts with God and we respond. Therefore, each of us, alone, are responsible for…our response. If we believe we’re going to meet with the Creator of the Universe each Sunday morning, then shouldn’t we start, each day of the week, with a faith-filled anticipation that says, “Holy cow, I’m so excited to meet with YOU on Sunday, Lord!” (Hebrews 11:6) A “Spirit and Truth” worshiper longs to be in His presence day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. (Psalm 84:1-2) It’s that kind of faith that is pleasing to God. It pleases Him so much, the Bible says, He’ll reward it.

So what’s the reward? If you seek him, he will be found by you says 1 Chronicles 28:9. When my boys were younger, they loved playing a game they called, “Chase Dad.” As you might guess, Chase Dad is just that…chasing dad all over the house until you catch him! For me, this meant perfecting the ability to leap two or more stairs at a time, sprinting through hallways, darting around furniture and over beds; doing whatever it took to avoid being caught. And yes…I was eventually caught…and would reward them with a wrestling match, lots of jumping on dad, pillow fights, and other rough-housing that Mom might not approve of. (BTW, Chase Dad is a game best played when Mom is at work.) If I included some hide-n-seek in the game of Chase Dad, that was always the best! I loved to listen to my children call out to me as they searched the house. In my silence, I was excited to have them find me. The boys never gave up…and the reward would come. And so it is with God. “…you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 4:29) It would be just like God to use a child to teach me how to pursue Him.

If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond.

If the outworking of our faith (our response to his prevenient drawing) is lacking on Sunday morning, Tozer states we won’t have an experience of the Divine.

“Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.”

So, what shall we do?  Will we keep Him waiting?  Will we look to the worship leader or the worship band to get us excited about being in God’s presence? Or will we arrive on Sunday morning, anticipating, expecting to join the great assembly of Spirit and Truth worshipers; filled with a longing that only He can satisfy and determined to find Him?  And will we bow our lives before Him, all of us, in profound reverence and pursue Him with all that we are? A reward unspeakably sweet awaits those who put their trust in Him!

For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.

Excerpts From: A. W. Tozer. “The Pursuit of God.” MobileReference, 2010-05-07. Check out this book on the iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-pursuit-of-god/id367791780?mt=11

Click here to find the book on Amazon.com.

Worship Leader / Songwriter Tommy Walker’s worship CD “The Pursuit of God” pays homage to the profound effect that Tozer’s writings had on his life.  It is an extraordinary recording!  Listening to this CD has helped me to journey to that place of intimacy with God that my heart longs for.  I know it will bless you, too.

In this video, Tommy Walker sings an acoustic version of his song “Nearer” (from The Pursuit of God CD).  After he plays the song, he demonstrates how to play it on guitar.  I’m including the video on this blog post because: 1 – This song was inspired by Tozer’s book, 2 – The song totally nails the topic were discussing, 3 – Tommy gives such encouraging and practical instruction for the worship guitarist, and finally… 4 – This song helps me worship God!  I pray it helps you to worship Him, too!

I invite you to share your comments below!  Thank you for visiting my blog!

Down To The Next Level, Pt. 1

Hand reaching to the skyWorship Leaders, have you ever been asked this question? “How do we get our church to the next level in worship?” A google search reveals link after link of advice on how to take your career, business, life, golf game, finances, fitness, education…you name it, all to the next level. But what about worship, personal or corporate; are there different levels? What does that even mean anyway? Is this a cultural concept or a biblical concept? Does your church look to you each week to “elevate” the worship experience? Have you served a church that let you go because you couldn’t take them to the next level?

Church leadership is passionate about motivating the congregation. Countless hours are spent in prayer and sweat trying to inspire and energize people for ministry. It can be tempting to look at the music we worship with as a way to prod them into action. Have you heard statements like: We need to start every service with a high-energy, fast song. We need a break through. You’re not rocking enough. We need you to get us revved up on Sunday morning! If the music is rocking the house, the congregation responds – but is it God they’re responding to or just the music?

As you look out upon the congregation on Sunday morning, have you felt the weight of what I’m talking about? Is it really our responsibility as leaders of worship to “rev up” the congregation? Are we, as worship leaders, responsible for the congregation reaching a new level of worship? Or conversely, is it our fault if they don’t?

I’ve served several churches and been at ground-zero in some tense worship style battles. When I look back on it, I concede that my own biblical underpinning regarding what the Bible has to say about worship was lacking and prevented me from being a better leader in those discussions. I rarely sought God’s counsel through His Word. I was bringing my own feelings to the debate instead of sharing what scripture shows us. (The outcome of some of those battles might have been different.) Responding to God is at the heart of worship and music has been at the center of expressing that heart for thousands of years. All this has me interested in discovering what’s behind the desire to reach the “next level” of worship. My thoughts follow. Leave a reply and share in the discussion!

It’s impossible for the average or small church to reproduce the aural and visual experience of the modern-day Christian worship concert. That amazing, incredible worship concert on Saturday night places a pretty tall order on the worship team for Sunday morning. Are we trying to quench our thirst for intimacy with God by attempting to recreate the worship concert? At the National Worship Leader Conference in Leawood, Kansas last year, I heard clinician Stan Endicott say, “Why do we try to force a 105 decibel rock concert on our congregations at 9:00 on Sunday morning? In what other area in life does that kind of thing happen?!” Songwriter Paul Baloche calls Sunday morning the “Un-concert” for a reason.

Corporate worship is a journey that we travel together. But do we know where we’re going and how to get there? As a travel guide for this journey, how I can improve my leadership so that our congregation could feel unified in our Sunday morning destination? Russell Henderson makes the point in his post Worship Leader or Cheer Leader that many churches limit the length of their journey of worship to nothing more than a pep-rally for Jesus. They never make it to that place of intimacy with God that King David wrote about. Search me, O God, and know my heart…See if there is any offensive way in me. Psalm 139:23-24 Henderson points out that we have an obligation to allow times for the Holy Spirit to move and work in us individually and corporately. Like flossing, everyone agrees it’s a good thing to do but not everyone makes time for it.

Jesus tells the woman at the well (and us) that the Father is looking for true worshipers that will worship him in Spirit and Truth. John 4:23 Rus Henderson’s post, Worship Leader or Cheer Leader has an easy-to-understand insight about this passage. I was inspired to dig deeper so I went to the Blue Letter Bible to find out more about the original meaning of the Greek word for worship from this text. (BTW, here’s a great video on how to use the Blue Letter Bible online website.) The Greek transliteration for worship in this verse is proskyneō and means to kiss the hand in reverence, or to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. Do you want to get to the next level in worship? Bow down. The Father is looking for worshipers willing to bow their lives before Him as a response to his immeasurable love. This is the ultimate destination to which He calls us. Trying to rev people up on our own is water that will only cause you to thirst again. Living Water that satisfies all thirst awaits those who choose a life bowed down before the Most High God.

For more on this topic, check out Glen Packiam’s post on churchleaders.com.

Please join the conversation below. Next, I plan to share some thoughts on the question of responsibility I raised above. Is it a music style issue or a lifestyle issue? Stay tuned…

You Can’t Keep God Out

I remember that still small voice calling me into music ministry.  It was 1994 and I was at a Christian retreat weekend.  Honestly, it wasn’t really an audible voice.  It was more like an instantaneous divine directive.  I knew God wanted me to use my musical gifting to serve him, and I was so ready.  I had my own ideas about how it would look though.  Sound familiar?  20 years ago, a friend of mine, that was active at that time in Charis prison ministry, invited me to serve on a weekend team.  I was so conflicted inside as I searched for an answer to his question.  When I said “yes” to God about serving him in music ministry, this whole idea about going to prison was not on my radar.  Looking back, I was plain afraid.  Even my friend’s reassurance that this would be a deeply meaningful endeavor didn’t persuade me in the least.  Over the years, I’ve run into him a few times – each time re-extending the offer to me, and me…politely declining.

Fast forward to 2009.  My friend, John Klockeman, invited me to be a part of a bible study at the MCF in Faribault, MN.  To my immediate surprise, I said yes!  I have no idea why, except to say that I think it’s called surrender.  On the day we arrived at the prison, we were escorted to the meeting room by security staff and soon the offenders arrived.  I was asked to lead worship and did so…knees literally knocking.  Then something amazing happened!  In the midst of our singing, I became aware of God’s presence in the room.  It was thick and tangible.  Unmistakable.  These men were worshipping the Living God with everything they had.  Like the psalmist wrote in Psalms 40:3 I suddenly became aware of who God is and how important these men were to him and in that moment I was deeply touched and amazed.  I remember thinking, “God, you’re HERE in THIS place?!”

I directed the prison choir for a graduation program not too long ago.  Many offenders were receiving high school and college level degrees.  I later walked out with the keynote speaker for that event.  He asked me how I got involved directing the prison choir.  When I told him about my first experience (and many, many since), he said, “Ah…you’ve discovered that these walls were meant to keep these offenders here, but they can’t keep God out!”

The associate prison chaplain contacted me one day.  He asked if I was interested in directing the Christian prison choir.  He needed someone who could be available on Sundays.  Being worship director at Rejoice! Church keeps me pretty occupied on Sundays so I reluctantly had to say no.  I wanted there to be a way to say yes.  But there just didn’t seem to be….until…

The chaplain and I got together for a cup of coffee one day at the James Gang Coffeehouse.  It was there that I shared for the first time the following idea:  What if I put together a volunteer choir from my church and taught them a dozen worship songs over 8 to 10 weeks let’s say…and then, what if I went to the prison to teach the same songs to the offender choir for those same 8 to 10 weeks — with the goal of bringing the two groups together to form one large combined choir — and accompany that choir with our church worship band…and put on a worship concert at the prison for an audience of offenders and staff???

Tomorrow, Friday, December 14th, 2012, will be our 4th such worship concert at the men’s prison in Faribault, MN.  I’ve had 8 weeks of twice a week rehearsals – one night with my church choir and one night with the prison choir.  I’ve had a delightful time with both groups, learning songs like Paul Baloche and Lincoln Brewster’s song Shout For Joy, and Chris Tomlin’s version of Angels We Have Heard On High and many more.  I think back to my friend from Charis that first invited me to become involved in a prison ministry and how he was so right when he predicted how deeply meaningful this would be to me.  It blows my mind when I think of how God turned something that I would only go to dragging my heals, and turn it into my most treasured music ministry experience.  I’m so exited for tomorrow!  I’m encouraging my choir, band, and tech crew to post their comments here about their experiences being involved in this adventure.  No doubt they have their own stories of how they’ve discovered that no matter where you go, you can’t keep God out!