Wednesday, January 20, 2016



 I don’t know if you have ever read a Louis L’amour western, but they often start something like this… “A tall stranger, a few inches over six feet, rides into town.  He rides upon his chestnut gelding with his back straight and his six gun held in his holster by a leather loop. He is broad in the shoulders, has narrow hips, and his green eyes hold both amusement and intensity.”

    The typical western hero and I don’t look anything like that.  While there was an age of glorifying heroes today there sometimes seems a prejudice against heroes, as if we didn’t need them anymore.  It is absolutely true that the only Messiah people need is Jesus, and none of us can or ever try to substitute for Him.  Individuals can get into all kinds of ego and personality trouble when they attempt to take on the mantel of being “The Savior” for the people.  Being a “Moses” can rob the people of the community of the sense that their opinions, desires, and dignity are the engine that is needed for positive change, and it is within the power of their hands and faith that can produce that change.

  At the same time the movement to diminish the importance (of heroes) and a man of faith who enters into, or is raised up in, a community and brings with him passion, calling, learning, skills, ideas and giftedness deprives the neediest of communities with the blessing that such a person can bring.  There is no substitute for leadership and almost no more significant gift to a community than a competent, godly, and committed leader.

     The negative leader is always a disaster; the person who manipulates, who abuses, deceives and exploits those who follow him often leaves emotional, psychological, and community disintegration and wreckage behind him.  We don’t need any more leaders like that.  We don’t need any more cult leaders, or egomaniacs.  But we still need leaders.  Good leaders know how to look for talent, and if they really cared about their communities they wouldn’t think of it as a medieval fief that must be protected from all others.  Some community leaders act as if anyone else entering their territory who offers hope is a foreign invasion and not a coming of reinforcements.

    Pastors can and should be heroes.  I am not envisioning the glory seeker, but rather the multiplier, the one who raises up indigenous leaders, the person who is not building his own kingdom but rather the kingdom of God.  In poor communities, urban or otherwise, this kind of leader can make a world of difference for those locked into a very small world of poverty and limitations.  It seems to me we have to cast a vision for young people that such a ministry is possible, necessary, and rewarding.  It is about as challenging an occupation as one can find, and I am convinced has not been highlighted with the respect and honor that it deserves.

    So, if you want to be a heroic pastor what will it require?  First let me spell out what such a leader must do.  He has to be an EVANGELIST.  He has to tell people about Jesus and call them to faith in Christ in a convincing and compelling way.  God saves people, not us, but God uses people to tell other people about the way to God.  Any pastor going into an inner city must come prepared to share the faith with folks who haven’t yet met Jesus.  He cannot assume he will simply gather a group of resident or relocated believers.  He will also have to assume that a great many people living in a dysfunctional neighborhood are going to be dysfunctional.  This means his pastoring and discipling is going to have to start with the basics and build up.  Good leaders should constantly train those they lead, and discipleship is a continual pouring out from the very beginning of the relationship, with the goal of seeing new leaders formed.

  The pastors we need have to be men of character, and though repenting of their own sins while owning up to their own brokenness and their own need of grace to live the Christian life, they live out what they preach.  If they are honest they themselves might feel they are skating the edge, that they are not worthy of the office, but their transparency will win them love and loyalty.

   There are many people in poor communities who have faith and there is a lot of religion among the poor.  There just aren’t enough dynamic congregations that love their communities and love them in the truth of the Gospel.  There aren’t enough congregations that know how to be holistic in their approach to the human struggle.  This is why pastors need to be CHAMPIONS of JUSTICE. He must know the God of justice, preach Biblical concepts of justice, call others to justice, and be willing to suffer with and be a witness to those who don't get it.

    There are some who stand up for justice while not giving people the hope of a Savior.  Their immersion in social causes substitutes for Gospel ministry.  There are some who give a heavenly hope but are never advocates for those who suffer, their preaching diminishes the physical humanity of people, the very thing Jesus came to be a part of for us.

   There are some who preach and demand justice but show no effective mercy.  We need pastors who know how to lead groups of people (their own church) into how to help people with their economic emergencies and who know how to develop people (and economic opportunity) so those emergencies become fewer and fewer. We need pastors who LOVE MERCY, who preach it, teach how to give it, organize their congregations to deliver it, and practice it.

    The Evangelist, the man who knows how to dispense real physical, financial, and emotional help at the time it is needed, and the man who raises a clarion call against injustice without bitterness or spite but in love and faith, now that is a man to be reckoned with.  Such a man may not have a horse or carry a gun, but once he is engaged in a community people take notice.  At least the Devil does, because such a leader makes a difference, sees lives changed, and a community improved.

Friday, January 15, 2016


    I enjoy speaking to young church planters who are struggling to find out how to have an effective music ministry as part of their worship service.  Finding musicians available, skilled, and committed is a very old problem.  Nehemiah found this out when he came back to Jerusalem and realized…”that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and singers responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields.”  Nehemiah 13:10 

   It is a typical conversation in some churches to ask, “should we pay musicians?”  Or, “shouldn’t Christian musicians simply volunteer their service as their act of worship?”  At first take this sounds spiritual, it implies that the people with the faith and obedience problems are the musicians and not the rest of us for failing to have enough faith and commitment to provide money for them to do what we all want them to do.

   The passage in Nehemiah reveals a common sense issue, and that is that people have to make a living, and even if they want to sacrifice they will not be available to a congregation if they have to provide for their families using the skills they have worked years to acquire.  In the temple worship either the community brought in tithes to the storehouse so the Levites who were musicians could survive, or the Levites went back to their fields to provide food for their families.

   I can hear someone saying, “Yes, but when I was in my former church people shared their musical gifts without being paid.”  That of course is the optimum solution, i.e., that a congregation would have skilled musicians who make enough money doing something else, have the time to practice individually and as a group, and freely offer those skills for worship.  However, optimum isn’t usual.

   I encourage pastors to pray and hope and search for the optimal, but since Sunday comes each week and worship has to be organized (if not produced) then a plan has to be made as to who is going to help with the music, even if under less than optimal conditions.  It is possible to worship without music, but the Scriptures (in both the Old and New Testaments) example and encourage singing and instruments in worship.  I suppose one could sing Psalms 149 and 150 acapella without irony, but it would be hard for me.  One reason the Reformation was helped to explode among the masses was due to congregational singing.

   So, I am a supporter of paying musicians.  I know of several churches where non-Christians, unbelievers, were hired as band musicians.  Those churches were careful however to allow only believers to lead the music, the singing, and the choice of music.  The examples I know of made sure such hired musicians attended the full service and came to practice.  I have seen some of these band members begin to bring their families over the years they have participated.  I am not necessarily advocating this, but making an observation here.

    Musical and worship leadership has to be spiritual, or else everything about the worship gets compromised.  Musicians need to be pastored, and sometimes evil needs to be confronted.  This evil can be in the way musicians interact, conduct themselves in the church service or church organization, or live their lives.  They receive this pastoring much more amiably if they are well supported organizationally, emotionally, and financially.

    There are of course variations in musical styles, and musical skills.  Worship ought to be a place where those growing in a skill have opportunity to learn, share, and participate while we are also encouraged by those who are truly gifted and skilled.  Church is a place where the call for an excellent sacrifice is balanced with an honest and sincere one.  It corresponds to how much money one gives which is not based on amount but proportion. Many small and financially struggling congregations are thankful to have a person who can peck notes out on a piano, or simply sing acapella, or use tracks.  One of my earliest memories of church music was in a small house church where the pastor played the flute, his wife the piano, and a young man played a carpenter’s saw with a bow.  I didn’t know much about churches then, or music, so I thought this was normal.

    There have been, and are, “worship wars” and those who hate contemporary music.  There are those who stress that true worship can only be achieved with the refined skill to play and an ear to appreciate such things as the intricacies of Bach.  I actually heard a lecture in a worship service along that line of thinking, and I would have to say such an elitist view of worship is in fact heresy.  It is one thing to praise God for the gifts of Bach, this is indeed excellent music, but it is not always intellectually approachable by the common man.  All people are called to worship but it is Spirit and Truth that qualifies, and not an education in music appreciation or theory.

   Most church planters do what they can to find quality musicians and pursue a musical worship style that is participatory, emotionally meaningful, and theologically sound while led by people of spiritual integrity and musical competence.  That package is not always readily at hand.  Some preachers will care little about music being “emotionally meaningful” while others don’t pay enough attention to “theologically sound.”

     Music is by its very existence emotional, the lyrics and message are always theological.  The message is either true, mostly true, confused, or blatantly false.  The message in a song can be clumsily stated or starkly clear. There are songs that have a penetrating and even beautiful melody while conveying error.  There are many songs that hold great and exact Biblical truth while being stultifyingly boring. Combining musical and artistic settings for truth demands some patience and compromise, such as having drawn out words or filler words like, “oh,” and “ah,” etc.  To say every voiced phrase must have a sound theological message puts a straightjacket on the musical line and most of us intuitively understand that.

    Every pastor has to be a policemen regarding truth when it comes to what is conveyed in a worship service because that is part of his job.  He is not usually a qualified musician and even if he is will be subject to his own culture and tastes.  A wise pastor knows when to separate his culture and tastes from his theological opinions and will hopefully humbly interact with musicians when it comes to their area of expertise.  He needs to support them when they get attacked by a member or attender who “hates that song” or thought things were too loud, or too slow, too fast, etc.  

    Church musicians should be able to trust their pastoral leadership and know they are not going to be thrown under the bus each time a song fails either theologically or musically. If a pastor for church politics reasons says, “I hated it too and I don’t know why he (or she) does that,” will probably not have a lot of loyalty coming from his worship team.

   So, pastors need to fight for the worship and music budget, pray and search for a spiritually and musically qualified person who can really lead your worship team, listen to them about pay scales, equipment needs, and administrative support.  Pastors need to take the responsibility for the finished product.  If you don’t like what you are getting than replace your musician, but don’t hang them out to dry.  If you have someone who can be an intrinsical part of your ministry team then make sure they are honored, compensated, and rested.  Give them a sabbatical of a few months every seven years so they can recover.  Send them to training and conferences so they can keep learning.

    I confess I had definite ideas about culture, styles, and performance quality and shared those with my worship director.  I had such respect for him that I knew he could tell me if I was off base or not, and I would listen.  (I hope he thinks I did.) I was immensely honored when he listened to me. I was blessed; we were blessed as a church, and even when our congregation was very poor we had some outstanding music and worship experiences.  It caught me up to heaven, made me want to go there, sometimes devastated me before God, and helped me to love going to church.

  Not every pastor will have a team like I was given, including a very musical wife.  Not every pastor will have not just a piano player, but a singer, a composer, a teacher and developer of young musicians, a humble learner of different cultures, a man willing to use his gifts for evangelism as well as worship settings, and a friend, but I did.  His name is James Ward, and I would wish that kind of chemistry and camaraderie for all pastors and chief musicians.  Sing a new song to the Lord!