Thursday, November 17, 2022

Leading Worship from the Back Row

My son was right; he told us the sound was awesome at his new church. He began serving recently, leading their broadcast team. We were glad to finally join them live on a Sunday morning and experienced a great service. People were engaged and welcoming, the energy was high (especially as people were baptized as we sang, a staple of every worship service), and the tech elements were on point. And, as promised, everything sounded great.

On my way out of the second service, as people streamed in for the third, I caught the attention of the sound engineer, introduced myself, and did my best to quickly express how much I appreciated his work. I know enough jargon to perhaps establish that my compliments were qualified from a technical perspective, so I started along those lines… but then it occurred to me what I was really getting at. I then simply told him, “You led us in worship from the soundboard.”

Which is the most important musical instrument when leading worship? In my tradition it hasn’t been an organ for decades. Perhaps these days it is whatever the lead singer is playing, keys or a guitar. We could make the case that a rhythm instrument is most important, drums or bass. The MD (music director) role is emerging in our churches; perhaps the MD plays the most important musical instrument.

Could it be that the soundboard is the most important musical instrument?

If the soundboard is at least among the most important musical instruments, do we act like it? Do we invest in the gear? More importantly, do we invest in the people? What are our expectations of these worship leaders on the back row? Are we resourcing them as best we can? Do they get the respect they deserve? Are they included in leadership and decision making?

It seems to me that the back row is increasingly important as we pursue our mission, worshipping God, building His people, and reaching others. If we are going to be relevant in these times, in our culture, we need excellence on the back row. Those we hope to reach are conditioned to expect excellence in production. It is not that we need to compete with the hottest concert in town, or the corporate event that folks experienced recently… but if we skimp on, or are lazy about, production, we indicate that our message is not worth our effort or their attention.

The back row, of course, in most churches these days, contains a variety of roles starting with sound, lights, and media. Video is increasingly important, both for broadcast and IMAG. Broadcast audio is often overlooked as we too easily underestimate this vital component. Add camera operators, monitor engineers, translation services, simulcasting to other campuses, and such; producing excellence from the back row is usually a daunting task, regardless of the size of our church.

An increasing number of churches, understanding the vital roles on the back row, are paying particular attention to the leadership of the back row. Whatever the titles (producer, director, pastor, manager), those skilled in understanding the tech and, perhaps more importantly, leading technical people are in high demand. Many of the most forward-thinking churches, valuing integration of the worship experience, empower a high-level leader on the back row with broad responsibility. Such leaders not only manage the tech and technical personnel, but they are also in tight coordination with the leaders on the platform in both planning and execution… often a troika of the preaching, worship leading, and production leadership. The end sought is a powerful and relevant worship experience, tightly integrated and excellently delivered, that magnifies Jesus, equips His people, and draws many to Him.

No matter how big and complex the task, we must aim to value the personnel on the back row as worship leaders.

Church leaders will do best to think of back-row personnel as worship leaders. We need to do all we can to invest in their training and development, and prioritize putting the right tools in their hands. We must not treat the back row as less-than or some sort of necessary evil, but rather consider them as ministers with vital roles; we should value their unique perspective, seek their input, and respect their leadership.

Back-row personnel will do best to think of themselves as worship leaders. We should invest in our ongoing training and development, both technically and spiritually, always pursuing excellence. We must not get so bogged down in the techniques (the wires and knobs and buttons and gear) that we fail to lead worship, honoring God and serving others well.

Let’s be sure to lead worship from the back row.

Perhaps I can help you with coaching, evaluation, or planning. Greatifiers aims to help you make good things great. Reach out; I’d be glad to help.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

An Acquired Taste

I’ve been thinking about the Bible a lot over the past several weeks.

A few weeks ago I was in a monthly meeting with our deacons. I initiated a discussion about our approach to ministry at Northshore Church, specifically our approach to Sunday mornings. I used some of what was in a message from the end of Luke 5, where Jesus spoke of new wineskins. I wanted their perspective and wisdom, asking questions like: 
  • Are we time locked? 
  • Are we stuck in an irrelevant culture? 
  • What approaches or routines need to be reexamined, refashioned, or even jettisoned? 
It was a productive discussion. During a lull, I opened the door and asked for feedback… specifically about my preaching. There were comments about style and length and such. There were calls for more stories and personal illustrations with the hope of connecting with folk not accustomed to church culture. Since I am very much in favor with connecting with folk not accustomed to church culture, I appreciated the input… a lot.

When that discussion was slowing, I said, with an intentionally provocative and satirical tone, “Well, yeah, but what does that have to do with meticulously exegeting a passage of Scripture?” I got the desired laugh. They laughed because they know I’m a bit nerdy about all this, and we moved ahead with the next item on the agenda.

But that question has continued to provoke me. What does any of that have to do with meticulously exegeting a passage of Scripture? I remain convinced that the most important thing I can do on a Sunday morning is preach God’s Word. Whatever I might have to say, nothing is as good as what God has to say to us through the Bible. But rightly dividing the word of truth may not always connect with the culture. Perhaps that’s what a select few people are looking for when they visit a church like ours… but I suspect that most are looking for something else (especially those not accustomed to church culture).

As I have been mulling it over, I remembered a favorite quote. It was not from a great theologian… but it was a spiritual experience when I first ran across this man’s product (30 years ago, my Midwestern palate had never encountered espresso).

In his first autobiography, Schultz wrote:

“First, every company must stand for something… Second, you don’t just give customers what they ask for. If you offer them something they’re not accustomed to, something so far superior that it takes a while to develop their palates, you can create a sense of discovery and excitement and loyalty that will bond them to you. It may take longer, but if you have a great product, you can educate your customers to like it rather than kowtowing to mass-market appeal.”

We’re not selling coffee here; we’re not selling anything here. But the principle applies. When you have the best, don’t just give people what they ask for.

The Bible is the best; it is far superior than anything else we might study and apply to our lives. But we should not expect anyone to have an appetite for it (including ourselves). It takes a while to develop a palate for the Bible… but once developed there is a lifechanging sense of discovery and excitement. This is our task when we present God’s Word.

We don’t do it alone, of course. The Holy Spirit carries responsibility and power in the endeavor; we merely do our part… our vitally important part in God’s mission.

During that discussion with my deacons, nobody was advocating for kowtowing to mass-market appeal… but it seems that some do, and by so doing they routinely fail to give people the best, that which is far superior.

I’m committed to working harder than ever before to give people the best. It might be harder than ever before to compete with so many expertly crafted messages in our culture (the mere Bible thumping of the ol’ time religion isn’t going to cut it). We’ll continue to work and innovate and rely on the Holy Spirit’s power to give people the best… to develop palates and build discovery and excitement.

I know it is powerful. It has changed my life and is changing my life. I’ve seen it work in lives of those around me… those who have developed a palate and appetite for the best found in the Bible. Let’s continue to work together to develop that palate and appetite together, and be a place where others, even those who might be asking first for something else, can find the best too.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Prayer for Lent

Father -
I cower under a weighty pile of stuff:
  tasks, expectations, plans, and sin.
 Much of it is good.
 Some of it is excellent.
 A lot of it has no real value at all
    other than giving me a grave in which to hide.
I long for your Resurrection.
I am looking to that great Day
  when we will so wonderfully celebrate that
  He is risen, indeed!
But I know that in order to best say yes
  on that special Resurrection Day
  I should say no today…
  no to pieces of the pile under which I hide,
  no to the worthless,
  no to the self indulgent,
  and even no to some of the seemingly good.
Help me, Father, with gifts of courage and wisdom
  to say no,
  even to the good,
  so that I may say YES to the best.
Please give me grace to prepare my heart to say Yes, again,
  To Your Resurrection.
Thank You that we pray
  in the Name of the Resurrected One: Jesus. Amen.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Literally Seriously

Salina Zito, who writes for The Atlantic, has been quoted over and over again since she wrote one line last fall. When all the pundits and prognosticators were declaring Hillary Clinton as the victor in the weeks coming up to the election, Zito cleverly wrote about Donald Trump:

“The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”

The press would exegete every statement made by Trump (as they still seem to do) exposing the apparent errors… giving little attention to what his statements were meaning to his supporters. By taking Trump literally, but not seriously, the press (and Trumps opponents) were stunned that he was elected by those who took him seriously, but not always literally.

I think that clever truism can be applied to the Bible.

There are those who take the Bible literally, but not seriously.

So, in the case of a tough passage like Matthew 5:27-30, there are those who take Jesus literally when He talks about gouging out eyes and cutting off hands. Because they take Him literally, they are forced to not take Him seriously. They point to a passage like this, and taking it literally, they find it barbaric, extremist, and ridiculous. They reject it… and likely reject much, if not all, of the Bible.

It is vitally important to know when to take the Bible literally (which, of course, is most of the time).

I want us all to take the Bible seriously; to do so requires an ability to know when not to take it literally.

Sometimes we have Bibles with red letters for the Words of Jesus; maybe we should come up with a version that has different colors for what should be understood figuratively and what should be taken literally. Unfortunately, this is an area in which we don’t always find agreement, so we are going to need other tools to make these kinds of determinations.

Here are some questions I use to determine what is literal and what is figurative:

  • What does the context indicate? 
  • Is the passage intended to convey a fact or teach a principle? 
  • Does a literal or figurative meaning better align with other passages of Scripture?
The figurative meaning of going to extreme measures to choose righteousness is clearly the best meaning in the Matthew passage.
  • The premise gives us important context since an eye or a hand cannot cause us to sin; sin is a matter of our hearts and minds, not our organs and extremities.  
  • This passage is clearly not about setting rules or facts; this is a teaching passage… Jesus teaching radical ideas with radical illustrations. 
  • Nowhere in Scripture is self-mutilation promoted; in fact it is universally prohibited.

The point is that Jesus was saying that while we might naturally be ruled by lust, this is not the system of His Kingdom. There is no room for the rule of appetites and lust in His Kingdom; His rule is love.

This is an excerpt of a message delivered at Northshore Church on 2/12/17; for more of the message, check it out at 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Praying for Unity

There are a number of us at Northshore who have a palpable burden to pray for unity these days, especially in our congregation. We enjoy strong bonds of unity in our congregation that are vital to our continued effectiveness in ministry together; so we are not necessarily praying to solve a problem. We are praying to preserve that which is so precious to us: Our unity that is based in Jesus. Let’s be praying for unity.

We live in days that seem to be marked by increasing division. As our federal government transfers power from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, some are fearful, others are exhilarated, while many deal with a mix of emotions and perspectives somewhere in the middle. These could be days when such division impacts us in our families, workplaces, and even in our church. We all have different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives that shape our diverse positions. There is plenty of room at Northshore for a diversity of positions as we are unified in and through the Gospel. I believe our rich diversity makes us a stronger body; we need each other.

In all of our relationships, in all of our various networks, the Scripture gives us clear standards of behavior. In these potentially divisive days, I have found this especially helpful:

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Thank you for your partnership in the Gospel. Please join us in praying for unity! 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Chairs by the Door

When I left church Sunday I noticed a guy sitting on a big rock next to our main, street entrance.

As I thought about it on my way home, I put it together. I try not to think in terms of stereotypes… but this guy was a type. A messed up mop for hair, scraggly beard, squinty eyes from hours of starring at screens in the dark, the sort of look that one could assume that he smelled like dirty socks and Fritos… the guy was a gamer, playing Pokémon Go on his iPad.

For reasons beyond my knowledge, the game designers determined that churches would be good locations for Pokémon gyms. I’m guessing that it is because church property is generally accessible to the public and nobody lives there. By the luck of the draw (or Divine providence?) Northshore is a gym. So that means that some of the multiplied millions who are playing the game need to stop by gyms like ours to advance in the game. There has been a steady stream of people stopping by Northshore’s campus, usually the parking lot, since the game launched on July 6.

I thought, "why would anyone sit on that rock by the road?" And then it occurred to me… there is nowhere else to sit, at least not outside. Have you noticed that churches generally don’t have chairs outside of our buildings? It isn’t because we don’t value chairs. Pastors like me are keenly aware of our chairs (I have 242 in our auditorium; I know because I counted them myself). But we are often focused on just those chairs. That is where people get the really good stuff, where they hear me talk and listen to the music I provide. Of course those are the most important chairs. We want people to fill those chairs, several times each weekend.

But what about some chairs by the door? 

I wasn’t really a Christian for the first twenty years of my life. I can remember that I didn’t feel all that comfortable sitting in those chairs in church auditoriums. I didn’t feel like I belonged. I didn’t know what to do or how to act. I figured that the people who were comfortable in those chairs were probably judging me.

It could be that people who might not feel comfortable in the auditorium would like to sit by the door.

So I put some chairs by the door. I even took a few more steps, including putting up a few signs, and providing a place to plug in (Pokémon Go really drains batteries).

Within an hour or so, I had my first taker. And later that afternoon, that gamer guy showed up. I talked to him and learned that his name is Bennet; he lives in the apartments across the street. He exclaimed, “You did this? This is awesome! Most people just ignore people like me. Sometimes they tell me to go away, but I can usually tell that they want me to go away without them saying it. But you guys rolled out the red carpet! Thanks!”

I’ve had a number of conversations this week in those chairs.

In this case, I literally put chairs by the door. If you are a church leader, I’d encourage you to do the same. 

But there are all sorts of ways that we figuratively put chairs by the door, ways that we let people be part of our church in peripheral ways. There are several of those figurative chairs by the door right at the top of our minds at Northshore these days. We just finished up VBS; we think of VBS primarily as an outreach to our community… a way for kids and parents to check us out. We’re having an outdoor party on Saturday that we’re calling Hot Spot in the Lot, friends and neighbors are welcome to join us for food and fun. And on Monday we are more than doubling the distribution capacity for our food bank as we go to a weekly schedule. These are all figurative chairs by the door, ways to punch big holes in the hard shell that surrounds our church, ways that people can get a glimpse of the kind of people we are and the kind of God we serve.  

Let’s be sure to put chairs by the door… welcoming, comfortable places for people to enjoy that might just be a stop on the way to believing and belonging. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dialoging the Monologue

Laurie and I are in a small group comprised of parents of millennials. This quarter we are reading David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith. It has been a great catalyst for discussion as we think about and pray for our children, their friends, and their generation.

The book and our discussions has led me to think about our worship services at Northshore, specifically the preaching. So over the past two weeks we’ve conducted a few experiments.

When it comes to preaching there are all sorts of approaches. There are some approaches that are more academic, while others are more related to everyday life. Some are shorter, while others are longer. Some produced by professionals (many more qualified than me), and other approaches that rely only on lay persons. Some are based in deeper research, while others are more spontaneous. Regardless of approach, the act of preaching is established in the Bible as a vital part of the life of God’s people. Preaching the Gospel has always been a central and vital part of church life, both the Church Universal and our congregation at Northshore.

With that said, it is good to think about approach, looking for ways to make our current presentation of the timeless Gospel relevant in our days.… so, we are experimenting. Specifically we are trying approaches that might make these moments more of a dialog than merely a monologue… more of a conversation together rather than merely a speech. Not necessarily things we’ll always do, or might never do again based on how it goes… just experiments.

This idea of more dialog is a significant element of communication in our times. We no longer settle for merely a few authoritative sources that provide information to us via a talking head. Gone are the days of just a few national news organizations, for example, that simply tell us what is going on. These days we expect many streams of information, as well as ways to enter into those streams ourselves. When we watch the news or even sports, the television screen usually gives us several views into the information with scrollbars and information blocks and multiple boxes and such. And then there are the second screens, as we watch social media feeds on our phones and tablets simultaneously with what is happening on the television screen.

So, for those second screeners we offered this hashtag: #NSromans. When one uses this hashtag on Twitter during the preaching, they might even see the tweet on the screen. (Now if words like hashtag and live tweet and second screen sound like gibberish to you… don’t worry about it; this isn’t for you).

The other, more low-tech, experiment is a Q & A. At the close of the messages, rather than giving time for our usual response in prayer (an altar call), I have opened the floor for questions related to the day’s message (as well as the other two messages in our series). This isn’t meant to be a game of stump the pastor, or a time to ask unrelated questions (for those who need to know if there were unicorns in the ark). Just a few minutes to consider the Scripture together as a community.

We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and it is vitally important to our lives. Furthermore, we believe that the Bible is for us all, to be read and understood and applied by us all… not merely by a few paid professionals. I’m glad people listen to what I have to say about it, and I’m glad that most seem to appreciate what I have to say about the Bible. But we are going to be at our best when God’s Word is more than just a monologue from a few of us, but rather a constant dialog among all of us.

After two Sundays of experimenting, I’m pretty pleased with the results.

The hashtag has had limited response. Most of the use has been my own, using Tweetdeck to preload tweets related to my message that are released during the message. While only a few others have used the hashtag, there are indications that people are watching the feed (second screen) and appreciate seeing the tweets on the screen during the message (we are using the Twitter function in ProPresenter).

The Q&A has, so far, been the real success. The questions have been thoughtful and relevant… and it seems that my answers have been helpful. You can judge for yourself; the recordings for 5/1 and 4/24 available here.

It seems that millennials have been the primary users of the hashtag (apart from this Xer). But, to my surprise, the participants in the Q&A have mostly been Boomer women.

I talked with my son Alex about it and he had good advice, saying “just because we millennials aren’t yet participating in the Q&A does not mean that we don’t appreciate it.” He seemed to indicate that he and his ilk appreciated the effort, the transparency in the communication, and the invitation to enter the dialog. Furthermore, it seems, at least this far into the experiment, that he and his ilk were glad to observe the dialog… that he was encouraged by the kinds of questions asked and answers given.

I’m pretty sure that we’ll use these tools, at least from time to time, in the future.

I am interested in feedback. Have you observed these tools in use in other congregations? What makes it work really well (or not)? Are there other good ways to make our messages less like a monologue from a talking head? I’d be glad to hear from you.