Monday, February 20, 2023

Winds of Revival? Now What?

I am confident that the winds of revival are blowing.

For me it started nearly two years ago. I believed it was coming and set myself to applying my energy to building capacity for revival in a local church we’ve held dear since the earliest days of the young congregation (Pursuit). My work, mostly as a consultant, was a year of building organizational infrastructure… systems that helped support and sustain the work. That expression of revival still burns, seemingly gaining a second wind in recent days. 

These winds of revival are blowing in and from Kentucky… from the campus of Asbury University.

We experienced some of those winds last Sunday morning as we worshiped at Venture Church. Dr. Brandon Beals, Venture’s lead pastor, ventured back to his alma mater to see for himself. He brought a report to an anticipating congregation and we could not help but welcome God’s revival winds to blow in our midst. We’ll gather again Wednesday evening, with expectation, welcoming those winds to blow in, among, and through us.

There are reports from others too… revival winds blowing in congregations in which saints hunger for spiritual awakening in their hearts, churches, cities, and regions.

Along with the reports, there are criticisms and concerns.

I certainly understand the caution and concern. There is a long, repeated history of revivals burning out the vessels of revival. Revival’s human vessels too often crash and burn. Churches that host revivals too often falter and then either stand empty or disappear within a generation. I’m certain it is not inevitable, nor is it God’s will… but the common vessels that contain the wind and fire, the uncommon presence of God, so easily lose our way. It is not, of course, a new phenomenon; such is recorded of the patriarchs in our most ancient Biblical texts.

But there is also a repeated theme in Scripture that urges us to not let the fear of failure keep us from God’s best.  

So, what do we do with these revival winds?

I see that some (many? Including loud voices) accuse us of whipping up, or mimicking, revival. That if we desire revival, or pray for revival, or plan for revival, or provide an atmosphere for revival, we are somehow removing revival’s authenticity.

Again, I understand the caution and concern. We, who are skilled in such, could simply stir up an emotional crowd and call it revival. I am sure some have.

But, again, fear of getting it wrong must not keep us from God’s best either.

As I have been thinking and praying about this, especially praying for those in positions of leadership, I keep coming back to Matthew 14. I believe the passage encourages us, at times like these, to get out of the boat.

After Jesus and His Disciples fed the 5,000, Jesus sent his friends ahead as He lingered back to pray. His friends set out on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. This was familiar territory for many aboard. They were likely led by Peter, one Jesus was preparing for leadership, an expert due to his profession as a fisherman on precisely those waters.

In spite of their expertise, they found themselves, literally, in rough waters "a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it." (Matthew 14:24)

Are there parallels here as the winds of revival blow? Pastors and other leaders are where we are because of obedience to Jesus, just as those Disciples were following the Lord’s direction as they went ahead on the boat. Pastors and other leaders are here, working within our expertise, bringing our best as we are obedient to Jesus… again, just as they were on the Sea of Galilee.

Allow me to pause here for a moment and consider bringing our best, obediently to Jesus.

At Asbury, their best is an historic chapel with simple wooden seating, an edifice in the style of what one might expect from a 130-year-old school in Dixie, with roots in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. Compared to the church auditoriums to which I am accustomed, it is pretty low-tech at Asbury. The sound and lights are simple. The music is student-led on mostly acoustic instruments. The simple charm of it seems to be part of the appeal. It is authentic. It is their best.

As we catch the winds from the Asbury Revival, should we turn down our audio systems? Should we opt for fluorescent house lights instead of our stage lighting and hazers? Should our projectors and LED walls go dark? Would that be authentic? Would that be our best?

Let’s not mimic the best of others; let’s bring our best. Whatever we have expertly built to provide a platform for the presence of God, even that to which we aspire as we bring extra to our best, that is authentic. If pipe organs or acapella singing is the expertise that has you where you are, do it to your best, authentically. If it is lights, media, and walls of sound, do it to your best, authentically.

Let’s bring our best, and even aspire to a little more. Let’s bring our hunger. Let’s bring our expectation. And let’s see what God will do as His revival winds blow.

Okay… now back to the text.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said. (Matthew 14:25-29)

Within the winds of our day, could Jesus be calling us to come, to step out of our boats, to walk in faith toward Jesus? 

Could we, with all our expertise and obedience, finding ourselves in these unusual winds… might we take those extra, trusting steps of faith toward Jesus?

Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:29,30)

It seems pretty clear that when Peter had his eyes on Jesus, when He obeyed the Lord’s command and walked toward Him, Peter walked in a miracle. When Peter looked around and was afraid (“doubted” as Jesus put it) he sank. But, of course, Jesus was still there to save in the midst of doubt. 

There was revival in the boat once Peter and Jesus took their places among the Disciples. The text reads: 

when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:32,33)

Faith arose. They saw, again, who Jesus is, and they worshiped.

My encouragement in these winds of revival is this: get out of the boat. Bring our best, operate in our expertise, and when we see Jesus, ask Him to call us closer, even when that means trusting Him beyond the rails of our safe boats. Let’s keep our eyes on Him and see what He will do… and let’s expect awakening and revival in the hearts and lives of all who might see.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

He Gets Us. Will They Get Us?

The big game is this weekend. I forget, are we allowed to say Super Bowl? Is that some sort of copyright infringement?

The Super Bowl is now much more than just a game. It is an event… nearly a national holiday. Outside of the game, there are the parties and the shows and, of course, the ads.

This Sunday there will be two ads with a message that is perhaps new to the game. There will be two ads for Jesus. The He Gets Us campaign will debut two new ads, paying the big bucks for the most prestigious airtime in the marketing world.

Allow me to state my position. I am a fan. I am in favor and supportive of the He Gets Us campaign. When I first saw the ads, I was a bit skeptical, mostly because of the anonymity of the money behind the effort. But I came around. Endorsements by key leaders confirmed and sealed my support… people including Doug Clay (leader of the Assemblies of God, my archbishop I suppose), Nona Jones (author, preacher, and business leader), and Ed Stetzer (trusted Evangelical missiologist and supernerd). I was especially glad to know that Ed Stetzer is engaged in the project, including having a hand in the theological vetting of the content of the ads.

I am also glad to know that there is a coordinated effort to engage churches and Christians in leveraging the campaign, tools to share the Gospel and lead people to faith using the ads as catalysts for conversation. I’ll be in a leadership meeting with some of my tribe, the Assemblies of God, next week; the He Gets Us campaign is on the agenda, and I will do all I can to support our efforts together.

The best place to get started, if you haven’t yet, to find tools to leverage the campaign, is their partner website: You’ll find a rich set of resources to help us engage conversations, take the conversations deeper, and follow up.

I hope that these efforts play a part in bringing many to faith. I don’t expect people to drop to their knees and get saved when they see an ad during the Super Bowl. But an ad can lead to a conversation. An ad can lead to further exploration. An ad can lead someone to pick up a Bible. An ad can urge someone to give church a try, again, or perhaps for the first time. An ad can lead someone to seek out a Christian friend for connection. An ad can play a small part, be one of many ingredients, that results in people believing Jesus. I hope the ads work.

I have another hope, too… and a closely related concern.

My hope is that the ads can play a role in refocusing believers, the Church, on Jesus.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a marketing expert. But I am a student, having earned a graduate degree in the field. I also have decades of experience as a practitioner, specifically in advertising with a Christian message, having led marketing in Christian Higher Education for schools across the country; I’ve done some church advertising too. I have spent a lot of Kingdom money on ads, direct, local, and national.

Marketing folk know that, while usually targeted at potential and current customers, there is a vitally important, secondary target for marketing efforts; the organization’s own personnel, especially those in the sales force, are impacted. That is particularly the case with brand advertising.

Most of the Super-Bowl ads will be brand advertising, rather than specific product advertising. We won’t likely see an ad during the Super Bowl selling a specific product with a specific price at a specific location. The car dealer leasing Camrys for $299 a month on the outskirts of town can’t afford the airtime.

He Gets Us is brand advertising… and the brand is the He in He Gets Us; the brand is Jesus. What a brand! A unique brand for all sorts of reasons. One of the ways this brand is differentiated from all the other brands is that this brand lacks typical business structure.

If Toyota ran Super-Bowl ads this Sunday (they usually do, but apparently Toyota is skipping it this year) the corporate heads would control the brand message and control every aspect of the brand throughout the process. They would coordinate the product specs, manufacturing, sales and delivery. The impact to the bottom line would not merely be the impact of an ad, but more likely a result of the tightly controlled integration of the entire process, from design to delivery.

Not so with He Gets Us; there is no tight control from headquarters or a comprehensive coordinated campaign that runs all the way through to sales and delivery. The He Gets Us folk are on their own. Organizations, denominations, and networks are on their own. Individual churches are pretty much on their own. And individual Christians are on our own. The only real control and coordination we have is in God’s Hands; perhaps the Holy Spirit is better than a corporate campaign plan. I suppose we will see.

Now, back to my hope that the campaign will impact personnel.

When a corporation like Toyota does a campaign, they expect the sales force to adopt the brand language. The brand campaign identifies priorities and shapes the way personnel think about and talk about the brand.

I hope we get some of this with the He Gets Us campaign. Sometimes we forget the main thing; churches forget that Jesus is the main thing. The campaign could help us refocus on Jesus. We also forget that Jesus is for everyone, not merely our cliques. The campaign could help us remember that Jesus is relevant… that with a little effort, we can connect Jesus to today’s needs in today’s circumstances, even with today’s language.

I hope that the campaign reaches people, and I hope it invigorates the brand’s personnel, believers in our churches.

That leads me to my related concern.

There is an adage that goes something like this: the quickest, most effective way to kill a business is with great advertising.

It isn’t that great advertising kills a business. Great advertising is great for a great business. But great advertising can be really bad for a bad business.

Grizzled marketing practitioners have stories. One might go like this. A new restaurant opens to a packed house, even long lines because the advertising was so great. But customers find that the restaurant really wasn’t ready. They were overwhelmed. There was chaos resulting in bad service and crummy food. Word spread and the great advertising was quickly undone by the trusted word of mouth. The ads did not match the reality… at least not yet. Business never recovered and the doors were closed.

An early mentor of mine would often say, “Bad is worse than good is good.” Raising expectations but then leaving them unfulfilled does damage, sometimes irreparable damage.

Should we be concerned that the way Jesus is portrayed in the He Gets Us campaign does not match the way Jesus is portrayed in churches?

The campaign obviously casts a wide net. The message, the words, the music, the images… everything aligns with an inclusive message culminated in the simple, last words that tag every ad: All of us. The ads appear to purposefully challenge what the prevailing culture may think about church, especially affluent evangelical churches. The ads are edgy. One might come away from the ads thinking that Jesus gets us, all of us, regardless of race, class, background, wealth, politics, or even sexual preference.

What if someone found themselves in our church but found that all of us does not include them? Does all of us include a rebel or a liberal. Does all of us include people who are poor or gay? Do we look like an all-of-us people, multi-ethnic, multi-generational?

Let’s ask ourselves if we are ready to receive people who expect an all-of-us welcome. Are our churches and Christian organizations ready? Are you and I ready for a conversation with someone with all-of-us expectations. Can we ready ourselves? Shouldn’t we ready ourselves?

Sadly, I’m sure that my concern is well founded in some cases. There will be people who, change their minds, give Jesus a chance, respond to the all-of-us message in the ads, but find themselves in churches, or in conversations with Christians, who are not welcoming to all of us.

Apart from the miraculous, some will end up worse off.

But it is a risk worth taking because there are lots of us all-of-us Christians in lots of all-of-us churches. Perhaps the ads will even nudge a few more of us into the all-of-us category. God help us.


If you would like to continue the conversation, perhaps with some coaching or consulting, reach out today. It could be that Greatifiers has some tools and approaches that would help make your good thing great.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

The Audience Comes Last

Recently, on 60 Minutes, acclaimed music producer Rick Rubin said: "The audience comes last… the audience doesn’t know what they want." 

It made me think of a favorite quote from Howard Schultz in one of his first books about the success he led at Starbucks, Pour Your Heart Into It. Schultz said: “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.”

Much of my background, experience, education, perhaps even expertise, is in marketing. More specifically, I have often been about the work of marketing church and church-related organizations. When bringing the Church and its various “products” to “market” I have been guided by this notion that, as Rubin says, “the audience doesn’t know what they want.” What God has for people is, indeed, “something so far superior” than anything they could articulate. The Gospel, along with all the good gifts God offers, is the sort of thing that is so extraordinary that it cannot be imagined… but once truly had, we cannot imagine being without the Gospel.

That is what we followers of Jesus have to offer, are compelled and commanded to offer; we offer the Gospel (“market" the Gospel) to those who don’t know they want it.

The Church routinely bungles the task. We routinely just give up and turn our focus inward. We don’t bother really thinking of those beyond our walls, beyond our ilk, beyond our cliques, beyond our cultures, and settle for an inward focus. We determine that outsiders don’t want what we have so we insulate and isolate ourselves with religious trappings. Any potential audience finds our message indecipherable.

We might give lip-service to our desires to spread the Gospel, build God’s Kingdom, and increase our numbers… but we are so attached to our inward focused ways that there is little hope for the Gospel to take root in others through our meager efforts.

We err on the other end of the spectrum, too, by being so marketing-minded that we truly focus on giving our “customers” what they want. We bundle up an appealing package of goods and services, slap on a patina of Christianity, but fail to focus on the Gospel. We may draw a crowd of the pleased and unoffended, we may build a brand and balance our budgets, but ultimately we fail because our market-minded efforts only result in building our little fiefdoms rather than God’s Kingdom.

There’s a hybrid that is common in the Church too… a dangerous, sort of inward-focused, market-minded approach. It is market-minded as it is purposefully appealing… but only appeals to a popular stream in Christianity (perhaps an excess, or even error, in some cases). It is inward-focused as it only targets a precise Christian niche. In years past that niche might be focused on prosperity; these days it could be something like Christian nationalism on the right, or unattached social justice on the left. Again, we might likely draw crowds and balance budgets serving the niche, but such an approach has little impact on unbelievers. It is just a crowd of the already blessed. Few are converted.

I am confident that there is a sweet spot, a place from which Church leaders understand that the Gospel is far beyond what consumers might want, but still outward focused. It takes skilled, Spirit-empowered leaders who can manage the tension between the transcendent Gospel and the unknowing masses.

Leadership is more than just asking people what they want and giving it to them, and it is certainly more than deciding for people and forcing it on them. Leadership holds out a better destination and makes a way to get there. The Gospel is, of course, that very best destination… and the Church, its members, and leaders, must do better to make way for people to get there.


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, December 13, 2022

Project Management as a Ministry Discipline

Project management has been part of my work in church and parachurch ministry for decades. While I have been aware of project management as a professional, certified discipline, I have gone about the work mostly as an informal practitioner. I have used the tools of the profession for years, going all the way back to the MS-DOS version of Microsoft Project, and more recently, of course, using cloud-based tools. My MBA studies alluded to the profession, but there was not a specific focus on project management. I have been satisfied to approach the work intuitively and informally, never all that interested in further study or pursuing a certification.

 As I am considering the next season of my career, realizing that I have project management skills and success, and recognizing the satisfaction I enjoy from the work, I have been doing a deep dive, with certification (PMP) as a goal.

 It appears that there are a lot of opportunities in the field… but landing a project management job may take me out of church or parachurch ministry since there do not appear to be many career opportunities for project managers in ministry. Which brings me to the question, “why not?” It seems to me that ministry is well suited to formally apply project-management tools and leverage skilled project managers.

 It could be that church and para-church ministries would do well to consider how bringing skilled project managers to their organizations would fill vital roles on ministry teams. Many ministries are sufficiently complex to benefit from certified project managers. Others might consider contracting with project managers, while still others should at least consider how to apply proven and standardized project-management principles and techniques.


Much of ministry success is a result of successful projects. Launching new ministries, revitalizing legacy ministries, capital campaigns, new construction, renovations, reworking governance… the list could go on and all fit within a project-management framework. Merely casting this work in project-management terms can yield huge benefits as the framework clarifies vital components including: scope, stakeholders, risk, roadblocks, timeline, budget, decision making, systems, quality, and outcomes.

Body of Christ

A project-management approach aligns with the way the New Testament describes the Church. Project management is people centered, organizing and enabling teams comprised of people with a variety of skills, resources, and perspectives.

Consider the way the Apostle Paul described the Church:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body…

God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body…

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it
(1 Corinthians 12:12–31)

One body with purpose, comprised of many parts. Perhaps project managers serve as part of the central nervous system, coordinating the work of the various parts.


A project-management approach can be a vital tool in accomplishing further directives regarding the work of the Church.

Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–13)

I am confident that most every ministry has underutilized people longing to bring their best to the work of the body. In my experience and observation, we usually do a good job of empowering teams of employees to accomplish work, but we are often far less skilled at utilizing non-employees. We are good at utilizing non-employees for non-skilled or low-skilled work but struggle to find ways for non-employees to bring their highly skilled, and most valuable, work to our ministries.

A project-management approach, resourced by skillful project managers, can provide a framework to best leverage volunteers. Furthermore, using standard project-management approaches, tools, and language can facilitate fast and productive onboarding of high-capacity volunteers. When our ministries use the same tools, approaches, and terminology as people find in their workplaces, they can jump right in with their meaningful contributions. 

It seems far too common that high-capacity volunteers are disillusioned because ministry leaders are not prepared to help volunteers succeed with their best contributions. We may want their money and low-skilled labor, but we may fail at utilizing their expertise. Well planned, resourced, and executed projects can provide a place for volunteers to thrive.


Project management should result in a leaner system with less waste and higher productivity. Sure, project management is administrative overhead, but when done well the investment of time and resources in project management should yield results that far exceed the costs. Simply leveraging high-capacity volunteers doing their best work in merely one area in which professional project managers can prove their value.


When we are clear on desired outcomes, agree on parameters like timelines and budgets, marshal the right people and resources, and manage to those goals, our projects, of course, are more effective. The first stated principle in PMI’s Standard for Project Management is stewardship. This, of course, aligns with Christian values as we understand our responsibility to care for the people and resources placed in our hands.

Jesus put it in these terms:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit (John 15:8) 

There is, of course, wild fruit… but the most fruit, much fruit, is the result of teams of experts planning, cultivating, and gathering harvests. Skilled, careful project management results in effectiveness.


Consider a few examples.

Assuming that we are on a path of continuous improvement, the planning for our Sunday Services can fit nicely into a project-management approach. Specifically, since the outcomes are periodic (weekly in this case), such weekly planning would fit into an agile approach, with weekly sprints. The team would work with a log of ideas and elements for potential implementation over the course of time. In large, multi-campus churches the list of elements and personnel can be complex and extensive.

A project-management approach could effectively bridge the gap between the high-level, long-range goals for improvement and the week-to-week planning (the sorts of things a lot of churches tackle with a tool like PlanningCenter which alone is not project management but more of an operations apparatus).

Another example, perhaps more specific to educational ministries, is accreditation. The processes to achieve and maintain accreditation demand a project-management approach.

Achieving accreditation (or certifications, permits, and such) calls for a predictive or waterfall project management approach as it usually requires multiple teams generating a long list of documents and reports over months with a deadline.

Maintaining accreditation has also been a periodic waterfall, producing similar documents after a period of years. Many agencies are now shifting to a system of continual improvement for ongoing accreditation which likely better fits an agile approach.


Your Feedback

I am looking for feedback as I am just getting started with all of this. Do you have any observations? Perhaps you have success stories in which ministries have used project managers or formal project-management approaches. I would love to hear from you!

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Perhaps Surprising Outward-Focus of “Joy to the World”

During this Advent season, considering joy as an upcoming theme, the familiar tune Joy to the World inevitably runs through my mind.

These words were penned by Isaac Watts, and published in the early 1700s. He wrote some 600 hymns; many have endured through the years, including O God Our Help in Ages Past, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

Many of his hymns were first published in his work Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707. When the school district in the District of Columbia was formed, then President Thomas Jefferson also chaired the school board and set the curriculum. They established two primary texts for reading lessons: The Bible, and Watts’ Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.

Joy to the World appeared in Watts work published in 1719: Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. Joy to the World was one of Watts’ interpretations of a Psalm, specifically Psalm 98.

The words were later set to the tune we sing today by Lowell Mason. The melody is often credited to Handel, but it appears that Mason simply plucked a few melodies from Handel’s Messiah and imitated Handel’s style with the melody that is now so very familiar. It isn’t particularly complicated: Do Ti La So Fa Me Rae Do. It is simply a major scale.

These great carols and hymns of the church are cherished by many of us today, but they were scandalous to some of Watts’ day. Watts was among the Nonconformists movement, those who would not embrace the established Church of England. In fact, when young Isaac was born, his father was in jail for being a Nonconformist. Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps and was an influential leader among the independent churches in England, pastoring one of the most influential independent churches.

In his writings, Watts spoke of his motivation for being such a prolific hymn writer. He harshly criticized the hymn singing of his day, so metrical and lifeless and boring. He spoke of how an unbelieving observer might doubt that there was any veracity to the faith of these so called Believers; with such passionless singing, could they possibly have any real faith?

So Watts set out to shake things up in his day… and it was scandalous to some.

Does that sound at all familiar? It seems that every generation seeks to sing their songs (our songs) to (and about) the Lord, and it irritates some.

When Scripture exhorts us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” I don’t think it means to sing our new song the same old way. It seems that the Spirit moves in every generation, inspiring songs that express our love for and to the Lord. New songs in new ways are an important sign that the Spirit is indeed moving… that there is veracity to our faith, true belief in and passion for Jesus.

I wonder what Watts would think of how his song is typically used in our days. Joy to the World is sung today around the world in the most churchy ways… perhaps with a choir, or a pipe organ with an orchestra, or just sung a cappella. Joy to the World is conformist today… funny how the stuff we cling to as traditional today always, of course, started as something non-traditional.

We may sing a song like Joy to the World in really churchy, perhaps even inward-focused ways, but Watts wrote it as an outward-focused pastor with a heart to reach the world… to bring true joy to the world.

Here's a bit more on "Joy to the World":  

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.