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I was practically a professional choir tour bus rider for most of the nineties.  Oh yes.  I know of which I speak.

I did the math.  I figure between 1987 and 1997, if you count all of the musical tours of varying lengths cross country I have endured in a bus of one kind or another, I came up with between 25 and 30 tours of duty.  Granted, it’s been a couple of decades… but some things are timeless.

Tomorrow at noon, as the Association Free Lutheran Bible School Choir steps aboard their mobile home away from home for the next two weeks, I thought that my vast experience may edify the uninitiated.  I bequeath unto you the following tasty bits of road-savvy wisdom…

TOP TEN THINGS YOU GOTTA KNOW about BIBLE SCHOOL CHOIR BUS TOURS

(10)  The FIRST (and I mean FIRST) thing that must be done is to storm the coach bus with plywood, duct tape, warning signs, and some sort of electrified deterrent, and barricade the bathroom shut.  That’s right.  Because what smells like Lysol and citrus fruit and Purell on day one will, by day three smell like… NOT Lysol and citrus fruit and Purell.  I think bus drivers have to stop every six hours or so by law anyway (ask Leon), so man up, Sally!  You can hold it for another four hours in the back of a bouncy bus.  Yes you can.  I believe in you.

(9)  BEWARE the RACHOS HUEVOS.  I’m just saying.  It seems out of my 25+ tours of duty, at least half of them rolled through Tejas or the Southwest somehow.  I never kept track of where we were…  I just got on the bus along with my fellow singing sheeple, and we seemed to get by OK.  But EVERY church in the south that served breakfast (and most of our host families) would greet us with a “G’mornin’ y’all!”and some variation on the following theme… “Since y’all are from Minnesohdah, we reckon you’d like to try one of our southern specialties from around these parts… RANCHOS HU-WAY-VOS! C’mon up now while the vittles is hot.”  OK… they probably didn’t say “vittles.”  But we DID get A LOT of Ranchos Huevos.  Let me just say that it is a cruel joke to serve 60 Norwegian teens a combination of scrambled eggs and spicy salsa and then make them ride together on one bus.

(8)  CARRY CONTRABAND SNACKS to your home stays.  You never know what’s coming.  At one church where my wife stayed with an elderly lady, the pastor actually slipped her $20 to sneak off and get pizza.  Sure enough, they were served warm milk, Saltines, and room temperature green beans in some sort of gelatinous substance… still in the shape of the can.  Protein bars, maybe an apple, some tortillas and a jar of peanut butter go a long way when facing gelatinous green beans.  Trust me on this.

(7)  If you have never before seen “The Sound of Music,” do NOT admit this on a bus full of musicians for any reason.  I’m not saying I was that guy, but if I HAD been that guy, I would have had to endure “The Sound of Music” DVD being played over the bus video system while 23 chicks watched me watch it.  AWKWARD.  I mean, if I had been that guy…

(6)  Twizzlers are the best bus snack food of all time.  I don’t even want to talk to you Red Vines people.  Have the elders at your home church anoint you with oil and pray for deliverance.  That’s all I’m saying.

(5)  Leon Ritter is the best Choir Bus Driver of all time.  His heritage with AFLBS goes back more than 30 years now.  When he is not driving the bus, a small cadre of attendants must follow him around with tasty beverages, fresh fruit snackery, and a willingness to burst into song or fresh dance moves for his entertainment.  Ooohh… better yet:  Can you guys rig up one of those cool chairs on poles so he can be carried around by the Bass section?  He’s just that awesome.

(4)  Romance.  Listen, I went on choir tour… and then I married Amy.  It went pretty much like that.  While I know the students of today are FAR more mature and mission-minded these days, don’t think I don’t know you don’t think I know you are already thinking about those long bus rides… just hours and hours of meaningful conversation over the steady hum of the diesel engine.  Oh yes.  Sharing headphones = good.  But ONE blanket PER PERSON.  Capiche?

(3)  By day 9, your resolve may lessen regarding use of the on-board bathroom.  Surely someone will be deep in giggly conversation after a gas station or lunch stop, board the bus with a small gaggle of like-wise giggling friends, only to realize with horror that they forgot to use the bathroom as the bus begins to pull away and onto the open road.  This is when your mettle will be tested.  For the sake of the greater good, do not do this thing you are considering.  Compassion is for the weak.  I’m sure that’s in 2 Thessalupians Chapter 4 somewhere.  You must find a team of heartless strong men (or altos) from within the group to block the bathroom door – willing to lock arms and take all comers.  If you are tempted to feel empathy for the weak of bladder, please refer to point #10 above.  You’ll thank me later.  And as an added bonus, it will be a real growth opportunity for the distressed and uncomfortable among you.  As I would have learned in the U.S. Marine Corp., had I ever been a Marine, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.”  It’s win-win.

(2)  Dudes… can I call you dudes?  Because this one is for you, Broseph.  While the lady folk may very well come on the bus in the morning smelling of cantaloupes or mountain breezes… whatever their perfectly acceptable lotion of choice from Bath and Body smells like… it will fade into the ether soon enough, leaving little more than a pleasant reminder of their friendship and general happy disposition lingering behind.  You, on the other hand, do no one any favors by liberally applying Drakkar Noir at 8:23 in the morning.  Do you know what the best smelling guy on the bus smells like in the morning?  Neither do I.  That’s how we want it.

(1)  When you sing – hearts will break, and people will be healed, and the Church will be reminded of how beautiful and awesome God is.  Heaven will visit people – and it will surprise them.  Never in your life will you get to experience the compound joy of making music this glorious and believing it so deeply in sync with the people alongside you.  THIS YOU HAVE TO KNOW.  These are some of the most wonderful days of your life.

God bless you guys.  I believe he is going to use you to grow His church and encourage the saints all the way from here to the Atlantic and back.  Give Leon a high-five from me.  We’ll see you when you get back home.

-Joshua Skogerboe (AFLBS Choir Alumn, 1990-92)

 

[ Article originally posted April 6, 2011 ]


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“bible school choir bus tour across america :: top ten list” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

In one of the greatest stories in our family lore is the tale of “Bob’s Beans.”

My wife’s mom, Gloria, has for years and years made a delicious baked bean, hamburger, and bacon concoction that redefines savory goodness.  It’s like Bush’s Baked Beans on steroids.  As far as I can tell, the family has been savoring said bean concoction for decades.

One year, as I understand the story, my Father-in-Law had made a batch of fresh salsa from tomatoes and peppers in his garden.  The details are a bit fuzzy, but it seems that some of said salsa was added to said bean concoction, and… well, it was a flavor combination made in heaven.  Apparently, these beans have ever since been lauded under the new moniker, “Bob’s Beans,” much to the chagrin of his wife.  In fact, I have no idea if there is any salsa left in the modern day rendering of this baked bean recipe, but we still call them “Bob’s Beans.”

I tell you this story because it has happened a million times.  A hundred million.  One idea merges with another idea and another and what comes out the other end is something new, different, and sometimes better.  For this reason if you flip through our recipe book in the Skogerboe kitchen, you will find index cards with labels that read “Joshua’s Buttermilk Pancakes,” “Joshua’s Chocolate Chip Cookies,” and my favorite, “Joshua’s Hot Fudge.”  Truth be told, I may or may not have basically ripped off my mother and made minor alterations to her best recipes and then given myself credit.  I’ll never tell.

GREAT ideas are often the result of bootlegging good ideas.  To quote the great Pablo Picasso once again, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.”

Post-It Notes were developed when one 3M employee created a low-tack adhesive that wasn’t able to capture anyone’s attention in the company.  Then one of his co-workers thought, “Hmmm…  I bet I could make myself a nice non-stick bookmark for my hymnal.”  I know.  Unbelievable that they didn’t go with “Plan A” and corner the cut-throat Hymnal bookmark market.  Just think where 3M might be today.

But ideas evolve.  Thanks to 3m’s “permitted bootlegging” policy, allowing their employees to spend 10% of their time on pet projects, the world is far more organized.  Sticky note by sticky note at a time.  Now several other major corporations (such as Google) have similar policies.

Ideas are canvas.  They are seeds.  Don’t be quick to throw them away if your “Plan A” fails.  Write them down.  Let them stew.  Add some salsa.

I could give a million examples.  A hundred million.  But I am inspired this week by one song that I can’t get out of my head.  See three very different and equally compelling renditions below.  The first video is by the original artist.  The next two are variations on the theme.  These guys make me want to write.  And maybe steal someone’s good ideas, and make them better, and label them with my name on a Post-It Note.  Or maybe I’ll work on creating something altogether NEW that you will make brilliant one day.  It’s all creativity, all part of the process.  When we create, we reflect our Creator.  Long live good ideas.  And long live bootlegging those good ideas to make even better ones.  Long live Bob’s Beans.






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“somebody that i used to know :: bob’s beans, post-it style bootlegging and the creative process” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I always want to be a better dad.  When I finally achieve “best dad of all time” staus, I’ll still want to be a better dad.  Today’s post is meant to inspire us dads to be intentional in our dadliness.

My friend Carlos Whittaker (known in the Twittersphere as @loswhit, father of viral video star ‘lil los, and the uber-creative behind ragamuffinsoul.com) continues to be inspiring on so many levels.  But I gotta give him props for this one as a top five on the all-time greatest dad moves of the 21st Century.

I don’t have girls… I’ve got my own hockey team of boys, but no mascara, barrettes, no pink, no lip gloss.  However… if I were a dad of girls, I’d be all over this stuff.  Carlos’ daughter just turned 8.  As a Taylor Swift fan, she wanteded to host a Taylor Swift party.

But in the words of Carlos, “if you know the Whittakers, you know that did not mean Taylor Swift cups and plates from Walmart.”  No sir. They invited a pile of her friends over and produced a video, complete with make-up and hairstyling, lighting effects, plenty of dancing about and general frolicking in wee cowgirl boots.  Dads, whether your home is full of Barbies and ballet slippers or cluttered with baseball gear like our home is, we can all learn something from Carlos here…

Don’t wait for the moments.  Make the moments.  Amen.

If you want to drop Carlos a note about this, find his original post here and check out ragamuffinsoul.com often.  He will inspire your faith, fuel your creative energy, and encourage you.

May we dads be intentional in our parenting.  A little planning goes a LONG way, guys.  God bless you and of all our kiddos.

When I think of parsing the world into categories, I remember the words of Bob Wiley: “There are two types of people in this world: those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.”

Here I nod my head in affirmation.  Hard to be on the fence about Neil Diamond.

But there is a deeper division yet to be found among us – a starkly contrasted gulf separating one side from the other.  Beyond politics.  Beyond our opinions of Country Western music or our positions on relative morality vs. absolute truth…

A friend of mine wears a P.E.T.A. hat with a camouflage background, and in small print, the words “People Eating Tasty Animals.”  Thus the world is divided.

Meat-eaters and non-meat-eaters.

To all of you vegans and tofurky lovers…  You edamame snackers and soy milk chuggers…  All of you sprout eating animal huggers… the culinary gap between you and me is so vast that I will probably need to consider this post cross-cultural missions.  Even so, welcome.

To all of you bacon eating, brat grilling, pulled pork dipping, BBQ savoring, turkey roasting, elk hunting, jerkey gnawing, steak chewing meat eaters out there… welcome.  We view the world through a similar lens, you and me.  A lens through which Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is like a Mecca to which an annual pilgrimage seems the least we can do.  We are kindred spirits.

My goal in this post is to be a peacemaker.  To build bridges of understanding and unity between the “Good Earth” crowd and the “Famous Dave’s” Afficianodos.  Like Jews and Gentiles, Republicans and Democrats, Red Vines chewers and the Twizzlers-Only crowd, I believe there is common ground to be found in Romans 14.

Often in ministry life, leaders run into situations where there is tension between divided camps.  And often these tensions arise over issues of Christian freedom.  This is nothing new.  Paul experienced this from the very start of the church.

Romans 14 lays it out.  Here we see two camps, clearly divided.  The meat-eaters and the non-meat-eaters.  But this divide wasn’t so much a lifestyle choice or a philosophical hang-up about the ethical treatment of animals.  This divide was about religious freedom.

The pagan Roman culture surrounding the congregation in Rome was marked by excesses.  Food and wine were habitual indulgences in the worship of Greek gods, and there were those in the church who thought Christ-followers should safeguard themselves from such sensual self-indulgence and maintain a more marked distinction from the culture around them.  These were the non-meat-eaters and teetotalers.  Paul refers to them as “the weaker brothers,” but not as a condemnation or repudiation. Rather, it was a statement of clarification – that some within the church felt it was dangerous to reflect the culture in any way, and therefore choose to self-sensor their culinary palate.

P.E.T.A. + religious conviction.

There were others, of course, who stood by the grill, aprons donned, ready for the next church BBQ.  They claimed the freedom of 1 Timothy 4:4 (which hadn’t been written yet, but the principle was established…)

“Every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.”

And this is why I say “Thank you, Lord, for this tasty meat every time I sit down to partake in some succulent grilled beast.

But I’m off point.  The basic gist of the situation here was this:  There were some in the church in Rome who felt it was perfectly acceptable to eat meat and drink wine (not to excess, of course), and there were others who did not feel that church people should eat meat and drink wine.  Paul calls the meat-eaters more free, and the non-meat-eaters less free. And then he speaks to both camps…

Now, I don’t know about you, but it has been a long long time since I remember a bruhaha erupting over the lack of tofurky at our church BBQs.  So vegans and grillmasters alike, we can breathe a sigh of relief here, to this degree… I’m not making a case for the ingestion of meat or for the merits of upping your salad intake.  Since the meat we carnivores pick up from the butcher in Cub Foods hasn’t been sacrificed to idols – as far as we know – this post and Paul’s metaphor will be equally valid to the carnivores and herbivores alike!

Common ground!  A small victory.

So if “to meat or not to meat” isn’t the question, what’s the point of Paul’s story here?  What’s it got to do with church now?  Here? Today?

I’ll give you a real life example.  I’m a Lutheran drummer.  (There are only five or six of us, but we are mighty. Parum-pa-pum-pum.)  When I took my first ministry job as a worship leader, I served a church with multiple service styles, and a diverse congregation. Equal parts wee children and white hair.  This was the early nineties, and our conservative Association of congregations was not particularly quick to embrace contemporary worship styles.  There was a concern that the popular sound and instrumentation would become more a reflection of the popular culture than a tool in the hands of the Spirit.  There was a strong feeling among some that drums should have no place in church.  These were the non-meat eaters.  The weaker brothers – not in the validity of their faith, mind you.  This is no accusation and no condemnation.  Simply put, they did not feel the freedom to incorporate “rock and roll music” into a worship setting.

Then there were those in the congregation who were eager to worship in freedom – not just freedom of the heart, but in style as well.  The contemporary sound was to many a “new song,” a fresh expression, new life.  These were the meat eaters.  The stronger brothers.  Not better than, not more spiritual.  Simply comfortable with a higher degree of freedom.

So what does Paul say here?  God wrote this, of course, so it is alive and brilliant and wise… worthy of much study and a long exposition. But for this forum, I’ll pull out six key thoughts in the “meat-eater vs. vegetarian” debates we find ourselves in with the church.

When there is a conflict in the church regarding Christian freedom:

(1)  Don’t judge each other.  Verse 3 of Romans 14 says, “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats…”  There is room for God-honoring differences of opinion in the Church.  Respect each other, keep the Gospel central, and allow for some of those differences in your church family.  We sharpen each other.

(2)  It’s OK to have conviction.  Paul reminds us in verse 5, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”  When we are dealing with the things of God, fence sitting is a cop out, and it dishonors the Lord.  Search the scriptures. Pray.  Make a decision that you belive is God honoring. And then hold to it HUMBLY.  Christian unity does not mean a lack of disagreement or differences in our convictions.

(3)  It’s not about you, it’s about US.  We die to self.  We live to serve.  Strong convictions do not override our call to love one another. Verse 7 says, “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.”  For me, a carnivorous drummer in a church with a lot of white-haired saints, that meant truly caring for those friends of mine who felt the drums were abrasive – and sometimes painful in their hearing aids.  That meant limiting my volume, and bringing percussion and contemporary praise only with great sensitivity into the traditional service.

(4)  Love trumps our preferences.  If at any point our preferences or personal convictions cause spiritual distress or turmoil in the congregation… to the degree that spiritual harm is being done, it’s time to put down the steak knife and A1.  Verse 15: “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.”  Meat eaters – those who feel the greater degree of freedom – the responsibility for unity in the Body rests with you.  Are you willing to forgo the fillet mignon wrapped in bacon for a torfurky burger, if only for a season, for the sake of love?

(5)  Words matter.  Spiritualizing our preferences is sin. And so is allowing people in the church family to cast strong moral judgment in areas that are clearly matters of Christian freedom and personal conviction without humble but firm pressback.  Verse 16 says this: “Do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil.”  There shall be no vegetarian bashing here!  Nor shall there be any finger pointing at the wiener roasters!  In my early days, when I led worship in a contemporary form, I had absolutely NO PROBLEM with people expressing their opinions about the style, or the volume, of their preference for the great hymns of the faith over what they saw as the repetitive and shallow praise choruses we were using.  I had many great discussions about worship – and about the difference between form and essence.  But I drew the line when people spoke of the drums and contemporary worship forms as “worldly” or “carnal” or even “evil.”  No sir.  What about the loud clashing cymbals God asks us to praise Him with?? There is a stronger Biblical case to be made for playing drums unto God than for the necessity of Euro-centric muscial forms to be accompanied only by an organ or piano (strings and brass are allowed for special occasions or when played by Middle School students).  Convictions are welcome.  But pronouncements of one camp being the “God Team” and the other being “of the devil” are strictly verboten.

(6)  I have no chapter and verse to back this up, but for the love of everything holy, Tofurky is gross.  If I hadn’t just written #5 above I might even say it was of the devil.  I just might.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  (See #2…)

“I do not ask for these [disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may believe in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  (John 17:21)

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“tofurky eaters and lutheran drummers :: when conviction and freedom collide” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

Should the culture around our church influence the culture inside our church?  And if so, how much is too much?

The late, great Robert E. Webber, in his book Ancient-Future Worship, says the following:

Anyone who travels and visits churches will see that “program,” “theme,” and “creative” are the most dominant words of worship planning that force leaders toward designing culturally driven worship.  My concern is that culturally driven worship will nurture a culturally formed spiritual life.

Whoa doggie.  That right there is loaded.  I agree with Robert Webber.  And I don’t.  Let me es’splain…

Culturally driven worship?  What does that mean?

This reminds me of the false dichotomy that has often been leveled against “seeker sensitive” churches that are simply trying to remove unnecessary “churchy” barriers for people who don’t usually attend church.  Calling those churches “seeker-driven” ministries insinuates that thinking about how an outsider might feel coming into church equates to making the comfort and retention of the non-church-goer the HIGHEST priority.  Perhaps Dr. Webber intended to word this as strongly as he did, but I think describing the approach of most contemporary evangelical churches as “culturally sensitive” worship may be closer to the mark.

While I wouldn’t ever condone a ministry model that put people-pleasing above Biblical truth, I think the criticism of “seeker-sensitivity” often is unfair and counterproductive.  In its truest sense, I believe EVERY SINGE CHURCH should be “seeker-sensitive,” or in Webberian terminology, “culturally sensitive,” to the degree that we make our churches a place that welcomes sinners to hear the whole truth of God’s Word.  (1) God loves us and He created us to enjoy relationship with Him.  (2) Our sin has broken that relationship and we deserve eternal punishment and separation from Him.  (3) Jesus died on the cross to pay our penalty so that we could enjoy that redeemed relationship with God He created us for in the first place.  And (4) He’s coming again in victory to judge all of mankind and establish a new heaven and a new earth.  All to His glory.

I want people – anybody – who is willing to walk through the doors of our church to hear that message.  I don’t want unnecessary churchiness to shot block the Gospel.  I’ll encourage every church I serve to be unashamedly “culturally sensitive…”  But that isn’t what Webber is warning us of.  He’s warning of a worship ministry model that is “culturally driven.”

Dr. Webber says that a focus on program (service planning), theme (communication strategy) and creativity (artistic storytelling and response) will inevitably lead to “culturally driven worship.”  And that in turn, our worship services/experiences will inevitably lead to a “culturally driven spiritual life.”

Robert Webber is wise.  There is great danger in letting the culture drive worship service planning (i.e. “programming”) to the degree that we out-plan the Holy Spirit or creatively mask the simple and pure teaching of the Word of God with creative storytelling and culturally relevant analogies.

To that degree, I agree with Dr. Webber.  It is possible for contemporary churches to reflect our culture to the degree that there is hardly any difference between a “church event” and any given Thursday night at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Maybe less swearing…

If the contemporary church leans into contemporary communication models and reflects cultural trends to the neglect of clear preaching of the Word of God and the traditional pillars of the local church (prayer, confession of sin, confession of faith, reverence, etc.), people’s spiritual lives WILL be shaped in the image of the culture, where religion is personal and relative, compartmentalized, comfortable.

Not with a fox…  One example:  Some contemporary ministries seem to have been called to reach out to the “hot young and trendy” mission field.  Sunday morning and evening worship events are led by Ambercrombie and Fitch.  And I understand that the 20-something hottiesneed to hear the Gospel, too, so we ought to present a foxy female vocalist and guitar playing Zac Efron with skinny jeans to reach them.  Makes sense.  But what if someone came in to our church dirty, broken and smelling bad?  How quick would we be – any of us – to befriend them and warmly welcome them to come again… or to come over for dinner?  Culture is about image.  The Church is about love.

Not wearing sox…  I remember the day one of my great friends and fellow worship team members came to the evening service at our national youth convention to play guitar wearing a t-shirt sporting the old-timey image of a service attendant holding a fuel spout with a smile and a dialogue bubble proudly displaying the words, “I’ve got gas!”  While his choice of apparel certainly reflected the Junior High culture we were steeped in that week, it was perhaps not the best choice to promote the deep reverence we hoped to model as we led the students into the throne room of the King of Angels.  My point has little to do with fashion.  It’s about reverence.  Depending on your culture, worship leading in shorts, flip-flops and print T’s may fit like a glove.  But remember that what we do is a high and holy calling.  We usher the local body of Christ into His presence, to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, and to interact with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word.  Too many casual references to pop culture, edgy jokes, coarse language (and yes, some ministries use off-color language to reflect their “authenticity” and “cultural relevance”), movie clips, or fill-in-the-blank can keep people comfortably “stuck” in the cultural paradigm they walked out of when they entered our church.  Culture is about looking like we fit in.  Church is about becoming set apart.

Not in a box…  Some churches are admittedly “variety junkies” when it comes to worship programming.  As they run with a theme each week, they pour their best creative juice into the planning bucket and mix it up until something attention-grabbing, something arresting, something MEMORABLE rises to the top.  I’ll admit… I love it.  In my perfect ministry world, I would forever work with a team of creative programmers who would craft memorable, God-honoring worship-inspiring moments that teach God’s truth and allow room for the church to respond.  This leaves a congregation with a “what will church be like THIS week?” intrigue, and if it is handled well – and led by the Spirit – this can help keep people from “rote religious hoop jumping.”

The down-side, or danger, of a free-flowing “out of the box” worship planning paradigm is that congregations lose the many benefits of liturgy and the life-grounding repetition of the truth communicated through the corporate worship structure. Important traditional elements of the service, such as corporate confession of faith or time for personal confession, can get lost in the creative flow.  Variety for entertainment’s sake has limited value.  We mustn’t sacrifice age-old core functions of God’s church in our thirst to do something new. Culture is all about variety for the sake of entertainment.  When the Church embraces variety, it must be for the sake of more potent communication (or celebration) of God’s truth.

So should I worry that so many churches want to program their services creatively around a theme… or not?

Again, I agree with Robert Webber… and I don’t.  Look at his quote again.  In his estimation, the words “programming,” “theme,” and “creative” were the most dominant words in worship planning for many churches.  In a ministry where that is truly the case, I may agree with him.  There is danger in that ministry stepping past cultural sensitivity into culture-driven worship models… and that does run the grave danger of promoting spiritual life shaped more by cultural norms than by the transforming power of the counter-cultural Word of God.

Perhaps the most dominant words shaping our local church worship experiences ought to be JESUS, love, sin, forgiveness, brokenness, healing, wrath, grace, truth, and surrender.  It is the SUBSTANCE of our worship that must be dominant, not the METHOD.  It is the essence, not the form.

However, this is a babies and bathwater situation.  I plead with the Church to THINK as they program services.  To communicate truth with a thought-through focus that will resonate after the benediction.  To unleash their deepest and most beautiful creative efforts to speak the truth and celebrate the story of God.

Let’s look at the culture, but not look like it.  Let’s invite the culture in and redeem it.  Let’s creatively program services around a theme in a culturally sensitive paradigm that is driven not by cultural trends, but by the call of Jesus to go and make disciples… led by the Word and the Spirit.


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“culturally driven worship? :: not with a fox, not wearing sox, not in a box” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wow. This one is close to home. This one has actually set up shop in my living room and is enjoying a sandwich on my couch while wearing my slippers.  That close to home.

The truth is… church music is terrible.  And that’s not to say that it isn’t sometimes incredibly moving, effective, and inspiring.  But often… it’s kinda… bad.  Thankfully the work of the spirit and the sacrifice of worship does not require great music.  It requires an honest heart before God, and grateful submission to a personal Savior.  These are spiritual concerns, independent to some degree of the quality of the art in our local church.  Great music in church simply is not required for deeply personal worship.

But great music might help.

As a worship leader for the past 17+ years, I’ve been a part of some powerful high-level artistic experiences, and several musical expressions that should not be labeled art at all.  I’ve led with far better musicians than myself as well as rookies in the field.  Sometimes we have produced beautifully crafted art.  Sometimes we have produced something not so beautiful.  I want to keep the bar high – to either obliterate or redeem the phrase “good enough for church.”  I try to lead the MUSIC as best I can, but our focus remains primarily on the heart of the lead worshipers on our team.  I am far more interested in leading artists who are in an honest, growing love relationship with Jesus than in signing up the best local rock star.

And yet my ears are tired.

I remember reading a post not too long ago from a blogger who generates broad discussion amongst the worship leader community.  He asked us what songs were really “connecting” right now in our churches.  I read through the 100+ responses, realizing that for many of us, our playlists were almost interchangeable.

Crowder, Tomlin, Hillsong, Passion, Sovereign Grace, Maher, Brown, McMillan, Hughes, Redman, Gateway…

It was interesting.  And kind of sad.  I wondered what God must be experiencing as he hears our worship team singing “Mighty to Save” again.  I realized that at the exact same time there are probably 400 other churches in America singing that song.  I still wonder that today.  And I realize when I hear other churches leaders crank up their rhythm sections… my ears are tired.

Are God’s ears tired?

This post isn’t meant to address worship style, per se.  I just hunger for something fresh in church music  that moves my heart and inspires greater love of God. It isn’t about needing “new” songs all the time.  And it isn’t just about the technical aptitude of the players, either.  Christian radio, playing studio-polished recordings of passionate and gifted artists often has the same effect on me.  Unease. There may be some new things happening in me, or maybe a discontentment growing for what feels too familiar and too easy.  It made me think… What is about “church music” that is so… so… uninspiring sometimes?

I found a possible answer in Psalm 33:3

“Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts.”

I see three important elements here.  Freshness.  Skill.  And Fervor.

Do you know when music in church is most effective for me – when it inspires God thoughts in me that lead to worship?  If you thought I was going to say, “When the music is presented with fresh language, or when it is skillfully played or led, or maybe music that is passionately honest about the truth of God…”  You’d be almost right.

Replace “or” in the statement above with “AND.” Psalm 33:3 is a command.  God wrote it.  He did not say, “Sing a new song… or play skillfully… or at least make it passionate.”

He said (my paraphrase), “Don’t just repeat the songs you like to sing because they ‘work,’ make sure you include songs that inspire people with new and surprising poetry and beautiful melodies and harmonies that reflect my creativity and my beauty.”

But God asks for more. The whole Bible is full of exhortations to bring our BEST lamb as a sacrifice, to offer the FIRST and the BEST to God, and for artists to “play skillfully, sing skillfully, craft skillfully” when our art is in service to the King.  God asks for a new song, but he doesn’t want us to bring something half-baked.  He wants us to play skillfully.  When a Worship Team plays instruments that are out of tune, or when singers miss entrances, or when the organist plays a wrong chord, our attention is on the Team, not on the Lord we are singing to or about.  Artistic skill doesn’t need to be “showy.”  In fact, the most skilled and Spirit-led musicians sweep us into the presence of God and practically disappear… our focus on the Audience of One.  Humbly wielded, artistic skill in the service of the King is a powerful tool for use by the Spirit.

And yet God asks for more. YES, we must create and present NEW songs to the Church and to the Lord.  YES, we are commanded to play skillfully – to bring our BEST lamb as an offering out of love for God.  But we are also exhorted to shout.  LOUDLY.  Of course, there is a place for quiet reverence, as well.  But I think this has more to do with our fervor than it does with volume. How often have we as Worship Leaders phoned it in?  How often have we just moved the church through our songlist, hearts disconnected from our faith?  God hates vain repetition, but looks to strongly support those whose hearts are fully devoted to him.  As artists and leaders in the church, we must have a transparent, contagious, firey love relationship with God.

Freshness.  Skill.  Fervor.

The problem with most “church music,” in my view, is that I rarely see all three of these qualities present at the same time.

I have seen passion on display without much skill, and it can be painful.  I’ve seen skillful players who seem to be more interested in their music than their Lord, and it can be distracting.  And so often Worship Teams are slow to create, slow to adopt new expressions, slow to use their imaginations.  Skill and passion can only go so far the 94th time your church sings “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

Freshness, Skill, AND Fervor.  Three elements that would go a long way in making our artistic leadership more effective. They are not suggestions, as if two out of three are good enough. They are commands.  Remember… God wrote Psalm 33:3. Often I see one of these elements, or two at a time, but to see all three at the same time is rare.  And that’s part of why “church music” often leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Can you relate?

If artists in the Kingdom of God would commit to bring fresh artistic creative juice to their art, to work hard at their craft and bring their BEST offering to the Lord and His church, AND to sing and play with passion, “church music” might have an entirely different connotation.

But there is something even more important to me, more soul-stirring in me, something that is a non-negotiable if art in the Church is going to move me to worship with freedom and gratitude.  Something beyond a new song played well by a passionate artist.

It is a artist who knows the Lord intimately and reflects that love relationship in their art.

The trump card.  The non-negotiable.  The single greatest factor that will help artists in their local church break hearts and usher in space for the Spirit to interact with the souls of the congregation. It is the power of a life truly devoted to Jesus.  And although many, many church musicians profess a personal faith in Jesus, it is rare to experience true depth of personal devotion to Jesus IN THEIR ART.

I’ll end this with a story.

One afternoon several years ago an elderly gent from our congregation asked if he could sing a song for the church.  He admitted he didn’t have much musical ability, and that he’d be more comfortable without an accompanist so he didn’t need to stay in one key.  Out of concern for him and for our church, I asked if I could hear him first – before we had him sing for a service.

Stan agreed, but he admitted that even just singing in front of me made his knees knock.  How would he feel in front of 300 more?  Yet he felt that he should to do this – to express his love for Jesus.  One hurdle at a time, I told him.  Stan and I wandered into the big, empty sanctuary. And I took a seat about 5 rows from the front.  We prayed together.  And Stan sang.

With a cracking voice he started in on the first line, eyes closed, hands trebling.  “I come to the garden alone…”

My heart broke. For the next three minutes tears flowed freely down my cheeks and dripped onto my collar.  It was maybe the most moving piece of church music I can remember.  Stan sang an old song badly.  But it was so honest, and so deeply rooted in his love for Jesus, it catapulted my heart before the throne, and I worshipped.

Stan played the trump card. Jesus meant everything. More than polish.  More than art.

So, artists in churches all over the world, I exhort you with the authority if the Word of God, to bring NEW expressions of worship to your congregations.  I exhort you to NEVER settle for “good enough for church” mentality, unless that means your bar is set very, very high. And I encourage you to let your music be full-throated and played with zeal.

But above all, express an honest and deeply rooted love of Jesus.  Some of you may need to stop producing art for church until your heart is overflowing.  Then, out of the over flow… Sing a new song to the Lord; Bring your BEST offering… and make it loud.

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“church music is terrible :: how to make it better” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This is a poem and a sermon and a reminder and a painting and a song and a promise…

Love means dying, and being reborn. Before her, I stayed out of the minefields and I ran from the storms. But this new life with Amy is something else. Don’t give up on me, Amy. When the shadowlands come, I’ll remind you whose you are, and I’ll ask for God’s help to be who I am.

I’m in love with my girl, and I thank God. Everyday.

This right here is funny.  That’s really all I need to say.  Enjoy


I love the mix of video, audio, lighting, programming, and facial hair that makes this work.  All in one take.  No edits.  This is live art creation in real time by Edison.  How cool is that?

The first time I ever saw one of these “beatboxes” used in a live setting was Imogen Heap on Letterman singing “Last Train Home.”  You can catch that awesome performance here.

The Gospel is the seed.  Their heart is the soil.  A congregation openly adoring God with freedom… that’s the heat lamp.

There is a discussion going on in the Church about the “power of worship.”  Some churches staunchly stand on the preaching of the Word of God being the central focal point of every worship service.  Other churches believe that it is often in times of corporate worship when God moves among His people most visibly in supernatural power.  Some churches intentionally pull back from much corporate worship in a setting where evangelism is the goal.  But the idea that worship is isolating or alienating for the unbeliever is being reexamined… and reexamined again.

My good friend Dallas Jenkins (Film-maker, director of Midnight Clear, and more recently, What If) recently produced a video story for Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, where Andi Rozier is an Associate Pastor of Worship.  If you’ve got eight minutes, this is a powerful example of worship and the Gospel at work together to change a life. Depending on your theological background, that statement could fall anywhere on the scale from “obviously true” to “dangerously misguided.”  Watch this, and I’ll follow up with a few thoughts…

My thoughts…

(1)  I believe in “Worship Evangelism.” In a nutshell, it is a belief that as unbelievers encounter and experience worshippers of Jesus Christ adoring Him with honesty and freedom, they will see and experience the nearness of God, alive and interacting with His people.  If you really want to flesh this idea out and explore it deeply, I’d encourage you to find and read “Worship Evangelism”(1995) by Sally Morgenthaler.  Although Jesus makes it clear in John 4 that unbelievers aren’t even able to worship God, I fully believe that when God’s people worship, they interact with the Holy Spirit and the truth of the Word, and the beauty of that honest interaction draws unbelievers toward God.

(2)  Worship doesn’t save people. Jesus alone saves people.  And Romans 10:13, 14 and 17 make it clear that salvation comes by hearing the Word of God, which contains the Gospel in all of its power and purity.  So yes, I think God moves in power and interacts with us when we worship Him.  And yes, I believe that being in the midst of a worshipping congregation can move the hearts of unbelievers to want to know more – to look more deeply into the message of God.  But we must not trip over that line… we must not ascribe some supernatural power to the worship experience itself, or we are creating an elevated “theology of worship” that equates our experience with the power and holy authority of the Word of God.

(3)  Life-change takes time. In a discussion with Dallas about this piece, he mentioned something that the Worship Pastor, Andi, said that didn’t end up in the final video.  “We’re about life change, and worship leaders need to remember that it’s not always something that happens over 30 minutes, or 30 days, or 30 months, or even 30 years.”

Great perspective.  God can blow the doors off of someone’s heart in an instant if He so chooses.  But often, people who really, REALLY experience God’s power in a life-changing way are led through a PROCESS, not simply brought to an instant that changes everything.  Process… investment… relationships… and the truth. People are stubborn, and me more than most.  We shouldn’t expect “our ministry” to change a soul in one hour-long moment.  God is the heart-breaker and restorer, and He often chooses to plant the truth like a seed, and over time, allow the truth to take root.

When I lead worship, it is an honor to help that seed along with a little toasty goodness from the heat lamp…

As a Worship Leader, I am quick to say HE is the seed planter, and His Word is the seed carrier, and His Spirit is the seed deliverer.  My job is to give the congregation of believers in our church an opportunity to respond to God with adoration and honest thanksgiving for His love and grace and unchanging character.  Because the Gospel is the seed.  Their heart is the soil.  And I’m just flipping the ON switch…

When you watch Rob’s story, or when you read the ideas presented here, what do you think?

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“worship evangelism :: seeds, soil, and heat lamps” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.