I recently had the privilege of hanging out with about 20 dedicated volunteers who serve the worship ministry of their congregation, one that worships nearly 1,000 people each week. Their worship pastor had just moved on to a new church and, before launching a search for a new one, we thought it best to have a conversation with those most involved in the ministry
It’s mid-March and Easter is right around the corner. If you’re part of a larger church with good structure and organization, you’ve probably been talking about Easter since Christmas. If you’re part of a smaller church (like me!) with less structure and organization, there’s a chance it’s barely crossed your mind yet.
I found it in an antique store. I was there to shop for my wife’s birthday, but heard the siren song of an old bookshelf filled with old books and was lured into complete distraction. I stood shuffling through the collection, amused by the lack of organization. Julia Childs cookbook next door to a Ronald Reagan biography, giant hardback coffee table book shoulder to shoulder with a Louis L’amour paperback. Dostoyevsky sandwiched between The Hardy Boys. It was like literature whiplash.
My favorite movie of all time is unashamedly Back to the Future (and for the record, I consider all 3 movies to be one continuous film).
For those of you who have been living under a rock since 1985, Back to the Future is a story about a teenager named Marty McFly (played by Michael J Fox) who time travels in a DeLorean with the help of scientist Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd). The movie is filled with time traveling adventures to the past as well as to the future.
We've all been there. We posted the song on Planning Center in the key of F, (and everyone learned it in F), then on Sunday morning the vocalist can't hit the high-note. She needs it dropped to the key of E... Or, in the middle of rehearsal, you realize it'd be great to flow from one song into the next, but you learned one in the key of B and the other is the key of C. Do you need to run back into the church office and print out new chord charts for the band?
Tragedy struck a family in our church and, while visiting their house, I was called upon to lead worship for a room of grieving family members, with no monitors, no lights, no haze, no band, no confidence monitor, and no advance notice.
And in that moment I found myself with nothing to sing and even less to say.
I remember strumming very poorly through part of a hymn, mumbling a prayer, and leaving the house crushed by my inability to pastor these beautiful people during this precious moment in their lives I had been invited into. Of course, they were incredibly gracious, but I knew that I had failed.
As I’ve led worship increasingly in various countries and foreign cultures in the past few years, I’ve had the chance to not only share some of the worship songs God’s been using in my local community, but I’ve also had the distinct privilige of hearing some of the indigenous worship songs that are being written around the world.
I’ve long loved Psalm 34:1, “I will praise You at all times, your praise will continually be on my lips.” I want to praise God at all times—not just the good times, or easy times—but I so often fail to. I often default to whining, not worshiping. I often complain, rather than consistently praise God in faith. “The Valley” is an aspirational prayer that aims to determine: no matter what comes my way, I choose to bring you praise.
Whether we like it or not, worship leaders are theologians. They are shaping the theology of every believer with every song they sing. This is a terrifying reality and responsibility. Many of us in the 10,000 Fathers community say it this way: we need a generation of worship leaders who aren’t just leaders of songs, but leaders of people.
Without question, male worship leaders dominate the stage in our worship gatherings, leaving little room for gifted and anointed female worship leaders to join in. If a female worship leader (without a sort of “male chaperone”) is actually found leading a congregation, it’s a rare and beautiful thing to witness...
We were backstage at a massive event a few years ago. I was about to lead worship for around 3,500 people in the room, and another 100,000 (!) people watching online. In-demand preachers were slated to preach. We were going through the program beforehand, getting on the same page regarding all of the cues, transitions, and last-minute details. The producer of the event asked me what I planned to do for the opening worship set...
For better or for worse, we’ve all been shaped by our Fathers and Mothers. In large part, this is why 10,000 Fathers exists. We recognize there is a lack of true fatherly/motherly guidance in the Church, and we long to see a generation of leaders emerge who are nurturing and accessible. Think about it.
The slightly younger Instagram has 300 million smart phone photographers who “capture and share the world’s moments.” In a fast paced and disjointed world people are craving connection. Without a doubt, social media platforms connect people in beautiful ways. But swiping through the highlight reel of people’s lives leaves us longing for more than a filtered glimpse of reality. Deep down in our souls we know we were made for more than glossy representations of our broken, messy, beautiful lives. Since the garden, we have lived with an ache to be known and yet unashamed. Just like our original father and mother we hide behind polished projections that are nothing more than elaborate fig leaves. We long to be accepted without having to play the social charade. We long to live in true community.
For believers to earnestly live the kingdom life, authentic community is not only helpful, it is a necessity. But in our program-filled, event-driven churches, many Christians settle for polite platitudes and surface conversations while cramming church activities into an already impossible schedule. The days turn to months, and the months turn to years before some people realize they have attended hundreds of church services and never developed more than a casual friendship with other believers. Sure, they may share their “praise reports” with their Sunday School class, but do they have a community of believers with whom they can share the deepest hopes and fears of their souls? Sadly, most Christians do not.
This was not the spirit of the early church. Contrast our “service attendance“ driven culture with Acts 2:47-49 – “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
They met in the temple courts and their homes. They weren’t just attending programs at the local synagogue. They were sharing their lives together.
In the early 6th century Christianity had been the official religion of the Roman Empire for nearly 200 years. The Church had reached new heights of wealth and power. Gone were the days of Christians being known as a simple people who shared their lives and cared deeply for one another. Church leaders were becoming affluent influencers of politics and culture. Many sincere believers who felt wealth and power would only corrupt and institutionalize their precious faith, fled to the deserts to pursue simple lives of love and service. Benedict of Nursia first left Rome in search of personal solitude; but his quiet, pious life drew the attention of many so that eventually he began establishing monastic houses in remote wilderness areas. Credited as the Father of Western Monasticism, he is most remembered for The Rule that he wrote and is still used 1500 years later. The Rule consists of 73 chapters that outline in very practical ways, how the Benedictine monks would live in love and service towards one another. One of their guiding principles was the vow of stability. To take this vow meant to commit oneself to that community of monks for the rest of one’s life.
Is that extreme? Yes, very. In fact the strict asceticism of the early monastic orders may have been an overreaction to the newly gained wealth and power of the organized Church. However, in a world where we can unfriend and unfollow with the click of a button, stay home or change churches altogether without people noticing, we would do well to learn from these simple desert fathers and mothers. In a culture that craves connection, the values of the 6th century Benedictine monks are as relevant as ever. The point is, they knew sacrificial and authentic community was central to the faith. They made it a priority, and we can as well.
To be clear, there are no easy fill-in-the-blank answers here. This looks different for everyone. In my family’s pursuit of true community, we moved from a geographical location that we loved dearly, to live life and mission with a group of people who are friends in the truest sense; and in the journey together, they have become like family. We worship together and share life together; not just the pretty parts. We share fears, frustrations and failures and we fight for one another. We share our broken, messy, beautiful lives. This is the Kingdom way.
I recently went for a run on a trail in the North Georgia Mountains. The trail was on the verge of being overgrown. Vines slapped my legs and face as I twisted and turned along the rocky path. I rolled my ankle twice and nearly slipped down a steep embankment. After pushing hard up a sharp incline I stopped to catch my breath.
And if I'm honest, I felt a slight bit of fear. When you’re several miles deep into the wilderness, it only takes a moment to realize just how wild and untamed nature is. There is something that awakens in our consciousness when we step away from the numbing comforts of modern society. It's not just adventuresome; it's worshipful.
In our generation we go to “houses” of worship. We drive into parking lots and walk paved sidewalks that lead into perfectly decorated air conditioned buildings while we sip coffee and watch a performance on a stage. The most that is asked of us is that we sing a few songs, listen to a funny sermon, and swipe our debit cards at the "giving kiosks" on the way out.
It was not always this way. Moses worshiped at a burning bush in the wilderness. He saw God's glory while standing on a rock. Abraham climbed a mountain, built an altar, and attempted to sacrifice his one and only son. Elijah stood through a powerful wind that shattered the rocks, an earthquake, and a great fire, to hear the still small voice of the Lord. Noah built an ark with his bare hands, and David danced outside the city with all his might. It was not just spiritual or mental...it was physical. Today we are content to sit in pews and look at projected pictures of nature with overlaid lyrics rather than make space in God’s creation and have his eternal lyric written on our hearts. I'm not saying we can't find God in churches and cathedrals. We most certainly can, but there is more of God to be seen. As the psalmist says, "the earth is the Lord's and all that is in it".
Church history is filled with the stories of saints who spent long periods of time in silence, solitude and nature. St. Francis of Assisi was known for his love of nature and animals and certainly was not in a cathedral when he penned the now famous lyric, “thou rising moon, in praise rejoice, ye lights of evening, find a voice!” He is said to have spent his time alone in the woods (sometimes without clothing) before traveling to Rome and asking the Pope to endorse the Franciscan Order. John Chrysotom devoted four years to the monastic life and then spent two years in complete solitude in the Syrian Mountains before returning to Antioch to become known as “the golden mouthed”. He was famous in his day for his oratory skills and is considered the greatest preacher and communicator of the 4th century. Jerome, one of the brightest early church scholars, spent time with the desert monks of Egypt preceding his move to Palestine where he completed the enormous task of translating the Bible into Latin. Commonly known as the Vulgate, Jerome’s translation became the standard Bible of the entire Latin-speaking church. Throughout the scriptures and church history we see heroes of the faith spending extended times in nature before entering fruitful seasons of ministry; the most notable of these, of course, being Jesus himself.
I am not suggesting we move to the mountains and become hermits. I am also not suggesting that location alone is an answer; but I am suggesting that we get out of our climate controlled cages and worship in the cathedral of the Creator’s handiwork. Go for a hike...alone. Consider the lilies of the field. Take a journal and "pour out your heart" before the Lord. Lift your hands, bow down, shout unto God with a voice of triumph in the middle of the wilderness. I promise you something will come alive in your heart.
Life began in the garden. Life was lost in the garden. Jesus prayed all night and received the burden of the cross in a garden. Jesus once healed a blind man after taking him by the hand and leading him “outside of the city". Our eyes will be opened to something deep and true when we leave our busyness behind.
Silence. Solitude. Wilderness. These are well-worn ancient paths to a mystical and beautiful place. Our forefathers knew them well. I pray we will too.
A few years ago there was a spontaneous moment of worship that happened in a Youth Conference I was leading. We started to sing a simple chorus of letting go of our own plan for our lives. Often we look at something like "surrender" and think the process is sad and mournful but when we consider surrendering to the Lord it's not something to mourn but something to celebrate.
As time went on the song developed with the band and we finally got around to recording it. Here's a lyric video of the song, hope you enjoy!