Worship at Christ Church Suwanee

Jenny and I had a great time leading the worship at my home church this weekend. Supported by Mike Carthon on bass, Mick Crylser on drums, and Ken Clark on acoustic guitar, it was an exciting opportunity to bring our style and some of our favorite worship songs to the worshipers at Christ Church Suwanee. We got to debut a new song I just wrote entitled “O My Soul”, along with doing some favorites we’ve done acoustically before, but never with a full band. We received some amazing positive feedback from the church, and I really appreciate the flexibility that worship pastor Jeff Wreyford gave us in choosing the songs and letting us run with the service, including allowing me to read Psalm 43 which (along with Psalm 42) was the basis for the new song we played.

I’ve always viewed Steady On as a performance band, playing songs that I’ve written that “tell the story” of my faith and encourage others who listen. My songwriting doesn’t tend to be very congregational in terms of melodies or lyrical content, and I’m OK with that (though “O My Soul” is perhaps a step in the direction of congregational writing). But from the moment Jenny and I started singing, I’ve always known her passion was to lead worship. Because of that, I’ve tried to include some worship songs in our sets and look out for gigs that might allow us to lead people in worship. I’m so glad that she has brought that to the band, because this morning was truly amazing. She is a wonderful worship leader and I love to sing with her. She has such an infectious spirit that draws people in, gets them energized, and directs them toward God.

The band really nailed it today, completely in sync. There were definitely a lot of moments for me where I just let go and let the music happen, focusing my attention on Jesus and the words we were singing to him. I remember afterward Mick telling me that he missed his cue on “In Christ Alone” because he was just in the zone, and all I could think was “sometimes, it’s better to miss a cue” (and I doubt anyone in the congregation even noticed). I’m so grateful for all the hard work that every musician (and the tech team at Christ Church Suwanee) put into this morning, and I have to say, every minute was worth it. God was lifted up, and I am reminded that this is just a dim taste of what awaits us beyond the grave.

Here’s hoping that we will have many more opportunities to lead worship in the future; it is, after all, part of what we were created to do, and Jenny and I are blessed to play with musicians who know how to bring a musical offering to God that is both skillful and spiritual.

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When Worship Is Great

This morning I led worship alongside Laura Sully at our home church, Christ Church Suwanee. Normally we tend to have very full worship teams with electric guitars, drums, and the works. We have an amazing amount of musical talent at our church and it’s always wonderful to have the opportunity to worship with all of our many gifts, but this morning was a little bit different. It was just the two of us with our piano and guitar . . . and the people of God. It was fantastic and I’m so thankful I was a part of it. The intimacy and ability to respond to the congregation was special. As a worship leader, my primary goal is to be a “lead worshiper” more than a “director of worship”, and this morning that was so easy to do.

Something like that, for me, is like the “mountain top”. Worship is always honoring to God, but sometimes we “feel” it more than other times. These are the weeks we stand around after the service and talk about how great it was, always making sure to point out it was a work of God, not of us. But there’s a temptation when that happens, and this is where we need to be careful. We can look at these special moments, moments that are gifts from God, and try to re-create them. We can seek the spiritual “high” and try to program it. It’s easy for people to say “Remember that week with just piano and guitar?- It was so amazing I don’t see why we need the other instruments” or “I loved it when we sang ‘Our God’ we should do that song every week”.  I suppose that is the result of the problem solving gene (at least in me), but we can easily run astray here and turn a gift into bondage, or something even more dangerous.

Because really, you don’t program “great moments”. If you do, you end up seeking these great moments more than God. We always have to remember, we enter for him, not us. Even if we feel nothing or something is a little off, if our hearts are sincere and we are there to give God honor and glory, worship is great no matter how it seems to us.

There is an oft discussed passage in Leviticus concerning worship, and it’s an important warning:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.(Leviticus 10:1-2, ESV)

People debate what all of the implications of this scripture are, but I think one thing is very clear. When we come to worship, we are not there because it is fun, cool, and exciting; we come because God has told us we are to worship him. While worship can be fun/cool/exciting, our primary purpose is to respond to God for who he is in our lives and we can never forget that.

I believe the great sin of Nadab and Abihu lies in their purpose for offering “strange fire” (yes, we DO have a song about this, thanks for asking!). They did something different from what God had asked for because they were so impressed by what happened in the closing passages of Leviticus 9 that they wanted to capture and re-create it. But they wanted to do so on their terms for their joy and happiness.

Leviticus 9 ends this way:

And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces. (Leviticus 9:24, ESV)

People were very impressed and affected when “fire came out from the Lord”, as well they should be. They fell on their faces with a holy reverent fear. And this, I think, is what our response ought to be when worship is “great”. When we feel God powerfully and he moves in a special way, we ought to remember who we are dealing with and who we are before him. We should, at least emotionally, be prostrate before him, reverent and humble. Saying “Thank you Lord for meeting with us this way”.

You can’t program fire from heaven. You can’t re-create it, and you don’t want to try. I’m not saying we don’t try to bring our best every week in terms of preparation. We certainly do. But at the end of the day, real worship is beyond instruments, format, and style. It is about God and how he chooses for us to experience him. And if we just blast on ahead without reflection, we can miss it. We can miss the reverent fear we ought to have in light of the work he’s done for us.

So my challenge to myself this week is to reflect on God with reverence and give him thanks; thanks for being worthy of worship, for accepting my worship, and for meeting with me in a special way I could never attain on my own.

What Makes A Great Pastor?

I’m certain there are lots of different criteria by which we could effectively measure how great a pastor is. Certainly the ability to understand the scripture is very high. The early apostles thought so highly of this role that they assigned others to do works of charity so they could focus on studying theology. Another is a charismatic personality and engaging teaching. Jesus surely was an example of this in the way he drew in and engaged his audience with parables and bold conviction. But an experience this year reminded, and convicted, me of a very different aspect of pastoral leadership.

My church, Christ Church Suwanee, is a very young church. We probably have more children under the age of ten than we have adults over the age of forty. Such a large number of children is a huge blessing, but it also requires a lot of people to step up. Sunday school for the children doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of intention, organization, and (most importantly) volunteers every week. So for the first year I was at Christ Church, every week I heard about the need for people to volunteer in the classroom. I have been one of those volunteers, and I can tell you that it is certainly not my “gift”, but it IS a place to serve where I am needed. But it takes a lot of people, and the church needed more. So constantly the leadership appealed for more people to help out with the children so we would never have to turn anyone away for lack of numbers.

Then one week, something really strange happened. It was a week that the senior pastor of the church wasn’t preaching. This in itself isn’t odd: we often have different ordained preachers within the congregation speak. As a church, we are very blessed with many people who can fill the role on a given Sunday. What WAS different is that our pastor was at church, but not in the service.  Instead, he was teaching my 3 year old son’s class. I was at once shocked, impressed, and then convicted that I had the attitude (that many have) that this was something he was “above”. Who would expect the senior pastor to watch the 3 and 4 year olds during the worship service?

The truth is, ministering to our children is a very important ministry. He had been saying it for months, but it took on a different meaning when he stepped up and did it himself. Good for him, but looking inward, why would I ever think that the ANY ministry in the church was “beneath” the senior Pastor? Is it because we’ve elevated the role of “Pastor” to a place of exaltation, above the “rank and file” of the church? I think we have, myself included. But what view of leadership does Jesus give us?

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:1-17, ESV)

Jesus, the greatest teacher and leader of all, served his disciples by doing the lowest of jobs, washing their feet. And then, lest the point be missed, he commanded them to do the same. REAL leadership is in the serving. Yes, understanding theology and being able to teach are key attributes we need in a pastor, but nothing surpasses the ability to serve, because that is what leadership within the Christian faith is all about.

I’m not suggesting that every pastor needs to go work in the Children’s ministry. The pastor does have a responsibility on most Sundays to be in front of the congregation. But I AM saying we shouldn’t be surprised when a pastor chooses to do the things he’s asked other people to do. In fact, I think it’s something we should expect, and if it isn’t seen, that’s a time to ask questions.

My pastor isn’t a perfect man or leader; no pastor is. But what he IS is a humble man who does not see himself as special or exalted. When there is something that needs doing, he’s the first one to do it. When you visit my church, he will go out of his way to try and follow up personally in the coming weeks. There are some pastors who hesitate to get involved with ministry beyond preaching and teaching, but I find my pastor’s leadership to be far greater when he is (metaphorically) washing feet than teaching on the big stage.

So thank you, Rod Entrekin, you are the kind of leader that I need in my life, and I hope the kind of leader I can be in whatever sphere of influence God places me in.