Christmas At The Crossing Church 2012

Christmas

Ok so cards on the table, Christmas isn’t my favorite time of the year.  There I said it.  Wheew, what a weight off my shoulders.  We don’t need to get into the details of why but suffice it to say that each Advent season my Grinch mug replaces whatever vessel was in use prior to this season.  That being said, I do realize what an opportunity it is to use creativity, art, music, and more to share the real message of the season.  I am one who believes worship leaders should share as much as possible at all times of the year but especially during the big times like Christmas and Easter.

What you are doing at your church can help inspire others in their efforts in their respective churches.  So that’s why I’m finally blogging again after a long hiatus that was really just due to not making time for it.

First: Advent Devotionals
As a pastoral staff we created an Advent devotional for our Faith Family to share.  Each pastor took 3 readings we had pulled from the Lectionary Year C and wrote a short devotional based on those readings.  We decided to use The Message translation as to make it a very comforting and story like read.  We printed them in house and made them into little booklets whose final size was 8.5″ x 5.5″. I wasn’t sure what the response would be so we printed what we would normally  print for worship folders each week and well we underestimated the interest in them (note: we did not hand them out as people entered but as they left.  we let everyone know they were available if they wanted one – this way we avoided just giving them to every person who walks in that my have a reading plan, or just plain wouldn’t use it.)
Here is a link to our devotional in an easy to print and assemble at home .pdf 

Second: Children’s Program
Our children’s department put on a wonderful weekend of The Secret of Snowflake County. We have them take of the weekend services with a little acoustic worship and message time mixed in.  You can find pictures here on our Facebook Page

Third: “Carols” Production
To be honest, all of the choral products I had received in promotion for what to purchase were a huge let down.  Nothing really struck me as good; at all.  So we decided to arrange our own choral music for this program.  We pulled a lot from the Lifechurch.tv album, Carols.  We also pulled inspiration from Church on the Move (Joy to the World, O Holy Night, Christmas Story), Hillsong, and Others.  We were able to arrange songs that fit us so much better than any other boxed production.  The catch was well I had never arranged and written music like that before so the choir may have received some sheet music only weeks before the event.  I am very glad we decided to do so, however I would have loved to have started much earlier.

Fourth: Christmas Weekend
It has always been my philosophy to present Christmas weekend and Easter Weekend as who you are every other day of the year.  I don’t like to do big productions, extra flashy, or extra traditional things that don’t represent who you are every other weekend.  The thought process there is that those days you are most likely to have more guests than any other time of the year, why present yourself as something you are not?  shouldn’t we try to encourage them to come back with a picture of who we really are?  So this year we are doing basically a normal worship service.  We do have a pretty cool opening version of O Come O Come Emmanuel.  We are using the Future of Forestry version interspersed with some Amena Brown poetry.  Here is an example of that presentation (we obviously played live but for you to get the idea)

Fifth: Christmas Eve
I like that we keep our Christmas Eve services simple and family oriented.  We sing standard carols led from guitar in-between portions of the Christmas Readings from Luke.  There is a moment when the children are invited on stage to hear our Children’s pastor read a story to them (and we put the pictures on the screens for all to follow along with.) We share family communion together – that’s where one person representing the family comes and gets a small plate with enough elements on it for the whole family.  They return and share a time of prayer and communion together as a family.  It is a nice peaceful evening that keeps the focus where it should be.

Sixth: Vacation
I go on vacation ha ha.  Ok not every year but usually I tend to take some time to recharge after what can be a very intense season.

Bonus:
We used this version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen as an opener the first week of Advent this year.  We did slow it down a smidgen and well I actually tuned my guitar… but you get the idea of the Mumford and Sons inspired version.  It was a lot of fun and was received extremely well.

 

I would love to know what you are doing this year!  Share in the comments below.

What If I Treated Every Sunday As Easter?

Can I just be honest for a second; I don’t.

I don’t spend the time in preparation for other weekends as I do for Easter.
I don’t put the same energy into the creative planning for a random weekend in August as I do when Easter rolls around.
I don’t approach every weekend service as if it was Easter – a day I know when more people who don’t know Jesus come to church.

But what if I did?  
What if we did?

Any church who keeps attendance records, uses church management software, or tries in any way to track data knows there are better attended Sundays than others.  Historically this coming Sunday, the one following Easter tends to be a lower attended day.  Holidays, School breaks, and more trend lower as well.

Have you ever been guilty of not planning as much for those weekends as you do for others?
I have.

Have you ever held onto creative elements to use for better attended Sundays?
I have.

Have you ever even once scheduled people, band members, tech crews, or others differently because of the projected attendance of a weekend?
I’m not proud of it but I have.

But what if we approached every weekend service like we do Easter?  Or Christmas? Or Canadian Boxing Day? (I assume that’s a big day?)

What if we pushed ourselves to approach those days in the same manner we do the “big days.”  Every weekend we meet there are people that need to experience the powerful Love of God.  There are people who are searching.  There are people who are hurting.  There are people who don’t know what they believe.

What if we challenged ourselves to always push for more. To always be creative.  To always seek to prayerfully consider how we plan our services and service elements – because someones life may depend on it, their hope may depend on it, their peace may depend on it.

I am certain I will be guilty of maybe planning less on a weekend than I could. Or even saving something for a different week because it’s SO GOOD! But my prayer now is that I will start to approach every week as if the people who walk through the doors of the church are lost, hurting, hungry, and just as important as the ones from any other weekend.

 

Marriage and Ministry: Day Off

It’s not a 9 to 5 job.

Ministry is one of those jobs that has the ability to consume every aspect of your life.  It comes home with you after your workday ends.  You rarely have a free weekend.  And you are on call all the time.

That makes the day off – a true day off – an incredible challenge at times.  There is a difference between a day not at your job and a day off; a big difference.

My wife also works full time.  But we have always had at least one full day off together.  It’s a day that I have to admit at times (too many times) I have not fully been “off of work.”  I have too many times been off of work but still connected with my phone, laptop, or in thought at the least.

It really is a tough proposition – at least for me – to completely disconnect from my job and truly give my full attention to my wife and what we are doing.  She deserves it but doesn’t always get it.  But in the short time I have been in full time ministry I have learned that time disconnected is just as important if not more so than the time spent at work.  I have purposefully not connected my phone to work email and though I have given everyone in my ministry my cell phone I gave it to them with the instruction that on my day off and after hours it will go straight to voicemail.

It’s tough to balance marriage and ministry.  But we are called to be loving husbands and wives as well as worship leaders and ministers.  If we can’t learn to balance them and treat our spouses the way they should be and the way God has intended then well both our ministry and marriage will suffer.

Let’s be honest there are times when we just can’t escape ministry creeping into our personal time.  It happens.  But for me the key is to make the most of those times I do have with my wife and strive to completely disconnect from my normal day.  I have a great spouse who is very understanding but that doesn’t mean I can take advantage of her.

I can over-spiritualize the neglect of my spouse all too easily.  “It’s not just a job, it’s a calling.”

Yes it is a calling, a calling to be the best worship leaders, ministers and spouses we can be.  That means finding whatever balance we can to respect and honor our wives.  For me that means remembering my day off and keeping it holy… and yes maybe even turing off my phone.

*For more posts from other pastor and leaders on Marriage and Ministry, please check out the hashtag on twitter #marriageministry and check back the series page Marriage and Ministry!

Advent Candles 2011

This year we wanted to represent the advent wreath in a new and different way.  Inspired by all of the coroplast (corrugated plastic) columns that churches used throughout the ChurchStageDesignIdeas website we decided to construct our advent wreath in a similar fashion.  We found a great place with translucent coroplast sheets we could purchase, Piedmont Plastics – they are nation wide for the most part so if you are in the market check them out.

We welded a frame together after figuring out the dimensions and with some recessed can lighting from the big box home improvement stores we were set to build our candles.  To color each vertical column representing the candles we just used lighting gels. The middle candle measure 4 foot tall and each outside candle is about 3 feet – they are quite large. Each week we turn on another “candle.”  This year there won’t be a fear of our joy burning faster than the others, catching our wreath on fire and causing a commotion only rivaled by the Mississippi squirrel revival.

Check out the photos below.

Bent Coloplast

First Candle

Welded Apparatus

Can Light

Lighting Gel

Advent Wreath

Advent Wreath

The Non-Emotional Worship Leader

My closest friends, my family, and my wife all joke with me that I completely lack emotions. That there is a giant void in that part of my soul and being where emotions are manufactured.  It’s true I can hardly remember the last time I cried.  My wife of 4 years would tell you that over the 5 years we dated and the 4 we have been married she has hardly ever seen me get angry or emotional in the least.  But truth be told we all have emotions, we are emotional creatures – yes some to more of an extent than others – and we show the emotions in different ways.

But I get tired of the conversations that end with “I guess I’m just not that emotional of a person” or “I sing and I enjoy it but raising my hands, that’s just not me.” The excuse of that’s just not me when it comes to an emotional and passionate response to our creator and savior is really just that an excuse.  I know, I’ve used it at times.

But what is me? I take the 9 iron out of my golf bag and line up for the shot and watch as it bounces twice before rolling into the hole – I immediately begin yelling, pumping my fist and maybe even doing a little dance. We all have those moments of excitement that emotionally escape in physical manifestations.  Think of that time your favorite team won the game with only seconds left on the clock and you jumped off your couch popcorn flying through the air, high fives being exchanged, and cheers bellowed through the house. We all have moments when our passion drives us to give a fist pump, clap our hands, shake our fist, or do a little happy dance (don’t lie you know you do it when no one is looking). When we are passionate about something we can’t help but let it show, we can’t help but let it escape from our being.

So do we lack emotion or do we lack passion when it comes to worship?

Granted corporate worship can be intimidating, sometimes forced, sometimes different or many other things.  But as we see our passion begin to grow we will see our worship grow as well.  I don’t have an excuse that I’m not an emotional person.  I don’t, I have times where my passion may be lacking, I may have times when I let things get in my way – style, attitude, lack of coffee, a litany of other things, but I don’t lack emotion.

Emotion plays a big role in our worship services, and as worship leaders we plan moments to help encourage emotion.  We plan moments in service where we can allow that passion to well up in us to the point that we begin to move a little, our hands clap together hopefully in rhythm, our faces turn towards heaven, and our being becomes wholly enveloped in that moment.

We gather to sing praise to the God who came down to us, who became part of our story, and placed himself on the cross to cover all us.

We ought to be passionate about that.

Serve Don’t Cater

BLT Lunchtime

If you are in ministry you know that one of the main purposes of the church is to serve the people that collectively make up the church. We do our best to meet their needs, to help them deeper experience the love of God, and to teach and encourage them as well. But there is a difference between serving out people and catering to them.

I spent a lot of time serving in many restaurants as well as working for a few catering companies so indulge me if you will for all analogies and metaphors break down at some point.

As a minister you have a vision God has given you for how your ministry will serve and function; for where it’s heading and how you will get there. Some will move fast. Some will move slow. For other God is calling you to honestly just be where you are. But in any case God has given you the vision and direction. You serve your people based on that direction. Without being too cheesy God plans the menu from which you serve your people. And like any good restaurant there is a little creative freedom within that menu to best serve your customer. But if you are an In-N-Out Burger and someone orders a chicken fried steak you probably can’t accommodate them.

But when you cater, you are allowing someone else control over what is served, how things will function and the like. Yes you still have some control but you are turning over a good portion of that control to meet the clients needs. If a client desired deep fried Oreos the caterer shouldn’t just show up with carrots and celery and suggest this is better for them. The client get’s what the client wants regardless of how good or bad it is for them, they are in control for the most part.

When we serve our people we do everything we can to meet their needs within the framework of the vision God has given us. When we cater to our people we are allowing the tail to wag the dog so to speak. When we cater we will be spending too much time trying to make everyone happy at the expense of the vision God gave us.

At the expense of sounding bad, our job isn’t defined by making people happy or satisfying a certain person or groups desires for how they see church but to help people experience God’s saving grace and love. (Ministry secret – following God’s vision doesn’t always make everyone happy)

Now apparently I need to go to lunch cause I am writing a lot about food.

Not Above Bribery?

Honesty is the best policy

As a worship leader you are, at times, bombarded with requests from you congregation.

“You should do this song.”

“You should have this person sing a special.”

“I would like more hymns.”

“I would like less hymns.”

“You should do more Chris Tomlin, people like that.”

“I would like more David Crowder.”

“I would like less chainsaw juggling and more trained seal acts!”

The list goes on and I’m sure you have your special requests as well. You handle them with care, grace, and sometimes with patience beyond our own understanding. Sometime the suggestions are phenomenal, sometimes they are less than. In my experience however it is part of the job – for better or worse.

Recently I received a request. I have to say this was one of the better requests I have ever received because it came with fresh baked cookies! A bribe, and admittedly so! Yep, I am not totally above bribery but ultimately prayerful consideration will be the determining factor for any and every thing we do as a worship arts team.

How about you, any special request stories that come to mind?

New Sermon Series Banners: Mountain Moving Prayer

We are about to start a new sermon series at WCON called Mountain Moving Prayer.  When thinking of the stage design (which with this particular stage can be very tough given the size and useable space) we decided to do some banners.  Since they ended up being the same price with different images as oppose to all the same we decided to create a macro-image from the 4 banners that will be spread out across stage.  It should give a clean simple look and when viewing the hanging banners from left of stage to right you will get the whole picture – even though they look similar.

 

 

May We Never Stop Asking Why

I am all for progress in the church. I am all for new. I think that the church needs new and creative ideas to continue to survive. We can’t continue to recycle things that we have done ad nauseum.

We need the new to continue to feed life to the powerful story we are telling.

But we have to remember not to just do new things to do them.  We can’t fall in the trap of trying to stay relevant without asking why.  We can’t continue to move forward with new and creative ideas if we don’t stop to ask why we are doing them.  New ideas are great.  New ideas are cool and they can attract people.  But new ideas played out without any reason behind them quickly become empty.

The new without the why is empty!

So as we plan new ideas, songs, videos, service elements and more let’s remember to stop and take the time to ask why we are doing them.  Let’s ask how they will impact the lives of those who experience them.  Let’s pray about these new ideas; pray that they are filled with God’s Holy Spirit and not our attempts just to do something new.

Cool is great.  Relevant is awesome. But meaningful is powerful.