Nehemiah: Prayer & Action

My desire as a new Lead Pastor is to build a ministry on a strong foundation.  Nehemiah is a great example of a builder in the OT who laid a foundation of both prayer and action.  I hope this message inspires you in some way to build your life, your family, and your ministry on the foundation of seeking God’s will and then acting on it!

Six Reasons Why It’s Important to Worship Together


And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ ”

~ Luke 4:8

“The church service is the most important, momentous and majestic thing which can possibly take place on earth…”

~ Karl Barth

There is no higher calling, no greater pursuit in life than worship.  Yet, according to a recent study by the Barna Group, the average “active” church member attends church 1.7 times a month… that’s not even half the time!  And those are the “active” members!  There are some legitimately good reasons for a person to occasionally miss church, but the reality is many Christians simply fail to make worship a priority–we’re just too busy to be bothered with going to church (thankfully, Jesus wasn’t too busy to be bothered with going to the cross!).  So, as a little incentive at the start of a new year, here are six reasons why it’s important to worship together, in church, as the church.

1. It’s important to worship together because we’re commanded to.

Many times the Scriptures call us to come together to worship the Lord.  Consider Psalm 95, which begins, “Come, let us sing for joy…”  Everything in the entire Psalm is written in the plural.  In fact, it’s impossible to practice Psalm 95 by yourself, because Psalm 95 calls God’s people to gather together and worship Him.  So, we have a simple choice.  Either we will choose to be obedient to God’s Word, and make worshiping together a priority; or we will choose to be disobedient to God’s Word and skip church.  Which way will you choose?

2. It’s important to worship together because it drives our beliefs down deep into our souls.

I’ve had many conversations with people who tell me they don’t think Christianity has any real impact in their lives.  They don’t sense God’s presence with them ever, and they don’t have any connection to the power of God in their daily lives.  I wonder if this might be because their beliefs are little more than ideas in their heads?  See, beliefs don’t really change your life until they drop from your head to your heart.  It’s not enough to simply think things, you need to hold those beliefs in the depths of your soul.  And, corporate worship is designed to engage your entire being–heart, soul, mind, and strength.  When we sing our beliefs, pray our beliefs, study our beliefs, discuss our beliefs, and interact with other Christians who share our beliefs, those beliefs become more than just ideas in our heads.  They become life-transforming truths driven deeply into our souls and expressed daily in how we live.

3. It’s important to worship together because you can’t truly know God as He is by yourself.

I’ve talked with many, many people who say, “I don’t have to go to church to know God.”  The fact is, they’re wrong.  God is not just your God or my God–He is our God.  Through my study, and my experience, and my relationship with God, I have a different knowledge of Him than you do.  And you have experienced God in ways I haven’t.  If I want to truly know God as He is, I need to be with other Christians and learn from their stories, their worship, and their experiences.  When I hear sermons from other pastors, I learn more about God than I would just by studying those verses by myself.  When I hear other Christians pray, I see what God means to them and how He’s worked in their lives, and I get a bigger picture of God than I ever would have just praying by myself.  On my own, I have one tiny perspective on God–a drop in the ocean.  If I truly desire to know more of God, I must be together with other Christians in worship.

“You will never know God as He is unless you are in a worshiping community.”

~ Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City

4. It’s important to worship together because it’s where life together begins.

There’s no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian.  The Christian faith is personal, but it is never private.  We do not have a private faith!  Everywhere the gospel went, it formed Christian congregations, churches, where Christians would gather.  The Christian life is a life together, and that life together begins with worship.

“The whole common life of the Christian fellowship oscillates between Word and Sacrament, it begins and ends in worship.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

5. It’s important to worship together because it reminds us what’s really important in life.

Guess what?  Your kids’ sports are not really what’s important in life.  How much money you make isn’t really the ultimate value of life.  Sleeping in doesn’t rank super high on the list of what matters most in this world.  What is really important in life is knowing God, hearing His voice and responding to it in worship.  We were created to “glorify God and to enjoy Him forever,” as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says.  When we make going to church to worship together a priority, we proclaim to ourselves, our kids, our friends, and the world around us that we are not the center of the Universe–God is.

When I was a kid, we were not allowed to play sports that caused us to miss church.  If there was a game Sunday afternoon and we could play after church, that was fine.  But we didn’t miss church to play ball because how many points you score on the field isn’t really what’s important in life.  And let’s be honest, I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete (and neither will your kids).  I can’t remember a single Sunday when we woke up, sat around in our PJ’s and asked, “Do you think we should go to church this morning?”  Was it Sunday?  Were we breathing?  Then we were going to worship God.  When I was old enough to have a job, my dad told me I wasn’t allowed to work on Sunday mornings and skip church.  My high school job wasn’t important enough to take me away from the worship of God!

Parents, when you allow your kids to skip church because of sports, working at McDonald’s, and just being too tired to get up, you are teaching them that God is only worthy of our worship when it’s convenient for us.  If you allow your kids to be the center of your family’s Universe, they will grow up thinking the world revolves around them.  But, your kids are not awesome… God is awesome.  They are not the center of the Universe–God is.  Making church a priority reminds us and teaches others around us of what’s really important in life, namely, God.

6. It’s important to worship together because we need to “rest” in Christ.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel observed the Sabbath Day.  Every Saturday, they stopped what they normally did the rest of the week and physically rested.  They stopped their work and worshiped God.  They acknowledged that God was truly the One who provided for them, cared for them, and worked for them.  As Christians, we are not bound by the Sabbath law, like the Israelites were.  However, through Jesus Christ’s work on the cross, He offers us a spiritual Sabbath.  We don’t celebrate our “Sabbath” on Saturday, but we “rest” in Christ on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the day when Jesus rose again.  And, we need that spiritual rest.

An aircraft carrier carries planes across the ocean.  Those planes fly out on their mission, but they can’t stay out forever.  If they don’t come back to land on the carrier, they will run out of fuel and crash.  They need to come back, be refueled, refitted, repaired, and relaunched to accomplish their mission.  That’s exactly what worship does for us.  You are out there Monday through Saturday, trying to live a godly life in a godless society.  If you stay out too long, you’ll run out of fuel and crash.  You need to stop, come back and rest in God’s sanctuary, and be refreshed.  You need to be reminded of what’s most important in life.  You need to be refocused on God’s Word, and you need to be encouraged by other Christians.  Then you need to be relaunched back into the world, full of the Spirit and ready to accomplish God’s mission for you.

Going to church on a Sunday morning is important.  It’s not just some meaningless activity Christians do, but it’s a vital part of your life as a believer.  We need to worship together, and God is worthy of our worship.  He gave His one and only Son to die on the cross in our place.  He forgives all our sin.  He provides for all our needs.  The least we can do is give Him a couple hours one day a week!

Engaging Worship Services

There have been so many blogs, books, and articles, written about worship style that I could probably read one a day for the rest of my life and still not read them all!  Yet, I’m writing one more… go figure!  When it comes to corporate worship, I believe that the megachurch craze has hurt the church in America.  Megachurches have created unrealistic expectations for both quality and style, and because Christians so often have absolutely zero creativity of their own, many, many, many, many, many smaller churches (in smaller communities) have tried to copycat megachurch music… with varying levels of success failure.  In this blog, I want to consider just one question: how do we create engaging worship services?

First, I think we need to understand the primary goal of a worship service is to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (Psalm 29:2a).  The ultimate goal of worship is not to make seekers comfortable, evangelize the lost, reach a new segment of your population, or make people feel sentimental.  Not one of those things is bad, in and of itself; but not one of those things is the primary goal of corporate worship.  Worship is first and foremost about giving glory to God.  Once we understand that, we can move into the waters of seeker sensitive, evangelistic, traditional, contemporary, charismatic, emergent, EPIC, ancient-modern, etc, etc, etc, etc, with a clear head.

If the primary goal of a worship service is for the people who are present to ascribe to God the glory due him, then I think the first question we need to ask in planning a service is, who are the people present?  If your service is a youth service of primarily teens, the type of music and service flow that will engage them in ascribing glory to God may be vastly different than if you’re doing a service at a local nursing home.  Or, if your congregation is mostly blue-collar working class people in a small Midwestern town, you’ll probably find that the type of service they most deeply connect with will be different than a wealthy, professional congregation in a major city like New York.   Likewise, there are similar differences in charismatic vs. non-charismatic churches, ethnically-diverse vs. all-white churches, urban vs. suburban vs. rural churches, etc.

So now you’re already beginning to see the problem of copycatting what a mostly-white, highly-educated, upper-class, suburban megachurch does on Sunday morning.  Their context may be very different from yours (or mine), and therefore your worship service may need to be different in order to more effectively engage your congregation in ascribing to the Lord the glory due his name.

The second question to ask in order to plan an engaging worship service is, who has God given to the church?  God gives people as gifts to a local congregation (see Ephesians 4:11-12).  How has God gifted your congregation?  I do believe that we are called to develop the gifting within the church, but you have to start somewhere.  If God hasn’t given your church any drummers, bass players, or electric guitarists, should you be trying to start a Christian rock band in your worship service?  I believe God equips you to carry out his calling.  If God is calling your church to start a hip-hop worship service, then God will give you hip-hop artists who want to serve your church in that way.  If he hasn’t given your church those artists, then perhaps that’s not the direction he’s calling you to head.

The third question for planning an engaging service is, how can I use the artists God has given us to engage the people who are present in ascribing glory to God?  This is really the heart of the issue at hand, and, it requires deep thought, many conversations, trial and error, and… prayer.  Lots of prayer.  If your church is in a small farm-town in rural Missouri, all white in a town that is 97% white, mostly middle-aged and over because there aren’t a ton of young families in the area; and if God has blessed you with a keyboardist and a couple of guitar players, and a teenager who’s learning to play drum set… then trying to start a hip-hop service, or put together a Christian-radio-pop service, or build an orchestra to play the hymns of Bach probably won’t work well.  You’re not going to engage the people who are there, or use the artists God has given you to work with.

As you wrestle with this third question, here’s what I’ve discovered in over 20 years of worship arts ministry.

Quality + Authenticity > Style

I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter that you’re singing the newest song from Crowder’s American Prodigal album… if your band stinks.  If God hasn’t given you the musicians to play Christian pop-worship with good quality, then either seek a different expression of worship or wait to pull out the Christian pop until you have developed the teen drummer to keep a steady beat.  Here’s a secret: just because Elevation Church is doing it, doesn’t mean your church has to do it!  Quality is critical to engaging people in worship.  So, stop trying to be Willow Creek, Harvest Bible Chapel, Northpoint, or Elevation Church.  Be who YOU are, worship with who God has given you, and strive for excellence.  If that means you need to sing older music in order to sing it well, then by all means, sing older music well.

Quality is important.  So is authenticity.  It doesn’t matter that you’re singing Oceans (again) if your congregation isn’t genuinely worshiping.  I’ve been in churches where the band was better than the radio version, but no one was singing!  It was a performance, a show.  The congregation just didn’t engage.  Finding what engages the hearts of your church involves a lot of trial and error.  I grew up in a Pentecostal church.  Planning 35-40 minutes of “open worship” where people could “enter into the throne room of God” and “soak in the presence of the Spirit” worked great in my Pentecostal church.  But, when I took a worship pastor position in a non-charismatic church, I couldn’t figure out why the 35-minute unbroken praise fell flat.  It’s because the people in that church hadn’t learned to enter into or express worship in that way.  The style, flow, and lyrics that they most authentically worshiped with were different than in the church where I grew up.

Unfortunately, megachurches have (imho) created an unrealistic expectation for what Christian worship services are supposed to be.  The seeker-sensitive movement hijacked worship for the glory of God and turned it into a sales-pitch to convince a seeker to buy into this whole Christianity thingy.  But, I think there is hope on the horizon for normal (read, not mega-) churches to consider who, where, and when they are; to consider the artists God has given them to work with; and creatively lead a congregation in authentic worship with excellence.

Whatever you plan for your worship services, remember this: God deserves our best; and God deserves our hearts.  When you have excellence and authenticity, your worship services will not only ascribe glory to the Lord, but they will be engaging for unbelievers who visit your services.  There are few things in this world as effective for evangelism as the sincere worship of God’s people (regardless of the style).

Post-Easter Blues

Most pastors and church leaders will tell you that Easter is one of their favorite Sundays of the year.  I often refer to Easter as the “Super Bowl” of Christian worship.  Most churches pull out all stops with their Easter services–special music, a special message, special programming, maybe even a different venue.  Many churches add an additional service, and Easter is usually one of the highest-attended worship services in a year.  The atmosphere is one of excitement and anticipation, and for good reason.  What could be a greater cause for celebration than the resurrection of Jesus Christ?

You might think that a large attendance, a big production, a chance to passionately share the gospel, and an opportunity to rejoice because Jesus is alive would mean that pastors go home from Easter Sunday on cloud nine.  It may come as a surprise to learn that many, many pastors contemplate quitting the ministry the day after Easter.  The “post-Easter blues” aren’t logical, but they are real.  We lie awake Easter night wondering if all the work, the expense, and the production was worth it.  We are keenly aware of every little misspoken word, missed cue or other minor mistake.  We will have a list a mile long of ways it could’ve been better before the Easter ham has been eaten off our dinner plate.  While our kids are hunting for Easter eggs on Sunday afternoon, our minds are divided–still half-focused on the service, and wondering if any of the decisions to follow Jesus that were made were genuine.  We may be irritable and snap at friends and family members–only a few hours after exalting the risen Christ in worship!  And on Monday, the day after Easter, many pastors will seriously consider resigning from their pastorate to pursue a career in the “real world.”

I’m not writing this so you’ll feel sorry for pastors.  My purpose is to ask you to encourage your pastor this week.  He/she could use a kind word and a compliment.  Trust me, your pastor will hear plenty of criticism about the service–the music was too loud, we didn’t sing my favorite hymn, the sermon was too long, the coffee was too weak, we didn’t advertise enough, we shouldn’t embarrass people by asking them to raise their hands to accept Jesus… you name it, people will criticize it.  That’s why it’s important for you to break the mold and say an encouraging word to your pastor this week.  Here are just a few suggestions:

Write a thank you card.  You’d be surprised at how effective a simple handwritten note can be.  Knowing that you took the time to grab a card, physically write a message, and drop it off at the church office is like a ray of sunshine in the dark night of the soul.  A hand-written note is not an afterthought, and that makes it meaningful.

Send a text, email or Facebook message.  A lot of what we get via email and Facebook is negative.  A positive message will stand out like the first blossom of Spring after a long Winter.

Post on Facebook or Twitter about how much you enjoyed the service–and give the credit to God. Pastors are encouraged when we hear how God moved someone in a service, and especially when we see our members glorifying God in it.  Plus, your post is also an encouragement to all the volunteers who worked to create the service. And, it advertises to your non-church-going friends that you had a great experience in worship today, and they may be inclined to ask you about it.

Make a brief phone call. Be specific about what you thought went well in the service.  It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t need to be over the top or flowery.  It can be short and simple and, most importantly, genuine.

Some of you may know how many hours your pastor put into planning and studying and organizing the Easter service.  It’s likely that he/she worked many late nights meeting with volunteer leaders and making sure the details were taken care of…  and then woke up before the sun to pray and study Scripture.  Your pastor’s family also felt the strain of Easter Sunday with a spouse/parent who was suddenly a lot busier and didn’t have as much time to help around the house.

In love, your pastor sacrificed a lot to bring about a great Easter Sunday worship service.  And, for whatever silly reason, your pastor may be struggling with the post-Easter blues, and may even be considering resigning.  So, I am asking you to throw a little love your pastor’s way this week, and let God use to you encourage one of His weary servants.  Thanks!


Photo courtesy of www.freejazzlessons.com.

Six Lessons from a Missionary Church

Do you see yourself as a missionary?  Or do you think of a missionary as someone who travels to a foreign country and engages in some sort of full-time ministry as a career?  While we commend, pray for, and encourage people who are called to minister overseas, we also need to recognize that to be a Christian is to be a missionary–if you belong to Christ you are sent as one of his missionaries to your corner of the world.  In this message I was honored to deliver to Pontiac Bible Church, we cover six lessons from a missionary church and how they apply to our lives both personally and collectively.  I hope you are challenged by this Scripture as much as I was when studying it!

The six lessons:

  1. A missionary church is naturally evangelistic.
  2. A missionary church is intentionally cross-cultural.
  3. A missionary church is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  4. A missionary church has godly leaders.
  5. A missionary church practices what it preaches.
  6. A missionary church is a ministry church.

Photo by Barry J. Beitzel. Copyright 2014 Faithlife.

A Normal Christian Life

Sermon delivered at Pontiac Bible Church on 3/15/2015.

When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost, the Church was born. Peter preached the first sermon and 3,000 people were saved (in a single day)! Then what happened? How did these new Christians go about living their lives? Did their faith in Christ change anything about the way they lived? What about you? If you belong to Christ, you also belong to His Body, the Church – a new community, a new group in society. What does your life as a Christian look like? As we study Acts 2:42-47, we’ll get a glimpse of a normal Christian life. How normal is yours?

While We Wait: Filling Your Waiting With Prayer & Preparation

Sermon delivered at Pontiac Bible Church on 3/1/2015.

Have you ever been in a season of waiting in life? Have you ever found yourself waiting on God for an answer or direction? What do you do while you wait? How can you get ready for God’s next move? The first Christians found themselves waiting on the Holy Spirit to come so that they could fulfill the mission Jesus gave them. As we read their story, we’ll discover how to wait on purpose and be ready to run when God shouts, “Go!”

Note: We had a technical issue during the recording this week, and apologize for the low audio quality!