The blessing and burden of a worship arts pastor

Ephesians 1:11 ….As His heirs, we are predestined to play a key role in His unfolding purpose that is energizing everything to conform to His will.

I am proud to be a pastor’s daughter, and even more proud to be the wife of a worship pastor. God has a great sense of humor, because not only did he pair two first born’s and pastor’s kids, but he paired two different personality types who have an intense passion for worship leadership. At a very young age, the age of 9 to be precise, my passion for music truly took flight. I had my first solo in our children’s choir performance of “The Music Machine” at our church in Lompoc, California and I was hooked. I love singing, but what makes it effortless and like breathing to me, is when I use it to give God glory and the focus isn’t on what I’m doing but what I am giving to Him through this gift He’s given me. There is no greater joy for me than to lead worship beside my amazing husband. He is a deeply humble, passionate, and transparent in his leadership style and skill. No two worship pastors are alike, I have watched the ever evolving role change as we’ve been part of a number of churches over the years. It is interesting to me how our church leadership teams define the worship pastor’s role. I find it particularly amusing when that leadership team doesn’t include anyone with a worship leadership background. Does this strike anyone else as odd? If you are paying attention, particularly you who serve on leadership teams whether it be as a deacon, elder, pastoral staff and/or search team please consider how crucial it is to your team balance and vision for your church to have one or two people on your team that has experience and some background in worship leadership. I don’t care if you agree with me or not, but I hope you’ll consider it because I believe it is important in your overall understanding of your worship pastor’s role.

We had our church family meeting last night and I have to share how blessed I am to be counted as a member of a group who cares so deeply about the vision of our church. It is so important to make time with our church families to sit down, talk about what we are doing, what we can do better, and what we hope and pray to accomplish for the Kingdom going into the years ahead. I am so appreciative of the leadership, the passion and heart being poured into every ministry in our church from the lifegroups, to the youth ministry, the children’s ministry and closest to my heart-the worship ministry. Now I am a bit biased being the wife of the worship pastor, but I hope anyone who knows Ryan and has witnessed what he brings to the ministry because of God’s gifts being used in and through him, that his intent in every single thing that he does is for God’s glory alone! One of the things that I admire and love most about him is how deeply passionate and lost he gets in his craft. God has blessed Ryan with such a nearly tangible gift with music, and I am amazed to watch his mind work as he pours his mind and heart into the preparation for worship every week. I have the joy and sometimes the burden of watching him work, at times late into the night, prayerfully and methodically organizing what our team will bring to the church body week to week, according to what the subject matter is for that week’s message from our lead pastor. I took the opportunity to interview my hubby on his role as worship pastor. Here’s a glimpse of his heart:

Me: What draws you to lead worship?

Ryan: At the risk of sounding too "typical" or "cliche", the Holy Spirit. There is a longing that comes from deep inside my soul to, first, worship God but also, because of the anointing He has placed on me and His call on my heart, to lead others in worship of Him.

Me: Why do you do it?

Ryan: Because God's called me to it. Again, cliche I know, but it's true. There was a time I never wanted to have anything to do with leading worship or working in a church, for that matter. Growing up as an MPK (music pastor's kid) I saw, first hand, the good, bad, and absolute UGLY, of what life as a minister/pastor was like and I wanted no part of it. When I started out learning guitar and studying music, I wanted to be a professional musician/artist and tour the world. I didn't want to have to deal with people....the difficult kind...the ones that always have an opinion and ALWAYS have to share it...even if you could live the rest of your life just fine, never knowing what their opinion is. Oh, they are everywhere, I know, but it seems like the ones in churches have a higher concentration"opinion". Eventually, however, God's call on my heart never grew dim. Instead, it got stronger as time went on and I finally surrendered to Him and His calling and I'm so glad I did. Leading worship is a blessing to me. As I surrender myself to Him, to use me as He would wish and touch people's lives through me, I am touched by Him, as well. The best thing about it is that it's not me, but Christ in me.

Me: What is the best thing you have heard from others in terms of “how you are doing” as a worship leader?

Ryan: Probably this. "I've never experienced the presence of God like that was awesome! I was so moved by the Holy Spirit that I couldn't even sing." Again, not me, but Christ in me.

Me: What is the worst thing you’ve heard?

Ryan: Unfortunately, this. "We did one of my favorite songs, today. I was able to worship." Some people might not understand why this would be the worst thing I've heard or could hear, but it's true. Worshiping God isn't about singing our favorite songs or hymns, people. It's about worshiping God! As long as what is sung is true to scripture, lifts up and glorifies Jesus and is edifying to the body of Christ, it's good. We are to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Not whether or not we like what songs are being sung. A close second would be, "well I just didn't get anything out of that service, today." Ugh. Sorry, but I wonder when, or even if, some people will ever "get it". It's not about what you're going to get out of the worship service, but what are you bringing to offer to God? It's a heart issue and until people truly understand this, it's like that old saying..."you can lead a horse to water, but...."

Me: What makes you keep doing it and not walk away?

Ryan: Purpose. Purpose and the leading of the Holy Spirit. I will always want to be where God wants me to be and if ever/whenever He would say "it's time to move on", I would follow. I have, however, had times in my life where I've been "displaced" from it by circumstances out of my control. Those were difficult and painful times in my life. Necessary to His plan for my life, but painful.

Me: What is your greatest burden when preparing for worship week to week?

Ryan: That I always yield to the Holy Spirit's leading and never my own.

I read two very interesting articles today about how worship is evolving in our churches today.

After reading these articles I’m struck with several thoughts, but the first is this:

We are called to be set apart, holy, righteous.

It is a concern as we watch churches change, evolve, conform to what we think will bring people in because of what is the latest trend, biggest hit, latest subject coming across our social media outlets. The greater concern before the power is turned on, the stage is set, the instruments are placed and the team is in place, rehearsed and ready to lead, should be what does God have to say through our worship leadership today? When is the last time you took a week, or a month, or several months to shut down the power and gather informally without microphones, without a platform, and simply worship God? Sometimes it is healthy and necessary in the spiritual life of a church body to do a heart check for the team, for the congregation, to examine our approach, our attitude, our state of being when we enter into worship together? What is driving your church’s vision week to week, month to month, and how are we truly reaching people for Christ? When all is said and done after we’ve changed the aesthetics of our worship setting including some new lighting, perhaps a new visual feature, improved the sound system, bulked up the band with new instruments and vocal members, whatever elements your team has decided will make the difference and the people start coming in droves---at the end of a year of doing this, how many of those people stayed and invested long term? How many came a few weeks and never returned? Are we making these changes because we see the need to keep up with the “successful” churches surrounding us in our towns?

At what point do we start listening to the conversations from people we meet day to day, who don’t care about the “how” of worship but more about the “Who” of worship?

I challenge you today, every day, every week, every month, to get on your knees if you aren’t already and ask God –

“What do we need to do to allow You to shine through, meet them where they are today?”

Our goal in worship is to connect with our heavenly Father, to share our hearts and minds collectively as we praise Him, cry out to Him with our hurts and our needs, support and encourage one another in a group gathering, and ultimately be the “church” He always intended for us to be!

Mother's Day 2014

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. ~Rajneesh

It is difficult but not impossible to remember what life was like before I had children. Becoming a mother encompasses so much of me, and it is such a large part of who I am. It is not what defines me but it is what drives me so much of the time. I suppose when my children are grown and have lives of their own, that may change. I believe my confidence in being a mother is in large part due to my love and experiences caring for children starting with those first opportunities as a teenager babysitting. I am blessed by the gift of being a mother to four amazing children in my time on this earth. I hope and pray my children take this with them through life, so here is what’s on my heart for each of you this Mother’s Day, 2014:

1. God is for you, and when everyone and everything else is against you—Stand firmly and confidently in knowing He is beside you, He will protect you and He will provide for you.

2. Live life wisely and joyfully—Don’t waste a moment consumed with anything negative. Focus on God’s best for you and refuse to be bound by anything less than Him! Make wise choices with your time, your money, your heart. You will be bombarded and tempted by so many things in this life so please choose to filter it all through God! He will guide you! Thank God every day for simply giving you life, and live it joyfully because we are not guaranteed tomorrow!

3. When you make a mistake, learn from it and move on!—You are going to trip and fall many times in life, but what matters more than the mistake you made is your ability to learn from it, stand up and walk on. You will be stronger and better because of it!

4. You are loved by your family and friends but make no mistake-we are flawed, we are weak and unfortunately sometimes the people you trust most will let you down.-- First, read #1 again. Second, Forgive! God has done this for you, so should you do this for others.

5. Dream big and don’t be afraid to go for whatever your heart desires!--There will be voices speaking advice to you of what is practical, what is predictable, what is presumably best for you to be successful in life. Listen to your heart, ask God to guide your decisions and do what you know is best for you! I will be your biggest cheerleader as you set out to make a life for yourself one day. I will be proud and supportive every step of the way, no matter what!

Rylee Ashton, Bailey Thomas, Avery James and Chloe Grace, know you have a mother who loves you and prays for you without ceasing. I don’t know what God has planned for you, but I know He will make it so regardless of my ability to see it, understand it or agree with it. I love you and I believe in you! You have made me a very happy Mama on this Mother’s Day!

To live as Christ

How then shall we approach the remainder of this year ahead of us? With an attitude bent toward settling for less than what Christ has purposed you for? You know the attitude I’m talking about. How many people do you know right now, today, who are comfortable being miserable? Who have adopted the attitude that my misery is all I’m ever going to have, so I’ll wear it on my sleeve for all to see. Who have decided that this is as good as it’s ever going to get, I should just accept my circumstances as my fate being determined and make the most of it. Who have chosen to assume the lies being fed to their heads and hearts is their destiny, and it can’t possibly get any better. That mindset may be due to something that happened to that person, to root them in doubt and despair, to distract them from their full purpose and worth. I have been there, and I have struggled with this very thing. It can become like an article of clothing you wear, like an invisible covering. Invisible to everyone but you. You can feel it, the weight of it on your shoulders. The shame. The disappointment. The resentment. The heart break. The anger. The despair. If you let it, it can erode your soul. As we experience life, we can choose to deal with it or let it deal with us. I am of the temperament that I simply refuse to allow life to deal with me. I want to deal with it head on, I will not give up or give in, I will not settle because I believe no matter how hard or impossible it may seem, I will make my way through it and see it done. Finished. Completed. In the past, never to be revisited again.

I do not want to settle, for I know the God who has filled me with purpose and will fight for me even when I am not feeling up to the battle ahead. That covering falls away when I choose to look up and embrace the love and mercy the Savior has for me every single moment of every single day. It is a promise that in the worst of times I have a reason to hope, I have a Savior who will carry me and guide me in the path of confidence and determination. I want to live a life that is pleasing to God and freeing for me, whole, complete and sealed by the Holy Spirit who lives in me. I want to see others embrace that love and mercy, so I will not stop in my daily striving to live as His, not bound by the things of this world! I am inspired and empowered today by this word:

1 Thessalonians 3:8 (The Voice)—For if you are set firmly in the Lord, then we can truly live!

I have been praying for several people this week, so many needs, it has burdened my heart. I wish there was more I could do personally, physically to meet their needs, but I am so incredibly thankful for the power of prayer! I hope today you know, no matter what you are facing, you can release your burdens and look up to the Savior for love and mercy overflowing. In Him, when we are fully living in Him, then we are truly free and we can say we are living in Christ.

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