Do We “Bring” God’s Presence When We Worship?

A Theological Course Correction For Worship Leaders And Pastors

The following is, I submit, a theological course correction necessary for Worship Leaders and Pastors who lead in settings that intentionally welcome the Holy Spirit to be “manifest” as we engage in worship. It is for those who love when the presence of the Holy Spirit is experienced, at all levels, by a community who has gathered to worship.

First of all, let me affirm this: I love the Holy Spirit. I also love when the Holy Spirit is manifest in a room in a palpable way, and people are responding (aided by expressions of worship) to the invisible, yet overwhelming, presence of the living, loving, ever-present God.

But as pastors and worship leaders, we have a responsibility to think about the way we talk about that experience to our congregations. We may mean one thing theologically, but when we’re not careful with our words, we communicate another. Theological ideas can be helpful or unhelpful to the discipleship of Christians – what we believe about God and how He works – and the following addresses what I believe to be a theologically faulty way of talking about God’s presence in any given worship environment.

Do We Bring The Presence Of God When We Lead Worship?

Here is my answer: We don’t “bring” the Presence of God by our music, worship, messages, or prayers.

I believe such language is theologically faulty, and confuses Christians when we use it. It suggests that we ourselves are the primary actors in the worship story, and that our actions precipitate whether or not the omnipresent God is “there” or not.

5 Reasons Lament And Praise Must Stand Together In Worship

I lead worship every week for my community, and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – as well as disease, unemployment, divorce, and many other struggles – are always in the room with us.

If a theology of resurrection (the empty tomb, renewal, personal transformation, healing, miracles) does not stand together in worship with a theology of suffering (the full cross, intercession, trouble, sorrow, struggle), then I contend our worship is out of accord with both the Scriptures and the daily news.

Worship That Is Both “Now” And “Not Yet”

The Kingdom of God is both “now” (among us), and “not yet” (to come in its fullness one day in the future). Our worship life should reflect this tension, or I contend we misrepresent Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom.

Yes, post-resurrection all things are being made new. Yes, we are a people of praise, thanks, and joy. Yes, Joy is the major theme. But also, yes, suffering is the minor theme, and is everywhere – from the masses being slaughtered by radical groups today, to the struggles you and I will have with relationships, jobs, and emotional and physical health. Jesus said we will have trouble.

We must be present to this as leaders, and it must shape our language. This is the “now” and the “not yet” of the Kingdom of God, and we live in the tension – the radical middle.

The following article is precious to me, and is written by my brother-in-law, Ed Gentry. I hope it impacts you as much as it has impacted me.

10 Best Practices For Worship Sound Techs

Perhaps no technical leader faces more challenges on any given Sunday morning than the Sound Tech. With demands from every side, opinions aplenty, an ear to the Pastor (the real head Sound Tech), an ear to the worship leader/band, and an ear to the Holy Spirit, this role requires a saint, a sound technician, and a servant – all wrapped up in one. Gleaned from some of the most skilled and great-hearted Worship Sound Techs I know, here are 10 Best Practices For Worship Sound Techs.

Worship is a dynamic environment in which God is meeting with people, and people are meeting with God. For that reason alone, the Worship Sound Tech must take their place – with active attention – among the worship leadership influencers in the room. [Note: In the age of digital boards, some things have gotten easier when running sound. With the push of a button, levels can be set. If you’re on a digital board, some of the following technical elements may not apply.]

1. Ride The Faders (Or, Never Set And Forget)

The worship environment is not a static environment, in which one can set all the levels then kick back in the booth. It is dynamic, and riding the faders as well as monitoring the congregation is a necessity for effective sound leadership. Imagine you are the conductor in an orchestra, and now that piano is highlighted as the band drops out, or a sweet violin solo now lifts from the music and is to stand out. Conduct, ride the faders, and make your sound work a dynamic ministry. You can help the band create dynamics. This verse is true about sound, and how it reinforces the message being shared: “… the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.” (Acts 10:44, NIV).

Great, dynamic sound leadership can greatly enhance the effective hearing of the message, sung, spoken, visually expressed. or otherwise communicated.

2. Gain A Respect For Gain

Ever been in a hurry to get “sound done” and ignored getting all your gain levels right? Stop. Before everything gets going, set the right gain for each mic and instrument set. A friend of mine says, “I’ve seen gains change between shutdown on Saturday night and startup on sunday, even though nothing has changed on stage. If you don’t get the gain right, you’ll be fighting the levels all through the service.”

This may mean showing up early, getting yourself together, and being ready to go when rehearsal or soundcheck starts. Hustling at the last minute causes us to miss things.

3. Serve The Pastor, The Worship Leader, The Musicians, And The Congregation

There are no two ways around it; a Worship Sound Tech must be a servant to all, carrying skill and technical ability in one hand, and a real, living relationship with Jesus in the other. That combination creates Sound Techs who are asking how they can serve better, rather than insecure leaders pushing to get their way because people are acting like they know better. I’ve always told my Sound Team over the years that the Senior Pastor is the ultimately the Lead Sound Tech, and then the Lead Worship Leader (or someone they’ve assigned to oversee it). Why? At the end of the day, you and I will go home after the “event” – and the Pastor (and the worship leader to some degree) will have to deal with the effects of the experience – church growth, church shrinkage, people’s connection or lack of connection with the church. If the Pastor says, “Please turn that down,” or “please turn that instrument up,” or “please raise the volume and energy level in the room,” find a way to do it rather than resisting. It’s just good honor – and even if they’re wrong, it will come back as a blessing later.

Serve the musicians as to what they need, and then serve the dynamic in the congregation. Often musicians need training in “turning things down” in their monitors so that other elements stand out. Be a part of that training as able. You hold the reins on front of house; offer your best to see the best rise in the community.

4. Check Your Ego At The Door

Here’s the truth. People will look at you if anything is wrong with the sound. They just will. It takes a strong inner leader to carry that in a community. Technically oriented gift mixes, in my experience and that of many, can carry a subtle insecurity with them. When challenged, or asked to “please turn that up,” or “turn that down,” or “give me more monitor” (things are harder when no one is saying ‘please’ or ‘thank you’), it’s easy to react with ego. Lay it down before Jesus as you walk in the church doors each morning. Know that the Lord has your back, and the more like Jesus you are to the pastor, the band, etc. – the more it sweetens the entire worship experience everyone will have that day.

In fact, try this. Ask the pastor and worship leader, after you’ve done sound, “How was the sound? Is there anything you’d like me to change?” The first time, they will faint because you asked. The second, they’ll feel an open door exists for ongoing interaction. It’s wonderful.

5. Walk Around The Room

With iPads and more at our fingertips (digital boards), it is now easier than ever to walk around the room, surveying the sound from various vantage points in the room and making adjustments. But even if you’re not on a digital board, make sure you are moving around to get a feel for what is happening in different spots. The sound can change radically space to space, and recommending to certain people where they should sit is not a bad thing.

6. Make Recommendations With Community In Mind

This goes with #4. Do research, give input, then open your hands to the decisions the primary worship environment stakeholders (worship leader, pastor) must make. Sometimes you may desire to cage the drummer, for example (and they may deserve it!), to get complete control of the sound. But there may be another priority brewing inside the worship leader, or even the pastor, to have the drummer not be enclosed for the sake of the visual experience, and people not seeing this as just a performance. In short, we have to live with some things, and sometimes we may discover someone else was right. That doesn’t make us inadequate – it just means that sometimes there is more than one approach to something, and various priorities must be considered.

7. Be Difficult To Offend/Easy To Work With

When leaders in the same area of expertise are working together, sometimes we exert ourselves to “prove something.” No need. Trust Jesus, and work hard to work with others. Be difficult to offend. Be easy to work with. Only hold your ground when you feel so strongly about something you would rate it an 8-10 in life, rather than if it’s really a 2-3 rating in importance. Having a “domain” is important to all of us, but we must share, compromise, and collaborate in Body life.

When working with musicians, sometimes they need some training, but from a humble posture (even if the musician is not acting humble). Teach them that asking for more in the monitor may not be the win, but actually having less of something else. “Turn it up” is the natural response to not hearing something (but then you hit a ceiling with the knobs and the room). Help them get the best mix for them, as they must respond well to the monitors to lead well (IEMs fix this part, but musicians still need training turning things down so other things stand out).

8. Learn From Everyone; No One Is Past Learning

Ask local producers, or sound techs in venues you respect, if you can sit in with them as they do sound. If they say yes, listen, learn, and ask questions. Also, research forums on the internet, looking for tips and tricks from a variety of people working through the same issues you are. A friends says: “I am continually learning new things about sound, new tricks on my board (makes me sound like a surfer), new ways to set up the mics or the _____.” Be a lifelong learner.

9. Get Help If Something Is Challenging – And Read The Manual

A friend of mine says this: “Don’t feel inadequate if you (like me) are not someone who can identify a sound frequency by hearing it. I have an ipad with an RTA, and when I’m dealing with feedback issues, I have no problem firing it up (and humming the frequency into it if the feedback has already died down). You don’t have to be perfect at everything to be a good sound engineer, you just have to be good at using the tools you have.”

And read the manual. Read the manual. Read the manual (that was reverb).

10. Make Mentoring A Priority

Mentoring is absolutely vital. Always have someone shadowing you (standing beside you as you do it, and talk them through what you’re doing). Especially a teenager or twenty-something, as musical styles and sound environment palates change over time. You want ears that are listening to more than you are, through a different auditory lens. Don’t release them too early; you want them to succeed. Create a loooonnnggg mentoring curve.

After they’ve shadowed you for a long time, you start to shadow them. Here’s the Mentoring Cycle: 1) I do it, 2) You watch me do it, 3) I teach you to do it, 4) I watch you do it, 5) You do it, 6) You teach others.

Conclusion: A Great Sound Tech Is After Transparency

A producer friend of mine says, “A great Sound Tech blesses the church by insuring that the communication of the ‘word’ (speech or music) is clear and understandable to everyone. The quality of sound during a meeting can be a major factor in how people are able to engage in the activities at hand. What good would it do for the best worship set in the world to be played, or the best teaching to be given, if the sound is so bad that no one can bear to listen to it? Bad sound can be a great distraction to those engaging in a worship service. At the worst of moments, the quality of sound can even hinder one’s ability to understand and engage at all. At the best of times, good sound provides an opportunity for clearly communicated material (music or speech) to be received easily.

When sound is then transparent, and out of mind, the ‘word’ can become the focus of attention. A prudent Sound Technician is key to achieving this worthy goal.”

Amen.

Oh, and get the pastor to assign you an intern to bring you coffee and doughnuts. Thanks for all you do.

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Question: What best practices would you add to this list from your experience?

Resources: First, Is It Too Loud: Worship Accompaniment Vs. Worship Immersion Culture post seems to clarify some internal cultures challenging sound ministry in the local church today. Second, 7 Steps To Awesome For Worship Sound Techs offers more insights for Sound Techs. Third, Mike O’Brien’s Winning The Volume War Series is great for handling key sound elements (drums, etc.) in worship. Finally, this “heart” article, “A Great Sound Tech” by Nathan Rousu should be required reading for every Worship Sound Tech.

4 Silver Bullets For Battling Depression In Your Life

Moving Forward Out Of The Pain

Like millions today, I’ve faced the demon of depression for much of my life. In fact, I’ve battled severe depression ever since I was in the 7th grade, when I would cry my way through a long day of classes with a book held up in front of my face to hide my tears. My parents didn’t know what to do with my incessant sadness, and a brief mental breakdown during my high school years raised everyone’s awareness – especially my own – that something was not right inside.

image courtesy of anna siran photography

Even as a leader in the worlds of faith and the arts for over 25 years, the battle has never left – but a few silver bullets have made the clouds lift more often than not.

Are You Battling Depression Right Now?

Have you known that unrelenting sadness? That inner anxiety that everything will come crashing down at any moment? I used to tell my wife that I was one bad day away from being a street person, and two bad days away from a serious attempt on my life. Today, you wouldn’t know that’s my past, but for much of my life, the specter of depression haunted me daily. As a Christian, prayer has been the staple of my recovery. But other direct attacks on depression have also lifted me in powerful ways.

It’s my hope that some of the keys I’ve discovered, from sheer desperation, over the few decades of my life, may help you. While there is no one silver bullet for anyone’s depression, in my experience, a cocktail of them can put depression out of your life so you can function and enjoy your days.

Here are four of my silver bullets in my battle against depression.

Gungor, Beeching And Moving On From Christian Celebrity Culture

On this blog, I intentionally stay focused on supporting worship leaders and teams with ideas, inspiration, and hopefully raw encouragement that keeps us strong in doing what we do for the long haul. But some things get going out there that ruffle feathers, cause confusion, and even stir fear in us. The recent news items about Michael Gungor and his questions about Genesis, and Vicky Beeching coming out as gay, have had quite a ripple effect. My response here, as usual, is not focused on my perspective on either Genesis or homosexuality. My opinions run strong on both issues, mind you, but something else felt more important than those.

What Happened

A few weeks ago, an interview resurfaced on the interwebs that respected artist and worship influencer Michael Gungor questioned the idea that the Noah story literally happened. Drama ensued. As well, Vicky Beeching, a respected UK/US worship leader, songwriter, and now social media maven, told the world she is gay.

The web blew up (at least in the Christian contemporary world), babble and banter flew into the cybersphere, and many of my friends around the world were confused on both issues. Opinions flared, as they should have. We are people. Opinions, expressed harshly or softly, are the way we work our inner world out.

Gungor, Beeching, And Moving On From Christian Celebrity Culture

Here are my thoughts, touching on both topics as we go, but focusing more on how we think about these things rather than what I think.

1. Both Gungor and Beeching are people in process, just like you and I. Let’s focus on own our own development rather than living through theirs.

The fact is, Vicky is a friend of mine, and I’ve seen this moment coming for years. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not hard for folks, a surprise, or challenging to those who elevate her to a place of significant influence in her life. Popularity has never meant someone is right; it just means they have influence (remember junior high?).

Gungor is an inspiration to me, and many of you. And? He’s a guy in process. We’ve probably read some of the same books, and not read some of the same books. And? He’s a guy in process.

Reality check: Vicky is a woman of our age, and her decision is what it is. Her influence is not what should be shaping your worldview or mine, either direction. It’s the young ones we need to always care for, and help discern in our crazy time in history. Our walk with God should be shaping our view of the world, and our passionate study of God’s word, the history of the Body, and the culture of our time.

After having reacted to these news items, stemming from people in process who have a public face and responsibility, let’s get back to faithfully leading worship, studying the Scriptures, and serving God’s people with our best understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Hard decisions will come. Make them with your best understanding, and be open to learning as you go.

2. Artists think in metaphors, and push boundaries by nature. Their passion or popularity does not make them right, or wrong.

In my home, my kids think I’m the opposite of literal. I usually take this as a compliment, but it can get in the way. I find it hard to just accept things I probably should. My wife carries the innocence, trusting, and believing factor far more in our home. I want to be like her. But, in many cases, I’ve come to embrace most biblical stories as literal (C.S. Lewis suggested that takes more imagination at times than making everything a metaphor). Truth is, Gungor can think what he wants about Noah. He doesn’t ultimately know. You and I don’t ultimately know either. We’re guessing based on our best understanding of the text (scholars have strong opinions, and after my study, so do I), tradition, and more.

I studied Genesis significantly over the years. I needed to for my work in the Essentials In Worship study. Of course there are those of us who believe Adam and Eve are literal figures, and others who don’t. The text can take us those places; both are scary for those who don’t approach the text that way. They are scarier places if we don’t study toward landing well on what we believe.

Reality Check: Gungor is a guy, an artist, and a human being in process. We all are. He has an opinion. And he makes great art. And? Our problem is that we give way too much weight to his opinion. Why? Because contemporary Christian approaches to working out our faith have not included aggressive reading, thinking, and fighting for understanding. In today’s spiritual goulash world, this kind of faith, processed in heart and mind, is deeply needed. Instead, we live vicariously through others who are popular, have passion, read, and fight for these things. There is no worship leader who should not be reading, watching, or thinking about theology. Full stop.

There’s too much at stake to be all heart and little mind today. Postmodernism and Post-Postmodernism will force you off the platform, eventually. Both/And. Both/And. A thinking heart and a feeling mind, as a friend of mine always says.

3. These things matter, but our Christian celebrity culture makes them matter too much. Let’s move on. Really. Heroes are heroes. But let’s move on.

Of course what Gungor thinks about Genesis, and what Beeching sees as normal Christian sexuality, matter. Those things matter to them, and to those who love and respect them. However, the industry makes them larger than life, which is helpful in business, and unhelpful in the end to the Body of Christ. Larger than life platforms generate revenue, but what people do with their platforms is ultimately in their own hands. The industry has no intent of mitigating that.

The fact is, they are people like you and I. God knows the influence they have/He has given them, and they’ll need to work that out with God just like you and I will.

Reality Check: There should be 10K Gungors, and Beechings, in faith, talent, skill, creativity, and forcefulness of passion. Among those, there should be many approaches to faith that root us in orthodox faith and inspire us to tell God’s story in a 1000 ways.

But the reality is, our Christian celebrity culture, and our truncated contemporary Christian worldview of sacred and secular, make them just a few of the “special” Christians people look to.

We should all move on, and get great at what we do. Then we should study, grow, discern, listen, pray, and humbly lead in our sphere of influence.

Let’s Have Opinions – But Better Yet, Let’s Have A Vision

Should we exert our opinions about these things, and seek to diminish confusion in our homes, churches, and those with whom we work and serve?

Absolutely.

Should we turn our energies to creativity, honing our craft, studying the Scripture, devotional living, incarnating the Gospel, and discipling 1000 others who are as artistic and passionate as Gungor and Beeching, and yet have other ways of seeing faith and the world around them?

Absolutely.

Let’s get a vision for what that creative Christian worship leader, songwriter, or artist of our age looks like, then embrace studying the Scriptures, church history, and our creative craft with passion so we can become it – and disciple others.

May the God of Grace and Wisdom lead us as we lead others in worship.

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Question: Without explicitly stating your opinion about either of these issues, can you articulate what you envision to be the characteristics of the “optimal” worship leader/songwriter/artist, who follows Jesus, of our time?

Resource: Essentials In Worship Theology hits on both these areas. It’s an easy entry point into worship study that relates to Genesis, human identity, and current cultural issues as they relate to our worship worldview. Also, Worship White Noise unpacks how we can dis-entrench our vision of worship from the industry and misconstructed sacred/secular worldview today. My goodness.