Monthly Archives: October 2013
The Daily Grind of Good Work!
At times I sit back in my chair and look out the window of my office. Sometimes those glances beckon me to another place: the outdoors, fresh air, sitting in the sun, feeling the breeze – the visions and desires vary depending on the season. It’s often distracting and I realize that as my mind has wandered, the work on my desk remains undone. Maybe you’ve had this experience.
We can certainly agree that getting up and taking a short break is an often overlooked practice that can help us stay healthy and focused. There are times for intensity in our work, and there are times for a break from work. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that this ebb and flow is an important part of life on earth. In fact, he says that there is “nothing better” for us but to “rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks see good in all his labor – it is the gift of God” (Eccl. 3:12-13). God has given the gift of labor, but also the gift of seeing the good of that labor.
My experience with distraction takes another spin as well. Maybe yours does too. On some occasions my glances out the window draw my thoughts to a place that I think I “should be.” It reminds me of an underlying thought that “where I’m at” is not as good as “someplace else.” I am not just distracted from my work, but I become dissatisfied with it. Somehow life has been unfair. Certainly there is something more important for me to be doing that what I am actually doing! “Why is my life being wasted?” I ask. If I’m not careful and attentive to my thoughts, bitterness can creep in and manifest itself in many ways (anger, depression, etc.) – especially as I interact with those around me. Too often we lash out at others due to some frustration in ourselves or our circumstances. We must be careful of this.
To correct this tendency, like the writer of Ecclesiastes, we must regard our work well. We must consider it as the gift of God that it is, but also reflect upon it so we might see the good that it has done. To live each moment as it comes, and enjoy each moment as we live it. At work or at play. In busy-ness or at rest. Consider the thoughts of Henry Van Dyke in a poem simply titled, “Work.” (Hint: It’s always best to read poetry out loud to get the full sense of its meaning.)
Let me but do my work from day to day,
In field or forest, at the desk or loom,
In roaring market-place or tranquil room;
Let me but find it in my heart to say,
When vagrant wishes beckon me astray,
“This is my work; my blessing, not my doom;
Of all who live, I am the one by whom
This work can best be done in the right way.”
Then shall I see it not too great, nor small,
To suit my spirit and to prove my powers;
Then shall I cheerful greet the labouring hours,
And cheerful turn, when the long shadows fall
At eventide, to play and love and rest,
Because I know for me my work is best.
Don’t let the daily grind grind you down. Rather, grab a cup of your favorite beverage and savor a moment to “see good” in your labor. It is the gift of God!
Playing Second Fiddle
I recall a conversation with an older saint whom I had learned to respect and admire. Close to retirement, I sat with him in his office where he was an executive in a successful company. Our discussion was about leadership, and specifically how to be a leader when you’re not actually in charge. The main comment I remember from him that day was, “Mark, maybe you should be the one to write a book about leading from behind, or leading as a second in command. It could be titled, Playing Second Fiddle.”
The reference is to the violinist that sits next to the Concert Master in an orchestra. He or she sits in the second chair, since the first chair is inhabited by the Concert Master who in many ways is a key leader of the orchestra. What many people don’t realize is that this violinist in the second chair must be an amazing musician that is often called upon to fill the shoes of the Concert Master in a moment’s notice. And even in the regular workings of the orchestra the second chair plays a vital role within the structure of the organization.
Those of us who find ourselves in the role of planning and leading worship find ourselves in exactly this same position. Although we are not “in charge” of the overall organization, we are in a significant leadership position that requires unique abilities to both lead and follow simultaneously. Having been called by God to fill many positions of this type, I have found a number of important ideas that can help us as we seek to fulfill that calling.
First, we must remember that the primary nature of the church is spiritual and that Christ is the head of the body, rather than the pastor or the board (Colossians 1:18). With Christ as the head, God has placed members of the body in specific places for His purposes (1 Corinthians 12:18). In the optimal situation the leadership in the church moves and flows with this giftedness so that those with the gifts are leading in those areas of service.
I have worked with many pastors over the years, both as a staff person and as a consultant, and their gifts and abilities have differed widely. Many have the heart of a shepherd and enjoy nothing more than knowing the sheep, talking with them and caring for them. Others are more focused on delivering well-crafted sermons that spring from hours in the study. Still others are more about vision-casting and growth of the congregation.
And that leads to the second point – the pastor does not have all of the gifts. In fact, your gifts are needed to supplement and come alongside the pastor so that God’s vision and planning for the body of Christ can be fulfilled. This is the basis for what Paul teaches regarding the functioning of the body (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). As we develop our gifts for service, God begins to put the pieces together like a giant puzzle. There are specific pieces for specific places, just as He determined. As we work together in this way we will see the beauty of God’s plan come to fruition.
That being said, you might think that I am undermining the leadership or authority of the pastor. I do not intend to do so, and I encourage you to read Bob Kauflin’s articles on pastoral relationships that have many thoughtful pieces of advice for those who are leading under the authority of another pastor (“Who’s in Charge Here” and “How Do I support My Pastor When we Disagree?”). It’s obviously important to recognize a certain hierarchy of authority, since this is a concept that Paul notes is built into creation itself (1 Corinthians 11:3). It is also clear in the exercise of spiritual authority in many of the stories from the early church, such as we see when the Apostles appoint deacons to help with the care of the Christian community (Acts 6:1-6).
A third point, which is often overlooked, is that each local congregation takes on the personality of the pastor that is leading it. In other words, as the pastor teaches and leads the people of a local church, that organization begins to reflect the particular traits of that pastor. Is that pastor focused on caring and really interested in knowing people deeply? There you will find a congregation of caring and loving people. Is that pastor intent on teaching solid doctrine and theology as a foundation for the Christian life? There you will find a congregation of theologically astute people. Does the pastor have a strong, outgoing persona – or a contrite and gentle one? The congregation will reflect those as well.
I’m not suggesting that a “caring” church has no deep theology. Nor that a congregation who knows theology does not care for people. I’m simply noting that the personal traits of the leader will rub off on the entire organization, and as a result will reflect those traits on a larger scale. This reality means that we can see how a church will behave, and as those coming alongside a pastor we have the opportunity to know how we might fit into that ministry. Rather than fighting against these trends, we will be better able to adapt to them as time goes on.
When we really think about it, each and every leader in the church is important and our ability to lead – even from second chair – is vital to the effectiveness of the church in the proclaiming of truth and the gospel. Although we often refer to the church as an organization, or a team, God compares it an organism when He calls it a body. It lives and moves and breathes and grows from day to day and year to year. May we enjoy our contribution in that living organism no matter what part we might play – even if it’s second chair!
(Original Post on February 27, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/17632-playing-second-fiddle)
From Closet to Platform
In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12)
The stylistic differences in corporate worship abound in today’s church. Although more modern forms of music have made inroads into the church setting, this has not necessarily led to the abandonment of liturgical forms, by which I mean the overall structure of the worship service. For example, many church traditions refer to the main pastor as the “Worship Leader.” Although others might lead songs, say prayers, or read from Scripture, in this view the overall responsibility for leading the worship service is with the pastor. It is the role of the pastor to plan and oversee all elements of public worship. On the other hand, many churches have an individual designated as the “Worship Leader” who does little speaking in front of the congregation (such as a pastor would do), but is considered the one responsible for constructing the “worship” elements of the service including music, readings, drama, etc.
The common idea is that corporate worship is dependent upon leadership. With this in mind, some of my recent reading has reminded me once again of the importance of being dependent upon God in our leadership of worship. We must be ready and willing for the Holy Spirit to move and guide us in all aspects of planning, rehearsing and ultimately performing the various aspects of a worship service.
That Jesus knew this was apparent. Our passage (above) notes that Jesus spent hours in communion with the Father. This particular passage refers to the night prior to His appointing of the Twelve Apostles is an illustration of the importance of prayer in making important decisions. Yet, in the same way, Jesus often slipped away to pray as part of His regular pattern of ministry. It is obvious that His ministry thrived because He was intimately connected to the Father by prayer.
There are many faithful saints who have recognized the importance of prayer in ministry, and I share the following quotes from just two men who saw the results of prayer in their own lives. Although these quotes refer to the pulpit, or to preaching, or to the preacher, I would like to suggest that as our modern churches have developed a wider presence of responsible leaders in front of the congregation, that these words apply to the pastor and the worship leader equally.
If you are a leader of a congregation from week to week, place yourself into these quotes.
A.W. Tozer, with his usual laser-like insights, reminds us that our effectiveness before the church on the platform is dependent upon our effectiveness with God in prayer. He wrote:
“No man should stand before an audience who has not first stood before God. Many hours of communion should precede one hour in the pulpit. The prayer chamber should be more familiar than the public platform. Schools teach everything about preaching except the important part, praying. The best any school can do is to recommend prayer and exhort to its practice. Praying itself must be the work of the individual. That it is the one religious work which gets done with the least enthusiasm cannot but be one of the tragedies of our times!”
Another author, E.M. Bounds, had a significant influence on Jim Cymbala and the prayer ministry of the Brooklyn Tabernacle. Page after page of his writings demonstrate not simply a philosophy of prayer and its importance, but he wrote from an intimate acquaintance of the reality of the power of prayer. Note the emphasis on the power that prayer brings to the leadership of the church:
“If prayer be left out of account, the preacher rises to no higher level than the lecturer, the politician, or the secular teacher. That which distinguishes him from all other public speakers is the fact of prayer. And as prayer deals with God, this means that the preacher has God with him, while other speakers do not need God with them to make their public messages effective.”
He goes on to show the reality of the work of prayer. Bounds knows it to be a serious undertaking that must be cultivated and developed in private in order for ministry to be effective in public.
“The prayer which makes much of our preaching must itself be made much of. The character of our praying will determine the character of our preaching. Serious praying will give serious weight to preaching. Prayer makes preaching strong, give it unction, and make it stick…It cannot be said with too much emphasis, the preacher musts be preeminently a man of prayer.”
I like that he connects our praying to our character. I think this is more than just style, but really speaks to our inner man. When we are dependent upon God for the power and effectiveness of our sermons, our music leading and even our public praying, then we are truly laying aside our pride in our own giftedness and allowing the Holy Spirit to bring His Word and truth to the hearts and minds of people. For this privilege, we should be thankful and grateful.
May we, as leaders, be preeminent people of prayer!
Tozer quote from “Renewed Day by Day: A Daily Devotional” by A.W. Tozer, compiled by G.B. Smith (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1980), for January 10.
Bounds quotes from “The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer” by E.M. Bounds (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), pages 413-414.
(Original Post on January 30, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19181-from-closet-to-platform)