10 Life Lessons That Leading Worship 600 Times Taught Me

It just sort of happened.

As a teenager growing up in an a cappella church with an a cappella youth group, I sang a lot. In a non-instrumental church, any guy who can loosely carry a tune will be asked to carry that tune. A lot. And so I was. Over and over. And over. No guitar skills necessary.

In college, our inter-denominational student ministry needed a band leader. I still lacked all guitar skills, but no matter, they tagged me and I became the de facto leader for our Thursday night gatherings.

And then I actually started working for a church, leading the youth and worship ministries. I led worship nearly every Sunday for about six years. And that’s how we get to 600 plus.

I recently sat down to ponder what life lessons those experiences taught me.

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1. It’s not about me.
Whether I’m standing before a group of 15 or 500, it’s not about me. It’s about the struggling mom of littles, the financially-strapped couple wondering how to make ends meet. It’s about the widower who feels his loneliness deep in his bones. It’s about the teen who’s trying to figure out who she is — and who God is.

Of course, it’s not about me.

And of course, it’s not primarily about them either. It’s about the Father who is longing to connect with his beloved people through moments of communion and community. It’s about the presence of the only One who is worthy; it’s about what the Spirit is saying to his Church.

 

2. Sometimes, you just have to show up, even when you don’t feel like it.
When you do anything over and over and over again, even if it’s a good thing, there will come a time when you don’t feel like doing it. Well, what’s a worship leader (or human) supposed to do? Is it inauthentic to stand before people when you’ve had a crappy night’s sleep, or when you’re in the middle of a big fight with your wife, and pretend that things are OK?

I really had to wrestle with this. Every Sunday is not a glorious day, and there were many Sundays the last thing I wanted to do was go to church, much less lead people in worship.

Showing up and doing your job, even when you don’t feel like it, isn’t inauthenticity. It’s actually maturity.

One question that continues to help me with this is, “Who is benefiting from my NOT revealing everything?” Am I hiding my true self from people in order to protect myself? In order to avoid intimacy? Or am I not revealing EVERY THING IN EVERY SINGLE MOMENT to get myself out of the way and help people meet with God? Is it for me or for them? If it’s for them, then it’s probably OK. (Of course, this assumes that at some point, and with some people, the leader will be authentic and vulnerable.)

God is worthy of worship whether I feel like it or not, and sometimes I need to stand before him and worship not because of my feelings, but in spite of my feelings. This is true about leading worship, and it’s true about leading life.

 

3. Smiling matters. A lot.
Effie Harnden was a kind old lady who became The Great Encourager of my 16-year-old self. When I was just starting out, someone told me, “Locate the few people who are smiling; look at them often.” I looked at Effie a lot.

It’s pretty good life advice too, “Locate the few people who are smiling; look at them often.”

 

4. Eye contact matters.
I’ve seen worship leaders who never look at a single person in the audience. That M.O. can look super-spiritual, and maybe it is. Maybe they’re lost in total adoration, caught up in the moment. Or maybe they’re just super disconnected from the people their leading.

In life too, I’ve seen people who never notice the people in front of them. So look at people, look at their eyes, wonder about their stories, ask about their stories. If you do, you will impact people very deeply; for when it comes down to it, we are all longing to be seen, even if we’re desperately afraid of it.

 

5. Church people are the worst.
Some people at some churches hated me. They disliked my style, my music, and maybe even my face. It’s just the way it is. Some people will not like you no matter what you do. That does not necessarily mean you’re doing something wrong or bad, but it does mean that you (and they) are humans.

 

6. Church people are the best.
It was church guys who painted our house when my mom was sick with terminal cancer.

It was the “casserole ladies” who fed us.

It was inter-generational trips and Bible studies that showed me how to be a Christian adult, not just a Christian teen.

It was a man, a leader in the church, who came to my side when I couldn’t finish leading God Moves In a Mysterious Way. The cancer-induced tears were drowning me. He stood with me, shoulder to shoulder. We were two men at the front of a church, one young and crying, unable to voice anything. The other, older, an elder, choking tears and singing through empathy.

I will never forget that moment, because in that moment, standing vulnerable before God and his people, I was not alone. I was joined by a man thirty years my senior, and I was saved.

 

7. Complainers complain.
It’s what they do. But it is possible, sometimes, to maintain a positive relationship with complainers. And when it’s possible, it’s also extremely valuable.

But sometimes complainers are just toxic and keeping relationship with them is inadvisable. One key difference? If the complainers really want what’s best for you and for the church, they just really disagree with you, it’s probably best to try to maintain a friendship. If they’re out to control and dominate, manipulating through pressure and threats, to meet their own twisted needs, yeah, run away.

 

8. Every minute leading people requires two minutes NOT leading people.
At least.

The times that you’re NOT leading are more important than the times when you are leading. It may not look related, but sabbath has a direct impact on Sunday.

 

9. Displaying authentic emotions, even tears, in front of people, may be the most “leaderish” thing you ever do.
We live in hard times, and my current job as a pastoral counselor has convinced me (again) that most people do not feel free to really feel their feelings. They feel societal, religious, familial pressure to “keep it all together,” whatever that means. By showing emotions, leaders can help change this. We must change this.

 

10. If at the end of the day, people only remember your skills (or skinny jeans), you’ve failed.
When it really matters, people won’t care about your vocal ability. People won’t care about your flashy .pptx or Prezi or Keynote. People won’t care about your hair style or flannel shirt. At the end of the day, people will ask, “Did he care about us? Did he care about the Church?”

Basically, what matters when the sun sets are these three things:

  • Was I a person of faith, even in my doubts?
  • Did I demonstrate hope, even through my despair?
  • And in a world gone mad, did I love like Christ?

May God help us all to live towards that.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As I drafted this article, I wept.

I remembered my church, the Red Bridge church of Christ, and my breath caught.

You see, as I pondered, I realized something: I needed them way more than they needed me. That’s just the truth. I was in front of them, but they were leading me. I taught them new songs, but they taught me what Jesus looked like with skin on. I cried in front of them, and they joined their hearts with mine and embodied those beautiful people who mourn with. I got frustrated with them and I’m sure they got frustrated with me, and yet, we stayed friends. I’m so very glad we did, for those dear saints showed me what a “long obedience” could look like.

I’ll forever be grateful for the group of God’s people who invited a scrawny teenager with a pitch pipe to stand, to cry, to lead. They taught me so much, and I will never forget them.

 

*Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

 

10 Life Lessons that leading worship 600 times taught me

A Few of My Favorite Things {September/October 2018}

by Elizabeth

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We moved back to Asia two months ago and have been busy ever since, but I’m here today with some favorites for you.

A couple online fitness sources I’m really loving right now are the Lazy Dancer Tips Youtube channel and the Fitness Blender website. I especially love videos for improving core strength, releasing back and neck pain, and improving overall flexibility. (Ask me for specific favorites if you want them!)

I’m using some essential oils: peppermint in the morning (and for headaches) and lavender at night.

I’m back to enjoying coconut milk in my morning coffee. I just couldn’t find any coconut milk in America that tasted like the coconut milk here in Cambodia, so I used half and half. I like half and half, but I also like coconut milk on tropical mornings!

I got to start teaching science at co-op again, and it really helps sew up the tears in my soul. I might write more about that some time, but for now I’m just happy to be in the classroom again.

I attended an adult dance class. I’m trying to take better care of my mind and my body and tend to the ways in which they are connected, and I hope this dance class can be part of that. I was thoroughly confused during much of the first class, but I’m hoping that changes as I attend in the future.

I’m also working on my anxiety. Will be able to talk more about that in the coming months. For now I’m just admitting I have been struggling with anxiety for awhile and seeking more guidance and healing. I had not dealt with it for many years, but it’s back and getting in the way of normal life functioning.

 

BOOKS AND MAGAZINES

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. Delightful story. Montgomery was a favorite childhood author of mine. A friend on Facebook recommended this book, so it inspired me to read it (it’s cheap and I had loaded it onto my Kindle ages ago but never read it). I was entranced. The story is hilarious, and Montgomery is also a wise observer of human nature and relationships. I always get a kick out of old authors who describe reality so accurately. Life may have changed over the years, but humans haven’t changed much, have they? It’s a short read (and cheap on Kindle!), so treat yourself to it soon.

Love Among the Chickens by P.G. Wodehouse. Also recommended by a friend on FB. Wodehouse is hilarious in his Bertram Wooster series. He’s still funny in this stand-alone story, though somewhat less so in my opinion. Free on Kindle!

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. I re-read this book to my younger kids, who didn’t hear it the first time around. We loved it. Again, this is a book nearly a hundred years old that seems so contemporary. Such a great handbook on child development too, if you want to see it that way. If you just want to see it as a great story, that’s fine too. Cheap on Kindle.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. Rereading this to my younger children for our Sonlight American History course. It is just as good as it was several years ago, if not more so! I wrote about it before, here.

Families Where Grace is in Place: Building a Home Free of Manipulation, Legalism, and Shame by Jeff Van Vonderen. I’ve read a lot of books on marriage and parenting, so many that I’ve stopped reading them — so many seem formulaic or simplistic or place more burdens on already tired, struggling people. This book is different. I’ve had it for years but for some reason the introduction didn’t pull me in, so I never actually read it till now. It is so good. Van Vonderen is a counselor and it’s clear he has sat with so many suffering people. He shines a light on the way religion can be used to keep people captive. He explains how unhealthy relationships get started and keep going. He shows how shame hurts people. And then he teaches us how we can do family life better: with grace, boundaries, and honesty. Single best book I’ve ever read on the Christian family.

(No More Perfect Kids is probably the second best book I’ve read about parenting. Other important influences on my parenting have generally just been good books on Grace, on receiving it for myself. I can’t give my kids what I haven’t received from God myself. I think of Grace for the Good Girl, From Good to Grace, and Prodigal God as top three contenders in the Grace arena.  But marriage and parenting books in general, I dislike and don’t think are particularly helpful. I’d love to hear in the comments either how you feel about marriage and parenting books or which ones you think are particularly helpful.)

The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher. This book is about so much more than NFP (which, full disclosure, I don’t practice anymore). I bought the book because I read several of Simcha Fisher’s scathing, insightful blog posts (which are linked in a section below). I thought this would be a funny and practical take on life with NFP, but like I said, it was about so much more. This book is worth the price for chapter 3 alone, which delves into the ideas of “God’s will.” Anyone who grew up in 1990’s cultural Christianity with heavy emphasis on finding and doing the Will of God needs this chapter. She balances our incorrect views of what God’s will means, and if you’re anything like me, it will make you cry both with its compassion and with its truth.

She also delves into suffering — the Cross. That we should not look down on our suffering, just because it isn’t our neighbor’s, and we should not look down on our neighbor’s suffering, just because it isn’t ours: we all have a Cross. She gave me the courage to accept the suffering that is in my life right now, regardless of what it looks like compared to other people’s suffering. Simcha offers a fresh interpretation of Jesus’ words “do not worry about tomorrow,” something I always need more of. It goes something like this: “Your now self can’t imagine handling the future, but you won’t be your now-self handling the future, you will be your future-self” (my paraphrase). Later on she has a lot of insight into marriage, specifically regarding issues of NFP, but they are applicable all across the board for how married people can love each other better.

The Message by Eugene Peterson. I have not historically enjoyed The Message. It seemed too “out there.” I really, really like the New Living Translation and have been reading it for about 10 years now. I’m still using the NLT while using the Message more as a commentary on favorite passages (especially Matthew 6) and the Psalms rather than a primary reading source. Mainly to add a different perspective to my original reading. But my Bible reading tastes are varied, because I also use the Scottish Psalter, published in 1635, as an adjunct to my Psalm reading. The Psalter enables Psalm-singing, and I love it.

And I’m back to reading Christianity Today. I think my brain was too tired in America to keep reading their articles. But now that I’m back into a routine in Cambodia, my brain is able to engage a little bit more. I appreciate that Christianity Today, while never misinterpreting or teaching against the Bible, still dares to question unhealthy or merely cultural practices and mindsets. After 6 years overseas, I find that I can still strongly relate to the content in Christianity Today, an American periodical. In my opinion, CT remains true to biblical Christianity without being overly culturally influenced.

 

BLOG POSTS FOR OVERSEAS WORKERS

Moving Abroad Can Sure Mess Up Your Autocomplete by Craig Thompson. Funny!

5 Newton Street – a Love Story by Marilyn Gardner. Emotive and insightful as always.

Missions or Wanderlust? by Stephie. Important.

If I Had to Get a Job by Anisha Hopkinson. Again, funny.

10 Dangerous Things for Kids and One True Danger, a Quiz by Rachel Pieh Jones. Really important reminders.

8 Things I Forget to Love About a Life Overseas by Jerry Jones. More important reminders.

GRIT: A Guide to Praying for Third Culture Kids by Lauren Wells. Exactly what the title says it is.

TCK Lessons: Everyone Leaves by Tanya Crossman. This is a real phenomenon for Third Culture Kids. My kids have been saying this phrase for some time now, and recently had occasion to say it again. How can it not be true? We are all, after all, guests in our host country. No matter how long-term we are as global workers, we will, in time, return to our passport countries.

 

BLOG POSTS REGARDING ABUSE, ASSAULT, AND ACCUSATIONS

Lament for the Disbelieved by Tanya Marlow. Some of the political controversy in the States may be over for now, but this is still a vitally important message. The same goes for the next two pieces by Simcha Fisher, author of the NFP book I reviewed above.

Between Brock Turner and Brett Kavanaugh, When Do Girls Matter? (Be prepared for a bad word at the end.)

If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner? Written a year ago, long before the most recent political catastrophe. The issues are the same and have been for decades. We need to wake up and pay attention to this problem.

 

JUST PLAIN GOOD BLOG POSTS

You are not dead. You are waiting. By Simcha Fisher.

Would You Even Like Jesus? by Jonathan Trotter

He’s just a . . . by Jonathan Trotter. (Yes I do like my husband’s writing, thankyouverymuch!)

Still Scandalous by Jen Pollock Michel.

On Seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and Pondering My Own Household God by Jen Oshman.

A God Veiled in Time and Space But Revealed in Christ by Shayne Looper. I’ve had some real life conversations and watched some online video interviews and have been contemplating belief and unbelief. I want to write more about it eventually, but I think in the end having belief means making room for mystery and not having all the questions answered. Unbelief doesn’t answer all the questions either. It has its own set of problems. This is a good discussion of some of the issues.

 

MOVIES AND PODCASTS

Goodbye Christopher Robin. A lot of the issues in this story applies to ministry families. A real tear-jerker.

Wonder. We watched this as a family. I had avoided it for fear it would be too sad or difficult. But it’s really really worth the watch, even if I did cry!

Faith and Reason from Bibliofiles. Good discussion of faith and unbelief.

Forgive Jerks, a short video from Nadia Bolz-Weber.

 

SONGS

Defender by Rita Springer. “When I thought I lost me, you knew where I left me.” This song met me in all kinds of good ways.

Sing My Way Back by Steffany Gretzinger. “When I lose direction, when I can’t see the stars, if we get disconnected, I’ll sing my way back to Your heart, I’ll sing my way back to Your arms.”

Would You Even Like Jesus?

by Jonathan

Would you even like Jesus?

Would you like him if he came into your church and started yelling about houses of prayer? Or would you call him just another angry man?

Would you like him if he told you to sell even some of your stuff and give the proceeds to the poor? Or would you call him a socialist?

Would you like him if he told you to stop sleeping with people you weren’t married to? Or would you call him a legalist?

What if you realized he wasn’t a Republican?

Or a Democrat?

Or white?

Would you like him if you found him crying by himself on a hillside, talking about a rebellious city? Or would you call him an emotional wreck?

I don’t know, would I even like him?

What about the time he let those guys chop up an innocent man’s roof?

Would you like it if he hadn’t planned ahead and all of a sudden asked you to feed a few thousand people?

What would you think when he dozed off during a life-threatening storm?

He is not as tame as we make him, after all.

Would you like him when he let the prostitute get a little too close? Or would you start to wonder about his dedication to purity?

Would you like him when he befriended your political enemy, visiting his house and sharing a meal? Or would that be a red (or blue) line crossed?

You see, we sanitize and sanctify Jesus, stripping him of context and personality, until he looks (we think) like us.

But he’s not like us. Thank God.

So, would you like him?

What if he showed up in your deepest pain and you saw his eyes, red with mercy and compassion? Would you like him then?

What if you heard him cry, “Forgive them!” And you knew he was talking about you? Would you like him then?

Would you run to him, grasping his sleeve for acceptance and love?

He’d let you.

He’d love you.

He’d heal you.

After all, he liked you first.

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Pilgrim Songs [a podcast]

This message was recorded at ICA-Cambodia, October 2018. Towards the end, the congregation sings a bit, and then the message continues: Songs of Ascent, part 1

This message looks at Psalms 120-124 and should be available as a podcast on iTunes by Friday.

May God bless the reading and preaching of His Word!

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

Jonathan Trotter

Don’t Call Your Kids “World Changers” {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is at A Life Overseas today . . . 

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It’s tempting. I get it. It sounds motivating and inspirational. I get that too. But I’ve come to believe that the good-intentioned, hopefully inspiring practice of talking about children as “world-changers” is, in most cases, damaging.

You can cover it with a spiritual veneer, you can call it “speaking truth over them,” you can call it a “parental blessing,” you can even call it “stirring them up to greatness.” But from where I sit, and after what I’ve seen, I’ll just call it probably harmful.

Let me explain.

I grew up among world-changers.

My family was part of an exciting, global ministry which had as its motto, Giving the world a New approach to life!Wow! What a vision! What a large, God-sized dream!

What hubris.

I sang in a choir of 5,000 teenagers, “It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus!” We were going to do it. Our parents had found the hidden truths, the secret. And with derision for rock music, an affinity for character qualities, and a navy and white uniform, we were in fact going to give the WHOLE WORLD a BRAND NEW approach to life.

And then we didn’t.

In fact, one of the most painful parts of my adult life has been watching peers wilt under the pressure of a world-changing paradigm. Families just aren’t designed to raise world-changers. They’re designed to raise children.

I watched friend after friend crumble under the pressure. Who were they? What were they worth when life just felt…normal? When the mission trips stopped and the typical bills came, a sense of dread and failure often settled in.

When the call of God, legitimately and accurately interpreted, looks nothing like the world-domination and global impact you were primed to experience, what then?

Finish reading here.

He’s just a…

He’s just a carpenter. A blue-collared day laborer. And he’s the one who builds mountains and stars.

He’s just a carpenter. A townie, a long long ways from cosmopolitan. And he’s the King of kings.

But he’s just a carpenter, uneducated, the son of nobodies. And he’s the dearly loved son of the Father.

The crowds are blind, eyes filled to the brim with scoffing, incredulous. They can’t see beyond their own limiting words.

It is true. He is a carpenter. But he is not just a carpenter. He is so much more.

And by his grace, we are too.

We are not just sinners.
We are not just failures.
We are not just inadequate.

We are loved.
We are saved.
We are sought after and enjoyed by our God.

So when people see us and laugh, saying we’re “just a” whatever, we smile and nod and run to Jesus.

And there we sit among the wood chips, remnants of a Roman cross, and we belly laugh with the Carpenter who saved the world.

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Jesus left that part of the country and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. The next Sabbath he began teaching in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. They asked, “Where did he get all this wisdom and the power to perform such miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just a carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon. And his sisters live right here among us.” They were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. 
Mark 6:1-3

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