Pursuing Lyrical and Musical Flow

Great stuff for us worship leaders. Undistracting excellence!

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1What’s one thing that can make or break your effectiveness in worship leading?

Flow.

Good storytellers, movie directors, public speakers, and writers learn how to flow naturally from one chapter/scene/subject to the next. Bad or nonexistent transitions can weaken otherwise good content, because the joltiness of the finished project screams a lack of cohesion. Cohesiveness – or “flow” – is a really important thing.

Worship leaders who don’t lead their congregations and musicians with a cohesive flow from one song to the next run the risk of working against themselves. Even though the songs might be good songs, without those songs being threaded and woven together, it doesn’t matter so much. There’s no clear narrative, no natural progression, and no clear big picture. It’s all a jumble of little pieces, random songs, different keys, disconnected topics, and instead of leaving a congregation saying “aha!”, it leaves them asking “huh?”

Developing a good sense of lyrical and…

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Day 5 Challenge: Get Hungry For More!

Resource day! Today I’m sharing one book (and website) and one spiritual nugget.

First, if you are interested in all this small church planting discussion, let me introduce the book to you that really lit a fire in me and taught me a lot about powerful church growth. This is for those who are reading my the trickle of my posts and want the fire hose. It’s called Exponential: How You and Your Friends Can Start a Missional Church Movement.  Here’s a link to it on Amazon.  It was definitely an inspiration for my post yesterday.  You can also visit www.exponential.org to find a network of folks looking to multiply the church (and some free ebooks, too, if you don’t want to buy one!)

Second, the nugget.

I am such a people pleaser!  In only a few days of having a blog, I check the view totals incessantly.  Are people reading? What are they thinking?  I feel depressed when my readership declines. I’m practically jumping out of my chair when someone comments. And what I’m writing? Well, maybe it’s a little out of the norm, but I’m trying to be as inclusive as possible.  Are you getting the point? I want people to read my blog.  I want people to like what I’m writing and come back for more. (That’s the point of a blog, right?)

And then I read this passage in the book of John, one of the Gospels that tells us about who Jesus is.  It’s a long passage, but bear with me.  In 6:47-69, we read Jesus saying:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

So Jesus is waxing eloquent about being the bread of life, which is an amazing analogy, and then he goes and starts talking about zombies and vampires! But really, he’s like, “Take a bite out of my flesh! Drink my blood!” If you don’t, you can’t go to heaven. Is there anything more repulsive than cannibalism?

Surprisingly, that’s the point.  Jesus is actively repulsing people. They ask, “Did I hear that right? Eat you?” And he doubles down, no, triples down on the zombiefest.  And he loses lots of followers because of it.  “Sorry, bro, you’re getting a little too weird for me…”

If I could have given Jesus some advice right then and there, as his PR manager, I would have told him, “I hear what you’re saying, I really do, I think you’re doing some awesome foreshadowing in the process, but how about we soften the edges, talk more about loving your neighbor and less about eating you. Sound good?”

And I think Jesus would reply, “I’m not here to please people. I’m here to please my Father, and those who don’t believe are going to reject the truth.”

Jesus embodied more truth-telling than anyone before him, to the point that he was murdered on a cross, because he claimed to be God. But he was also the most loving person ever. He is love. He died for our sins so that we could be made right with God, if only we believe in him.  If he was a people-pleaser, that wouldn’t, couldn’t, have happened.

I hope that, when the rubber meets the road, I am like his 12 disciples, who said, “To who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I want to be able to accept the truth, no matter how hard it is.

But what I want more than that is to be like Jesus, who only lived to please the Father, and was never worried about pleasing others.  There’s a people-pleasing beast inside me that wants to make me look good and build me up. But this isn’t about me.  It’s about giving glory to God.  It’s about speaking the truth in love, living by the Spirit, not the flesh. Can you get through a day without worrying what others think, living and speaking your convictions? That’s what I want to do.

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Why Exponential Growth Is So Much Better Than Addition

My favorite book as a kid was the “I Hate Mathematics! Book.” It sparked my imagination and my love for math. My favorite example was when a child suggests to wash dishes for 2 cents on day one, and double that each day. After a week he’d have a couple bucks, but by the end of the month he’d be a millionaire! Unfortunately my parents read it along with me, so I remained a dirt-poor third grader.

6a0168e71ada4c970c0191023de6e1970c-800wiThis is the power of exponential growth. It can been seen, over time, in the growth of biological populations. It is written into nature. It is also embedded into our relationships. When we teach two people something and they each share it with two people, this can soon turn into millions.

Exponential growth is acknowledged throughout the Bible. God promises Abraham that his descendants will be like the stars in the sky or the sands on the shore. Jesus supernaturally turns a few loaves of bread and fish into enough for thousands of hungry people. The church explodes in growth in its first years. This isn’t ultimately because God relies on mathematical equations, of course. It is because He is in control of all things; He made the laws of nature and math and physics, and He made a plan for the church.

At the core of this plan is discipleship. Jesus focused his time on 12 disciples who went out and made disciples themselves. Developing deep relationships that lead to maturity and reproduction in other people’s lives starts to look like exponential growth too. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it is powerful over time. This aspect of starting a church really excites me!

Last point: our churches begin at the point a group of believers gather together to worship, pray, learn from Scripture, and practice baptism and communion. Those basics can be found in the Bible. This is how many churches begin: small, maybe a dozen or two, often in a home. But the big misconception is that the church really gets going when it finds a building or space to meet in and it reaches a “critical mass.” When it gets big enough to need a sound system, lighting setup, website, accountant, etc. None of these things are bad – in fact, many of them can be helpful. But when we move into a building, we are changing the medium, the meeting place, and in doing that we begin to stifle the exponential growth process. Where does discipleship occur best? In deep, personal relationships, and this happens more readily in the setting of a home. Instead of outgrowing our homes and spending lots of money to slowly add people under the same roof, we should consider starting another church in another home. This keeps discipleship front and center and doesn’t alter the mechanics of the church.  Don’t be surprised if you see the power of exponential growth take effect!

What do you think? What would it be like to be a part of an infectious, exponential community?

 

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Day 3 Challenge: The Community You Crave is Hiding in Plain Sight

10%.

1 in 10 American adults have attended a house church in the last month. Even I had a hard time believing that one! But the Barna Group confirmed this in 2009, and it had multiplied tenfold since the beginning of the century. And attending any religious service in the home scored over 20%. I would love more recent stats, I’m a math kind of guy, but whether it’s grown or receded in the past few years, this tells me a few clear things:

1. Deep, face to face relationships and interaction are really important to people!

This is something “the church” has not always done well. The more we turned to program-atizing our movement and structuring our leadership like a business, the less we knew each other on a deep level. And the more we have to tell people to go deep, rather than just model it and say, “Come follow me!”

2. People are willing to try something different in order to connect in real community.

Relationships are a basic need for all men and women, boys and girls. Have you seen those gut-wrenching photos of people who have been locked away in someone’s basement for years, out of the sun, away from other people? Isolation is the worst form of torture. We were meant to be in community. But I have definitely felt isolated before walking into a church, finding my seat, barely saying hello to a few folks, hearing the sermon, and high tailing it out of there – because I’m starving!

3. House churches are not as weird or fringe as you might think.

All added up, house churches would make the second largest denomination in the US, bigger than Catholics and smaller than Southern Baptists.   The idea of church in our own homes has become more accepted than we might think, but we never hear about it because they just quietly go about their business.  It’s also a reflection of how well it translates from its tremendous success in China, where the underground church has exploded.

Rosaria Butterfield recently shared an insight that opened my eyes, that the LGBT community has their own deep-knit community in which their doors are always open and they are always hosting dinner at each other’s house. Why, she says? Because otherwise they would be unbearably lonely, even suicidal, in a world they feel they can’t relate to. No matter what background we have, we all crave love, acceptance and community.

I think that no matter what personality you have, whether you’re super outgoing or a total introvert, we all have the tendency to isolate ourselves. Technology draws us into our phones and laptops, even as we interact with a virtual community instead of face to face. It is so tough to get a little time to ourselves, much less spend quality time with others, in our fast-paced lives. We are not just alone, we are depressed; at any given moment 15 million Americans struggle with depression. What if we turned to each other before we turned to the anti-depressants? What if we had a community that could share our hurts and pains, who loved us with no conditions?

That’s the kind of church I want to be a part of. At its core, a church needs to love Jesus more than anything else, and be propelled by that love to love each other, and to love everyone around them. This happens in organic community, in close quarters, as we live out life together in our neighborhoods and apartment complexes. The idea of meeting together in homes appeals to me for many reasons, but mostly because when you ask the question, “Where can we love each other like Jesus loves us?”, I think our homes are the most natural answer. They are where we can really go deep, rejoicing, grieving, eating, sharing and challenging each other.

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But many of us have become comfortable with isolation. It’s hard to plug back in with others, to be vulnerable and share the pain and stress we’re going through. I pass on that challenge to you today if you’re feeling disconnected: reach out, send an encouraging text, give a friend a call just to ask them how their day was. Be willing to go deep.

Do you have that deep longing for community? How do you fill that need? Share with me in the comments below!

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What’s Your Story?

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I got an urgent call.

No, it wasn’t a death or injury in the family. Far more traumatic.

And it wasn’t over the phone. It was a direct call to my heart, my soul.

The call came when I was 8 years old. “You’re dead.” Dead? What are you talking about? I’m breathing, I’m just a straight-laced little boy. “Sorry, son, you might be walking around, you might be nice to people, but you’re dead.”

The Sixth Sense hadn’t hit theaters yet. No, this was a life-giving wake-up call that, as a sweet little boy, I was dead, because the wages of sin is death. And there was nothing I could do about it.

But…

The but means we’re getting to the good part. You see, part of why I love Jesus, and love this Christian walk, is the apparent contradictions. Love those who hate you. Lose your life and you will gain it. And a perfect man, Jesus, died for a sinner like me to give me life. I realized how much I cared less for giving God the credit for every good thing; my heart was bent away from Him. I could do nothing but say yes.

But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.

When God found me, I gave a resounding Yes! to this free gift. Over the years I’ve had selfish impulses – “Let me do things to pay you back, God!”  I discovered that I’m fully alive but still have to deal with sin. But He saved me, and I am compelled by a grace I don’t deserve to share my story and live it out in community with others.

That’s how I was called to God. You may have your own story. I’d love for you to share yours. My story is still ongoing, and so is yours. You may be in a very different place than me, but I’m glad you’re here.

That’s my “genesis” story, the beginning, the seed of what was to come later. I was in a large church at that time, and I loved a lot about it. There’s definitely a place in this world and our society for places like it. But then I moved on to be a part of what we call a “church plant.” Something new, with a new vision, and all the passion that many of you entrepreneurs have. I knew those people better than I have known anyone up to that point. It drove me to seek out deep relationships in college, and communities afterwards that went deep. There’s a danger to focusing on relationships at the expense of the mission, but you can’t live without them.

Meanwhile I wandered in my wasteland of purpose. What was I really made for? I loved history, tried my hand at law, started up my own business in financial planning, taught guitar, played music. But none of it stuck.

And then another call came.

It was gentler, definitely not audible, but very tender. “Have you had enough of wandering on your own, trying to provide and figure this out by yourself?”

Yes. Oh God, yes.

The answer was clear. “Build my church. Love my church. Lead my church.” That answer left me with an excitement and drive I never had before.

And thankfully, the “wasteland” wasn’t really a waste. I had learned how to study better, build relationships, persuade, and teach. And as I have spend another four years in school for my Masters in Divinity, I have been able to lead, teach, counsel, and encourage. And I’ve been given a specific vision for how to “do church.” I’ll share that with you shortly.

It’s always invigorating to think back on my story, because in the day to day, I often forget, and become impatient or discouraged. So what’s your story? Be invigorated today!

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What are you doing here?

Well hello!

Welcome to my blog.

It’s about me, of course. Jonathan’s my name.

But mostly it’s about my passion and calling – which is to love and lead the local church.

What has your experience been so far with churches? Maybe you’ve never been to one; maybe you’ve sworn you’ll never step foot in one again. Maybe you show up from time to time, or maybe you absolutely love where you’re at.

I’ve had a range of experiences too, and I can tell you that I love being a part of a community who loves Jesus and does whatever he calls us to do, going wherever He needs us to go.

Before I go any further, maybe I should share a little more about me.  What am I doing here? I’m a guy who just broke the thirties threshold. I am stoked to be in the prime of life! I’m still amazed my wife agreed to go out with me ten years ago, and even more floored when she accepted my proposal. We love to travel (occasionally), make delicious food, and spend time with our 3 year old son and 6 month old daughter. I play a mean acoustic guitar, play ultimate frisbee, and read a great book with even better coffee. I have lost 60 pounds since December ’14 ’13 and that fact just reflects a new excitement I have for attacking life and living it to the fullest. Virginia will always be my home, but we picked up and left two years ago to Hot and Humid Houston, where we’ve soaked in the heat and the warm Southern culture. I’m finishing up seminary in a few months and hope to start a new church in the near future. And so that’s what this is about.

And I was challenged by the very motivating Alex Beadon to try out this blogging thing!

So what are you doing here? Who would want to read my blog?

Well, Christians definitely would. Especially those who have never quite been content in their faith community, for those who always want to go deeper but never seem to find the time to in this crazy fast-paced world.

But the folks who might feel most welcome are those who had an experience with church and said “No thanks” because it was full of fake smiles, slick services, and shallow relationships.  Why? Because I want to be a part of a church, a movement, a tight-knit community, that really knows each other, laughs but also cries together, and doesn’t build facades in our relationships or in how we practice our faith.

I’m all for keeping it simple. It may sound cliche, but I think we have enough church buildings – we need more followers of shutterstock_144519818Christ banding together to live out every word of the Bible. Because that’s the church right? The people, not the building. So instead of hundreds or thousands of souls driving across town to a building we have spent millions on, leaving hundreds or thousands of homes empty and quiet, how about we gather in smaller groups in our homes, sharing meals, seeking the face of God, hearing teaching from the Word, and going out to be a light in this world? (Sounds like the early church to me!) Let’s be driven by relationships instead of programs. Instead of leaving our neighborhoods, let’s stay in them, know them, serve them, and see them changed.

What to expect?  Lots of thoughts about how church is done, how it can be done, some good Bible teaching, and maybe some random thoughts on my interests (Batman! Wimbledon! Where’d you all go!?). Hopefully in an unvarnished, plain way.  And I’m looking forward to some awesome conversations so I can learn from you, too.

So if you want to hear more, stay tuned! Follow me! Introduce yourself below! And answer the question from above – what has your experience been with church?

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