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This Is Why We Darken Our Auditorium

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STORYCHURCH started in a Durham school gymnasium/cafeteria back in 2010. It was so great! The school was brand new, so everything was clean and shiny — and super bright — thanks to the myriad of windows along the side of the room.

It was often so bright in fact, that Pastor Jeremy and I regularly talked (and talked) about the excess of light in the room and how we wished we could control it.

A little over 18 months ago, when we started to renovate what is now our first permanent location, the first thing we did was block out all the windows and paint the roof black. I was absolutely giddy with the possibility of being able to control the lights, at long last. No joke.

While caught up in all my giddiness, I’ve failed to communicate properly the WHY behind it. Here are some thoughts on why we like to control the lighting in our auditorium.

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Leading From The Seats – Audio & Notes

I recently had the opportunity to speak to our church dream team on the subject worship. Our dream team is made up from everyone who volunteers, at any capacity, at STORYCHURCH. These are the people who are invested in the vision and life of our church.

I had such a fun time sharing my heart on this topic. What seemed like an eternity at the time turns out to be only 12 minutes and 48 seconds! I’m not sure how Jeremy and Joel can throw a 30-35 minute sermon together in a week!

I am so thankful that I get to be a part of what God is doing in Durham through STORYCHURCH. I’m thankful for the team that God has placed alongside me and I’m thankful for the congregation that I get to serve.

One of the highlights (and not available on the audio download) was getting to hear feedback on how music has impacted lives in our church. That was super encouraging for me and the team to hear.

I promised to publish my notes from the session, so here they are. I have also attached the audio recording if you wish to listen to it.

Leading From The Seats

Download MP3 // File Size: 12MB // Length: 12:48

 

Why Do We Sing

But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. (John 4:23 MSG)

When Jesus talked with the woman at the well about true worship, it was clear that worship was much more than some ritual. It was a matter of the heart.

Jesus said, “It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God”.

There will be some of you relieved to find out that we can (and must) worship God without having to sing. However, we’re going to look at why singing is an meaningful way to worship when we meet with other people to seek God.

The Call To Worship

If you have ever read the psalms (silent p, silent l), the largest book in the bible, you’ll have come across numerous calls to sing to God! Throughout the 150 chapters we are encouraged many times to sing out our praises to God.

Sing God a brand-new song! Earth and everyone in it, sing! Sing to Godworship God! (Psalm 96:1–2 MSG)

I’ll often jump into the psalms for a quick pick-me-up. They are full of God’s praises and help me to align my heart and mind to worship.

On Earth As In Heaven

In the book of revelation, John describes a vision he received of heaven. The throne was surrounded by thousands of angels, singing and declaring together God’s praises.

I looked again. I heard a company of Angels around the Throne, the Animals, and the Elders—ten thousand times ten thousand their number, thousand after thousand after thousand in full song: The slain Lamb is worthy! Take the power, the wealth, the wisdom, the strength! Take the honor, the glory, the blessing! (Revelation 5:11-14 MSG)

In other words, we better get used to some singing, because it sounds like heaven has it’s fair share of it!

Singing Promotes Unity

Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20 MSG)

“Sing hymns instead of drinking songs!” – I love that. No one will be surprised if I tell them that a room full of people singing drinking songs is no quiet affair! Quite the opposite! They are giving it everything they’ve got – whether they know all the words or not.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. (Colossians 3:16-17 MSG)

So, let’s sing our hearts out to God! Let’s sing like we mean it. Let’s sing together and lift up the name of Jesus in unity with each other.

I believe a unified group of believers is a very powerful thing for a seeker to witness. It shows we have each other’s back and we support and love each other. It portrays a kind of community, that deep down everyone longs to be part of.

Singing Helps Us Express Our Worship

We are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking
(John Mark McMillan, How He Loves)

Not only do we have the bible, in particular the book of Psalms, but God has also gifted modern artists and songwriters with the ability to pen words that we can sing as our own. These songs help us to express ourselves in worship using language that may not come naturally to us.

The lyric from How He Loves often brings a tear to my eye. The imagery that John Mark McMillan uses throughout this song helps to bring these truths to life in new ways and impact my heart and mind.

Singing Helps Us Remember Truth

“A song will outlive all sermons in the memory.” Henry Giles

As children we learn the alphabet by singing it to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and we remember the number of days in a month with a rhyme. Melody and rhythm help us remember lyrics.

This is why it is important to sing songs full of biblical truth. Songs that give hope, build us up and encourage us. Songs that stay with us during the weeks and months.

Singing Helps Us Engage Emotionally

“The voice is never more emotional than when raised in song, as the meaning of words is heightened, becoming something larger than what we want to say; the melody and form at the pinnacle of what humans are capable of, tuning in to beauty itself.” – David Rothenberg

God made us, along with our emotions. Emotions are not something that should be left outside the church. In fact, singing without emotion is an oxymoron – especially when worshiping God. Singing engages our emotions, our whole being,  connecting the truth that we sing with the passion in our hearts.

Singing Brings Freedom

Along about midnight, Paul and Silas were at prayer and singing a robust hymn to God. The other prisoners couldn’t believe their ears. (Acts 16:25 MSG)

One of my favorite stories in the bible is when Paul and Silas were imprisoned and despite their situation sang praises to God. In was in that very moment God moved and shook the prison with an earthquake releasing all the prisoners inside.

We want to see God move in us as we worship. We want to see spiritual chains broken. Relationships mended. Stress lifted. Clarity received. Peace given. Illnesses cured. Anything is possible if we trust and praise God despite what we are going through.

Leading By Example

At STORYCHURCH our Weekend services are deliberately tailored for the unchurched. When we’re planning the sermon, and service elements, we always try to view it through the lens of a visitor – someone who most likely has not grown up in church and is currently far from God.

When we’re teaching from the platform on Sunday mornings we’re careful not to make assumptions of our congregation’s biblical knowledge, so extra explanations are provided to ensure everyone is able to follow.

Everyone stand up and worship!

New guests always arrive early and are always in the room, seated and waiting for the service to start. If a lot of our regular people still in the foyer when the service starts then our guests can feel a little lost and exposed.

So when we start our services with a song, why do we expect new guests to know what to do? Chances are, they’re not sure.

They are going to want to look around to see what everyone else in the room is doing. That means they are looking to see what you are doing, and how you are expressing yourself in worship!

We Need To Model It

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

As people, invested into the life of STORYCHURCH, new guests will recognize you and look to you for examples of how to live out their faith and that includes how to express themselves in worship.

This makes us all worship leaders in a sense. It is our (collective) responsibility to shape the culture of worship at our church. It is us that define the boundaries – negative or positive – to how people express themselves.

If we want a church that worships well (and I hope we do), then WE need to model it – and model it well.

[Solomon] knelt in full view of the whole congregation, stretched his hands to heaven, and prayed. (2 Chronicles 6:13 MSG)

Unleash Your Emotion

Let’s not be afraid to unleash a little emotion when we gather together to sing. We’ve already discussed how emotion helps us to connect deeply with the words – by marrying the passion we have for Jesus with the words leaving our mouths.

Imagine singing “Oh No You Never Let Go…” with zero emotion. Who is going to believe those words have any merit? Who is going to believe that God has never actually left you?

Don’t fake it – that would be worse. Be authentic and vulnerable before God. Let Him work through you when you worship. Your emotions will kick in automatically.

God Wants Your All

Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)

God wants our all in worship. He wants us fully engaged – all in. God in turn will have permission to do a work in our life because we have surrendered to Him. We will be changed from the inside out! The passion, excitement and joy will bubble out of us and will be CONTAGIOUS!

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Change Your Course

999884_10151770223991929_927477560_nI’ve caught a bit of a running bug lately.  So several times a week I’m out sweating along a route in our community as I try to get into shape.

I can see progress – that’s the thing that keeps me going most of all – constant improvement.  While I’m getting fitter and have more stamina, I have goals which are still to be reached.

I’m not loosing motivation – not at all – but I couldn’t help thinking when I was out on a run on Sunday about how I could apply analogies from running to ministry.  Yes, even while listening to Daft Punk simultaneously.

Change Your Route

I can get bored of a route fairly quickly.  I regularly need to expand on my route, or explore a different route altogether.  Here is what I find when I do that:

  • It freshens up my run.  I often have a new lease of energy.
  • It heightens awareness of my surroundings.  I’m more observant.  I learn more about my neighborhood.
  • I find new shortcuts and better terrain.
  • It keeps me challenged and motivated.
  • It may be a different route, but goal, start and end destination are the same.

I couldn’t help but run parallels (pun intended) with ministry.  We can get lethargic or apathetic sometimes in ministry because every time we set out, we keep doing the same thing (and getting the same results).  Maybe it’s time to look at a route change?

We shouldn’t keep doing the same thing just because it’s producing adequate results.  What if there’s a better approach?  Wouldn’t it feel awesome to have renewed vision, awareness, enthusiasm and energy?

Then it’s best to keep moving and adapting, because sooner or later you’ll run the risk of getting bored with the same routine.

So, the next time you’re putting that set list together, planning that sermon, or launching church programs, try something a little different.  Get a little creative with how you reach the end goal.

Support Each Other

I run alone most of the time, but I do enjoy talking to others about running.  Sharing successes and even failures.  Letting others know about things I’m learning and also learning from them.  I have just recently been enjoying a little bit of competition with some friends over Nike+ (my preferred running app).

This is important in ministry too.  We need people alongside us that we can learn from.  We need people who have the ability to push us (motivate and encourage).  We need people who understand our failures and believe and share in our goals.  We need people to call us out when the route we’re taking will not help us achieve those goals.

Keep Running

Let me know if you see any other parallels between running and ministry.  These parallels were drawn when my brain was flowing with endorphins and made perfect sense to me at time of writing.

The important thing is, to keep running toward Jesus – “I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” – Philippians 3:14

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Easter Weekend – Invite! Invite! Invite!

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If you’re involved (i.e. serving) in a church, you’ll know that it is Easter this weekend.  Heck, you’ve probably been working towards this weekend for weeks now.  OK, some of you haven’t, as I’m still getting visitors arrive on my blog searching for Easter set lists – geeessh!

You also probably know that more people than normal usually turn out for church on Sunday, all dressed up in their fancy clothes.  That’s all great.  These folk already know about your church.  They already know what to expect because they are churched folk, even though they only come for Christmas, Easter, weddings and funerals.  I’m not downplaying this – it’s still super to see all the old and new faces together.

The thing is, the people you really need in your Easter service are still at home, on the street, in the bar, at the gym, fishing, working, sleeping, doing the same thing they do every Sunday morning (or whenever you happen to hold your services).  They do not know the significance of Easter.  It’s not a big deal to them and we need to understand that.

In fact, I’m fairly sure I could find some of my neighbors who have not even heard of Easter.  No joke.  Can I name all of the Muslim or Hindu holy days, or even tell you what they are about?  Nope.

I’ve been struck recently by Peter’s vision of all the animals in the sheet, and how God needed to show him that it was OK to reach out to a certain group of people.  I mean, God had to show Peter this?!  Come on Peter!!  God is for everyone and everyone needs God.  Simple as that.

So this year, in addition to inviting your neighbors, and those friends that never come, challenge yourself to invite people you wouldn’t normally invite.  Invite people you wouldn’t think would even be interested in church.  Invite people you never even talk to.  And do what I did this year and invite people you don’t even like!

And if you’re embarrassed to invite people to your own church, invite them to another church down the road!  Ha ha!  Don’t hold them back from a possible encounter with Jesus!

Someone is reading this and thinking, “yeah but you should be inviting people all the time, every week“.

That is very true.  However, there’s something special about Easter.  The church focuses on so many things throughout the year, but at Easter the whole global church is in FULL-ON celebration mode.  High five anyone?

We talk about God’s unconditional and unfathomable love for us.  We talk about Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us.  We talk about HOPE.  We tell stories of rebirth, restoration and renewal.  We celebrate that the tomb stone rolled away and Jesus rose from the dead!  We celebrate that new life and new beginnings is available for everyone.

So church person – Invite! Invite! Invite!

If you don’t normally go to church, or you’re new to the area and don’t have a church home, come visit us at STORYCHURCH this weekend.  We do church just for you.  And come as you are.  You don’t need to go buy fancy clothes for one day.  Come and hear the greatest story ever told, and get ready to let Hope in.

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Turning The World Upside Down #upsidedown2013 #worshipset

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(photo by Mark Dolejs)

It was a great privilege to lead worship for the kids from Grey Stone Baptist this weekend at their annual Metamorphosis event.

  • Here For You – Matt Redman (B)
  • The Same Love – Paul Baloche (B)
  • Never Let Go – Matt Redman (B)
  • Thoughts on Acts 17:2-8 (see below)
  • Your Love Never Fails – Chris McClarney (A)
  • Blessed Be Your Name – Matt Redman (A)
  • How Great Is Our God – Chris Tomlin (A)
  • Speaker – Andy Duke
  • 10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman (G)
  • Lead Me To The Cross – Brooke Fraser (G)
  • Majesty (Chorus) – Delirious (G)
  • Set A Fire – United Pursuit (G)

The theme of the weekend was Upside Down, so I shared the following thoughts on Acts 17:2-8.

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Top 30 Songs at STORYCHURCH in 2012

Here’s the top 30 songs (by number of times played) during 2012 at STORYCHURCH.

The band practiced and played a total of 65 unique songs throughout 2012.  That’s quite the achievement – so proud of our team.

Are there any songs you think should make our top 30 next year?  Let me know!

CCLI# Song Times Played
4556538 Everlasting God by Brenton Brown and Ken Riley 13
4477026 Your Grace Is Enough by Matt Maher 13
5894275 God Is Able by Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan 12
5675274 Like A Lion by Daniel Bashta 12
5337172 Your Love Never Fails by Chris McClarney and Anthony Skinner 11
3148428 Forever by Chris Tomlin 10
5152735 God With Us by Jim Bryson, Nathan Cochran, Barry Graul, Bart Millard, Mike Scheuchzer, and Robby Shaffer 10
4847027 Happy Day by Ben Cantelon and Tim Hughes 10
4348399 How Great Is Our God by Ed Cash, Jesse Reeves, and Chris Tomlin 9
5677416 Our God by Jonas Myrin, Matt Redman, Jesse Reeves, and Chris Tomlin 9
4705190 Came To My Rescue by Joel Davies, Marty Sampson, and Dylan Thomas 8
5032549 How He Loves by John Mark McMillan 8
5371341 Oh You Bring by Matt Crocker 8
5376377 You Alone Can Rescue by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman 8
3798438 Blessed Be Your Name by Beth Redman and Matt Redman 7
5124055 Cannons by Philip Wickham 7
4674166 You Never Let Go by Beth Redman and Matt Redman 7
3818569 Consuming Fire by Tim Hughes 6
4219071 Majesty by Stuart Garrard and Martin Smith 6
4447960 Revelation Song by Jennie Lee Riddle 6
5060793 Desert Song by Brooke Fraser 5
5858132 God Of The Redeemed by Claire McClure, Paul McClure, and Jeremy Riddle 5
4591782 Mighty To Save by Ben Fielding and Reuben Morgan 5
5648751 Because Of Your Love by Phil Wickham 4
Christ Has Risen by Matt Maher 4
5037070 God Of This City by Richard Bleakley, Boyd Aaron, Peter Comfort, Ian Jordan, Peter Kernaghan, and Andrew McCann 4
5925649 Here For You by Matt Maher, Matt Redman, Jesse Reeves, and Tim Wanstall 4
4662491 Hosanna by Paul Baloche and Brenton Brown 4
4047920 Jesus Paid It All by John E. Coates, John T. Grape, and Elvina M. Hall 4
One Thing Remains 4
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What are we to do in the face of such evil?

newtown-ct-loveOn Friday, December 14th, tragedy hit a small community in Newtown, CT.  A lone gunman entered a small elementary school and took the lives of 20 little children and 6 adults.

What a heinous and incomprehensible act!  You have to wonder how anyone could do such a thing, especially to little ones so defenseless.  This question and more will be on everyone’s mind while we process the events of last Friday.

Some will be targeting the government, blaming parties and policies.  Others will be targeting God and His authority and control, particularly those closest to the victims and their families.

What are we to do in the face of such evil?

The Bible tells us that, “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world…” (1 John 4:4).  We also know that Jesus, through his death on the cross has already won the battle over evil.  Jesus is still the hope for our nation, and through Him we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

Through Him, we can change the world.

Not through politics.  Not through government.  Not even through large Christian denominations. But [only] through Jesus, as a body of believers that traverses all walks of life, political viewpoints, denominations, ethnicities and nationalities.

We can help bring about glimpses of His kingdom here on earth.  Yes, there will be set backs.  It may look at times that evil is winning.  But it can’t, because the victory is already ours, and there’s no changing that.

I’m reading a book at the moment by Andy Stanley called “Deep & Wide”.  In chapter 8, Andy describes one of their faith catalysts, “Pivotal Circumstances”.  I believe an event like this is a pivotal circumstance for both unchurched and churched people alike.  The book states, “the conclusions we draw about God in the midst of our pivotal circumstances drive us toward or away from him”.

Let’s pray that those affected by this will choose to draw closer to God.  Pray that they turn to God for guidance, comfort and healing.  I don’t believe the alternative will ever lead to real healing and release.

On Sunday we had planned to continue with our “Very Story Christmas” series, and use lessons from the Grinch movie, sing Christmas carols, have skits on stage with a life-sized Grinch, and so on.

However, when it came to Saturday evening, all this was weighing heavy on our hearts and I was completely struggling with my planned song choices.  I felt some of the songs would be hard to sing, or even harder to lead people in.  Jeremy was also having trouble getting what he wanted to say to link with the planned series theme.

We decided it was best to completely rearrange Sunday’s service to be more sensitive to how people may be feeling.  We knew we had to respond in a better way to this pure manifestation of evil.  We dropped the series and went back to the drawing board.

I started the service with Your Grace Is Enough by (Maher/Tomlin [A]), followed by God With Us (Mercy Me [A]).  I think one of the original choices was “O Come All Ye Faithful, Joyful and Triumphant!“.  I’m not sure if you can agree with me, but I did not feel right getting up and singing that with a big grin, so we dropped it.

If fact, we dropped Christmas carols altogether from the set.  When I was finished updating the set, we had one song survive from the original plan.  I am thankful that I work with such a gracious and understanding team of musicians and vocalists.  They took the changes in their stride.

Jeremy’s message responded to what had happened, reminded us that evil will not win and encouraged us to action in order to help change the world around us.

The second song set started with the chorus of Whole World In His Hands (Tim Hughes [B]).  I wanted to reaffirm that God is in control no matter how it might look at times.  We followed up with Because Of Your Love (Phil Wickham [B]) while people came forward for communion.

Next we played the only surviving song from the original set, Came To My Rescue (Hillsong [B]).  The song talks of surrender and also asking God to be more evident in our lives that others may see Him in us.

I ended the set with Blessed Be The Name (Redman [B]) which talks of pain, and still choosing to worship God in the midst of it.  Probably the hardest lyric for me in that song is, “You give and take away, you give and take away…” (Job 1:21) and this weekend the lyric was even more poignant than normal.

Regardless of my (or your) belief on whether God does give and take away, I continue to hold on to one thing above all else – God is in control.  I urge you to do the same, because as soon as we loose sight of that fact everything really does begin to fall apart.

Matt Redman talks about Blessed Be Your Name here.

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