the baby and the bathwater


input – big
February 23, 2008, 10:33 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

big: of major concern, importance, gravity, or the like

I was having coffee with a friend recently who has just moved to Cheltenham having previously been on the staff of a church in London. He said that his boss at that church had, during one particular discussion on the way forward on something, had once said to him: “Yes, I do believe in democracy in all of this. I am convinced about the one man one vote philosophy. And I have to tell you, that I am that one man, and I have that one vote.’

And I have to say that something resonates with me on this. It is far far easier to work with people who just do what you say all the time and don’t complain. You may remember me saying this before, but in my last job in the Insurance industry I was given the nickname ‘the bulldozer’ by some of my colleagues. Maybe not the best recommendation on my people skills, but one I was kind of proud of in a sad sort of way! Of course, I mean, I like the creative process and the brainstorm as much as the next man, but at the end of the day, I very quickly want to move from discussion to decision, and often my natural instinct is to say to my team: ‘look: the deal is this – you do what I say and I will still pay your salary.’

Some people tell me it’s not the best way to win friends and influence people.

But now you know what I’m really like. Deep down.

There is a point in bearing my soul in this way, though.

And the point is this.

How do you raise up big leaders – leaders who will do big and significant things in the kingdom – without losing any sense of unity and direction and purpose and vision?

And I would like to suggest a few things that I have found important in the team I work with. Not that in any way I have been great at this, but they are my thoughts!

The heart of it

Volunteer or paid staff, young or old, experienced or rooky, the first thing is always character. Choices about leaders rest on this probably more than anything. Good character underpins trust, which is vital if you are going to be able to release big bits of stuff to other leaders. Good character results in an otherliness that promotes unity rather than self-promotion that tends to be divisive. And the bigger the responsibilities, the greater the strength of character required. Almost without fail, significant character issues come back to bite you.

I have the teeth marks.

The big and the small of it

I remember one of my worship pastor friends asking one of his younger worship leaders to help put chairs out for a meeting once, only to get the younger worship leader square up to him and say ‘I don’t do chairs!!’. I remember hearing another story where a pastor in a large church stuck his head out of his office and called into the open-plan section outside his door ‘anyone making me a cup of tea then?’ He tells me how he was marched up to the office kitchen and ‘encouraged’ to make the whole of the rest of the office tea himself!

Big leaders seem to take on the small things with as much enthusiasm as the big things. My boss expects me to lead worship at new wine for 4000 people and also expects me to turn up on a Saturday morning to turn the pa on for the Trinity Women’s event.

And to smile through both (which, actually I do!).

So when we look for people who could take on big responsibilities, I think we need to look for those who are happy to do the chairs and make the tea.

And smile a lot.

Running with it

In my mind, there is a big difference between ownership and freedom when it comes to responsibilities. I think it’s far easier to release things to people if they know what their boundaries are, and can operate effectively within them. So often you hear people say things like ‘I can’t own this unless I have freedom to do exactly what I want’. Unfortunately, where you operate within a team of any nature, complete freedom is never an option. Or to coin a phrase of a well known TV advert at the moment ‘It doesn’t work like that’.

Just do it

Sometimes in ministry you have to be able to say to people ‘Just do it’. Sometimes things just can’t be fully explained or justified – sometimes because of confidentiality, sometimes because of time, sometimes because of wider pastoral or leadership considerations. It’s not the norm, but sometimes you need to be able call on your equity with people and ask them to ‘Just do it’.

Occasionally I have to say to younger worship leaders – actually, just change that song, just use that person in your band, just turn up at that prayer meeting and lead. It is such a huge relief when they just say ‘ok then’. One guiding principle in my role is this: I choose to be uncomplicated. It maybe that my Pastor wants a particular song, or wants to intervene in a dispute between staff members. My choice is to be uncomplicated. Doesn’t mean I don’t share my views! It just means that now and then, I choose just to do it. I choose to accept that occasionally the deal is ‘You do what I say and I will still pay your salary!’

So input number 5: people who understand the heart of it, people who appreciate the big and the small of it, people who run with it, and occasionally people who are happy just do it.

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input – rejoicing in the success of others
February 16, 2008, 12:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This is an article I wrote some time ago, but in our current look into the way we can invest in others, it seemed the right moment to give it a new airing!

One Christmas I went and watched my daughter take part in her school’s nativity play. She was playing the lesser-known character from the biblical text of ‘snatcher the thief’! It was a proud moment to watch my daughter act well, remember her lines, and get laughs in all the right places. Right at the end for the big final song, she found herself at the front of stage, lights on her, cameras flashing, singing her heart out. It was fantastic. I’ve even got it all on home video.

I’ve been reflecting a little bit on what it means to truly rejoice in the success of others. And as I remember that Christmas play, and watch the video, I realise that as her father, I was desperate for her to succeed – it was natural. And when it all went right, as it did this time, it was easy to rejoice in that success. But equally I realise that this is not naturally the way of the world. When I worked in the finance industry some years ago it seemed that success seemed more reliant on making sure other people failed as individuals crept up the corporate ladder. Even, dare I say it, in Christian ministry there can be an unhealthy competitiveness, if not outright jealousy when others do well. Worship leaders (and i speak as one!) can be the worse, especially now so much of the worship industry has a commercial aspect to it.

When I started heading up the worship ministry for New Wine, I sensed that I should be using the platform I had been given to raise up other leaders – and I vowed to the Lord that I would! I remember the very next year giving a young worship leader a chance to lead for a week. And I have to say he did very, very well. In fact I remember being on the font row as he lead worship thinking – ‘I thought it would be good, but i didn’t think it would be this good’. And in some ways, I was struggling a little with it – the worship was going so well, and I was not leading it!. And God spoke to me in that moment – it was as though he said ‘If you mean what you say about raising others up, this is what it will feel like’.

There’s that time when David had slain Goliath, and as he and Saul and the army travelled back, the people of Israel were chanting ‘Saul kills in his thousands, but David kills in his ten thousands’. And we see how badly Saul reacted to that – he couldn’t cope with the new guy doing well and getting so much adulation. And this reminded me a little of how I had reacted that evening at New Wine. And I also recall how I very quickly got to the stage where I realised that I didn’t want to feel the way I did. And in fact that the words the God spoke to me that time were more of a challenge to sort it out rather than a life sentence to feeling rubbish every time someone else succeeded! And so I’ve done a little work trying to articulate what I think we need to grow in if we are to be people who truly rejoice in the success of those we are raising up.

Wisdom

Comparing Saul and David, we get some idea of the root of wisdom. When things started to look like they were going pear-shaped for Saul, he started to take things into his own hands (1 Sam 13). When things got tough for David, he looked to God (1 Sam 17). As someone once said ‘A person who approached each decision with a trust in God, and acknowledges Him rather than lean on his own understanding, is wise.

If we are to see others succeed, and rejoice in that, we need incredible wisdom in choice of person. It is actually quite easy to put people on a platform. It’s actually quite hard to get the right person. Putting the wrong person on a platform, how ever well intentioned, is not a wise thing. Putting someone up on a big platform at the wrong time, could destroy them if things go badly. In my role here at Trinity, despite being the worship pastor for 11 years, I have only really invested significantly in 5 or 6 other worship leaders: I have seen potentially hundreds of hopefuls though! We need huge amounts of wisdom in who we invest in.

Generosity

We need to develop a generous attitude. Some time ago I read a book by Gordan McDonald called ‘secrets of the generous life’ and it’s really been a huge challenge to me. If I am to see others succeed, I need to be generous, not only with my time, my affection and praise or my money, but in giving them the great places to serve and work where they have chance of success.

Loyalty

Loyalty is not an ‘in thing’ these days, except maybe in terms of financial loyalty through store cards and the like. But relational loyalty is often hard to come by these days. As I reflected on my own journey in ministry, I realise in many ways I am the product of the loyalty of others around me. Much of my success is down to people with the guts to stand by me, especially when things go wrong, and i’ve made bad decisions.

Now of course, or first loyalty is to the Lord, and I’m not saying we need to blindly follow others and never disagree. But actually, I think we are all too ready to disown people when things go a little astray, rather than stay loyal. As someone who has had experience of people laying into me when things have seemed hard (a long time ago!) and experience of people being loyal when things are tough – I know first hand how important this has been. As people intent on raising others up, we should be intent on standing by them through thick and thin!

Bounce-back-ability

This probably isn’t a proper word, but it should be. What I mean by this, is the ability to get back up, after falling flat on your face, and start again.

An invitation to invest in the success of others is an invitation to fail. There will be times when those you choose let you down, sometimes very very badly. Look at Samuel. He put a lot of effort into Saul. But Saul let him down. And Samuel grieved long and hard (1 Sam 15). BUt God said to him ‘How long are you going to mope over Saul. Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going’.

Here is the call to leadership: fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. There will be times when others – even those who we invest hugely in – let us down. The key to leadership is getting back up and starting again. Or as Churchill put it: ‘leadership is about moving from one failure to the next without loosing enthusiasm.’

Wisdom, Generosity, Loyalty and Bouncebackability. Four things we need to grow in if we are to truly see others succeed, and for us to rejoice in it.



input: mr grumpy
February 13, 2008, 10:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

grumpy: surly or ill-tempered; discontentedly or sullenly irritable; grouchy

I recon that on my death bed, one of the things I would most regret about life would be if I hadn’t had a whole bucket load of fun along the way. And even now, if I could re-write bits of my worship leading journey, the thing I would put in the script would be a whole lot of laughter.

You will know by now that from time to time, my team call me Mr grumpy. And let’s face it, I can be very grumpy from time to time. And even as I write this, I feel a little convicted about my miserableness. Whether it’s because my three shot latte isn’t quite hot enough, or that my pannini was only cooked for the standard three minutes rather than the four minutes that I prefer. I get especially grumpy when my in-ear monitors don’t work properly, (Although let’s face it, in-ear monitors are designed specifically to not work properly), and I get grumpy when my bass player turns up the usual 4 minutes late on a Sunday morning (what is it about bass players that they are always 4 minutes late. to the second!).

Every so often our church makes the local press. Especially at things like the carol service. And I have noticed that there is never a picture of me in the paper. It’s always someone like Melody Ball or Hitchman or Bailey. And that really annoys me. I do all the hard work and slog my guts out for months then right at the end, Hitchman or Bailey turn up and steal the glory. It’s so hurtful.

But maybe it’s because I just look to miserable.

I have now spotted this permanent little groove on my face between my eyes that I recon isn’t a laughter line, but a grumpiness line. How sad.

And I know the effect that grumpiness in others has on me. The thing that causes me most sleepless nights: winging and critical emails. The thing that causes me to want to avoid coming into the office each day: the possibility that I may have to have a conversation with a grumpy person. The thing that drains the life out of me the most: the miserable egit who can always see the problem in what I do.

Barry Kissell is a great friend of our church, and recently he talked about the fact that he didn’t have new year’s resolutions, but new year’s intentions. So here is one of mine: to have as much fun as possible without breaking the ten commandments.

And when I look back at some of the most enjoyable and fruitful times in my worship leading journey, they seem to have come when I have had a bunch of happy smiling faces around me. I look back to New Wine when I have had Melody, Laura, Jules and Nae (the original ‘diamonds’) and Jake and Kev and Stu and Pete and Dave playing with me. It was awesome fun. I think about the time that our team of pastors here at Trinity go for our bi-weekly ‘pastors meeting’ at a little local Italian and share dodgy jokes or take the rise out of Hitchman. I think about the times that at worship team practice we abandon our instruments and plug in ‘guitar heros 2’ onto the big video screens in church.

The people that seem to sustain me in ministry (apart from Jesus of course) seem to be the fun people, the people that bring laughter, the people who smile. So one of the things I would encourage others to do is seek out people who inject fun into their lives and ministry. Learn to laugh at others and yourself without getting insecure. And maybe when that grumpy person starts to head towards you on the street in town – why not just cross over and walk by on the other side.

Certainly this is definitely my intention:

No more Mr Grumpy.



input – leadership
February 9, 2008, 3:46 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

We are all on a journey. And the most important thing for all of us is that journey is headed towards God and the things of God.

Having been leading worship for 25 years or so, and see many others give up on, or fall away from ministry, I truly know that it is by the grace of God that I am still standing. And also I know that in many ways, my own personal journey towards God and the things of His heart will never end: I have so far yet to go.

When I started out, though, I don’t think I ever really appreciated how much of my ministry would be about leadership. I sort of assumed that I could stroll up Sunday by Sunday, plug my guitar in, and head off in worship. As long as I continued to play well, write good songs, sing sort of in tune, and roughly hold a band together musically, then all would be well! But it seems that over time, I am having to make bigger and bigger decisions, bring together and envision more and more people, manage large and larger budgets, communicate with a wider and more diverse bunch of leaders, and maintain focus amidst an ever increasing spectrum of views and opinions.

So much for just playing a few chords then.

And as anyone knows, leadership involves making hard decisions, and from time to time, upsetting people. And this brings about a huge dilemma. Because as a worship leader I naturally want to be everyone’s friend. I want to try and make sure that I don’t do anything that would make one of my congregation think ‘this guy really hacked me off so there’s no way he’s gonna lead me in worship today!’ It’s sort of expected that a pastor will upset people some of the time through the decision they make. But not a worship leader. That just isn’t done!

To me, it feels like I have to tread a very fine line. It can be totally challenging. And as I bumble on from mistake to mistake, I do sometimes wonder that, if someone had told me all of this earlier I may have had a smoother ride.

And then of course, once you recognise that you are a leader, you also then realise that God sets the bar very high in terms of acceptable lifestyle and acceptable behaviour. (1 Tim 3). In one sense the bar is high for anyone. But for the leader, who is very visible and subject to ever increasing scrutiny, failure to meet such standards have greater implications and consequences. Mistakes are amplified. Unfortunately you can’t avoid that. So the bar is high for good reason: God want to protect the honour of His name and the integrity of His church. Leaders need to be well thought of, not pushy, not money hungry, not conceited, not in it for what they can get out of it. Oh how important for worship leaders!

In these 25 years of leading worship, I have seen many worship leaders, some of them friends, fall away from ministry. It is tragic. In one sense, their stories are repeated day by day in the lives of many many people who love and serve God but which go virtually unnoticed beyond their own circles. Yet for the leader, their position and profile unfortunately means that the impact of their failure is often far far greater reaching than the failure itself would seem to merit. Mistakes are amplified.

But these instructions in 1 Timothy are more than instructions to protect us from downfall, they are exhortation to inspire us to do greater things for the kingdom. If we are well thought of, we will hopefully not only have measures in place that protects our integrity, we will also hopefully have equity with people that increases our capacity to take risks. If we are not pushy, we will hopefully not only have a gentle character that will uphold the dignity of others, but also hopefully increase our ability to make wise decisions. If we are not money hungry, we will hopefully not only lessen our tendency to use finances inappropriately, but also increase our sense of kingdom values. If we are not conceited then not only do we hopefully reduce the chance that we will pursue our own status, but that we will be able to rejoice more in the success of others under our leadership. And if we are not in things for what we can get out of it, then hopefully we will not only reduce the chance that we will give up when that recognition doesn’t come, but also hopefully be fired up to run the race with conviction and finish well.

So my second influence is this: understanding more what it means to be in leadership



input – the edge
February 2, 2008, 3:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

the edge: the thin, sharp side of the blade of a cutting instrument

When I was in my early twenties I used to go hill walking alot. I’ve still got the same pair of walking boots I bought 20 years ago. They were quite pricey, but it just proves one of my theories in life : that it’s better to go for quality as it saves money in the long term. It’s why I have a Mac. Interestingly, having insisted on Mac’s for my creative team at church amongst a huge amount of cynicism, slowly, as more and more people get frustrated with slow, crashing, uninspiring pc’s are now seeing the sense in my ways. Mark Bailey, our lead pastor, even gave a talk at staff prayers recently on what we can learn from a Mac Store!

The revolution has begun…..

Anyway, where was I.

Oh yes, hill walking.

I remember one year we were staying in a youth hostel (remember those….) and we walked up Scarfell – the highest peak in England. We went the proper way up – the long way – and we were totally knackered by the end of it. Sitting in the youth hostel that evening we argued about who was going to drive to the pub. I won, and my friend John drove us the 500 yards to this great little place for pie and chips and beer. I can honestly say, that, after the exertion of the day, the two pints of real ale that accompanied the pie and chips were the most beautiful two pints I have ever tasted.

Anyway, another big memory from those walking trips was the time we went up Helvellyn and over Striding Edge. Basically, Striding Edge is this long thin strip of rock at pretty much the high point of that path. You go up this well worn route that is pretty comfortable, but eventually everything gets much more exposed, and scary, with steeper and steeper drops each side. And the final walk along striding edge can be terrifying. But the views are incredible. Get it on a good day and it gives some of the most beautiful landscapes you can imagine.

One of the things that I wish someone had been able to tell me about worship leading when I started out, was that it doesn’t get easier and easier as time goes by. It gets more scary every time. You would think that all the training and practice and leading week by week would eventually make the ground you are walking on feel more secure.

But it doesn’t.

I would have thought that, now having led worship at some of the biggest conferences in the UK, and travelled to various other places – even where the language is different – that my feet would feel that they have a stronger footing.

But they don’t seem to.

More often now than ever, I seem to be standing up, leading worship for my church, feeling like I haven’t really clue what I am doing. You may not know what it’s like to be up in front of people, with that horrible sensation of sweat dripping down your back, gripped by fear that you are making a total hash of things. But take it from me, it’s not very comfortable.

Not very comfortable at all.

And it’s as though my sense of self-belief is getting fainter and fainter the more I do this.

And maybe that’s not a bad thing.

But I wish that someone would have told me that. Whereas most things I seem to have been taught along the way seem to point me at getting more competent – and I guess that is no bad thing – not much seems to have prepared me for the fact that I would, over time, feel like I am walking more and more on the edge.

So the people that are influencing me most at the moment are those who are treading a thinner line – not people who are talking about it (because actually, most people do talk about it), but people actually treading it. So I am listening less to worship leaders who think that a tour of the US is a risky place, but listening to those who are stepping out in the less glamourous mission fields of their own local communities to lead worship. I am listening less to those voices who are producing books that expound the virtues of their own songs, and seeking out those who are delving into the scripture to really understand the nature and Kingdom of God – theologians in particular. I am listening less and less to people who seem to count success by the number of people at their conferences, and more to people who are working out the dangerous game of raising up new people within their own church. I am less interested in those people who are big-ing themselves up because their song is in the top 25 of the CCLI chart, and far more interested in those people who are writing songs that will meet the needs of their own church even though that means there is no chance of a commercial success.

And it’s not just in the whole area of gathered worship. As I try and lead a creative team at church – of designers and video editors and writers – I am realising the power of creative communication. It’s human nature for mankind to be engaged by all things creative: we were made like that. And a large part of that God-given creativity is about walking on the edge. So when we push creative boundaries we find ourselves having a powerful tool with which to engage those outside the church. You only need to see the sorry state of most church literature, design and magazines to realise that it is unsurprising that a large part of the church has lost the power to communicate effectively with those outside it’s walls. And as a result, it’s message is being lost.

But pushing boundaries does not make life easy. In fact the more I seem to tread a thinner line, not only do things feel more scary, but the more I seem to attract questioning voices. The more I push the creative boundaries, the more that I seem to attract the attention of the critical spirits. The more I try and step up onto the mountain peaks, the louder I seem to hear people shout up at me ‘come down, can’t you see the damage you are doing, don’t you care how much all this is costing?’ And actually I don’t deal with that very well. And I need to deal with it better.

The trouble is, that once you’ve seen the views from the scary places, you never want to go back down.

So input number 1: people walking the thinner line.