I am on the way back to Iowa from the Worship God 09 conference in Gaithersburg, Maryland and thought I’d take the opportunity to synthesize some of the thoughts that were triggered from the time I spent at the conference.
The biggest lesson (i.e. reminder) is this; the central motivating factor for ministry must be Christ and the cross. The cross is central in the scriptures, from the covenant with Adam in Genesis 3:15 to the worship of the Lamb around the throne in Revelation 5. If we devote ourselves to loving God and exalting Christ, first in our life and then in our ministry, God will be honored and fruitfulness will result. It is truly that simple.
Having attended scores of conferences throughout my life as a worship leader, I have suffered under the pressure of coming up with the next cool innovation, having the latest technology, adapting to the newest trend. The pressure is immense and when you get on the conveyor belt that tells you effectiveness comes through creative effort and polished performances, it can be unbearable. When the church growth movement of the 80’s exploded on the scene everyone bought into the idea that our effectiveness at growing churches and reaching lost people was in direct proportion to our level of innovation and creativity within service programming. I lived in that world for so many years and still feel the effects as we scurry in planning meetings to find the next great thing that will bring people to the church. It’s like running on a broken treadmill that won’t stop. You run as long as you can and then, when you can’t take it any more, you fall off and are left battered and bruised.... completely burned-out.
Does this mean we don’t work diligently in preparation for worship services? No. Does this mean we don’t employ creativity? No. Does this mean we no longer concern ourselves with reaching people for Christ? Absolutely not.
What does it mean?
It means we consume our lives with loving and abiding in Christ and helping others to do the same. Don’t believe me? Read the words of Jesus from John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Want to be fruitful? Be compelled by your love for Jesus Christ and by abiding in Him.
This leads me to a few challenges...
First, we must be dedicated to growing in our knowledge and affection for God through intentional study. The argument that growing in faith shouldn’t require diligent study just doesn’t make sense. How does a husband best love and honor his wife? He does it by studying her. By learning how to serve her, what delights her, how she communicates, what her unique gifts and abilities are. If a husband is dedicated to the discipline of studying his wife, he will grow to love and appreciate her more. This is why we must study the Word of God, listen to Biblical messages in Church, read quality books, listen to Christ exalting podcasts and music. The more we know God, the more we are amazed and changed by His character and purposes.
Second, we must dedicate ourselves to delighting in God and seeing our worship of Him as an end in itself. Another way a husband grows in his love for his wife by delighting in her. As John Piper illustrated in several of this weeks sessions, a husband does not delight in his wife by bringing her flowers and responding to her “thanks” by saying “it was my duty.” Nor does he honor her by by saying “your welcome”, all the while hoping his generosity will result in a good supper. Our affection and love for Christ must be an end in itself. It’s not Jesus and something else (i.e. if you love Jesus, he will give you a nice car or provide you with health). The greatest way we can delight in God is by finding our satisfaction in Him and Him alone (versus finding our satisfaction in other things like new electronics, sex, money, or fame).
To clarify, growing in our knowledge of God and finding Him as our source of delight is not our way of manipulating God, it is His means for graciously bearing fruit within our lives.
One of my favorite practical examples of this came in the session where C.J. Mehaney and Bob Kauflin were interviewed about the dynamic between a pastor and worship leader. When C.J. was the Senior Pastor working with Bob, he would communicate critical feedback by pulling Bob aside and saying something like, “First, you did an excellent job with...... and second, I have a few minor things to share with you. To be clear, these things didn’t hinder the worship of God and His purposes for us, but they are points that will help you grow effectiveness for the next time you lead.” Did you catch that? He said, “These things didn’t hinder the worship of God and His purposes for us.” What C.J. was doing was not putting the burden of God’s work on Bob’s shoulders (i.e. if only you’d have performed better, God could have worked). The fruit of the service in the stirring of the hearts was ultimately God’s responsibility.
Do you get what I am writing here? By loving and abiding in Christ, and helping others to do the same through community worship, we are taken off the hook. The calling of people to faith and trust in Jesus is then in the hands of God and not ultimately contingent upon our ability to live up to the cultures standards of relevance or excellence. In our life this doesn’t mean we don’t work hard and live obediently, but it means we don’t put the cart before the horse. Obedience IS the fruit of a life that is abiding in Christ. Abiding in Christ IS NOT the fruit of obedience.
I pray this is can be an encouragement to those who labor in ministry. Ministry of any calling can be very difficult and even painful at times. Sometimes it is the calling alone that sustains us. For us to add to this by taking on the responsibility for “saving the world” is to take on a burden too great. A burden that must be left to God alone. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” Galatians 5:1