I AM the Door: Reflections on the Gospel of John

            There are so many things I could comment on about John’s gospel that it’s hard to know where to start! I’ve long been intrigued by the way it opens, not with a narrative account of Jesus’ birth like Matthew and Luke; and not without preamble as in Mark’s gospel. John instead takes the time to introduce his readers to Jesus by directing them back to Genesis chapter 1… “in the beginning…”.  He states that Jesus (the Word) is God, which Jesus Himself also claimed throughout His ministry. These statements, as revealed in the gospels and in John in particular, are often lost on modern-day, non-Jewish readers, but to the readers and hearers in that day the intent and meaning behind Jesus’ claims would have been both crystal clear and shocking. His use of the phrase “I Am” was directly and deliberately correlated to God’s name for Himself as revealed in His conversation with Moses (Exodus 3:14), which the Jews would have immediately recognized. It’s pertinent to note that Jesus didn’t merely make these statements verbally, but He also communicated these truths by His actions. For instance, He stated, “I am the bread of life”, and also miraculously fed thousands of people. He claimed to be “the light of the world”, and healed a blind man, literally illuminating that man’s world!  

            I think one of the things I notice more now than I used to is the depth and character of Jesus’ personality. He’s not the dry, boring, humorless man that is so often depicted in movies and paintings; and even by many Christians I’ve encountered over the years, including myself at times. He overturned the status quo (and continues to do so), in much the same way he overturned tables in the temple. He cared very little about what was culturally and socially acceptable. He spoke to women and children, slaves and foreigners. He didn’t approach His conversations with people in a scripted fashion. Every encounter He had was uniquely tailored to that individual.  He asked lots of questions, not because He needed the information but because the other person needed to be drawn out or challenged in some way, yet always with the other person’s best interest in mind. One of my favorite passages is in chapter 8 where the Pharisees brought a woman to Him caught in the act of adultery (btw…How did they know when and where to find her?… Where was the man who was also committing adultery?… This “testing” of Jesus reeks of calculated, arrogant antagonism toward Jesus and indifference toward the woman.).  Jesus’ handling of the situation is brilliant, in that He upholds the validity of Old Testament law while at the same time demonstrating the New Testament mercy that He alone can provide.

            Another passage that stands out is Jesus’ encounter with Mary following the death of her brother, Lazarus (chapter 11).  I think people often believe that they’re not allowed to express to God when they are angry or upset about something, but here in this account, in verse 32, Mary blurts it out… “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She’s angry and confused, questioning Him for His apparent failure to arrive on time. She knows who He is and believes in both His goodness and His power, but in that gut-wrenching moment her faith is in conflict with her experience.  He of course responds with compassion. He weeps, I think, partly in loving empathy toward her in that moment in time, and partly for the brokenness of our fallen world that brought death, in all its forms, that we were never intended to experience. I appreciate the reminder that we can and should be genuine in our relationship with Him. That we can cry and doubt and ask Him questions and even express hurt or anger, and He responds with grace and mercy.  He also reminds us, as He did Mary, that “if you believe, you will see the glory of God” (v 40). This doesn’t mean that things will always get better immediately. They often don’t. But it does mean that we can trust Him completely, even in our waiting. Ultimately, Jesus responded by going to the cross on our behalf and offering permanent restoration and resurrection to us all.

“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”

John 21:25, NASB

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

Faith in the Midst of Uncertainty

Clarity…

For those of you who know me, you know that I like order. And planning. I like to know what the expectations are and how to get where I’m going. I like to be prepared for any and all contigencies that may arise. I like it when I feel confident. My organizational skills are off the charts. In a lot of contexts this is great, right!? In work? Check! In school? Check! In all that administrative/ministry/behind-the-scenes-stuff? Check! In my faith as a follower of Christ!? Um.. well… not necessarily.

The Lord has been teaching me a lot in recent months about clarity. I’ve been looking back over the course of my life and my journey with the Lord and have realized that very often my prayers have included a request for clarity…whether for myself, or as I have prayed for and with others. I have literally used that word, “Lord, please give clarity regarding…. “. It seems like a reasonable request, right? Wise, even. After all, if we have clarity we can plan, and organize, and “be prepared for any and all contingencies”. We have a decision to make, or something has happened, and we want to know what to do or how it will turn out. Sometimes clarity comes in our situations, I love it when that happens. But oftentimes it doesn’t. Perhaps that’s even the case more often than not. We’re unsure what the next moment will bring. We’re left wondering if we’ve made a right choice. Or maybe a decision we made previously doesn’t turn out well and then we’re angry because the Lord could have prevented it. He could have shown us what would happen and then we would have (presumably) made a different choice.

Of course, we should seek the Lord’s direction, and absolutely we need to be grounded in the truth of His word and engaged in loving community with other Christ-followers. But, when we place our faith in our own ability to see and understand clearly (a form of idolatry, btw), we’re needlessly setting ourselves up for fear and confusion during those times and situations when we can’t see and when we don’t know.  I had thought, in my requests for clarity over the years, that I was demonstrating my faith in the Lord. In some ways I still think I was… but in the past few years He’s been pressing me to go deeper. To trust Him more. To not suddenly worry when the path becomes obsure. To place my faith in Him. To believe in the goodness of His character, and not in my own ability to think or see clearly.

I no longer ask the Lord to give me clarity.  Jesus can provide it if He wills, but what I seek now is His presence. I don’t ask Him to erase my doubts, I ask for deeper faith in the midst of my doubts, and a more abiding, patient trust…

I think one of the reasons I find my calling and role as a worship leader so compelling is because I am personally moved and ministered to by the Lord through music and the arts. I always have been. I listen to tons of music and have many favorites. Hillsong Worship released a song last year titled New Wine, with a lyric line that says:so I yield to You and to Your careful hand, when I trust You I don’t need to understand....” That stung the first few times I heard it. But.. it’s becoming the posture of my heart, and I hope it’s yours too.

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

Song Story: Love to Tell

Hey you guys! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here! I’ve been taking some classes and also working on songwriting!! Which I am suuper excited about! I’ve added a Music page to the main menu, which I will use to gradually post videos of my original songs, but may also add some here individually along with the story behind the song.  As a worship leader, these will most likely be songs of praise and worship for the church to sing! I hope you enjoy them! And if you’re a worship leader and ever feel like one of these will work well with your congregation or Bible study group and/or etc., then please message me via my Contact page and I’m happy to send you the chord chart!

Acts 3:6-10-“But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”

A month or so ago at my church, we were finishing up the book of Acts and our lead pastor was talking about how we, as believers, all have stories of encounters with Jesus. Not just the recounting of how we came to a saving faith in Christ, but also all of the times the Lord has been and continues working and moving in our lives and on our behalf. juri-gianfrancesco-655957-unsplashThe tendency can be to think that only those people with really radical testimonies have anything worth sharing, but that just isn’t true! All of us who know Jesus have stories of His faithfulness. Of His patience and compassion. The way He comforts and pursues us. Of how He works in even the smallest of details. Of how He gets our attention or how He sometimes redirects our course. The stories are as endless and varied as his people!

I love the above account from the book of Acts. First, the disciples are willing to share Jesus…it starts there right?  This man is aware of his own need and is willing to hear and receive what they say, and he believes and is healed. Then his immediate response is to get up and boldly go about showing and telling others of his encounter with Jesus as he leaps and praises His name. Followed by the people who saw and knew him being filled with wonder and amazement! Maybe we haven’t received a dramatic physical healing like this man, but we are no less broken apart from Jesus and our stories are no less remarkable! And you never know who might need to hear yours! May we be filled with renewed excitement over the Lord’s work in our lives and be bold about sharing our Jesus stories! And may we be quick to offer up praise to the One whose love for us is relentless.

 

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

 

 

Cafe image by Juri Gianfrancesco, on Unsplash
Featured Image by ItsPortAdelaide, on Unsplash 

Gear Talk: What’s In The Bag

Hey worship leaders! Ok so let’s talk gear. I like to be prepared. Nope. I like to be over-prepared! Haha! Just ask my tribe. They’ll confirm this. Honestly though part of good leadership is planning and preparation. In an effort to serve the people on my team and the ones in front of me I like to be in the habit of anticipating every detail as best I can. It’s important to have the musical tools that you’ll need on-hand. Eventually you’re going to show up at church and you’ll realize you have a dead battery, or you bust a string, etc. Or maybe you’ve arrived at a new place for an event or retreat or you’re leading as a guest somewhere and their setup isn’t quite what you have at home. So to avoid potential issues I’ve learned to bring a lot of my own stuff with me. Obviously, this list will vary depending on what instrument you play, and on whether or not you have other elements planned like tracks or pads. And over the years this list has gotten bigger as I’ve added new equipment or figured out the hard way that there was something I missed.

I lead on an acoustic guitar and generally run pads too, so with that in mind, this is my current list.

  • Um.. my guitar. Obviously. haha! But actually if I’m going to be the only acoustic player then I’ll also tend to bring along a spare guitar. This is especially true if I’m going to be out-of-town.
  • Guitar Stand… nearly everywhere I go they have guitar stands. That said, I’ve been places where there weren’t enough of them for the entire team. But even if there are, I bring my own anyway because, well, I really like my guitar stand. I even take it to church with me every weekend just because I like it so much better than the standard ones we have on hand. Mine is this auto-grip stand from Hercules. The guitar hangs on it from the headstock. Which actually, over time, is better on the instrument. Plus the U-shaped base on the standard ones always seems to get tangled up with my cable and/or strap. User error on my part?  Ha! Maybe. But this one is heavy-duty and suuuper stable,  and for me was well worth the money.
  • A pedal tuner. Mine is the Boss TU-2. Plus an iSpot power cord. It can run off battery power too but I prefer to plug it in.
  • A wind-screen for my vocal mic. This is just one of those black foam ball sleeve thingys that slides right over most standard handheld vocal mics. They’re inexpensive and washable. I like them for a variety of reasons. They make using shared microphones more sanitary. So there’s that. But mainly I like them because they soften the ‘p’ and ‘s’ sounds, inhibit wind noise if you’re outdoors, and they allow me to sing right up against the mic without having to worry about bumping into the metal cover of the mic itself. Every time I work with a new sound engineer I always let them know that I’d like to use it and get their opinion on it. I’ve never had one ask me not to. Actually they all seem to prefer it.
  • Extra guitar strings. as alluded to earlier. Also a peg winder and needle-nose pliers/wire cutters.
  • Extra 9-volt batteries. And a battery tester. I’m in the habit of checking my guitar battery every time I’m leading. We have four services at our main campus (one on Saturday evening and three on Sunday morning)..and a dead battery in the middle of a service would be a major bummer. I unplug the instrument cable from my guitar following the Saturday evening service so I don’t drain the battery overnight. But if I forget… then I have fresh batteries on hand. The tuner pedal mentioned above can run off a 9-volt too. So if I end up in a situation where I don’t have access to plug it in, then I can always throw a new battery in it instead.
  • Speaking of instrument cables, I always bring at least a couple of my own, plus a patch cable for the tuner.  Any cable can eventually go bad, but at least I know my cables are in like-new condition, and are properly re-coiled after each use. On occasions when I’m bringing my piano along…then I throw in a few more. If I’m going some place new and unsure of the set-up, then I’ll tend to make sure I bring along some longer ones too, just in case.
  • My iPad.  Because whether I’m working with charts or just a set list, I use my iPad instead of paper. That said, I also bring along extra paper copies for myself.
  • I run my iPad hands-free so I also bring along my Bluetooth controller pedal. And the micro usb cable I use to keep it plugged in. It contains a rechargeable battery but I prefer not to depend on that, especially through a rehearsal and multiple services.
  • A mic stand holder for my iPhone.  As mentioned above I tend to run pads, which I am currently doing from my phone..(you can refer to my previous post on the subject for more details on that..), so I purchased this mount so my phone is at my fingertips.
  • A male to male, 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch connector cable to connect my phone to the system via a direct box.
  • Lightning cables and a dual wall adapter so I can keep my iPad and iPhone plugged in.
  • Extension cords.. in two different lengths. (Mine have three outlets each.) I never want to assume that any place I visit will have an extra one.  And you never know how far away the outlet is going to be…hence the two sizes to choose from. Also when I’m traveling I will tend to pack a power strip. All of these are black, btw. So they’re not overly noticeable or unsightly on stage..
  • My IEM’s (in-ear monitors). Extra tips, And a headphone extension cable.
  • A couple of capos. (in case one breaks…).  Pro hack: in a pinch you can use a pencil and a rubber band and make your own capo. Haha! I’m serious! Personally though I’d rather have a spare.
  • I make sure I’ve packed my guitar strap. And bring along extra guitar picks! Somehow they always ending lying around the house in the strangest places, or still in the pockets of all your skinny jeans, except for the ones you’re currently wearing of course.
  • Don’t forget the chord charts for your team! At least in my case I’m the only one who’s paperless. So I print copies of the charts out for everybody else. Including for the sound engineer and whoever is running the lyrics. And one last tip: if your service is outdoors then place the band’s charts in thin 3-ring binders. Your team will appreciate it. And so will you when no one’s music is blowing across the lawn in the middle of the service. 🙂

I think that’s it! At least for now. Like I said before my list keeps growing and changing as I add new elements or discover new ways that I can be better prepared and/or better serve my team. I’d love to know what some of you have in your gear bags!

Blessings on you as you continue to serve our Lord Jesus by leading His people with excellence! ~ Michelle

 

 

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet and songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

 

Cover photo by Haley Powers from Unsplash.

So You Want To Be A Worship Leader?

“This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.'”  

So you want to be a worship leader. It may not be what you imagine.

Being a worship leader can be pretty awesome. Those of us who have this responsibility recognize how blessed we are that the Lord would allow us to serve Him and His people in this way. That we get to serve Him doing something we enjoy so much is truly remarkable.

Being a worship leader can also be really hard. Preparation is time-consuming. We miss out on time with family. The tools of the trade can be expensive. It’s impossible to please everyone, even though we wish we could. As worship leaders we’re on the spiritual battle front-lines and Satan doesn’t want us to succeed. There is so much more to the job, as critical as it is, than the 30 or so minutes spent on that platform each week. So. Much. More.

Being a worship leader is a calling. It may or may not be your occupation too. If it is that’s great. But the source of your paycheck is irrelevant and has no bearing on whether or not you are called and gifted by the Lord to pastor His people as a worship leader.  Yes, the worship leader role is a pastoral one! And according to the verse noted above from 1 Timothy, desiring to serve and lead His church is a good thing! Not every Christian musician or vocalist is necessarily called to lead worship though. There are a variety of worthwhile ways that a person can use their musical and creative gifts to serve the Lord and other people that don’t involve leading in an organized church setting. And I’m so grateful for that! What a bummer it would be if we didn’t have Christian creatives using their gifts to glorify and honor the Lord across the spectrum of artistic fields!

Music is one of my very favorite aspects to God’s creation! It’s amazing! We see throughout Scripture God’s people utilizing music in praise and worship. But worship isn’t about music. Instead it’s a tool that we use. It is important that we play and sing with skill (Psalm 33:3), but it isn’t for the sake of impressing other people. It’s about honoring the Lord with our best. Because He is worthy of nothing less. Most people don’t realize that for the average congregational worship service, numerous hours are spent in preparation each week. And that’s how it should be! We want to lead well!  And that takes time, skill, practice, commitment, planning and constantly seeking the Lord in prayer.

Everything worship leaders do behind the scenes impacts the congregational gatherings of corporate worship, which is a vital element of church body life. Let’s unpack that a bit.

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We’ve touched on a few of these already.  Effective worship leaders will be mature believers and will possess skills in… pastoring, creativity, vocals and/or playing an instrument, music theory, music technology, theology, teaching, communication, administration, organization, stewardship and mentoring. A good worship leader will be willing and able to train and equip others to lead too. They are detail oriented, frequently called upon to troubleshoot a myriad of issues, and ideally will have at least a basic understanding of music production and live sound engineering. They must be adept at planning and preparation, and just as adept and flexible in responding to those last-minute, unforeseen issues or changes that always seem to come up. They should approach everything they do with humility and a shepherd’s heart, and with the understanding that no matter how much they know, there is always room for continued learning and growth.

So. You want to be a worship leader? Pray about it! Spend time in the Word and in private worship of the Lord. And then pray some more! Find an experienced worship pastor and talk to her or him about it! Ask the Lord to confirm that it’s what He’s calling you to do. And ask Him to place you where He wants! Scripture tells us that His plans for us are far more than we can imagine! So even if leading worship isn’t His plan for you, then whatever else He does have for you will be amazing! Evaluate your heart and motives! Also, take an honest assessment of your skill set then prioritize and make a plan for improvement. Consider the possibility of going to school or seminary to study and equip yourself. If you’re already a worship leader then the same thing applies! Prayer, Bible study, heart-checks, skill evaluation and training should be on-going in the life of the worship leader. You have a unique purpose in His kingdom! Pursue Him and be in the habit of cultivating the gifts and skills He’s given you for the benefit of His church and for His glory.

Ultimately none of us are worthy to serve the Lord. But by His design, grace and relentless love for us, it’s what we get to do.

Let’s do it well.

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Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet and songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

Tech Talk : How To Run Pads

Hey guys! A few times lately I’ve had other local worship leaders asking me about pads and how to run them! So I thought I’d give an overview on how I do it. It’s easy! And adds so much to your live sound. There are multiple ways it can be done but I’m going to touch on the method I use and am familiar with.

So lets start out with a quick definition.  Pads are a musical element you add to your sound that fills out the empty spaces and contributes a bit of texture and an ambient, spacious feel that undergirds the live instruments. Pads are great as a bridge between songs, and can even stand alone for part of a song. Listen to the opening passage of Hillsong’s live version of What A Beautiful Name.  The only thing you’re hearing there in accompaniment to Brooke’s lovely voice is pad. For each song in your set you pick the sound you want, – some are warm and mellow, others more bright and sparkly, etc – and the key you’ll be in and you’re good to go!

Ok so how to do it? Like I said bIMG_4081efore there are different ways it can be done and different sources for the pad sounds. I’ve got friends who use their laptop and run pads through a program like Ableton or even iTunes. One of my friends has the skills and the tools to create his own. Whatever. haha!  I use Coresound and run the pads on my iPhone or iPad using their app: Pads Live. The app is free but you purchase the pads. You don’t have to use the app. Their pad loops can be run using a variety of programs and devices if you prefer. Here’s a link to their website for all of the deets.

Now let’s look at the tools and how I set up on stage. It’s pretty simple. In addition to my iPhone I also have: IMG_3899

  • a mic stand mount for my phone. Not necessary but preferable for me. I bought one  on Amazon for like $15.  Literally puts my phone at my fingertips.
  • a direct box to plug into.  In my case I use two direct boxes, one for my acoustic guitar and the other for my phone for running pads.
  • a male-to-male cable with a 1/4in on one end for the direct box and an 1/8in on the other to plug into the headphone jack on your phone.
  • I also generally like to plug my phone in to power, so always keep on hand a lightning cable, adapter and extension cord.

And that’s it! The pad should be mixed in the House in such a way that it accompanies and complements. You don’t want it so loud that it overpowers. As far as setting up and using the app, I found it to be pretty intuitive. You add songs, selecting the pad sound and the key you want for each, then create a playlist (setlist) and add your songs! Then from within the set you press play to start the first song. When you’re ready for the next song all it takes is a single touch.  In settings you can turn on the crossfade feature if you want, so you don’t get dead space between songs.  The Coresound website has FAQ’s and tutorials available if you want to check it out.

I hope that’s helpful! We use pads with full band and I’ve also used them on my own with my guitar, and everything in between. They really are a great tool and easy to incorporate into your sets, and add quite a bit of depth and polish to your overall sound.

~ Lord bless you as you seek to serve Him and His people with excellence! Michelle

Set Prep : The Lyrics

Hi you guys! I’m suuuper stoked this week as we complete final preparations to lead worship at a women’s conference where I was invited to join my worship pastor and some friends of ours in leading worship for some precious sweet sisters. These godly guys are super talented and I’m so excited to be joining them!

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

If you’re a worship leader then you know there is a ton of work that goes into preparing to lead. I’m not talking about all of the considerations that go into song selection. That’s critical and there’s lots to unpack there so I’ll leave it for another conversation. But after the songs are chosen there’s a lot of prep and planning that should take place so that, when the time comes, we can lead effectively and with excellence. For this weekend, as I won’t be on my guitar for this one, I’ve had more time than normal to really focus on the lyrics and vocals, and am reminded once again how important that part of the process is to effective leadership. I also know that it can tend take a back seat to other pieces of the process!  At least I can be guilty of that.  There can be so much to do in regards to: logistics, communicating with and preparing resources for the band and tech teams, rehearsing/learning melody lines, determining tempos and working with the click, deciding on arrangements, then practicing all of that on an instrument, exploring and planning the transitions between songs, rehearsing with the team…..and etc, etc, etc….  All of these things are so important! But what I find is that I can sometimes fail to stop each week and take a fresh look at the lyrics we’ll be singing and leading.  Which is such a bummer! Not to mention a lost opportunity.  Because let’s face it…as amazing and emotive and dynamic as it can be…the music is ultimately the vehicle. It’s the lyrics and the vocals that really communicate the heart of what’s being said.

We can sing the lyrics accurately and nail the melody lines, but if we’re disconnected from the content and heart of what the song is communicating that will generally come across and can diminish our ability to lead well. Here are a few of my thoughts on ways we can approach the lyrics each time as we prepare to lead God’s people in corporate worship.

  1. Consider this a devotional time and invite the Lord to give you a renewed perspective and clarity on each song’s message.
  2. Print out the lyrics, in particular for the songs where you will be the lead voice (or better yet typing or writing them out.. if you have the additional time).  And exclude the chords and other musical notations. We just want the lyrics.
  3. Now read the lyrics. Don’t sing them. Just read them. Out loud even if you’re able. I know this sounds elementary but what can happen with songs we know very well is that over time we become desensitized to their meaning.  So read through them slowly and intentionally, not by rote. This is partly why removing the melody is important. That will force us to view the lyrics entirely on their own, outside of the musical context. Take your time and ponder the words and truths being expressed! And thank the Lord while you’re doing it!
  4. Re-read the lyrics with your Bible handy. For each phrase or section, pause and look for corresponding passages in Scripture, and jot them down next to the lyric lines.  This is admittedly time-consuming, at least initially, but sooo worth it.  This process has left me in tears on more than one occasion as I’ve sat and been ministered to by the Lord as He has reminded me of the truths in a particular song that I’m preparing to lead. And I’m convinced that this impacts our effectiveness. When we have a fresh understanding of what we’re singing and when we engage with the Lord in that moment in genuine worship, those we are leading can sense that and the Lord uses that to draw them into worship as well.  If you do this step regularly, you can keep your notes and refer back to them the next time you lead the same song. (A little side note: There was one time where I knew the lyrics were going to be printed, not projected on a screen, and we included the Scripture references for each song on the printed lyric handouts. I explained this at the start of the service.. and got a lot of great feedback afterward. People appreciated being able to take the lyrics and corresponding Scriptures home with them for their own personal devo time.)
  5.  Prayerfully consider ways you might reinforce the truths you’re singing during the service. This might be by adding a related Scripture reading somewhere in the set, or referencing key lyrics as a way of praying or transitioning between two songs or during the interlude of a song. You might also consider a very brief personal story that relates to the lyrical truths in some way that you could use as you intro the service or a particular song.  Thinking this through ahead of time is especially helpful if you find speaking in front of people more difficult than singing in front of them. You can plan in advance how you might use or reference the lyrics during those brief moments when you’ll be speaking, so that your words contribute to the worship, rather than detract from it.

I hope these thoughts are helpful! In addition to these planning-phase steps, there are also some things that as vocalists we can do (or avoid doing) during the service itself that impact the effectiveness of our ability to communicate, interact with and lead the congregation. But I’ll save that for another post!

Blessings on you all as you plan and prepare to lovingly lead the people God has placed in front of you!

~ Michelle

 

#mothersday2018

Happy happy Mother’s Day to all the mommas out there! I hope you’ve had an awesome weekend! Being a mother is a source of some of life’s greatest joys & blessings and also at times its greatest trials and sorrows. I can’t imagine trying to do it without Jesus!  Being in ministry also has its share of both mountains and valleys; times of triumph and blessing and times of doubt, frustration and discouragement. I have some thoughts for the women in particular today as this Mother’s Day draws to a close. I hope this speaks to your hearts!

First of all I want to remind us that we are uniquely created in God’s image!  Just because we refer to God as Father and Son, and He and Him…and rightfully so, (it would be wrong to do otherwise), it doesn’t mean that we, as women, are any less His image-bearers.

As a reminder, let’s take a quick look at the familiar creation account in Genesis chapter 1 . It isn’t Adam only who was created in God’s image. It was Adam and Eve. Male and Female. Both of them together.  In His wisdom, the Triune Creator brought forth the man and the woman and in the process infused each with part of His character and likeness. So men and women together are designed to represent the Godhead. Neither can do it ontuscany-grape-field-nature-51947.jpeg their own. We need each other. Both at home and in the church God’s plan is that women and men would be partnering with one another in work and service to each other and to the Lord.

Throughout Scripture we can see aspects to God’s character that are clearly feminine, or motherly. One of them is in the gospels when Jesus states: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings..”. And there are multiple instances in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy 32:11 we read:  “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.”  Then this verse in Hosea 13 paints a picture not just of nurturing but of fearlessness and bravery:  “I will encounter them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and I will tear open their chests; there I will also devour them like a lioness, as a wild beast would tear them.”  There are also several instances in the book of Isaiah of God using the imagery of motherhood to describe Himself.  There are a variety of characteristic traits specific to women that are a reflection of our Creator. We are image-bearers of the King of kings! Amazing! 

I know we know all this already, but if you’re like me then sometimes you just need to be reminded. I want to encourage you as mommas and as ministers to continue to serve the Lord, your families, your ministry teams and your congregations with tender boldness and courage! You’re created in His image. He’s given you a particular set of gifting and skills. And He has a plan and a call specifically for you!

By His grace I pray that we rightly represent Him in all that He’s given us to do.

Happy Mother’s Day!! ~ Michelle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psalm 33…Shout for Joy!

I recently revisited the familiar passage of Psalm 33 v1-3.  You probably know it.

1. Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
2. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
3. Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.  

                                   Psalm 33:1-3 (NASB)

I’ve read these verses countless times before and I don’t recall what drew me to them on this particular occasion, but I love how there’s always something new to glean from even the most familiar of passages.  These days I primarily read from a Strong’s New American Standard version on my favorite Bible app , and I was struck by the use of the word ‘sing’ in each of these three verses, which I guess I had never really noticed before. Now, other translations don’t necessarily use the word ‘sing’ in time, but the NASB does.  Anyway in our language the definition of this word seems pretty straightforward, but I decided to do a quick word study in the original and I’m so glad I did! The first point of interest to me is that each of the three words translated as ‘sing’ in English are actually three different words in the original Hebrew language, with similar meanings yet each one conveying different implications and nuances. Here’s what I was able to unpack.

In Verse 1, “sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.” ,  the original word is rânan, which means: to creak (or emit a stridulous sound), i.e. to shout — aloud for joy, cry out, be joyful (greatly, make to) rejoice, (cause to) shout (for joy), (cause to) sing (aloud, for joy,), triumph.  For starters, this verse is an exhortation to the entire body of Christ. All of the Church. His bride. His sons and daughters. All of us. Not just the worship leader or the worship team. The first part of the definition interests me. “to creak or emit a stridulous sound“.  I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve had someone approach me and say that they love corporate praise & worship but they themselves can’t carry a tune (they say) so they just listen. I think they’ve meant it in the context of a compliment generally, but it’s so unfortunate that they have felt the need to sing silently instead of, as this verse says, “aloud” and “cry(ing) out”.  I’ve tried to encourage them to sing anyway! To remind them that the Lord is looking at our hearts and our intent, and He doesn’t care about how beautiful our voices may or may not be. We’re all to sing, and shout! And to do so with great joy and triumph!  Also it says right there in the verse that “praise is becoming to the upright”!  So God finds it lovely and beautiful when all of His people praise Him!

For verse 2, “sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings”, the meaning is more or less what you might think taken in the context of the English phrasing. The original word here is zâmar; and means: “to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice; hence to celebrate in song and music: — give praise, sing forth praises, psalms”.   So…  making music accompanied by vocals… and to celebrate in song!  This verse paints the picture that along with the myriad of joyous voices are the musicians playing their instruments. The last phrase in verse 3 reiterates this idea of certain people “play(ing) skillfully” and “with a shout of joy.”

The Hebrew word for ‘sing’ in the first half of verse 3, sing to Him a new song”,  is šiyr; which implies the idea of “strolling minstrelsy”.  That was unexpected! We don’t use the English word minstrel very much these days so I Googled it for a bit more insight and found that it dates back to medieval times and is a reference to a “singer or musician, especially one who sang or recited lyric or heroic poetry to a musical accompaniment for the nobility”.   I also discovered that this same Hebrew word is found in 1 Samuel 18v6, and paints for us a picture of the meaning of the word:..”When David returned from killing the Philistine (Goliath), that the women came out …., singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments.”  I love that! The imagery and realization that we are to collectively sing and play music to exalt and delight our King Jesus! That we are coming out to meet Him, as it were, and shower Him with the praise and adoration He deserves.

Two other things about verse 3 to point out are that we’re to create new songs, and we’re to play skillfully. I’ve heard it said over the years, and have in the past said myself, that we’re not to be performing when we lead worship. But I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. We absolutely need to be continuously monitoring our motivations, and should not be trying to promote or bring glory to ourselves, so in that sense then yes we shouldn’t be ‘performing’.  But these verses seem pretty clear that we should desire and strive to play with as much skill as we can. That we are not only leading the congregation in praise and worship to the Lord but we are also presenting to Him the songs that we’ve prepared and we need to give it everything we have. Jesus is our noble King and He deserves our praise and adoration and that we would play and lead with as much skill as possible. And we’re to write new songs and poems and create beautiful visual arts as well. I think that as believers, the creative process is also a form of the praise and worship that we offer to Jesus.

One last thought is for those of us who lead worship to evaluate our leadership of the people God has asked us to serve. Do I lovingly lead in such a way that they are free to be expressive and joyful in the ways these few verses describe? Am I setting that example? Actually not just me but the entire team? Is everyone on stage singing and leading with instruments doing so with joyous faces and with heartfelt singing? Or.. not? And if not then how can we address it and make improvements? How can we encourage and/or what do we need to teach? I think for the most part our congregations won’t be more expressive in worship than we are. So asking ourselves these types of questions and dialoguing with our teams on a regular basis is vital.

Blessings to you as you continue to purse excellence in the art of worship leading!  ~ Michelle

 

Photo from Pexels.