Why sing secular Christmas songs at your church carols night?

We’ve just had our Carols night and it was great! The team putting together the song list did a great job of mixing traditional carols, new Christmas songs… and they even included some “fun” Christmas songs… like Jingle Bell Rock, Little Drummer Boy, 12 days of Christmas, etc… (see the Carols booklet here).

Now, I have to admit, when I first saw the song list, I put my grinch on and thought, “Why on earth would we waste time singing Christmas songs that have nothing to do with Jesus!?! We’ve got this great opportunity to tell people about Jesus and we’re singing secular Christmas songs?! Bah-humbug!”

But there’s a very good reason for it… in fact, its the very reason I initially thought we shouldn’t do it. Because yes, we want to tell people about Jesus… but even more than that, we want people to listen and hear the message about Jesus!

Can you see the difference? It’s the same reason you play games at youth group. You need to give people breaks, they need interludes, they need breathers and rests and time to warm up to hear the thing you really want them to hear.

It’s the same reason you don’t preach for 2 hours at a time. People just can’t deal with intense ideas for that long. In fact, it’s not loving to subject them to that.

So, use the fun, secular songs to your advantage… give people interludes and be intentional as you try and focus them towards the really important stuff.

Why your MC should have more authority than the pastor…

At least for that time they lead and love the Sunday gathering, your MC should have the authority to make the calls they think need to be made… cut a song, do an extra prayer, cut and ad, change the song order mid-service, even tell the preacher they’ll need to rush through their talk (although I imagine something would have had to have gone seriously wrong for that – but the principle still holds).

See, if you’re going to hold them responsible for the meeting being an encouragement to those there, you need to give them the reigns. From 10mins before the meeting starts to the moment the meeting ends, for everything to do with the meeting, the MC should have the right to make the call he thinks is best. Even if the Pastor thinks its the wrong call at the time, that’s usually something that can be discussed later.

Being out-the-front puts on 10% more “boring”

They say the TV camera puts on 10pounds… As thin as you might look in person, it never gets fully captured on TV.
Being out-the-front at church does something similar… But not to your weight (no one would care anyway… Right!?). Rather, being out-the-front makes you slightly more uninteresting, slightly more boring, slightly more one-dimensional.
Partly it’s just the room and the dynamics of trying to hold the attention of 100 people. They all have their own little voice going on inside their head, their own little mind buzzing on their own things. It’s not a face-to-face conversation, and it’s socially acceptable to pay less attention.
The good thing is, unlike TV, being out-the-front can work fine as long as you invest 10% more energy into speaking than you would face-to-face. It needs to be slightly louder, slightly more vibrant, slightly more exciting… Not to be more vibrant or exciting, just to be normal.

Conference ideas from #oxygen14

For many people missing out on a conference, it’s not just the preaching and encouragement they miss out on, but it’s also observing the well-run machine of a big conference so they can take and apply the ideas in their own conferences, camps etc. So here’s a few…

Question time questions, not by SMS, but by app. A sure fire way to get loads of people to download the KCC app (it worked for me)!

Choose a location that has intrigue. The Australian Tech park is pretty cool, and adds an exciting element to the conf. As always, while dealing with humans, you need to have an eye to how I and are affected by locations.

Limit information. I know things sounds weird (and I don’t know how intentional it is) but there’s something to be said about keeping back some key information from your participants. It’s day 2 and I still don’t know which of the key speakers is speaking tonight. I don’t even know where my next seminar location is. There’s some workshops happening this arvo… I’m not sure what they are or who’s running them. But, the opt out level will be much lower, because I don’t know what I’m opting out of. Very gen y.

Two tier seating tickets. Yep, despite James 2:1-4, there are two seating areas… The up front, close to the action seats (zone 1 – blue) and there’s the up the back, participate through the video relay seats (zone 2 – yellow). Though I can imagine this working in America, I can’t hep but wonder if the cheaper tickets are zone 1, so those people have to fill the front section as a punishment ;)
It is a good way to fill from the front… A perennial problem in Australia.

Are your songs articulating your God?

The other day I heard this phrase on Triple J, “the more songs we hear, the more we will be able to articulate our culture”. And I began to think about the phrase, not in regards to culture, but in regards to music and God.

What if we changed the phrase above to, “the more biblical church songs we sing, the more we will be able to articulate our God”? If you look at most old hymn books, you’ll see church songs listed in a huge range of categories and themes about the attributes of God, his world and his church.

In your church or at home, what do you spend most your time singing about? Is it biblical? Is it just focused on God’s love, justice or the cross? Maybe you don’t sing about God. You spend more time singing about yourself? If you spend most your time singing about God’s love, you will think God is only about love. It’s like those guys who go to the gym and just work the right bicep. They’re lopsided.

As Christians we want to keep asking ourselves the question, whether involved in music ministry in church or not… “what are we saying (or not saying) about God in the songs we sing in church?”

A microphone doesn’t mean you can use your normal voice

Your normal voice is the voice you use in normal situations… and preaching/mcing is not a normal situation. It’s a very strange situation. You’re infront of hundreds of people. How would you speak if you didn’t have a microphone? Loud? Overly animated? Slower? Yes! That’s your normal voice… for that situation.

So why have a microphone? A microphone now gives you more ranges, volumes, options. Now the situation is: In front of a large crowd, with a microphone. So speak as the situation requires.

Speaking out the front requires more animated, energised vocals and attitude. The microphone doesn’t amplify your personality, just your sound waves.

As you walk into church on Sunday, never forget…

Every Christian in that room is a “convert”.

They may not be your convert (but who cares). They may have converted years ago (but again.. so what?!). They may have converted as a child in a family that never knew a day when they weren’t a convert (praise Jesus!). But they are all converts. Every soul in that room is someone who God, my the majesty of his Holy Spirit has chosen before the beginning of time to drag into his love in Christ.

We need to keep preaching the gospel to ourselves and remember this, so that we don’t loose heart. So that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking that God saves this nice bunch of people because they turn up every few weeks or so.

Rather, we need to remind ourselves, and our congregations, “If God saved me, the wretch I am, he can save others.”

Use the volume of background music to help your crowd

I’m skipping over another Ministry Pragmatics topic (Why you should use background music during social time). But I just want to focus on how you use the volume during those times.
Most people set the volume at a level where it’s just below normal talking volume, but I’d suggest you set it just above normal talking volume; make it so people need to raise their voice a bit to speak to each other.
Here’s why…

  1. If the music is below normal talking volume… I can hear other people’s conversations… That makes me feel awkward they can hear my conversation, so I don’t talk.
  2. When the music is low, it actually makes the room feel more empty
  3. In general, most people talk in a more lively manner; with more enthusiasm, when the music is a bit louder
  4. When you need to move to a formal thing, turning the music way down is the best way to bring people to attention; they all realise they’re talking a bit loud, so they stop talking, they look around, to see why the music stopped. (If the music is already low when you turn it down, people won’t notice when you turn it down)

In other words, you can either have soft music and shout over people’s conversations rudely – or you can have loud music and gather people’s attention smoothly.

The goal of public prayer is…

Encouragement? People awestruck at our pious praying styles? No!
The goal of public prayer is simply that people would pray along with us.

Public prayer is a weird thing. I think we forget that if we’ve seen it done for a long time. But it’s really really weird. One person stands out the front and talks with their eyes shut, to someone who’s not in the room. Meanwhile, everyone else shuts their eyes and just sits there. Until some magic words at the end get said, and then everyone chants an ancient Greek word, “amen”.

Now I think it’s a great thing to do, but lets be clear on the goal… The goal is that all those people with their eyes shut would in fact be talking to God the very same words that the lead pray-er is praying. So, pray in such a way that makes it amazingly easy for people to pray along!!!

  • Pray slowly – with gaps between phrases and sentences.
  • Pray SHORT sentences. I’ll say it again. Pray short sentences.
  • Pray clearly.
  • Pray meaningfully.
  • Pray deeply – invoke real theological nous to be simple and clear. It’s easy to get away with bad theology by using lots of words.

Why you should move people from front-of-house via back-of-house

Different sorts of people put their hand up to be “out the front” at church. And, to some extent, the very fact they’ve put their hand up for that might be a reason to raise some eyebrows – but that’s unfair.

Still, you don’t want to end up with people out the front of your church like this… @CelebWorshipLdr (“It’s always awkward when you do a hard-hitting upbeat song, and no one claps for you after. #worship“)

Our idea has been to implement a pathway for new people… front-of-house via back-of-house.

The idea is that music team members learn the behind the scenes skills and processes first. They prove themselves able to turn up early and on time. They show their faithfulness in doing it for other people. They display their humility in being unseen and rarely acknowledged. They develop an understanding of the sound-tech needs and pressures. They get the idea that the band and the sound team are not two teams… they are one team; like the forwards and the backs in a rugby team.

Once again, everything in ministry comes back to rugby.

Finish at the height of fun

You have two options. Call things to an end at the height of their fun, or, call things to an end after that when everyone’s had enough.

This is something they tell teachers and cru camp leaders all the time. Finish activities at the height of the kids fun. Leave them with the taste of the game at its best, most fun. Leave them wanting more. Help them have great memories, so when they think back to what they did, they think, “Oh, I can’t wait to play that game again!!”

But how might that principle apply in other areas? Even with Adults?

Maybe church on Sundays? How can you leave people wanting more? What about Growth Group? How do you end well at the height of fun?

Don’t mistake newlessness for growthlessness

Its really exciting hearing something new; that feeling of having your brain blown and being knocked off your feet as you realise how Jesus transforms your view of the world. We should always thank God for those moments, and look forward to more (Eph 2:7)

It is worth realising they can become addictive; we find ourselves searching sermons and blogs for that next “hit” of awe in the gospel like we had last time.

But a common problem is for young Christians (around uni age) who have come from basic youth groups and now have that brain-blast experience every week or so.

They begin to think that sensation is normal maturity. They think that what the normal Christian life is meant to feel like. They think having their world rocked is what it means to be spiritual. They think newness is growth.

But its not. In fact, it can be far from it.

The problem hits when they’ve spent 4-8 years being taught the bible, and the sermons never seems to rock their world any more, and they think they’re having a “dry-patch”, they think there’s something wrong with their walk with God.

And that’s when they’ve found the normal Christian life. Endurance, perseverance, trust and simple prayer in the face of hard times.

Modern-day-gifts “The Energizer”

Put some people in front of an audience, and they have to try so hard to affect the mood in the room. Shouting and jumping around will likely only cause embarrassment, rather than excitement.

Put other people in front of an audience, and all they have to do is half-a-smile… and bam! There’s something electric in the room. Everyone’s alert and excited. They’ve got some ability to inject energy into the room.

Thank you God for those people.

Tone vs. Mood

A helpful category of thought for reviewing and planning sermons…

What is the tone and what is the mood?

Tone describes the voice used by the preacher. It could be a calm tone, an angry tone, a concerned tone, a joyful tone, etc…

Mood describes the general feel in the room. A calm mood, a tense mood, a guilty mood, an excited mood.

But it’s not as simple as you’d think… one tone doesn’t always produce the same mood. Watch comedians to see this… each comedian uses different tones, but they all aim for a similar mood.

So be intentional about your tone, and be even more intentional about your mood.

To make an overall improvement, start with just one thing

If you want to improve something in your ministry, say your public meetings, or the content of your bible studies, don’t think that the only way to do it is by a massive overhaul.

Sometimes, quality has slipped over time. Or maybe it was never there. Sometimes, there hasn’t been a solid biblical foundation laid out to encourage people putting effort into it.

But sometimes, if you want to see something improve, you just need to start with one aspect. The quality of the public prayers, the quality of the kids talk, the quality of the music, the outline, etc.

Of course we’d like all those things to be great, but by working hard at improving one of these aspects, it will cause all the others to ‘lift their game’ so to speak.

We noticed this at NextStep. Our membership team improved the event, the process, the talks, until we got to the point where the booklet didn’t ‘fit’ with the quality of everything else. So we took the opportunity to make the booklet amazing. Fully colour printed, beautifully designed. Looks tops!

Guess what happened next…

All the other aspects of NextStep got put under the microscope to get them to match the quality of the booklet. All the content got re-evaluated, and there’s so many changes to make for the next one.

Do one aspect well, watch the others rise to the challenge.

Let the meeting preach the gospel

Sometimes sermons don’t hit the spot, they don’t resonate, they don’t touch a nerve, they don’t point to our sin and Jesus’ grace, etc…

So make sure the gospel is in your meetings.

Use the gospel to explain why you meet. Use the gospel to explain why you pray. Use the gospel to shape your songs, and the welcome, and the farewell, and the interviews. Just a sentence here and a mention there. Wrap Jesus into and through everything.

And one step further; shape the whole meeting on the gospel. Start with the good God who we’ve rebelled against, hear his word — that he initiated for our sake — respond to his word in prayer and songs. Encourage each other to live in line with the gracious calling we’ve received.

And not just Sunday meetings; youth group, Growth Groups, special events, 121s, etc…