Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Getting it Right!

This weekend I was at the National Youth Worker's Convention in Nashville, TN. It never ceases to amaze me how God works when he is trying to prove a point. We sat through several general sessions that discussed how Christians are called to be a loving people who share their possessions with each other and carry each others' burdens the way the church did in the second chapter of Acts. Well, as we spent the weekend walking back and forth from the convention center to the hotel we (me and two friends from Palestine) had an opportunity to buy a hamburger for a homeless lady. We were disappointed that we couldn't do more since we were so far from home and had limited resources, but our eyes were opened to a need. As touched and moved as we were at the opportunity we had to help her, the biggest teaching moment for me came later. Sunday afternoon, after the general session, there were no seminars that really interested me. So a friend of mine and I went to the grill in the lobby of the hotel to watch the Cowboys game. While we were there we met a guy from Kentucky who was a huge Cowboys fan. We could tell from his vocabulary that he was probably not a believer and certainly was not there for the youth ministry conference. But we had a common bond--our love of the Dallas Cowboys. After we had talked for a while, he went and sat down and we didn't think much about it. However, a while later, he comes over with 2 slices of a quesadilla and puts it in front of us. He says, "Hey guys, you can have this. We are going to have a big dinner later and we dont' want to get too full." Of course we thanked him and began to chow down. Even though we had already eaten lunch, this was a great second course! As I sat there, I thought of the absurdity of it all. He gave us some of his food because we cheer for the same football team. THAT IS CRAZY! As I reflected on what that meant, I couldn't help but think of the church in Acts 2 how they devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching and broke bread together and sold their possessions giving to one another as each had need (my paraphrase). When was the last time we did something nice for someone simply because we knew they were followers of Christ? Even better, when was the last time we did something for someone simply because we knew they were not followers of Christ? I hope we will all learn to live more like the church in the book of Acts and less like the church of 21st century America.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Working With Youth Bands: Will the Audience Really Know the Difference?

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of playing bass with my friend Russell Martin as we led worship for a 6-th Grade mini-camp weekend. As Russell and I talked with our percussionist, Brooks, we began analyzing the ins and outs of playing technique, whether on guitar, bass, or percussion. Brooks played out a drum beat and noted how many drummers would play it "one way" (badoom boom crack ka-doom, etc.) but he would play it "this" (insert onomotopeia here) way. As we began to discuss this idea, we realized how we all have a tendency to overanalyze our playing, regardless of which instrument we are playing. Given, the Lord wants us to play to his glory, using the best of our ability and skill (Psalm 33:3). However, we can get caught up in the flashiness of our playing and then it's not about worship about all, but about showing off our chops.

The great thing about leading worship is that 9 times out of 10, the audience won't know the difference if we don't get our part exactly like some recording. Unless they are musicians who play as well or better than the members of your team, they will not care if you pick instead of strum, if you play 16th notes instead of 8th notes on the hi-hat, or if you slap a funky bass line instead of merely playing the root note of each chord. Now, subconsciously, they will be able to determine what sounds good or what doesn't, but as far as HOW you get to that point, very few people in the audience will be able to pinpoint that. Leading worship often is about taking a great song and making it fit the playing ability of your worship team, making it easy for the congregation to sing along, and still be true to the original song.

This concept came up in our praise team practice Sunday afternoon. Our bass player, who has been playing guitar actually longer than our guitar player, knew how to play a particular guitar riff on a new song. She wanted to play guitar on that song and then switch back to bass. However, I pointed out that most people (probably everyone in our youth group) wouldn't even know the riff was missing and switching instruments would only be a time-consuming distraction. Also, it was robbing our guitar player of a learning opportunity. Why should she switch instruments and play the riff when he could learn it from her and probably have it nailed in a week or two. It is good to be skillful, but if our best is just being able to play the basics well enough to get by, God is still honored in that. So, let us all keep building our chops, play to the best of our ability, but let us not get so caught up in flashy playing that we forget who and what we are playing for. In the words of Neil Young, "Keep on rockin' in the free world!"

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Getting Lost in the Numbers

Over the past few weeks I've been pretty discouraged about our attendance numbers at our youth group meetings. I know this is not good or healthy, and part of it has been due to a burden for some of my kids who have fallen by the wayside. I want to see my kids at church, so being disappointed about low attendance is not necessarily a bad thing. However, through several blogs and online devotionals (one is at, God has been reminding me that I shouldn't get caught up in the numbers game.

For whatever reason, kids who once regularly attended our group meetings have decided not to come any more. It may be due to new school activities, a change in family situation, new interest in another church's programs, a new group of friends at school, or any number of circumstances beyond MY control. Despite my coaxing and keeping in touch with these students through myspace, email, text messages, visits with parents and just about every other means, I have been unable to get these students to return. So, the reminder God has been sending me is to focus on the kids who ARE here. This doesn't mean we should give up on the ones who are no longer regulars in the group, but in the meetings, instead of saying "where is everybody?", we should focus on what a good group we have, even if it's just a handful.

This has really changed my perspective. One of the things I did with my newfound inspiration was that I went and printed a lot of the photos I've taken of our kids and filled collage picture frames with them. Then I had several of our group shots from various events posterized and hung them in the youth building. This has really compounded itself because as I've put more pictures up of the group, I've gotten more excited about them, and they've gotten more excited about our facility and the things we've done. And guess who were also in the pictures...some of our kids we've lost that serve as a reminder to me and the ones who are still here to reach out to them. It's been a simple, but great tool for us! This weekend we will be putting new paint on our old drab youth building, making it a cool place where the kids can hang out. Good things are happening because I changed my focus to the kids who are here!