Developing churches with a healthy climate of worship

Book Review: Worship Essentials: Growing a Healthy Worship Ministry without Starting a War! by Mike Harland

How do you change the climate of worship in a church? How do you get beyond the debate over music styles—old versus new, hymns versus praise songs, piano and organ versus guitar and drums? The conviction of Dove Award-winning worship leader and author Mike Harland is that we need to get below the surface issues and address the fundamental issues of worship and ministry.

If the spiritual leaders of a church want to foster a community that reflects the biblical marks of an authentic worship culture, they will have to go beneath the externals and get to the heart of the matter—first, in themselves—and then in the church as a whole.

We have to get to the essentials of worship.

The author identifies four key values of worship—tell the story, make true disciples, engage the body, and aspire with purpose. The book is then divided into four parts where he explains what he means.

Tell the Story. “Churches with healthy worship cultures start right there—with a clear vision of Jesus and songs that teach about him and admonish the church with his Word.” “Healthy worship ministries give testimony to the stories of God’s grace at work in his people, and to the story of grace revealed in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.”

Make true disciples. “Healthy worship cultures understand the role music has in discipleship and orchestrate their ministry to fulfill that mission.” “Leaders are wise to identify just what they are aiming for as they execute their strategy. If they are aiming at music balance—whether through multiple services of varying styles or a blended approach in the same service—they may or may not be contributing to the overall mission of the church, even if they’re hitting the target they’ve set for themselves.”

Engage the body. “Healthy congregational worship ministries place a high value on congregational engagement. When they evaluate the impact of this work, they consider the active involvement of the people in the worship gathering to be one of the key metrics to consider.”

Aspire with purpose. Churches need leaders who “aspire for excellence, but with purpose, and every decision they make is intended to move the body of believers toward the realization of that purpose. Most of all, they aspire for the worship in their church to be focused on much more important things than music styles and song choices.”

I appreciated the book because it focuses on the big picture. It is not about songs, styles, pacing, staging, or any of the other issues we tend to get consumed over. Instead, the book gets back to the foundation of what we do and why we do it. The book is well written, thought provoking, and encouraging.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Posted by on January 21, 2019 in Books, Church, Quotes, Worship


Winter sunrise

Yesterday’s winter sunrise over Chicopee, MA.

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Posted by on January 18, 2019 in Chicopee, Photos, Sunrise


In praise of effective worship leaders

I am grateful for Dave & Wayne, the worship leaders at our church, First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA. They do a wonderful job in planning and leading our worship services. They work hard at incorporating hymns and praise songs and blending new songs with old ones. They model how to enter God’s presence and worship him. They demonstrate flexibility and openness in allowing me to make suggestions and add new elements to our services. They make it easy for me to preach because they draw people into God’s presence and prepare their hearts to hear from him.

Because of their unique role, they receive as much scrutiny, and sometimes more, as I do for preaching. When we do our jobs well, it often goes unnoticed because people have come to expect high quality. Many times, the only comments we hear are of the complaint variety.

I am grateful for their partnership in ministry.

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Posted by on January 17, 2019 in First Central Bible Church, Worship


Don’t miss God’s blessings

Like Lucy, sometimes we miss out on God’s blessings because we are too busy feeling sorry for ourselves.

Don’t let misery become myopic. Open your eyes to what God is doing around you.

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Posted by on January 15, 2019 in Peanuts, Personal growth


The blessing of adversity

Book Review: The Luckiest Man: How a Seventeen-Year Battle with ALS Led Me to Intimacy with God, by John R. Paine with Seth Haines

Are God’s blessings limited to the pleasurable? Does God only bless us with experiences that lead to prosperity? Might God’s blessings also include adversity? Can God bless someone with a disease, loss, failure, or tragedy?

John Paine would argue for the latter. He can testify firsthand how God used the disease of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—to draw him into a deeper and more abiding relationship with Jesus Christ.

The book tells the story of growing up in east Texas. John was a scrawny kid with poor eyesight and a learning disability. His father was difficult to please. This motivated John to push himself and to excel in order to win approval. He drove him to be in CONTROL of every part of his life—business, marriage, family, church. It all came crashing down in his mid-40’s when he was diagnosed with ALS.

And yet, John discovered that as God stripped away his pride and control, he replaced it with a deeper, richer, and more intimate relationship with Christ. As he now nears the end of his life, he states that he would not trade his intimacy with Christ for better health.

I’ve been asked what I’d do to be rid of this disease. I’m not sure how to answer that question, but let me say it this way: if I could hold Margaret (his wife) one more time, if I could bounce my grandchildren on my lap or hug my children, if I could put in a full day at the office, if I could be a captain of industry, if I could lead thousands into professions of faith, if I could be the pillar of the church—if I could do it all but had to trade this rhythm of intimacy with God born from ALS? The choice is easy. I would keep this disease. I’d take this pain, this slow suffocation. I’d drink this cup all over again. I wouldn’t trade this intimacy for anything. What was meant for my torture has been used for my salvation. I’m thankful for that.

The book is well written and very encouraging. While it doesn’t lead to a happily-ever-after ending, it does provide an example of a man who discovered that when he lost everything but his faith in God, he discovered that God was enough. The book will cause you to reexamine your own life and perspective of who God is. Well worth the read.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on January 14, 2019 in Books, Health, Personal growth, Quotes


Passing the Torch

One of the memorable events of the Olympic Games is the Torch Relay. The Olympic Flame is lit at Olympia in Greece and then carried by relay to the host-city of the games. For the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the flame traveled 101 days through 17 cities and provinces in South Korea. It was carried by runner, cow, robot, hot air balloon, and helicopter. The Torch Relay symbolizes the passing of Olympic traditions from one generation to the next.

Nearing the end of his life, General Joshua is ready to pass the torch to the next generation. When the book opens, Joshua and Caleb are 78 years old. In chapter 14, they are 85 years old.  Chapter 22 occurs that same year and peace is declared after seven years of fighting to conquer the Promised Land. In chapter 24, Joshua dies at the age of 110. Chapter 23, where Joshua passes the torch, occurs somewhere towards the end of his life, between 10-25 years after the events of chapter 22.

Joshua calls the leaders of Israel together (23:2). His message is simple and direct. Because God keeps his promises, we should obey his commandments. Since God has been faithful, we should be faithful.

Joshua begins by reminding the leaders of God’s faithfulness (23:3-5). Over the past seven years, they had been eyewitnesses of God’s power and miracles. They saw God part the Jordan River, bring down the walls of Jericho, rain hail down on the enemy army, and make the sun and moon stand still for the longest day of battle. Not only are these miracles cause for celebration, but they should instill confidence for the future.

In light of God’s faithfulness, we should stay centered on God’s Word (23:6-11). In 1:7-8, God told Joshua to obey and meditate on God’s Word. Now, Joshua instructs the leaders to keep and do God’s Word (23:6). As Joshua knew firsthand, it was the secret of success.

Joshua cautions Israel about not giving in to small compromises (23:7). Instead, they are to cling tightly to God (23:8). The word “cling” is the same word used in Genesis 2:24 to describe a marriage relationship. In the same way that a marriage is made strong by a husband and wife holding fast to each other, so we are to cling to God. Clinging to God will bring power and victory (23:9-10).

In addition, Joshua challenges the leaders to love God with all of their being (23:11). Centering your life and God’s Word, clinging tightly to him, and loving him with all your heart will protect us from falling away from God.

Joshua closes his charge by reminding the leaders of what will happen if they disobey (23:12-16). If they give in to the short-term pleasure of sin and choose to associate and intermarry with their neighbors, they will lose God’s favor and he will no longer fight their battles for them. In addition, their neighbors will become a snare, trap, whip, and thorns. And they themselves will ultimately perish.

Godly living is not accomplished by winning a single skirmish but by enlisting for lifelong service. For Joshua and Israel, the clashing of swords had stopped, but the need for a faithful, diligent commitment was greater than ever.

Because God keeps his promises, we should obey his commandments.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 13, 2019. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


The greatest danger in life

“The greatest danger in your life is not that you will lose your job or your health, or even your friends and family, but that you might lose your faith.”

Dr. Kenneth O. Gangel

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Posted by on January 12, 2019 in Faith, Quotes