Worship Pastors: How Do We Gauge Succes?

“I could actually hear the congregation singing last Sunday morning!”  worship

“Did you see Frank* closing his eyes during the last song?”

“Couldn’t you feel God’s presence this morning?”

Or in case of Fallbrook First Baptist: “They were actually clapping on beat this morning!”**

These are typical things people on the praise team will talk about after a Sunday service.  They are our gauges.  These are the factors that we use to decide whether or not a worship service was, in fact, worshipful.  Are these valid ways of measuring worship?

My answer: no.

And, though I could go into great detail why I believe that, I will give you a brief defense of my answer and give you a chance to respond.

Leading in worship is much like talking to an unsaved person about the gospel.  You can present the truth in a tasteful way, but whether or not it sinks in and affects the heart is not in your hands.

That being said, this is how we gauge success– Did we accurately proclaim gospel truth in a tasteful, non-distracting, God exalting way? If we can honestly answer yes, then we are successful.  Even if Frank didn’t close his eyes.


* I chose the name Frank because I’m pretty sure no one in our church is named Frank.  And if there is someone in our church named Frank, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t know how to find this blog.

**That actually never happens.

3 Books I’m Carrying Around With Me

Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson.

When People are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, by Edward T. Welch.

Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, Jonathan Gould

Two Mentors: One Dead, One Alive

I have found that one of the most inspiring devices God uses to spur on his people to live like they should is a mentor.  And though there is nothing as good as a physically present mentor, there is great benefit in learning about the great men of God who have set examples for us.  In my life right now, I am purposefully letting myself be mentored by two people who don’t know me, one dead, one alive.

I’ll start with the living mentor.  He’s 63 and he lives in Minneapolis.  He’s a father, a grandfather, and an incredibly passionate man–with special gift to preach and teach.  He has a passion for God’s glory, and is widely known for his rhyming couplet:

God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.

By now you might know I’m talking about John Piper.  For a more official biography, go here.

I was first became intrigued in his life and ministry after reading his most famous work, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. There a few books in my life that have changed the my perspective on life– but this is one of them.  It was the beginning a quest to understand the relationship between my joy and God’s glory.  He affirmed my hunger for happiness and joy, and pointed me in the direction of God to find it.

One thing I’ve noticed about Piper is that he’s quick to jump on to any kind of technology to use it to magnify God.  Piper (maybe not Piper himself, but definitely his ministry) was a pioneer in using the internet as a new way to get his resources out there.  In the early days of the internet, as Piper’s ministry was becoming more widely known, DesiringGod.org was launched– a website dedicated to “God-centered resources from from the ministry of John Piper“.  Most websites dedicated to a certain pastor’s ministry had a small fee to download sermons, videos, books, etc; but Desiring God was free.  Even when you choose to buy a book online, there is a as much as you can afford policy for those who cannot pay full price.

When I discovered Desiring God, with full free access to 30 years of articles, books, sermons, conferences, and videos, I became a mentee of John Piper.  I thank God for men like him, who can boldly say to a younger generation, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”

My other mentor is dead.  He has been dead for 111 years.  He was a Prussian who spent most of his life in Bristol, England.  He primarily worked with orphans. His name is George Muller.

If you haven’t read George Muller’s autobiography yet, put it on the list.  Reading an autobiography is like living in the same house as the man.  You see strengths and weaknesses; struggles and victories.  You have a first-hand account of how he feels about things; how he consoles himself in despair; how he motivates himself in ministry.  It is window into his habits and his discipline.  It’s a testimony to how God works in a man’s life that is dedicated to the Lord.  In the Muller’s case, it is specifically a testimony to the power of prayer.

For the next few weeks, I am going to let him mentor me.  I’ll be reading through his book, Releasing the Power of Prayer, and his biography by A.T. Pierson.

The best mentor is one you can talk to– but men like Piper and Muller are examples of the incredible grace of God, and we can learn much from them.  I always think it’s a good for us to “think the thoughts of great men after them.”

The Story of a Masai Warrior Named Joseph

One of the least likely men to attend the Itinerant Evangelists’ Conference in Amsterdam sponsored by the Billy Graham Association was a Masai Warrior named Joseph. But his story won him a hearing with Dr. Graham himself. The story is told by Michael Card.

One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life; he was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.

Joseph began going from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross [suffering!] of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.

Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had known all his life. He decided he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.

Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.

To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred—and determined to go back.

He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.

This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.

This is one vivid example of what Paul meant when he said, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body.”

There is something profoundly freeing and stabilizing to know that Christ calls us to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. It stabilizes us from being thrown off guard when it comes. And it frees us to choose it when love beckons us. And it begins to free us from the incredible seduction of American prosperity.

***this excerpt is taken from John Piper’s sermon called Called to Suffer and Rejoice: To Finish the Aim of Christ’s Afflictions, found here.

The Grace of God in My Life Lately

God has been gracious in answering prayers. The biggest, most obvious one has been the renewal of my prayer life, revitalized by The Autobiography of George Muller that I’ve been reading lately.  Seeing the greatness and faithfulness of God in Muller’s life is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read.  I’ve never come across a book with such an impact on my heart, Bible aside.  It has driven my to my knees with an inflamed passion to pray and draw others to prayer.  If you’ve never read it, you need to.  It will change your life.

Secondly, our meet on the Fallbrook High School campus, IMPACT, was highly attended.  This was a gracious answer to prayer.  Many students got to hear the gospel.  My prayer is that the seed of the gopsel that has been planted would flourish, and that many would be saved.  Nothing is too hard for God.

Also, last night five of us prayed for the youth ministry like we usually do on Wednesday nights.  As soon as we were done praying, several Jr. High students burst into the room, two of whom we had just been praying for by name.  We played a few games and then went and talked about the gospel.  There was one little boy named Louis, who was so afraid of hell that he started to cry and I taught.  His brothers tried to cover his ears, but I told them to let him listen.  I have never seen such a young boy so afraid of hell before.  Eventually I was able to tell everyone about Jesus Christ.  The boy listened intently.  Afterwards, I had him sit next to me.  He began asking questions like “What if I forget?” and “What if I still sin?”  We got to talk about eternal security, and how God forgives our sins and give us the righteousness of Christ.  I told him that the Bible is God’s word to us, and it tells us how we ought to live.  The boy, who was hispanic, and was young enough that he was still learning to read English, told me he would get his brother or his mom to read it to him.

After the meeting ended, the kids left and were beginning to walk home when suddenly I heard them running back up the stairs to our meeting room.  The boys again burst through the door with little Loius, tears now dried up.  He intently asked me, “Can I have a Bible?”  I rejoiced in my heart and gladly gave him one.  And as abruptly as they came, they left.

I am going to finished with a quote from George Muller’s autobiography, which has been a source of encouragement to me:

“It appears to me that believers generally have expected far too little present fruit from their labors among children. They hope that the Lord will some day confirm their instruction and answer their prayers which they offer up on the children’s behalf.  The Bible assures us in that everything we do for the Lord, including bringing up children in the fear of the Lord, our labor is not in vain. We have to guard against thinking that it does not matter whether we see present fruit or not.  On the contrary, we should give the Lord no rest until we see fruit.  Therefore, in persevering yet submissive prayer, we should make our requests known to God.  I am now looking for many more children to be converted.” (pg.  132-133)

Yes, Even You.

“It may seem incredible to us now, but during the sixties and seventies, missions was commonly presented as an all-or-nothing issue for evangelicals. The mission decision seemed simple: either God was calling me to a high calling of being a missionary overseas, or God was calling me merely to support missionaries by giving and praying. The Perspectives course introduced the amazing notion that God was calling every Christian to live with the same level of commitment, fulfilling diverse but nonetheless critically significant roles in pursuit of one great global church.”

–Steve Hawthorne, found of Waymakers, co-creator of the Perspectives course

A Pall of Acrid Smoke

“The world’s idea that everyone, from childhood up, should be able at all times to succeed in measurable ways, and that it is a great disgrace not to, hangs over the Christian community like a pall of acrid smoke.”

–J.I. Packer

Do you measure your success by visual results?  Material success is material and you can see it.  Spiritual success is spiritual, and mostly invisible.

A successful church is a church that is numerically growing; but a numerically growing church isn’t necessarily a successful church.

Thoughts on a Healthy Church

In preparation for a vision casting elder’s meeting we’re having tomorrow, I put together four marks of a healthy church.

What does it look like?

· It’s a church operated by prayer.

“Prayer is the visible engine that drives our church.”–John Piper, author and head pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

· It’s a church that has a passion for the lost, and has organized, publicized, unified efforts to bring the gospel to their community.

“Take what is in your hand, and offer it to who is in your reach.” – Robert Bishop, head pastor of Whittier Hills Baptist Church.

· It’s a church in which young and old are entwined through the biblical means of mentoring and discipleship.

“Jesus trained His disciples superbly for their future roles. He taught by example and by precept; His teaching was done ‘on the way.’ Jesus did not ask the twelve to sit down and take notes in a formal classroom. Jesus’ classrooms were the highways of life; His principles and values came across in the midst of daily experience.”–J. Oswald Sanders, author of Spiritual Leadership.

· It’s a church that has God’s heart for the nations, and is willing to take faith-filled steps to go.

“Many Christians are oblivious of the most glorious story in world history, the spread of Christianity through the blood and tears and joy of world missions.” John Piper, in Brothers We ArSANY0708e Not Professionals.