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About 2 months ago I produced and led worship for a larger conference inspiring bay area leaders to believe God could do more in our valley. It was a great couple of days of worship and prayer. It was also a lot of work. Like a good workout at the gym, after 2 days of producing, coordinating, leading music and prayer, and lots of one-on-one conversations I felt I had "left it all on the table." Pleased with results of some hard work I hopped in my car and raced home aiming to get a little rest before the following day's worship services. While on my way home I saw a homeless guy and felt prompted to stop and connect. I felt God was giving me the opportunity to extend relationship to someone easily passed over by our society. Instead I drove right on by. As I passed a few blocks I began to try to rationalize my actions: you need to get home and rest up, it's late and you get up early, I'm sure he's begging for cash - cash which you don't have on you right now anyways. In that moment God reminded me that he "owns the cattle on a thousands hills." He said to me, "Don't feel guilty about not providing for that guy. I can always find someone else to provide for him. I was providing YOU with an opportunity. Your loss."
I realized I had my eye on receiving God's blessing during a 2 day worship conference when really part of God's plan had been to surprise me with an encounter following. You could say I experienced the show but missed the encore.
The following week I shared with my small group of guys how I felt I had missed an opportunity to be Jesus to someone on the fringe of our society. I vowed to the guys I would look for the opportunity again and if God was to give me another chance I'd take him up on it.
Tonight, I was driving home after another 10 hour day of ministry. Same corner. Different guy. New opportunity.
The only problem is that I couldn't get over a lane and I couldn't get any cash out of my wallet. The light turned green and like a lemming I pressed the gas pedal down and drove right on by. I locked eyes with the guy and waved like somehow he would understand that I tried. Maybe next time!
But as I passed him I knew I had to stop. I had to figure out how to turn around. I was going to have to go against the momentum of the moment in order to meet God. I pulled over in a nearby parking lot and pulled out a one dollar bill. I felt God wasn't interested so much in me providing money as much as he was asking me to give of my time. I locked the car and crossed over the street to meet Jacob - the beggar on the corner of a busy freeway offramp. I told Jacob as weird as it sounds God had told me to pull over and to talk with him. Our conversation flowed naturally over the next several minutes. I asked him his name, where he is from, where he sleeps, how he's holding up in the cold weather. I asked him what his plan is to get off the streets. Through several heartbreaking stories it was clear Jacob had lost hope to be anywhere other than alone on the streets.
But this is what I know - Jacob is not too far away from God's love. There's still hope. God's grace is big enough. As I gave Jacob my one dollar bill I told him that God loves and listens to the prayers of kids. I told Jacob I have kids that would pray for him - by name - tonight. And they did. And God heard them.
In the moments I met with Jacob the heavens didn't open up. I didn't levitate. There were no miraculous healings. But as I drove away I thanked God for giving me more than one opportunity to experience his kingdom at work. Only God could allow me - a guy singing all day about Emmanuel (God with us) - to see Jesus in the eyes of a beggar named Jacob.
Yes. God is with us on the side of the road of an otherwise mundane evening commute. He is in the selfless and clumsy prayers of small children. He is in the encore.
Worship is Revelation & Response. I decided to put this phrase across some chalk boards in our green room here at Calvary. This room is where we meet before we step out onstage to serve 1,000 people weekly through musical worship. The chalk boards serve as a reminder of what worship is *supposed* to be about: Revelation & Response. Notice it doesn't have anything to do with perfectly executed chords, crazy guitar licks, LED lighting, or moving slide backgrounds. Worship is an interaction between God and people. Worship is 1) Revelation and 2) Response.
Revelation is the first distinction of musical worship. God initiates revelation.
Our chalk board currently reads, "God does this." In other words revelation is not man-made. The Apostle Paul reminds his readers in Galatia, "From Paul, whose call to be an apostle did not come from human beings or by human means, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from death." What is he referring to? Most likely Acts Ch 9 where God initiates a revelation of himself so dramatic that Paul completely changes the trajectory of his life. Revelation is something God does. He initiates. He reveals things like: his glory, truth, holiness, grace, love, character, and plans. Worship is Revelation.
After God reveals we respond. Response is the second distinction of musical worship.
I love the picture of God revealing his holiness to the people of Israel at the foot of Mt. Sinai. After God's presence rests on the mountain, evidenced through natural wonders, the people respond. Exodus 20:18-19 reads, "When the people heard the thunder and the trumpet blast and saw the lightning and the smoking mountain, they trembled with fear and stood a long way off. They said to Moses, 'If you speak to us, we will listen; but we are afraid that if God speaks to us, we will die.'” Our response can be things like praise, repentance, joy, singing, clapping, cheering, acceptance, and sacrificial giving. On our chalk board we wrote a short list of possible responses. Below that list I wrote the words, "We do this." This is our response. This is where we act.
I'm probably preaching to the choir when writing about the need for people to respond. How many crossed arms, blank looks, glowing faces illuminated from smart phones have you seen in the midst of musical worship? We need to work harder at teaching our churches and our worship arts teams the two distinctions of Revelation and Response. Without our leadership people may continue to set their expectations too low. At best they will see musical worship as a concert. They will expect great spiritual music and emotive moments. But as the last chalk board shows, our bar ought to be transformation. This isn't a concert. This is a chance to be transformed.
God reveals (he does this). We respond (we do this).
that all of my hard work will most likely fade away. The only thing that will remain is LOVE. Lets "up the bar" this week in how we love each other and our church. If you lead from stage, how can you love the people who show up week after week a little more than you already do? Do the Same. Love More.
1 Corinthians 13
1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.
There are three phases to just about anything you put your hands to: Phase 1: Research
Phase 2: Planning
Phase 3: Implementation
If you're feeling burned out it probably means you're spending too much time in implementation. Time to grab a book, a podcast, a DVD, a mentor, and learn something new. Dip into an area more deeply than you have before. And as you learn a new skill don't let the urgent rob you from the experience of continued growth. Stop blaming your context and re-create it by carving out time daily, weekly, monthly to grow as a human being. The world needs more researchers. We need more people who approach the world with curiosity and wonder, with humility and with grace.
"Change is the result of dissatisfaction, vision, and practical first steps"
Its funny what you remember from high school. I remember reading the above quote on my english teacher's white board. The quote defines change as an equation. Change is the sum total of a few important ingredients.
The first necessary ingredient is dissatisfaction.
What dissatisfies you? What can you no longer tolerate as-is? Is it something in your personal life? Your health? Your habits? Your relationships? Your work? Do you bump up against it in social arenas? Maybe your dissatisfaction flares up right now as you travel within institutions like your gym, your church, your school? Maybe it happens when you go online. Is it something within the business sector? What is the one thing you can't seem to stand? What is the one thing that can no longer stay as it currently is?
Once you've identified one dissatisfaction add vision to the equation.
In my undergrad psychology course work I learned an important question to ask people. The question shapes vision every time. It goes something like this, "If you had a magic wand and could change anything what would it be?" What would you like to see different? If you had all the resources necessary how would you want to see things take shape? A vision is simply a preferred future. Ask yourself some good questions and experience a compelling vision of what could be.
Finally define some practical steps that get you from where you are now towards your vision.
Most people can identify what they're against. Less can identify what they are for. Even fewer people can identify the steps necessary to go from their present dissatisfaction to their future vision. Take some time and write down small, measurable things you can begin doing immediately. Take a note from the guys at Behance & their book, Making Ideas Happen and make sure your steps are actionable. It's amazing how small, actionable steps immediately fuel change.
Change = dissatisfaction + vision + practical first steps
Tips for a Good Sound Check
Have you ever stepped into a soundcheck gone bad? It can really color the whole event. The larger the show, the more complex the instrumentation, the more necessary it becomes to have a system in place for how you handle sound checks. Great stage leadership provides 1) role clarification and 2) a defined process for sound checking. The two together can make inspired shows and happy teams. Here’s a small explanation of each as well as some sound check etiquette.
It’s important to help everyone get on the same page regarding sound check. Getting everyone on the same page means defining who does what. In his business leadership book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins refers to this process as “getting everyone on the bus in the right seats.” Healthy teams function through the clarity of their roles, expectations, and contributions. Avoid the temptation of too many cooks in the kitchen and instead flourish within the roles you’ve defined.
Once your bass player understands he doesn’t need to be responsible for front of house vocal eq and your tech understands he will not be dialing in your electric guitarist’s tone knobs, you can move on to some additional role clarification. The most important clarification has to do with stage and tech liaisons.
There should be two strong leadership liaisons on your team - one onstage and one behind the sound board. Some larger teams include a third liaison on the floor - usually a producer/stage manager. During sound checks it’s important the liaisons work together with a single voice guiding and leading sound check. Ideally, this single voice is the tech director or sound engineer as this is the time for musicians to be musicians, vocalists to be vocalists, and engineers to shape their stage and front of house mixes.
There is a general way most teams sound check. Usually it involves moving through the input list one instrument or vocal at a time. Usually everyone on stage will make monitor requests based on the single instrument or vocal being sound checked. Some teams prefer starting with vocals. Others start with the drums and bass. The goal should be to move through as quickly as possible without sacrificing sound quality.
The following are some good reminders for performers when it comes to sound check etiquette:
1) Less is more (only ask for yourself and a few reference items in your monitor to help keep stage noise down)
2) Less stage noise/more in ear monitors (instrumentalists - turn down physical cabinets on stage and turn them up in your in ear monitors)
3) Make sound requests through stage liaison (communicate through your liaison and their mic any requests rather than coming across as "shouting" to tech)
4) Keep it quiet (during sound check participate in each individual instrument/mic check. No talking or playing through other people's sound check)
5) Use universal hand signals (point up for more, point down for less, ok sign when you've gotten what you need, arm/hand up in the air to signal a problem or request)
6) Up the communication (when things are getting rough increase your communication game. Use quantitative and specific descriptions - i.e. "I need 5% more of the lead vocal" as opposed to "I can't hear anything." Even through you’re in a hurry use reflective listening rather than cutting each other off. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need rather than grinning and bearing it. When requesting say, "Please" and when a change has been made don't forget to say, "Thanks")
7) Have fun! Do what you are uniquely created for. Keep it loose and shake what your Daddy gave you.
Over the past several years I've discovered 3 magic values always at play within any given human interaction. From recording sessions, to business meetings, to time with family these 3 values surface consistently in my life. I pulled out my iPad the other day and sketched quickly what I like to think of as, "The 3 P's of Leadership."
The 3 P's are: People, Process, and Product. If you desire to lead yourself (and others) fruitfully you'll need to embrace all 3 values equally. Most of us naturally gravitate towards one of these 3 circles. If you can't see the polarization in yourself just look to someone you work with, are dating, or are married to.
- some naturally love people but loathe process and the bottom-line metrics of productivity.
- others love order, bending people and the design of a product to fit established processes.
- still others love producing, steamrolling people and process to gain a sense of accomplishment.
I am blessed with great friends, co workers, and family who love me enough to tell me when my leadership is fruitful or overly skewed in one of these areas.
What happens when these 3 values intersect each other perfectly?
- productivity is people-centered
- process serves people and the final product
- and people build something greater than themselves... together.
As I was recently flying over the Pacific towards Japan I saw this image on the screen (right). This picture describes the next 11 hours of my life. I was, according to the map, in a plane. That is the most definitive part of this picture. The picture communicates my plane had come from somewhere (really helpful) and I was several white dots away from somewhere else (equally enlightening).
With no land masses drawn for reference I found myself unable to track any sense of progress. The very device meant to update passengers with our progress actually convoluted communication. My point is leadership without context is useless.
In your respective areas of leadership how clear are you? Where have you been? Where are you headed? What is your history? What is your future? What is the culture you have stepped into and what will that culture be tomorrow? If you aren't providing context within your leadership your flight path might not be worth the cost of a ticket. Parachute please!
Context is everything. When we fit the narrative of our lives and our careers into a larger narrative a spiritual motivation takes over. The tasks and challenges we face each day suddenly have value. They mean something. Authors of the New York's best seller, Switch point to the value of speaking to both the logical and emotive side of every person we hope to lead. Context speaks to both. Context is both informational and inspirational possessing raw data and unadulterated hope.
Context matters in our personal lives, it matters in our careers, and it matters when flying above the Pacific. If you find your seat is increasingly uncomfortable and the peanuts are getting old try throwing a little context into your meetings. Remind yourself (and everyone else) the land masses related to your journey. Provide contextualization for your team and see if you don't all gain some much needed altitude. The sky is the limit.
Why Feet Matter - People vote with them
I just stuck my head out from my office/studio to see the parking lot jammed with cars. There wasn't one spot left open. Calvary, the location of my office/studio, hosts a mid-week play date called "Playhouse Calvary." Its specifically for families throughout the Bay Area. I think we hosted over 400 or more parents and kids in the few short hours PlayHouse was open. Looking at all those cars reminded me of an important reality: People vote with their feet (and their cars).
It seems today everything is getting smaller. Seth Godin writes a great blog about this. From the music business, to the Church, to sports arenas, our idea of big is shifting. Our world continues to adopt necessary business models which scale smaller and focus on the individual. Maybe you've heard about shallow but wide sales, the long tail, etc. These new models are informed from the iEthos of our day. I wonder however if small dismisses some of us from the best kind of leadership: a servant leadership focused on producing the kinds of things which touch a lot of people (not just some). I wonder if this new paradigm releases artists, producers, pastors, and other creative leaders from the responsibility to birth inspired material and products.
Even with the shifting emphasis on Small is the New Big, there's still the reality of the feet. People still vote with them. People (and their feet) are still a wonderful metric on how well our creativity and leadership are being received.
In servant leadership people matter. People share what matters to them with their feet. That is why every leader ought to develop a healthy foot fetish.
What really are room dynamics? Here's how I just defined them in a recent focus group.
Positive Room Dynamics:
- Critical Mass
- Tipping Point (Engagement)
- Residual AfterGlow
In positive room dynamics, the room reaches a proper critical mass. Simply put there are enough bodies in the room. No too few. Not too many. In general people tend to describe this subjectively as "full" as opposed to "empty" or "jam-packed." Having reached critical mass, something socially occurs - a tipping point of engagement. It's a bit of a lemming effect. People who usually won't clap, shout, audibly cheer or sing find themselves enraptured in what the larger herd is doing... and they join in. Generally something spiritual happens. A sense of community and intimacy is forged. And from their shared experience together people leave the environment with what I like to call "residual afterglow." Its a sense of positive environmental branding. They leave feeling the place was alive, happening, energetic, etc. Generally they want to come back and bring others with them.
Negative Room Dynamics:
- No Critical Mass
- No Tipping Point
- Negative Social/Environmental Branding
In negative room dynamics, the gathering never reaches a proper critical mass and therefore lacks a tipping point of engagement. People move more into a role of autonomous spectators. On an intrinsic level humans sense the missing level of engagement. They sense isolation all around them and they begin to form negative social/environmental branding.
This dynamic is prevalent in every human gathering. The trick is mastering not only the product "on stage" but mastering the environmental/social product as well. If you're feeling as if your meeting or gathering is suffering from negative room dynamics, try moving. Try a different location on campus. Try renting a new space off campus. Discover what the new location does for the vibrancy of your social interactions. I suggest you time your move with a special initiative or date on your calendar. Leaders less savvy to social impacts often aren't "sold" on the power of room dynamics. So tie your creative initiative to some additional values your group is trying to achieve. Whatever you do, do not underestimate the power of where and how you meet. Positive room dynamics are huge in moving isolated beings into energetic communities.
This week I finished producing a single for the band Divine Artistry - a new 3 piece pop/rock band professionally recording their first EP. They focused their resources and creativity around one song, deciding to get their feet wet tracking a single. Together we met in my studio and collaborated on song structure, genre, parts, and tonalities. We landed somewhere around Brian Eno meets Fray with the project moving quickly into full production mode. The picture is a screenshot of around 30 tracks. The secret I think to a good production is really taking the time to explore and refine parts. A lot of budget minded indie artists are looking these days for the cheapest (i.e. fastest) way to get their songs recorded. The downside to only toting cost is it generally conflicts with the time needed to develop an artist & develop their song. As I was bouncing tracks and uploading them to a server for mix down, I was thinking about how similar the recording process is to painting. A few years back my wife Lynsie and I had the privilege to live next to one of today's best known painters. It was amazing to watch this painter in action. Painting happened in layers over a great deal of time. Music, surprisingly is very similar. You have your basic pallet you are pulling from. The art, however, is in how you weave those basic elements together sonically. And this kind of art takes time. All in all I think this particular song took about 32 hours to put together. Does it sound good? You bet. I can't wait for the world to hear it.