Letters Of Recommendations For Employees

For the chronically absent:

“A man like him is hard to find.”

“It seemed his career was just taking off.”

 

For the office drunk:

“I feel his real talent is wasted here.”

“We generally found him loaded with work to do.”

 

For an employee with no ambition:

“He could not care less about the number of hours he had to put in.”

“You would indeed be fortunate to get this person to work for you.”

“He consistently achieves the standards he sets for himself.”

 

For an employee who is so unproductive that the job is better left unfilled:

“I can assure you that no person would be better for the job.”

 

For an employee who is not worth further consideration as a job candidate:

“I would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment.”

“All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend him too highly.”

Vision

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  Psalm 16:8

“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”   C.S. Lewis

The Infinite Game

In his book, The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek draws a distinction between finite games and infinite games. While not a perfect analogy, I do think it has something to say to those of us in the church-world.

Finite games have a beginning and an ending and have fixed, agreed upon rules, known players and agreed upon objectives. All of the players have agreed to play by the rules and accept penalties when they break the rules.  Whichever team has scored more points at the end is declared  the winner and everyone goes home.

Infinite games have no definite beginning or ending. An unlimited number of known and unknown players play infinite games, and people can constantly enter and leave the game. Although there are broad boundaries and conventions, there are no defined rules, and the players can operate in any way they want. Since there is no finish line and no practical end to the game, there is no such thing as winning and losing so the objective is to keep playing and perpetuate the game.

Finite games are limited. Infinite games are continuing.

In many ways, the church and practice of the Christian faith are part of an infinite game.  God always has been and always will be. The game was already going on when we entered it, and unless Christ comes again in the meantime, will continue when we leave it.

Think of those who have gone before. You are in good company. Moses, David, and Paul all entered and left the earthly part of the game before you joined it, and many others have been in it along with you to mentor and work beside you even as you influence them and others.

Unfortunately, much of church practice is built on the assumption of being involved in a finite game, and you can devalue your faith by treating it in this way.

You do this when you:

craft worship to draw and please a crowd (it takes time and spiritual substance to grow a relationship with God)

promote shortcuts to enhance numbers (it’s easy to draw a crowd)

water down Biblical principles that don’t align with the prevailing culture (make things more palatable and populist)

focus on “changed” lives with a sense of finality rather than on lives being actively changed. (Growth has no endpoint! We must continually grow and nurture growth in ourselves and in others)

make walking the aisle or baptism your ultimate focus (dunk ‘em and leave ‘em)

try to teach others when you in fact are not growing yourself (leaders are learners)

are not changing your mind, methods and behavior in light of fresh encounters with Jesus  (growth equals change)

make attendance, baptisms and budgets the be all and end all measure of success  (instead think faithfulness)

The busyness of this season lulls us to finite thinking. All of the programs, get-togethers and stress may leave you thinking, “If I can just make it through the big program, or the Christmas Eve service, I’ll be home free!”

However, this type of thinking points toward finality. End game strategies for survival have a way of limiting your perspective of the big picture.

Yes, you’ll need some rest, but the game is not over. Sunday is coming… and that’s a good thing! Don’t let your focus on survival limit your perspective of the big picture. Enriching lives is an infinite opportunity!

Try to think a little bigger. Rather than being trapped by the finite, set aside a little time even in this season with pencil in hand to dream big and pray expansively. You’ll not be finding large blocks of time, but the resulting enlarged horizon will give you more space for the routine things. Practice living with the wisdom of C.S. Lewis, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

Be an infinite game leader!

Keep your eyes on the prize

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  Romans 7:15

We live in a troubled world that is constantly changing. Much of the media that we consume, whether cable news, talk radio or twitter, whether addressing politics or culture can be baffling and infuriating because much of it is built on eliciting outrage.

Any time we become outraged about those kinds of things, we are burning calories, wasting energy on things over which we have no control. On top of that, the negativity that the media peddles can spill over into the worship that we lead. Beware of the things that distract, drain energy and bring you down.  Focus your attention on things that matter and really make a difference.

Simple willpower is not the answer. Although it may seem to work for a season, willpower also drains your energy.  If you are not intentional, you will become complacent.

Worship is the fountain out of which all ministry flows, and is vital for every believer. Since you are responsible for leading others, it is essential that you connect with this source. Be sure that you are prepared. As a worship leader, you can’t just rely on public worship. Begin by setting aside regular times of private worship, just you and God, in which you practice relationship with Him.

The principles are the same- for public and private worship.

 

Praise, honor and adore God

To align your perspective and remind you that God is God and you are not.

 

Tune your heart to God’s heart and listen

To be still and know that He is God, and practice His presence in your life.

 

Learn, remember and be reminded what God has done and what He is doing

To enhance your awareness of God and grow in the knowledge of what God has done and is doing.

 

Respond actively and obediently to God

Ask yourself-How can my relationship with God show up in my behavior? Then strategize and apply practices to reflect that encounter with God in concrete, defined and measurable ways.

Preserve your energy for things that matter. Avoid things that are upsetting that are outside of your control or that just waste time. Effective worship leadership comes from the overflow. Only when you are walking with the Lord will you have the power to come up beside others and strengthen them in their walks.

Training a Parrot

Mary received a parrot as a gift. The parrot was fully grown with a very bad attitude and worse vocabulary. Every other word was a curse: those that weren’t curses were to say the least, rude. Mary tried to change the bird’s attitude by constantly saying polite things, kind words, and playing soft music- anything she could think of- nothing worked. She yelled at the bird and the bird got worse. She shook the bird and the bird got madder and more rude. Finally in a moment of desperation, Mary put the parrot in the freezer to get a minute of peace.

For a few moments she heard the bird swearing, squawking, kicking and screaming and then, suddenly there was absolute quiet. Mary was frightened that she might have actually hurt the bird and quickly opened the freezer door.

The parrot calmly stepped out onto Mary’s extended arm and said: “I’m very sorry that I offended you with my language and my actions and I ask your forgiveness. I will endeavor to correct my behavior and I am sure it will never happen again.”

Mary was astounded at the changes in the bird’s attitude and was about to ask what had changed him, when the parrot continued, “May I ask what the chicken did?”

Remember!

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”
― Samuel Johnson

 

“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body,”  2 Peter 1:12-13

 

Worship is more about reminding us of what we know than it is about learning new things. Worship is where we practice relationship with God and where we are reminded about God and who He is as well as about who we are and how we fit in.

Worship occurs in the context of a Christian backdrop, whether or not every word is explicitly Christian. Without this Christian backdrop, those very same words may come off as merely psychological self-help and the same songs as simply some nice words with a tune and a beat.

This backdrop makes the assumption of a common background drawn from basic biblical knowledge and Christian principles learned from common stories, songs, and practices. New people coming in to worship and to faith begin to assimilate this background material as they join in.

For much of the 20th century we had a shared homogenous culture. When comedians referred to Shakespeare, people got the joke. Church attendance was something that respectful people did. Even non- Christian people had general biblical knowledge so they understood allusions like to David and Goliath.  Since even non- church people who attended a service would share basic cultural understandings, it was easier for all to connect to the backdrop.

Today, much of this shared cultural experience has broken down. Church attendance is not the norm.  A generation is being raised up with no biblical knowledge.

Contrast this with a church world in which leaders are trying to create an experience that is attractive to people that are far from God. In order to be engaging and up-to-date, they abandon practices that they consider to be old-fashioned or out of style. Many of these church traditions are no longer useful or relevant. Some are even detrimental. They should discard these. In the process, however, they may inadvertently abandon things that should be a part of the backdrop of worship.

A church I served had a dynamic children’s ministry featuring a cool, entertaining, child friendly activity- complete with all of the bells and whistles every Sunday morning. During the Christmas season, a mother told me of her first grade daughter coming home from school, really excited at having   learned a new song. She thought it would be a great song to teach to the people at church. The name of the song was   “Away in a Manger”.

In an effort to be new and fresh, some churches no longer use the old stories and songs. After all, “everybody already knows them”. So  cute, humorous  stories and upbeat songs replace traditionally taught Bible stories and songs like “Away in a Manger” and “Jesus Loves Me” are pushed to the side.

The problem is that people aren’t born knowing these stories and songs. So teach them. If we don’t build this heritage into people, there will be less and less richness to the texture of the common background that is foundational to Christianity and to worship. We will all be the poorer for it.

So teach the important truths of the faith. Teach it in new ways. Teach it in tried and true ways.

As Marva Dawn pointed out, “When the Psalmist said, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song’ he immediately proceeded to quote an old one.”

People do need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed- , but this assumes that they have been instructed in the first place. Please don’t neglect building the foundation. We have a rich heritage. Don’t throw it away.

What you see is all there is

No matter what you do or how you do it, the worship you lead will shape people.

…Whether you are intentional or haphazard

…Whether your purpose is clearly articulated or fuzzy

…Whether your content is rich and substantive or shallow and meaningless

You will reap what you sow, producing that fruit in the people you lead.

 

Would you rather be intentional, clear and substantive or haphazard, fuzzy and trite? If you are going to shape people anyway, why not aspire to do it in such a way as to make a positive difference in the lives of the worshipers you lead. In order to be intentional, clear and substantive, however, you must first have a clear definition of worship in your mind. Without a clear definition of worship you can’t have a clear direction where you are going nor a clear way to measure if you get there. If you are not clear within yourself, there’s no way you can make it clear for your followers.

If you do not have a clear definition of worship, you are not alone.

Many worship leaders really haven’t given it much thought. Oh, they can regularly produce worship according to a prescribed format built on what they have learned and experienced which consists of what they like, perceive others to like, or what is deemed appropriate in their tribe. They watch and imitate what others are doing, acting on the assumption that if they select the right song, or preach the right sermon, people will like it and will hopefully be blessed, inspired, and connected with God. Thinking in terms of the music they like or a style of worship they find appropriate, musicians build worship on an emotional connection or on the songs themselves. All the while, though, they don’t have a clear picture of what the result of worship should look like.

Because of the busyness involved in just preparing and leading each week, many worship leaders don’t feel they have the time to think about the purposes and results of worship. As soon as one week’s services are complete, the process starts over in preparing for the next week. On top of this are the demands of other ministry tasks as well as the activities of life itself.

In our culture today, little value is given to the importance of margins for space to ponder and think. Social media can also distract us and absorb any marginal time.

It is no wonder that the easiest path for the worship leader is to lead worship that follows a comfortable pattern. But the easiest path is not always our best nor the best way to grow God’s people.

Practicing relationship with God through worship is the lifeblood for Christians and its leadership is a calling we should take seriously.

 

Gathered worship has a natural rhythm. This rhythm should draw people to encounter God together. At the same time, gathered worship should also teach a rhythm that builds personal worship. Ongoing personal worship feeds gathered worship and gathered worship feeds personal worship. Neither is sufficient by itself. Together, they should nurture Christian growth that produces people who are more Christ-like, obviously exhibiting the fruit of the spirit in their lives.

None of this is about the style of music or of preaching. Rather, it is about purposefully building worship to nurture transformation and Christ-like living: worship in which worshipers praise, honor and adore God, tune their hearts to God’s heart and listen, remember and are reminded what God has done, and obediently respond to God’s calling.

What you see is all there is. Clarify your thinking! Begin to see more!

Mother’s Standards

Congratulating a friend after her son and daughter got married within a month of each other, a woman asked, “What kind of boy did your daughter marry?”

“Oh, he’s wonderful,” gushed the mother. “He lets her sleep late, wants her to get her nails done regularly, and insists on taking her out to dinner every night.”

“That’s sounds lovely,” said the woman. “What about your son?”

“I’m not so happy about that,” the mother sighed. “His wife sleeps late, spends all her time getting her nails done, and makes them eat take-out meals!”

Fear and Pride or Joy and Freedom.

Have you ever known anyone to seek out a counselor because of a problem with pride? Me neither.  Fear, maybe, but pride, never. Yet fear and pride are closely related.  They are common conditions often feeding each other in a vicious circle, and are the root of most sin. We all have our fears, but are generally too proud to acknowledge most of them. We can easily spot pride in others, but rarely see it in ourselves, and even then would probably afraid to admit it.

The reason people lie, cheat, and steal is fear and pride.

They fear that they can’t get ahead, that they don’t measure up or fit in. They fear being poor, or hungry, or left out. Being too proud to be seen as poor, hungry, left out, or in any way in need, they feel that they must put up an image of superiority, competence or sophistication. To keep up the image they cut corners as they lie, cheat, and steal.

The reason people don’t lie, cheat, and steal is also fear and pride.

The fear that they will be caught, look bad, or embarrass themselves keeps them from cutting corners. They have pride that “their kind of people” don’t do those kind of things. They also take pride in being a good person, or at least keeping up that impression so that they do not let down their family or tribe. Fear and pride work together to keep them on the straight and narrow.

Religious people are not exempt. Many attend worship or pray because of fear and pride. They fear that God will punish them if they don’t. They fear that they won’t measure up or fit in. They take pride in how righteous they are, even to the extent that they are morally superior because they attend a church, synagogue or mosque.

Muslims believe that they will go to paradise based on the good works that they do. The only problem is that they won’t know if they’ve done enough until after they’ve already died. So they live in fear that they haven’t done enough.

Many professing Christians are much the same way. They believe that they are good people and hope they will go to heaven. This transactional approach reasons that if you pray enough, are sincere enough, love God enough, (or you fill in the blank enough) He will reward you with His grace and love.

You don’t have to live that way. The truth is that salvation and the abundant life are not the result of what we do but on what Christ has done for us on the cross. Therefore, worship should not be a grueling duty but a joyful expression as we come into the presence of a Holy God. Remember and be reminded! Don’t forget the joy of Easter worship and continue to reflect that joy each time you lead in worship.

Dear John Response

A Marine stationed overseas received a “Dear John” letter from his girlfriend back home. It read as follows:

Dear Ricky,

I can no longer continue our relationship. The distance between us is just too great. I must admit that I have cheated on you twice since you’ve been gone, and it’s not fair to either of us. I’m sorry. Please return the picture of me that I sent to you.

Love,

Becky

 

The Marine, with hurt feelings, asked his fellow Marines for any snapshots they could spare of their girlfriends, sisters, ex-girlfriends, aunts, cousins, etc. In addition to the picture of Becky, Ricky included all the other pictures of the pretty gals he had collected from his buddies. There were 57 photos in that envelope, along with this note.

Dear Becky,

I’m sorry, but I can’t quite remember who you are. Please take your picture from the pile and send the rest back to me.

Love,

Ricky