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August 2017



In Case We’re Ever Tempted to Say We’ve Been Persecuted . . .

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It’s not persecution when someone doesn’t agree with us.

It’s not persecution when someone tells us they don’t want to hear what we have to say.

It’s not persecution when someone doesn’t agree with our religious choices.

It’s not persecution when we encounter the “trials” that everyone else encounters e.g. health, car breaking down, wishing we got paid more.

It’s not persecution when someone does or says something we disagree with even if their intent is to tease us or watch us squirm e.g. using language we don’t like or telling jokes we don’t like.

It’s not persecution when someone asks us to stop preaching at them.

It’s not persecution when someone disagrees with our particular brand of religion.

It’s not persecution when someone disagrees with our particular interpretation of our scriptures.

It’s not persecution when we’re not allowed to preach in the office or sing Jesus songs on the construction site.

It’s not persecution when someone we don’t even know chooses to live their life in a way we disagree with.

It’s not persecution when we stumble across a piece of art that offends us.

It’s not persecution when we’re “forced” to listen to music that offends us in a restaurant or in a public space.

It’s not persecution when someone flips us off on the freeway and we’re sure it’s because we have a WWJD bumper sticker on our car.

It’s not persecution when our neighbor asks us to stop blasting religious music at 9:00p in our backyard.

It’s not persecution when our neighbors ask our entire youth group to no longer park in front of his or her house.

It’s not persecution when our kid is not allowed to wear a t-shirt to school with religious imagery on it.

It’s not persecution when the movie theater in town won’t show the latest, “God’s Not Dead” movie.

The existence of HBO is not persecution.

The building of a mosque in our town is not persecution.

When someone responds to our Facebook post or tweet with criticism, we aren’t being persecuted.


Inconveniences, maybe.

Differences of opinion, possibly.

Discouraging, perhaps.

Disappointments, conceivably.

But, not persecution.



April 2017



Do you Hear What I Hear?

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Today’s morning walk was an exercise in listening. As I meditated and prayed, I listened to the world around me. If I’m honest, my morning walks are often consumed by the voices and noise inside my own head. But, today I gained a different appreciation and perspective of the place I live.

  • Ducks
  • Geese
  • A covey of quail fluttering by
  • Traffic
  • Weed eater
  • Horns
  • Alarms
  • Cicadas
  • Birds. At least 13 different songs.
  • Doors
  • Leaf blowers
  • Voices. “Good morning!” “Great day, right?”
  • Dogs
  • Bikes riding by me
  • Water. Trickling. Splashing. Gurgling.
  • Bugs
  • Bees
  • Woodpeckers
  • Boats
  • My breath
  • A dump truck dropping a heavy load
  • My footsteps
  • Cooing of a pigeon
  • A train
  • A hammer
  • A car door
  • A conversation with a friend I ran in to

There are many ways to listen. Or not listen. When I taught communications labs at the college level we used to refer to active and passive listening. Active listening is engaged. Passive listening means we may or may not be aware of sounds—we hear them but we may not be paying careful attention to them.

Listening skills affect relationship, the way we see the world, engagement with society, safety, enjoyment, processing, remembering details, and understanding. And, they are skills to be sharpened. This is why we have the, “You’re not listening to me!”/ “I heard everything you said!” argument. Experts inside and outside the communications field talk about listening skills in much broader and more definitive terms than just active and passive e.g. appreciative, biased, comprehensive, critical, discriminative, empathetic, enjoyment, ignoring, pretend, pseudo, relational, and selective. When we attach these words to our definition of listening, we start to learn what is needed for mutual understanding.

On my morning walk, as I prayed I asked God to expand my ability to listen to the world around me. My family, my neighbors, my city, my co-workers, my friends. When I got home and showered and headed in to the office, I stayed in that frame of mind. What is the world around me communicating? What do I need to hear?

What do you need to hear?




April 2017



Beneath my Feet

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ground texture

Plenty of eye candy to look at while walking through our neighborhood–historical buildings, rivers, lakes, lush greenery, woodland creatures, birds, flowers… But I tried something different today on my morning walk. I took notice of the ground. I noticed the change in textures and colors beneath me as I prayed. I put one foot in front of the other and focused on what was directly beneath my feet. The ground became a museum full of extraordinary canvases. What’s beneath your feet on your path today? What stories is the ground telling you?



February 2017



Social Media Narcissism: It’s Not the Kitchen’s Fault When a Meal is Poisoned

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I had a great conversation over coffee the other day about social networking. My friend recently disengaged from any online activity for a variety of reasons including but not limited to anger, passive-aggressive behavior, meanness, bullying, hurtful sarcasm, name calling, and narcissism.

At times, I’ve thought about disengaging for some of the same reasons. Then I’m reminded of the beautiful, healing, life-giving conversations I have in these platforms and how many of my relationships have been strengthened through social media engagement. So, I press on. Which can be painful at times. Not only because I see all the things my friend pointed out but also because I have been the recipient of some of it.

So, I’m gathering my thoughts. I’m praying. And, I want to start talking about the issues—not to vilify them—but to depower them. Social Networking is not going away. It will keep reinventing itself. And, I believe God wants to redeem every iteration.

I want to start talking about these problems and opportunities more. In order to seek to understand and invite conversation. So that God might better use me. And you.

To invite conversation, the following is from, Follow You, Follow Me. I wrote this in 2012 and I think it’s even more real in 2017.

Not too long ago a friend of mine tweeted “Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his.” If you need a brief reminder of Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool and died staring at his own reflection. This is where we get the word narcissism that describes an “inordinate fascination with oneself.”

My friend was only partly right. The story of Narcissus is one where he was indeed renown for his beauty. But my friend was on to something very important. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the only reason Narcissus knew he was beautiful is because people defined him as such over and over again. He believed it because people told him it was so and he told himself it was so.

Nemesis was the goddess of revenge and retribution. When someone succumbed to hubris or pride that was an offense to the gods, Nemesis stepped in. It was Nemesis who led Narcissus to the pool knowing that his fascination with himself was a blind spot. A weak spot. A spot that Narcissus was not readily aware of.

In Narcissus’ case, it was his own pride that killed him. A pride he was blind to or at least chose to dismiss. This is also the case with the rest of us.

Bob Dylan’s “License to Kill” indirectly references Narcissus in a poetic and potent way:

         Now he worships at an altar of a stagnant pool

         And when he sees his reflection he’s fulfilled

True narcissists put themselves and their loved ones at great risk. Studies show (and maybe you have experienced in yourself or loved ones) that narcissists have a greater tendency to become impatient, anxious, angry, depressed, lonely, and violent. Narcissists tend to suck the self-esteem out of those they are in relationship with and seed a dose of despair and alienation in those they allow to be closest to them often resulting in infidelity and terminated relationships.

Narcissists often create their own reality where they feel there are more eyes on them than actually are. They often spiral when they feel they are unable to live up to other people’s expectations of them that may in fact be exaggerated or imagined expectations on their part. Unable to live with their own failures, narcissists often self-destruct and fall prey to all kinds of addictions including drugs, alcohol, and pornography.

Many times, the narcissist will not take responsibility for their own actions believing they are either invincible, or beyond reproach, or that other people are at fault for making them the way they are, or all of the above.

Within every one of us lay the ingredients for the making of a narcissist. A dash of pride, and cup of unchecked spirit, a slice of a lack of accountability and time on our hands are a great start.

The world of Social Networking can be a perfect kitchen for putting these ingredients together if we are not aware of the dangers. But remember, the ingredients exist in many a kitchen because we take the ingredients with us wherever we go. We shouldn’t fear entering this kitchen. It’s not the kitchen’s fault when a meal is poisoned.

Follow You, Follow Me. 2012. Abingdon Press. p125



October 2016



Remembering all the Friends I’ve Lost This Campaign Season

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I’d like to take the time to remember all the friends I’ve lost during this campaign season. The ones who no longer want to converse with me. Because, I obviously support someone other than their candidate.

  • The one who heard me say I liked a funny thing Jimmy Fallon did and labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who heard me say I liked a funny thing Jimmy Fallon did and labeled me a TRUMP supporter.
  • The one who heard me say I liked something Bernie Sanders said and labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who, when I made a joke about deleting my emails—not connected to any famous email deletion event—thought it was funny and labeled me a TRUMP supporter.
  • The one who, when I made a joke about deleting my emails—not connected to any famous email deletion event—thought it wasn’t funny and labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who when I said something about how my dad is a “hard working business owner who works harder than anyone I know and has never asked for a handout” thought I was talking like a republican and labeled me a TRUMP supporter.
  • The one who, when I made a joke about my own not-a-jock-at-all-and-wishing-I-was-never-in-a-locker-room-to-begin-with locker room talk labeled me a HILLARY supporter. And a baby killer.
  • The one who—when I referred to Trump’s “2 (two) Corinthians” comment as not a big deal and remarked I’ve heard some of my favorite theologians say that many times—labeled me a TRUMP supporter.
  • The one who, when I liked a post someone else made on Facebook because it was thoughtful labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who saw I was friends with someone else on Facebook and labeled me a TRUMP supporter.
  • The one who—when I said I loved it when Bill Clinton played music on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992—labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who thought being a Christian made me a TRUMP supporter.
  • The one who when I said, “Dear, Lord. Being a Christian does not make me a TRUMP supporter or a republican for that matter,” thought I was taking sides and labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who when I covered a political song in a coffee shop labeled me a TRUMP supporter.
  • The one who saw my daughter’s posts about Hillary and labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who knows I’m pro-life so they labeled me a TRUMP supporter.
  • The one who—when I said I understood a certain act of protest—labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who heard me say way early in the campaign and before the primaries heard me say that I was “undecided but loved some things Bernie was saying” and labeled me a SOCIALIST.
  • The one who when I made a comment about valuing human life assumed I meant I was talking about abortion and labeled me a TRUMP supporter but then later found out I meant all human life including immigrants and moms on welfare and labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who when I made a comment about valuing women thought I was making a comment about TRUMP and labeled me a HILLARY supporter.
  • The one who heard me say I liked an SNL sketch and labeled me a HILLARY supporter.





December 2015




Written by , Posted in poetry

Wonder never left my side

But she found a place to hide

From time to time surprising me

In the laughter of a child

In the feeling in the air

In the countenance of others

‘Till I glanced upon a face like mine

And once again, Wonder felt smothered

But that was many years ago

I haven’t seen her for ages

She put up with me for quite some time

Through the depression and the rages

Sometimes I think about Wonder

How she’s doing. Where she’s been.

I’ve often thought, “Did we really meet?”

“An imaginary friend?”

Wonder had a friend who goes by the name, “Magic”

Though Magic made herself so scarce

When visited by Tragic

Tragic was never invited

He usually showed up unannounced

He always hung around too long

And laughed even when denounced

Magic always set the table

Back when I was a child

And invited all her friends to come

Beauty made sure the room was styled

They always threw parties for Wonder

Wonder loved a good surprise

Especially many years ago

When she saw through younger eyes

Plenty made sure everyone could come

Though scarcity was left off the list

Scarcity is the party pooper

Slapping Plenty on the wrist

I’ll never forget the full house those nights

The music and the fare

The laughter and the playfulness

All the important ones were there.

Hilarity grabbed attention and did what he did best

While Time sat in the corner, content to take a rest

Frivolity sometimes got a stare,

But had something they admired

Generosity passed out gifts

Of that she never tired

All the kids in the neighborhood

Were invited to Wonder’s celebrations

And adults would peek their heads in

In a curious flirtation

The last time I saw Wonder

She was heading off to sea

On a ship called, “Broken Promises”

She didn’t even wave at me

The ship was loaded with Heavy Baggage

And other faces I recognized

So many of Wonder’s friends stuck with her

I shouldn’t be surprised

Somehow I think she was taken captive

She went against her will.

But I didn’t fight for her that day.

That feeling haunts me still.

Sometimes I think of calling up Hope.

I hear she’s still in town.

They say she knows where Wonder went.

And knows how to track her down.

I’ve heard stories that Wonder sometimes comes back

From far across the sea

I’m praying this will be that year

She comes back to visit me


By John Voelz

December 2015



December 2015



My Daily Approach

Written by , Posted in life, ministry

I’ve been in the habit for the last few years of Facebooking, 10 Great Things That Happened to me Today. Sometimes, I do longer lists. Sometimes I skip a day and catch up with 25 Things. I started this as a discipline for myself–a way to count my blessings. For some time, I was just writing them down for myself. One day, a couple of years ago, I decided to post them in order to influence the tone of social media.

Largely due to these lists, sometimes people will approach me or write me to say they are inspired by the way I see life. I appreciate the encouragement. I enjoy asking them what particular things about what I do inspire them. Usually, I get answers about the freedom and permission I seem to embrace to try new things, invent ideas, go against the grain, not settle for mediocre.

Often times, professional ministry folk will say the same things about how I approach ministry. Maybe because they read my lists or maybe because they’ve read my books or done life with me. To be honest, the “way I see life” and my “approach to ministry” are the same thing to me. I don’t delineate between the two. Life is life. I am a Jesus follower at work or at home. Everything is spiritual.

I was recently telling my wife how strange it sometimes feels that people think I’ve found some secret decoder ring of happiness. At least once a week someone says to me, “I wish I had your life” or something similar. I think I’m a normal guy. Normal problems. Personal and family health issues and worries. Bills. Taxes. Occasional tragedies. Ugly fights from time to time. But, my wife assured me, “Not everyone thinks like you. Not everyone sees things the way you do.” Hmmm.

So, I thought it would be healthy and maybe helpful to record the questions I ask myself each day when I wake up. I don’t literally go through this list. They have become part of me.


Who am I going to meet today?

I love walking in to a restaurant in town and being called by name. There is something magical about being known. I figure other people feel the same. So, I try to meet someone new every day. This requires proactivity. I don’t assume people will walk up and introduce themselves. I have to ask for their names. I have to engage in conversation. I keep a running list of names of people I meet and notes about them. It’s my goal to know every shop owner and employee in every store and restaurant I frequent in my town. Because, these are my people. It’s where I live.

What will I be surprised by today?

I expect that I will experience some kind of wonder in the day. This requires paying attention. Asking questions.

What new experience will I create for myself today?

I walk where my feet take me. I take new routes to and from work. I walk in to stores I have never been in even if it looks like it’s not my flavor or style. I watch movies I’ve never heard of. I try food I never order. I listen to Sirius XM stations I have never heard. I take five minutes to stop at the side of the road and read the historical marker. I walk inside of buildings just because they are there. I take elevators to top floors just because.

What am I going to read today?

Everyday I read something. Anything. Not always the Bible.  Every February, I read nothing but Fiction. Fiction February. Wanna join me this year?

What am I going to eat today?

Food is a big deal to me. I don’t eat fast food. I cook a lot. My wife cooks a lot. When we eat out, we aim to try a new restaurant. I seldom eat at chains and when I do, it’s usually because I’m outvoted. So, I make the best of it. Plan your food. It’s a huge part of your life.

What will I listen to today?

I collect vinyl. Some of the albums in my stack I have never listened to–they were a gift, I found them cheap, they were recommended, etc. It is a great experience to listen ALL THE WAY through an entire album. Sitting still. I do this as often as possible. When I don’t have time to do that in my day, I at least make sure I am listening to something I have never heard before. Music is a language. It speaks louder, deeper, more eloquently, softer, more convicting, more emotionally, more emotively than any other language. It informs my life.

What am I going to make today?

I make something every day. Period. I design my own thank you notes. I draw. I paint. I build. I craft. I write.

What am I going to imagine today?

I walk with my phone in hand. I take photos of things that inspire me. I talk out loud. And, I speak my thoughts into the recorder app. I collect notebooks. They are full of notes and ideas. Song lyrics. Quips. Jokes. When I think it, I write it down. And, I dig deeper. If I get an idea, I start to flesh it out with bullet points. I may never do it but I will do something. And, daily imagination is where it starts.

Who am I going to encourage today?

Every day, I send someone a note. An email. A card. Doesn’t matter. Everyday, SOMEONE will hear some encouraging words from me. I want to be encouraged. I’m sure they do to. So, it breathes life into my day to take 2 minutes to drop a note.

Where will I spend some personal time today?

On my motorcycle. Spinning vinyl. On a walk. Late at night after everyone’s asleep. I need it. It fuels me.

What conversations will I have today?

I try to have a face-to-face appointment every day. I look for excuses to have them spontaneously. I host vinyl listening parties in my office. I grab a pipe and invite a friend along. I meet folks for coffee. A new conversation with someone everyday (that’s not work related, not to troubleshoot, not conflict resolution) to learn more about them is life giving.

How will I greet nature today?

I go on walks. I sing to the birds. I talk to the cats. I take new trails. I walk at different times of day to literally see things in a different light. I walk in the rain without an umbrella.

How will I play today?

I watch movies. I sing songs loud while walking through the office. I call mandatory meetings and put on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I play board games. I go for drives. I write songs. I write poems. I grab people in the office and take them shopping. I ride a scooter through the office. I hold laugh parties.

What will God say to me today?

Yeah. I’m one of those weirdos. I don’t expect Him to audibly call my name. But, I expect He’ll give me perspective. I expect He is speaking through others and I need to shut up a bit. I expect I’ll learn a lesson.

What will I say to God today?

I believe He’s listening. I think He wants me to talk to Him. So, I do. I tell Him everything. He’s not afraid of my honesty. I laugh with Him. Cry with Him. Yell at Him. Confess to Him. Consult Him. Ask things of Him. Apologize to Him. Ask Him for wisdom. Nothing is off-limits.

What will I say yes to today?

How would you like to go on a drive and meet someone? Yes. How would you like to come to work with me and see what I do? Yes. How would you like to play music for my youth group? Yes. How would you like to come over for dinner? Yes. How would you like to play a few songs for some teenagers? Yes. These are legit questions that have led to some of the most memorable experiences and friendships of my life.

I’ve played music throughout Europe. I’ve spoken at major conventions and conferences. I’ve written books. I’ve gone on joy rides in private helicopters and planes. I’ve been behind the scenes at major corporations. I’ve seen the hidden tunnels and secret passageways of public spaces that no one gets to see. I’ve met CEO’s and Presidents of major companies. I’ve been on national television. I’ve had rock stars stay at my house. I’ve played music on the same stages as some of my heroes. I’ve written theme songs for independent films, book releases, and radio shows. I’ve made wine with vintners and had a beer named after my band. I’ve stayed in European cottages for free. I’ve had wine with the head of the Romanian Prison system. I’ve been front row and backstage at hundreds of concerts for free. I have hung out on the tour busses of major touring acts—talking about life. I could go on.

All of these opportunities came through saying yes to smaller opportunities. Life is waiting for you to say yes.





September 2015





July 2015



You Can Call a Rose Anything You Want and it Will Still Smell Pretty Good: Thoughts on Naming Conventions

Written by , Posted in church, creativity, language, philosophy, series, theme

Active churches are in the name game. There is always a weekend to plan for. A series to tackle. A program or initiative to launch, etc. We are always dreaming up new ways to share the gospel and create communities and venues ripe for spiritual conversation. The church has her work cut out for her almost as often as a publishing company. New ideas, deadlines, and creative ventures relentlessly dictate the need for new names and titles.

Hurrah for the Red, White, and Blue may not have become required high school reading. Thankfully, Fitzgerald renamed it The Great Gatsby1 and gave it flair and a sense of mystery. The title entices questions of anyone considering the purchase of a new book. Who is this Gatsby? What makes him so great? Is this title facetious? The best the original title may have evoked is mild patriotic agreement.

The Art of Courtship sold 17,500 copies. The Art of Kissing sold four times that many. Of course it did. It’s whimsical. Flirty. Fun. The other sounds like Puritan School curriculum. They were both released on the same day and advertised in the same way.2

Pretty Woman was almost released under the title 3000—a reference to how much Julia Roberts’ character charged Richard Gere for a week of her company. Yuck. The cult classic Snakes on a Plane was almost called Pacific Airflight 121.3  Yawn. Would you pay to see a movie called Spaceman from Pluto? No? How about Back to the Future instead?

The Pendletones may not have survived the 60’s and the cacophony of sound in the wake of the British Invasion. Good thing they changed their name. The Beach Boys helped inspire a new sound and created an entire movement consistent with their name. Ever heard of the band On a Friday? I doubt anyone would have. But good thing Radiohead was the long straw.4

In 2014 a new version of Hemingway’s, A Farewell to Arms was published including 47 alternate endings to the story that Hemingway considered. Also included is a list of alternate titles he considered and crossed off the list including, Enough and Time, Love in War, The World’s Room, and They Who Get Shot to name a few. I think the last one is hilarious but he chose wisely. Its poetic and has the kind of “magic” Hemingway said a title needs to have. In the book Conversations with Ernest Hemingway, he admitted he often came up with as many as 100 titles before settling for any given book.5

Names and titles matter. Even the celebrated experts go through processes of elimination and grapple with what is going to sell the sizzle.

Someone once told me (in reference to public reading of scripture), “It’s a sin to bore people with the Word of God.” I agree. And take it a step or two further. If you are in charge of setting tone in any way around your church . . . it’s a sin to bore people. Period.

Still, many of the names churches christen with are boring. Or, at least stagnate and uninteresting. Uninspiring.

We need to think through our naming conventions.

A convention is a set of agreed, stipulated, or generally accepted standards, norms, social norms, or criteria often taking the form of a custom.6 Therefore, a naming convention is a customary way you go about branding/naming things e.g. job titles, series’, message titles, programs, and ancillary and supportive materials.

You may not realize you and/or your church already have naming conventions. Even if they aren’t written down, you have them. They are the naming habits you fall in to, your tone and lexicon, your sense of humor, the resources you draw from, the ruts you find yourself in, or even the lack of care you have for them. Whatever your default is, that’s your convention. And your titles are a reflection of you and what you believe about ministry at some level. Good, bad, or otherwise.

In my years of ministry I’ve always cared about naming conventions. Maybe it’s the songwriter and poet in me.  I’ve always had a good idea of what I like and don’t like but I haven’t always done a good job communicating what was in my head to others. Early on, this fault of mine has earned me labels like opinionated, picky, and controlling.

The more people you have involved in naming things around your church increases your need for a written set of conventions. If it’s just you naming things and not worrying about setting a standard for others to abide by, you may not find a written list important. Still, I would argue listing your conventions is a helpful exercise in self-discovery at a bare minimum.

The following list is comprised of my own naming conventions convictions. This is not prescriptive for everyone. Maybe these items will spark some new discoveries or convictions for you.

1. Be playful.  Fun rhymes. Humor. Messing with proverbial statements. Turn of phrase. Taking generally accepted beliefs and turning them on their head. Startling statements. Playful irreverence. All of these naming tactics are not only permissible they are encouraged.

2. Don’t stress about tension. Tension can often surface questions that would not be asked otherwise. We don’t always have to connect the dots right away. Sometimes it’s good to create a tension that allows us to address the questions people might be asking. Like good art message titles, series titles, and many program names can bring with them a tension that makes people want to know more (However, mission statements, rallying cries, mottos, etc. should probably be very clear and easy to digest).

3. Don’t be too literal. Literal can be boring. If you are writing textbooks, safety guidelines, and owner’s manuals you should be literal. Avoid titles that sound like business and leadership book titles or a promise of checklists. If you want to surface a need to listen or you want to stir inquiry, you need to welcome metaphor and allegory.

4. Be innovative. The church can be lazy. She sometimes looks at what other churches are doing and copies with no shame—usually because it’s easy. This is why 1000 youth groups have names like Revolution, Elevate (Elev8), Axis, Fusion, Ignite, Catalyst, or any name that incorporates the use of an “X.” People outside the church make fun of this. Your church should have its own brand and identity. It should be unique and indigenous. When we see companies rip-off naming conventions and designs from other companies, we usually mock them for trying to jump on the bandwagon and ride the coattails of someone else’s success (P.S. this is also a huge design issue e.g. stock photos showing up in multiple contexts). So, why would we wish this on ourselves?*

5. With “interior” names and titles, there are “no” rules (or, not many). If you aren’t playing to the masses, you can be as quirky as you want. Use inside jokes. Give titles that require explanation. Create an entire backstory for the sake of explanation. If someone in the congregation is confused by why we call it that, it’s okay. You can expound if necessary.

6. Don’t overplay pop culture references. This is especially true if the references are outdated. Churches are notorious for thinking it will be cool and trendy if they reference a TV show or popular book in their titles. This may have been edgy at one time but it isn’t any longer. So, proceed with caution. Your overzealous pop culture reference could be interpreted as corny and trying to appear hip and relevant. This can backfire on you and smell like snake oil (P.S. Churches, please stop making parody videos. When a popular commercial or show comes out, don’t feel the need to rewrite it in your own image. Be inventive. Tell good stories).

7. Count the cost of explanation. Not every series title, message title, job title, and program name should be memorable, recitable, or pronounceable. Sometimes, a bit of obscurity can actually help the cause and draw people into a deeper conversation or desire to know. Sometimes more ambiguous naming conventions give us an opportunity to provide ancillary materials that create broader conversation and a deeper understanding. Just count the cost. If you don’t want to constantly explain the reasons for your brilliant creativity, go easy on yourself and make it more palatable at first taste.

8. No one really super-de-duper cares about message titles. No one ever leaves a weekend thinking, “That title changed my life.” The importance of the title is directly proportional to the long-term impact we want it to make and/or how important the phrasing is to our message. If the title is part of a grander scheme then it matters big-time. But, if it just matters for the weekend, it matters WAY more to you than anyone else. Which should still matter.

9. Be hopeful but not at the risk of being dishonest. We are purveyors of hope but that doesn’t mean we ignore pain, sugarcoat issues, or wear fake smiles. Sometimes we have to hit the pain straight on in order to get to the hopeful bits. If our message and series titles always sound like Chicken Soup for the Soul, we run the risk of people not trusting us. Avoid self-help titles. A title like, “Hope for Your Marriage” may sound positive and hopeful (though it is boring and uninventive) but a title like, “Love Stinks” will certainly command attention and allow you to seed the series with all kinds of hope while addressing the hard stuff. Everyone knows life is hard. Let’s not pretend it isn’t.

10. Sometimes it’s subjective. If you are the leader or have been given permission to have at it with naming conventions, sometimes it will just make sense to you to go with something you think will work and your team can rally behind.

11. Beware of innuendo. We’d like to believe that only teenage boys have dirty minds but it’s not true. Some series titles and message titles play right in to our junior high brains and cause distraction. No examples are needed here.

12. Say it out loud. How does the title or name roll off your tongue? Is it easy to communicate to a large group? From the stage? In conversation? Experiment with how you would refer to whatever you’ve named with a variety of sentences. “We have a series coming called, __________.”  “What did you think about __________?” “I searched online and couldn’t find the video for __________.” “Can I invite my friend to __________?” etc.

13. Be cautious of similarity to something you’ve already done. This is true of things you’ve done in the past as well as things that might be happening in other areas of your church at this time.

14. Think through connotations and/or direct ties to things with the same name. In 2002, it may not have been a good idea to name your youth group, Axis. George W. Bush used the phrase; “Axis of evil” in a state of the union address and it worked its way fast into the underbelly of culture and media. It was the stuff of comedy, parodies, and mockeries. We need to think about how our words and phrases are being used in the culture around us. Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure if we ignore this rule. However, we may want to use a title specifically because of what is happening in culture. Finally, even if it isn’t a direct tie to cultural references, a title may stir up bad feelings because of something happening around us in the world e.g. following the ISIS beheadings we would not want a title like, “Don’t lose your head (unless that’s exactly what we want to do).”

15. Don’t overdo any particular motif. Don’t always rhyme. Don’t always be funny. Don’t always include numbers. Don’t always spell words cleverly. Don’t let alliteration get stale. Recently, I thought about titling a message Hope is Out There as a double-entendre (hope is attainable and hope isn’t found in seclusion). It felt dull to me the more I thought about it. Then I stumbled upon the Greek word for hope as I was reading a commentary. The word is elpis. The new title became Elpis Has Left the Building. Worked for me. This title includes play on words, a Greek word, and a pop-culture reference. But you won’t see me use a Greek word in a title for another few years now. If I ever do. Likewise, the play on words won’t come around again for a bit.

16. Be you. Honesty includes credibility, integrity, and authenticity. Say it the way you would say it. Let it take on your personality—not someone else’s. Colloquialisms are okay. Local slang is okay. Don’t try to sound smart. Bottom line; don’t try to dress up your title in clothes from someone else’s closet.

17. Cute can get old. We all want our branding to have flair and we’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking about the value of just that but it’s good to cleanse the palate every once in a while. Even in light of #1 and #3 above, it may be good to simplify every now and then. In the same way that some churches swing the pendulum from felt-need and topical sermons to bible book studies, a change of pace can be great. This is true across the board—not just series and message titles. Don’t force-feed creativity into something that may not need it or may even be detrimental. For example, if you are naming a new gathering for a small group of ladies that will meet on Tuesdays at a coffee shop, feel free to refer to that group as Tuesday Coffee. Try it out. “A group of us meet on Tuesdays for coffee.” “Would you like to join our Tuesday coffee bible study?” “6 of us currently meet for Tuesday coffee and study Song of Solomon.” See. It works just fine. There are enough Mugs and Muffins out there to choke us all.

18. Consider subtitles. If you are doing a series through the book of Galatians, you might want to call your series . . . Galatians. Maybe you want your people to be well aware that you are covering an entire book of scripture. A subtitle gives room for a new creativity e.g. Galatians: Faith, Freedom, and Fruit or Galatians: Busting Chains and Taking Names (I don’t know that I’d use either but you get the picture). When addressing a crowd, feel free to call it the Galatians series without using your subtitle. Subtitles can also generally be longer than any title you may use otherwise since you never really need to constantly refer to it e.g. Galatians: The Long Smackdown Arm of the Law. 

19. Avoid church-trendy. We came at innovation from the angle of laziness, being anti-indigenous, and substandard facsimile in #4. Here we are addressing another angle of innovation—avoiding unthoughtful repetition. Find new descriptors when something is overused and loses impact. Churches fall in to buzzword traps all the time. We end up talking and branding like the short-circuited Stepford bride.  It’s common for worship songs to incorporate a clever phrase ad infinitum after one artist stumbles upon something that hasn’t been said or a familiar phrase gets re-popularized with a hit song (e.g. Jesus’ fame and a resurgence of the words amazing grace and amazing love reverberated through popular worship music in the last decade). Just because John Mark McMillan coins a poetic phrase does not mean it should end up in the bridge of 100 subsequent tunes (I digress). In similar fashion, descriptors like church DNA and ethos join hands with organic and next-level enough to make every church staff meeting nauseating. Think twice about naming your new church plant Journey or Cornerstone. Think twice about naming your new once-a-month worship gathering Ekklesia. Instead of publishing a Church DNA handbook, publish Stuff that Matters or Things Worth Fighting For.

20. Know your audience. The number one rule of public address. Will they understand your older-than-dirt reference? Were they even born when that TV show you referenced was popular? Are you using white-collar business titles in a blue-collar town? Does your overly conservative crowd need some feedforward and handholding before you smack them in the face with your cleverly offensive title? By giving your youth group that obscure biblical name do you give up any chance of reaching kids in the community who have no idea what you are referencing and it makes you sound like a cult?


*NOTE: While I’m playful and tease a bit, I in no way mean to offend any church who currently uses any names alluded to or listed here. We’re on the same team.  If I listed something as taboo that is a habit for you, my goal is to help you out and get us all to think–not depress or anger you. If anyone feels stuck with naming conventions or does not understand something I said, please enter a comment and we can chat.


1. The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing—5th Edition. Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier. 2010. Writer’s Digest Books. p 69. HT

2. Ross and Collier. p 68.







June 2015



So, You Want to be a Pastor?

Written by , Posted in church, leadership, ministry, music, pastors, Uncategorized, worship music

I’ve had an abnormal amount of friends in the last year tell me they are ready to go into full-time pastoral music/worship ministry. Some have interned with me. Some I’ve mentored. Some are friends and co-laborers.

All of them had the same pressing general questions: “Am I ready for it?” “What do I need to know?” “Do you think I can do it?” And, all of them asked me specifically, “What have you learned that I should know?”

I’ve been in music ministry for going on 30 years. I’ve been asked these questions many times. My answers would have been much different 20 years ago. I know this because I recently made a list of the Top 20 things I’ve learned (at least the ones that jumped right in to my mind) and realized . . . very few of them are about music.

If it’s helpful for you, here’s the first list I came up with.

#1 Continue to develop a philosophy of ministry. What does the Bible say about worship? Is it for everyone? Is it evangelical? Is it private? Is it corporate? What ways do we worship outside of music? How is worship defined throughout all of scripture? What is my role as a leader? What is the goal of the weekend experience? How can I measure the effectiveness of what I am doing as a leader?

If you don’t have answers to the above, you have some work ahead of you.

I say, “continue to develop” because I guarantee, once you have the answers, you will change your mind at some point. Maybe God will reveal something new. Maybe God will do something new in your congregation or in the community at large and you will have to find a way to respond to it.

I know too many men and women fresh out of college or fresh from some worship leading mountaintop experience or season who are ready to take on the world and fight for what they “believe” to be true about worship without knowing how to listen to others, pay attention to the signs around them, or pay attention to the people they are supposedly ministering with and to.

When I was young in ministry, there was always someone who had my back and had all these answers for me. They gave me a platform and fought my battles. Then, there comes a time where you can’t call for mom and dad to come wipe your butt anymore.

#2 Define your methodology. Why do you do the things you do in the way you do them?

In some ways, you may be paid for your style, opinion, and personality. If someone hires you, they probably like you. Or, at least, the idea they have of you.

You have quirks and idiosyncrasies that filter out into the way you do ministry. You don’t have to apologize for those things. But, you will serve the church well by being able to articulate the things you believe to be true about ministry in non-confrontational, non-militaristic, non-jackassian ways.

Make sure you develop a relationship with your leaders above you and converse about methodology often. Get on the same page. Decide what you are willing to bleed for and bleed together.

#3 Keep training to be a theologian. Not everyone has the knack for theology. Not everyone is a bookworm. Not everyone is articulate in being able to cross-reference scholars and commentators on the fly. We don’t all have to be that person.

Still, don’t simply be a spiritual sponge. Don’t sit on your bum and wait for Sunday’s sermon or your favorite podcast to speak in to you.

Continually ask, “What do I believe about God and His people?” “How is God working in this world?” “What is He saying?” “Doing?”

Then, download some books. Pick up a pen and pad of paper. Grab your Bible and a highlighter. Read. Seek. Study.

Sound theology is not only helpful for preachers and evangelists. Music ministers should be able to decide what songs they want to introduce to their congregation by testing the words as much as they test melody, memorability, approachability, and singability (among other things).

#4 Say it with me, “There is no such thing as balance.” Young people out of college and most of my interns like to use this word a lot. But, it’s a forbidden word around me. Ministry is not about balance. Many times, your life will be totally unbalanced.

Ministry happens in cycles and seasons. If you think you’ll be able to have some kind of normalcy to your schedule or that your life in ministry can work like it does checking in to a 9-5, you’ll be sorely disappointed and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Celebrate the seasons and talk through them with your family. Let them know what is coming up and what life will be like on the other side of tough seasons. Look forward to rest and vacations and private time. Protect those times. And, enjoy the chaos when you’re in the middle of it. If everyone gets on the same page it will help make ministry a rewarding career/vocation.

#5 Get your spouse on board. Your spouse is part of the ministry life whether he or she knows it (wants it?) or not. He or she will have expectations put on them. Unfairly at times. They will be looked at as an expert at what you do and what is going on at the church by association. So, communicate well with your spouse so they aren’t the last ones in-the-know.

Don’t share ministry grievances at home. I learned this early on. When you tell your spouse about the person who treated you harshly, they will remember it forever. Even after you reconcile with said person. Chances are, you will forget to tell your spouse the reconciliation story and, even if you do, the damage is done. Now, you’ve caused your spouse to sin by holding a grudge and in a strange twist, you’ve become the offender.

Finally, help your spouse define his or her role in ministry and defend them. Don’t let anyone put expectations on your spouse. Celebrate your spouse’s individuality and role in the kingdom. Don’t let them be defined by others or by your ministry.

#6 Be available for counsel. People will come to you for advice. You don’t need to be the advice guru but you should at least know where to send them for it. You should also be attentive to their needs and issues. Listen well. Share your experiences and things you have learned along the way. Good, bad, right, or wrong, when you are an up-front leader, you are a go-to person for counsel. Be a friend and offer all you have. Sometimes the listening is all they want.

#7 Develop a strong sense of self-identity. Who are you? What does God have for you? What is He calling you to do? What permissions has He given you?

At your core, you are not a pastor or a musician or a worship leader—you are a child of God. What you do is not who you are. Be able to articulate what God has called you—a Jesus follower—to do for the kingdom.

And, in the words of Damien Rice, “ . . . if all that you are is not all you desire then come.” Don’t be too big for your britches (as grandpa would tell me). You are a worshipper. Remember who you are.

P.S. Double-check your online persona. Who you are online is . . . who you are.

#8 Love people until they ask you why. This is the greatest piece of advice I’ve ever been given by my friend, Dr. Joseph Aldrich who is now at home with Jesus. Never let people wonder if you love them.

#9 Know your resources. Be a resource. Build people networks and information networks.

Hang around like-minded people. Don’t go to conferences unless they actually help you. Pick the conferences and think-tanks where you meet people you are bound to stay in contact with. Share your stuff. Give stuff away. Take stuff when it is offered to you and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Take advantage of opportunities to meet new people you can learn from. Take advantage of opportunities to teach others what you know. Say yes to a bunch of stuff. Too many people will tell you all about boundaries and protecting your time. Those same people come to me all the time and ask me how I do what I do. The difference between us is usually the experiences I have created for myself and have taken advantage of. I am no one special but I know a TON of people who are great at what they do and we are all connected. Why? We say yes.

Invite folks in to your world. Keep no secrets. If it costs you money to teach others, do it. It all comes around.

#10 Put a high priority on ingenuity and invention. What role does creativity play for you? What sparks your creativity? What are you dreaming up? What are you making out of nothing? You should have answers to these questions if longevity in ministry is important to you. As Howard Hendricks once said, you would rather be a “running stream” for your teams and the people you lead as opposed to a “stagnant pool.” Keep learning. Keep inventing.

#11 Be easy to work with (and/or for). What do people say about you when you aren’t around? Are you fun? Are you interested in them? Do they want to be like you? Do you energize or suck energy? Cultivate your people skills. It’s not too difficult. It starts with sending time with people.

#12 Be a giver, not a taker. I have a friend who gives stuff away to me all the time. I have stopped telling him about things I like in his house because he just gives them to me. When we go to lunch, he buys. When we visit another town, he takes me to all his favorite spots. When he finds something he likes, he buys a few of them and gives them to his friends. He is not trying to buy our love—we love him for many reasons outside his generosity. But I want to be like him so bad. I want to be that giver. It breeds positive energy.

I have another friend. He is always asking for things. Nothing is ever right in his life. Always the victim. Always looking for a handout. He sucks the energy from everyone within listening distance of him. He is what we call an ask-hole. To love him is a choice. No one wants to be like him.

Outside of not wanting to be perceived as a jerk and a killjoy, the reasons for being generous are infinite. Jesus modeled it. It brings joy. It is life giving to be a giver. It adds years to your life. It increases blessing. You’ll find you keep getting more to give away. Take time to look around at your “stuff” and find ways to give it away to someone who will appreciate it.

#13 Cultivate a soft spirit and tough skin. Soft-spirit-people work on approachability. They invite people in. They listen to stories. They cry with people. They hug. They ask questions. But, you also need a bit of a shield in ministry to take the darts. Don’t be defensive but don’t stand there while people piss on you. Weigh criticism, don’t count it. Don’t rent your headspace to people who just want to bring you down to their level of meanness and insensitivity. Soft and tough. You need both.

#14 Make sure your ministry drive is not a need for “the job.” People need to know you are about the call, not the check. Don’t air your grievances about your job with people who serve alongside you or attend your church. They pay your salary. If you don’t like the job, get another one. But, don’t talk about how God has called you and bitch and moan out the other side of your mouth. Read James 3.

#15 Kill your money motivation. In close connection with the above lesson, make sure you are not always talking about your lack of money. Quit making jokes about how pastors and ministers obviously don’t choose the job because of money. Don’t allow your family to constantly talk about what you can’t afford—there are others in the exact same boat. This doesn’t mean you can’t have hopes and dreams and aspirations. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a raise. This doesn’t mean you can’t have honest money conversations with your boss. Just, don’t be the guy or gal who is always on the poor-me train. Allowing yourself to wallow here zaps all your energy, keeps you from being inventive, and steals your joy. After a bit, people will be afraid every time you open your mouth.

#16 Get control of your money habits. Live, but don’t be stupid. Few things kill your credibility faster than foolish spending and residence in senseless-debt-jail. As far as you can control it, be wise.

In related news, whether you like it or not people are making judgments about your money habits. They may misjudge you and shame on them for that. But, I have found it is wise to disclose everything I think might be misjudged and eliminate questions. It may seem unfair, but it will save you heartache. For instance, if you come in to an inheritance and you are able to pay cash for a home outside your means, tell the story. If someone blesses you with a sports car that would normally cost you two year’s wages, tell the story. If grandma writes you a check to take your family on a two-month European vacation, tell the story.

One more thing, unless your job is to manage church money, don’t touch it. Don’t take cash from people to put in the offering. Don’t carry the cash to the counters on Sunday. Don’t make the bank deposits. Don’t take cash withdraws from an ATM without prior approval and only when absolutely necessary, with receipts, and a precise account of the spending.

#17 Remember, you are not the sin police. Sometimes, even in ministry, people feel better about themselves by pointing out others’ wrongdoing. Don’t equate your role with that of an enforcer. It is not your job to make perfect people. Sure, hold people accountable, but remember that accountability and edit-ability are best with an invitation and in relationship.

#18 Constantly work on your stage presence and communication. Smile a lot. Think things through prior to stepping on stage. Think about pause, pitch, pace, and punch. You only have a few minutes to communicate Jesus each week. He’s worth your best. Study communication. Take public speaking courses. Read books. And, don’t underestimate the power of the lobby. The more hands you shake and hugs you give before you step on stage will improve your ability to make connection with people. Remember how hard you worked to make sure your very first times on stage were huge successes? Do that every week.

#19 Outwork everybody. There is no shortage of people who will tell you to set boundaries, take a Sabbath, rest up, beware of burnout, etc. They are not wrong all the time. But few people will say, “work hard” anymore. So, I’m saying it. Be the first one there and the last to leave. Volunteer hours on top of your salaried hours. Invent things that take your personal extra time and focus. Sweat. Don’t make excuses. Don’t make dumb decisions to ditch your work for things you don’t have to be at. Set the bar high for others and higher for yourself. Most people I know that have volunteer problems on their teams have a work-ethic issue. Your team will only work as hard as you do. In a world of high-tech, timesaving, “the computer does the work for you” work ethic . . . be the pioneer. Be the one willing to cross the mountains in the Conestoga. Be the one with callouses on your hands. You will never have a volunteer deficit.

#20 Be a responsible person. Have your affairs in order. Make sure you are above reproach. Follow through with commitments. Be on time. Apologize. Don’t be dumb.