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All posts in Leadership

What God Needs from a Worship Leader

Prior to Vertical Church I was a worship leader for 13 years. As a worship leader the tension I found myself dealing with was getting beyond the challenge of programming for JESUS rather than people. If you plan worship long enough you will eventually get to the place where you will be challenged by the desire to program in a way that achieves the desired results of the music. But the truth is…

What God needs from me as a worship leader isn’t good music – He desires a leader who can present supernatural worship.

Our music should be set apart and anointed by God. When we lead worship, that worship needs to hold within it the supernatural - the presence of JESUS, the power to break through all the junk that people bring into the house from their week. Let’s face it – they come in from all different places in life: some worshpers, some seekers; some broken hearted, some wholehearted; some offering all they have, some giving God one more chance.

We shouldn’t… NO! WE CAN’T just half-heartedly walk into worship acting as if we’re doing God a favor by showing up. This is especially huge for the worship leader, singer, band member and A/V tech – but you know it’s also important for the believer sitting in the congregation. After all, prayer and worship is not for God’s benefit (He doesn’t need our worship – He has created beings who were made for the purpose of worship who have and will worship Him for eternity). Worship and prayer is for our benefit drawing us closer and into the presence of our Father.

I am so thankful for the worship leaders God has given us at Vertical Church. One thing that I know that they understand is this concept – they demonstrate it weekly. But for all of my worship leader friends out there who read, maybe you need some encouragement in this area. May we all remember that what we do in woship is not entertainment – it’s our spiritual act of worship, singing to the ONE, the only ONE Who holds the power to break the chains that people have in their lives.

AUDACIOUS – So Big You Can’t Do it!!!

“If the vision that God has given to you doesn’t make you laugh and YOU don’t believe that God can use you to transform your city – DON’T DO MINISTRY!” Steven Furtick

I still feel that way. I believe that God can use us to change this city. Heck, I believe God can use us to begin a movement that will rock Southeastern North Carolina spiritually calling thousands back to the knowledge of Jesus Christ!

I’ve had my moments where people didn’t get it (still do). The blank stares… the looks that say to me, “he’s a big dreamer”. Those who thought what I saw could NEVER happen here in this area!”. People contradicting vision, trying to make excuses for huge vision. I have had people try to break down vision into small, edible (and humanly possible) portions like the time I was preaching and casting vision that Jesus could save 3,000 people in our midst (Acts 2:40-41) and he immediately says in front of the congregation, “Well, i don’t know about God saving 3,000, but i could certainly see this room full…” DUDE, YOU COULD FILL THAT ROOM IN YOUR OWN POWER! I was sick. That’s not the power nor the vision of God!

It all goes back to having a God-sized, Spirit-led, AUDACIOUS goal, something so huge there ain’t no way you can take credit for it. Dr. Adrian Rogers said it is so important that we not “forget in the dark the things God has shown us in the light.” That thing that burns deep within you – what are you doing to work towards that? Sometimes we just need to get alone with JESUS and allow Him to speak deeply into our life – what is He saying to you? Never forget that HE challenges us to do so:

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (Jeremiah 33:3 ESV)

Don’t Add the Taco Bar

4 years ago I began to get discouraged because I sensed God changing me. As He worked on me I noticed my focus changing and I became concerned about reaching people that we were having no success reaching. The more He changed my desire the more frustrated I would become. I began to want something that at the time I wasn’t in position to make happen. God was changing my heart and I honestly thought He wanted me to live out that change in my church.

So the changes came.

Some were great for the church and some were not as beloved. It was frustrating because I KNEW these were good changes. I also knew that God was doing a work in my heart. What I didn’t understand was that God was doing a work of preparation, grooming me for my future while I was becoming frustrated in my NOW. I am still totally convinced that what I did wasn’t wrong; a lot of people gave their lives to Jesus during that time; it just wasn’t a good fit for the situation that I was in and some people just didn’t “get” the vision.

I talk to a lot of Pastors (and lay leaders) who are frustrated that they can’t seem to steer the church they lead in the direction that they feel like God is leading them. Because of my personal experiences I find myself thinking  “Maybe God isn’t trying to change your church. Maybe God is trying to change you.”

Want a Taco with that Frosty?

In the late 80′s Wendy’s used to have the all-you-can-eat taco bar? Frosty’s, chili and chicken sandwiches are awesome – taco’s and noodles with meat sauce, not so much. It was also during this season that Burger King experimented being a sit down restaurant at night. In my local BK they would make you sit down after you ordered and a waiter would bring your food to your table. Chances are you don’t remember either of these instances because they both failed… they were trying to be something they weren’t and it didn’t work out.

Churches often think that a music change, a visual update or a younger Pastor will change their situation but truth is, before you have true change in a church God must bring true change to people’s hearts. Don’t add the taco bar (or the contemporary service at 8:30 am – the people we should be trying to reach usually don’t visit churches at 8:30 am).

If you are in a church and find yourself being challenged by God (not to mention frustrated in your situation) I would advise you lead your church leadership to find out who they are – be the best at doing that kind of church that you can possibly be. You can bring new life to a service without changing the whole church.

I always make these suggestions to churches that want to improve their services:

  • Put more coordination into place.
    Pick songs that actually go with sermons/topics rather than just picking popular or congregational favorites.
  • Services are better when they flow.
    Dead time can kill the flow of the service. If you have a special does the singer wait to be introduced then get up from the seat and walk to the platform while everyone in the church watches? You’re wasting time and making the service awkward. Tell the singer when to come and have them in place for the introduction if you do this sort of thing. You will be amazed at how much better service flow is. If you practice this with all transitions your service will improve!
  • Improve the quality of the total morning experience.
    First impressions do not begin with the call to worship (or whatever you may call your first song). First impressions begin the moment people drive into your parking lot. Putting friendly people in the parking lot as greeters can improve people’s impression of your overall service. Teach people to expect visitors and to truly be welcoming when they arrive and to take people where they need to go rather than point.
  • Strive to be better.
    Jesus deserves our best and more! When we take the quality of services up people can actually be excited enough to invite someone. Don’t we all want that?

In the end you may still find that you need to leave. You may discover that this much of this work was in preparation for the next. If that’s the case, rejoice!!  You’re a work in progress and God’s church is better because you were a part of it. But whatever you do don’t add the taco bar – it’s not who you are. Be who you are.

Truth Bomb (Leadership Edition)

Are you a leader? For years I felt like I was leading.

For those who don’t know my history, my Pastor in my first staff position was a man named Dennis Harrell. Dennis is an incredible leader who ended up retiring from his church after pastoring them for 25 years. He was (and continues to be) a wellspring of wisdom in my life. One day during a normal conversation he dropped a truth bomb (TB) on me that shaped my life as a leader from that day forward:

“Mike, true leaders always replace themselves. They plan and make provision for what will happen after they leave. Great ministry leaders leave a mark in that when they leave, a ministry it is better off because they were there. The church will maintain a stability even though he’s gone.”


As I analyzed my situation I realized that I thought leadership was being followed. I was under the false impression that being a leader was people following wherever the leader may lead. As I began to evaluate my leadership according to Pastor’s bomb I quickly realized that I was at the center of much of what I led. I thought, “if Pastor Dennis is right that would mean that I am not leading well.” His thoughts rocked my concept of leadership and began to shape my thinking about the ministry I was leading. Unfortunately my original concept of being a leader had come true – lots of people were following me and we functioned at a high level, yet when I was not there or in the center of things we were not meeting the same mark.

In my mind I often heard Pastor Dennis saying, “True leaders always replace themselves.” And I wasn’t.

You can’t be the center.
It is so easy as leaders to make ourselves the focal point of all things. Now, before you “Jesus-juke” me, I understand that He is always to be the center. But many of us leaders have often put ourselves at a close second. As I took an honest assessment of the ministries I led I began to realize that we had become very personality driven. Whenever I was on vacation I would hate to hear the phone ring after services were over. “You were DEFINITELY missed today!” The first time I heard that it made me feel good. But once Pastor got in my head I began to feel differently. Things were not as good when I wasn’t there and I had to do something about it.

(TB) If I must be the center it will wither and die when I leave.

Give others opportunity.
The more I thought about the need to raise up others I began to notice all of the talent that had accumulated around me and our ministry. One thing that I have learned through the years is that talented people who are under used will find a place where they can use their talent. I began to give these people the opportunity to step into my roles more and more. After my new direction I began to ask people to step up when I was there. Before this people only stepped into my roles when I was absent.  I wanted to watch people lead, to be with them, coach, lead and empower them to be better than ever. Some people didn’t understand why I was passing what they saw as my responsibility to others, “why is Mike letting other people do his job? Isn’t that what he is supposed to do?” When asked about this I would remind them that chances were I wouldn’t always be there and I wanted to leave our church better than we found it.

(TB) If I want to develop leaders who can lead in my absence I will allow them to gain experience in my presence.

You must have roots.
Just because you are the hired leader doesn’t mean people are following you. I have seen pastors and leaders who, early in their tenure, experienced great frustration because they believed that people were to follow them because of their position. I agree that people should honor the office, but my personal experience and observations show me that people don’t truly follow leaders until they trust them. Trust is earned, not given and comes with time. There are so many in ministry who are always looking for a bigger, “better” church to go to. I was committed to this ministry long term and I believe my longevity was a key factor in our success.

(TB) People must trust me before they will follow me.

And the day came.
The day did come when it was time to leave. It took me 11 years and I did everything in my power during the last 6 to lead in such a way that when I left I would leave that ministry in a better place than I received it. In the end I did not actually replace myself – that was the church’s job, however I felt fully convinced that I had accomplished what I set out to do. I left a strong ministry with a contingency plan in place. I raised up people who were better equipped to keep things semi-normal in the absence of a long time leader. I felt good about what I left in place for the next guy and couldn’t help but think of what Pastor Dennis had taught me. Was it easy for them. No. Transition is always difficult but they were ready to lead in my absence. I truly believe God was glorified through our ministry, our leaders were prepared for transition and what I left was much better than what I acquired.

And that’s what I set out to do.

7 Things I Learned in 2011

2011 was an immense year for me in the area of learning to lead. I’ve been leading for years but becoming a lead pastor of a large church was a real eye opener. I felt the pressure to step up my game big time. Here are some of the leader lessons I learned in 2011:

  1. Leadership is more than identifying leaders and releasing them. One of the keys to growing leaders is to not micro-manage them. Give people the freedom to do what they feel called to do. That’s big and I can honestly say that I’ve been trying to do that for a while. However, last year I realized something that I believe is even more important: It is my responsibility to make sure that they people I’m raising to lead don’t just know HOW, but understand the WHY behind their position/ministry/calling. You can teach someone how and they can do it over and over again but if you will teach them WHY they can connect it to the overall vision of your church/organization. “Why” is where vision comes in, and it’s the difference between a worker and a leader. And that’s huge.
  2. Trust your team to make their own decisions. Some people are such control freaks that they feel they have to be in on every and all decisions. This year I decided to get out of the way and watch my team members own their areas and decisions totally independent of me (unless they really needed my imput). Results: they were all hugely successful (no surprise here!). I truly believe they were more successful because, contrary to most pastors beliefs, I KNOW I’m not the smartest guy in the room nor do I know everything about everything. I’m the leader because I got here 1st (grin). I hope they appreciate the fact that we aren’t riding them on every decision.
  3. I don’t have to know everything. Jumping off of #2, I try not to know things that I don’t need to know. My team is so talented, so capable and live for what they do. They know more about their area of ministry than I – therefore I allow them to be the leader. My staff is awesome and keeps me in the know about things that I should know and I am totally involved with the management of the church, I just don’t feel the need to know every single little detail. It’s become quite an inside joke between my wife Keyna and I that whatever she asks me about a certain ministry I don’t have an answer for her. I may not know all the answers but I know a trusted leader who does that I can contact immediately if need be!
  4. Branding is HUGE. This is not new discovery but this truth has been reaffirmed and taken to another level by Brandon, Jon and the rest of our team. I am so impressed with the way our team has branded Vertical Church – we do not look like a church that is less than 1 year old!
  5. Trust what God is saying to your heart. The Holy Spirit will lead and guide you to all that God has in store. You’ve gotta know the voice of the Lord. When God consistently is speaking to your heart to do something, go for it! Not whims… but what He’s been saying over and over, even when it’s scary, trust it!
  6. People are more interested in controversy than they are truth. The more controversial a title for a blog post the more hits it will get. People especially love it if they think you’re gonna speak badly of someone else. I’m so over trying to get readers. I have no idea how many people are reading my posts anymore – I just write from my heart and share what I feel you need to hear, what will be helpful.
  7. Never stop sharing your vision. I’ve known vision leaks for a while. This year as a lead pastor I was reminded how hard it is to say the same thing over and over; the enemy tries to use it against you – DON’T LISTEN TO HIM!!! When you’re getting tired of saying the same thing over and over your people are probably just getting it. Also, I hope that you never forget, if you’re growing there are always new people who need to hear your vision. And by the way, make especially sure to keep reminding your leadership “why” (refer back to #1) so you don’t find that you are the only person living out the vision God has given.