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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tips for Effective Public Scripture Reading in Worship

The Word of God is the high point in the service. It is the primary way that God speaks to us today. If the Word of God is the high point in the service then it needs to be treated in a way that is honouring and captivating. Anything less is to diminish the importance and impact of the Word of God in the public assembly. Churches will so often fine tune their music, the multimedia, the special features and the sermon and yet neglect the proper presentation of the scripture.
There are constant referrals in the Bible to the public reading of scripture (2 Kings 22:3, 2 Kings 23:1-3, Jeremiah 36:2, Nehemiah 7:73b-8:1-3, Luke 4:16-22a, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, I Timothy 4:13). There is no need to justify the importance of the public reading of scriptures so rather, I’ll focus on the “hows” of effective public scripture readings.
I hope you find the ideas below helpful in improving this very important aspect of the public worship service.)
Here are some ideas for increasing people’s attention to the reading of the Scriptures:
·         When reading scripture publicly, the first obvious pointer is to practice and to do so aloud. Most people have the ability to read silently but as soon as you read aloud you need to learn pronunciation, diction, and projection. Of course, if you are someone who facilitates those that are reading scriptures, this means that you have to make sure the reader receives the scriptures well in advance so that they can rehearse the reading.
·         Know your gifts. If you have not been gifted to read the scriptures aloud with conviction and excellence, this is OK. We all have different callings and giftings. This is the way God has made us.
·         Get to know the context of the scripture. This is not just recitation of the text without considering context. When you live within the words by considering the context, they will naturally come out with greater conviction. After spending time in Ephesus, Athens and other places where the Apostle Paul ministered, I will never read those passages in the same light. You may not be able to visit these sites but at the very least, read a commentary on the scripture to get to know the context. There are many valuable commentaries online or you can pick up a printed copy. It’s a great resource to have at home even when you’re not preparing to read the scriptures aloud. 
·         Consider how the Word applies to your life. My theme verse is 2 Corinthians 5:17 which states, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  It’s hard for me to read this scripture without passion as it is so pivotal in my life. I went through some dark years, made terrible mistakes and hurt many people. When I read this scripture I remember that I am “in Christ” and that I am a “new creation” despite the darkness of my past. In the same way, when you apply the scripture reading to your life it will take on a new life as you share it aloud.
·         Look at the text from a distance. That may seem to contradict what I’ve already said. However, if it is an extremely familiar Bible story (Jonah and the fish, David and Goliath), it can become very stale to us. Set yourself on a path of discovery where you look for something new buried in the story that you haven’t seen before. This again is a great place for a good Bible Commentary.
·         Place it on the screen. People are used to the screen as a primary source of receiving current information. While I love to read a physical book, I rarely buy a physical newspaper anymore, opting instead for the computer screen. Projecting the scriptures on the screen certainly has its detractors but most people find it helpful.
·         Encourage the reader to live it for a few days. When an actor prepares for a role they often go into character in order to live in the skin of the character they are presenting. This helps them to project the character with authenticity. In the same way, when you live with the scripture reading for a few days it helps you to identify with the passage. It also helpful to look at a commentary to truly understand the spiritual, cultural and human side to the scripture reading. While these reflections will seldom be shared in the reading, as the reader understands the depth of the scripture, it will be shared with greater clarity and passion. My father was a pastor. He used to read and soak up the assigned scripture readings well in advance and then live them throughout the week prior to preaching. This allowed him to preach the word from “inside out” rather than “outside in.”
·         Train your readers. It’s not a position that simply defaults to the person who is least likely to say no. The Word can be read with such dramatic flair that people will sit on the edge of their seats, waiting for the next sentence.
·         Give a personal comment on why the text has meaning for today, and perhaps special meaning for you personally. Some pastors may be uncomfortable with this so make sure you run this past your pastor in advance.
·         If you are reading a very long passage, consider breaking it down into a couple of sections, interjecting a well-seasoned personal observation before moving on. Again, as before, run this past your pastor to make sure that they are comfortable with you doing this.
·         If you make a mistake on a word just keep moving. People will forget that you’ve made an error. If you draw too much attention to your mistake it will detract from the impact of the scripture rather than enhancing it.
·         Be dramatic but not over the top. Don’t over-act. It doesn’t work in the movies and it doesn’t work with scripture reading. You never want to sound like a late-night infomercial.
·         Pause. Really. By pausing ever so slightly after significant phrases you increase the ability of people to absorb the phrases and you also increase dramatic tension. The primary places for pauses are after commas and periods.
·         Slow down. When you speak too quickly you appear nervous, even if you aren’t.
·         Breathe. Take a couple of deep breaths before you speak. This will calm you and will loosen your voice.
·         Don’t let your voice drop off. Many people start strong and then begin to trail off in volume and projection. Start strong and finish strong.
·         If you are a regular reader in your church, practice by reading a little bit of scripture each day aloud. This way it becomes second nature and more confortable to you. You also become more comfortable with the sound of your voice, learn to speak clearly, with good emphasis and diction.
·         Do some voice exercises. You don’t need to prepare like the late Luciano Pavarotti. However, yawning, performing tongue rolls (brrrrrr), lip buzzes, and the famous ambulance exercise (singing ahhh from your lowest note to your highest note and down again, repeating several times) will always help.
·         Use proper microphone technique. (see the section on announcements in a prior blog – click here
·         Try reading the scriptures in another version or paraphrase such as The Message.
Now, we’re ready for some tips on the sermon. I’ll have a few personal tips in the next blog and then I’ve asked a very special guest to give some great pointers. You don’t want to miss these.

For more worship training, take in the Break Forth Canada 2011 Intensive Learning Workshop featuring veterans, Paul Baloche and Brian Doerksen. For more information click here.

Also, take in the Integrity Night of Worship Concert at Break Forth Canada 2011 featuring Paul Baloche, Brian Doerksen, Jared Anderson, Desperation Band, Don Poythress and Joel Auge. For more information click here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The 'Guided/Interview Testimony' in a worship service. Part 2

Now, we turn our attention to the Guided/Interview Testimony format from the interviewee perspective. Be sure to read last week's part 1 for the complete picture. 
There are some fun road stories at the bottom of this blog entry. I hope they bring a smile to your face.
Tips for the Interviewee:
·        Let the interviewer have control. Ultimately, they are the one who is in charge of the time and direction. By letting them lead you take a great deal of pressure off of yourself to watch the time and edit the content.
·        Be you. Just as I wrote above, you want to reflect your own personality, not someone you think you should be.
·        Be cautious of talking too much. Don’t be afraid of pauses. Remember, if there are some spaces it is the interviewer’s job to fill them in. If you take too much time answering every question you may never get to the most important aspects of your story.
·        Slow-w-w-w down. When you talk quickly you sound nervous and out of control. Pause to allow people to reflect and absorb your point. By talking more slowly you actually reflect more confidence and power.
·        Ask for potential questions in advance so that you can prepare.
·        Always prepare. Think about what you would like to say. Boil it down to three or 4 of the most important points. Remember that you’re telling a story. Read my prior blog entry here to gain some valuable pointers on how this is done more effectively.
·        Speak to the interviewer, not the room. This will have a couple of benefits. First of all, it will help you to calm your nerves. Secondly, you’ll sound and appear more natural.
·        Be prepared. Have your little cheat bullet points on your 3 X 5 card as your security blanket (but don’t refer to them unless you are absolutely stuck), be on time, be ready for the microphone, and come to the platform when called upon.
·        Rehearse if needed. Have a friendly person ask you the sample questions and answer them like you would in the worship service.
·        Don’t over prepare so that you come across like a cardboard character.
·        If the interviewer asks a complex multi-part question, don’t be afraid of breaking it up by asking what the first part of the question was. Then, just answer that one and let the interviewer ask the other parts as separate questions. 
·        Don’t expend your energy trying to act important and clever. Ask yourself, can this be understood by someone in the 8th grade?
·        Really listen to the question. It’s so easy to become so distracted with your agenda of what you want to communicate that you don’t even hear what’s being asked of you.
·        If you make a mistake just move on. People were probably distracted by the baby crying in the back row of the church anyway.
·        Use descriptive words and phrases such as “I felt like.”
·        Turn off your cell phone. I’ll say it again – turn off your cell phone! It’s not funny anymore.
·        Be careful of body language – tapping your feet, squirming in your chair, jangling your keys. These all distract from the message.
·        Don’t be afraid to pause and take a breath before you answer. (Why do you think so many professionals say words and phrases like “Good question” or “Hmm?” It’s because they’re stalling so that they come up with a clear answer. If the professionals can do it, why can’t you?)
·        Don’t be too hard on yourself (like I am)! You will make mistakes. You’ll tumble headlong over some words. You’ll forget some facts. It’s OK. Remember that God has spoken through animals, plants, wind, waves, thunder and more. If that’s the case then God can certainly speak through you because you are created in the image of God. Down through the years, some of the most seemingly fruitless concerts and messages have reaped the greatest long-term ministry results.  You prepare and present. There is not a single human being who has ever brought about lasting change in someone; that’s the Holy Spirit’s task. And last time I checked, you weren’t the Holy Spirit!
The year was 1977 and friends and I were on our first North American tour. We had never been on a major radio show. We were brought into a massive radio station with extensive coverage in Chicago. Our palms were sweaty and our mouths were dry. We thought the radio announcer was simply going to ask us about the concert in town that night. Just before we went on the air, he stared us down with narrow, beady eyes and said, “Now, we’re live to half a million people right now!” He pressed the on-air button and our minds went completely blank with sheer terror. Then, instead of asking us about the concert he caught us off guard and began to tear into us about Christian rock music and how many felt it was improper in the church. With those same beady eyes and lashing tongue he barked at us to give an answer and to justify ourselves. I looked at my friend. My friend looked at me. The airwaves were dead silent.  The quiet was deafening. He continued to stare us down as we grew smaller and smaller. We finally mumbled completely incoherent answers and sank back into our seats, utterly humiliated before half a million people. That was my first major radio interview. What a spectacular beginning! Over 30 years later I can look back and smile. We survived.
Not too many months later I was doing a TV broadcast. The television producer told me that the show was being taped for later broadcast. The interview went fine but then it was time for the music section. I began to sing one of my songs when my mind went completely blank again – as blank as it was in that Chicago radio station. Even though I had written the song and had sung it all over the continent, every single one of the lyrics left my 22-year old brain. Gone! Nada! Vamos!  Elvis had left the building and he wasn’t about the return. I started to make lyrics up as I went. They were the strangest stream of consciousness, semi-rhyming drivel that had ever come out of my mouth – especially on a television show. (Truth be told, some Scientologist would probably have appreciated the bizarre images that were being painted.) In my mind I was thinking, “Why don’t I just stop this here? After all, it’s being taped for later broadcast. I’m sure they can start again. I’m just going to throw my hands in the air, tell them I’m an idiot and tell them I’m going to start again. If they didn’t like it, they’d get over it.” Fortunately and mysteriously, I just pushed through singing completely incoherent lyrics right to the bitter end, hoping and praying that somehow I got away with it. As soon as the show was done, the phones at the TV station started to ring. The TV producer came running into the studio saying, “People are calling and they said that they really enjoyed your music.”  I was ashen faced. My stomach started churning like a hotdog-filled 12-year old on Space Mountain. My life flashed before my eyes when I thought that I had just about made a major male prima dona scene on television.  With saucer-sized eyes I said, “I thought you said this was being taped for later broadcast.”  “Oh yes, the producer replied, “but we also broadcast live over hundreds of miles and several cities during the taping. The tape is just for re-runs.” I survived singing about the cosmos. I probably even rhymed the word orange. It’s 30 years later and I can smile. I survived. You will too. Share your testimony. You’ll do fine.
Our next blog entry will be on scripture reading.  There will be some great pointers to bring your public scripture reading alive.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Guided / Interview Testimony in Church - Part 1

Mention the idea of a testimony in church and many pastors and church leaders shudder (at least inwardly). They sometimes think back to testimony horror stories from the platform where dreadful theology or long meandering homilies overtook the worship service. Often, this was by a well-meaning layperson so nervous that they couldn’t think clearly. 
Truth be told, we’ve all inflicted weak testimonies on people whether it’s from the platform or one on one with our neighbours.
The challenges of the open-ended testimony are one of the reasons why so many churches are going to the “guided” or “interview” format. It’s not a foreign concept to anyone; we’ve all seen this format on television more times than we can count.
By leading the testimony in this interview format you break the testimony into bite sized pieces, you relieve some of the fear of the witness and you have an opportunity to guide it as far as length and theological integrity is concerned.
In order to help us all in this area, here are a few tips for both the interviewer and the interviewee.
Tips for the Interviewer:
·        Choose the appropriate posture for what you are trying to communicate: standing communicates power, sitting communicates informality. Neither is wrong in the right setting. If you are going to sit, choose a tall bar stool, not a chair. Also consider that sitting may be more comfortable for the nervous interviewee no matter what the communications ideal may be. (a standing interviewee who ends up on the floor gasping for breath is not exactly the best form of communication)
·        If possible, meet with the interviewee before the service. Walk through the general flow and some of the questions. This can often help them to gather their thoughts and to calm their nerves.
·        Try to avoid giving an exact script of the exact questions in the exact order you’ll be asking. Instead, in order to create a greater sense of spontaneity give a number of questions you may ask so they can prepare.  Then, choose from these possible questions as you go to create a sense of immediacy, personalization to the moment and flow.
·        Remember that your interview is telling a story. For more help on telling a story well, read the prior blog entry here.
·        Prepare and research in advance. Know your interviewee and the subject. This will help you to draw out important parts of the story that they may forget on the platform.
·        Introduce the interviewee from the platform. Tell a little about them but don’t give the story away. You want to entice people to listen.
·        Be you. You’re not Larry King. You’re not Jay Leno. You’re you. Don’t change your personality into some late night infomercial host. Be you.
·        Be energetic.  You may need to be the one who carries the energy in the conversation. 
·        Shut your mouth. Don’t dominate the conversation. You want to pull the best out of the interviewee. That’s done with great leading questions, great listening, great guidance and great ears!
·        Listen closely. You may be surprised by a phrase or new part of the story that you weren’t familiar with or you feel will be important to key off of. In order to do that you need to listen for these key phrases.
·        Remember that you’re in control. The interviewee has great things to say but you need to be aware of the time and the direction of the conversation.
·        Remember to focus in on one theme. The tendency will be to run down rabbit trails. Remember to bring the point home.
·        Respect the interviewee’s personal space. They may not want to disclose everything they told you in private or that you know. There may be family in the audience; they may be having a difficult day or a myriad of other reasons why they only want to go so far into the story.
·        Don’t ask multi-part questions. Ask one question at a time.
·        Look at them. While you are aware of the congregation, you want to create the sense of people listening in to a privileged conversation between two or more people. The general rule of thumb is when you introduce the interviewee you are introducing them to the congregation, when you are ending the conversation you are thanking them in front of the congregation but aside from a few comments to bring home a point it really is the two of you.
·        Thank them as you are wrapping up. This is an important gift and is not only appropriate; it encourages others to consider an interviewed testimony in the future if you want to go that way.
Stay tuned for my next blog entry on presenting a great Testimony from the interviewee perspective.  

Monday, November 15, 2010

Effective Testimonies in Worship - Part 1

Testimonies can be a wonderful enhancement to a worship service if done well, provided with excellent guidance, represent a diversity of Christian experiences and remain scripturally strong.
This blog entry on presenting Testimonies in Worship will be in two parts. The first will cover some general pointers regarding general content and delivery. The second entry will provide suggestions on the guided testimony or the interview testimony.
Before we speak about the “How To’s” let’s speak about the “Why To’s” of testimonies:
·        They are usually from lay people who live in the trenches
·        The fact that they are not being compensated for their testimony adds to their credibility
·        They provide a change in voice and perspective from the platform
·        They strengthen the faith of the hearers as they face their own challenges
·        They strengthen the faith of the person giving the testimony
·        Apologetics based on historical or scientific evidence are important but a personal story of transformation is also a powerful apologetic
·        It’s scriptural:
o   “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:15
o   “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.” – 1 John 1:3
o   Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” – John 4:39
o   “A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”  He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”  Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses!  We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.” – John 9: 24 – 34 
o   Other examples of testimonies can be found in : Galatians 1:11-13, 2:1- 21 / Acts 21:40, 22:1- 21 / Acts 24:10-16, 24:24 / Acts 26
So, if sharing testimonies in church can be such a blessing, why do some churches avoid it? All it takes is a few bad experiences to have the leadership of the church completely shy away from allowing testimonies in the worship service. I understand; I’ve heard many and I’ve certainly given my share of poorly executed testimonies as well.
Here are some tips to more effective testimonies in church:
·        Pray as you are preparing your testimony. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you share with conviction and clarity.
·        Remember that the goal is to give glory to Christ and not yourself. Think of the person presenting a testimony in court as a character witness. While your reliability as the person presenting the testimony must stand the integrity test, you are still not the central figure. Your role is to give a positive character reference for the person on trial. In the same way, while your integrity needs to be above reasonable reproach (we are all sinners), you are testifying for Christ and He is to be the central figure in all you say. 
·        Write out your testimony to ensure accuracy, clarity, presentation, theological exactness and content. 
·        Prepare your testimony as though you are presenting it to one person.  This will add a greater sense of informality and transparency.
·        Watch the time – ask the Pastor in advance how long they would like you to share. Then, cut a couple minutes from that when you practice it prior to presentation.
·        Remember that this is a personal story of God’s work in your life. You are not preaching.
·        Bring your testimony down to one point. You should be able to summarize the entire testimony into a single sentence. This will aid you in achieving clarity and direction. Such as, “Although I wandered in sin and ran far from God, through His love He reached me and He has given me a greater sense of hope than I ever experienced before.” OR “When my son passed away from cancer I felt as though there was no reason to live until I recognized that the God who had also taken my son was the God who had experienced the loss of His own son for me and for my own son.”
·        Determine what the focus of the testimony is. Most testimonies can be categorized into one of three stories:
1.      Those who have grown up in the faith and always remember being held in the grip of God’s grace. To me, this is the most powerful testimony because it speaks to God’s ideal. It is never God’s ideal for us to fall out of fellowship with Him. These are stories that glorify God for His faithfulness. At the same time, they also affirm those in our lives who have walked through the temptations and doubts with us and have mentored and nurtured faith. This affirms parents, Sunday School teachers and others who are doing this day in and day out. There are many Biblical examples of this but Timothy is probably the best known. 2 Timothy 3:10-17 (“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  – verses 14 &15). Those who don’t know a time where they ever departed from the faith also need a Savior as much as those with the most dramatic testimony. (“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23) God’s grace and sustaining strength can be shared with all humility by the person who has never left the faith.
2.      Those who have experienced a dramatic conversion. Perhaps the most notable is the story of Saul who was converted on the road to Damascus and became the Apostle Paul. While this is the most common type that comes to mind when we think of the word “testimony”, it is filled with both dangers (focusing too much on the fallen life) and blessings (witnessing to the dramatic power of God). It’s important not to depict a life that is free of struggle now that Christ is in your life. Frankly, that’s not truthful. (“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” - Matthew 5:10-12)
3.      Those who have gone through the “valley of the shadow of death” and have been brought through by the grace of God. This can be the loss of a loved one, disillusionment, personal failings, loneliness, fear, lack of purpose, brokenness of relationship, health issues, financial crises and the list is as endless as the results of our human condition is long. When we go through these struggles we are tempted to look into relief other than in Christ (alcohol, drugs, extramarital sex, bitterness, etc.). Sometimes we give in and sometimes we are blessed with the correction of the Spirit of God to throw ourselves into the graceful hand of God. These testimonies are tremendously encouraging to all of us as we all experience times of struggle in our lives. Hearing from someone who has been brought through these struggles often gives us the encouragement we need to trust God that He will bring us through the darkness of despair to the light of hope.
·        Think of your testimony as a well-written story – which it is – because God has written it. As you prepare your testimony consider the elements of a good story. Most good stories have three primary acts:
1.      The Beginning:  You introduce people to the setting, the characters, and the condition. The condition involves conflict. The conflict forces the “fork in the road” where choices are made. A strong beginning draws people into the story as they identify with the three ‘Ps’: People, Place and the Pressure.
2.      The Middle: This is where the tension is fully developed. The story progresses and the tension grows. At this point, the audience is yearning for a sense of resolution. When well developed, they are on the edge of their seat (this is when you eat the most popcorn in the movie theatre). There is a pivotal crises at this time. Fortunately, there is always a sense of resolution in the Christian faith (even though complete resolution only takes place in eternity).
3.      The End: The tension is released as there is a sense of resolution. This is usually the shortest act in a play or movie. Once resolution is reached the audience has only limited interest in the remainder of the story. This is a good signal to wrap up the story (testimony) and turn the platform back to the Pastor.
·        Clearly articulate the changes that Christ has brought about in your life
·        Share how the changes have affected those around you
·        When you are wrapping up your testimony, consider a one or two sentence referral to the struggles you faced and how Christ has met your need
·        Share that you are a work in process
·        Once you have written out the testimony in full and have rehearsed it, reduce the content to a few short bullet points on a 3 X 5 card as a reference during your sharing time. Even if you don’t need it, you will have it as a security blanket in the event of a brain bubble
·        Consider recording yourself and then listening back to it until it becomes deeply ingrained in your subconscious. (Smartphones such as Blackberries and iPhones are great for this)
·        Speak clearly
·        If you have a hand held mic, and are uncomfortable with using it, rest it on your chin below your bottom lip. Even though this isn’t perfect mic technique, at least the sound person will be able to get an adequate level from you. When people are nervous or uncomfortable with a microphone, they tend to begin dropping the hand held mic so far as to only pick up a churning stomach. (that’s not a pleasant testimony to hear). Holding it to your chin guards against this.  It can also make your voice sound warmer (something called proximity effect in case you’re interested).
·        Keep your hands out of your pockets, especially if you have coins or keys
·        Only tell one testimony at a time. Perhaps you have experienced a dramatic conversion and since then have experienced many struggles in your life but you don’t need to share them all. There will probably be other times to share the other stories of faith.
·        Tell the most significant stories and illustrations. This will help you to hold your congregation’s attention longer and will keep you off the rabbit trails.
·        Use enticing sentences that lead people on further into the story. These are the “movie trailers” that encourage you to pay attention. A sample of this would be, “I felt I could control the world until I lost my job and wondered if my family would be on the street.”  Wouldn’t that make you want to hear the rest of the story? I’d listen with anticipation to hear the story unfold.
·        Be honest. Never, ever exaggerate or mislead. God’s miracles are wonderful enough without our special “enhancements” of the truth.
·        Don’t glorify the sin or the enemy. We are all enticed by the dark side (just ask Eve) but the point is to glorify God. While it’s important to mention the tension of temptation, this is not your primary focus.
·        Understand that each time you share there are people in the congregation who may not relate to your exact circumstances but they can relate to your emotion. By describing your emotion through “I felt like” statements, you help to pull more people into the core of the experience you are sharing even if they haven’t gone through what you have. For instance, people may not relate to the death of a young child but they do feel the abandonment, despair, loss, grief, anger and all the other emotions that are a part of that experience.
·        Don’t assume that everyone in church is a Christian. Although a full Gospel presentation may not be appropriate for your particular testimony, don’t avoid it by assuming that there is no one who needs to hear about God’s plan of salvation. 
·        Avoid Christian clich├ęs such as sanctification, incarnation, crusade, fear of the Lord, led by the Spirit, profession of faith, unsaved, or altar call. These words are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves when they are understood and are in the proper context but they are often unclear and bring about cultural baggage among those who don’t understand what you’re trying to say.
·        Don’t slander the church, denominations or Christians, even if you had a negative experience in the past. We need to be very cautious about badmouthing the Bride of Christ. 
·        Share positive affirmations and positively motivating words with your audience rather than negativity and threats.
·        Finally, you will make mistakes in sharing your testimony. Just pray, plan, practice and if asked, run your testimony past your Pastor or a church leader to provide input. At the end of the day, God uses imperfect human beings to share the stories of miracles of transformation so vast that no mortal could ever represent this with complete accuracy. As the title of Susan Jeffer’s book states, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway!” 

Whew – that was a long blog entry. I promise you that the next entry will be short and breezy. Coming up next – the guided testimony or the interviewed testimony.

Take our worship service planning sessions at Break Forth Canada 2011. Click below to watch a video about the largest Worship-Oriented Conference in North America:

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Seeker Gift

A Gift from the Old Seeker-Focused Model
As I start moving deeper into worship service elements, content, flow and design I want to take a little break to write about some of the gifts we’ve been given from the seeker-focused models. If you’re not a big fan of this format (and who could be when so many seeker churches had only pretty people in matching outfits on the platform) please still bear with me. There are many gifts that this older format gave us. Let’s learn.
I’m generally not a big fan of the seeker model of worship service that was so hot in the 80’s and early 90’s. I’m not going to go into why this wasn’t my top choice because too much ink and bytes have already been expended on this. (If you want to read caustic blogs about seeker-focused worship, just use Google to steal days and weeks of an otherwise productive life) When you strip away the vitriol of the naysayers and my own bias it’s important to realize that the seeker models were effective in many settings for many years.
Now that the model seems to have run its course, we need to look back and consider the gifts this model gave us.
Here are some of the many gifts of that the seeker model gave us:
·         A greater awareness to those who attend our churches from outside of the Christian subculture. Seeker-modeled churches taught us to be more welcoming. Greeters obviously work at Wal-Mart. Is it so bad to consider this in church?
·          It taught us to watch our insider language.  (How many acronyms can a person take?) (NOTE: Latin-Lovers hated this change) The seeker model also taught us to either adequately explain the meaning of a rich historical practice or to change it.
·         The model challenged us to improve the application portion of the sermon. Sometimes this came at the expense of theological and scriptural depth but many pastors also needed to grow in their life-application content. (As another side note, I believe that both content and application can co-exist in a great sermon.)
·         The model challenged us to use real-life vocal inflections. Years ago, in the late ‘50’s my father and other seminary students were taught to speak without a microphone because many sanctuaries had little or no amplification. There was little room for vocal inflection subtlety in the sermon because you were trying to fill a room on your own. Decades later, people woke up one morning and said, “Wait a minute, what’s this thing in my hands? Why, it’s a microphone and if used properly I can speak like a real-life person. Even better than that; the people who come to church will actually hear my whispers as well as my roars. I don’t have to yell at people all the time.”
·         It taught us better communication skills in sermons and other spoken, drama and musical portions of the platform presentation.  We learned to:
o   Adjust content to needs
o   Improve our presentation through enthusiasm, confidence, speaking slowly, and showing appropriate emotion.   
o   Understand that body language is important. This includes walking, stepping out from behind the pulpit, and using fitting hand and facial gestures.
o   Avoid reading from a written script.
o   Ensure that we have a great opener, great content with illustrations and a powerful closing
o   Speak with conviction. Often, perception is more powerful than reality; so if you actually believe in something let it show.
o   Make eye contact with your congregation. Speak to people in the middle, front and back. Divide the room into 9 sections and make sure you pay attention to them (front 3 – left, middle and right. Middle 3 and back 3).  Use the 3-second rule – focus on individuals for 3 seconds (less makes you appear nervous and more is intimidating). 
o   Adapt to the room. If you are losing them, you may want to walk right into the congregation or use some other attention galvanizing tool to win them back.
o   Pause to reflect. Understand that people need time to reflect on your most important points.
o   Not be afraid of humour. (NOTE: IMHO puns are akin to knock-knock jokes – this is not humour). The best humour is often at your expense.
o   Use visual aids such as PowerPoint-styled bullets (watch for a later blog on proper use), whiteboards, objects, lighting and video clips.
o   Use handouts when appropriate for taking notes or following the outline.
o   Adjust your sermon length to your communications abilities. Some can hold thousands of people riveted their seats for an hour. Some can hold you riveted for 15 minutes. Serve the church by finding your personal optimum communications time.
o   Change it up. Use interactive sermons with questions and responses, use teaching formats, use impassioned Martin Luther King -styled sermons, use narratives, use drama, use point forms . . . keep them guessing and never be completely predictable.
·         It taught us how to use the power of lighting to change focus onto the most important aspect of the service. (Have you ever noticed how much God used the power of light in the Bible to illustrate truth?) Watch for an entire section on lighting in a later blog entry.
·         It taught us to improve our sound systems. I’ll have an entire section on this later so I won’t go into details here.
·         It challenged us to more excellent musicianship.  There once was a time when the church was the pinnacle of excellence in not only music but in many of our artistic expressions. We lost focus and became exceedingly lazy in this area for a long time. The ‘world’ took over in this area of excellence and the seeker models challenged to take this back even though we still have a long way to go.
·         It taught us to respect the property. An inviting facility with great parking is important no matter what format your service is.
·         It taught us about informal meeting spaces. Foyers were expanded, coffee bars were set up and as a result, community was enhanced. Again, no matter what format of worship service you have, this is an enhancement because it fosters fellowship. That’s always good.
·         They challenged us to improve the design of church print materials, websites and other forms of internal and external communication.
·         The creative gifts of the congregation were given opportunities for expression. This took place in visual arts, music and more.
·         Finally, there truly are people who want the anonymity and lower commitment of slipping into a comfortable chair and absorbing rather than expressing. I’m not saying that this is a good long-term goal but there are plenty of disheveled, burned-out, stressed-out, over-committed and exhausted people who can barely slip into a church and listen let alone throw their hands in their air, clap for joy and sing with unrestrained vigor.  A seeker service that expects little may be a blessed entry point for many people who want to just place their toe in the water to see if it’s warm and inviting enough to step in a little deeper.   
Now that I’ve tried to highlight some of the positive gifts we’ve received from seeker services I’ll get back to more content tips in the next blog as I cover effective use of Testimonies and Scripture Readings.  

NOTE: At Break Forth Canada 2011 we have many great friends coming together to teach about Worship Service Design, Theology, Technical Tools, Worship Leading and so much more. I pray you can take it in. Click the logo below: