steve ball

personal thoughts on family, faith and work

the responsibility of the ‘status update’

Facebook and Twitter (and other social networks) have the potential to be a fantastic way of communication. I use both – personally and as part of my job. But… every now and then I see a status or tweet that catches my eye and I wonder how much the writer realises the impact that it can have on their ‘friends’ and followers.

There is a very well known speaker who has well over 2 million friends on their Facebook page. Within 15 minutes of updating a status it has been liked by over 6,000 people, shared by over 750 and has hundreds of comments. The stats are similar for pretty much all of their statuses. (For the record – as far as I can see there is nothing wrong with any of the content!) If they decided to put up a status saying something completely incorrect or harmful to someone else – think of the influence that would have on tens of thousands of people who would read it.

Most of us in real world don’t have two million friends! This should not, however lessen how much we think about what we decide to share publicly. Once something is published on the internet, it goes out of our control as to where it may end up. Friends of friends of friends can share; it can be retweeted by complete strangers and all of a sudden, what we say online can be seen all over the world – whether we like it or not.

Our job/role in the community also has a huge significance in the perception of what we publish. Any status I publish could be read with the backdrop of my work in child protection, as a worship leader and as someone on the leadership team at church. Think how much damage could be done by an inappropriate or unprofessional status update. Or, if you have people who look up to you and take everything you say as ‘the truth’ – that’s an incredibly responsible (and potentially dangerous?) position to be in, and one not to take lightly. There are some things that should never be published!

Writing a public blog has been interesting in many ways. One thing I had to get my head around was the fact that what I say could, and should be challenged – even if they are my ‘personal thoughts’. This means people may disagree or have a different perspective to me. Once I got over this, I enjoyed the comments and regard them as a great learning tool.  (I do get to approve comments on my blog first, but all have been accepted so far!)

I don’t have any particular rules about what I publish online, except to try to remember to think very carefully before I press the ‘post’ or ‘tweet’ button. There have been several occasions where I’ve got to the end and then deleted it thinking that it’s not very helpful – even if it was true!

Points to ponder:

  • What do our status updates say about us?
  • Should we be thinking longer before posting – and if so why?
  • How can we guard ourselves from the potential of misusing social media to influence others inappropriately?
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lessons in life – from my dad

Back in October, we didn’t think dad would make it until his birthday or Christmas so I decided to thank him for what he meant to me while he was around to appreciate it.  When I read this to him, he wasn’t able to talk much, but he smiled and chuckled as I struggled to read it through to him.

He did say a few words after I finished.  This is what I read to him.

Dad

You have taught me so much throughout my life, but there are four things that stick in my memory.

I remember when we were small kids going swimming, and you would be the one throwing us around and splashing us – generally making our time there fun.  You taught me how to love and have fun with family.

I remember going to collect my exam results from school with you.  I did pretty badly, but the first thing you said to me was ‘well done’. You taught me how to always try and see the best in people.

Remember my first car?  The pea-green Fiat 128!  I needed some new tyres and you leant me the money, but made me pay it all back. I thought you were a bit mean at the time, but you taught me another valuable lesson – honesty in your word, and the value of a strong work ethic.

As kids we were dragged from one church meeting to another – most of which I enjoyed!  You helped me to find my own, strong, faith which I will be eternally grateful for.

I hope that I can pass on these valuable life-lessons to my boys:

  • To love and have fun with my family,
  • To always try and see the best in people,
  • To have and honest and strong work ethic,
  • To encourage others to find their own faith.

Thanks for everything you have done for me,

With much love, your, very proud of you, son.

Steve

Dad replied – ‘You’ve been a good son to me’.  Words which I will always treasure.

Points to ponder:

  • What life-lessons would you want to pass on – and how can you do that?
  • Is there someone who you should take time to thank while they’re able to appreciate it?

reflections on… february

Keeping a positive outlook can be difficult – especially when you go through tough times.  My dad sadly passed away, peacefully, on 15th February; which makes now one of those times.  I am though, determined to try and keep positive through this strange period between dad passing away and his funeral, which is not until the first week in March.

Family:  We started the month with a visit to my sister-in-law and her family. The plan was to leave our boys there while we went on a worship training day, but things didn’t go to plan and we didn’t end up getting to the training. We did have a lovely time though, and it was definitely the right thing to do.

After dad passing away, a lot of my time has been with my family sorting out the many things that need dealing with.  This has been a sad time and I posted about it in the post “time-a-precious-gift” earlier this month.

In contrast, last weekend was a great, happy occasion when we were at a family christening.  It was good to meet up with extended family that we hadn’t seen for a while – and some of them are staying down until the funeral, so no doubt we will see them throughout the week too.

Faith: With everything that’s gone on in the last couple of weeks, I feel slightly out of the loop when it comes to church. We have had lots of cards from church family which has been lovely.  It’s good to know you’re being supported in prayer when you go through tough times.

With the loss of someone close in your life, it brings your faith into sharp focus – and I’m absolutely confident that dad is in a better place now and I will see him again one day.

Work: I had another session for my diploma on managing quality which was enjoyable and provoked thoughts on what that means outside of work. (See my previous blog – managing quality.)  Colleagues have been very supportive and dealt with as much of my work as they could. I’m fortunate and grateful to have an understanding boss who has given me the time I needed after dad passed away.

So, like January; February has had its ups and downs – I wonder if a pattern is emerging!

Highlights of the month:

  • Being with family at the christening last weekend
  • The murder mystery dinner at church – excellent!

Below is a link to a challenging song that was played at church a few weeks back.  I didn’t know then that I would be listening to it with the backdrop of loosing dad. Casting Crowns – Praise You in this Storm…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGPS8sa-bRQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player

managing quality

The latest session for my Diploma was on managing quality, which I found really interesting from a business point of view.  Having read through my notes again and written up a ‘reflection of learning’, it became clear that managing quality should not just be restricted to business.  If we, in all areas of our life, are looking to improve quality, it seems reasonable to have some way of measuring where we were, where we are, and where we want to be in a given time frame.

We were asked to define quality in three words, and as you can imagine, there were lots of suggestions from the group like, professional, efficient, experienced, knowledgeable, proficient which are all good things to strive for in business.  The course leader came up with ‘fit for purpose’ which I slightly struggle with – partly because it’s an over-used phrase which has watered down its meaning, but mainly because it doesn’t convey (to me) a willingness to improve and aim for better.  It’s a ‘does the job’ and nothing more approach – but maybe that’s just me!

After writing up my notes, I started to think of words that would describe quality in terms of a person.  Integrity, honest, reliable, dependable, encourager, faithful, all come to mind.  The challenge is, to improve and develop these qualities – and have a way of measuring those improvements. This may be done on a day by day basis, or over a period if some time.  For example, if I aim to be more encouraging, it could be possible to look back and see those people I have encouraged flourish in what they are doing.  If I aim to be more dependable, I can look back and see how many times I have let people down.  It may just be that you say to yourself ‘ I want to be more reliable today’. Most things are measurable in some way.

Having a mindset of ‘continual development’ in our work and personal life can only be a good and healthy thing.

As a christian, I do of course have a set of qualities set out for me in the Bible – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV). I have these on my work computer desktop as a continual reminder to myself!  Some of these are harder to measure as they’re not always an ‘instance’ thing, but more a way of life – which is often easier for other people to see and measure.

Certainly I know people who have obviously developed in their faith and are showing more and more of these qualities, but they don’t see it themselves sometimes as its a gradual process, and it’s much harder to be self reflective on qualities of character.

Points to ponder:

  • What are my three best qualities?
  • What other qualities could I strive to develop?
  • How will I measure these developments?
  • What effect will these developments have on other people?
This post was written, but not published the day my dad passed away.

time… a precious gift

Wednesday 15th February was a very sad day. My dad peacefully passed away. Me, my brothers and sisters were there just before he finally went and mum and her sister were with him at the end. A very sad, emotional time, but we were grateful we were all able to see him one last time.

Eighteen months ago dad was not really ill at all.  He steadily deteriorated from that time on resulting in him being in hospital back in October.  Even while in hospital he would be giving advice and showing concern for everyone – especially mum. I never thought he would make my birthday in the middle of October – but he did. I had said my thankyous and goodbyes which was an almost impossible thing to do, but I’m thankful that I was able to share those with dad rather than saying something after he had gone. From that moment, I have been really grateful for any extra time I had to be with dad.  Time… a precious gift.

Since October, he was moved to a hospice as they didn’t think he had much time left.  He would have good days and bad days, but somehow his health didn’t seem to be deteriorating as quickly as was expected, so it was decided that he would come home and mum, and the family, would care for him there.  He made it to his birthday in the middle of December.  Time… a precious gift.

We had a good Christmas with all of the family being able to visit. It was lovely to see him being part of what I knew would be his last Christmas. Time… a precious gift.

Dad passed away on Wednesday – his time on this earth had come to an end.

Since then we have been swamped by people’s kind words, thoughts and prayers which has been lovely – beautiful at times.  This has really been touching; reading them through the tears.  It is plain to see that dad made the most of his time on this earth.  He has helped literally hundreds of people in his work. He has been a shining example to me of how to live life. He will be very, very missed.

Time is a gift that can not be replaced, taken back or exchanged. Dad chose to make the very most of his time, at work, at church and with his family.  This is evident in the lives of the people he has come into contact with over the years.  A good friend wrote this about dad:

…you were never flamboyant or concerned with the flimsy or superficial things of life. Instead you dedicated your life to important things such as family and helping others. You knew the true meaning of hard work and through relentless self-discipline you brought light to those living in darkness and colour to those whose lives were grey.

I pray that I can be as effective with my time on this earth as dad was.  Thank you dad for your great example.

Time… a precious gift.

preparing for worship

How we, as a worship team prepare for worship can impact what happens on a Sunday morning – and importantly, it’s not just the worship leader, but all of the worship team who need to be prepared. Yes, the worship leader may have the responsibility of choosing songs etc, but the whole team should be ready to go from the time they plug in or grab their mic.  If I turn up, late, not ready, no music and my thoughts on anything but worship, how am I going to be able to lead the church to worship?

I understand that every now and then we all have ‘one of those mornings’ when everything that can go wrong does and just getting to church can seem like a bit of a marathon – but if this is happening every week, we should question why!

Preparation style will vary from person to person.  I will generally be contemplating the service coming up; readings, musicians available etc, throughout the week which forms into a pool of songs.  I then put these into a musical order, email out to those playing and go from there. By the time I arrive on Sunday morning I aim to be ready to worship, my focus on what is happening during the practice (we practice before the service) and what could – being open to the Holy Spirit – happen in the service.  Some people find it better to have a set time to intensively organise the service/worship plan.

Whatever our preference, we should be coming to church ready for worship – not coming to church ready for a few songs to get us in the mood for worship.

I am nearly always early or exactly on time for everything (which I’m sure can be annoying for my family when I’m rattling my keys by the front door – sorry!), but I do think it is important that the worship and AV team get to the practice on time.  We have a finite amount of time before the service starts which should be used to maximise our preparation – including running through songs and prayer etc.  I can’t see any reason why we shouldn’t aim to have all of our music ready (and practiced beforehand if we don’t know them) so we can launch straight into practice as a band.

The intention of this post is not to have a moan, but to get us to think about the important job that we do week by week.  I know there have been times when I have not been as prepared as I should be, or have modified an old song set to make life easier.  We have the privilege and responsibility of leading the church in worship, and we should be doing that in the best way possible – which means preparing.

Points to ponder:

  • How do I prepare for worship?
  • Do I take leading worship for granted sometimes and not put the time in to prepare?
  • What does my example look like to others in the worship team?
 

reflections on… january

The start of 2012 has been a series of ups and downs and we’re only a month in!  I tend to remember the downs clearer than the ups, so I thought each month I would look at the positives and things I can be thankful for – not to dismiss the negatives as unimportant, but I know that at the end of the year I will remember them more than the the positives if I don’t write the down.

Family:  I am truly blessed to have a fantastic family – both immediate and extended.  It’s easy to take something for granted when it is a constant in your day to day life, but that’s one of the strengths of my family – it is a constant.  Speaking with my sister last week, she commented that our families are pretty similar – probably slightly boring – but boring can be good!  I’ve had some interesting chats with dad over the weeks which has been great, and also helped him play sudoku (which he is still better than me at!). Mum has had loads of support from family (especially her sister) which has helped with looking after dad.  Barbara and I went on a lovely walk together, which was great just spending time being on our own, chatting and ‘doing lunch’.

Faith:  Church life quickly springs back into action after the busyness of Christmas and we have had some good times.  Our monthly ‘Overflow’ service was great with lots of people being spoken to.  We had our first Worship Team training session a couple of weeks ago which I was really pleased with – mainly seeing new people emerge and take new things on, and doing them very well!  This I find exciting!  We continue to meet as a Leadership Team each week, and I’m sure God has lots of blessings in store for our church throughout the coming year.  I am thankful for an incredibly supportive Worship Team and Leadership Team.

Work:  I started a Level 5 Diploma in Management this month (with Barbara) and I’m up to date with all that I need to do which is a relief – we are only a few weeks in though!!  I am working on a couple of large and interesting projects at the moment which should keep me busy for the next few months on top of my usual responsibilities.  My teaching continues to  be as busy as I need, which is amazing considering the financial pressures on many households.  I am blessed to have two jobs that, for the vast majority of time, I enjoy.  (I don’t think there is any job that is always perfect if you’re dealing with people!)

So… ups and downs in January, yes – but still a huge amount to be thankful for.

Highlights of the month…
  • Going out with Barbara for a walk and lunch.
  • Forgetting I was leading at church last Sunday and being told two minutes before the service started was not good – but it certainly made me rely of God which is always a highlight!

Points to ponder…

  • Do you take time to think on the blessings as much as the more difficult times?
  • What are you thankful for in January?

what is worship?

This was a question I was asked several years ago, just before being asked to head up the worship at my previous church.  After much thought, I came up with a definition which, at the time, surprised the church leader.  I am a musician, and music plays a vital role in our worship (especially corporate worship) but my definition has no mention of music at all.  Worship is so much wider than music alone.

I would define worship as ‘The unselfish, conscious act of giving adoration to God’.

‘unselfish’ – it is not about us, or how we feel.  It is not about somehow getting recognition for what we are doing.  It is all about Jesus, and ensuring that whatever our act of worship is, it detracts from us and focussing on Him.  If our personal worship becomes a distraction to others, we have to watch that we are not acting selfishly and therefore preventing someone else from worshipping.

‘conscious’ – worship (certainly corporately) is a conscious, or deliberate, act.  It is difficult to worship ‘by mistake’ during our Sunday services.

‘act’ – worship is something that requires us to do something.  Whether that’s singing, giving thanks to God, dancing, drawing or any other number of activities that could be defined as worship – all are actions.  I don’t know how we could worship by doing nothing.

‘giving’ – worship is not about asking or getting, it’s about giving.  Too often we can leave a service and say something like ‘the worship didn’t do much for me today’.  We have missed the point of what worship is.

‘adoration’ –  worship is about expressing our love, gratitude, devotion, respect to God.

‘to God’ – our worship must always be God centred.  It is not about us.  We can strive to excel in what we do to in the worship team, but this should be in order to give God the glory – not to gain attention or accolade from others.

It strikes me as interesting that the last mention of worship in the Bible is also about keeping the focus on God and not on anything/anyone else – Revelation 22:8-9 – where John gets ‘told off’ for worshipping the angel and told to worship God.

Below is a link to a great video called ‘The Gift Of Worship’, which I think summerises it up pretty well – it’s quite a challenging watch…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrmcKTzUdw8

As ever – I’m interested in your thoughts and comments on this!

capacity – not boxes

Yesterday I started a new qualification – a Level 5 Diploma in Leadership and Management.  Barbara is also doing the course, and it will be interesting to see how we approach the same issues from different perspectives.  Thankfully, assignments and alike are only marked as a pass or not, or there could be quite a competition going to see who could get the best marks!

I’ve not done any formal studying since I did my Certificate in Teaching (for music) six years ago, so the thought of assignments, a large project, and lots of self-reflection should be quite a challenge on its own.  Add to that, the fact that we are very busy with work, church, family and friends and you could wonder why we are doing it at all.

This raises the question of capacity and boxes.  A friend reminded me last month that we tend to think in terms of boxes all of the time.  If someone is doing lots of jobs, and has fingers in lots of pies, the inclination is to think they would have no time to do anything else.  Yet it doesn’t actually matter how many ‘things’ you are doing – what really matters is your capacity to do them.

For example, if my spare capacity is ten hours and I do five jobs that take two hours each, I have no capacity to take anything else on.  If I have ten hours spare capacity and do ten jobs that take half an hour each, I still have a lot of spare capacity, even though I fill more ‘boxes’.  Capacity can be measured in different ways too.  It’s easy to think of it in terms of time, but we all have an emotional, financial and social capacity, which are just as important.

If we think in terms of capacity, I think this gives us much more flexibility in organising our lives.  I’m pretty busy doing lots of things – some are related to others and some have no relationship at all – and on the face of it, entering into a full on, time consuming course would be a strange decision to make – especially with the uncertainty of dads health.  If I took the decision based on a ‘box’ mentality, I may not have gone ahead with course – one more thing to do – but my capacity to do the course (and the course structure) gives me the flexibility to do the work over time, and therefore (hopefully) I will have the capacity to do it.

One thing I’ve always said to people at church is that you can ask me to do anything – but don’t give me a hard time if I say no!   Whether I can fulfil their request or not wont be a question of how many other jobs I’m doing, but a question of capacity.

Points to ponder:

  • Do I assume that people who do lots do not have the capacity to do more?
  • Do I assume that do people who ‘appear’ to be doing not as much could actually be at full capacity?
  • If I didn’t put people in boxes, would this help them to develop their potential more?

benchmarks for being in the worship team

As discussed in an earlier post, I believe we should all be aiming to excel in what we do – both individually and as part of the worship team.  But having a musical benchmark that doesn’t enable new members to join easily really bothers me.  Maybe it’s my ‘music teacher’ background wanting to see students develop, but I’ve seen too many people get discouraged (or worse, hurt) over the years by being told they are not good enough.

I believe in being as inclusive as possible – but sometimes this can create more work for the person responsible for worship, which maybe why some worship leaders shy away from the challenge?  We also need to create an inclusive environment within the worship team, as it will usually not be as easy to play with musicians that are ‘less competent’. Below are my personal views about the musical benchmark, and I would be interested in other peoples approaches.

If someone comes to me and says they want to join the worship team, but can only play four chords, I think that’s great!  There is no rule that says every musician must play every song, so why not encourage the newcomer to join in the songs with the chords that he knows (or better still, show them how to use a capo and transpose the chords for them!).  You will be surprised how quickly they will want to learn more.  With this approach, you are setting the benchmark very low, but still encouraging someone to develop.  When I think about when I first started to play at church on my tiny Casio keyboard, I’m sure it wasn’t great – and I still make plenty of mistakes now!

I’ve also heard it said that someone can’t be in the band unless they have grade three or four on their instrument.  This is complete nonsense!  I once had a student come to me because he wanted to pass his Grade 8 piano. He was a brilliant music reader, but when I asked him to play ‘Happy Birthday’ by ear, he had absolutely no idea what to do (quite shocking!). On the other hand, I’ve had students who are not interested in exams who are extremely good musicians – they just haven’t got a certificate to prove it.  I would much rather have someone who is musical in how they play, and so can fit in with a band set up, rather than a ‘trained’ person who can only play what they see.

On a practical note (no pun intended!), I have used the process of ‘shadowing’ several times and it is really effective.  Get an experienced person – preferably with the same type of instrument – and let the newcomer join in with what they can, and if they go wrong, the more experienced person is there to take over straight away.  This method can be used with any instrument – even the drums.  I started two (now very good) drummers off with someone with a tambourine right next to them to keep them in time if they lost concentration.

In this post, I have only been talking about a musical benchmark.  There are other benchmarks for joining a worship team that are equally, if not more important which I may well go into another time.

Points to ponder:

  • What musical benchmarks do you set for your worship team – and why?
  • What other benchmarks should there be for the worship team?
  • If you have a higher benchmark, how can we ensure inclusivity?

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