steve ball

personal thoughts on family, faith and work

Archive for the tag “church”

reflections on… may

During the last week in May I was in Harrogate at a New Wine Leaders conference for three days, back at work for a day and then off on holiday to Cornwall – so (while on holiday), I’ve finally got a chance to write up my thoughts on the month of May.

There has been much to be thankful for this month, much to think through and also some changes at work. All of which are pretty exciting

Family:  We have had some lovely times together as a family this month.  We went to see ‘The Wizard of Oz’ show at the start of the month, which was excellent. We have had some lovely walks with my sisters family – one was a nine mile walk around ‘Darling Buds of May’ country in Pluckley.  This was the longest walk the boys had been on – and they did brilliantly.

James went on his school trip to the Isle of Wight for a week which was great for him – he really enjoyed it – but was a little strange for us as it left the house rather quiet

Faith:   Church has been good this month.  Our Overflow service had the largest worship band we have ever had and I thoroughly enjoyed writing some parts for the brass section that we had.  This meant that James was able to join in on his saxophone for the first time which was fantastic for me to see.  Hopefully the first of many times he will be playing

For three day in the last week of May I was at the New Wine Leaders conference in Harrogate.  This was a time to really get to know people that went better over food and drink and also to re-asses my thinking on where the church is and how we could be serving the community more effectively.  Some of the sessions were rather intellectual, but the content was excellent – lots to digest and work through when I get back home

Work:  I continue to be busy at work with various projects which I’m enjoying.   Have increased my hours from this month which will help give me the time to get through the work load more effectively. I will reduce my teaching a little to offset the extra hours I’m doing at the office.

Highlights of the month:

  • Seeing the Wizard of  Oz
  • Our long walks
  • The leadership conference

the challenge of change

Change is inevitable. It may be a gradual, subtle process or it may be an unexpected crisis that happens out of the blue which necessitates change – but change happens. Without change a church or organisation will stagnate and, in my view, eventually die. How we approach and manage change is therefore vitally important if we are to support and keep the confidence of the people the change effects. 

I think I’m pretty good at change. I enjoy the challenge of improving systems and processes at work, and I love seeing people develop into new areas at church. Many of the projects I’m involved in at work require a change in work practices (currently a new internal communications system). Although there can be mileage in the thinking ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ I firmly believe that you can only ‘not fix it’ for so long. At some point change will have to take place, or we essentially are going backwards.

Subtle changes are relatively easy to manage – most people may not even be aware of the changes until they look back over a period of time. Major changes are much more of a challenge. 

Most reasons for change will fit into one of three categories – and there is one key thing that best alleviates objections or aversion:

Keeping up to date.
These are primarily the more subtle, day-to-day changes that keep a church, organisation or relationship relevant and active. It’s the organic process that should (in my view) be embedded in the ethos of any organisation. Examples of this could be as simple as keeping a website up to date, improving systems, making and developing new personal contacts etc.

Development.
This category often is centred around people. Whether it’s a promotion or new job, moving into a new role at church, or a change in direction for an organisation – because the change will affect people directly it is more difficult to manage. Change in this instance can be accepted differently depending on your perspective. I hope that I would see the positive, trust the people proposing or appreciate the necessity for change – even if it doesn’t feel right at that time to me personally. I’m then in a much better place to help shape and facilitate the change. Some people, however, seem to always fight against change – just because they can.  I’m all for constructive discussion, but that’s very different from being deliberately obstructive. I think this is the hardest type of change to manage and throws up the greatest challenges.

Crisis.
Change due to crisis is dramatic and often fairly instant. Whether it’s being made redundant from work, the death of someone you love or the final breakdown in a relationship – the effects are immediate and usually painful. I know that when my dad passed away back in February, the changes I (and the rest of the family) had to come to terms with were very difficult. Paradoxically, it can be easier to cope with the challenge of change due to crisis, as you have been forced into a situation (willingly or otherwise) and have no option but to work with the implications of it.

The best tool to manage change.
In my view the single, most effective way to best manage change is good, clear communication. ‘Announcing’ a change will more often than not lead to an automatic reaction or objection.  If a change has been carefully explained, and the rationale given, it is much more likely to be accepted and people will work with you to implement those changes – something for us all to work on, no matter how good we might think we are at communicating!

Points to ponder:

  • How do I instinctively react to change? 
  • When was the last time I encouraged someone to develop into a role and help them implement their changes? 
  • Are my comments about change part of constructive discussion or deliberately obstructive?

is a good welcome enough?

Over the last few weeks I’ve heard lots about how we, as church, should be welcoming to anyone who comes through the church doors on a Sunday morning. All very right and sensible stuff. But… there’s got to be more than just a good welcome – though ensuring visitors and regulars are welcomed in church each week is very important.

Welcoming someone who doesn’t ‘fit in’ to what we think is an appropriate way to behave, dress or talk should be easy to do – after all, if they’ve never set foot inside of a church before, how are they expected to know ‘the rules’? But our prejudices nearly always affect our reaction and interaction with them. It has been said several times (by visitors!) that my church is very welcoming, which I would agree with – certainly I remember feeling very welcomed when I first came.

The church is not here to just welcome people though – it is called to love people.

It is often said about what our approach to people coming into church should be: Bless – Belong – Believe – Behave. Behaving – or somehow ‘fitting in’ is the last part of what can be a long process, which is usually not our responsibility to try and change anyway. If we want a church full of people ‘just like me’, this is possibly an approach to take – but I pray for a church as diverse as the community in which it stands. Which means loving people coming in who don’t behave, dress or talk as we do.

It strikes me that we sometimes approach the four B’s in the opposite way. We will welcome someone if they behave, and once they believe, they will belong to our church and we can bless them. Sad, but probably true for many people in many of our churches.

I would imagine that coming into a church for the first time is a pretty terrifying experience. If we analyse what we do, it’s a totally alien environment to most people! Giving them a great, warm welcome is vital, but I would imagine it would be very hard for a visitor not to be affected by the church showing them love – Gods love.

Points to ponder:

  • How accepting are you of people that are very different from you?
  • When was the last time you had a conversation with someone you didn’t know in church?
  • When was the last time you blessed someone new in the church?

worship bands and exclusivity

From the age of about eleven I’ve always been involved in playing in a band. In the early days I was the drummer (which may surprise some as I now rarely get to play them!). Other members included bass, piano, sax and singers. After a few years together we even recorded a couple of albums which are thankfully now collecting dust on bookshelves somewhere!

As time went on and we got more involved in worship at church, I was needed to play the piano/keyboards more as we had other good drummer. I also dabbled with the guitar and flute (not at the same time) which was really good fun. I loved exploring new musical ideas and with the tight musical set up that we had, this was easy and very effective.

This was also a problem…

We had become very exclusive at the cost of other people trying to ‘get in’ to the band. It wasn’t always easy to see as we were going through our teens and early twenties, but looking back, in my opinion, it wasn’t a healthy place to be as far as the church was concerned. There was little, if any, provision for new band members to be part of the team. The church had a strong focus on musical excellence – and this is what it got.

I honestly can’t remember the tipping point that made me stop and realise what was going on. But I’m glad I did – or was made to. I remember starting a group on Sunday afternoons to encourage new people to start playing and getting people to join the main worship band. This was an interesting time, and it was quite difficult to break the attidudes of some people at times. As new members joined the band, the dynamics completely changed. No longer could I just give the drummer or bass player a ‘look’ and they would know exactly what I wanted them to do – things were more basic and had to be explained in a clearer way.

At my current church I have responsibility for worship and I hope I am cultivating an ethos of inclusivity and accountability. This, in my view, is a more healthy approach to leading any team. Those that know me will know that I now kick against any sort of exclusivity!  I believe anyone with a heart for worship should be given opportunity – no matter how hard it is for the worship leader to ‘fit them in’.  Everyone can play a part, no matter how small, and feel valued.

But as much as anything musical, being part of a worship group should be about being encouraging, supporting, and training other members of the team. If we can’t support, encourage and include – our corporate worship, to me, just doesn’t feel right.

Being part of a band is so much more than just the music – being part of a worship team is so much more than just the band.

Points to ponder:

  • Is your worship team exclusive – either in reality or perceived?
  • What are we doing about developing new people into our worship teams?
  • How do we support and encourage members of our worship teams?

reflections on… march

March has been one of the busiest months I can remember in a long while! As well as being busy ‘doing’ stuff it has been a bit of a roller coaster of emotions too. The sadness of dads funeral, the fun and laughter of being with extended family, the concern for friends going through very hard times, the satisfaction of getting work done on my diploma, the excitement of being with my son in his sax exam – all mixed up together. I’m looking forward to some time away this weekend to give my brain some space!!

Family:  It was lovely to be with all my family, despite the sad circumstances, at the start of the month. Catching up with Aunts and Uncles over a (rather ambitious) three course meal planned and cooked by my eldest son (with help from Barbara) was a really fun evening.

We started The Marriage Course this month and discovered we like each other!! Three sessions in and it’s fantastic to see how strong our marriage is. I’m very thankful to God for Barbara and our boys – especially when you look at the difficult times many other families are going through.

My youngest son has been working really hard ready for his grade three saxophone, which he took on the 23rd. I was able to accompany him on the piano for two of his pieces (which was a bit of a shock as usually the teacher does) which turned out to be a great project we could share together. Just the wait for the results now – very proud though, whatever the outcome. No doubt we will be playing together lots more.

Work: My diploma is going well. Interestingly, some of the concepts we have been discussing can be equally applied to other areas of life including church. I’ve caught up with the work after loosing a few weeks last month due to circumstances and my first assignment is done with only a couple of minor alterations to make.

Today we had our annual staff team day for all CCPAS staff and trustees (which is no mean feat as they are spread all over the country). It’s great to be part of a fantastic, enthusiastic team.

Faith: Getting back into the swing of things after a bitty February was good. More encouraging was that everything carried on without me being around all of the time.  It’s always good to see people happily taking a lead when needed.

Highlights of the month:
Having family, who we’ve not seen for ages over for dinner
Accompanying my youngest son in his sax exam
Finishing my first assignment

thoughts on accountability

In my view, accountability is very much under-rated and under-valued.  Too often I see situations (sadly, too frequently in churches) spiral out of control and eventually cause real damage; and at the heart of the issue is a lack of accountability. Some people may see accountability as a threat, others as a hindrance to their vision or leadership.  But I believe if a culture of accountability is developed in any area of life, it can only lead to more positive outcomes – for everyone.

Below are some thoughts – not in any particular order:

Accountability promotes teamwork
In any role (paid or voluntary), being let free to work completely independently without any reference to anyone else is a dangerous place to be. Being accountable to each other in the group gives a united purpose and the feeling of being part of a team where your voice is as equally important as the next persons.

Accountability should not be a threat
If I want to embark on a new project or develop a new system, and feel I can not run the ideas through others who I am accountable too because they may disagree or suggest a different way of doing it, I am acting like a bit of a control freak!  We all have a little bit it in us!  Usually – if there is good relationship – the person(s) I’m accountable to will actively encourage me in any new area if it fits with the overall direction of the organisation.  They may suggest alternative ways of doing it, but I’ve learnt (and am still learning!) to hold onto things lightly – other people can probably do the job as good if not better than me anyway!!

Accountability should not hinder leadership
Every organisation needs good, solid, visionary leaders. But leaders need to be accountable too. Whether it’s to other leaders, their immediate team or some other group, a good leader will always seek council from those that they respect.

Accountability gives security
Working together as a team and being accountable to each other brings a confidence and security in what you are doing. (Security is very different from being comfortable – a team can feel secure in the path they are leading and still be pushing ahead with new ideas.)

Accountability moves up and down, and side to side
Accountability is not a one way flow. We should be accountable to our boss, our peers and those that work for us. This does not take away from the fact that as a leader/manager, I am responsible for setting a vision and purpose; but including and being accountable to other people gives a vision credibility within the group and – very importantly – gives the group a sense of ownership.

These, as I said at the start, are my views. I would be interested in what you think!

Points to ponder:

  • Who are the people I am accountable to?
  • What other benefits of accountability are there?
  • Should I be more accountable to those around me?

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

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?
 

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!

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?

Post Navigation