an introduction to Three-Dimensional Worship
Let’s be perfectly honest: it’s hard to build a worship program in any church – big, small, medium and everywhere in between. Building systems and processes that pastor your people while churning out the best “product” (yes, I use that term intentionally) is difficult in any sized church. In my experience most large churches didn’t build the right systems and processes when they were small so now that they’re big they still struggle to do things well. It’s amazing how many large church worship pastors or creative directors I know who feel like they are flying by the seat of their pants.
Part of the struggle is cultural – what is the background of the church? How did the leaders before you do things? What sacred cows about worship/creative does your leadership have? How empowered are you as a leader to lead and direct change in your department? And a million more questions… every church is different in some ways.
But in other ways, every church is the same. And I am coming to the conclusion more and more that – while certain techniques might be handled differently per culture – every church worship program can, in some ways, be handled exactly the same no matter the culture.
Over the past more than fifteen years of worship ministry and artistry within the church, after being in worship and creative positions from church startups to small churches to medium sized churches to megachurch off-site campuses to the mothership of a megachurch, I have begun to see that in every church I’ve been lucky to be a part of, certain things always seem to work and certain things always seem to fail. And as I study the Big C Church, and ask questions of other leaders and read article after article, I become more and more convinced that there are ways to ensure success in worship ministry.
This isn’t a snake oil sales pitch. It isn’t a magical potion. I hope that this exploration of church ministry in the modern church is more about transferrable principles than absolute truths. I want it to be a practical guide to building church ministry, not for numbers’ sake but something far more rounded… far more three-dimensional.
I’d like to introduce you to the idea of Three-Dimensional Worship. I hope it can revolutionize your ministry as it has the ministries I’ve been able to implement it. The desire is that it be both philosophical and practical; ethereal and grounded. I hope that it can simply take something that might feel like it’s missing something to filling in the empty spaces to create something that suddenly begins to take shape and feel 3D.
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I’d like to suggest that the goal of every church worship program should be to be complete and well-rounded. Which of course brings us to the question of how to determine or define that. In the paradigm of Three-Dimensional Worship, I’d suggest that well-rounded (or three-dimensional) could be defined by equal strengths in three dimensions: skill, passion and knowledge.
Skill is pretty easy to define – it’s the easiest thing to recognize. If someone can play an instrument well or sing on pitch, we can easily see that. In worship ministry, it’s usually the first indication that someone might fit into our team: they bring a skill to the table and that is the first step towards being a part of the team.
Passion is both hard and easy to define. On one hand, we’ve all seen the worship leader or the player who “performs” well. They show passion on stage and move well and can certainly give the impression that they care about what they’re singing. That is one indication of passion, sure. But I’ll contend that passion is not just the passion we show on stage, but the ability to call others to passion, the ability to invoke passion in those they are leading.
Finally, knowledge is the hardest to pin down. Knowledge is not just an understanding of the Word. It is not just an understanding of what it means to be a leader of worship. It is not just an understanding of the role they play in leading others into worship. It is all of this and more.
Whether they realize it or not; whether the choice is conscious or not; in my experience, most churches’ worship programs make a choice to pursue one of the three over the others. We all have been to the churches that have a paid band that plays all the notes incredibly well, but no one on stage seems to care about what is being sung. We’ve probably all had the experience of being in a church that had plenty of passion – hands raised on stage, people passionately singing the words and calling others to passion, people dancing, people excited about worship – but the skill was… subpar at best. And we’ve likely all been to the church where skill and passion were pretty meaningless, but making sure people understood the intricacies of what Scripture calls us to in worship was a huge part of the culture.
And yet we all watch ________________ (fill in the blank with whatever church you most resonate with) and I’d guess that church seems to have it together. And I believe there’s a reason for that.
Bethel Music is my church of choice. I watch their services and literally 100% of the time, I am called to something greater. It doesn’t matter that I don’t agree with some of their theological stances. It doesn’t matter that they are certainly far more “charismatic” than any church I’ve been at and will ever be at. What matters is that when I watch their services, I see a three-dimensional model of worship: they speak truth and knowledge over the congregation; they are incredibly passionate and invoke the same passion from their congregation; and man are they good.
Three-dimensional worship says, “We will not settle for one. We will fight and struggle to have it all: excellence in skill, passionate worship and a knowledge of the Word and our place within the Scriptural history of leading worship through music.”
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So to end this introduction: skill, passion and knowledge play themselves out in similar and different ways per culture. Some congregations are never going to be remotely charismatic in how people outwardly display their worship, so the leaders’ passion will need to in some ways fit the culture… while stretching the culture. Some churches have a deep understanding of worship, others do not. So the knowledge piece and where to begin will be different in every place. And ultimately the skill piece is dependent on what talent your church has and how you can best build on those skills.
But the beauty of the systems and processes I will suggest can be built around this paradigm of Three-Dimensional Worship is that no matter the starting place, the philosophies of WHY we do what we do are transferrable and can be fit to whatever place your church might be.
I pray that this series of thoughts can challenge you and your teams to something greater, in the same way that I have been challenged to something greater.
the case for Three Dimensions
When I was younger I remember very vividly seeing “Braveheart” for the 1st time. I was moved by it and by the parallels I was able to draw between the Academy-Award-winning film and my young faith. William Wallace (as portrayed by a pre-“holy crap, he really hates Jewish people” Mel Gibson) stands for right, no matter the costs. He alienates his closest friends at times, because he is so strongly chasing his version of the truth and righteousness.
Around the same time, I heard a message in which a teacher I trusted broke down James 4:17 “To him that knows to do good and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin”. This teacher made the case that what James was saying here is really “to him that knows to do THE BEST THING and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin.” He was making the case that instead of simply settling for good in our lives, we should chase the “best thing”.
Two very seminal messages to a young man who was just coming into himself as a creative and someone realizing he is called to ministry… and I took them to heart. I knew that if I was gonna be in creative ministry and lead well that I needed to know the best thing and I needed to do it or else it would be sin, and I needed to be like William Wallace ALWAYS STANDING FOR THE TRUTH!!!
The problem was this: in real life, you can’t live like that. At some point, the people who you love the most start to wonder if you actually do love them. They wonder if you care for them as people as much as you care for your version of the truth.
But this was my life for close to 20 years. I could never figure out why I was missing it with people. I could never understand why the people I led were constantly coming to the conclusion that I was wasn’t for them. I could never find the reason for my peers feeling unloved. And then a mentor of mine, who I love dearly, finally pulled back the shade from my eyes: I cared more about truth than I cared about people; I had to be right, instead of being good to people.
So over the past coupla years, I’ve slowly been letting go of my William Wallace complex. I’ve begun to understand that my version of the best thing isn’t always worth more than the hearts of the people who lead me and whom I lead.
And I’ve found balance for the first time in my life.
I don’t have to always have the right answer, because that is quite literally not possible. I don’t always have to know what the best thing is. I don’t always have to lead from my gut instead of my heart. I can actually let some things fail and show grace instead of chasing excellence at the expense of people’s hearts.
It’s about balance. We all – at some level – know this to be true.
We are to worship in Spirit AND in truth. There’s a time to live and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to reap. A time to tear down and a time to build up (Ecclesiastes 3). Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 7 “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise.” He tells us in Proverbs 11 “A false balance is an abomination. But a just weight (to our lives) is His delight.” And even Luke tells us about Jesus, that He grew in favor with God AND men.
On a similar note: over the past couple of years, I have been deeply studying the diffrences between Paul and Jesus. Jesus almost never gave answers or “truth”, but instead answered questions with more questions or with parables, the meaning of which the listener was to figure out. Meanwhile, Paul with his lists and lists of ways to be a Christian and how not to be a Christian and things are godly and things that are not… it feels like Paul is trying to give us all the answers. And for a long time I struggled with the differences. If we’re supposed to be followers of Christ, then how do we figure obey some of the more (seemingly) judgmental things Paul brings to the table.
Until you realize that if we lived like Jesus – which I’m trying to do more of now-a-days – without the practicality of Paul, it can be very frustrating in day-to-day work.
Imagine this scenario, if you will:
“hey Chris, are we ready to go for Sunday worship?”
“Is anyone ever really ready for worship?”
“I just want to know if we’re ready for Sunday services.”
“Well … let me tell you this parable … There was a man walking on the road to –“
“I don’t mean to cut off another story … but seriously, are the slides loaded and is the band prepared? And is the tech team all ready? And—“
“I feel like if you’d let me tell my parable you could have inferred its meaning.”
And then that person punches me in the face.
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Paul was practically helping the early church find its balance to the peace and love that Jesus brings to us. If I’m gonna err, I wanna err on the side of peace and love. But we still have to get stuff done. Right?
We need balance in our lives, in our ministries, in our families…
And I believe that that is the beauty of Three-Dimensional Worship. It gives us a balance that is easy to define, easy to quantify and easy to understand.
As a reminder, the three dimension of Three-Dimension Worship are: 1) Skill, 2) Passion and 3) Knowledge.
A quick breakdown of what those mean, as reminder: Skill is the ability to do the thing asked of you in leading worship (play guitar, sing, run lights, run camera, etc.). Passion is our passion for what we’re singing… but not just OUR passion, but our ability to effectively induce passion from the congregation in response to our passion. And finally knowledge is the understanding of who we are to God, the knowledge of why we do what we do, the knowledge of knowing Biblically what we are called to in worship.
These three dimensions – when used and taught effectively – should create balance at the very core of our worship ministries. I think I’ve made the case for why that is important. Let me make the case for why this balance is created by the three dimensions.
I think at some level we have all felt the yuckiness that comes from chasing “excellence” as the end all of what makes worship great. If you’ve ever asked a worship leader to “perform” you’ve probably at some level gotten the stank eye. Right? I’d guess most of us have felt the inherent tension that comes with chasing excellence and performance in worship. Gosh, I was on American Idol and when it comes to worship leading, I never want to “perform”.
However, there is something that I see in Scripture in conjunction with all congregational worship: an aura of performance, if we define performance as moving, clapping our hands, being emotionally engaged, etc… then we are called to “perform” within the context of congregational and corporate worship. In fact, I have yet to find an explanation of corporate worship through music in the Bible that doesn’t include some sort of action with it. We are meant to dance, to raise our hands, to engage our bodies in worship.
So, instead of chasing excellence in performance, what if the call instead was to passionately believe what we are singing and to engage our bodies as an example to our congregation of what they are called to. In my experience, it takes the pressure off of “excellence” or “performance” and gives freedom instead. There is not expectation. There is no judgement of “good worship”. We simply give people the freedom to worship.
And knowledge is ultimately what gives this freedom. Excellence without passion or knowledge is meaningless. Passion with knowledge is chaos. Knowledge without skill and passion is stiff and boring.
In the next three parts of this series, I will break down the importance of each dimension, but for now, I’ll end this way:
I contend that balance in worship ministry is vital to leading our people in the best and most Biblical way. Three-Dimensional Worship is meant to help our worship teams most easily find the balance in a healthy way that encourages them towards freedom in worship. Freedom in worship allows us to better lead our congregation. And our congregation being better led in worship means increased engagement and a felt freedom in our places of worship that increase our capabilities to affect people in a positive way through our worship by music.