Sensory Overload in Worship (The Distracted Worshipper #3)


Part Three of Series: The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pews

Our first toaster looked great – one of those all-chrome, retro models. Too bad it was a wimpy toaster. On the second pair of bagels, it would overheat and shut down. The built-in sensor was designed to prevent overload.

I’m a wimpy worshipper. I shut down from sensory overload. The bigger the worship (high energy, big sound, strobes, percussive, frenetic graphics), the less I engage. Too often, I slide into the role of spectator.

My first response is to stand firm, to power through. But the very act of fighting through the sensory onslaught ends up draining me. My energy, primed to fuel my worship, instead gets redirected to block out the distractions. Overload wears me down.

Eventually I surrender and withdraw, but with a lingering sadness. For once again, genuine worship has eluded me. I ache for simplicity. For time and space. For an unadorned worship experience. For the chance to fully enter into and own what’s happening on the platform.

That elderly lady, with hands cupped over her ears, isn’t expressing a musical preference – she’s in pain. She’s on overload. The older we get, the more quickly our circuit-breaker gets tripped. Age lessens our capacity to handle sensory overload.

But it’s not just old folks. Young people too, even with their amazing capacity for multi-tasking, eventually hit the overload wall. Everyone leaves The Bourne Ultimatum exhausted.

Overload is an enemy of worship. Watch this distracted worshipper for signs of overload. Are my eyes glazed? My mouth shut? How might you do big praise without losing me? Is it possible to create high-energy worship packages that still invite reflection…that create speaking space for the still small voice?

Why do our services tend towards overload? What’s driving that?

And what might worship “under-load” look like? Give it a try!

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Worship & Memory (The Distracted Worshipper #7)


Part Seven of Series: The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pew

Every time I sing ”Great is Thy Faithfulness” I hear my father-in-law, Clem Bilhorn, leading our wedding guests in worship over 30 years ago.

I can’t sing “And Can It Be” without seeing the rapturous face of my now-in-glory pastor, Bill Johnson, belting it out with everything he possessed.

I grow melancholy whenever I sing Matt Redman’s, Blessed be the Name. It draws me back to the memorial service of my young friend Doug Becker, for whom our small group had prayed fervently for six agonizing weeks.

Blessed be Your name

On the road marked with suffering

Though there’s pain in the offering

Blessed be Your name

My eyes still tear up on the bridge as I worship our inscrutable God…

You give and take away

You give and take away

My heart will choose to say, Lord

Blessed be Your name

The old songs are imbedded with history…church history to be sure, but also with our own deeply personal histories. We remember…we imagine…we feel…we worship. The old hymns and worship songs stir us and awaken parts of our soul that had lain dormant. Our past fuels our present worship. As one of William Faulkner’s characters once said, “The past is not dead, it’s not even past.”

My past re-enters my present as I sing about Christ saving a wretch like me, a man who once was lost, but now is found, who was blind, but now sees. As I sing Amazing Grace, I feel shame, remembering snippets of my life before Christ, and I feel renewed gratitude for the life I now have in Christ. I worship again this great and gracious Savior.

For the distracted worshipper, new songs often feel thin and lightweight. Sometimes, because they lack depth and theological richness, but always because they lack the robust reality of our past.

Some questions to ponder:

  • Which particular hymns and worship songs evoke powerful emotions and memories in you?
  • In what ways do those emotions and memories fuel your worship?
  • Can there be a downside to this nostalgia? If so, how so?

15 Practical Tips for Leading a Small Group Toward Gospel Growth

Leadership Resources wants to see God’s Word flow mightily in every church and every nation. Besides the pulpit (our primary focus), one of the ways God’s Word advances in many churches today is through a small group ministry.

Growth Groups- A Training Course in How to Lead Small Groups Colin MarshallHow can a small group ministry best submit the group and individual members to the transforming Word of God? That’s a question that Colin Marshall considers in Growth Groups: A Training Course in How to Lead Small Groups.

This volume seeks to equip leaders for leading Growth Groups, develop an understanding of small group ministry shaped by the Bible, and impart a vision for small groups to lead to greater gospel growth in the church and the world. It is immensely practical, biblically saturated, and says an awful lot in just about 130 pages (not to mention valuable appendices and exercises).

As I read through Growth Groups, I took notes of things I found especially helpful when considering leading a group toward growth in the gospel.

15 Practical Tips for Leading a Small Group Toward Gospel Growth

1. Focus primarily on growing in Christ. Growing in Christ needs to be our focus instead of the number of participants or growing in our relationships with other group members (although both of which are good). Keeping Christ the focus will keep us from going down unhelpful paths.

2. Do not equate closeness as a group to closeness with God. This keeps the focus on Christ instead of letting our experience of relational closeness sneak in and shift our focus. Done right, focusing on Christ as a group will result in closeness as a group anyway.

3. When guiding discussions, ask guiding questions. The role of a leader in group discussions is to ask questions, not to answer them. Ask probing questions that stimulate thought. Here are a few types of questions (from page 48):

  • Extending: What can you add to that? Could you explain that more fully?
  • Clarifying: What do you mean by that? Could you re-phrase that statement?
  • Justifying: What reason can you give for that? Can you explain that from the passage?
  • Re-directing: What do others think? Mary, what do you think?
  • Reflecting: What I think you’re saying is… Is that right?

The Gospels share how masterful Jesus was at this—He didn’t just provide answers, but wanted those He conversed with to wrestle through issues.

4. See small group leaders as Bible teachers and not facilitators. Instead of causing dependence on specific resources or curriculum, training leaders to read and teach the Bible themselves will enrich the leaders understanding of Scripture and allow them to better minister in their group and in their lives.

5. Curb speculation and focus on the Bible. It can be a temptation to wander down rabbit trails in Bible study and discussion. Speculations generally lead away from the focus Scripture is trying to make. Encourage people to keep their noses in the Bible and focus on what it does say, not what it doesn’t.

6. Summarize central truths of the passage/discussion at the end. Repeating main points stays focused and teaches by repetition. You can also repeat relevant applications and pray together to apply them.

7. Reinforce certain roles in group. Good leaders should steer their groups (and themselves) to constructive roles within the group. Marshall also shares a section of strategies working with each of the destructive roles.

Constructive Roles (from page 57-58):

  • The Peacemaker: resolves disputes
  • The Focuser: keeps to the task
  • The Encourager: positive about others
  • The Sympathizer: draws out people’s feelings
  • The Initiator: gets the ball rolling
  • The Summarizer: draws together the argument
  • The Humorist: lightens the moment
  • The Devil’s Advocate: sharpens people’s thinking
  • The Socializer: organizes the social life of the group

Destructive Roles (a summary of p58-61):

  • The Onlooker: a non-contributor with minimal participation
  • The Monopolizer: a dominant talker who often rambles and loves the sound of his or her own voice
  • The Sidetracker: a person who cannot stay focused and often distracts the group with interesting, but unrelated thoughts
  • The Clown: while a jokester can give a happy tone to the group, they can distract the group with humor that is inappropriate in content or timing
  • The Expert: know-it-alls, or those who give off that impression, can be an asset to a group or hindrance by silencing others.
  • The Fighter: a debater ready to argue may be helpful, but could change focus of group and intimidate others
  • The Chatterer: side conversations during group time can distract and hurt community

8. Make prayer a priority for the group. Don’t just use a one-minute prayer to close your group—spend more time crying out to the living God for His help to remember and apply the truths you just discussed.

Do pray for personal requests, but focus on God’s purposes of the world: gospel preaching, unbelievers, the growth of the church in godliness, and personal growth in godliness.

9. Be intentional about evangelism. If you don’t intentionally make evangelism a priority, it often gets neglected. Pray for unbelievers to get saved, for opportunities to witness, and for the gospel to grow in your group. Have group members encourage one another and tell stories of evangelistic encounters to stimulate an outward focus. Look for opportunities to witness together to grow evangelistic zeal within the group.

10. Leaders should see themselves as shepherds, servants, and stewards—not dictators. Having a biblical view of ministry helps leaders remain healthy, realistic, and focused on God and His work in your group. See 1 Corinthians 4:1-2.

11. Gauge growth at an individual level. Growth happens at an individual level. Look at each person in your group and how they are or are not growing, and then look for the best way(s) to help them move forward in their growth.

12. Leaders should seek to utilize gifts of group members. Learn the gifts of the people in your group and seek to put them into action for the betterment of the individual and group as a whole.

13. If (and when) conflict comes, welcome it. This is an opportunity to resolve conflict with a godly attitude and encourage growth in others by asking them to change or repent of a sin.

14. Focus on the development of people, not just filling slots. Resist the temptation to fill your ministry roles with the nearest warm body. Instead, look for qualified leaders. Seek to continually develop future leaders who can multiply your ministry by multiplying the number of groups.

15. Take evaluation seriously. 1 Corinthians 3:1-15 and 4:1-5 are helpful in assessing groups. Here are 4 basic questions for evaluation stemming from 1 Corinthians 1:24—2:5:

a. Have the members been taught and do they understand the word of God—the gospel of Christ?
b. Have they responded by putting their faith in Christ?
c. Have they rejected human religious systems?
d. Do they live in love and unity toward each other?

What else would you add? Let us know in a comment.

Before You Go:


Want to learn more? Join us for Re:Growth – Implementing “The Trellis and the Vine” in your church in Palos Heights, IL on September 11, 2015.

Dick Lucas’s 4 Charges for Today’s Preachers

One of Leadership Resources’ preaching heroes and main influences is the Rev. Dick Lucas, former minister of St. Helens of Bishopsgate and founder of The Proclamation Trust.

At 90, Dick has recently stepped down from his work as a Proclamation Trust trustee (amazingly, he still continues to preach!).

Here are four charges for today’s preachers Lucas shared (as summarized by Adrian Reynolds):

A – Authority. The Word of God is the power of God to create life and if we allow any kind of tradition (and there are many) to take over, then the Word of God is soon robbed of its power.

B – Boldness. Satan hates free speech and the bold proclamation of the gospel of Christ. Anything which hinders this – inside and outside the church – comes from the pit.

C – Conviction. Pastors and preachers need to tremble at the Word of God which comes from the mouth of God. Our conviction needs to extend to all the Scriptures – look how our singing is one dimensional for example, compared to the psalter.

D – Delight. Dick quoted Lloyd-Jones who, when travelling around, noted that many churches are so depressing! We need to be preachers who delight in Christ Himself and in His Word. That must be evident in our preaching.

Related Links:

Showing Vulnerability from the Pulpit (The Distracted Worshipper #2)


Part Two of Series: The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pews

A co-worker and I were holed up in a hotel room with 7 Asian pastors who live in a restricted-access country that is hostile to Christ and His Church. They’d arrive one-by-one in the morning and stay through until the evening. Then they’d leave one-by-one, a few minutes apart.

Together, we were looking at 1 & 2 Corinthians and noting the surprising vulnerability that Paul showed to this church that was challenging his authority and integrity.

“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

Not exactly a confidence-boosting message! But in fact, Paul repeatedly emphasizes in these letters his weaknesses and discouragements in the ministry.

I asked the pastors if they preach with vulnerability. “Never”. Why not? Two reasons…

  1. People would be discouraged in their faith if they learn that their pastor is having so many problems. They’ll think, “If he can’t live the Christian life, what hope do we have?”
  2. It’s not really appropriate to wash dirty laundry in public.

I told them about the two men that have shepherded me for the past 35 years. Both Bill Johnson and Pat Peglow have preached with great vulnerability. Their honest humility has been transformative. Instead of discouraging us, they gave us hope! “If God can use these very ordinary men, then there’s hope for us!”

Vulnerable preaching is powerful preaching.

We looked further at 2 Corinthians 12 in which Paul actually boasts of his weaknesses, “so the power of Christ may rest upon me…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (v.9-10)

After a long discussion, I asked how they were processing this idea of vulnerability. After a long pause, their leader looked at the other men and simply said, “If God’s Word says it, then we need to do it.”

Some questions to consider…

  • How vulnerable is your preaching?
  • What’s the upside and the downside of vulnerable preaching?
  • What are some next steps that you might take?

A Simple and Effective Way to Follow Up with Visitors to Your Church (Part Six)


This post concludes our series on implementing The Trellis and the Vine in our churches and deals with effective follow up for churches. Here are the other posts:

Download Audio | Listen to Full Interview

Marty Sweeney: When I read a good book on preaching, the first thing I’m curious about is the guy who wrote the book. I want to listen to one of his sermons. And so, if someone reads a book on ministry, and the person thinks, “What does an everyday guy like Tony Payne going to your church in Australia?” What do you see in your own church that is going well in terms of the trellis and vine mindset?

Tony Payne: As Col and I always say, we are just two very ordinary guys trying to figure it out just like everybody else.

One of the things I noticed a couple of years ago in our church is that the way of following up newcomers who come to church in our context wasn’t very good, it was fairly programmatic. If a newcomer came to church, they would just get an email, get a welcome, they might get a phone call. They’d be invited to various things, but nothing happened with them personally in terms of actual following them through, getting to know them, seeing how each one of those people needed to move to the right.

I wondered if it was possible to do something better for this. We didn’t have the pastoral resources. So, I got together a group of ten people, mature Christians who had been in the church for a while and weren’t really in the mindset of helping others particularly, they were just solid Christians. They wanted to help other people, but weren’t sure how.

So I decided to train that group to be a newcomer follow-up team, who together, would grasp the vision of seeing newcomers move to the right and start to follow those people up. I’ve been working on that for two and a half years, my wife and I run this group, and in God’s providence, it’s been really helpful for our congregation. We now have 8 or 10 people who really know how to visit a new person, think about who they are, keep in touch with them over three, four, five, six months, introduce them to other people, try and work out what their spiritual needs are, maybe read the Bible with them if that’s what they need. We’ve seen real growth in those people’s lives and growth in people staying at church as a result.

It’s a simple thing to do, and it’s taken some persistence. But it is one simple thing that has been good in our congregation over the next couple of years. We’ve seen a much higher level of new people stay and grow and be really helped by the gospel by just following them up personally. That’s a simple thing I think everyone could do.

Related Resource: How to Walk into Church by Tony Payne (Amazon | Matthias Media)

How to Walk into Church by Tony Payne Matthias Media Book Cover

If you’ve been a churchgoer for more than just a few Sundays, walking into church probably doesn’t seem like it deserves its own ‘how to’ manual. Right? In fact, it most likely seems like a pretty straightforward and trivial weekly activity.

But things are rarely as simple as they seem, and how you walk into church reveals a great deal about what you think church is, what it’s for, and what you think you’re doing there.

In How to Walk into Church, Tony Payne helps us think biblically about church. Along with giving plenty of other practical advice, he suggests a way to walk into church that beautifully expresses what church is and why you’re there – a way that every Christian can master.

If you go to church, this Brief Book is for you.


Want to learn more? Join us for Re:Growth – Implementing “The Trellis and the Vine” in your church in Palos Heights, IL on September 11, 2015.

Movements of Vine Work in Church History and the Danger of Calcification (Part Five)


This post is the continuation of a series:

Download Audio | Listen to Full Interview

Sean Martin: Tony, can you pinpoint times in the history of the church where there have been really strong training movements where vine work has been at the forefront of the church in general? Or is this more of a recent phenomenon?

Tony Payne: I think it’s bubbled up at different times.

In The Trellis and the Vine, we mention [Richard] Baxter and his determination to take young men in whom he saw potential and raise them up and multiply ministry by seeing more people minister.

You saw the same thing in the Wesleys in the Methodist movement in a different sort of way, where the proliferation of Word ministry in small groups and other ways.

You see it in Simeon and the impact he had on a whole generation of people going through a university where he was determined to equip and train as many as he could personally and relationally over time.

And then in the twentieth century, you see it bubbling up especially as education grows and as the number of people who have the intellectual capacities for reading. It’s interesting how it has happened in evangelicalism and places where the Word is valued and the Word’s power is believed in.

But, I think the entropy that takes all of our ministries away from that and into a structured calcification that seems to happen in every ministry over time is part of the sinful nature of the world. If God’s purpose for us is to bring everyone around us to move toward Christ one step at a time, and we do so through the Word and prayer, it seems to me that the sinfulness of our flesh and the schemes of the evil one will constantly seek to drag us away from that—and that’s something you see in Christian history.

Group: What are some symptoms or signs of this calcification?

Tony Payne: In our workshops, we ask a simple question and ask people to rate all of the ministries in their church on a scale of:

Not at all effective     |    Somewhat effective    |    Effective

The question to answer is: Is the word of God opened and prayerfully taught and shared/discussed such that people’s lives by God’s Spirit are changed?

This question should be answered whether it’s a theatre or an opportunity for the Word to be opened and to be expounded, whether in conversation or in teaching. When you have a whole stack of ministries, inevitably you see a whole lot of ticks over on the “not at all effective” side.

Our recommendation for a lot of those ministries is to just close them down, which is terribly harsh…but it is simply not possible to turn all of them around. You could choose a few of them that you would turn around and really invest in them, thinking of their potential and start having a Bible reading piece Sunday morning. And then the next month we will have a Bible reading and a little bit of talking about it, and we change it over time. But you often can’t do that for ten or twelve ministries.

The really hard thing about culture change is facing the inevitability of shutting some things down.

Next time we see a simple and effective way to follow up with those visiting in your church.


Want to learn more? Join us for Re:Growth – Implementing “The Trellis and the Vine” in your church in Palos Heights, IL on September 11, 2015.

Three Tips for Implementing Culture Change In Your Church (Part Four)


This post is the continuation of a series:

Download Audio | Listen to Full Interview

Sean Martin: One of the pushbacks of this new ministry mentality in the past five years has been the idea of implementation. What would you say to a busy pastor who has read the book, his mind is changed, but doesn’t know where to start?

Tony Payne: I would say to him maybe three things. I’d like more time to talk it through with him, this answer is very very short.

First of all, it can change the way you do what you’re already doing. It won’t be something you’ll have to add on. It can change the way you preach, as we just discussed. It can change your preparation and how you present your material. And you will start to build an expectation withy our people of what to do with your material. You can change the stuff you are already doing and start to change the culture from the top down.

Secondly, in terms of changing the culture from the bottom up—and I think change has to come from both directions.

I’d recommend that you start with seven or eight people, who are a “guiding coalition” —even the theory of culture change in the secular world works like this as well. You gather a group of people who are your allies in change, they might be a council, your elders, or a new group, and that you take time—it might take you twelve months—to clarify and work out together what is your vision of ministry and where are we going to go with that mission. Unless you have a group around you who are your allies and supporters, coworkers, who you start to influence and train, you probably won’t start to see any lasting change.

Thirdly, with that coalition, you have to get down on the ground and start working with people. Start with an existing group—a men’s group or a Bible study that has potential, and start working with that group to see culture change.

That answer is brief and inadequate, and is why Col and I have done more work on laying out how that might happen more systematically over time, the steps you might go through. It’s got to be top down as well as bottom up.

Next time we take a brief survey of movements of vine work in church history and discuss the dangers of calcification.


Want to learn more? Join us for Re:Growth – Implementing “The Trellis and the Vine” in your church in Palos Heights, IL on September 11, 2015.

The Wonder of Worship (The Distracted Worshipper #1)

Series Introduction: I’m swatting at mind-gnats. It’s Sunday morning and I’m struggling to be all here. Yesterday gnaws at me — the project unfinished, the game lost, the unresolved issue. What’s more, my impatient tomorrow keeps barging backwards into today. Oh to be fully now.

Jesus reigns, but in a distant, fuzzy realm. My worries, plans and pleasures are near and clear and dear. I hunger for Him, but also for lunch in two hours and football in four.

Pastor, feed me the Word of Life. Worship leaders, draw me into the Presence. Tech team, fade to black so that I only see Jesus. Help me detox. I am a distracted worshipper. See more from the series The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pews.


The Wonder of Worship

Matt Redman* says, “Worship thrives on wonder”. What exactly is the relationship between worship and wonder? Jacob Needleman* offers a helpful story…

“I was an observer at the launch of Apollo 17 in 1975. It was a night launch and there were hundreds of cynical reporters all over the lawn, drinking beer, joking, and waiting for this thirty-five- story –high rocket. The countdown came and them the launch. The first thing you see is this extraordinary orange light, which is just at the limit of what you can look at. Everything is illuminated with this light. Then comes this thing slowly rising up in total silence, because it takes a few seconds for the sound to come across. You hear a WHOOOOSH! HHHHHMMMM! It enters right into you.

You can practically hear jaws dropping. The sense of wonder fills everyone in the whole place, as this thing goes up and up. The first stage ignites this beautiful blue flame. It becomes like a star, but you realize that there are humans on it. And then there is total silence.

People just get up quietly, helping each other. They are kind. They open doors. They look at one another, speaking quietly and interestedly. These were suddenly moral people because the sense of wonder, the experience of wonder had made them moral.”

What caused these pagan reporters to experience wonder? As I imagine myself at that launch, twin realities press upon me. First, the weight of the event – three men actually heading to the moon on this technological marvel designed and built by humans. But it’s not simply this breath-taking achievement that prompts a sense of wonder in me. A second element juxtaposes itself. Compared to this enormous event, I suddenly feel very, very small. In fact, I continue to shrink as the rocket rises further and further from earth.

So consider the implications for worship. Worship erupts spontaneously whenever God looms large among us and we, at the same time, shrink.

Big God + little people = worship.

So how might you help this distracted worshipper experience the wonder of God? How might pastor and worship team deepen and enlarge my view of God so that my soul becomes a geyser of glorious praise?

(*Needleman, a Professor of Philosophy, was interviewed by Bill Moyer for Moyer’s book and television series, A World of Ideas II. Matt Redman writing in his book, Facedown.)

image credit

The Distracted Worshipper: A View from the Pew


Series Introduction: I’m swatting at mind-gnats. It’s Sunday morning and I’m struggling to be all here. Yesterday gnaws at me — the project unfinished, the game lost, the unresolved issue. What’s more, my impatient tomorrow keeps barging backwards into today. Oh to be fully now.

Jesus reigns, but in a distant, fuzzy realm. My worries, plans and pleasures are near and clear and dear. I hunger for Him, but also for lunch in two hours and football in four.

Pastor, feed me the Word of Life. Worship leaders, draw me into the Presence. Tech team, fade to black so that I only see Jesus. Help me detox. I am a distracted worshipper.

Read the Series:

  1. The Wonder of Worship
  2. Showing Vulnerability from the Pulpit
  3. Sensory Overload in Worship
  4. Don’t Leave God’s Word Upstaged on Sunday Morning
  5. Two Reasons I Avoid Topical Preaching
  6. The White Rabbit Syndrome
  7. Worship & Memory

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