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Transcript:

Ken Allen:

Well, we’ll begin this morning. Good morning, I’m glad that you’re with us today. I wanna welcome you here as we continue our two webinars per month. And this is our third in the series of Connecting: Pathways That Lead to Connection, a Process of Church Health. The first one we introduced to you at the end of September, and again, these are archived and we can send the details to you. The first Tuesday of this month that we had a webinar, we looked at the first point in the process, which is connecting with the creator, connecting with the creator. And we looked at renewal, Claude King was with us, went through “Return to Me,” a great resource. We talked about prayers, a part of church renewal, and then today we’re so grateful to have Mike Harland with us. Keith’ll do the formal introduction here in just a moment. As we look at the second part of Connecting to the Creator, not only renewal, but worship, and how critical a factor loving God and giving him all that he is worth. So we’re grateful to have Mike with us today, and again, thank you for being here. Keith Hibbs, Director of Office of Worship, Worship Leadership, and Church Music. We’ll be introducing Mike. Mike Jackson’s in the background, and so we’re grateful that he is back there in the background. Of course, Doug is as well, offering his support too. So again, let me lead us in prayer, and again, it’s so grateful, so grateful to have you here with us. Please note our chat feature to communicate with each other and the Q&A at the bottom if you do have questions. After Mike shares, we’ll entertain those questions. The Q&A section at the bottom, please use that. Let’s pray. Father again this day, we’re so grateful that we have the opportunity Lord, to be a part of your kingdom. Lord, we know that this is a time of great challenge, but Lord, we know that your church can be all that you’ve intended for it to be in these days, and what you’ve called it out to do and to be. And so father, I pray that just the simplicity of using Mike in this time to see how we are to connect to you and we are to worship you as our creator. And so use this time for your honor and for your glory, in Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Keith Hibbs:

Sure. I am extremely excited to have my friend Mike Harland here with us for the webinar today. In my years here at state board, I have read a lot of things about worship and I’ve heard a lot of guys speak about worship, and I can honestly say I would rather hear Mike Harland talk about worship than anybody else I’ve read or heard. Mike has a heart for worship, he has a heart for ministry, and I’m gonna read a little quote on the back of his book. I’ve got his book, “Worship Essentials” here, and he sorta jumps off from Mark Twain when he said, “Everybody talks about the worship, but nobody does anything about it.” And Mike, Mike speaks and he uses practical theology, I’m gonna coin a term there, and when he speaks, he’s deeply rooted in scripture and in practical practice. So Mike, thank you for being here. He is currently at First Baptist Church Jackson, Mississippi, after being at LifeWay for a number of years, and Mike bless our hearts, as you speak, thanks.

Mike Harland:

Keith, I’m excited to be with you guys. Some of my favorite things that I got to do when I was at LifeWay was to go places with state conventions and interact with guys, and Keith, you were so kind to me. I think about several times you asked me to come to Alabama and got a lot of friends there. My pastor is an Alabamian. Chip Stevens, my pastor, he’s from Heflin, Alabama, some of y’all know where that is. And I told him I was doing this this morning and he said to tell all his Alabama brothers hello. But I’m excited to be back in church, on the front lines of church. Many years ago when I first came to LifeWay, Jimmy Draper was president then, and Dr. Draper told me when I came to LifeWay, he said, “You are a church guy and you will miss the church every day you’re here.” And then he told me, “The day you stop missing the church is the day you probably shouldn’t be at LifeWay.” But what he told me that day I found to be true. Every day I was at LifeWay, it was a privilege, I was honored to lead in that way, and to serve Southern Baptist in that way, but I did miss the church. And when the Lord put it in my heart to get back on the front lines, I consider it to be a promotion to be back on a staff of a church like First Baptist Jackson and leading worship ministry. What I wanna talk to you today about just briefly, I don’t really have 10 things you oughta do to build worship ministry in COVID. There are two reasons I don’t have that. The first one is I don’t know that any of you wouldn’t have better ideas than what I would say, and the second one is I have no idea what those 10 things would be. I think all of us are kind of feeling our way along in this crazy, crazy season. It has affected everything about our lives, no question about it, but not just the pandemic, but just the culture in general. You know, when we see disruption and the political toxicity of the day, you know, seven more days will be, a week from today we’ll be casting ballots in a national election. The early voting has breaking every record in every state. You can just feel the energy building and the tension building and it’s a very unsettling kind of a thing. And in music ministry, particularly it’s unsettling because a lot of what we do as worship leaders is being challenged in many, many ways. There are a wide range of opinions that singing might even be risky, and should choirs meet? And probably all of us have our own stories of knowing about that church or this situation, and there seems to be concern around just the physical activity of singing. And even in my own church here, people here have been challenging and questioning the wisdom of whether or not we would sing. And I’ll just throw this out there. I told some of our leaders, I said, I am very willing to not emphasize singing at this point, the way I normally would if we didn’t have a pandemic, but I’m very uncomfortable telling people to not do something that the scripture instructs them to do many, many times over, and so we’ve tried to find a balance of where singing fits into corporate worship. I think COVID has taught us all the importance of gathering. I think in those times of isolation, when churches were meeting virtually, and there probably are churches on this Zoom that may still be meeting virtually, and I think the absence of the gathering has demonstrated to all of us how important gathering is. I think the writer of Hebrews certainly is talking about the importance of gathering in Chapter 10, where he talks about, let us draw near, let us hold fast, let us encourage and teach one another, not neglecting the assembly of ourselves together is something of a habit of doing, but all the more encouraging each other as the day is approaching. I think the writer of Hebrews, though that he wasn’t in a time of pandemic, certainly the pandemic doesn’t make Hebrews 10 not true. And so how do we as church leaders navigate that? So what I wanna do today is draw your attention to three passages of scripture. I’m not gonna try to teach these passages, but I do wanna just point out three things in scripture that kind of speak to this moment of leadership in the context of a challenge, like what we have now, and all of these demonstrate what ministry leadership looks like in difficulty. The first one I’ll draw to your attention is Acts Chapter 28. I love the last 10 chapters of the Book of Acts. Well, I like the whole book actually, all 28 of them, but when you get into Paul’s narrative, when the page turns in the Book of Acts, and Peter becomes less the prime character, the central character, and Paul becomes the central character of the story of the early church in those last 10 to 12 chapters of the Book of Acts, Paul meets Christ in Acts Chapter Nine, then he kind of goes silent on Paul for a couple of chapters, and then it picks Paul back up, and then the rest of the Book of Acts is kind of seen through the life experiences of the apostle Paul as he’s leading the early church and shaping and forming so much of our theology, as the Holy spirit inspired him to do so. In Acts 28, we see this amazing chapter. It’s fascinating to me that the Book of Acts ends with this story. But Paul has made his appeal to Caesar. He is wrongfully incarcerated. He’s been beaten, and imprisoned, and accused of all sorts of insurrection, and all of the things that that Paul would be accused of, and yet he has made his appeal to Caesar as a Roman citizen, and once he did that, once he played that card, it’s kind of like when the person asks for a lawyer in the police interrogation. The interrogation ends and the lawyer is brought in. Well, when Paul appeals to Caesar, then all kinds of legal protocols kick in, and Rome is now obligated to give Paul the audience with Caesar that he has requested. And then the last few chapters of Acts is the story of Paul getting to Rome, and Acts 28 is that, I mean I can’t, somebody needs to make this movie. I think it would be an amazing movie. This scene in Acts 28 when Paul is put on a ship, it’s in the wrong season of the year to be traveling across the sea, and he knows that, and Paul is saying, guys, I don’t think we oughta do this. But the Romans are so desperate to get Paul out of their hair and get him to Rome to bring some resolution to this crazy setting and set of circumstances. Finally, Paul does get on the ship and he’s headed across the sea, and the storm comes up and the ship becomes in jeopardy. The seamen become very concerned, these trained, equipped sea masters, Roman, the finest of Roman soldiers that are guiding this ship across this treacherous water. And they become almost panicked, and they don’t really know what to do, and Paul, the man who brings some calm to this situation, begins to say, guys, here’s what we need to do, and he begins to give them advice. They start listening to Paul, the ship is approaching Malta. It begins to disintegrate. You can read this whole thing in Chapter 28, 27 and 28. The ship begins to disintegrate. Paul finds himself floating in the sea and all of them wash up on the shore. The soldiers are concerned that the prisoners have escaped. None of them have escaped. And here Paul is on the Island of Malta, and in Acts 28, we see the story of what happens next. So here he is in Malta, everything about this is wrong. We think COVID is a challenge to lead in, where here’s God’s man Paul, and he is in this unbelievable circumstance that just keeps getting worse, and worse, and worse, and worse. It can’t get any worse. And just when you think, okay, the worst has happened, and he’s on this island, now trapped on this island, he reaches into a woodpile to build a fire, and he is bit by a viper, a very poisonous snake. The people there in Malta see that happen, and they immediately assumed Paul, that’s a death sentence to Paul. And they think, well, he’s gonna die, but God’s not ready for Paul to die, and Paul doesn’t die. He doesn’t suffer any effects of the snake and the people of Malta are just amazed. They think, well, this is some kind of mystic. This is some kind of sorcery for him to survive this. Who is this man? And then Paul, when you get into chapter 28, Paul actually says to them, the Holy Spirit was with him and he begins to preach to them in Malta. And then the Bible says that as they’re hearing him preach, they begin to bring sick people to him and Paul touches the father of Publius, one of the leaders of Malta, and that man is healed, and then the Maltese people then bring all of the sick of the island to Paul, and there Paul is wrongfully imprisoned, tragically shipwrecked, his whole ministry could be derailed, and what does Paul do? He just faithfully delivers the word and he touches people, he heals people. The ministry God had given him to do just goes right on in Malta of all places. Well, ministry’s hard anytime. We’re dealing with people that are on every part of the spectrum in spiritual maturity, and we’re dealing with all kinds of issues, and traditions, and landmines that are all around us in ministry all the time. It’s always a challenge. And then here we are in Malta, where it feels like just when we think it can’t get any worse, we get bit by a poisonous snake. And the tendency might be to pull into a small fetal position in the corner of an office or a Sunday school room somewhere where nobody can see us, and say, I give up. That’s not what Paul did in Malta, and it’s not what you and I need to do now. As a matter of fact, Paul just keeps on being faithful in Malta. And if that’s where you think you are, if that’s what it feels like to you for all of the pandemic reasons, and the COVID-19 reasons, and the political reasons, on top of all of the challenges that church has on a daily basis, I wanna encourage you to look at Paul’s example, to see the man of God resting in all of this, staying faithful in Malta of all places. He winds up in Rome, God’s perfect plan is still in play. Nothing is derailed because of a snake bite or because of a ship wreck, or because of any of the other variables that were outside Paul’s control, and he just keeps being faithful. There’s a second passage I wanna show you. It’s from the Psalms and it’s Psalm 115. This is a powerful Psalm that has plenty of context to be aware of as you read it. This Psalm is dated to the time of Ezra, though it’s not credited in the superscription to be authored by any one person, it’s reasonable to think that Ezra might’ve been the person that penned this Psalm. It’s associated with the dedication of the temple, the second dedication of the temple, the second temple, I should say, that’s found in Ezra Chapter Six. Ezra, if you remember the story, had led that second wave of exiles back from Babylon, they had been in disruption. There had not been temple worship on the behalf of God’s people in a generation, in at least 70 years, maybe even longer than that, and he is returning back to Jerusalem with a second wave of exiles. On his way back, if you read the first seven chapters of Ezra and then get into the later chapter of that book, they discover that there’s sin in the camp, and there had been intermarrying against God’s direction, and Ezra goes into this great priestly prayer that he prays, an intercessory prayer that he prays for his people. And Psalm 115 though, is the Psalm that most likely would have been sung for that occasion of the dedication of the second temple. And God’s man standing in that place, leading faithfully through all of the challenges and difficulty of leading the second wave of captives back to Jerusalem. We know that third wave is gonna be led by Nehemiah, the walls are gonna be restored, and Nehemiah Eight becomes this great worship chapter. So we look at Nehemiah Eight and we see the high holy moments of worship that are called out in Nehemiah Eight when the word of God is read, and people stand, and kneel, and repent, and revival breaks out among God’s people. But we don’t remember sometimes what they went through to get there, and not to recount all of Nehemiah’s story, but Psalm 115 is a Psalm that’s dated about this time when Ezra was coming back with that second wave. And the Psalm starts, “Not to us Lord, not to us, but to your name, give glory because of your faithful love, because of your truth.” The history books record that William Wilberforce, when the law that was passed in parliament that made slavery illegal after years and years of intense effort on this believer’s part to right an injustice, and when the law was finally written, history tells us that William Wilberforce quoted Psalm 115:1, “Not to us, oh Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory because of your faithful love, because of your truth.” And then verse two says, “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is your God?'” People that have come through heartache are now on the other side of it, and they’re raising this question because it was one that no doubt in the heartache, they would have heard asked over and over. And if you’re like me, you’re hearing that question asked a lot in 2020. Where’s God? Where’s God? What is he doing? Where is our God? All the people are asking the question what’s God’s role in this? How is he moving in all of this? And the psalmist tells us in verse three, “Our God is in heaven and he does whatever he pleases.” We know that, but I wanna encourage all of us today to be reminded that God is in heaven, he’s on his throne. He’s not waiting to see who wins an election next Tuesday. He’s not looking for what the Congress is gonna do or what the pandemic is gonna require, or what the governor’s gonna decree, he’s not waiting on any of those things. God is still on his throne. So just like Paul in Malta is remaining faithful and just doing ministry, even after the shipwreck, even after the snake bite, we see the psalmist in Psalm 115 giving acknowledgement to a God who is still enthroned, even in the midst of can we sing or not? Or can we do choir or not? Or can we do Sunday school responsibly? Can we do family night supper on Wednesday night? Can we do a Fall Fest? You know, churches are asking that question right now. Can we pull all of this off? What are we gonna do? We almost get nervous about the choices we make in ministry. And I think the psalmist wants to tell all of us, verse three of Psalm 115, that our God is in heaven and he does what he pleases. Even as we grapple with all of the questions of how to do ministry. I wanna get to five points before I get to the third passage I wanna show you. I wanna get to five takeaways I have from the example of Paul, the example of Ezra here in Psalm 115. And if you read the rest of the Psalm, you see a call and response that happens in Psalm 115. The people call out, the leaders respond, it goes back and forth, back and forth, and the question and answer, and I think it’s on us as ministry leaders to, in this season of questions, is to ask the right questions, but as leaders, to come with good answers, and the answers I think are inspired by five thoughts that I wanna share with you right now. Here’s number one. In ministry in 2020, and music ministry, and worship ministry in 2020, let’s not overlook the spiritual health in this discussion. Now here’s something that I’ve been really convicted about is I think about, should we sing, should we not sing? That the health of the people that we lead is really threefold. There’re really three parts that maybe if you wanna think of it as a three legged stool, when you think about the individual health of the people that we lead, there are three legs that their health are standing on. There is a physical and medical stool to this leg, no question about it, but there’s also an emotional leg to this stool. You might be seeing the reports that are beginning to emerge as people are trying to calculate what’s been the mental and emotional health impact of COVID-19, and it is significant. I think it will take many years before we completely understand, but I’ve heard many people say that suicides are up, and that drug use is up, and that depression is up, and divorce is up, and there is this emotional and mental toll that the isolation and that the pandemic is having on people. The economic impact, how that affects families, and how that affects the mental and emotional wellbeing of people. So you have the health leg of the stool, and you have the emotional and the mental leg of this three-legged stool, but that third one is the spiritual health of our people. There’s a spiritual impact on the choices we’re making right now in worship. Now I’m not gonna sit here and in my ill-informed medical background, I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t stay at Holiday Inn Express anytime recent, but I know this, that as vital as the physical health of our people is, and we have to do every precaution to protect people, and that these other two legs are not subservient to that, that there has to be a balance in this conversation. I’m not here to call for a movement in any way, I’m just saying that as church leaders, we don’t need to abandon our responsibility spiritually to the people that we lead in deference to the medical community, as if the medical aspects of the decisions we make are the only ones that matter. They do matter and we’ve gotta protect the health of our people, but we can’t do it in a way that ignores the spiritual, and the mental, and the emotional health of our people as well. And I wanna say, as church leaders, as people that God has called and equipped to lead ministry, that we have a role in this discussion. And the first point I wanna make is we can’t abdicate our responsibility to lead people well spiritually, even as we try to be responsible medically, and our voice needs to be in that conversation. We do that respectfully, but we don’t need to go silent on the spiritual health of our people, we need to grapple for it. I’m not saying fight for it, but we need to be a voice that is heard for the spiritual health of the people that we lead. And we know that gathering and being together in community is a vital aspect of spiritual health. And I wanna say in worship, I wanna challenge all of us, consider the price tag that we are paying spiritually by not allowing our people to gather, and if they are gathered, when they are gathered, how we engage them and involve them in corporate worship. We either believe that corporate worship matters or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t matter, then we’ve wasted a lot of time and energy, but if it does, our voice needs to be at the table in this discussion, along with all of the medical, and the professional mental health people that are engaged. So, number one, don’t overlook that in the discussion. Number two, instead of thinking about change, and here’s something I wanna say first before I finished that sentence, is that I’m hearing, and I’m even tempted myself to think of COVID-19 as the excuse I’ve been looking for to make all of the change I wanna make. Let’s blame it on COVID. I mean, I think about organizations, I know there are businesses that are making strategic moves in their organization, and they’re doing it in the name of, or blaming it if you will, on the pandemic, and on the challenges that it has presented. And there are some church leaders that I hear saying this, that okay, in COVID, now’s the time you can kill that ministry that you haven’t wanted to do. Or you can make this abrupt change philosophically in ministry. Maybe in your church, you’ve thought we’re gonna kill the choir at some point, now’s our chance. I wanna caution us here. I’m saying that instead of thinking change, I think the far better, healthier thing to think is think simplicity. Not what do we change, but what do we make more simple? In other words, don’t look at COVID-19 as the opportunity to disrupt everything, but think, how do we simplify what we do? And that may mean making some organizational changes and maybe even some programming choices that may be overdue from your standpoint, and maybe COVID is the right time to do it for other reasons, but don’t blame it on COVID. Make it a strategic move that has spiritual design and impact on your church from a spiritual goal standpoint, not because the pandemic has given you an opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do. You’ve gotta take as church leaders, I think we’re being irresponsible if we see COVID only as an opportunity to do something we should have, shoot, we wanna do. Think simplicity because change for change sake in the COVID season, I think can double down on the difficulty of our people coping with it. So I wanna challenge that thinking. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make any changes in COVID, I’m just saying that instead of pursuing opportunity, why not look at it as an opportunity to be simplistic about what you’re doing? I would challenge that thinking. Number three, instead of seeking to be profound in this moment, aspire to be faithful in it. I go back to Paul’s example. Paul, in the Malta moment, seeks to be faithful, and not just be profound. I think sometimes we’re trying to be more profound than just faithful. Simplify and find small and simple ways to be faithful to what it is God called you to. Go back to that first calling to say, what can I do now to be faithful to that, rather than trying to be profound with some creative idea? Not saying that we won’t be creative, we should be, but seek faithfulness over profundity. Number four, eliminate distractions. Find ways to eliminate the things that are now distracting people from focusing on the main things. And here’s the fifth thought I wanna give you. There are three ways you can respond to this moment as a music leader and a worship leader. You can resign yourself to it, like, well, I can’t help it, this is the way it’s gonna be, I’m just gonna have to live with this. Or you can resolve to press through it and fight through it, but the third thing, and maybe that is exactly what we should do, but there’s a third thing that I know we should do, is we could rest in this moment. What the psalmist said in Psalm 115 is true. “Not to us, oh Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory. Why do the nations say, where is your God?” Verse three. “Our God is in heaven, he does whatever he pleases.” And we can rest in that. We can rest in the confidence that he’s working in this and that we can wait to see what it is he’s going to do, and what he is doing in it. I wanna show you a third passage of scripture and then I’ll be done, and we can take any comments or any discussion that you guys wanna make, and we’ll get as practical as you wanna get. So as a leader, here’s something that I’m called back to when I look at ministry in 2020, worship ministry in 2020, I could get into the minutia, do we sing or not, do we do choir or not, and all of those things are important decisions to make, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make them, but I feel that we’ve gotta step back from those logistical questions and get into some of these bigger issues that we settle in our hearts before we start putting our hands to change. Isaiah Chapter 66 comes to mind, and this is something that I was reminded of last night, and then again this morning, and just it’s what’s on my heart today, and I just feel compelled to share it with you. Isaiah 66. This is what the Lord says. It’s kind of restating what the psalmist says in Psalm 115. This is what the Lord says. “Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool. Where could you possibly build a house for me? And where would my resting place be?” You see Isaiah speaking to this idea of us encompassing a God in a structure or in an activity, and I would even say in a moment like ministry in a pandemic that we could somehow put God within what we could build at this. And Isaiah the prophet is saying God is saying what could you build that could encompass me? Nothing. Verse two says, “My hand made all these things and so they all came into being.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “I will look favorably on this kind of person. One who is humble, who is submissive in spirit, and trembles at my word.” So here’s my last parting thought, admonition for worship ministry in 2020 in a pandemic. Heaven is his. We would aspire for humility, for submissiveness, and for reverent awe of his word. So there’s a famous story of Vince Lombardi calling the Packers together virtually every training camp in the fall. He had won all those championships, respected as the greatest football coach of his day, and some would say of all time of American football, but there’s this famous video of him at the first day of their training camp the year after they had won the world championship, of him holding up a football, I’m holding up a Bible. I don’t have a football in here, but him holding up a football and saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” ‘Cause he understood that success at the end of the year of a championship was gonna start by a return to the fundamentals of this game. Blocking, tackling, taking care of the ball, playing defense, all of those things. And I think today’s admonition, the one that’s in my heart, musician, worship pastor, pastor, this is a football. Humility, submissiveness, and reverent honor for his word, calling our people back to spiritual health, even as we guard and responsibly lead with challenges to physical health and emotional health, all of those things are in play, that we’re looking at this season in leadership and getting simplified and focusing on being faithful in the simple, at this moment, and then trusting that this God who is on his throne, instead of just resigning ourselves to something we can’t help, or resolving to just make it through somehow, choosing that third option of resting in a God who’s on his throne, and who does whatever he pleases. Maybe if nothing else comes out of this year, all of us are learning how to pray a little bit more, and that has to be a great thing. So I’m gonna stop right now. I probably haven’t done a lot of practical music ministry kind of things. I’m willing to chase any of those rabbits that you wanna chase today. But I do wanna call us back to the simple things that can help us navigate worship ministry in this year of challenge. Ken?

Ken Allen:

Yeah, thank you, Mike. Again, as we looked at the connect process, you’ve melted together both of the key elements as we connect to the creator with renewal and worship. One of the things that has been discovered, and it was prior to me coming here with the Church Revitalization Task Force is that the offices needed to work together and collaborate. You can’t separate Office of Worship, Office of Evangelism, Office of Sunday School, and Discipleship, and Church Health that we’re in, they’re all together, and they all are cyclic, they cycle around each other. And so that’s what you’ve done in this time. As we think through typical things in our mind of a worship leader, we paint ourselves in a box, and we miss, we can’t see the forest for the trees. We miss what God wants for us in that time, so thank you for kind of broadening the circle out some so that we can see the big picture, and how important it is that we see God for who he is. And sometimes I think that’s, this is the football. Here is God. Look at him. Be in awe of his word, look at it and see what it says about him. I remember back as a pastor and we were in a particular season of needing a worship leader, and I said, you know, what would it be if we just come in here and we just pray, and we read the word, we hear from the word, we worship the Lord in a different way? I almost was impressed in my spirit that it was so much being made of having an instrument, or having someone to lead, that we’re forgetting, hey, this is the football.

Mike Harland:

Yeah, exactly. That’s a great point, Ken, and that’s the first point of application of what we were just talking about, is that in music ministry, we’ve gotta get back to some of those simple values that aren’t touched by a pandemic. Or touched by a gubernatorial decree, or even a local mandate of some kind. There’s some things that we can focus on in worship that transcend all of that. And then the practical ways that we deal with the logistics of it, those are just logistics. Michael Brooks has written a question here that I’d like to answer for the group because I think it just shows you, you know, he asked the question, can I summarize what FBC Jackson is doing on Sunday morning, choir singing, masks, and the answer to that question is we are being right now, we’ve kind of evolved into being a little more aggressive than some churches I know. We are requiring masks in worship, and yet we’re not enforcing that. There’s no usher that’s gonna come up behind someone and tap them on the shoulder and say put your mask on. And so we’re finding probably 60 to 70% of our people in our congregation are wearing masks, but many are not. I am not asking people to sing because there is concern about that. The closest I’ve come, I couldn’t help it two weeks ago, I said, okay, we’re not asking you to sing, I’m not telling you not to, but I’m saying using your inside voice, I want y’all to sing this course with me. And I, you know, I just couldn’t help it. We just had to do that a couple of Sundays ago. But we’re asking, we are doing choir, but we’re doing choir socially distant. We are blessed with a facility that is, it’s huge, our platform area is huge, and I can put a lot of people on the platform that are six feet apart from each other. We’re asking our musicians to wear masks to and from the loft, we’re not gathering in the choir room, we’re not putting robes on because we couldn’t do that without, so we’re going without robes. People are acquiring their seat before the service starts, the seats are spread way out. We’re putting in a choir loft that can put 300 people, we’re putting about 65. And we’re dividing the services up and people are, some in that service, some in that service. So we’re very socially distant, we’re following, We call it being responsible. We’re not taking every precaution that could be taken, but we’re being, we’re trying to be very responsible about where we’re putting people, how they’re engaged. The choir is singing, the orchestra players are playing, but they’re spread way out. We’ve got them all over the platform, everywhere stem to stern. So that’s how we’re handling it. And so far so good. We’re not aware of any issues that have erupted. We’ve done it for about a month that way, which is a little more aggressive than some churches are doing, but so far so good.

Ken Allen:

Mike, we had a question coming in ahead of time that deals with a social media post about Bethel Music and Hillsong. And so they were just wondering, if we had addressed the subject. He said, the big question is, “Are we supporting condoning these ministries and belief systems when we purchase and use their music?” And he’s got a couple of followup questions too, and then, “Are these songs really by the church or does that particular church buy them and then just premiere them there? And if that is the case, how do the songs get tied so closely to the church when lots of artists quickly perform them?” So there you go.

Mike Harland:

It’s a great question and it’s a question that I have asked myself. I asked myself that question for several years now. When I was at LifeWay, I would get this question probably once a month, you know, from pastors and music leaders, different places, so I have thought a lot about that question. I’ve got four responses to it, and this will reveal my personal opinion, but I wouldn’t die on this hill with anybody. I mean, this is an argument that is not worth dividing over in my opinion. But number one, this is something I really believe, all truth is God’s truth. That’s the first way I reply to that. So if a song is true, it’s not because Bethel wrote it, it’s not because Hillsong wrote it, it’s because it’s based on something God said. And so I don’t call it a Bethel song per se, in that spirit. I realize I’m parsing words here, but if a song is a great musical setting of a timeless biblical truth, it’s not true because they wrote it, it’s because it’s true because God said it. And so all truth is God’s truth, I start there. The second thing I would say is, I know, I’m not trying to name drop here, but I know some of the Bethel writers, and I know the Hillsong guys really well. I’ve got one of my best friends in Christian publishing is the director of publishing for Hillsong, he’s a great brother in the Lord. I have seen over the 20 years I’ve been following Hillsong, I’ve seen them make some theological accommodations even to their original DNA of their church because they understood they were stewarding a song of faith for a worldwide church, and they want a steward that well. I have a lot of respect for the Hillsong people. I know those people that lead that ministry. I don’t know the pastor that well, but I do know a lot of their writers. I know their publishing team really well. They love Jesus. I’m always remindful of Mark Chapter Nine when the apostles came to Jesus and told him to rebuke those people ’cause they’re not of us, and Jesus said, hey, they’re not against us, and if they’re not against us, they’re for us. And when Jesus says that about those people that the apostles were wanting him to stop, it makes me wonder sometimes if we should be so quick to stop people that are for Jesus, even though there’re significant, I’m not minimizing the theological differences that there are, there are some, and they’re significant, and we need to pay attention. I think at the very least, we oughta pay really close attention to the songs that are coming from those camps where we would have some concern about that. The third thing I would say is that this is a very, very slippery slope. And I would even say to some of my pastor friends, they quote people in sermons all the time that if you knew their total picture of their theology, you’d have a hard time supporting everything that we quote them on. Even in hymnody. There are great hymns. I won’t call any particular examples right now, but there are great hymns that are standards in our church that are in the 2008 Baptist Seminal, who the writer of which had a personal theology that was all over the map. You know, study Horatio Spafford’s theology at the end of his life, and if that was an issue for you, you probably would never sing “It is Well With My Soul” again. So, I would call for some consistency in the way we think about that, if that is an issue. The fourth thing I would say is this is not a hill worth dying on, and there’s not a song, there are no group of songs that you have to have in worship. And I would caution any leader, I would not create difficulty in my fellowship over a song source. If it was going to be disruptive to the body, I would not fight this battle. I would acquiesce, I would talk through, I’d work through, but I would not create a division in my church over a Bethel song. I just wouldn’t do it. And I would move on, there are too many great songs written and being written for us to die on that hill and cause division over it. So anyway, that was a longer answer than you might’ve wanted, but that’s kinda my take on it.

Ken Allen:

Great. Again, I wanna remind guys, please use the Q&A section at the bottom. I am gonna move over here. There’s one in the chat that says, let’s see, “As pastors, we see our people have declined spiritually, but we have also committed to follow as much as we can, the CDC and the governor, and we’re finding it difficult. We have to register people are weary, can you speak to that?”

Mike Harland:

You know, I would be of the, I’d go back to this Isaiah passage, that there’s a humility about whatever our position is. Wherever you land on the answer to that question, whether it’s civil disobedience, and there are people that are under mandates and they are, you know, and all of you can think of probably some big examples of that, but whatever our position is, humility should mark it. We should be marked with humility. And I do think that second thing that Isaiah calls out, the person that God favors is first, humble, second, submissive. So I think we got to grapple with the direction that our leaders, that we have responsibility to acknowledge and admire, and I don’t have to share those passages with you, you know, Paul made it clear to the church at Rome, you know, to be a good citizen. And there is, I think it’s difficult to navigate some of this. I would, my personal opinion would be that I would do everything in my power to protect the spiritual health of my congregation, while observing everything my leaders are asking me to observe. Our church is across the street from the State Capitol of Mississippi. And the governor’s office, his legal counsel plays trumpet in my orchestra. We can’t hide what we’re doing at First Baptist Jackson from the state of Mississippi. But the relationship there is one of mutual respect. So that our governor and our leaders in our area are trying to concede to our churches, understanding that spiritual health is a really important part of our citizenry. So thankfully we’ve been given some guidelines that we’re doing our very best to follow, but also give us some license. So, but every situation may be different, and a person could be listening to this Zoom call, and you may have the local officials or even state officials that are putting some requirements on you that make ministry almost impossible to do. I would be very careful. I would not ignore, I’d say that. I’d say that with confidence, I would not ignore the leadership of those officials. And I would do everything I could to find ministry opportunity within the guidelines of what my leaders are telling me to do. And doing it in the name, and doing a lot of praying about that, and doing it in the name of trying to bring a unifying spirit to it. Humility, submissiveness, and then a love for God’s word. That’s what I try to bring to that question. How’s that for a non-answer? I should run for something in this election season ’cause I just gave a very political answer, but anyway.

Ken Allen:

Well, it ’tis the season. So how are you preparing for Christmas music 2020? Next question.

Mike Harland:

Great question. So we had this big event here that I inherited, Carols by Candlelight. Last year, they celebrated the 50th year of doing this. So we can’t do that. We can’t fill this building five times the way they’ve done forever. So I began, I think that every great decision starts with really good questions. So the first thing I’ve tried to do is identify what are the, what’s the best question I can ask? And the question I tried to ask at the start of this was if I can’t get those people inside my house, what could I do to get inside theirs? And so we are taking the resources that we would have done a live production with, and we are making a one hour special is the word I’m using, I don’t even know what to call it, but we are getting airtime on two local TV stations, and we’re making a made-for-TV broadcast that is gonna present the gospel in a Christmas music experience. It’s gonna feature my pastor, where he is really driving the narrative of it, and it’s gonna feature musicians as we can gather them. And we’re having to be very creative about how many people we can get around to do it, but we’re investing in a very clear presentation of the gospel that we’re gonna take into the homes of central Mississippi Christmas Eve and Christmas day, and using our resources that way. We are gonna do a live concert on the second Sunday of December, but we’re not even promoting it outside our church. It’s just gonna be something we’re gonna be socially distant, we’re gonna limit seating greatly, but we are going to have a very spread out music experience in our sanctuary that fall within the guidelines of our seating capacity. But so, we’re having to be really creative and trying to do the very best we can with what we have to do it with.

Ken Allen:

Before we get to Michael Brooks’ question, there’s a follow-up. It’s like a follow-up to what you’re saying. If you have any recommendations for small church for Christmas music, or a children’s play, or anything like that.

Mike Harland:

I think everything is relative and to the context that you’re in, and just because the building that we do our ministry in may be bigger than some buildings are, it’s smaller than others. We’re just doing the best we can where we are. And we do have some options too as space wise just because of the size of the platform that was built here all those years ago. But I would say wherever your context is, look for where your opportunity is in it, and it may be, I know a church in our area that’s doing what they’re gonna do outside in a open air environment, and doing that because of what they have, realizing that they’re doing that in the first part of December, which is quite a challenge. You know, weather could be an issue. Churches move things to maybe a gymnasium, or to another performance location, or whatever if they need to do that, but I think you just have to play the deck of cards that you have in your hand. And if your church doesn’t have opportunity or a way that you can distance enough to do it inside your sanctuary, think about how you maybe could break it down into small groups and send people out to do things in open air environments, those kinds of things. That would be my encouragement.

Ken Allen:

Yeah, you mentioned earlier, simplicity was one of the principles during this time, and it could be with COVID and singing, certainly carols and Christmas, sometimes can be the most effective when it’s simple. And outside singing, if the weather’s permitting, a candle lighting, even outside depending on your size. Sometimes our smaller churches have a bit of an advantage over our larger churches, as far as what they can do with the number of people, so, yes, thank you.

Mike Harland:

I like simplicity, that’s something that’s driving me. I’m trying to simplify the complicated. I’m trying to say what’s the simplest, quickest, easiest, most simple way to attack this, and that’d be, I think that’s a good thing to think about these days.

Ken Allen

We have about five minutes to go, and there’s a question up here, and then I wanna ask a question too. “A mentor years ago suggested a worship service should begin musically with a hymn of praise to God, and only then moved to salvation, dedication, stewardship, et cetera. Is this a good model for Sunday morning?”

Mike Harland:

I think it is a good model for Sunday morning, but I don’t think it’s the only model. I think there are other ways to do it, but I think that’s an excellent way. I’ve always been drawn, another model that I employ from time to time, I don’t do this every week, but sometimes I go to the worship planning process and I go to Psalm 100. Enter his gates with thanksgiving. And start a service with gratitude, and thanksgiving, and expression, then move toward adoration, then move toward exhortation and all that. So I think that’s a great model, I don’t think it’s the only model. I think all worship is a response to revelation. So I love the model of revelation and response, revelation and response. So starting with scripture and then respond to it, then another scripture and respond to it, and doing that is another great way to approach it. So, yeah, but I think that’s an outstanding model. Yeah.

Ken Allen

Someone was an attending in an African-American church and they said their first 15 minutes was thanksgiving and praise and that’s all they did. Again, we’re talking about simplicity, and we’re talking about worship, and we get caught up in sometimes what it’s not. And just being able to voice with your mouth, the worship of how great he is and thanksgiving, amen.

Mike Harland:

You know, Ken, and this comes to mind, I was looking back over Thomas Quinn’s, a question someone asked earlier in the chat, if I don’t know what, I don’t know Alabama’s, I don’t know what might be happening in your governor’s office with some of these decisions. Certainly the mayors of your towns, you know, the counties that you’re dealing with, but I would wanna know who is the spiritual voice that’s speaking into some of the decisions our state government is making. And if I knew who that was, I’d know how to pray for that person, and I might even reach out to that person and say, help me understand, are the spiritual implications of some of the decisions we’re making as a people, are they in the consideration of all this? Because I think the church, I think the thing we can’t do is just go silent and just resign ourself to, well, we can’t help it and this is what’s gotta be. I think we’ve got a responsibility to be the spiritual leaders in a moment like this for the sake of our culture. And I hope we can at least somehow do that.

Ken Allen:

Yeah. And basically Alabama’s, we have a mask mandate. If you’re within so many feet, you’re to have a mask, outside of that, social distance then you don’t. I believe that’s kind of the simplicity of that including–

Mike Harland:

And I think as church leaders, I think we need to articulate to our congregation what we’re trying to do. That we’re not just, and the why of what we’re trying to do. Hey, we’re gonna do this, we believe this is, we’re adhering to the guidelines, this is why we’re doing this, this is why we’re not doing that, and I think we need to communicate all of that with our people so that they don’t get any mixed signals that we’re somehow rebels or are pulling away, or that we’re part of a, we’re being part of the community and we’re acting responsibly. Look, the word that we use around here that seems to resonate with the medical community, and the governor, the governing community of our area, we say that we’re making decisions to act responsibly. That’s the word we use over and over. We wanna be responsible with this responsibility, so.

Ken Allen:

Yeah, I think I can get to my, let’s see here. There’s this question. Yeah, I think Jay Wolf is a former retired pastor there at Pastor Meredith’s First Baptist Montgomery is on the governor’s task force. Well, let me close with just a bit of a practical question here. Some of our churches, the worship, because of mask and socially distancing, and the lower numbers, it has a different feel to it. This is kind of outside the whole spiritual aspect of what we’re talking about, more of the practical. Our pianist where I’m interim is not coming right now, so we’re using CDs for hymns. But Sunday, it didn’t work. We have a volunteer that does that, and things just weren’t working correctly. So I got up at some point, maybe it was just at the beginning of the message and said, hey, we’ve gotta always realize that worship is not about whether or not there is a piano going, or instruments, or whether that CD works, and just trying to bring us back to it. Is there anything else practical in the overall feel of again, having one person on the platform, and instead of having someone like, some still have an ensemble, but not having the traditional choir that so many of our churches are used to, and then that socially distanced atmosphere with lower attendance, anything practical that you’ve seen that might help?

Mike Harland:

Yeah, a couple of things come to mind. First of all, there’s a large part of my choir that’s not even coming back to church yet. And then I’ve got another whole group of my choir, I mean, we’re not even able to all get in the loft yet, so we’re using a smaller group. And I’ve told my choir, I need you to be worship leaders, no matter where you’re sitting on Sunday morning. Even if it’s in the living room of your house, you know, be a worship leader with your family. Be a worship leader in the congregation or in the small group that’s attending. So don’t lay down the responsibility that we have as worship leaders just because we can’t gather in the loft the way we’ve always done. The second thing that came to mind as you were talking, Ken, is exactly what you did. And that is articulating for the church, what our expectations are in worship. And maybe we have to redefine what we thought success was. Maybe for us, success was a full choir loft, and a full congregation, and these high glorious sounds that we were producing as a church, maybe that’s what we thought success was, but maybe success has more to do with what we are saying about him and where his word sits in the worship experience, and what people are encountering in worship. And calling that out, just saying, hey, look, we can’t do some of the things we would love to do, but here’s what we can do. Boom, boom, boom. And then I would say, even within the limitations, is look for chances to have variety in it. Maybe it’s not, maybe it’s a different person, maybe it’s a few people, maybe one Sunday, it’s one person. Maybe the next Sunday, it’s three, just some variety in it that that kinda keeps it fresh, and we don’t fall back into an unintended rut because of the limitations that are around us. So it’s gonna take some creativity, a lot of thought, but don’t just resign yourself to something that we can’t help, try to find ways to work within the parameters of what we can.

Ken Allen:

Yeah, I’m reminded of one of our churches, I was a DOM in the northeast part of our state before coming to the state board, and when I would go to one particular church, he would almost invariably get two or three guys to come up on the platform, and one of them would be me a lot of times, just to sing along with him. He just had fun. He had fun with it, but certainly there was a variety aspect to that too. You just have to be careful who you invite, I guess, on the platform.

We will continue this process of Connect. We’re looking here in November 10th is our next webinar, Connecting with the Community Through Sunday School and Small Groups. November 24th, Connecting with the Core, and that’ll be disciple-making, and then on from there we’ll have one in December as well as we continue through the Connect process. Again, if you have any questions about Connect, feel free to email me or call me here as well. Again, thank you, Mike. We appreciate your investment of time and being with us, altering your schedule to be here. We’re very grateful. Any final word?

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