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TEAM LINCOLN/TANGAWIZI

This is Jennifer.

jennifer BW

Jennifer is a friend of ours. We went to church with her before she moved to Nairobi, Kenya to become a missionary. While finishing her master’s in workplace chaplaincy, Jennifer spends her free time volunteering as a chaplain at Kenyatta National Hospital, the largest government hospital in Kenya.

Kenyatta-National-Hospitaledited

Inspired by her experiences in working with the sick and dying, Jennifer started a ministry called “Project Agape Love” to improve the life of patients at the hospital. Think Mother Theresa, but in Kenya and with stuffed animals. Jennifer takes donations of things like toiletries and toys for sick kids. She uses music, singing, and dancing to “bring joy and entertainment to the patients.” She also works to build relationships between patients, inspiring them to support each other through their suffering. And Jenifer has future plans to start a support group for parents with terminally ill children & a patient choir.

In short, Jennifer is awesome.

The same day we put the word out that we were searching for Tangawizi, Jennifer emailed us and volunteered to be our courier:

When I first heard of Lincoln’s desire to help a little boy on the other side of the world whom he had never met, I was both inspired and intrigued. I immediately had the desire to help him in any way I could. I knew I could offer some insight as to the best way for Tangawizi to receive a bed, and I also had some friends here who knew the general area of the Mara pretty well, so I thought I’d give it a shot. God is the one who is in charge of this expedition; I’m just along for the ride!

We were stoked to have someone we knew and trusted that was so close to Tangawizi. Then, less than 24 hours later, “Gloria” posted on the blog:

Hello,

I think that it is awesome that you are wanting to get Tangawizi a bed. Do not give up! I live in Nairobi Kenya and I will help you in any way that I can. If God has put Tangawizi on your sons heart then that is who should get the bed and that is the one that will get the message of such great love from a little boy and his family so far away…

It turns out Jennifer and Gloria are best friends. The two share a similar compassion for hurting people, and a love for Africa. Gloria has actually been to the Mara (where Tangawizi lives) and has a friend who is a tracker in the area. After a few excited emails and some talk about logistics, we were pumped to have a couple willing couriers, and a new friend in Gloria.

Gloriaedited

Ever since she was a little girl, Gloria dreamed of being a missionary in Africa. Four years ago, she moved to the Kayole/Sowetto slums. Gloria now travels among the slums and the jungle to find and rescue orphaned and abandoned little girls. Most of these girls, Gloria says, are “unwanted” because of their behaviors or severe medical issues. Some of them have even been used in the practice of witchcraft. Gloria brings the unwanted girls into her home to give them love, guidance, and medical attention. Gloria gives the girls a family. Gloria, it turns out, is also awesome.

gloria pic slumsedited

Despite having two willing couriers, we’ve almost given up hope that we’ll ever find Tangawizi, who apparently lives “in the middle of nowhere.” Through email, the Italian photographer who took the photo of Tangawizi has been kind and patient with my strange questions. He shared that he rented a car in northern Tanzania and drove around for a month in Africa, staying in hostels and cheap hotels. Somewhere in the Seregheti, he found a local tour guide who showed him some of the native villages where Tangawizi lives.

We’ve been pretty close to calling it quits on the Tangawizi search, talking to Lincoln, and donating the money to a great African charity that will buy some Kenyan kids some beds. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought, “This is all really silly…this is taking way longer than I thought…this was a dumb promise I made…we’re never going to find this kid.” Thankfully, Jennifer and Gloria have bigger hearts and more faith than I do. I told them it was doubtful they could find Tangawizi based on the info we have of him and the vastness of places he could be. Jennifer emailed back:

I’d like to urge you not to get discouraged. I know the information you’re discovering be a little disheartening, but keep the faith, brother. It’s not, by far, the first incident for me where something seemed insurmountable, but God found a way. He always finds a way….I fully believe that God would not have put the desire in Lincoln’s beautiful little heart nor the idea in his head if He did not intend for us… to carry it out together. Yes, the Mara has many people. The Massai are one of the biggest tribes in Kenya. However, God is bigger. God loves Lincoln and all of us. Whatever the outcome, it will be in all of our best interest because it is in God’s hands.

It’s an honor to have these two women volunteer their time, prayers, and encouragement to my family’s silly little project. It’s no overstatement to say that Jennifer and Gloria are heroes to me and Melissa. They are incredible people who embrace the call of Jesus to take care of the sick and poor.

Right now we’re working out the details of Jennifer and Gloria’s trip. In fact, Jennofer emailed me today to tell me they were meeting this evening to make definite plans. They hope to travel some time during April, and spend about three days searching for Tangawizi. I will write another update with the details of their trip as soon as we work those worked out. Stay tuned!

Once again, THANK YOU to everyone who has donated, prayed, & spread the word. More than once now, Lincoln has come home from church with check and bills stuffed in his pockets. To date, he’s raised $823.84! More than enough to pay for the bed, plus Jennifer and Gloria’s travels. Once Jennifer and Gloria find him, we hope to use the extra funds to support and sustain Tangawizi’s community on a more long-term basis. If you’d like to get involved with the story, you can do one of a few things: (1) Sign up for updates via email in the field to the right; (2) Donate via PayPal and help build a better community for Tangawizi and his family; (3) Spread the word via email, social media, and good ol’ fashioned word of mouth. (4) Pray: this entire story started with a little prayer, and I’m convinced that we’ve yet to see the end of God’s story here. It’s been exciting to see it unfold. I’m staying tuned as much or more than anyone else. I’m excited to see God show His hand, so to speak.

 

THE TANGAWIZI INVESTIGATION

After putting out the word that we’re searching for Tangawizi, we’ve received a lot of emails and messages similar to this one (from a missionary in Kenya):

“Interesting. A few observations here.

‘Tangawizi’ is the Swahili word for ‘Ginger’ … as in ‘ginger ale.’ It is almost certainly a nick-name, not a true given name.

Kekerook is in the Maasai Mara, which is the northern tip of the Serengeti. We do have some staff out there in that area, but finding an individual child with no more than a nick-name would be quite difficult, I’m afraid.

So, they have quite the task ahead of them, I’m afraid…”

The obvious had eluded me, but my wife caught it.

“Wait…’Ginger’? Is Tangawizi a girl?!?”

Tangawizi color

photo by Gabriele Galiberti

It would make a lot is sense when you consider what we know about Tanagawizi. After all, there is a pink blanket in the picture, and the shorts sort of look like a skirt. Lincoln’s grandma has resolved to just calling Tangawizi “Little T.” Many apologies to the Tangawizis of the world who we’ve been ignorantly calling a “boy.”

Unfortunately, none if this helps much in the search. Our friend April explained in another email:

“When we were exploring the possibility of establishing a child sponsorship program (in Kenya), it was so difficult to figure out which of the kids were boys or girls. And sometimes their names were very tribal/African so it’s not like I could guess well either!

They shave the kids hair and because of the poverty the kids wear whatever clothes are available to them. Some of the teenage boys in one of our homes was wearing pink girly pajama pants with pink crocks because that’s all that would fit him and then you’d have little girls with superman tees on. It’s sad…SO, I understand the aspect of ambiguity. Unfortunately, that makes it more difficult to track down.”

So that’s more bum news. The ambiguity of Tangawizi’s name and gender are going to make the search significantly more challenging. You can’t just scoot around southern Kenya with picture, saying “have you seen this child?” (Especially if you’ve seen Terminator II…)

Thankfully, we also got a huge piece of good news.

Melissa and I have a friend named Jennifer who works as a chaplain in Nairobi, which is about 150 miles from where we think Tangawizi lives. The same day I posted about searching for Tangawizi, Jennifer emailed us and offered to deliver the bed. Amazing. She also asked if she could document the process. Of course!

To add to the good news, it turns out Jennifer’s best friend Gloria knows her way around the Mara (where we think Tangawizi lives), and has a friend who knows the area and the language (Swahili.) Both women were touched by Lincoln’s quest, and believe God is building an incredible story between two little kids on different sides of the world.

So while the search may be difficult, we’ve got two willing participants. We’re excitedly working on some details with Jennifer and Gloria. We’ll update the progress of the travel plans as soon as possible. Stay tuned…

If you want to take part in the story, you can do so in a few ways: (1) follow the blog to see what will happen with Jennifer and Gloria’s journey to find Tangawizi. (Sign up via email in the “free words and music” field to the right); (2) donate to the fundraiser via PayPal @ morrow_nick@hotmail.com (all donations will go toward the bed + travel expenses + Tangawizi’s community); (3) Spread the word via email, social media, and good ol’ fashioned storytelling; (4) Send us any information that might be helpful in locating Tangawizi. We’ve spent a lot of our free time int he last week Googling, MapQuesting, and trying to gather info. But between our family, jobs, and school our free time is pretty limited. Any info helps. Plus, who doesn’t like to act like a stalker/fake Google private investigator?

LINCOLN/TANGAWIZI FUNDRAISER UPDATE #3

lincoln harper piggy bankeditedBWAs of noon today, Lincoln’s fund + piggy bank has raised $621.84! We’re blown away and having a blast watching the story unfold.

I feel like we’d be remiss if we didn’t publicly thank all of the super kind people that have either donated to Lincoln’s fundraiser or significantly spread the word. Much thanks and appreciation to:

Jordan Laycock, Brittany Gray, Paul Korolenko, Casey Cole (Thunderbeard Records), Angela Jackson Photography, Ross Shotlund (Enjoy the Ride Records),Hannah Simonton,  Ali Elizabeth Photography, Adam Hudson, Varunchai Roongsang (from Bangkok!), Ronnie Williams, Anthony Tatman, Dot + Hugo and the Miller family, Sarah Lay, Kurt Manner, Klariza Hudson, Lindsay Melling, Sean O’Connor, Chelsea Reising, QMIX, KORN, MOJO, Sara Beth Merz, Scott Riddle, Tammy Miller, Dianna Peters, Sarah White, Nikki Wylie, & Lauren Lembcke.

I’m sure we forgot a few names. There have been dozens of other people (friends and strangers alike) that have sent encouraging emails, shared wisdom, posted comments, and helped spread the word to find Tangawizi. Many thanks to everyone. Melissa and I were really moved by Lincoln’s reaction to the pic of Tangawizi. We mainly posted it to share with friends and family. We love the story and are having a great time with this family project. It’s awesome  to see so many other people join the excitement.

A couple of important bits of info that’s worth sharing:

(1) Any additional funds that get raised (beyond the cost of bed + courier + lodging + travel) will go toward Tangawizi’s community. He hope to communicate Lincoln’s message of kindness to Tangawizi, but we also want to connect with and support his community on a longer-term basis.

 We realize that Tangawizi might be part of a tribal tradition, and they may not like the idea of being offered “help” when they never asked for it. There may be traditions/culture in place that we want to respect. This is not “white people trying to fix the world”- it’s one little boy wanting to help and onnect with another. In some ways, I hope us “adults” can taint the story as little as possible. What we really want is to establish some communication, show our goodwill and interest in their community, and ask if there is any way we can support them. We’re currently working out some details with our couriers to send a letter from Lincoln and communicate this to Tangawizi’s family.

(2) We are aware that we may be approaching a point where soliciting donations needs to be reported for tax reasons. We definitely want to stay on the up-and-up with this. I’m looking into what those laws are. If we’ve breached that point where we need to be reporting, we’ll be sure to take the appropriate steps to do so.

We’re currently in communication with a small team of people who are willing to buy a bed in Nairobi, Kenya, and try to find Tangawizi. Details soon…in the meantime, follow Lincoln’s story and share it with friends!

BREAKING THE BANK

Last night Lincoln counted the savings in his piggy bank.Lincoln BW

 It turns out Lincoln had quite a bit more than I realized. Between chores, collecting coins, and dollar bills that his grandparents occasionally give him, Lincoln has $19.84 in his piggy bank. We had a lot of fun shaking the coins out and counting it. Actually, we got to having a little too much fun. By the end, Lincoln and Harper were throwing coins around the room like Jack Nicholson’s “Joker” in the old Batman movie. But after the frenzy subsided, I asked Lincoln an important question.

Lincoln, I know you’ve been saving up for that Hot Wheels truck with all the cars in it. You know if you buy this bed, you’ll have to wait a lot longer to get that truck, right? Is that okay with you?”

“Yep.”

The questions didn’t seem to phase him. Truthfully, I’m not sure he realizes what he’s sacrificing. That may be a lesson he’ll learn the next time we go to Kohl’s and he wants that Hot Wheels truck. But it reminded me that truly giving and loving always requires sacrifice. It’s one thing to raise money for a fundraiser. It’s another thing to give up all your money to see it happen.

Between Lincoln’s piggy bank, the kindness of donors, and a friend who gave him a twenty at church Sunday, Lincoln has raised about $350. It’s looking like our best route will be hiring a courier to buy and take the bed to Keekorok. Expenses will include travel, lodging, a few meals, and a fair payment to the courier. Plus, we’d love to support Tangawizi’s family in a more long-term fashion. So donations are still welcome and very appreciated. We’ll post more details soon. Honestly, it’s been difficult keeping up with “thank you’s”, responding to people with info, and our normal family schedule. Also, if you want to follow Lincoln & Tangawizi’s story, I plan to update this blog 2-3 times a week. You can subscribe by entering your email in the “free words & music” box to the right. (I promise you can unsubscribe later if you want!) We do have a friend in Nairobi who has offered to be a courier! Working out the details. More soon…

 

SEARCHING FOR TANGAWIZI

Last Friday I posted about my three year-old son Lincoln’s mission to buy a little boy in Kenya a bed. After seeing a picture on the internet of a boy named “Tangawizi” who apparently had few belongings and no bed, Lincoln was convinced we needed to buy him one. Despite my efforts to talk him into a more “reasonable” approach of donating some money to an organization that could help buy several kids beds, Lincoln was stubborn about getting this boy a bed. I shook hands with Lincoln, telling him that if he could raise enough money to buy the bed, Melissa (my wife) and I would find Tangawizi. Melissa quickly sprang into action and helped Lincoln make a flyer to raise funds for the bed. I posted the flyer on the internet on Friday.

lincoln smilingedited

The response was immediate and surprising. Since Friday, Lincoln has received $167 in fundraising, most of which came from total strangers. As we realized that Lincoln is close to achieving his end of the deal, we knew it was time to figure out how to find this boy’s family.

Lincoln has an awesome bed picked out. He was certain that he wanted to get Tangawizi a cot “just like the one he sleeps on at Grandma’s.” So we pulled it up on Amazon, and it turns out that cots aren’t very expensive at all. Melissa and I brainstormed other options, but it turns out that a foldable, portable toddler cot is probably perfect. Not that we could have talked Lincoln out of it anyway.

So that’s the good news. People who haven’t even met Lincoln have been so helpful and kind. People are eager to be compassionate when faced with creative and easy ways to do so. But there’s also a bit of not so good news…

Melissa did some research on shipping internationally. It turns out shipping anything to Kenya is way expensive. No surprise there. She and I have both stayed in England for brief periods and knew it would be costly, but it turns out Africa is much more so. Even shipping to large cities in Kenya looks to be as much as a few hundred dollars. Never mind small villages that likely don’t have postal service. Lincoln is still a bit confused why the dollars and cents in his piggy bank can’t just buy the bed and we “mail it there.”

I sent an email to the photographer who took the photo, Gabriele Galimberti. He responded this weekend. His email was very kind but discouraging for our search:

Hi Nick,

thank you very much for this e-mail and for the post in the blog! Unfortunately i can’t help you with this. Tangawizi lives in the middle of nowhere in Kenya and it’s kind of impossible to send him something. But i’m sure you can find a lot of organizations that give help for this kind of situations.

I’m sorry,

Best.

Gabriele

We knew this was a possibility going into it. I guess when we made Lincoln a promise that “if he bought the bed, we’ll find the boy’s family,” we didn’t realize how tough that might be.

So next we turned to World Vision, and awesome organization that Melissa and I have both worked with before we even met. World Vision is an organization that fights global poverty and is best known for their work with child sponsorships. Knowing that World Vision has bases in most third world countries, we crossed our fingers that they might have on near Tangawizi.

I spoke with a rep from World Vision, who talked with one of their specialists. It turns out that the closest base World Vision has to Keekorok, Kenya is in Nairobi, about 150 miles away. Melissa’s research showed the same: the closest probable “touch point” for anyone who could receive mail or internet lives about 4 hours away.

kenyaeditedBW

So now we’re faced with a difficult situation.

Is it worth raising and spending a few hundred dollars in order to see Lincoln’s vision through? Or should we take that money and put it directly into an organization who will use it more efficiently? Is this particular boy, “Tangawizi,” so important in the grand scheme of things?

We believe that it is. Lincoln is a stubborn kid. We try to teach him that stubbornness can be good, and like his namesake said, “Be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” We talk about being “good stubborn” and “bad stubborn,” and it’s hard to argue with him on this one. I admit there is a selfish desire in all this, to teach my son a powerful lesson about helping others.

We want to teach him that compassion is always worth being stubborn about. We pray that people will be inspired by Lincoln’s story, and be moved to react passionately against poverty. Through the example of Lincoln and every little kid who doesn’t understand injustice, we hope to become more connected with the desperate poverty in third-world countries. And we have hope that we can connect with Tangawizi’s family and help on a more long-term basis.

So now we are putting the word out, and asking for the help of the internet community. Sure, Lincoln needs to raise some more money to ship the bed to Kenya. But the real need now is that we need to find Tangawizi. Thankfully, this doesn’t take asking people for money, or even that much time. All it takes is a few clicks and using technology as a tool to help connect two little boys.

I realize it’s a long shot, and that the chances of someone in Tangawizi’s area having internet access are slim. But I’m asking people to share this with friends who may have contacts in Kenya or northern Tanzania. We’re willing to pay a courier or tip well for anyone who can put us directly in contact w/Tangawizi’s family.

And remember, a prayer started this whole thing. We continue to pray that we can find the family, form a relationship, and help in whatever ways we can. We truly believe that God has a big heart for the underprivileged. We know He wants to act through our hands to help eradicate poverty and drastic social imbalance. Any prayers are greatly appreciated.

Lincoln has re-ignited our family’s passion for prayer and for putting a dent in global poverty. Any help is greatly appreciated!

If you want to donate to Lincoln’s “Buy Tangawizi a Bed” fund, the easiest way to do so is via our PayPal account @ morrow_nick@hotmail.com. (For the sake of accountability and full disclosure- 100% of the donations are going toward the bed + shipping. We’ll post pictures and updates as we progress.) Beyond donations, we could really use: (1) spreading the word to anyone who lives in Kenya or northern Tanzania, and (2) anyone with experience in international shipping, especially to Kenya.

LINCOLN’S “BUY TANGAWIZI A BED” FUND

This is Lincoln.

LincolneditedBW

Lincoln is my three year-old boy. He’s quick-witted, kind-hearted, and a pretty good break-dancer.

One of my goals for this year is to teach Lincoln to pray. We’ve prayed with and for Lincoln since he was a baby. But I’m hoping to teach him that he can talk to God whenever he wants to, and that God listens and responds. Like most three year-olds, Lincoln has a really inquisitive mind, and prayers usually range from “God, thank you for the light” to “Thank you for floors” to “Thank you for momma.” His interest in biblical studies mostly revolves around babies in baskets and trying to spot Jesus like a “Where’s Waldo” game. Teaching kids the truths of the gospel can be tricky.

Wednesday night, long after Lincoln had gone to bed, I prayed specifically that Lincoln’s inquisitive mind would lead him toward questions about God.

So yesterday (the next day) I get home from work, and Lincoln was talking about a picture of a boy he had seen that day. He was saying, “…the boy with the blankets and not many toys…” I had no idea what he was talking about. My wife explained that they’d been looking at Gabriele Galimberti’s moving photo project called “Toy Stories.” Galimberti travelled over a period of 18 months and took photos of children with their most prized possession. Not surprisingly, the kids all chose their favorite toy. So we sat together as a family and laughed at the cute pictures of the kids in their rooms with their toys. Then we got to the very last picture, and I realized what Lincoln had been talking about:

TangawizieditedBW

“See! The boy with the blankets and not many toys,” Lincoln said. The picture is of “Tangawizi,” a little boy from Kenya who looks to be about Lincoln’s age.

“That’s right,” I said. “You know where he lives? He lives in Africa, where some people don’t have so many toys. Some people there don’t even have food. And this boy looks like he doesn’t even have a bed.”

“Well then we have to buy him one!” Lincoln responded.

It was a proud moment for me, and I knew it was a direct response to my prayer the night before. I told Lincoln that was the right kind of thinking. Then I explained that maybe we could save some money and buy a bed for a kid like Tangawizi, through an organization like World Vision. A boy like him would get a bed, I explained, not realizing that answer was insufficient for Lincoln.

“No, we have to buy this boy a bed! Let’s go buy it right now from the store!”

So I made Lincoln a deal. I told him that if he could come up with the money to buy Tangawizi a bed, I would track down the photographer who took the picture, to see if we can find Tangawizi’s parents. I asked Lincoln if he was willing to use the money from his piggy-bank to by Tangawizi a bed? Yes. I asked him if maybe he’d be willing to ask other people to help donate money to buy the bed? Yes. Lincoln asked if we could fly on a plane to take him the bed. After a little explanation and brainstorming, he settled for just shipping him a bed. So it was settled. Lincoln has set out to raise the money to buy Tangawizi a bed, and ship it all the way to Kenya. Here is the poster my wife helped Lincoln make. Lincoln was adamant that she transcribe the poster word-for-word, so she did:

tanza posteredited

Lincoln is a naturally soft-hearted kid. He has a big heart for people, and when he’s not flying around the house, he’s mostly pretty kind with his baby sister. But I think that God, in no uncertain terms, was revealing something about His heart to me. It turns out social injustice doesn’t make sense in the minds of kids, just like it doesn’t make sense to the heart of God.

May we become more like God through the examples of our children.

If you’d like to donate to Lincoln’s “Buy Tangawizi a Bed!” fund, please email me at morrow_nick (at) hotmail.com. You can also help by “liking” or sharing on social media outlets. And Gabriele Gamberti, if you somehow get to reading this, please contact me. I’ve got a three year-old hell bent on buying your friend Tangawizi a bed.

UPDATE: Several people have already responded saying they’d like to help Lincoln. Here’s the most immediate way you can help: you can make donations via PayPal @ morrow_nick@hotmail.com. We’ll post updates as soon as we raise enough money to buy the bed and postage!

ANTI ROCK STAR INTERVIEW #2: DAVID SANTISTEVAN

After twenty-some years of churchgoing, I finally realized that what you do on Saturday night significantly impacts your Sunday morning worship experience. This might sound trite, but it’s a subtle truth that makes a huge difference. And it’s especially true for worship leaders and musicians.

I’ve followed the worship leading blog of Davis Santistevan for a couple of years now. David’s blog has had a significant impact on the way I approach leading worship, especially in terms of preparation. There are two things in particular that I’ve always appreciated about David’s writing: (1) he writes simple, practical steps worship leaders can take toward growing their craft, and (2) those steps always include extreme dependency on God. Through his blog and his e-book, David consistently paints a picture of spiritual preparation, not just music rehearsal.

David is the worship pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s also an avid songwriter, and recently helped Allison Park release a worship album, “Undying Love.” 

santistevan arm raised

Despite his busy schedule, David was kind enough to answer a few questions about what it looks like to be an anti-rock star worship leader. I especially appreciated David’s thoughts on praying for the congregation and the idea of worship leading as a holistic daily approach. Here is the full interview:

Nick: You said in a recent post that “preparing your heart” is an important part of leading worship: “The more I lead, the less I feel I need to prepare. But the truth is, the better, more experienced, more effective I become, the more I need to prepare my heart. Otherwise, I go on auto-pilot.” What are some practical steps worship leaders can do to “prepare our hearts”? What does that phrase mean to you?

David: Spend time in personal worship well in advance of the “event”. You don’t want to just approach God a few minutes beforehand so he’ll bail you out of mistakes. Prepare your heart and your team days before. Pray out loud. Read Scripture out loud. These are the best ways I’ve found to prepare my heart. Simple but effective. 

Nick: What does your pre-game warm up look like? What do you do, along with your team and congregation, to come into Sunday mornings with a humble attitude ready to worship God?

David: We start with prayer and a quick soundcheck. Then, we spend 20 minutes in pre-service prayer getting our hearts ready. We pray for the congregation. We pray for our hearts to be right. We pray for souls to be saved. We own the whole service, just not our portion as a worship team.

Nick: How does Allison Park’s strategy in church-planting play into the way you lead worship? Does that change the way that you lead your team and the congregation?

David: Our calling to plant churches doesn’t necessarily effect our worship leading, but it does effect how we train and disciple new and young musicians. We invest in people so they become better. We give space for the “average” worship leaders to grow. We train musicians to flow. We give them opportunity to lead in our church plants. We give them feedback. Church planting necessitates raising up and releasing people to fulfill their unique calling as ministers. Never a quiet, dull moment!

santistevan closeNick: You have a pretty intense focus on songwriting. You’ve released a fair amount of worship music, written an e-book on worship writing, and Allison park just recently released a live worship album. How do you balance the tension of promoting these releases without “self-promoting”?

David: Promotion can be a sticky subject in church circles. My perspective is I promote the projects I work on because I believe they help people. I don’t do them to get recognized, famous, or praised. I want to be helpful. So if I release a worship album, I want people to hear it because I know it will enrich their walk with Jesus. If I write a helpful book, I want to get into as many hands as possible. 

I don’t have a problem with promotion. It’s important to just balance your own promotion with also promoting other people’s work and investing in others. Focus on being helpful and you can’t go wrong.

THE ANTI ROCK STAR WORSHIP LEADER

Cleaning_toileteditedA few years ago, I met my buddy Steve at church early on a Sunday morning. We were going to scrub toilets. We were leading the worship music that day, and he’d asked me to meet him there about a half an hour before practice. Steve proposed this idea of scrubbing toilets, thinking it might help us approach our role as worship leaders from a perspective of servanthood.

Out loud I said, “That’s a great idea.”

In my head I said, “This is a terrible idea.”

But Steve was right. The church has developed an unhealthy trend in turning our worship leaders into rock stars. And we musicians usually make matters worse. One look at my Twitter feed tells me that young, well-intentioned worship leaders often talk more about their own careers than they do about Jesus. As a fledgling musician myself, I can relate. Seeking the warmth of the spotlight is a real temptation, and a real danger.

Think about it. Do we look at ushers, parking attendants, and elders like celebrities? They’re the real rock stars of the church, if anyone. But I probably couldn’t even list the elders at my church. I’m convinced we’ve given way too much ground to the unhealthy cultural phenomenon of worshiping celebrities, even within the church. It’s the most ironic form of idol-worship.

photo(11)Don’t get me wrong, I love rock stars. I love going to shows and being entertained. I used to want to be a rock star (Exhibit A: picture to the left), and my little brother sort of is one. I say this because if worship leaders treat their jobs like entertainers, we’re going to seriously miss the point of worship for ourselves and for our congregations.

The social dynamics of leading worship can be tricky. How does a person, on stage in front of a few hundred (or a few thousand) people divert the spotlight off themselves, and onto Jesus? Leading people to follow someone else seems like a bit of an oxymoron. So what makes the difference between truly leading people to worship God versus leading a self-centered-group-sing-along-rock-show with some Jesus sprinkled in?

It’s really tempting to blame the setting. The stage, the lights, the sound, the drum riser. I used to get really wrapped up in these externals. I used to think that churches who used big lights and sound were pretentious and really into being rock stars. You know, the whole “Jesus didn’t use big lights and a fog machine, so we shouldn’t either” sort of thing. But then, I saw some guys lead from the “big stage” with deep humility. And I also saw some guys who led in a small room with no sound system who were trying to be rock stars. When it comes to worship, the setting is mostly irrelevant.

Leading with humility starts with the worship musicians themselves.Every step, breathe, and note on and off the stage sets the tone of worship for the congregation. Effective worship leading begins and ends with the quality of our spiritual lives. And we can’t have quality spiritual lives without deep humility. Worship leaders must become the anti rock stars.

The trick, it seems, is to somehow inspire people but remain “transparent.” To lead without being distracting. To get the ball rolling, get out of the way, and allow people to worship their Creator. C.S. Lewis famously said that “The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of. Our attention would have been on God.” I’d say the same goes for the “perfect” worship leader.

At this point, I have more questions than I do answers. So over the next few weeks, I’m going to be interviewing some worship leaders who lead from a “large” stage & platform, digging in to the details of what it looks like to be an “anti-rock star worship leader.” But for now I wanted to start a conversation about this cultural phenomenon, and how it affects the church.

How do we fight the rock star mentality within the church? It’s one thing to point it out, but what practical steps can we take toward humility?

What results come from treating worship leaders like rock stars? How can we reverse this trend?

A PRAYER FOR MLK DAY

mlkOne of the early Christian church fathers said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seeds of the church.” The same can probably be said about civil rights. May Dr. King rest in peace and joy with his long-awaited Messiah!

God, we come in solemn remembrance. We thank you for the work of Dr. King today. Thank you for the American Civil Rights movement that brought down the monster of hatred that clouded our country for way too long. May the monsters of hatred and bitterness continue to fall. May the seeds of murder stop polluting the soil. Give us the Spirit of courage that Dr. King had. May our words and deeds continually bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. In the name of Jesus the Peacemaker, amen.

 

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