Shanzhai

No, I haven’t been taking Chinese lessons (although from a business standpoint it would be a useful faculty to have). Shanzhai means “mountain stronghold” and gives a sort of Robin Hood image of taking from the rich to give to the poor. Growing consumer culture, manufacturing techniques and a blatant disregard for international copyrights and local regulations means the Shanzhai manufacturers in China have become experts in not only copying western goods, but also improving on them.

Apple-fake-store-007

The most common Shanzhai products are mobile phones, but you can get versions of sports goods, tools, even architecture! In 2011 a US blogger discovered an entire Shanzhai Apple Store in the Chinese city of Kunming. It was full of Apple products, Apple advertising, there was a genius bar, correct decor and signage, even the staff were wearing Apple uniforms and badges. The staff actually thought they were legitimately working for Apple and had no idea not only was everything in the store a fake, but so was the store itself! The Shanzhai went beyond the actual products and as far as the shopping experience itself.

But this isn’t all! Around Shanghai there is Thames Town, a village built to resemble an English market town complete with a copy of a chip shop from Lyme Regis, cobbled streets, red telephone boxes and even the double yellow lines to stop parking. It’s one of a set of towns planned including Swedish, Italian, Spanish, American and German styles. The Austrian village of Hallstatt was made a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of it’s picturesque beauty….so sure enough, amongst the tourists visiting in 2011 there was a team of Chinese architects photographing and analysing the village. The Guangdong region is reportedly soon to have it’s own copy of Hallstatt, although whether you’ll be able to ski with the subtropical heat North of Hong Kong remains to be seen.

How To Do, or Can I Help You?

We Christians love going to conferences…I’ve been to many myself, and more often than not they’re led by big churches passing on their experiences, techniques, and trade secrets. These can be really helpful, extremely influential and challenging… I know for all I’ve been to, I’ve come back with a list of ideas, areas to improve and things to look at in order to transform church/get a bigger congregation/whip the band into shape/choose our songlists/re style the senior minister. And on and on and on.

Now I know they don’t really do that. The conferences I’ve been too (Willow Creek, Northpoint, Mosaic, Mecklenburg…) have all shared their experiences, failings, and personal direction to help us with our churches. But they’re always keen to emphasise how it’s their way. Not the correct way, or right way, or the only way.

Be Yourself

I wrote about how we were starting a new rebranding project last week, and how in the initial stages of working with the designers, we needed to outline who we were as a church, what we did, and what we were there for. I know there are some churches who struggle with the questions, or who model themselves on other churches…trying to replicate the Hillsong worship style or Northpoint teaching style, rather than being themselves and being a church who relates to their community.

This applies in many different areas…I know there are times I as a worship leader try to replicate the Passion or Chris Tomlin arrangement of a song with its loops, seven guitarists, gospel choir and Christy Nockels…although on Sunday I have only one guitarist a violin and no drummer. Or those weeks when we’ve come back from Soul Survivor full of excitement and vigour (and mud), wanting to replicate the concert lighting effects and multiple smoke machines which work so well in the big top with 10,000 worshippers…but don’t translate so well into a hall of 200 with a varied age group.

Copy of a Copy of a Copy…

In addition, over the years I’ve seen so many blatant copyright ripoffs or secular industry bandwagon jumping that it almost seems as though there are no new creative ideas in the Christian spectrum today…(Adult christian colouring book anyone? EasyChurch?)

So before this turns into any more of a rant (apologies), can I encourage you to be yourself. Work to your own strengths. Learn about, and serve your congregation. There’s nothing wrong with using film clips, setting up cool lighting rigs in your hall or playing David Crowder songs. But do it your way. And then if someone wants to Shanzhai your work…encourage them, help them, point them in the right direction…and teach them how they can do it better when they do it their way. Just like Frank and….Elvis?…both doing it their way

 

 

Who are you?

30th June, hard to believe we’re halfway through the year already! I’ve mentioned here before I’m currently working on a new project with EBC on updating our website and overall branding. And the question which came up first was, who are you?

Now I’ve been researching logo design, style guides, branding and fonts…all of which has come in useful with my other launch this year. But the prospect of overseeing something so big for a whole church has been quite daunting…so I was delighted to discover that ChurchInsight, the people we use to maintain and host our website not only offer a bespoke branding and logo design package, they are also able to take the final result and transfer it across to our website, reskinning all of the existing data leaving us with a brand spanking new homepage in line with our new branding!

As part of this process I had a long conversation with ChurchInsight so they could get an understanding for who we are. After all, it would be unusual to get someone to choose the clothes we wear or the music we listen to without knowing a bit about us before. It would be like receiving a gift from someone who doesn’t know us at all…you’d either get something which wasn’t you, or a gift card. Its just the same with commissioning a logo…we could say “we want a logo” and whoever we commissioned could say ‘here you are…”, but ultimately it would be a pointless without a bit of background.

Questions to give direction

So I thought I’d share some of the questions we went through so they could get some direction…as the questions which direct the logo design are also questions which provide, or focus the direction of a church. So, without further ado, here is a short list:

  • How would you describe your church services?
  • What are the long term goals of your church?
  • Why do you want a new logo? What do you want your new logo to accomplish?
  • How are you different from other churches?
  • What’s the age range of your target congregation base?
  • What feeling or message do you want your logo to convey to those who view it?

As we were going through the questions, I was quite pleased we as a church had such a clear vision and strategy that it was relatively simple to answer most of the questions…in fact the only ones I stumbled on were when it came to favourite colours and the like… So how about you? If you were thinking about undertaking a rebranding project for your church, or if I bumped into you at a conference and we got chatting about your church, would you have clarity enough to be able to answer the above questions and more?

Who Are You?

If not, then maybe you could take these questions and start to have a conversation about where your church is going, and who it’s trying to take along the way? Of course we all want to be known as churches with doors which are wide open and inclusive, but at the same time we are all going to be known for specific things, or to target specific age groups or demographics. Hillsong is known for its music, HTB for Alpha, Passion Atlanta for…well more music, NorthPoint for its teaching…and on and on. Thats not to say they don’t do children ministry or bible classes or mission…but their identity and their USP are wrapped up in certain well known areas.

We Know Who We Are

We are exploring at EBC what it means to be a 24/7 church, and so although we put a lot into our Sundays, we also run Messy Church during the week, youth events, toddlers and children’s work, and a flourishing older persons ministry which has several meetings across the week. This gives us as a church a fairly broad appeal demographically, but it does mean we can narrow the age focus on a Sunday morning as we know the other age groups are so well catered for during the week at other events.

So like The Who song at the beginning of this post; who are you? Do you know your church’s identity, it’s USP, it’s primary outreach? Or do you need some time as a team to go through some questions to help sharpen your focus? Either way, make sure you know.

Made For More

I think I came across B Reith completely by accident when he was offering a free remix album of his How The Story Ends album…and as is so often the case, I had to then find his back catalogue because it really was that good.

B. Reith is one of those artists who is comfortable crossing styles and genres… he sings amazingly (what I’d give to have a range like him), raps convincingly, and plays/produces/performs with considerable talent too…I dislike him immensely…

Made for More is one of the great songs off his last album (and there are many), featuring Lecrae and Lisa Gungor (as it says on the link). Powerful song. Listen to it.

Lead Me

We did some training this morning as a staff team, based on a talk which was given at this years Drive Conference by a guy called Clay Scoggins (seriously, could the guy sound any more American?!). The breakout was called How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge, and it was great. I went to the Drive conference back in 2013 and it was inspirational in every respect.

There was lots to take out of the talk, I have comprehensive notes, but some of the instant/brief take homes were:

  1. Choose Positivity
  2. Think Critically
  3. Reject Passivity

So we can grumble about what is happening around us, criticise negatively (and we’ve all been on the receiving end at some point), while sitting there with a “its inevitable” attitude. There is the infamous phrase “Fiddling While Rome Burns” which comes to mind…or “Shuffling Deck Chairs on the Titanic” although often in these situations the perpetrators don’t even shuffle the deck chairs and merely watch from a distance grumbling as the ship sinks…

Self Examination First

I know I’ve been guilty of this….”they didn’t ask me”, “I could do it better”, ” what they’ve forgotten is….but I’m not going to tell them because I’m not leading…” etc. The reality is we were all made to do something, we can all lead, even if we’re not at the front, or have a desk and plaque which says “Leader”. I read a lot of Seth Godin (I recommend The Icarus Deception and Linchpin for starters), and one of the ideas he regularly returns to is to Choose Yourself. We can wait for the call, work our way up the ladder, hope for a promotion, or sit back while those more senior/better paid/with a title do the work. And there is a place for that of course. But in reality, if we can see something which needs doing, or a way of doing things better…isn’t at the very least better to speak up, offer to help, or maybe just do it?

If Not You, Then Who?

We are all chosen, we were all made for a purpose on this earth, and sometimes the option to just choose ourselves is the best thing we can do.

We were made to be more than this
Oh, and we weren’t meant to fight wars like this
Something’s gone wrong
We’ve been broken
Who can fix us now, fix us now
We were made out of love not hate
Oh, and we weren’t meant to to give up on faith
Something’s gone wrong
We’ve been broken
Who can fix us now, fix us now

How We See

Inside Out is currently doing fantastic business in America, released to overwhelming critical acclaim, everyone is flocking to the cinema. I know we can’t wait to see it as a family (unfortunately it’s not out until the end of July in the UK….just in time for the school summer holidays…)

Inside Out is set inside the mind of Riley, where her five emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness, try to lead her through life as she moves with her family to a new city. Pete Docter, the director, first began developing Inside Out in 2009 after noticing changes in his daughter’s personality as she grew older. The film’s producers consulted many psychologists and researched the mind in preparation for building its story. Initial drafts were unsatisfactory, and the production was revised significantly with the realization that interpersonal relationships guide human emotions.

Winning With People

We are just about to start a new series at EBC called Winning With People, based on the book by John Maxwell, and the first part is titled How We See. And if its not obvious by now…this Inside Out clip is going to be used to open the service. The story we’re using is from Luke 7: 36-50, where Jesus is anointed by a sinful woman while at Simon’s house. Simon is self righteous and believes he is better than everybody else…and so does not see Jesus for who he is, nor the woman for who she is. Whereas the woman knows herself, and so sees Jesus for who he really is.

Who we are affects how we see other people. Who we are affects our relationships with other people. Just as illustrated in the Inside Out clip, our emotions and the thoughts in our head can often dictate how we relate to one another. It can be as simple as if we’re angry or happy, tearful or sensitive, we can either rub others up the wrong way or misinterpret how others are acting towards us. I know I’ve been guilty of that (although not very often as I’m usually so perfect and fun)….

But at a deeper level we can all have ingrained opinions and almost subconscious reactions whether these are genetic, from our background, from other influences or experiences. It could be argued that certain press and media outlets thrive on these negative preconceptions…we seem to be in the thick of a raft of headlines about “benefits scroungers”, “work-shy”, “immigrants” and “celebs”…and we get hardened to the images and articles we read when often the real stories are somewhat different.

The Lens Principle

John Maxwell better defines this as The Lens Principle (again from his book Winning With People), which he defines as:

Who we are determines how we see others.

The big question is:
What is my perception of others?

This means:

  1. Who you are determines what you see.
  2. Who you are determines how you see others.
  3. Who you are determines how you view life.
  4. Who you are determines what you do.

At its simplest we could define this as stereotyping: all artists are flighty, all singers are divas, drummers hang around with musicians, all programmers are dorks etc… But how we’ve been brought up, who our friends were (or still are), parent’s opinions, the press we read and much much more will have an affect on how we view the world, and how we see people.

W.W.J.S.

163-1468Now I don’t think it’s my place to say what you should or should not be reading or listening to; my point of view, my background, my family situation, the newspapers I read and the TV I watch is possibly the same or maybe completely different to yours. But I’ll leave you with this:

There was a craze in the late 90’s for wearing WWJD bracelets, which, if you were around in the 90’s you’ll know stood for What Would Jesus Do? So maybe a subtle change to this, as we think about How We See people would be to have a bracelet with WWJS on it: What Would Jesus See?

What I Want to Want

So this Sunday sees us deliver the past part of our Follow series at EBC, and it’s titled What I Want to Want. The basic premise is that it’s better to follow God’s will than to try and impose our own. If you want to catch up with any of our talks you can find them here, or the original series from Northpoint is here.

Now those who regularly read this blog will know how much of a Big Bang fan I am, and this clip illustrates the point perfectly. Sheldon is tolerating Penny coming over regularly, but there are a few rough edges which he wants to smooth in order to make life better for himself. So by using positive reinforcement (chocolate), he starts to train Penny to be a better house guest. There’s a second part here:

Now I’m all for change, change is good, and I personally love to experiment with new things, the latest gadgets, new music and movies. I wouldn’t say I’m a cutting edge hipster by any means, but I do keep up with what’s going on in the world. And I will freely admit I struggle sometimes when other friends and family don’t see it the same way…that the latest release by St Vincent or John Mayer which I think is wonderful is just muzak to others, or Level 42 are a hugely underrated band, and Prince is just a purple genius. It’s all true. In my world.

Walking on Sunshine

 

My eldest daughter was recently off ill, and so scanning through Netflix discovered Walking on Sunshine, the movie. I’ll let you check it out if you so wish, but if you imagine Mama Mia set in Italy with lots of tanned young people breaking into 80’s classics at a moments notice…you’ll get the picture. So being a child of the 80’s, I did the only decent thing and put together my version of the Walking on Sunshine soundtrack but with the original tunes. We listened to it on a road trip over half term. Out of the 13 tracks (which included Don’t you want me, White Wedding, The Power of Love (by Huey Lewis) and of course Walking on sunshine), the general consensus from both of my daughters were that the new versions were far superior (something they also think about Glee songs…) And try as I might, I could not argue them to think my (obviously educated and correct) way of thinking.

We so often do this in other areas of our lives…try to persuade others to think the way we do, or justify a purchase or expense based on other’s perceptions or the idea it will change us for the better. And sometimes we may go even further, trying to persuade those close to us to be someone they’re not so they can fit the mold which we want them to be modeled into.

Responsibility

As parents we try to educate, encourage and discipline our children so they can be the best that they can be. And our influence and passions will inevitably rub off on them…all of our kids are turning out to be musical and artistic, we share similar tastes in films, music and humour and they also share our complete lack of interest in anything sport related. But we never impose our will or our dreams on them…we support them and help them to be who they want to be, not who we think they should be. And much as my desire is to have a band of Kerslakes, for my children to share my love of Level 42 and Prince and for them to agree that Star Wars is the best movie trilogy ever…I have to accept they much prefer Glee, The Hunger Games and 5 seconds of summer.

And God is a lot like the above…if He’d wanted us to be perfect clones submitting to His will without question then free will would have been taken out of the equation long ago. But He loves us more than that…which is why we are free to make our own decisions as to who we are, how we act, and whether or not we choose to follow. So are we willing to want what God wants more than what we want?

Chocolate?

With Every Act of Love

Our Senior Minister came across this song, which is surprising, as his general musical taste is awful (Genesis/Phil Collins anyone….?) We use it last Sunday as part of our Follow series (from Northpoint), where we were looking at What We Wear…which, as you can probably imagine, is more than being just about clothes…

Collosians 3: 12-14 says:

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

So compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And over all these virtues put on love. Beats jeans, T shirt and trainers (which is my usual daily outfit…)

The lyrics to this song are just amazing, I am going to check out more of his material. But it is the bridge that to me is the most powerful:

God put a million, million doors in the world
For his love to walk through
One of those doors is you

What are you wearing?

I am one of those doors. And so are you. But I’m not too proud to admit I don’t put on my compassion outfit regularly enough, or my kindness hat. Harry Potter had a cloak of invisibility which I was envious of, but I have a cloak of humility that too often I’m too arrogant to wear. And while I consider my self a gentle and considerate person, I know there are plenty of times my “patience trousers” wear thin. And I won’t mention my “love” outfit here for fear of it being misconstrued…but if all above and beyond was approached With Every Act of Love…well, as I’ve said before, the world would be a better place.

So clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Then with every act of love, be one of the million million doors that God put on the planet.

What could you change about your outfit today?

Conformity

I’ve been watching the Great British Bakeoff avidly this series, we love it as a family and it, along with Strictly Come Dancing is required viewing in our house. This week they were working with advanced dough, and the showstopper at the end was doughnuts…two sets of 18 doughnuts, that’s 36 doughnuts that had to be delicious, look stunning, and most importantly be uniform in their presentation, bake and flavour.

This Sunday at EBC we’re hosting a Soul Survivor Sunday. While we don’t meet in a big top, we are going to take out half of the chairs, turn off the lights, get the moving head lights to turn a bit more frantically and are even getting some tents into the hall…it won’t quite be the full experience (we have proper toilets and no rain indoors…), but it will be close…and plenty silly enough to entertain and inspire everybody. The passage that we’re using for the talk, as we continue our Story series is Daniel in the lion’s den, a familiar story that many of us will have first heard at Sunday school or its equivalent.

Daniel 6

King Darius was really pleased with Daniel, who he had appointed to administer much of his kingdom. In fact he was so pleased he fully intended to promote Daniel to oversee the whole kingdom on his behalf, which greatly displeased the rest of the administrators and governors, so they did their best to find a scandal or misdemeanour from Daniel’s past that would incriminate him…but they could find nothing. So they conspired against him, and somehow persuaded the king to issue a decree that no one in the kingdom could pray to or worship anyone else other than king Darius. And whether they were very persuasive, or the king was easily persuaded…he agreed and signed the decree.

Daniel was found praying to God, so the conspirators went to the king and told him Daniel had broken the decree and so had to be thrown to the lions. When the king realised what he had done he tried to get out of it, but he had signed himself into a corner. So Daniel was thrown to the lions, a potentially grisly end…but of course we know he continued to pray and the lions would not touch him. The king couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, and the next morning as he came nervously to the lion pit, he called for Daniel, expecting the worse. But Daniel welcomed him, honoured his God and his king and stayed safe from the lions. King Darius was delighted, and had Daniel released. What the children’s versions don’t always mention is that king Darius then rounded up the conspirators, realising they had tricked him, and had them thrown to the lions…lets say (in case children are reading) the lions were less subdued than they were when Daniel was sharing their pit…

Conformity

Daniel refused to conform. Despite the pressure of his peers, despite knowing that he would probably be sentenced to death if discovered, he continued to pray openly defying the decree and being honest to who he was. In the clip from Dead Poets Society, the late, great, Robin Williams gets his English class to take a stroll outside. After a short time they drift into step with each other…marching to the same beat, in the same direction…uniformity and conformity, as the rest of the class clap in time. As he says,

“notice how everyone starts off at their own pace, with their own stride…”.

…and

“Conformity…the difficulty of maintaining your own beliefs in the face of others. We all have a great need for acceptance, but we must trust that our beliefs are unique, are your own, even though others may think them odd, or unpopular”.

Same kind of different?

If you call yourself a Christian, which I do, then this is a fundamental. We are called to be different…we should be seen as different. Not different as in beard and sandals or vegetarian; not a stereotypical movie identikit of a Christian. But different in how we react to the world, how we treat our friends, the way we speak and act. And we should be like this all of the time. I heard a great talk from John Mumford many years ago which has stuck with me ever since. He said:

Are you a grapefruit, or a milkshake?

And we all thought he was a bit eccentric.

But the question was, are you a grapefruit, in that you segment your life so that Sunday you’re a Christian, Monday to Friday you work, Saturday you have a day off…everything is kept separate and segmented. Or are you a milkshake, blended, shaken and mixed together without any seams?

It’s easy to conform, to blend in with the crowd, have a quiet weekend, watch the same TV and have the same conversations as everybody else. And to be honest, life will probably be quite comfortable if you follow that path. But isn’t that what everybody else does? Do you want to be the same kind of different, or do you want to walk with your own stride, to your own beat? The choice is yours…

Mistaken Identity

Now I don’t know how old you all are, but when I was going through secondary school, Neighbours was an after school staple. Every lunchtime and evening before tea we got our 25 minutes of good neighbours, with Harold and Madge, Mrs Mangle, Jim Robinson and Toadfish. Unbelievably it is still going (some 6975 episodes as of this week!). Perhaps most famously it launched the careers of Kylie and Jason, Natalie Imbruglia, and less successfully Stefan Dennis aka Paul Robinson. But the subject of todays post is Delta Goodrem, who played schoolgirl and musical prodigy Nina Tucker…in the show she was an aspiring singer while at school, in reality her label had got her cast in the soap to relaunch her career…product placement at it’s finest?!

Mistaken Identity was taken from her second album, and the video, like the song, is tremendously produced…I personally think it looks and sounds fantastic, although I can’t make much sense of the video… The lyrics and the inspiration for the song actually came from Delta’s cancer battle, and how it had changed her outlook on life.

Who are you?

Do you have a case of mistaken identity? Do you know who you are, why you’re here, what your purpose is? I wrote on Friday about finding your calling and realising your passions, based on the passage in Jeremiah where God tells him he has been chosen. I was watching a video interview today between Michael Hyatt and Jeff Goins, where they were talking about being consistent in your blogging. It was a great watch, with some great take homes to digest and work on. But one of the things which stuck out, and I have read and heard pretty consistently since I started doing this blog was about picking yourself, and giving yourself permission.

Only you can do what you can do. I mean, there are thousands of bloggers, drummers, singers, CEO’s, guitarists, Doctors. If I stop blogging today then there will still be thousands of other blogs to read. If Bruce Springsteen retires this week (of his 65th birthday), there will still be musicians releasing records. But the key is only Bruce can sing, write and perform like Bruce. There are several Doctors at my local surgery, they all will have a slightly different opinion, but they will all make me better if I visit them. Other people could write this blog, but no one will produce it the way I do…and no one ever will…for better or for worse!

You were put here to have a specific voice, a given talent, a message to share. As I said on Friday, I can trace my journey to here back over many years, school bands, “chance” meetings, education and friends and family and opportunities…a whole stream of events which, if taken in isolation would make for an interesting story, but taken as a whole describe my story and journey. I have the background, the experience, the knowledge to do this. But there is one missing piece.

Permission

Confidence is the thing which makes all the difference. I can read all of the manuals, watch the instructional videos, and apply it. I can practice in my bedroom, write endlessly on this laptop, devise endless plans and lists. But if I don’t have the confidence to deliver, to perform publicly, to ship it, then I am just a hobbyist. If I give myself the permission, if I call myself a professional, and step up to the microphone, I have broken a significant mental hurdle.

I used to be the drummer at the back of the band, quite happy to play a supporting role in the band, be involved from the sidelines but never quite be in the spotlight, not quite upfront. And then someone called me out on it, knowing I could play guitar and sing, and had a heart for it…they got me to lead the band from the front. And to be honest, I was as nervous as anything, felt way out of my comfort zone and was pretty sucky the first few times that I lead the band. But I stuck at it. I practiced, I learnt, I grew in confidence, and I called myself a worship leader. And now, I am as comfortable leading from the front as I am playing at the back.

Have you worked out your calling, your gifting? If you have, where are you using it? Are you working in your sweet spot, or working up to it? Most importantly, have you given yourself permission? Have you called yourself a writer, a lead guitarist, a preacher, a professional? Have you got everything else in place apart from your mindset?

God chose you. Now choose yourself.

Finding Your Calling

I may (yet again) be showing my age, but unbelievably 2014 is the 20th anniversary of the first series of Friends. Ross and Rachel, Monica and Chandler and Joey and Phoebe first appeared on our screens the 22nd September, 1994, and stayed there for 10 years, 10 seasons and 236 episodes. And then stayed pretty much on rotation ever since. As Comedy Central are doing their countdown towards the “favourite Friends episodes ever“, I am finding my daughters are discovering this series (as it’s on every evening I get home…), and I am seeing episodes which I possibly missed (who knows?!) or am being reminded of 10 years after broadcast. This clip is from one of their Christmas episodes, where Phoebe has volunteered to collect donations outside Macy’s.

When I left school some 22 years ago, I didn’t really have a clue as to what I wanted to do. I knew what I enjoyed doing (music, concerts, movies, reading), but I had no idea as to how it would translate into a career. And then I went to University and did a degree in Music and Technology, so I learnt more about music, recording, live sound, playing in bands…all of which I really enjoyed. And while I was there I met the girl of my dreams…who is now my wife. But I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I graduated, and got a job as I had a fiancé and plans and bills to pay and student loans to clear. And to be honest, my career path continued along this path for a good few years…I did jobs which paid the bills, kept me employed and which had some semblance of a career path…but really they were all a means to an end.

Finding Your Calling

Finding Your Calling, Discovering Your Gifts, Getting in Your Sweet Spot, Realising your Passion…there are so many phrases and descriptions which we use to describe how we find what we’re best at. And there are plenty of accompanying programmes and surveys, questionnaires and conferences which are devoted to just that goal. I’ve done some of them; when we first set up our leadership team to start our church plant, when we were going through Investors in People at a previous company, they even pop up from time to time on Facebook (although “Your Ideal Dog” and “Which Harry Potter Character Are You?” probably don’t count in quite the same way…)

And alongside my “Day Job” (for want of a better word), I have had my church career…starting playing drums for the worship team in Kingston, co leading a church plant in Bracknell, curating creative ideas for our Sunday services and graduating to band leading and worship leading for the whole church. I would comfortably say for the whole of my church career, I have been operating in my sweet spot, growing, learning and developing my skills to be at the stage I am at now…managing the band, putting together our Sunday services, writing new content and leading.

Jeremiah and the art of saying No

This Sunday at EBC we’re continuing our Story series, and looking at Jeremiah. God called on Jeremiah, but he made excuses and said he wasn’t ready, he wasn’t qualified. “I can’t speak for You, I’m too young!” he says. But God called him out, God equipped him, and with God’s help he was able to do his calling. This is a story that repeats through the bible, with Moses and Jonah and Mary…”surely you can’t mean me” or “I would never be good enough” are constant replies. But if you are genuinely called to something, you need to have the faith and courage to pursue it.

As I’ve said before, Steven Curtis Chapman is one of my all time favourite artists, and his songs just have an amazing ability to resonate and speak into so many areas of my life. One which I constantly come back to is I Am Found In You, which has the amazing line:

I may not see, in front of me

But I can see for miles when I look over my shoulder

And Lord it’s clear, You’ve brought me here

So faithful every step of the way

While my day job has been consistent and moderately successful, my church calling has always found me performing according to my gifting and abilities, and they’ve grown and strengthened the whole time. I genuinely do feel as though I’m operating in my sweet spot, and while it really doesn’t pay me a lot of money (and I am fortunate to be able to be paid just a day a week to do this), the challenge, sense of community and satisfaction are second to none.

Some of us may be called to collect coins outside of Macy’s, some have a desire to be CEO’s or tax collectors. Some will be millionaires, and some will just get by. Whatever your situation, find your calling and try to work in your sweet spot…and as you pursue it, no matter what, look over your shoulder occasionally to see where you’ve come from. You may just be surprised.

Find Your Voice

Now I came across this video this morning on my Facebook feed:

Isn’t it great! 29 perfect celebrity impressions, performed perfectly in Rob’s front room…and a great song too. I’m definitely going to check out the album.

We have a culture where celebrity acts and bands are regularly impersonated…I’ve seen The Bootleg Beatles, Bjorn Again (Abba), The Doors Alive, The Australian Pink Floyd Show, Noasis, Blobbie Williams and Take Fat…and they’re all great. And even if a band isn’t trying to sell themselves as a tribute band, most of the pub gigs and duos, wedding bands, Christmas Party bands and so on consists of covers…musicians playing other people’s songs. I did it myself for a while, I played in The Bogus Blues Brothers, Steeling Dan (a Steely Dan tribute band) and The Wiltons, whose primary material was 60’s classics by The Beach Boys, The Stones, The Beatles… (I shall gloss over my misspent youth playing Bon Jovi and Motley Crue covers…)

Now all this is well and good, and for many musicians it’s where we first were inspired to play, the way and why we learnt to play, as we emulated our heros. For me it was Mark King from Level 42 who inspired me to pick up the bass, and by the age of 15 I could play pretty passable performances of most of their repertoire, thumbs a-flying as I had my headless bass high around my neck and in the crook of my arm (it’s how I still play the bass today, although it admittedly looked decidedly odd in a metal band….) And for some musicians that is all they’ll ever do, play other peoples songs as a hobby, or even as a full time career. Now many of these bands have broken up or passed on, the only way of seeing them live is to attend a tribute concert, and it’s big business. The bands themselves spend a huge amount of time and money looking and especially sounding like their heroes. And it makes a lot of money too…the Australian Pink Floyd show has sold in excess of three million tickets in the time they’ve been impersonating.

How does this apply to worship?

For me as a worship leader at EBC, we do essentially the same thing, we play cover versions of other people’s songs. Whether it’s Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman, Brenton Brown or Rend Collective, our repertoire is primarily influenced by what is popular in other churches, and what fits with our congregations. And there is nothing wrong with this, we have to stay familiar with the songs which we use otherwise we will alienate our congregations. But I believe there is a line to be drawn somewhere, and we have to be careful we don’t take it so far that we try to emulate other musicians, the arrangements of songs, even the style and content of other churches. Just because it works in church x, doesn’t mean it will translate to your church. Just because Chris Tomlin sings it in G#, doesn’t mean anybody in your team or congregation will be able to. Just because Hillsong play Gretsch/Duesenberg guitars, it doesn’t mean you have to. And even if Joel Houston has a big beard and wears deep cut V necks and scarves, I will not sound like him if I do the same.

I sincerely love all of these leaders, and we use a lot of their songs in our repertoire at EBC because they are good songs, they resonate with me, and I know they are a good fit for our congregation. But I don’t go as far as trying to copy them. We change keys (often down a lot!) to make them singable by our congregation. We alter arrangements to fit our services, and our band lineups…we do have a strong and large team of musicians, but generally our band lineup is 5 -6 people, so we don’t have the luxury of multiple guitars, complex harmonies and keyboard loops. We have a double bass player who is great, but double bass sounds significantly different to an electric bass. All of our musicians are of differing ability, they are all competent and I am delighted to have them in the band. But to accommodate them, we make changes so the music is accessible to all.

Find your own voice

And then we work together and we develop our own voice. I don’t sound or look like Joel Houston, and even if I had all of Nigel Hendroff’s Gear, I could never play guitar like him. Our drummer never plays like Travis Nunn. I don’t have any singers who harmonise like Christy Nockels or Kari Jobe. But I do have a passionate and dedicated team of musicians, who know their own voice, and use it to glorify God in our worship. And that is all I ask of them.

So be yourself, find your voice, practice, play, learn and enjoy.

And be your own, individual perfect, as only you can be. As perfect videos and songs often are nothing of the sort….