I’m in the midst of rewriting my book for Crossway. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as I hoped last week. But my good friend, Jeff Purswell, saw I wasn’t doing well and offered to pray for me. I realized I’ve only been thinking of what I have to do and haven’t been focused on what God can do. That changes everything. I’m happy to report my attitude is much better this week.
In any case, I don’t have much time for blogging. So I thought I’d post an excerpt from an unedited chapter. It may not even make it in the final version of the book, but I thought it might be helpful. It’s from the first section on “What Matters.”
Just wanting to become more skillful isn’t a sufficient foundation for leadership. We need God’s perspective on developing out gifts. The road to skillful leadership is plagued with detours, potholes, and dead ends. It’s helpful to remember some basic truths about skill. I can think of five.
1. Skill is a gift from God meant for his glory. None of us can claim credit for any ability we possess. As Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (1Cor. 4:7)? I remember having a conversation with a guy in college who was having trouble understanding why God should get any glory for his musical gifts. He reasoned that God wasn’t the one sitting in a practice room for hours on end. He didn’t understand grace, which provides not only our gifts, but the strength, ability, and endurance to develop them. That’s why our skill is meant to direct people’s eyes to God, not us. As my good friend C.J. Mahaney said, “Every gift from God is meant to direct our attention to God and create fresh affection for God.”
2. Skill has to be developed. Michael Jordan was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. For years he was the standard that every other basketball player aspired to. But few of them ever came close. Why? Because the mind-boggling stats that Jordan and other greats achieve is due to practicing harder, longer, and more comprehensively than every other player. They take the time to develop the skill God gave them. They realize that skill isn’t perfection. It can just look that way to us. Likewise, the greatest musicians have put in countless hours listening, practicing riffs and scales, playing with others, and honing their craft. The goal of practice isn’t doing something until you get it right. It’s practicing until you can’t get it wrong.
When I entered Temple University as a piano performance major in the fall of 1972, my goal was to practice enough to be able to play any piece I desired when I finished school. Over the next four years I practiced an average of four hours a day, seven days a week. I had friends who put in more time than that. Sometimes people come up to me and say, “I wish I could play the piano like you do,” My standard reply is, “You can! It just takes a little gifting, and practicing four hours a day for four years.” Skill has to be developed.
3. Possessing skill doesn’t make me better than someone else. I mean this in two ways. First, I can be skilled in an area but someone else can be more skilled. That doesn’t mean I’m not effective in an area. It just means my best might not be as good as someone else’s average. Second, while God values skill, he doesn’t accept us on the basis of it. So even if I can play complex chord progressions, write songs like Matt Redman, or have a four octave vocal range, I still need the atoning work of the Savior to make my offering of worship acceptable (1 Pet. 2:5).
4. Skill should be evaluated by others. Even though I’ve been leading worship for over thirty years now, I still can’t always tell if what I’m doing is helpful or where I need to grow. I thank God for feedback I get during rehearsal and after a meeting. Is that arrangement working? Did I sing that chorus too many times? Was I clear? Did I play too much (to which the answer is almost always yes)? We need the eyes and ears of those around us. It’s both humbling and helpful to hear back from people we trust who will speak the truth to us.
5. Skill isn’t an end in itself. Skill can easily become our ultimate goal and focus. At that point it often becomes an idol. We spend more and more time rehearsing and get impatient when others make mistakes. We minimize spiritual preparation and devote ourselves entirely to musical issues. We evaluate the failure or success of any meeting solely on right tempos, in tune vocals, and well executed plans. Which are all good things. They’re just not the ultimate values. Years ago I read a pastor comment that “God isn’t looking for something brilliant; he’s looking for something broken.” That’s a biblical perspective to keep in mind as we seek to develop our gifts.