Book Review: The Heart of Technical Excellence

51yf1hzis4l-_sy346_“The Heart of Technical Excellence: How to Start, Train, and Operate a Technical Support Ministry with Excellence” by Curt Taipale

2017 Reading Challenge — Book 17: A book with 100 pages or less

One of my favorite descriptions of an ideal approach to the technical aspects of Worship Ministry comes from a supplement to a message series preached by John Piper about two decades ago. Here is his explanation of his great term “undistracting excellence”:

We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people’s attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse, elegance, or refinement. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through. We will invest in equipment good enough to be undistracting in transmitting heartfelt truth.

I love this concept, and the heart behind it. As a worship pastor, I want to guide our church to avoid the opposite errors of overemphasis on technical excellence—many churches put on such an elaborate production that the gospel can get lost in all the “show”—and lack of emphasis that produces what Piper calls “shoddy ministry”… which, sadly, describes far more churches than those guilty of “excessive finesse.”

But how to accomplish this? How do we get the idea of undistracting excellence from philosophy to practice? There are plenty of technical manuals which focus on the “how to” of technical production, and most books on worship philosophy include some token reference to the importance of media ministries, but there aren’t a lot of resources out there which “connect the dots” between technical excellence and heartfelt worship in a way that is useful and appealing both to technically-minded media workers and to artistically-minded worship musicians.

Enter Curt Taipale.

This small book has proved to be a great resource for me, as I seek to give leadership in an area of worship ministry in which my skills and experience lag far behind my musical expertise.  Taipale’s writing style and obvious heart for worship make it easy for a guy like me to absorb the necessary technical jargon that will help be better communicate my vision for our church’s worship ministry with those who work in the audio, video, and lighting areas. And his decades of expertise working with churches of all sizes and levels of media production give him a unique perspective to communicate a pastoral vision of media ministry to those workers in a way that no technical manual can.

The best parts of the book are his chapters on the relationship between the Worship Leader and the Sound Guy. I’m grateful to have Ray Stephens, our church’s Director of Media Ministries, as my “wingman,” and am glad we were both able to read this book recently. I pray this book will help us strengthen our relationship, and, in turn, to strengthen the overall media ministry at FBC Powell in a way that leads us toward undistracting excellence week in and week out.

If you’re a pastor, worship leader, or church media technician, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of this book. Print copies are apparently rare, but the Kindle version is under $4 here.

The Church’s One Foundation

One of the reasons I had been avoiding politics in my blog is because I knew that what I have to say would stir up a lot of strong feelings among people whom I greatly love from all political persuasions. Sometimes, though, people need to be stirred. I certainly did.

Please keep in mind, though, that — as I said in my last blog — what I write here is testimony of my own spiritual journey. I know that, for whatever reason, God is leading me in a certain direction, and that that direction is very different from where I was heading even just a year ago. He may not be leading you in that same direction. However, if you find yourself being stirred by what I write, I encourage you to prayerfully consider whether God is trying to get hold of your heart as He has gotten hold of mine.

During last year’s election season, I wrote that I considered myself a political moderate, and that I did not think we ought to think of things in terms of “liberal vs. conservative”. I still feel strongly about the second half of that statement, but for very different reasoning now. Since that time, I believe that Jesus has been radically changing my understanding of His “politics” (for lack of a better word) and it is completely changing the way I view the world around me.

I used to believe that Jesus was neither politically “liberal” nor “conservative”, but somewhere in the middle. I could not understand then why so many passionate Christians seemed to be so “extreme” to one side or the other. The lack of unity in the Body of Christ greatly disturbed me. I wanted us to meet in the middle; to see things from points of view other than our own. So I began studying the passage in Ephesians 4 about unity in the Body of Christ, and examining Jesus’ earthly ministry more closely than ever.

I know now why this line of reasoning wasn’t working, and why I couldn’t fully buy into it myself. Asking Christians to “compromise” in the name of moderation is asking them to do something that is contrary to the nature of Christ. Jesus was anything BUT moderate! When Jesus was tested by the Pharisees or confronted with questions from the disciples and others, He did not respond by working out compromises; He responded by completely challenging their way of thinking. The last shall be first, you must give to receive, love your enemies… this is radical stuff!

The reason Christians tend to feel so passionately about their political views is because we have NOT been given a spirit of timidity (2 Tim. 1:7)! But why do we see such political polarization among believers? I think it is because, once again, we are not thinking on the same plane of thought as our Lord. We have all bought into this idea that there exists a political line stretching from left to right, liberal to conservative, and that everything and everyone — including Christ Jesus — MUST exist at some point on this line.

My brethren, I have come to believe that this is simply not true. When we try to confine Jesus to our own fallible logic, we are left with an incomplete picture of our Savior. In Jesus’ earthly ministry, He didn’t define a “correct” point on that political line. He exemplified a position wholly separate from our very concept of politics! I submit to you the idea that Jesus Christ was simultaneously the MOST conservative AND the MOST liberal man who has ever lived! This is no mere compromise; it is something completely different and far greater. What I had thought were moderate views were just my feeble attempt to compromise between two false choices on a line that doesn’t even exist in God’s eyes.

The two central themes of Christ’s earthly teachings were loving God, and loving others as oneself (Matthew 22:36-40). He demonstrated both these themes in His own life. His teachings to hold fast to the Word of God, to obey God’s commands and to trust His judgment are uncompromisingly conservative. He calls His followers to a higher standard of living than any of us could ever attain. His teachings on sacrificial love, mercy, and charity toward even the least deserving fellow man are uncompromisingly liberal. He calls His followers to a higher standard of giving than any of us could ever attain. His death on the Cross was the ultimate portrayal both of righteous judgment AND of sacrificial love. His resurrection was the ultimate fulfillment of true conservatism AND true liberalism taken to their final conclusion. Only at the Cross of Christ can “liberals” and “conservatives” meet, but that Cross is not the center of the political spectrum as I once believed. It is THE center. Of everything. (Sorry, having a C.S. Lewis moment here…)

I believe that Paul was reconciling this same point in Ephesians 4. When he wrote to the believers in Ephesus that, in order to achieve unity in the Body of Christ, they must “speak truth in love” (Eph. 4:15), I think they must have been having the same argument we have today. See, when Christians buy into the lies of this world, and believe that we must be either conservative or liberal, but not both, we are only representing part of Christ’s nature. I firmly believe that “conservative” Christians are right to stand up for Truth, protest corruption, and call sin what it is. But they MUST do so humbly, motivated by love rather than pure zeal for the Law. I just as firmly believe that “liberal” Christians are right to have unconditional compassion and mercy for our neighbors, pursuing social activism and justice for all. But they MUST do so with a firm grounding in and adherence to God’s Truth, rather than pure zeal for social justice.

This is what I was trying to get at in my last post. The Church is the Body and Aroma of Christ. When we fight amongst ourselves or make our political identity more important than our identity in Christ, we are not being Christ’s Body. We are being something else, and we stink. We absolutely MUST shed these labels of “liberal” and “conservative”, and recognize that none of us has got it all right. We (as individuals, as Americans, as members of a political party, as denominations, etc) must decrease so that Christ may increase.

If anything here offends you, please don’t take it personally, but don’t expect an apology, either. The last thing I want is to appear to be haughty in spirit. This blog is as much for my own benefit as for anyone else’s, but I feel that what the Lord has laid on my heart in this matter is a message for every Christian. I pray that the Lord’s Will be done, and that these words may give grace to those who hear.

*Disclaimer: I’m not responsible for the mis-spelled title of this video, nor for the Purgatory stuff in its description on YouTube, I just think it’s a good recording of a great hymn!

The Church’s One Foundation
Words by Samuel Stone, Music by Samuel Wesley

The Church’s one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation,
by water and the word:
from heaven he came and sought her
to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her,
and for her life he died.

Elect from every nation,
yet one o’er all the earth,
her charter of salvation,
one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy Name she blesses,
partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses,
with every grace endued.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war
she waits the consummation
of peace for evermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blessed,
and the great Church victorious
shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
with God, the Three in one,
and mystic sweet communion
with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
like them, the meek and lowly,
on high may dwell with thee.