I can't tell you how many times I have walked into a church service looking for the “quick fix.” I think too many times we go to church looking to be “filled up.” Yes that does happen, but when our focus becomes about what we want, we have to re-examine the reason we are going to church. I have endured many services thinking “Why aren't they singing songs I know?” “I wish they would sing my favorite songs.” or “Why did they do that song that way?” maybe even “This message has nothing to do with me, I'm gonna just tune out.”

I want to give you a different way of looking at going to a worship service. My wife, Michelle, came up with this brilliant analogy: You don't go to a wedding and get upset when it's not all about what you want and like! You don't complain when they don't sing your favorite song, don't have your favorite cake or aren't using your favorite colors. You show up with a single focus; to honor the couple getting married. We go with anticipation of getting to speak to the bride and groom, congratulate them, hug their neck and tell them how happy we are for them. This should be how we approach going to a corporate worship service. We should go with the anticipation of meeting with God, honoring Him with words and songs, and looking forward to spending some time with Him.

Corporate worship is designed to be a collection of people with the common focus of celebrating what God is doing. We go to church to meet with other Christ Followers, and together, honor our Savior and Creator. When we shift our focus from what we want, to celebrating who God is and what He is doing, we do get filled up. When we pour ourselves out and give all that we are to Christ instead of being frustrated that we aren't getting what we want, we can take joy in whatever songs are sung and whatever the message is!

Here is my challenge to you: Next time you go to a worship service let your focus be on giving all of you to God, not what you can get from Him. It takes a conscious effort to shift your focus, remember:
It's not about what you GET, but what you GIVE.

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AuthorJustin Graves

When people ask me what I do for a living my typical response is “I am a musician.” Some may wonder why my first response isn't to tell them that I am a “Worship Leader” or that I am in "full time ministry." Well, let me explain myself a little bit.

The term “Worship Leader” has come to mean: “The guy that gets up and sings some songs before the pastor gets up and talks.” Don't get me wrong, this is a very visible and important roll in the church. The Worship Leader and Worship Team are usually the first thing that people experience when they go to a church service. They are the ones that help set the mood, flow and invite people to participate in the service. There is a lot of focus on the Worship Leader and Worship team because they are up front with all the lights and instruments and people are facing them while they are singing. It can be easy to see why, after the Pastor, the Worship Leader is one of the most recognizable people in the church. They have been hired by the church because they are experts in their field and they have been called into full time ministry. After all, worship can't happen unless you have a Worship Leader present, right?

Ok, hang on. I want to take a moment and let you in on a little secret. As Christ Followers, we are ALL in full time ministry. We are ALL worship leaders. Just because you are a cashier or teacher or lawn mower or banker or shelf stocker or babysitter that doesn't mean that you have to wait for a pastor or worship leader to worship God or tell someone about Christ. Jesus tells us in Matthew 28 that our job as Christ Followers is to “Go make disciples.” He didn't say that we have to be employed by the church, or “called into full time ministry,” He just says “Go.” It doesn't matter where you are or what you do, God tells us that everything we do can and should be an act of worship. In Romans 12 Paul tells us that we should worship God with our whole self, not just our words, but with everything we are.

So, in my opinion, worship is not about just going to church. Yes, it is a great place to gather with other Christ Followers and celebrate what God is doing. Worship is also not just singing songs, although that is a big part of what a Worship Leaders job is. Worship is honoring and glorifying God wherever you are and with whatever you do.

So, when you think about it, when someone asks us what we do for a living, ALL of our response should be, “I am a Worship Leader!” which can be followed up with, “I get to do that through....(whatever your day job is!)”

1 Corinthians 10:31 tells us, “Whatever you do, do it to the glory of God.” I want to encourage you today to see your day job as an act of worship! I would love to hear the different ways you take a routine activity and turn it into worship. Please leave a comment here or on our Facebook page!  

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AuthorJustin Graves

What an amazing Summer! We have had a blast leading worship for two camps in Oklahoma a VBS in Austin, several Family Worship Nights and many different Sunday morning church services. I know there is still a little bit of Summer left, but I couldn't wait to share this with you! I wanted to give you a little peek into what we get to experience when we lead worship for kids.
 When Tarrytown UMC talked to us last year about leading the music for their VBS this year, they told us that they were going to write their own curriculum. As we talked about the theme and what the daily lessons were going to be, we offered to write music to go with each day. We had a blast writing these songs and even stepped outside of our box a bit and wrote a hip/hop song! 
We wanted to share with you the joy we get from hearing the kids sing these songs. Here is short video from VBS! 

We sure had a blast with those kiddos! I'm glad you got to hear their sweet voices! 
Just as a side note, Michelle did an amazing job creating and leading the motions for all the songs. She is so creative and a wonderful leader! I am proud to be on her team! 

Thanks for hanging out with me today! If you would like to purchase or hear any of our new songs you can go to www.JustinGravesBand.com/store. I know you will love them and want to sing them at the top of your lungs too! I hope you have a great weekend! 

 

Michelle and I have the opportunity to be in a different church each Sunday morning. There are churches that cannot hire a full time worship leader or their worship leader goes out of town or they just want to bring in a guest worship leader...and that is where we come in! God has called us to be the 'Fill-in' worship leaders for churches. I love that we get to experience different church services and styles each week and that we get to know so many different ministries, churches, pastors and congregations! 

Not to long ago we were at a service where the pastor used a scripture that I have hear all my life. Amy Grant even wrote a song using this verse! Psalm 119:105 "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." The idea that the pastor was communicating was that God wants us to trust Him. Yes, He lights our way, but He doesn't show us everything down the road. He give us enough light to see the path we are on and know that He is with us, but we still have to trust Him to guide us.

 I remember when I was learning to drive my dad would tell me "Don't over drive your headlights." At first I had no idea what he was talking about. "How can I drive faster than my headlights?" What he meant was, when it is dark and all you have to light your way are the headlights on your car, you can't drive looking way off in the distance because you could miss what is right in front of you. You have to drive watching the part of the road that your headlights are shining on so you don't end up running off the road or crashing into something. That is the same idea that Psalm 119:105 is talking about. Letting God's light lead you. 

headlights.jpg

There are so many times, though, I want to grab my mega 10,000 watt torch light and see what is waiting for me down the road so that I can prepare myself for when I get there, but that is not God's plan. He wants us to trust Him and let Him guide us. As we do, He will give us exactly what we need right when we need it. Come on now sing it with me and Amy..."Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path...."

I would love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to post them on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/justingravesband Thanks for hanging out with me today!

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AuthorJustin Graves

A while back I wrote about the use of secular music in church (see blog “Is this Controversial?”) and it raised a few more questions. In my blog I mentioned that I do not believe that we should be rewriting the lyrics to popular or secular songs to change them to “Christian” songs, but that we should be creative enough to use the gifts God has given us to come up with our own songs.

This statement not only sparked a small conversation on our Facebook page, but also in our own house. One of our Facebook followers mentioned the that many of the hymns we sing in church were taken from bar tunes of the time. This is something I have grown up hearing and have even used this argument myself defending the use of certain types of songs or music in the church today. I wanted to make sure that what I had been hearing all my life was actually the truth so I set out to do some research in order to defend my belief. What I have found has helped me better understand the history of church music and also help me discover the story behind the music.

Many of the hymns in our hymnals today were written by John or Charles Wesley or by Martin Luther. Many people have called them the fathers of modern church music, but did they just take the popular songs of the time and put new words to them? The answer I have found is a resounding “NO!” “What?!? How can this be?!? I have spent most of my life making the argument that they did and now I am finding out this is all not true?” These were my first thoughts. Then I continued reading and discovered that the reason for this popular belief. These hymn writers set out to write songs for the church that the common man (and woman) could sing. They wanted their songs to be easy to learn and remember. You see, much of the church music at the time was considered “High Church,” not something that the everyday man could easily sing along with (think opera music). The hymn writers of the 18th and 19th century wanted people to sing God's Word and internalize His truth in a way that was easy to remember and had some sort of repetition and rhyme similar to the popular music of the day. It would be easy to make the assumption that they just used the bar room songs and changed the words since their songs were similar in style and rhythm.

There were, however, some writers that did use traditional folk melodies popular at the time, one of which was William Booth, who wrote many of the Salvation Army songs. He is the one who was first quoted saying, “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” These songs, however, were also not songs sung in bars or music halls, they were the cultural folk songs that people had grown up singing.

So after all these years here is what I take away from this conversation:

  1. Don't believe something just because everybody says it's true. Do your own research, dig, study and come up with your own opinions. You may be surprised to find out the real truth!

  2. Hymns were not written using the melodies of bar songs at the time. Yes, they were written in the same style or format, but neither of the Wesley brothers nor Luther used songs that were already written and then changed the words.

  3. God made us creative beings. He wants us to grow, develop, create & recreate, and use the gifts He has given us to bring Him glory! He gave us a HUGE imagination and wants us to use it!

  4. Like I stated in my previous blog, I am not against using secular music in a church service as long as it has a purpose. I do, however, think that we shouldn't be taking a popular song, changing the words and turning it into a worship or "Christian" song.

I would love to hear what you think about this! I want to know what some of your favorite songs are, please leave them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Thanks for hanging out with me today!  

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AuthorJustin Graves
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About a year and a half ago we went to Disney World in Florida. We were there for a Children's Ministry conference, but took some time to go play at the park for a few days. As we were walking around Animal Kingdom we noticed that they were doing some renovations and upgrades. Along the walls built to keep us safe and out of the construction areas were quotes from Walt Disney. I read most of them and just walked on, but one grabbed my attention.
It reads...

When I read this I immediately thought of the church. Not a specific church, but the church as a whole. I thought of the many conversations I've had with church members, pastors, and worship leaders about this very idea.

Many times the thought is by making changes to the service, worship space or format it will make the church the “hip & cool” church or it will “bring in new people.” You see, every church wants to be on the “cutting edge” and wants to “stay current,” but I believe there is something that we can learn from Walt Disney's statement that he didn't even intend.

If you have ever been to Disney World or Disneyland, you know from the minute you step on the grounds you know you are in for something special. The technology, the artistry, and the overall experience is second to none. They are constantly creating, innovating and discovering new ways to engage their audience. They are on the forefront of entertainment. However, they are also very aware of one very important aspect of their industry; where they came from.

As you wander around a Disney park you can experience the latest, newest and coolest rides, but you can also ride the “It's a Small World” ride or the “Mad Tea Party” spinning cup ride, both of which have been there since the beginning. What I believe Disney excels at is pushing the envelope and creating brilliant new rides, but also remembering and holding onto the things that helped them create the environment of wonder and excitement we have all come to expect.

In my opinion the church could take a page out of Disney's handbook. Yes, we need to look forward. We need to create and develop and push the envelope, but we can't do that at the expense of the foundation that helped create what has been built. Sure, the “It's a Small World" and “Mad Tea Party” rides have been around for a long time, but people still love them! What they have done, though, is keep these classic rides and continue to improve them. As the technology improved, so have the rides, but they are still the simple ideas that the park started with. Disney is great at keeping the nostalgia, yet continuing to grow, improve and push the boundaries, that is what has kept them at the top of the entertainment world and will for years to come.

There are churches out there that are bridging the gap between old and new. Churches taking old hymns and giving them a modern feel and sound. Churches that are taking old sanctuaries and updating the sound and media systems, but keeping the classic feel. Churches that are using traditional liturgy, but updating the language. There is a way to push forward, try new things and engage the congregation with todays technology, but we shouldn't do that just because we want to be the “cool, hip church” or because “everyone else is doing it.” We should do that because that's what we feel is the right thing for our church at this time.

I know, it may sound like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, however, like Walt Disney, I think the church needs to “keep our aim constantly focused on the future”, but also, as Disney does so well, remember the foundation on which we were built.

Those are a few of my thoughts this week. I would love to hear yours! Feel free to leave a comment below or on our Facebook page! Be sure to share this with your pastors and church leaders! Thanks for hanging out with me today!

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AuthorJustin Graves

Summer is upon us, and with Summer comes all the fun of camps, VBS and tons of exciting opportunities to teach kids about Jesus. One of our favorite ways to engage kids is through music. No matter what age a person is, music speaks to the soul. We have all seen the video of the kid in the car seat when her favorite song, “Gangnam Style” comes on. (If you haven't, click here, it's pretty funny.) Yes, this is a silly example, but it shows us how much influential music is even at a young age.

So, this Summer as we prepare to engage the kids at camp through music, here are a few tips to help you make the most of your time with them.

  1. Have a PLAN
    If you want to make sure that you keep everybody's attention, make sure you know what you are doing when you get up there. People, especially kids, can usually tell if you are just making it up as you go. When you are unprepared and are choosing songs on the fly there is potential for “dead air” which can lead to loosing people's attention. If you come prepared, you will be able to execute with excellence and confidence and have a great time while leading!

  2. Have a PURPOSE
    Music is a valuable teaching tool and we should use it effectively! There are a ton of fun songs out there, but since we have just a limited amount of time in front of the kids don't spend valuable time singing songs like “Pharaoh Pharaoh” or others like that. You can sing those songs out on the rec field or at lunch or at the pool. There are plenty of fun action songs that also teach Scripture and Biblical truths. Let's use the time we have in front of the kids to teach them about God's Love and plant the Word of God deep in their heart!

  3. Have a POSSE
    Your posse is your team and the other adults / sponsors in the room. It is almost impossible to engage every kid from the stage, so, it is important to have your team of leaders among the kids, singing and doing the actions with you. If your kids see all the adults sitting in the back talking and not paying attention what behavior do you think they will model? It is also up to you to convey to the other leaders how important it is that they participate! When the adults can get out of their comfort zones, have fun and be silly, the kids will too!

Those are just a few easy things to remember as you are leading worship for kids this Summer. It's not rocket science but it does take a little planning an a whole lot of teamwork!

Let me know your thoughts and if you have any other tips you would like to share! Leave them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Thanks for hanging out with me today!  

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AuthorJustin Graves

You may have heard this quote from Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Or you may have heard the Golden Rule, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Maybe you saw Bruce Almighty and heard Bruce tell us at the end of the movie to "Be the Miracle!" Or how about when Jesus told us to "Love God and Love Others."

If we as Christ Followers want to make a difference in the world we need to be that difference. There are so many times each day that we have a choice to show God's love or to hide it. Jesus tells us in Mathew 22:37-40 "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and strength. This is the first and most important commandment. The second commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments." 

Did you catch it there at the end? In the "Justin Translation" Jesus is saying, "If you focus on loving me and loving each other, everything else will fall into place."  We as Christ Followers have the opportunity show God's love in everything we do and it can come in many forms. It could be just a smile, buying someone's coffee, mowing a neighbors lawn, volunteering at the food bank, helping clean a friend's house or encouraging someone with a kind word. Loving God and Loving Others is a choice, it is not something that just happens. 

If we want the world to be a kinder, more loving place we must first cultivate that in our own lives, then choose to share that with the people we meet each day. Basing all that we do on the idea of Loving God and Loving Others, will help us see everyday situations differently. This is a concept that sounds simple, but to put it into practice is not always easy.

This week, make a difference, be the miracle, let God's love shine through! 

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AuthorJustin Graves