Thinking Out Loud

July 22, 2014

Guest Post: Carlo Raponi — Sudden Urgency

Carlo Raponi is Evangelism Outreach Director with Kawartha Youth Unlimited, a Youth for Christ chapter in Peterborough, a city about 75 minutes northeast of Toronto, Canada. This is his second time at Thinking Out Loud.


There is not a day that I can remember where I’ve woken up alone in the world. Literally. I have no memory of any day of my life where I spent a whole day without ever encountering a single person. I think that if this ever happened it would carry with it a strange unfamiliar feeling that only gets seen in post-apocalyptic horror films. Instead, I, like all of us, am surrounded by people every day.

Most of the people we see are people we don’t know, many are people that we do; and some we only get to see on occasion. However they are all people that come into our spheres of influence. They are people with whom we have a chance to share the message of Jesus. Some of these encounters afford us time to develop His narrative slowly; other encounters require a faster and more succinct explanation of His hope. Either way, they all pass before us with a ‘best before’ date invisibly stamped upon them.

Last weekend one of the youth that attends The Bridge Youth Center told me that she’s moved to Toronto. She was only in town to deal with some court issues and then she would be returning back to the city. She is a girl that I have known for a few years now. When she first began coming in to the youth center she was a walking terror. Loud, boisterous and with a stubbornness that seemed incorrigible…she reminded me a little of myself. Perhaps that’s why we connected so well. But now she would be leaving, possibly for good. And so I apologized to her.

She asked me why I needed to apologize and I told her that in the years we have known each other I have approached the subject of our need for Jesus and who He is, but I never sat her down and REALLY challenged her. The ‘time’ never seemed right or the ’occasion’ didn’t present itself. There always seemed to be a reason that trumped the moment. Now she was leaving and I felt that I had done her wrong by not introducing her to the greatest thing she could ever possess – a relationship with the one who could change everything she knew about everything she knows.

I told her about a friend who’s younger brother had asked him the awkward question. He asked if he thought that the young brother would go to hell for not believing in Jesus. When the awkward reply came out as a ‘yes’ the younger brother’s response was, “…then if you love me, why haven’t you sat me down to tell me about Jesus?”

I told her that I owed her an apology because I wasn’t intentional enough to prove that I care by sharing this truth with her. The conversation that ensued was beautiful and honest, on both our behalves. It ended with her making a promise to find a church that she likes and to attend it 3 times. After that she could do as she pleases. With a smile she made me a pinky-promised that turned into a weird handshake of sorts (then I took this picture of it for proof).

the handshake

Now I must entrust her faith into the hands of God and the actions of others who I hope will do a better and more proactive job than I did. But I won’t forget this lesson. People pass in front of us every day. We’re surrounded by people all the time. There is a reason for this.

 ~ Carlo Raponi

 


 

Previously at Thinking out Loud: Three Conversations and a Wedding (March 2012)

May 18, 2014

Modern Worship Movement Dead-Ended

Filed under: ministry, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm

worship_tshirt

As of today, I have seen the future of the modern worship movement, and even now, I am convinced that we are not being well-served.  Today I got to observe the height of performance-oriented worship formatting; songs that were completely unfamiliar pitched in keys that rendered them completely un-singable. I also saw the approach toward casual dress of platform/stage personnel at its worst. I also observed song lyrics that simply cannot be supported theologically. Throughout it all, I was expected to remain standing.

Oddly enough, part of the reason we decided to take our free Sunday at this church was because of its history and reputation for outstanding worship. I really don’t want to be a curmudgeon, but I honestly feel that worship leaders to need to rethink some basics before assembling a worship set.

  • At least one hymn (yes, mostly for demographic reasons, but also for theological ones)
  • At least one modern hymn (as in Townend, Kendrick, Gettys, Sovereign Grace)
  • At least one modern worship composition that proved itself in the ’80s, ’90s or early ’00s.
  • For another two songs, you can have your recent modern worship songs, but try to go with something of substance. (Doerksen or Baloche for at least one would be nice)

There’s a five song worship song list I could live with.

In the meantime, if I were in leadership at the church we attending this morning, I would be convening an emergency meeting early in the week.

Just because your church has achieved success numerically is no reason to assume you’re doing everything right.

April 24, 2014

Of Fancy Homes in Hidden Places

front_gate

Lately, a lot of attention has been turned to the housing that certain pastors and church leaders enjoy and are building. In an internet world, with Google Earth and Google Street View tracking every square inch on earth, there are very few secrets.

If you believe that Christians inhabit a world where there is neither “male nor female; this ethnic group nor that ethnic group; or rich nor poor;” get ready to have that ideal shattered. The divisions between rich and poor exist, and some of your favorite writers or televangelists live in places that, were you able to get past the gate somehow, the security force would be tailing you within seconds.

And the sign said long haired freaky people need not apply
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why
He said you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do
So I took off my hat I said imagine that, huh, me working for you

Several years ago we did a story — and ran the same pictures and the song lyrics — when a Saddleback campus was planted in the middle of a gated community in Laguna Hills. On one level, just another unreached people group, I suppose. On another level, rather awkward.

And the sign said anybody caught trespassing would be shot on sight
So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, Hey! what gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face, man you’re some kinda sinner

To be fair, (a) this was a community of 18,000; an unreached people group you might say, and (b) southern California invented the whole gated community thing; they exist there on every block the way Waffle House or Cracker Barrel exists in the southeast. Still, there was something unsettling about this, if only because (a) if it’s been done before, it’s certainly been low key and (b) it’s hard for anything connected with Saddleback to be low key.

When we tried to track this particular campus this week, we couldn’t locate it. But we’re well aware of the people that make up the Evangelical star system who live in similar neighborhoods.

And the sign said everybody’s welcome to come in, kneel down and pray
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay,
So I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign
I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine

Do major Christian leaders need a “retreat” from their parishioners, the press, and the public at large? Certainly Jesus tried to break away from the crowds at time, seeking some rest and renewal, but the texts also tell us the crowds followed him. And far from a gated community, we’re told he was completely itinerant, “having no place to lay his head;” and sometimes camping out on the fold-out couch in the homes of his followers.

veggie-gated-communityThe Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

The question is, “How much money is too much?” “When does a house become excessive?” It’s sad when it reaches the point where someone has started a Twitter account from the viewpoint of a pastor’s grand estate.

Oh! The Gated Community

Is where we like to be

Our clothes are never dirty

And the lawns are always green

And when you come to visit

You can stand outside and see

What a tidy bunch we are

In our gated unity!

I guess my biggest concern is that everything we do should be without a hint of suspicion.  I often think about Proverbs 16:2, which says (he paraphrased) that everything we do can be rationalized one way or another, but God is busy checking out our motivation. (And also reminded that no one is to judge the servant of another.)

The Gated Community
Is where we’ll always be
Our smiles are white
Cause we’re inside
In comfy custody
And when you come to visit
You can stand outside and see..
What a smiling bunch we are
In our gated unity!

So what are your thoughts? If you have an issue with this, what’s the problem? If you’re at peace with this, why do you think it’s got so many others steaming?

Lyrics from “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band (lyrics from the band’s home page) and from “The Gated Community” from Veggie Tales’ Sherluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler (from Veggie Tales lyrics site.) See sites for full lyrics with choruses not printed here. Pictured gated community in Atlanta, GA

April 19, 2014

The Pastor in the Movie “Heaven is for Real”

Heaven is for Real books

Throughout all the success of the Heaven is for Real book, and with attention now being refocused because of the movie, I am sure that Todd Burpo’s phone, if he dares to still have one, is ringing off the wall. (A dated reference to wall phones, in case you’re wondering.)

The appearances and interviews that the family has done prior to film release have been very tightly controlled and for anyone else, access is a total impossibility. Even the Christianity Today review of this past week contains the phrase, “Burpo responded to questions sent through the film’s publicist…” which may be a polite way of saying the publicist selected phrases from a prepared list and arranged them into sentences.

A few years ago, I tried to get past what others were writing about, and dig a little deeper and get to know Todd Burpo the Pastor. Throughout this whole process he remains first and foremost a local church minister. How do you do that with reporters knocking at the door? This was the largely unsuccessful result of that quest…

Our Non-Interview with Author Todd Burpo

Feb 9, 2012

53 weeks atop the New York Times’ Non-Fiction Paperback chart and counting. That’s a great accomplishment for any writer, but even more so for a title which began its life with copies shipped to Christian retailers.

But we figured that a full year should have caused some of the excitement to die down, and thought this might be a good time to ask Todd Burpo about that side of his life that never comes up in media interviews: His role as a local church pastor. Furthermore, we thought he would find the change in interview direction somewhat refreshing.

We were wrong.

Apparently the miscalculation was the part about the excitement dying down. Despite several different approaches over the past month, the best we could come up with was some rather terse responses from Belinda, Pastor Todd’s director of correspondence. She begins, “What little free time Todd does have, he tries to spend with his family.”

However, we’re not going to let this deter us from running the piece anyway. After all, if the tabloids can come up with speculative articles based on nothing, we ought to come up with something here based on Belinda’s 190-word response. Besides, we’re just going to stick to the facts.

Crossroads Wesleyan Church

Todd Burpo is the pastor of Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska; population just under 4,000 and the county seat for Chase County. The Sunday services are broadcast on the local radio station. This kind of church setting is actually the reality that the greatest number of people experience on Sunday mornings in the United States, but for some reading here, the image is probably a throwback to a gentler time and place. A 21st century Andy Griffith would worship here, and so would Aunt Bea. In an interview* with Pete Wilson, Todd Burpo quotes the country music lyric, “Everybody dies famous in a small town.”

So we’re talking small, mid-west town, and relatively sized church. But the publication of Heaven is for Real has resulted in a few tourists — our word — though Belinda prefers the term visitors, and leaves us somewhat in the dark if this implies the occasional unfamiliar face or if the place has become a shrine that requires tour bus parking. Either way, it would be a unique dynamic for a local church pastor to deal with. It’s one thing when a megachurch pastor is the author of Christian books for a major publisher. It would be quite different in a small town.

On this we’re told, “Todd works diligently to try to keep balance in all of his responsibilities.” Good answer. Now I know how Belinda got the job. Moving forward, I see her as definite White House material.

But we wanted to get further inside Todd Burpo, the pastor; and nothing spells out a pastor’s vision like the current sermon series he’s preaching. We’re told, “In September, he started preaching the first of a group of series of sermons that examines what Crossroads Wesleyan should look like if it is Christ’s church. The series included: A Culture of Honor, A Culture of Faith, A Culture of Giving, A Culture of Growing and A Culture of Grace.”

That was the best answer we got to our questions, and from the church website, it appears those messages aren’t posted online.

Still, a lot of pastors — even in small towns — often feel they “have a book in them.” So we wanted to know if that was the case with Todd; if there was a book that he might have considered if Heaven is for Real hadn’t happened. But the answer is one that we had heard previously, “Todd has often said, he is not an author and never wanted to write a book.”

But pressing the same question from a different angle, I asked if the publisher, Thomas Nelson, had been talking about any future projects. On this, I was somewhat perplexed by the referral to the HIFR Ministries website, but after checking the site from top to bottom, I couldn’t find reference to anything other than the DVD curriculum and the kids’ edition of the book, both of which have now released. I guess I was thinking in terms of the publisher riding on the popularity of the book but with something a little different. Publishers do tend to do that sort of thing when they have a success on their hands; though the ‘brand’ here is somewhat limited.

So, sadly this is not the interview — even a short five question interview — with Todd Burpo we had hoped for; though The National Star might be interested anyway. In the meantime, we’ll leave the last word to Belinda, correspondence director extraordinaire:

It is the Burpos’ prayer that Heaven is For Real will point people to Jesus and we pray that Colton’s testimony will help people find hope and peace. Todd puts it this way—“In John 16:33 Jesus taught his disciples, in this world you will have trouble, and to that we all say, ‘Amen,’ because this world has plenty of it. But may the hope of heaven and the peace that only Jesus can give, be poured into your lives. But praise God, heaven is real, and don’t ever lose sight of that!”

If there’s a Christian author or pastor you’d like to see non-interviewed here, just drop us a line and we’ll do our best.


Images: Pete Wilson’s interview* with Todd; see below for link.

*For those of you hoping for more of a genuine interview with Todd, you can’t do any better than the 20 minutes that Pete Wilson spent with Todd and Colton in late spring 2011. Maybe it was worth coming here just to link to that. The entire interview played on a Sunday morning at Cross Point as part of a series on heaven.

April 8, 2014

The Equivalent to Hiring Someone Who Is Gay

Hiring Policy

In the last 17 years, we’ve hired over 40 people to work with us in a ministry setting in four different locations and three different cities. To the best of my knowledge we’ve never had an employee who is gay. But we have dealt with the equivalent.

In conservative Christian circles, especially going back a few years, the equivalent was hiring someone who was divorced. The religious stigma was huge. We did this. More than once. As an adjunct ministry of local churches.

In one case, I know that the family were outsiders, so the story was not apparent. But in another case — life in a small town being what it is — I know some former customers voted with their feet. Nobody ever said to me, “How could you hire her?” but we always had the sense that certain people were part of a silent boycott.

Thinking about those two in particular, I can look back and say with the benefit of hindsight: They were among the best employees we ever had. They knew life. They knew pain. They knew joy. They knew Jesus. Therefore, they were able to connect with certain customers in ways I could not then and cannot now, and I’m thankful for their part in our story.

March 7, 2014

Scandal Tracking: Prominent Christian Authors

Some of you know that for the last [oh my, has it been that long?] years I have done the buying for a chain of Christian bookstores that has now been reduced to a single location. Cutbacks in the industry necessitate very careful buying and frankly, I don’t need a lot of excuses to cut back on any given author’s quantity commitments, or even skip a title altogether.

So all the recent discussion that is taking up a lot of space on Christian news pages and in the Christian blogosphere certainly tempers my buying for these writers, and saves me some money in the process. Maybe I should thank them.

Anyway, if you’ve not been keeping up with some of the latest ones, here the current top five — Pat Robertson and Jack VanImpe are assumed — and if you can think of others I’ll add them.  And we’ll give Joyce Meyer a pass on the private jet for today; maybe it is more efficient than booking commercial flights.

Mark Driscoll

  • allegations (proven) of widespread plagiarism over several years involving many titles and three different publishers
  • allegation that he manipulated the system by which books appear on the New York Times bestseller list for the title Real Marriage
  • suggestions that church funds were used to facilitate the NYT list placement
  • question of ethics over distributing copies of a book on the grounds outside the Strange Fire conference (may or may not have been escorted off the grounds by security staff, depending on version of story)
  • requires church leadership to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing any discussion of church policies or revelation of insider information
  • various questions about church discipline and shunning and dis-fellowship of members who voice dissent
  • various concerns about ultra-conservative views on the role of women, to the point where spouses of staff members may not work outside the home

James MacDonald

  • allegations of various types of financial improprieties and secrecy concerning compensation and benefits and/or concerns over lavish lifestyle, resulting in many staff and leadership departures and the creation of a watchdog blog containing a variety of other revelations concerning the authoritarian style of church government
  • linked to at least one gambling venture with Jerry Jenkins (see below)

Jerry Jenkins

  • concerns over Jenkins’ “hobby” as a “recreational gambler” in Las Vegas and timing/relationship of relaxed standards for Moody Bible Institute faculty and staff (but not students) for which Jenkins is board chair

John McArthur

  • concern that the Strange Fire book and conference has now polarized the Pentecostal/Charismatic community and non-Pentecostals; that his rant goes too far and is dividing Evangelicals

Steven Furtick

  • concern over $1.75M home he is building and statements that the home is paid for from book royalties
  • allegations that he used the same New York Times Bestseller sales strategy as Mark Driscoll to plant his new title, Crash the Chatterbox on the list. (Driscoll and Furtick are friends.)
  • possible implication of involvement of church funds in so doing
  • concerns that strategic placement of volunteers throughout the Elevation Church auditoriums manipulate the response to baptism altar calls
  • questions as to whether Furtick’s contemporary and creative preaching style may leave new Christians confused as to the fundamental application of popular scriptures and themes

It should also be noted that several of the megachurch pastors have a ‘council of reference’ that includes other megachurch pastors, and it is these, not the local church boards or directorates, that advise on salary issues. Many of these pastors are also compensated for appearing at each others’ conferences; the whole conference subject being an issue for another discussion entirely.

February 27, 2014

30 Key Evangelical Movements

Brad Lomenick’s name has come up repeatedly over the years here at Thinking Out Loud. He has been a force in the Catalyst conferences, and we often reference and link to his monthly list of Young Influencers, younger leaders who are making a difference.

A few days ago he published a list of 30 links to organizations that he considers to be the top 30 vital movements currently shaping Christian community. Many, but not all, are American. Three of these I had never heard of. I’m taking the liberty of reproducing it here, but if you wish to comment, why not do so at Brad’s blog.

1. Hillsong

2. Passion

3. Catalyst

4. Jesus Culture

5. Exponential

6. Worship Central (London)

7. Verge/Austin Stone

8. Q

9. IF Gathering

10. Reach Records/Lecrae

11. Leadership Summit/Willow Creek

12. Misfit/Christ Tabernacle

13. Compassion

14. Orange

15. North Point Ministries/Drive Conference

16. LifeChurch.tv

17. ARC

18. Resurgence

19. FPU/Dave Ramsey

20. Rick Warren/Saddleback/PEACE

21. Gospel Coalition

22. HTB/Alpha Course

23. Leadership Network

24. Thrive Conference/Bayside Church

25. Luis Palau Association

26. Women of Faith

27. Send North America

28. The Bible Series/Son of God Movie/Mark Burnett and Roma Downey

29. Relevant Magazine/Media Group

30. PlanetShakers

February 11, 2014

Take a Break, Just Don’t Tell Anyone

When I was young there was a story about a girl in our school who took off to spend a year going to school in England. I learned later that ‘spend a year in England’ was a euphemism for her family wanted her out of sight while she was pregnant and had a baby. This was a time when pregnant teens were less commonplace, and the family didn’t want her condition to be an embarrassment. Today, in one of our local high schools, the girls bring their babies with them to class. Not this particular time and place. It reminds me of Joseph in the Christmas story wanting to “put her [Mary] away quietly.”

I thought about this when Bill told me about Hank. Bill attended a church in a city about 30 minutes away, and I had heard that their pastor had been given a four-month sabbatical. Nice non-work if you can get it, I suppose. Now I realize there are some solid reasons why pastors should be cut some slack; recently someone posted five good ones. Personally, with the exception of two days in August at a cottage where it seemed the phone never stopped ringing with issues back at work, my wife and I have not a break at all since October, 2012.  Heck, I’d check into a local motel right about now just for the experience of sleeping in a different bed and using the inn’s soap and shampoo. We’re not picky.

sabbaticalBut for Bill, the problem was that Hank was a local farmer who had worked his tail off for 46 years without any significant vacation. And the argument that “pastors are on call 24 hours a day” just didn’t cut it with a farmer who had both grain crops and livestock. Who worked 16-hour days, six and a half days a week.

The theory was the next generation would take over. In practice, the three boys couldn’t wait to get off the farm. After high school they went into trades that were more tech-based. Nothing to do with agriculture. No cows, no corn in their futures.

Bill wasn’t even on the church board. He was just a guy that Hank thought could explain sabbatical to him. And Bill was caught in the middle, knowing that pastors take sabbaticals but also realizing that Hank would never quite get it.

“You mean we’re still going to be paying him?” he asked Bill.

“Yes,” Bill said, “He still gets his salary.”

And when Bill told me the story, that’s when it hit me. While there’s no shame in taking a break every seven years, Bill’s pastor needed to borrow a chapter from the girl whose family wanted to disguise the nature of her absence.

“Hank,” I would say, “The pastor’s going to help out a church in England. It’s sort of a mission trip.”

Except that would be a lie.

January 10, 2014

Friendly Advice to Megachurch Pastors: Take the Show on the Road

Greg Laurie Crusade Evangelism

For the last few days, I’ve been enjoying AHA, a forthcoming book by Kyle Idleman1. Reading it reminds me of his unique style that I first discovered in the H20 series, and then in Not a Fan. I’d be willing to travel to Southeast Church just to see him preach in person, but I’d be more thrilled if Kyle could make it to a city near our hometown sometime, so more of our friends could experience his ministry in person.

And that’s when it hit me.

So…

I have a message for Kyle Idleman
I have a message for Perry Noble
I have a message for Andy Stanley
I have a message for Steven Furtick
I have a message for J.D. Greear
I have a message for Jeff Manion
I have a message for Pete Wilson 2

…and anyone else who wants to join the list:

Take the show on the road.

Seriously. We have the example of Billy Graham, but we also have the practical logistics available from Greg Laurie3, who is one of the few megachurch pastors who also does crusade-style evangelism.

Preaching a sermon series is something that we as Evangelicals have mastered. Rethinking a single message might mean some fine tuning. Adjusting for an audience that isn’t as intimately familiar with you might require some local research.

But this thing is so doable. Think about it:

(a) Preaching to crowds? No brainer.
(b) Your books and online presence assures that you are known beyond your own community.
(c) Your reputation guarantees the ability to find local churches to partner with you or your church on local logistics and finances.
(d) You already block out a number of weeks for conference speaking; this is a horse of a different color, a crusade-style meeting (or meetings) which won’t take you away from your home church any more than you have already allotted for and will reach a demographic which doesn’t do conferences.

Some people4 have done this already, either as individual dates or as a road trip.

As someone who enjoys celebrating the next generation of authors, pastors and teachers, I offer this challenge because deep in my heart, I want to be able to mention your ministry and resources and then be able to add, “Coming soon to an auditorium near you.”


1 A full review will appear here closer to the March release date
2 Pete already does Promise Keepers, which involves a similar communication style to what I’m proposing
3 http://www.harvest.org/crusades/general-information/home.html
4 James MacDonald, for example

December 21, 2013

Tweetering on the Edge: Karl Vaters

Karl VatersThose of you who follow my other blog, Christianity 201, know that I have a high respect for people who keep a tight spiritual focus on their social media. If you’re a pastor who also enjoys NASCAR, in my view that’s two blogs, not one; and possibly two Twitter feeds as well.

I only follow about 100 people on Twitter, but through hearing about a small church conference several weeks ago, Karl Vaters ( @KarlVaters ) came to be one of them. He also blogs at NewSmallChurch.com. Despite the preponderance of mega-sized places of worship, churches with less than 100 adults present on Sunday morning is the reality at about a quarter of all U.S. churches and nearly half of all Canadian churches. As Karl states in one article, the contrast can be confusing:

…[I]n any city where there is a church of 10,000, there aren’t just 100 Small Churches with 10,000 people attending – there are probably 1,000 Small Churches with 100,000 people attending. That’s reality. Small Churches outnumber megachurches by 1,000 to 1. And Small Church members outnumber megachurch members by 10 to 1.

Although I think his target audience is pastors and church leaders, he posts some great links that I think many of you might enjoy…

Well…that’s enough to get you started. Or simply subscribe to Karl’s blog or Twitter.

Tweetering on the Edge is a new monthly feature at Thinking Out Loud

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