Thinking Out Loud

July 29, 2014

When God Left the Building

Though the vast majority (77%) of Americans identify themselves as Christians, they have largely stopped attending church. Less than 20% of the population now makes it to church in a typical week. Some 4000 churches are closing every year. It’s a major and unprecedented social upheaval.

As the movie begins its fall schedule of single-night showings across the U.S., another short excerpt has been posted online, so I thought I would share both the trailer and the excerpt.  This is so reflective of the state of local churches across North America.


 

July 28, 2014

“and now it’s time to dismiss the seniors for their service…”

In today’s worship-team driven, seeker sensitive, multi-site, mega-churches, participation is increasingly a young man’s game. Relevance is achieved through having relevant communicators, so those of us who’ve been around a bit longer are often forced to listen to sermons being taught by speakers who seem to be barely out of high school; speakers whose primary qualification seems to be that they are standing at the front of the room.*

Three years ago, I wrote about supporting the youth in your church in their various endeavors. Days later, I wrote what you’re now reading; about supporting the middle aged in your church; the people who have suddenly become excluded from any ministry that is high profile simply because one week they forgot to touch up the single gray hair that has emerged just above the temple on their right side.

For Logan, 30 was the cutoff year. A crystal system like this was proposed for church worship leaders, but it interfered with guitar chording

In many of today’s modern churches, those in their mid-forties are senior citizens, at least in terms of public ministry. Which is a real shame on so many levels; but mostly because, given the chance, many of these people have something to say. I really applaud some of the next generation people who are stepping up and demonstrating real spiritual maturity when thrust into a teaching or worship-leading role. But for each one of those, there are just as many who, while they can wear the clothes, assemble the accompanying slides, and open with the right stories; they simply don’t have the necessary content to justify the 30-35 minutes they are usually given.

So what can your church do to keep middle aged people active? In the item I wrote two days ago about empowering your youth in ministry, it was a simple matter of looking at a problem and throwing some money at it. In other words; the greatest need of teenagers for mission projects — either global or domestic — is for financial underwriting. That’s not the solution needed to affirm your middle-aged leaders.

You need to be intentionally multi-generational.

Robert Webber had it half right when he wrote of “blended worship.” But beyond the what of a given church service, the blendedness (a word I just made up) must also involve who is at the front of the room as well as who is at the back of the room giving direction. In fact, I would argue that you can’t achieve Webber’s blended ideal unless you have people representing different constituencies in the church providing input to the worship team.

Today’s church is so totally youth cultured, that it’s not hard to imagine the following:

“As we sing the next verse, we’ll invite everyone over 55 to come to the front; we have a special story for you; and then we’ll have a word of prayer and dismiss you to your own service in the church basement, where we have milk and cookies just for you.”

High fiber cookies, presumably.

No, that would be wrong. The capital-C Church of Jesus Christ is an equalizer. Rich and poor. Male and female. Labor class and management class. AND: Old and young. The target demographic should be defined as “anyone with a pulse.” The message of the gospel is a call to each and everyone.

Because the pastors and leaders who operate under a youth culture paradigm are going to find themselves — in just a year or two — suddenly out of a job. In fact the crystal on the inside palm of their hands is getting ready to turn red right now.




*For any of my local readers; this was written quite some time ago. The young man who spoke at our church on Sunday was amazing; I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the sermon.  Sometimes the timing of an article is awkward!!

July 27, 2014

Church Music: When to Get out of the Way

So there I was last week, sitting in the large auditorium on the grounds of a denominational campground. We were just coming up to the message, and the person chairing the service remarked about the great acoustics in the place and suggested we stand and sing the simple, one-word chorus, “Hallelujah” acapella.

He started us off, but then, instead of going off-microphone, like you do in these situations, he just kept wailing into the mic, with the result that while we got to hear a bit of what it might sound like if it was just the sound of our voices, we mostly got to hear the sound of his voice.

leading acapella in churchDoing this correctly is a worship-leading technique that is basic. I would have thought everybody knows this.

In light of what follows, I should say that this a very, very personality-driven denomination, and one in which the parishioners play into the leader-driven culture by not doing anything unless their pastor tells them to do it. So while it’s a bit of a stretch, it’s entirely possible that the second he appeared to stop singing, they would have all stopped. That would be funny.

(The solution to that, by the way involves leading with your arms. The rhythmic one-two-three-four type of hand waving you often see done in older churches is actually orchestral conducting, what you really want to do is accent the sung syllables, which is closer to choral conducting.)

Anyway, I told all this to my wife a few days later — this actually happened several times, involving How Great is Our God and one other song — and she very accurately said, “that is so very dumb and so totally self-centered.”

Self-centered. Ah, there’s the problem. The secret of church leadership, no matter what your role, is knowing when to get out of the way. By that I don’t mean knowing when to retire (although that’s important, too) but knowing when not to take center stage, when to let things just take place organically; when to let things be congregation-led and not top-down.

In a modern church culture that is saturated with rhythm sections (drums, bass, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, keyboards, etc.) singing acapella is a refreshing change. But the entire point of the exercise is to allow the congregation to hear the sound of their own voices in a single blend. The smallest measure of musical instincts would tell you to drop the microphone at your side and if absolutely necessary, lead with your hands only.

July 26, 2014

#WeAreN

#WeAreN Twitter AvitarThose of you reading this in late July or early August 2014 will notice a symbol in the upper right of this blog that you may not recognize. Cathy Lynn Grossman of Religion News Service explains:

#WeAreN is sweeping the Christian Twittersphere as churches, organizations and individuals change their avatars to the Arabic letter “Nun.”

It’s the symbol for “Nazarene,” or Christian, used by Islamic State militants in Iraq to brand Christian properties in Iraq as part of their effort to drive out an ancient Christian community with threats to convert or die.

Today, the trending avatar is intended as a global message of solidarity in the place everyone now turns for that — social media.

Switching to the Nun avatar is a gesture reminiscent of the long-standing (although factually debunked) legend that Danish Christians adopted Jewish star armbands during World War II in solidarity with Danish Jews…

For the full background on this, here is a repeat of the link we ran on Wednesday to Breaking Christian News.

To follow the Twitter trend minute by minute, click here. Because using the symbol online is the equivalent of wearing a ribbon, you might see the term “twibbon” used on Twitter!

 

 

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)

July 21, 2014

I Don’t Know How, But I Know The Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:15 am

The Path - Graphics at Miriadna dot com

This is the first few lines from a post by Dave Carrol at the blog Big Ear Creations:

I’ve never known how I was gonna get where I’m going but I’ve always known the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to afford to get married in college… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to get a job that paid apartment rent… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to get to Africa like that vision in my head… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to get into ministry like that picture in my mind… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to afford kids… but I knew the path.
I didn’t know how I was going to shape the culture… but I knew the path.
I don’t know how I’m going to get through my car repairs, my debt, my next visions, my growing grocery bill, my kids college, my mortgage, my retirement…. but I KNOW the path.

[...click here to read the rest...]

July 12, 2014

Mental Illness or the Pressure of Everyday Life?

Filed under: health, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:25 am

The pile of newspapers and magazines next to our bed is not something I am particularly proud of, but it does yield some interesting treasures on a daily basis. Recently, I unearthed a copy of a Fall 2011 edition of U. of T. Magazine, the alumni magazine of my school, the University of Toronto.

The cover story was written in anticipation of what was then the upcoming revision to the DSM, which is a kind of Bible for people in the fields of psychiatric medicine and psychology, that has actually been revised several times before.  All I want to do here is isolate six paragraphs that struck me for a variety of reasons.

Mind Games cover story…[Edward] Shorter’s critique is more general. He thinks that the DSM is both an example and a cause of psychiatry’s wrong turn beginning sometime after the mid-20th century. He says the profession moved from a relatively small, relatively valid list of mental diseases – many of which could be treated effectively by tranquilizers, lithium and first-generation antidepressants – toward a vast list of disorders with no scientific validity. Some of the disorders overlap so much that they are almost impossible to distinguish from one another. Worse, he says, some of the disorders are really descriptions of normal, if difficult, human experience…

…The current American Psychiatric Association task force, comprising 29 psychiatrists and other mental health specialists, wants to recognize that many conditions often overlap – for instance, anxiety and depression – so that a diagnosis of only one or the other doesn’t always make sense…

…“There isn’t any other discipline in medicine that depends on consensus for its scientific truths,” says Shorter. “Consensus really means horse-trading – I’ll give you this diagnosis if you’ll give me that diagnosis. That’s the way they do business in politics. That’s not the way you do business in science. The speed of light wasn’t determined by consensus.” …

…“One of the disadvantages is instilling in people the idea that normal life includes chronic medication. This has been a terrible development in the last 30 years, the idea that you cannot have a normal life unless you’re on pills.” …

…Dr. David S. Goldbloom, a University of Toronto professor of psychiatry, says that Shorter has identified a real issue in psychiatry − the underlying cause of a disorder is often not known. No blood test or X-ray can confirm a diagnosis. That means psychiatrists are left to make diagnoses strictly according to symptoms. But that doesn’t mean the diagnoses are without value. …

… The problem of “diagnostic creep,” in which normal human emotions are classified as pathology is also a valid concern, he says. “Being sad, angry, afraid or joyous − that is part of the normal fabric of human experience. How do we draw a line when sadness becomes depression, when joy becomes mania, when fear becomes paranoia?” he asks. …

[...You can read Kurt Kliener's whole article here ...]

Mental illness is a fact of life for many families. I thought that this article helps to raise some issues that non-academics need to be more aware of.

I don’t want to minimize what is a real challenge for so many, perhaps even people reading this right now. But the line that struck me was, “some of the disorders are really descriptions of normal, if difficult, human experience.”

Life is hard.

 

 

 

July 11, 2014

The U.S. Immigration Crisis

Filed under: current events, social justice, Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:43 am

Immigration Jesus Cartoon

I believe that the US/Mexico border is allowed to ‘leak’ because there are jobs that Americans simply don’t want to do. But protesting appears to make sense when the unemployment numbers are high. It’s complicated.

Does anyone know the origin of today’s cartoon? It was on Twitter last night, but uncredited.

July 7, 2014

The Happy Rant Podcast

Church Clothes 2.5 John Piper LecraeOkay…I’m staying loyal to the Phil Vischer Podcast (and they’ve got video) but I now have new audio podcast favorite.

The Happy Rant is Stephen Altrogge, Barnabas Piper, and Ted Kluck

Self-described as “talking about things that don’t matter,” the latest, Episode 5, looks at alternative study Bibles we’d like to see. (Didn’t Mad Magazine do this premise?)

The Andre the Giant Study Bible
The Zangief from Street Fighter Study Bible
The Tootie from Facts of Life Study Bible
The Other Girl from Facts of Life, The One Who Is a Christian Speaker Study Bible
The Crease from Karate Kid Study Bible
The Dwight Schrute Study Bible
The “The Situation” Study Bible
The Chaz Marriot Study Bible
The “Platform” Study Bible
The Pete Rose Should Be in the Hall of Fame Study Bible
The Lloyd Dobler Study Bible
The U2 Lyrics Study Bible
The Mike Seaver Study Bible
The Super Bowl Shuffle Study Bible feat. William “The Refrigerator” Perry
The Twitter Every Word Is Hashtagged and Every Name is Squigglied Study Bible
The 1986 Mets Featuring Daryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez and Mookie Wilson Study Bible
The Joyce Meyer Study Bible

or this suggestion, “I want a Minnesota Sports Fan Study Bible which basically consists of Job, Ecclesiastes and Revelation.”

They also discuss John Piper’s upcoming gig with Lecrae, hence today’s graphic.

To listen to the podcast, click this link.

July 6, 2014

How to Have a Perfect Church (Acts 2 Style)

Today’s article is jointly-posted with Christianity 201.


I’m currently reading an advance copy of Overrated by Eugene Cho, releasing September 1st from David C. Cook. I am indebted to Eugene for these thoughts.

So how would you like to have the perfect church, at least according to the model given to us in Acts 2? You know the passage,

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (NIV)

So what is the model here?

  • teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread *
  • prayer

*Tangentially: Is this a reference to communion? Studying the very few translation variants

  • to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] (AMP, also NLT)
  • at the Communion services (the Old Living Bible)
  • the common meal (the Message)

however commentaries seem to feel the phrase “breaking of bread” is self-evident in its reference to the meal instituted by Christ in the upper room with his disciples.

Back to Acts 42, if we include some of the verses that follow we would also include:

  • the favor of the general population (v. 43)
  • shared possessions (v. 44)
  • selling possessions to support the poor (v. 45)
  • daily meetings; house groups specifically mentioned(v.46)
  • praise (v. 47)
  • numeric growth (v. 47)

Many people place the emphasis on verse 42. Here it is again with emphasis added:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

Anyway…according to Eugene Cho, that would be to totally miss part of what the verse says. Here, with emphasis added is how he would read the verse:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

A few days ago we spent two days looking at devotion to God. There are eleven times this is used in the NIV, but there are thirty-four uses of devoted. (Here’s a link to do the study on your own.)

Cho writes:

Overrated - Eugene ChoThere are lots of books out there about self-help, self-growth, self-whatever. Here we see there was no secret recipe, no shortcut, just evidence of long-term commitment. They devoted themselves to study, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. Do you know what I think the most important element was? I think the most element was not what they did, rather, devotion itself.

Read verse 42 again.

They devoted themselves.

A lot of people ask how they should change their church to make it grow. They ask “What new strategies should we employ?”

Pretty simple actually.

They were steadfast. They cared. They devoted themselves to each other, to Christ, and to the building of God’s kingdom.

Are we devoted?

(pp. 116-7 in the advance copy)

 

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