Thinking Out Loud

October 13, 2014

Megachurch Musicians

Filed under: Church, music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

Warning: Run-on sentence follows:

I think if I joined a mega-church and aspired to be part of the worship team, and then jumped through all the hoops of auditioning and qualifying, when the moment finally came where I was actually on that stage, I would be so concerned about doing well and making a good impression, I actually wouldn’t really be worshiping God at that moment. 

Human nature is human nature. If you read the tags, I’ve tagged this post “ecclesiastical ambition.” It certainly describes pastors, but musicians have a more natural affinity to wanting acceptance; of wanting to be liked.

Today's post was written by this guy.

Today’s post was written by this guy.

So here’s what I’ve concluded: Everybody who gets up on a large (or mega) church platform should be forced to wear a mask so that nobody knows who they are. Yes, a mask. Think of what a motive-purifying thing this would be. Think of how this would respond to the church culture that sees the people on the platform as performers

If this goes against the grain, you could consider having the musicians (and people who do announcements) stand with their backs to the audience. Or they could present the worship set from the back of the auditorium the way many church choirs once stood in a balcony at the back; the manner in which the church organist (the only church musician at the time) once performed from the back, or with his or her back to the congregation. 

In the life of service to God through public ministry, there’s no room for ego. 


Update 10:30 AM: I had no idea when I posted this that the same day Talbot Davis would post a sermon text with the repeated refrain, “God’s word is better delivered in obscurity than by celebrity.” Take the time to read it by clicking this link


Somewhat related: “There is no limit on what can be done for God if it does not matter who is getting the earthly credit.”  Read that blog post here.

October 12, 2014

Thank You For I Get Better

Filed under: Faith, prayer — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:16 am

Yesterday morning at the weekend conference we’re attending, the speaker talked about her young daughter who is just learning to pray.  She begins appropriately with thanksgiving — something many of adults need to remember — but then moves into the section of her prayers dealing with requests and petitions.

Problem is, she keeps the “Thank you” part of the language as she iterates those needs: “Thank you for my friend to get well;” or “Thank you for I get better.”

While she is grammatically incorrect, she is theologically wise. Thanking God for our needs is counter-intuitive in our results-oriented, instant-gratification culture. But it serves as a reminder of our dependency on Him; that He is God and we are not; that ‘I am weak but Thou art strong.’

Singer Andrae Crouch wrote,


“So I thank Him for the mountains
and I thank Him for the valleys,
and I thank Him for the storms he brought me through;
For if I never had a problem,
I’d never know that God could solve ‘em,
I’d never know what faith in God can do.”

October 11, 2014

Letter to a Gay Teen Who Feels They Can’t Go On

I wrote the letter which follows this intro three years ago after another gay teen committed suicide, this one in a city which isn’t too far away from here. At the time, I said I felt it was becoming contagious.

I say contagious knowing I have the right to use that word. I remember years ago meeting with a California couple whose marriage counselor told them, “The best advice I can give you is to move out-of-state.”

In the late ’70s, divorce was rampant on the west coast. Today that advice wouldn’t work, since divorce is everywhere. But the counselor recognized that there was a ‘climate of divorce’ there at the time and if you could get away from it, you had a better chance.

Today, with the internet, there’s no getting away from social trends, and to be gay in 2014 is to realize that bullying can indirectly take the life of your peers. When I wrote this in 2011, with no disrepect intended, I wrote, “They’re dropping out of the sky on a weekly basis.” One campaign says, “It gets better,” but honestly it doesn’t appear to get better, certainly not for the average adolescent high school student. The boy in the story, who was 15, said he simply wasn’t up for waiting three years.

Reports at the time implied that he left a suicide note on his blog. That’s not entirely accurate. As I scrolled through the 30 pages of that blog it was obvious to me that the entire three months he posted (apparently replacing a previous blog) it was, from the beginning, full of pain, full of angst. The blog was like one long march toward a suicide that appeared somewhat inevitable. Did people see that? What if the right person had picked up on that and been able to intervene?

It’s unlikely that readers of this blog would ever stumble across the writing of a teen like Jamie. But if I did, would I simply click away? Perhaps the best thing would be to leave a note; a note something like this:

Dear __________,

Somehow I found your blog today. I’m from a different part of the world, and a different generation, but I want you to know that there is no mistaking your pain, and I could feel that pain in your writing and I care very deeply for you.

High School can be a terrible environment. People commit verbal and physical abuse easily, and even the kid with the greatest degree of conformity can unwittingly become the target of the week. The bullies act out on their own insecurities, perhaps even insecurities as to their own sexual identity, though you don’t dare suggest that out loud.

Your life is a story that’s being written page-by-page, day-by-day. Only you get to choose the ending. I know you’re going through a period of depression, but your story doesn’t have to have a tragic ending. It doesn’t have to go the way you think it does. Your story can have an ending where you conquer, where you rise above the circumstances and perhaps even get to change some of the circumstances. You can write new chapters where things move in a different direction, where you can look back and say, ‘It didn’t get better overnight, but here’s a scene that was the beginning of where it got better.’

You should also know there are now alternative high schools where people are more accepting of your present sexual orientation. You might want to seriously look into that. Your parents would have probably helped you with college and university costs, they just need to be convinced that in your case you need that help sooner. But you might be able to find something closer to home if you live in a larger city. There are many ways to get that high school diploma.

I said present sexual orientation, not because I want to get into that discussion, but because you’re still fairly young, and like I said, there are always new chapters being written. On the one hand, I recognize that you know your feelings better than anyone, so the people who say, ‘This is just a phase he’s going through,’ aren’t being honest about how things are. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t want you to believe the lie that says, ‘This is who I am.’ Your sexual identity isn’t 100% of who you are, what you can accomplish and the person you can become. If you write on a piece of paper, ‘I am gay;’ write it in pencil, not in pen. You might actually some day need the eraser. I say that not because I’m doubting the reality of who you are now, but simply because, as a young teen, you are still a work in progress.

I should probably end by telling you that part of the reason I’m taking the time to write this is because I believe in a God that loves all people and therefore doesn’t hate anyone. I’ve seen other blogs written by young teens who are gay but have a deep faith, and are trying to follow Jesus in every aspect of their life. They pray, they read the Bible, and they try to find ways to serve others in Christ’s name. They are making a difference in their world. I have no doubt about that, but of course, also being gay, they remain a bit of a mystery to some of my Christian friends. I think God’s capable of sorting that, and I invite you to reach out to him in prayer, because I believe that He alone is the only source capable of helping you through the pain. I believe if you take one step toward him, he will come running to you.

Paul.


October 10, 2014

The Clergy Caste and the Laity Caste

I originally posted this two years ago. I think I was somewhat angry when I wrote it. Sometimes that makes for the best blog items. Returning to it two years later, the anger is now more of a lament that things are the way they are in the church.

We had the option of staying in Toronto where we attended a church where people in leadership share the Sunday morning preaching responsibilities. But we felt God was calling us to a small town that didn’t have a church of that denominational stripe, or one where shared teaching was practiced. For years and years I had no regrets. But then, about 2-3 years ago, the regret just started pouring out of me.

I also think of how having to prepare weekly messages would have developed my Christian walk. Sometimes, I admit, I need to be forced into situations that create the fertile ground for spiritual growth. Mind you, I did do some messages back in the day that were terrible. It kinda works both ways…

…Anyway, what follows is what I wrote exactly 24 months ago. I believe in the concept of the church “setting people apart” for vocational ministry. I just don’t think that means they can’t share teaching/preaching responsibilities…


When
it comes to the availability of information and resources, these are interesting times. There is nothing that can’t be accessed, and as a member of the laity, it is easy to ‘pig out’ on all manner of commentaries and Bible reference materials that heretofore tended to be the exclusive property of those in vocational ministry.

Nowadays in any given denomination, it’s easy to find pastors who can’t preach their way out of a wet paper bag, and to hear as many stories about an absolutely phenomenal adult Sunday School Bible teacher with great gifting, who works the rest of the week on a automotive assembly line or is a cattle farmer, or sells restaurant supplies.

This week I was hoping to connect with a pastor friend, who mentioned that he had come down with somethingitis. I fired off an email joking, “Let me know if you need me to preach.”

Well, not so joking. I’ve actually done the Sunday morning message in his church many years prior to his arrival here, and for that matter, at six other area churches.

He ended up not being able to preach, as no doubt his somethingitis turned into otheritis. A mutual friend — who happens to be ordained — jumped in and filled the gap. I just chanced to hear about this yesterday afternoon on my way to the bank. After cashing a check, I walked back to my car and a strange thought hit me, “You’re not going to get those opportunities in the future because you’re not part of the clergy class, they are the ones who have the hidden secrets.

You know the hidden secrets, right? Well, actually you don’t; that’s the point. That extra bit of information that does not exist on line; the things passed on when you reach your 32nd degree ordination. The mysteries of faith that cannot be revealed to the common masses. The things not even known to that eloquent adult elective teacher.

That’s why the great chasm between the laity and clergy exists. There are some things simply too great — too lofty — to pass on to the rest of us. And that’s why the next time your church offers to help people ‘develop their gift,’ they do not include you in that gift-development if your gift happens to look terribly similar to their gift.

October 9, 2014

Lacey Sturm Story

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:39 am

“I became addicted to sadness”

~ Lacey Sturm

Sometimes you don’t have to be paying attention to a TV or computer screen to know something special is taking place. That’s how I felt while watching the live feed from the Franklin Graham Festival of Hope in Toronto as a musician was speaking between songs, only to get interrupted by a phone call. So I determined to watch the same concert again two weeks later from Erie, Pennsylvania’s Rock The Lakes event, but returning home after a busy day I got distracted and forgot to catch that feed. (A request to the Billy Graham Association in Canada, which sponsored the Toronto live feed, was never answered.)

So I was pleased to find this 19-minute clip of an interview that singer Lacey Sturm did with Kirk Cameron on the Praise the Lord program.

(Okay, we need to stop there for a minute. For those of you who have been out of the Christian television loop for awhile, yes that is the same Praise the Lord program that Paul Crouch founded, and yes, that is the same Kirk Cameron. See what happens when you miss a few memos?)

The Reason - Lacey SturmLacey was a founding member of the group Flyleaf, but she’s out promoting not an album but her book, The Reason: Revelations of a Rock Princess (Baker Books) an autobiography of conversion.

The day Lacey Sturm planned to kill herself was the day her old life ended. As an atheist who hated Christians, she thought church was a place for hypocrites, fakers, and simpletons. After a screaming match with her grandmother, she ended up in the back of a sanctuary, hating everyone in the room. But what happened in that room is The Reason she is alive today.

(Click the book image at right to learn more.)

If you like your music really, really loud, here’s the complete concert at Rock the Lakes. (Testimony starts at 9:53, and continues at 22:10.) Otherwise, here’s Lacey, her husband Josh, with Kirk Cameron:

October 8, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Okay, so this was everywhere online this past week, but if you missed it here’s an explanation of the Biblical phrase Gird Your Loins. (click image to link)

Gird-Up-Your-Loins-2

Here are the news and opinion pieces from the past week that stood out. You can also read today’s links at PARSE by clicking here.

Because this is Blogger Appreciation Month, you can catch Paul Wilkinson at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, or @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter.

Hotline to God

 

October 7, 2014

Microblogging Tuesday

Filed under: Humor, Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

We’ve done Microblogging Monday a few times, but it always seems like we’re ripping off Happy Monday from Master’s Table. (That link takes you to one that’s a week old because yesterday Happy Monday went all serious on us!)

Anyway, here are some thing collected during the week that aren’t needed for tomorrow’s link list.


First, this forthcoming book cover…

Doctor Who Meets Duck Dynasty

… strikes me as Dr. Who meets Duck Dynasty and it seems appropriate that a redneck TARDIS would be an outhouse.


This one was from Postsecret…

Pens from Postsecret

…perhaps you’ve been that person.


 

This one is from NakedPastor.com…

Horse Drawn Carriage

…and gives new double-meaning to the term Amish Fiction.


I was going to press pause in my recent abduction of images from InterVarsity’s Twenty One Hundred Productions, but we had Chinese food on Sunday and it brought it all back to mind…

Lunar Calendar

…click the image to visit their Facebook page.


It’s been awhile since we visited For Heaven’s Sake…

Movie Titles Creed

…a comic Mike Morgan started in 1991. Clicking the panel takes you to another one I like.


This next one is of unknown origin…

Presbyterian Pentecostal Worship

…Nothing like denominational profiling, huh?


Finally, a poach from Happy Monday itself: Generally, each week there is a comic panel from Coffee With Jesus…

Coffee With Jesus - Singer

…which is also available in book form from IVP and makes a great Christmas gift.

October 6, 2014

Left Behind as Object of Mockery

Filed under: books, theology — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:11 am

Cats Watching the Rapture - from Rapture Pet Care

Somewhere over the weekend, a series of eschatological fiction books became an object of ridicule online. In a way, the op-ed sentiment was always there: Stories based on a premise that took hold with the American Christian populace in the 1940s and ’50s, but a premise that serious Bible scholars never embraced. “Rapture? What rapture?”

But then the movie remake scored only 2% on the movie review analysis site Rotten Tomatoes.  Suddenly the book and movie franchise became fair game both for those within and outside the camp. Ed Stetzer tweeted:

Headed to with a bag of clothes. While the movie is playing, Kaitlyn and I plan to spread them out on seats.

Apparently that sentiment caught on because by Sunday the anonymous owner of twitter account Chet Churchpain tweeted,

Played a rapture prank by leaving clothes in my pew and leaving during prayer, but forgot spare clothes.

Hid in closet until everyone left.

with a follow up:

Still missing my wallet and my good crocs.

Greg Boyd joined in the frivolity on Sunday:

I believe in “Left Behind”! If someone strikes you “on the RIGHT cheek,” turn “the OTHER cheek,” which would of course be your LEFT behind.

In a much longer than 140-character post at CT a reviewer wrote:

I was ready to be upset about this movie, is what I’m saying—upset at a movie based on books that I felt totally mischaracterized my faith, books whose central characters were trumpeted as the saints of the new world but who constantly failed to live out anything marginally resembling real Christianity.

I was ready to be upset because the Left Behind books were not Christian.

They talked about Christianity, sometimes. But, at their core, they were political thrillers, featuring characters directly transposed from better Tom Clancy narratives—still violent, hostile, and un-reflecting, they just prayed a little more and took communion sometimes. (This may be unfair to Clancy.)

I was ready to be upset at this new movie because certainly it would have all those same faults. But it doesn’t. It has many, many faults, and almost no positives, but purporting to be Christian while not actually being Christian is not one of them.

I will bold this next point so that readers now searching desperately for the vanished comments section can take note: Left Behind is not a Christian Movie, whatever Christian Moviecould even possibly mean.

adding parenthetically at the end:

We tried to give the film zero stars, but our tech system won’t allow it.

So where did Left Behind get left behind with some Christians?

A popular version has it that the rapture idea began with a young girl who stood up and gave a word of prophecy at a revival meeting in the UK in the 19th century, perhaps either the 1860s or 1870s. The idea represents a mash-up of Jesus words in Matthew (“one will be taken and one left behind”) and Paul’s words to the Thessalonians (“…will be caught up to meet Him in the air.”)

In various places in scripture however we see that being the one “taken” is not always a good thing, and the parable of the bridesmaids shows us that when the guests go out to meet the bridegroom, it is them, not the groom, who does the 180-degree turn.  (See this article at CT.) his idea of rapture, or more specifically non-rapture, is tied closely to teachings about ‘New Earth,’ which for many stands in contrast to an ‘up there’ view of heaven

It’s also important to note that the rapture doctrine did not travel well across the pond. Christians in the United States did not accept the idea well until the aforementioned post-war period.

Furthermore Skye Jethani articulates this issue well in his book Futureville, explaining that this is really an example of letting the culture dictate theology; that the doctrine is born out of philosophy of escapism, a post-WWII desire to exit the planet and all its evils. He shares this also around the 26-minute mark of the Phil Vischer Podcast episode 15.

Of course some people are willing to loyally defend the brand and attack those who don’t:

  My fellow Christians, you can disregard any reviews of the by the pro-homosexual or pro-Palestinian

Nothing keeps the water muddy on any particular issue like parachuting another issue (or two in this case) into the discussion.

My wife thinks that what we’re seeing is simply the outpouring of criticism that takes place whenever something is successful. Big churches are targets. Top authors are targets. But in this case, the movie’s poor critical showing has intersected with the place where rapture doctrine is slowly falling out of favor among even strident Evangelicals.

So this weekend everybody gets to join in the fun.

Rapture? No we were just kidding, that isn’t gonna happen.

October 5, 2014

Names You Should Know

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

Outreach Magazine is out with its latest list of the 100 Fastest Growing Churches in the U.S. and the 100 Largest Churches in the U.S. You can download a free 23-page .pdf copy of their latest data at this webpage, and learn how you can order the full magazine in single copies or in bulk.

There are however some churches which are conspicuously absent, including Lifechurch.tv (Craig Groeshel) and Lakewood (Joel Osteen), and we need to remind ourselves that as great as its influence is, the Christian world does not end at the U.S. borders.

Some of these names will be new to you, and some will be familiar. Either way, these are names you should be aware of. Download the full report to get the church names, locations, attendance numbers, website links and other stats. These are for the largest churches (in order, in groups of 25). We also did one for the fastest growing churches yesterday at Christian Book Shop Talk.

Lead Pastors of 100 Largest Churches

October 4, 2014

Who Says Youth Groups Won’t Sing?

…and How Running The Internet Rabbit Trails Led Me to New Discoveries

…and The Theology of Acapella Worship

Rural Hill Church Camp

So it all started on Monday night when I was wrapping up the link list. A visit to The Christian Chronicle, a news page of the Churches of Christ revealed that they had started a new feature, Voices Only Wednesday on September 17th. Kicking it off was what appeared to be an eight-minute camp music video from Rural Hill Church of Christ. It reminded me of a couple of Young Life Clubs I attended at another high school many years ago.

There’s a moment in this video near the end (about 6:18) where they go into a James Cleveland song, Get Right Church. (You want to play this loud.) There’s a lot going on in this song. A lot of fun. A lot of energy. A lot of passion. But also a lot of musical complexity. Who says you can’t get youth groups to sing? They call this part of the facility The Singing Porch (see photo above). I’ll bet a lot of audio memories are made there. (You really want to click the link, okay?)

I fired off the link to people I know who work with choirs, with camps, and with youth groups. But found myself wanting to look a little closer. So I checked out the Facebook page for the church. Many more videos from summer camp were waiting. But by this point, I wanted to learn more. 

The church website is visitor-friendly. Remarkably so. On the About Us page there is a notation:

We  do not use instruments in worship. We simply use our voices and our hearts. If  you have never experienced this type of worship, you may be surprised at how  heartfelt and uplifting it can be! We sing a mixture of traditional and  contemporary songs – reflective of the diverse age range and preferences in our  congregation.

So that’s where the kids get this. This musical paradigm is caught at an early age. It’s part of the worship style they’ve grown up with. Yes, there’s Power Point and microphones, but no keyboards, no drums, no guitars.

Days later I checked out the denomination’s description at Wikipedia and learned more:

The Churches of Christ generally combine the lack of any historical evidence that the early church used musical instruments in worship and the belief that there is no scriptural support for using instruments in the church’s worship service to decide that instruments should not be used today in worship. Churches of Christ have historically practiced a cappella music in worship services.

The use of musical instruments in worship was a divisive topic within the Stone-Campbell Movement from its earliest years, when some adherents opposed the practice on scriptural grounds, while others may have relied on a cappella simply because they lacked access to musical instruments. Alexander Campbell opposed the use of instruments in worship. As early as 1855, some Restoration Movement churches were using organs or pianos, ultimately leading the Churches of Christ to separate from the groups that condoned instrumental music.

(See the link for footnotes.)

Finally I went to YouTube in search of more songs. You can search under Church of Christ acapella, or Church of Christ singing. I used Church of Christ music and ended up listening to a 30-minute teaching from Mountain Creek Church of Christ on why they don’t use ‘mechanical instruments.’ The pastor takes a very easy-going approach on this, and while I would disagree with his hermeneutics, or even the logic by which the conclusion is reached, there’s no denying his hardline conviction. I just don’t think you should take a minority reading of a passage and then argue it quiet so dogmatically.

As an aside, several years ago I met with the lay-leader of a small congregation in our neighborhood, that I knew used only the King James Version. I asked him if there was a theological underpinning for this, and he quickly cut in and said, “No it’s a preference and only a preference. Our people can read anything they want, and many do.” That was refreshing. Rather than preach about the doctrine of acapella music, I would love it if this person simply talked about the rich musical heritage of the capital ‘C’ church — Christianity is a singing faith — and said the acapella thing is just a preference, just the way they do things.

Bottom line? I didn’t find anything on YouTube that grabbed me the way Get Right Church did that first day, but if I were ever in Antioch, Tennessee, I would definitely want to experience what Rural Hill offers first-hand. It would beat spending the Sunday at just another generic megachurch. And I wouldn’t let the reasons they may have for their music stop me from enjoying the rest of the worship service, especially when the music would be the reason I was there at all!


Photo: Ironically, the video from which this was taken (click the image to link) has background music which included a full instrumental background.

 

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