Thinking Out Loud

April 23, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Promised you last week when we did a feature on Kevin Frank there would be one more panel in it for you (see Genesis 8:20) …

Noah's Sacrifice by Kevin Frank

Time once again for things on Christian blogs and news feeds you may have missed and some you’ll now wish you had. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, which paid $1,000,000.00 for exclusive rights to this weekly feature, plus a third-round draft pick.

WordPress says this is Wednesday Link List number 200, but it doesn’t count the times I typed the word Wednesday in a hurry, or the variety of names it existed under before uniformity set in.

 

We leave you this really simple explanation of how to pray; at least according to one denomination.

Prayer image 041814

April 18, 2014

I Screwed Up

Filed under: music — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:56 pm

A title like that one is almost guaranteed to bring in readers because we love to read about others’ mistakes. So today I’ll be one of the others.

I totally messed up a piece in this morning’s Good Friday service. A major brain cramp. It was a medley of two songs, two verses each, and when I finished the first verse of the first one, my eyes went back to to the top of the page, but my hands went on to the second piece. So there I was at the keyboard, and I just kept going because I couldn’t stop. About a dozen painful bars of this, and my brain reset enough to go into the next section.

We’ve been practicing this piece since February.

When the service was over, I went into the prayer room which is just off the front of the sanctuary and just sat on the couch in the dark.  I would probably still be there now if my family hadn’t found me. (Slightly exaggerated, perhaps; I probably would have eventually got hungry.)

Still, I haven’t had one of these screw-up in a long time.

Right now, music is a four-letter word. I think it’s time to retire.  Do you ever feel like giving up when things crash?  What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done on a church platform? Please comment; I need somebody else to be one of the others now. 

#MusicalTrainWreck

March 4, 2014

Churches Feed on Fresh Blood

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:37 am

The title of today’s piece may seem a bit dark and that’s not the intention. What I want to do here is make an observation that I believe applies more in the small(er) church environment, but may also manifest itself if you worship with a greater number of people.

Local church volunteersChurches love new people.

That’s not a bad thing. Especially if somehow, despite the potential obstacles and blockages, people who have no previous church background, or have been away from God for a long time suddenly show up on Sunday morning. Without smothering them, we should certainly let them know that we’re glad they came and do everything we can to retain them as attendees.

But churches can be especially affectionate toward people who transfer from other congregations, especially if they have a gift-set they bring with them. They are quickly fast-tracked to the front of the line for service opportunities like Disney tourists with a Fast Pass.

I say this not out of resentment, because my wife and I have been that fresh blood several times; mostly together but sometimes one and not the other and vice versa. At one church’s annual meeting, a woman stood up and asked, “So, can anyone just walk in off the street and get a job here?” She was referring to me. The chairman wisely called for the coffee break to convene at that exact moment.

(After the break I was then asked to explain my previous experience and detail the eight-page questionnaire that the denomination required; a form which establishes personal testimony and doctrinal beliefs.)

But I’ve also seen it happen where senior church leadership is quite happy to fawn all over people who arrive from other assemblies with the requisite pedigree to be thrust immediately into high-profile positions. And I’ve seen those same people decide, six months in, that this wasn’t the right church after all and disappear as quickly as they arrived. They might have decided this sooner had they not been put to work so quickly.

The bottom line here is to know that this phenomenon exists and, insofar as it depends on you, try not to promote the feeding frenzy to extremes. It’s great to work with new people and allow them to get involved and share their gifts, but it’s also important to give newcomers time to settle in and get to know the tenor of a local church’s ministry.


February 23, 2014

Lost Voice 3 – Brett

More than six years ago when this blog was an e-newsletter, I announced something I was working on called The Lost Voice Project. Periodically I add new people. Today, I thought I’d give you another sample chapter.I envision about eight characters here, getting together describing their church experience, a multi-age “Breakfast Club” of people recalling days when the church was at the center of their thoughts and activities.

The Lost Voice ProjectWhen it came Brett’s turn, he had to introduce himself to everyone. Unlike the other voices that had been lost to the church, Brett and his family were completely AWOL. He and his wife and been young parents of three kids, but when their fourth, a daughter, was born with post-birth issues requiring hands-on care, they simply stopped going to church since to do otherwise as a family was simply too complex.

It had been eleven years.

So unlike people who lived and functioned in the church as exiles, Brett and Kim were more literally exiles, albeit by their own choice.

Not that there were a lot of options. But one could have easily stayed home one week allowing the other attend weekend services, and then alternating on the other weeks, and that’s exactly what the members of the group suggested.

“Why didn’t you just take turns.”

Brett was silent. His oldest son was now graduating from high school. There had been some fragmentary contacts with the church youth group, but basically had grown up un-churched. His kids knew some of the Bible stories, they were told some of the family history, and all their cousins were involved in local churches in their hometowns. So on a survey, they would identify as “Christian,” even though that’s about as far as it went.

“Couldn’t someone have picked up them for a mid-week kids club?”

“Does this mean he missed out on the youth group retreats as well?”

With each answer Brett hung his head lower and lower. The situation was a complex as their young daughter’s care. There was more to the story. Though it was never said, there was a slow dawning of the realization that this wasn’t a story about a family who couldn’t make it to church because of a special needs child at all.

This was a story about two parents that withdrew from church life over a prayer that was never answered, a sadness that never healed.

Brett is one of the lost voices in the modern church. His contribution over the years would have been both greatly varied and deeply committed. But unlike the other lost voices, an entire family disappeared from some church’s membership roll and left a huge gap.

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 19, 2014

ADHD Sermon Notes

Filed under: Church, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

sermon notes The pastor preached eloquently this morning, weaving together contemporary illustrations and stories from his own life with related scriptures, the meaning of key words in the text, a fuller understanding of the context for today’s reading, a recap of the main points, and a couple of ways we can apply the lesson to everyday life.

Now, as I write this, and stop and consider further what he said, I realize I have no idea what the message was about.


ADHD or everyone? Do you sometimes see yourself in this situation?

About the image: I doubt Lauren Finley (click image to link) is ADHD, but I needed an illustration and it seemed like something someone might do if they were. On the other hand, some people function better taking notes with a built-in distraction, just as I often play Solitaire while I’m listening to Andy Stanley online.

December 12, 2013

The Christian Service Spectrum

Ted and Tom are twin brothers. In their early 40s. Living at opposite ends of a large city. Both attend churches with weekly attendance in the four-to-five hundred range.

volunteers needed 2At Tom’s church, the Sunday announcements are fairly predictable. More people are needed to serve in the nursery. And the food pantry. And the middle-school boys Sunday School class. And the tenor section of the choir. And a drummer for the contemporary worship team. And the facilities committee. And now they’re asking for people to serve as parking lot attendants.

“Why do we need parking lot attendants with only 250 parking spots?” said Tom aloud to no one in particular.

“Shhhh!” said his wife, as the couple in front turned around and scowled.

“Did I say that out loud?” Tom asked.

…Across town at Ted’s church the situation is much reversed. There are not as many ministry initiatives, and Ted who happens to be a drummer and a tenor and a fairly competent pre-teen Sunday School teacher has nothing to do on Sunday morning. He shows up. He gives money. He has meaningful conversations with people during the coffee time between services. But he always feels a little lost on Sunday mornings and to his credit, he helps out on Monday nights at The Salvation Army and on Saturday mornings he is committed to a men’s group at another church. There just aren’t any pressing needs for anything Ted has to offer.

Ted and Tom often compare notes. While there’s nothing new about churches asking for assistance in various departments, Tom wishes his church was more like Ted’s (and that there were fewer announcements.) On the other hand, Ted his envious of Tom’s situation; he’d like to feel he was needed even if it was the superfluous task of welcoming cars in the parking lot.

volunteers neededSo which is the more healthy situation?  What would the church metrics people say about these churches? Is a healthy church one in which there are always needs because lots of exciting things are happening, or is a healthy church one in which people are stepping up and filling volunteer ministry positions as quickly as they become available?

And what about Ted? Should there be some avenue of service for him to continue to develop his spiritual gifts? Should Ted’s church be creating some new ministry initiatives so that people like Ted can feel more involved or plugged-in?

Where on the continuum does your church lie?

October 27, 2013

Church Life: Pleasing Everyone is Hard to Do

I’ve never actually been in a church where the color of the carpet was an issue, but the topic stands in for a host of other topics when people are discussing superficial things they don’t like about a particular place of worship.

Still, there are some superficials which impact how effective ministry can be. For example, why is sometimes the pastor seems to really connect with people during the sermon, and other weeks when people are less responsive. It may have to do with things you don’t think about.

Sound

  • If the sound is turned up too high, people feel like they are being shouted at. It’s the live equivalent of me typing a sentence in CAPITAL LETTERS, back when people actually interacted in groups. Of course, there are some Pentecostal and Charismatic churches where the preacher’s words are amplified at rock concert volumes, but I think we have natural defenses that want to shut off any message bombarding us at high decibels.
  • If the sound is turned down too low, I believe that even if you’re hearing every single word, you’re using some mental processing capacity to strain to catch those phrases and sentences,  at the expense of being able to use that capacity to process the actual content of the words, and their applicability to your situation.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle, and find a way to keep it consistent week-to-week.

Temperature

  • If the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is turned up too high, people feel sticky in the summer and sleepy in the winter. If the temperature makes you feel comfy and cozy like you’re lying under a couple of blankets, you will indeed nod off.
  • If the thermostat is turned down too low, people are squirming or perhaps even needing to use the restrooms. Preservation instinct takes over, and the message processing capacity diminishes.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle. Sometimes, if you’re not sure, you need to take 15 seconds to survey the audience on this one.

Lighting

  • The modern church spends a fortune on stage lighting, which includes something called “backlighting” which helps give definition to people on the platform. However, depending on where you are sitting, these lights can be shining directly into the audience seating. After the first five minutes it gets annoying and after as little as fifteen minutes you have a headache.
  • On the other hand, some churches are so dark it’s creepy. (We covered this topic in the list link a few days ago here.) Combine the absence of light with a high temperature and you have a perfect recipe for slumber once the sermon starts.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle. One church I know turns up the lights for the sermon so people can follow along in their Bibles and make notes. Trouble is, in other auditorium contexts, when the lights come up it means the show is over!

So what superficials have affected worship in your past experience?

September 25, 2013

Wednesday Link List

angelcowimage

Wednesday List Lynx

Wednesday List Lynx

The links are at the post… They’re off! (A bad mash up of blogging and horse-racing.) (You should never have to explain the humor.)  Click through to read these links at Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Journal.

  • Why do Christian college and university educations get so expensive? Here’s a detailed explanation from someone who knows.
  • In an effort to emphasize “values not rules,” staff at Moody Bible Institute, and subsidiaries like Moody Publishing can now consume alcohol, but rules remain strict for students.
  • Jon Acuff took the platform he earned blogging at Stuff Christians Life into a job with America’s best known Christian financial planner, Dave Ramsay. Then, suddenly, he announced he’s leaving that job.
  • Video of the Week: Flagrant Regard is back, this time with a wild take on an old hymn that’s actually based on an idea my son came up with. You just might recognize the tune.
  • Essay of the Week: A Reformed blogger wants to show a distinction between those who consider themselves Reformed and the more prevalent perception of what is usually called Calvinism.
  • Too many pastors know the story of George, who frequently gets invited out for an attack lunch.
  • Does your church have a children’s sermon in the middle of the worship time? Perhaps you can learn from a popular AT&T television ad campaign.
  • Some Baptist Churches are abandoning sponsorship of the Boy Scouts, and are instead supporting the newly formed Trail Life USA.
  • Lee Grady thinks it’s good for several reasons that judges chose an Indian-American Miss America.
  • Sometimes the questions people have aren’t the ones we expect. For example this pastor is asked, Why do we say Amen at the end of prayers? (The answer includes a couple of times not to.)
  • Question of the Week: Should sporting events preempt church services?
  • I’d seen this two-minute video before, but appreciated Michael Hyatt’s reminder of The Power of Words.
  • An article I hope you never need but might want to bookmark: How to minister to the parents of a stillborn or miscarried child.
  • For only $777.00 and a new pair of spandex pants, you can attend the first ever fan weekend hosted by the band Stryper.
  • This Eschatology primer not only provides definitions, but suggests which favorite Bible teachers fit into which end-times-view camp.
  • A Tennessee judge rules that a child in that state can keep the name Messiah after all, overturning a lower court decision. (Will his friends call him ‘Messy’?)
  • In what is no doubt an often repeated story in North America, a church in New Brunswick, Canada tells a gay 20-year old he can no longer volunteer in their children’s ministry…
  • …While across the continent, a philosophy professor at Azusa Pacific University is dismissed after he comes out as transgendered.
  • Deep Bible Study Department: For all of you who find this column shallow and superficial, does the “I am the Bread of Life” passage in John 6 have a sacramental application, i.e. to the Lord’s Supper?
  • Two years later, Christianity Today — parent to this Out of Ur blog — wraps up its This is Our City feature with a visit to New York City.
  • Marijuana. That’s what caused the Colorado floods. Just sayin’.
  • Skeptics are somewhat … skeptical about a Charismatic Bible teacher’s claim to have witnessed the restoring of a cheek bone lost in an accident.
  • A Seventh Day Adventist Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico is in trouble with the city for failing to comply with an ordinance requiring churches to have business permits.
  • On both sides of the Atlantic, churches wrestle with how to deal with the situation arising when someone presents a new idea or concept.
  • An Anglican bishop in Wellington, New Zealand challenges high income earners to consider salary cuts.
  • Finally, at my own blogs, a look at worship hand-raising; and, when we say “God spoke to me,” there are different ways this can take place, each with different degrees of fallibility.

Paul Wilkinson is available to speak at your next battleship christening, or if you prefer, follow him on Twitter.

3 months to Christmas

September 15, 2013

The Making of the Wednesday Link List: Part Two

Yesterday I shared where some of the stories and links originate; today I’d like to share the second half of an interview I did with Christianity Today which, to my knowledge, was never used:

- How have you seen the Christian blogosphere change and evolve since you started?

I don’t know if it has changed so much as I have simply become more aware of things. If a person is simply starting out from scratch and wants to read what Christians are writing online, they may or may not notice these things right away. First they’re going to find the Christian blogosphere, like Christian publishing, is mostly dominated by voices from the Reformed tradition. The second thing they might discover is some mostly conservative fringe groups occupy a disproportionate amount of bandwidth online. The third thing they might observe is that the Christian blogosphere as we tend to experience it is dominated by American voices. The fourth thing that’s apparent is that everyone seems to have a book to sell, or at least books that if you buy them, the blogger gets a piece of the action (something I’ve never done at Thinking Out Loud). So if you want balance, you have to dig a little deeper and seek out the writers who don’t appear as often in the search results, are from other places, don’t have a particular agenda, or aren’t trying to sell things. So I’m not sure if much has changed or just that I’ve become more analytical over time.

While he also showed up for the interview, none of the List Lynx's comments made it into the final edit

While he also showed up for the interview, none of the List Lynx’s comments made it into the final edit

- Are there trends in blogging/coverage that you see as particularly encouraging? Or that concern you?

My greatest concern is that the banter back-and-forth online doesn’t end up polarizing people, or alienating new believers or seekers. The Christian blogosphere is a microcosm of the larger church and while the optimist in me longs for a day when the Body of Christ is more unified, there are signs that some groups are slowly splintering off, reminding me of what scientists call “continental drift.” I guess I also long to see more original writing. It’s so easy to simply reblog something that a noted Christian leader said that week, or the latest examples of moral failure. The same voices and the same stories are constantly echoing off the internet walls. There are also some high profile bloggers who no longer accept comments. I can understand their frustration, but at that point, in my opinion, their blog isn’t really a blog, and there’s no opportunity for dissent on the one hand, or building reader community on the other.

- What types of stories and news interest you the most?

I love celebrating when somebody is doing something truly refreshing, willing to reinvent the ecclesiastic wheel, so to speak; or doing something online that is entirely seeker targeted. But I also enjoy simple things like music reviews. The Christian blogosphere is completely dominated by book reviews, but I believe Christian music is still a powerful force. The problem is nobody is servicing social media writers with the latest CDs. And I love writers who leave themselves vulnerable, pastors who are transparent, or leaders who are willing to do Q & A online. I like blogs that are entirely faith-focused. The pastor who is into Formula One racing on the weekends, really should have two blogs, not one. The home-school mom who writes about the struggles to be both parent and teacher really needs a separate blog for reporting her Thai food experiments.

- Some of your links are obviously oddball, news-of-the-weird-type church occurrences. Do you think it matters that we pay attention to stories like these? Or is it just for fun?

There’s a danger in paying too much attention to the quirky stuff. I noticed that early on, and started a daily devotional blog, Christianity 201 (C201) which I’ve been doing now for 365 days a year since April, 2010. It gets 100-200 readers daily, but even if nobody showed up, I’d do it because it keeps me balanced. Each day’s reading contains some scripture. It is really difficult some days to find new sources for C201 articles. There is a lot of personal opinion online, but not so much Bible exposition. I’ve talked to many bloggers about guest writing for me at C201 who’ve said, “I could never do devotional writing.” A few of those were pastors. But I’ve digressed from your question. I think the weird stories remind us how much goes on in the name of Christianity, and how much latitude some people feel their faith affords. We have to remember that some week, these stories are the only perception some people have of what Christians and Christian living looks likes. Scary!

- Out of Ur is a resource aimed at pastors and church leaders. How important is it for today’s leaders to be online and following news and blogs? What are the benefits?

I think even pastors in small rural churches need to have a macro view of what’s going on outside their own geographic area and their own denomination. The blogosphere offers a bigger picture. But more to the point, I think that Christian blogs offer insights into resources and ideas that may be applicable. Despite both mass marketing and niche marketing by Christian publishers, many pastors are blissfully unaware of what’s out there in terms of resources for evangelism, small group ministry, or even the church library.

For several different reasons, my wife and I haven’t attended much in the way of Christian conferences, but through the internet — whether it’s an important blog article, a sermon podcast, or the latest worship song on video — we can feel the same ‘recharge’ that Christian leaders get when they attend such things, minus the bad night’s sleep at the hotel! If you don’t do conferences and don’t do Christian blogs or news sites online, you might be operating in a ministry vacuum.

I also think it’s important for pastors and church leaders to be aware of trends, but also to be aware of the people who are influencing their people. There are few websites where you have to show ministerial credentials to gain entry. The ‘net allows equal access and pastors need to see and hear the voices their parishioners are reading and listening to. It takes a lot of work to be aware of everything, but this is an information age.

Look for the link list every Wednesday at Out of Ur.

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