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 16, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Abraham Isaac Jacob postage stamps

Summertime and the linkin’ is easy…Our biggest collection ever with 40 bullets!

How Cats Ended Up With Nine Lives

While not curating the internet, Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud and C201.

Rapture Survivor Card

June 25, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Church Organ - Air Conditioner Combo

While this is list number two-hundred-and-something at Thinking Out Loud — and probably about the 400th link list over all, it’s list #52 at PARSE. A year! Time flies when you’re having links. Since Leadership Journal owns this weekly piece, clicking anything below takes you to PARSE where you can then link to the item you wish to read first.

Thursday through Tuesday, Paul blogs at Thinking Out Loud, both writes and steals devotional material at Christianity 201, and provides hints of the following week’s link list on Twitter.

 

It's not every day that we see a Jaguar X16 with a Jesus fish in our part of the world. Mind you it's a gold fish, nicely framed and matted.

It’s not every day that we see a Jaguar X16 with a Jesus fish in our part of the world. Mind you it’s a gold fish, nicely framed and matted.

March 12, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Prophecy Class

Yes, it’s true; Target does have people who visit Wal-Mart and link list creators do drop in on other link lists to see what’s making the rounds. If you find yourself craving more of this sort of thing by Saturday, two of my weekend favorites are the Saturday Ramblings at Internet Monk and the Saturday Links at DashHouse. I only borrowed one from iMonk, but linked three stories from church planter Darryl Dash, so this week’s lengthy intro was mostly guilt-induced. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the Link List Overlords; then click the stories you want to read there.

The Wednesday Link List is a production of Paul Wilkinson with proofreading assistance from Mrs. W. who is actually the better writer in the family.

T on the Wall

February 20, 2014

NBC News: Elevation Church Manipulates Baptism Call

Steven Furtick 3If you want to be the first one in the baptism tank at Elevation, middle-aged people need not apply. According to a report from the local NBC affiliate in Charlotte, hometown to Steven Furtick’s church,

Volunteers are instructed to “pick young energetic people” to go on stage first to be baptized and “not necessarily those who are there first.”

But the entire crowd response is manipulated from the very outset. The report notes,

…the first people instructed to respond to Pastor Steven’s call to baptism were not converts suddenly inspired but Elevation volunteers carefully planted in the crowd.

The guide instructs, “Fifteen people will sit in the worship experience and be the first ones to move when Pastor gives the call. Move intentionally through the highest visibility areas and the longest walk.”

“They had people in the crowd stand up who never intended to be baptized,” said James Duncan, a communications professor at Anderson University and critic of Furtick. “They were shilling for Steven and the intent was these shills stand up and everybody else follows.”

Duncan blogged about the baptism guide in a post he titled, “How Steven Furtick engineered a miracle.”

Furthermore the church instructs other churches on how to stage the same type of response,

Elevation produced a document to show other churches how they could do likewise.

It’s titled “Spontaneous Baptisms – A How-To Guide” and the church shared it freely on the Sun Stand Still website.

But the church categorizes the great response it gets as belonging in the realm of the ‘miraculous,’

“Although Furtick says this is a miracle, it’s not a miracle,” Duncan said. “It’s emotional manipulation.”

The spontaneous baptism how-to guide describes its purpose as to “pull off our part in God’s miracle.” Church leaders have repeatedly referred to the mass response as a “miracle.” But the guide reveals plenty of human staging.

And what are people being baptized into? The Body of Christ, hopefully; but it’s also a Baptist baptism as the report states at the beginning,

You wouldn’t know it by the name, but Elevation Church is Southern Baptist. Its Pastor Steven Furtick graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary. Elevation was planted with seed money from Southern Baptists. And Elevation gives money to Southern Baptist missions.

But you won’t find the Baptist name on Elevation… There’s not even the traditional cross on the outside of Elevation buildings.

and at the end,

…brand loyalty is to Elevation and not necessarily to the Southern Baptist Church. Rev. [David] Key says the Southern Baptist church runs a risk investing in Elevation.

“A church like his does not create any denominational loyalty,” Rev. Key said. “Because every member of Elevation Church will not necessarily look for a Southern Baptist church when they move away.”

Elevation Church video via WCNC

Elevation Church video via WCNC

I encourage you, if you’ve come this far, to read the entire WCNC report in full. (Or watch the 5-minute video at the same link.)

How widespread is this technique of ‘priming the pump’ at altar calls? If Furtick shares the strategy with other pastors, you can bet many of them avail themselves of Elevation Church’s methods.

I have to also say that on a personal level, this is disappointing. I was quite impressed with Furtick’s writing and preaching style, and gave glowing reviews here to Sun Stand Still here when it was released, and also Greater the follow-up title that is in many ways a sequel. (I won’t be reviewing Crash the Chatterbox.) But then the $1.7M house scandal tainted Furtick’s ministry, and now this revelation.

What is the role of WCNC here? Are they the enemy of the Church of Jesus Christ? Far from it. I think they’re simply doing their job, and I think they’re doing us a favor. I’ll go further and say that I believe media reports like this are part of the purification process the capital-C Church needs. If anything, we should be thanking WCNC’s Stuart Watson for the investigative work he is doing. (The report concludes with various offers he made to the church to respond.)

I don’t believe Watson’s aim is to see the church’s doors locked and the windows shuttered. I believe that he, myself and everyone reading this yearns for Elevation Church — and all churches — to operate at the highest standard, above suspicion and above manipulation.

The bottom line is that Furtick doesn’t need to resort to tricks like this; he is pulling in the crowds just fine and he will with absolute certainty, get a response to a baptism altar call.

To resort to this is simply insecurity.

For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. (I Thess. 2:3 NIV)

Thanks to Flagrant Regard for making us aware of this story.

  • Elevation’s own statement on church metrics, see The Code, item #9, “We are all about the numbers.”

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

January 12, 2013

The Go Deep Link List

The Go Deep List Lynx

The Go Deep List Lynx

It’s like the regular link list but for people who want something they can really chew on.

  • If you read the Wednesday list here, you saw a brief reference this week to Becky.  Becky is a fictional prototype of the ideal listener to Christian radio who, according to Sean Palmer, is more than just a media marketer’s target, but she is also setting the agenda for the modern church.  And then there’s this damning statement:

    Every element in a church worship service; each program or each new area of ministry has to pass the Becky-test. This means milk toast, predictable, and less engaging worship experiences. The depths and riches of Christian experience go ignored because Becky has no framework to understand them and Christian sub-culture is happy to allow her her illusions of faith provided those illusions are accompanied by her patronage.

    No wonder the article is called Killing Becky.

  • Although youth ministry guru Mark Oestreicher — I’m getting to where I can type his name right on the first take — wrote this with youth ministry in mind, it has much broader implications for church ministry as a whole. Mark had me from the first paragraph:

    I see the Kingdom of God in less black-and-white frames these days. To say it’s a full gray-scale doesn’t even do it justice. The Kingdom of God deserves a color palette so broad, deep and rich that we don’t have names for all the nuance and variation.

    And also

    In the U.S. church, we want so desperately to be independent mavericks, a Christianized version of the Marlboro Man, riding through the landscape of culture, needing no one, emulating no one. But if we look carefully at the American church in the last 40 years or so, we’re really not all that original. Most of the time we are acquiesce-ers, copiers. We copy culture, and convince ourselves we birthed it.

    The article is actually the first in a series. The main link here is to Presence in Youth Ministry Part One, but there’s also a part two and a part three.

  • And then there’s this one, which connects to the graphic below. Basically the idea is that rock hard empirical evidence can only take you so far, and beyond that, whether you choose Atheism or Theism, it involves a major step of faith.

    …the relationship between strength of belief and theism/atheism could be visualized as independent variables in a bivariate function, and that doing so might shed some light on my own perspective.

    And this insight

    …Although it is not a linear relationship, I would say the inclination of the individual to proselytize–that is, to attempt to win others to camps that occupy the same region on the curve–increases proportionally with the level of certainty.

    While he uses words like ‘bivariate’ this is a very concise article that is quite easy to follow, and has implications for your next conversation with someone who you’ve seen as having an opposing worldview, but who you now know shares more in common with you than you thought.  Check out Dan Martin’s The Belief Matrix.

The Belief Matrix

January 1, 2013

2013: A Whole New Year of Church Statistics

If you show up for clergy hour at the local fitness club, you often see pastors in the locker room comparing size. Church budget. Membership. Number of baptisms. That sort of thing. (What did you think I meant?)

The term for this is “church metrics.” It’s a term that shouldn’t exist, but it does. And you don’t want to hear the, “God’s okay with numbers, He’s got a whole book of them” line.

I guess you just did.

But these days, in a mega church world, the metrics are different. Number of weekend services. Number of satellite campuses. (Or is the plural campi?) Rank in Outreach magazine’s list of top churches, churches to watch, most influential churches. Number of books published. Highest position on the New York Times list for your last book. (Even if it’s the New York Times list of books that didn’t make the real New York Times bestseller list.)

Well forget all that.

I’ve got a new church metric… thing that separates the pastor men from the pastor boys.  You’re not really playing the ministry game until you’ve got data to add to this chart.

How many jet airplanes do you own?

Jets for Pastors

Hey, all the cool pastors in Nigeria are doing it. Well, one for sure. Christianity Today reports:

Allegations of extravagant living among Nigeria’s Pentecostal preachers have deepened following the gift of a private jet to the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

The multi-million dollar jet—a 10-seater with a range of 3,900 nautical miles—was presented to Ayo Oritsejafor by members of his congregation, Word of Life Bible Church in the oil-rich Delta state city of Warri. The gift celebrated the pastor’s birthday and his 40th anniversary in ministry.

Oritsejafor, who also serves as president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, joins a growing list of preachers with private jets in the West African nation, which is Africa’s largest oil producer.

David Oyedepo, the founder of Living Faith Ministries (popularly known as Winners’ Chapel) in Lagos, Nigeria’s major port and most-populous city, owns three Gulfstreams (plus a Learjet) worth almost US$100 million. (By contrast, Oritsejafor’s Bombardier Challenger jet is worth less than US$5 million.) Enoch Adeboye, general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, also owns a private jet. So does the flamboyant founder of Christ Embassy Church, Chris Oyakhilome.

Apart from preachers, only top business tycoons and a few governors and politicians own private jets in a nation where more than 70 percent live on less than US$1 per day.

Nigeria’s wealthy have spent US$6.5 billion on private jets in the last five years, making it Africa’s biggest market for private planes. The number of privately-owned aircraft rose by 650 percent between 2007 and 2012, up from 20 to 150 planes at an average cost of US$50 million.

continue reading here

Okay, more than one pastor. And one guy owns four of them… C’mon pastor; you know you want one. And you’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up to the guy who has four. Size matters.

To expedite your order as quickly as possible, the image here conveniently links to the website for Gulfstream – The World’s Most Advanced Business Jet. Or if you prefer a different route, this link.

UPDATE:  Much more on this in the comments today!  Be sure to click through to read more.

January 7, 2012

Tonight We’re Gonna Church Plant Like It’s 1999

“Church planting is the extreme sport of ministry.”

I’ve always believed that, and always encouraged people along those lines.

“The true growth the capital-C Church takes place when new churches are planted; the rest is all transfer growth.”

That’s me quoting me again.  Probably said that a hundred times in the last decade if I said it once.

But then, along comes Andrew Jones, aka Tall Skinny Kiwi; a guy who has been there done that far more than I.  A guy who has traveled the world looking under rocks for all things emerging, Emergent, alternative and counter-cultural.

And guess what?

He’s not sure that’s the way to go anymore.  He’s like, ‘Hey, that is so 1997.’  I added two years to work in the song lyric.

He says, “There has been some disillusionment with the church planting movement, even after it has purged itself of its 80’s church growth pragmatism. I have talked with many of these leaders and have added some observations myself. Here are some of the issues…”

And then he lists nine big issues; nine issues ya gotta read really slowly and carefully, because this isn’t some random blogger; this is a guy who has lived through some of these movements in ways the rest of us can’t begin to imagine.

Again, please, click the article, and if you don’t have time for the intro, at least read the nine reasons we need to rethink some things.

 

September 30, 2010

The Strategically Small Church: Small is the new Mega

Less than 1% of the total number of churches in the U.S. are what are considered mega-churches, yet in book after book, conference after conference, it is those churches and their leaders who are setting the agenda and the criteria for what constitutes success in ministry.

It can be disheartening for smaller churches faced with the impossible task of trying to keep up when the larger ‘successes’ seem to dictate the programming one needs to have, and even the language used to discuss it.

Brandon J. Obrien, an editor at large for Leadership magazine is figuratively spitting into the wind of conventional wisdom with his new book, The Strategically Small Church.

…If we could just silence the experts for a few hours, we might have the time and imagination to begin thinking about our ministries in a new way.  (p. 156)

He gives example after example of small(er) churches which are able to excel in areas such as authenticity, flexibility, training and equipping; not to mention the growing awareness that new priority needs to be placed on inter-generational ministry, something small churches do well.

But probably his best illustration is one of the two only non-church oriented ones he uses: The example of a small west coast newspaper who are gaining readers at a time that print newspaper readership is in rapid decline by simply refusing to publish anything unless their ‘take’ on the story is unique or nobody else is covering it.

This provides a metaphor for how he perceives American churches are tripping over themselves trying to duplicate services, because the perception is that these programs (and, one assumes, attendant staff members) are the measure of success in ministry.

As I finished the book this morning, I couldn’t help but think of next week’s Catalyst Conference in Atlanta.   A quick look at the list of speakers who come from the world of vocational pastoral ministry bears out O’Brien’s hypotheses.   All of the primary speakers represent the largest U.S. churches, and the same is true for tw0-thirds of the breakout group speakers.

An inspiring group of key speakers?   I’m sure they are, but how do you take what you’ve heard and apply it when you’re back home in your church of 100 members?

O’Brien also — and I wish he had fleshed this out a little more — hints that the mega-church pastors and leaders know that the current model has its flaws.     While some things, like worship and drama, happen with great efficiency and excellence in the larger congregations, the lack of inter-generational contact may signal some long-term problems for those who have never learned to integrate with the larger body.

Though it’s not in the text, I love these words from the back cover blurb:  “Blessed are the small.”    Indeed.

The Strategically Small Church is published by Bethany House; 168 pages; $15.99 U.S.

Other excerpts from the book on my other blogs:

Comparing the small church to the small retail store versus the giant big-box store at Christian Book Shop Talk.  (Brandon’s other non-church metaphor.)

A quotation from Bonhoeffer on the pressures placed on the church by “big vision” leaders at Christianity 201.  (Not limited to big church pastors, but also including those with big church aspirations.)


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