Thinking Out Loud

March 27, 2014

So What If I Told You…

So what if I told you that about half of all people employed by Christian organizations and churches in North America are in no way necessary to the completion of that organization’s or church’s ministry?

The statistic is hypothetical, but I’d still like to propose the possibility that the thesis is correct. There is a lot of fat in a lot of organizations. As attendance grows at weekend services, many churches opt to either go into building program or to hire more staff. At parachurch organizations, structures and hierarchies become bureaucratized and complex. People grow accustomed to their weekly paycheck, and long-time employees appreciate the burden-sharing and never question the additional expenditures. Why rock the boat, or admit that the job you do each day isn’t a real job? Too few charities and church denominations ever take the step of hiring people from the business world who know how to make cuts.

So what if I told you that about 90% of the people employed by churches and Christian organizations are completely isolated from any opportunity to do front-line ministry?

Again, a hypothetical stat, but when you average in all the people in various support services, office staff, etc., and the various agencies that come alongside these same missions and camps and churches are included, it shows that the structure really does mean that, like an iceberg only reveals a tenth of its mass, only a very small percentage of workers are exposed to situations requiring a presentation of the gospel or engagement with those outside the flock. 

Years ago, I remember hearing the phrase, ‘Making a living off the gospel.’  It’s sad to think that this probably takes place today to a much higher level; a much greater degree. Organizations ask for help meeting a payroll that probably doesn’t need to be as high as it is, but perhaps fruit-of-the-spirit virtues like kindness prevent the hard-nosed restructuring that might be needed. 

What do you think? Do you know people who have a career with a Christian organization, but maybe don’t exactly have a job? Do you think a person would ever have the conviction to tell their Christian employer that their job is completely unnecessary? Do you know of a church that simply has waaaay too many staff positions?

January 5, 2014

How Do You Know You Became a Christian?

Filed under: evangelism, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:21 pm

When I’m in a general market bookstore like Barnes and Noble (or Chapters in Canada) I make a point of hanging out in the Bible aisle and getting into conversations with people. Many people are purchasing a Bible in a relative vacuum and store staff can’t offer the same advice you’d get at a Christian bookstore.

So on Saturday, when the opportunity appeared to present itself, I told the guy that I kinda work in Christian publishing and if he needed any advice on his purchase…

 “I have a doctorate in divinity;” he replied, “and I preach and teach around the world.”

By the tenor of his conversation, I knew that the tables had been turned on me that time. (I also got that humility wasn’t his thing; but that’s topic for another day.) This was clearly a man that doesn’t suffer fools, and that could have shut down the whole conversation right there; but I persisted by explaining what I do and why I asked.

He then asked me, “When did you become a Christian?”  This was quickly followed by, “How did you become a Christian?”  Finally, the most interesting question of the lot, “How does someone become a Christian?”

I liked his forthright manner.

The answer to the first for me would be as a seventeen year old. True, I “accepted Jesus” when I was seven, but I lived a very dualistic lifestyle all through high school. It was at seventeen I took ownership of the faith I had been raised in, the belief system I had been baptized into.

To answer the second question, I told him an analogy I often share with others; that of “taking delivery” of the salvation that God was “holding” for me.  I explained that often one receives a parcel-delivery card in the mail; the card says that someone has sent something, it’s got my name on it, but I need to drive to pick it up. I don’t possess it until I reach out and take it.

For the last question, I said that the act of accepting Christ’s offer of salvation is an invisible transaction that one makes on faith, trusting His promise that if I tell Him through prayer that I want to be under the covering He offers, He will do His part. (You could break this down into the ABC process: Acknowledging, believing, confessing.)

…So, you’re in a bookstore like me, or a grocery store, or getting your car fixed, or your hair styled, and you’re asked, How does someone become a Christian? Do you have a ready answer? Is your answer different when explaining it to someone with a doctorate in divinity than it is explaining it to your mechanic, or mail carrier? Should the answer be different depending on the hearer?

A divinity student named Tweedle
When Refused to accept his degree.
He said, “It’s bad enough being Tweedle,
Without being Tweedle, DD”.

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child BoxesSeveral years ago I wrote a post here asking some questions about the whole Operation Christmas Child (OCC) thing. As I said a year later, I didn’t want to be a “grinch” when it came to OCC, I just wondered about some big picture issues.  Then last year, I reformatted the whole article to include some points that a reader had left in a comment.

This year, I was prepared to lay the whole subject to rest. Besides, collection for the boxes in our local churches has come and gone. But the article keeps attracting readers, and last week Lucy, a reader, left a comment that reminded me that as OCC grows — now with an online component that allows you to pack and ship a shoebox from the comfort of your own home right up to a much later deadline — people still have misgivings and second thoughts about the program.  Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one who had serious reservations about the OCC program. I just see it as a well-intentioned venture that, in reality, exports Western materialism. Even given the potential spiritual good, do we want children associating Jesus with wrapped goodies? Isn’t that enough of a problem here in America?

I’m a Christian who thinks Samaritan’s Purse has done wonderful things in helping people around the world. But let’s help children by really making a difference in their lives. World Vision and other ministries have programs where you can contribute toward gifts such as farm animals, wells, small business opportunities for women, etc. Much, much better than trinkets.

And thank you, Lucy for that comment. Organizations like Compassion, Partners International, The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Gospel for Asia are among the many — and I chose ones with both American and Canadian websites –  that allow you to make significant, life-changing donations to an individual or an entire village of the type Lucy describes.

Shoebox sized giving will produce shoebox sized results, and furthermore runs the risks she described in her comment. If you’re reading this on a computer — even in a library somewhere — you are among the richest people in the entire world. This Christmas, literally share the wealth.

There is a saying, Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going. The Christmas “gift catalogs” of the four organizations listed above allow you to know exactly where your money is going. Don’t lose this opportunity.

Comments can be made at the original article — first link above.

December 4, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Awkward Moments Children's Bible

This week, many links that will be of interest to pastors and church leaders, along with the usual dash of quirkiness. The list is posted each week at Out of Ur, a blog of Leadership Today, a division of Christianity Today. Click here to read.

Looking for more substance, why not click over to Christianity 201.

November 13, 2013

Wednesday Link List

How to Make Thomas Kinkade Paintings Totally Awesome Very few people know this, but the Wednesday Link List is named after Art Linkletter.  The links below will all take you to Out of Ur, where the list officially resides.

The Wednesday Link Letter (see introduction) was written by Paul Wilkinson and recorded before a live audience (Paul’s wife). Read more of his work at his Anglican baptism website, Sprinkling Out Loud, or at Devotional Plagiarism 201, where only the best get borrowed.

August 28, 2013

Wednesday Link List

For Heaven's Sake - Mike Morgan - August 12 2013Apparently this marks the 12th time we’ve used a For Heaven’s Sake cartoon here.  Mike Morgan’s weekly comic can be seen in selected newspapers.

Find the links that go with these stories at Wednesday Link List’s new home at Out of Ur.


If you don’t click all these links, how will you know they’re not talking about you?

  • The Gay Debate Continues: How can we pick and choose which Levitical laws continue into the present age and which don’t?  That’s easy.  Acts 15 tells us which ones carry forward.
  • An appeals court in Tehran rejected the appeal of American Pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen, and refused to reduce his 8-year prison sentence.
  • An Anthropology professor, writing in the New York Times, takes an academic look at speaking in tongues.
  • No doubt about it, in churches of all stripes, Bible reading is notable for the presence of smart phones.
  • “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau…” English Bible translations use the love/hate motif but the passage raises translation and interpretation issues that are a lot more complicated.
  • If you’re a church leader and you’re constantly dealing with how to disciple messy, new believers, then it probably means you’re doing something right. Conversely, if everyone in your church is spiritually mature, then something is terribly wrong.
  • Russell S. Doughten, Jr., the man responsible for the making of the landmark Christian film A Thief in the Night, died on Monday at age 86.
  • Thom Rainer thinks that church membership is relatively stable, but that the decline in church attendance is more connected to frequency of attendance.
  • Part-time pastor: A bi-vocational minister looks at logistical sustainability problems in bi-vocational ministry.
  • Here’s a worship song from the UK that gained a lot of traction here over the summer, Let it Be Known by Worship Central.
  • So who are your non-Christian friends? Better yet, if we were to ask your neighbors, do they have any Christian friends? Maybe not.
  • If experience teaches me anything, lots of you will click through to read an article called Getting Naked With Your Friends.
  • Rob Bell’s next book is titled Zinzum.  Yes, Zinzum: God’s Secret for What Makes Marriages Flourish.  Other than that it’s a book about marriage, I have no idea what the title means, and that doesn’t surprise me.
  • Bonus video: The song Jon Acuff recently called his current favorite, Josh Garrels’ 2011 update of Farther Along.
  • A woman who supported her gay daughter’s campaign for health benefits has been kicked out of her Tennessee church.
  • Canada’s public broadcaster highlights 50 different responses to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • Nominations for The Dove Awards — the Christian Grammy Awards equivalent — have been announced, including Lecrae and Chris Tomlin. (I feel I should know that second name…)
  • Bahamas’ pastor Thabiti Anyabwile believes that many of us discussing homosexuality are unnecessarily suppressing our gag reflex.
  • Steven Furtick is building momentum for a 2014 book, Crash the Chatterbox, dealing with the voices that chatter fear, insecurity, condemnation and discouragement by inviting people to join a movement of people called Chatterboxers.
  • Social Media Sins Department: Facebook is now the theme of a gospel choir song.
  • Remember, parents; if nothing else, your parenting techniques can always serve as a bad example. 
  • It would be great if I was getting a kickback for this rather blatant advertisement, but it turns out the Christian kids’ classic Bullfrogs and Butterflies is still available. Can Psalty the singing songbook be far behind?
  • And speaking of children’s music, I can’t think of a better ending this week than this nugget of wisdom.

Today’s column with links activated appears at Out of Ur. Paul Wilkinson is a writer and prognosticator who blogs at Thinking Out Loud and whose Twitter handle does that annoying thing where numbers are substituted for letters, hence @paulw1lk1nson (he forgot to switch the ‘o’ for a zero.)

Trees of the Field - Teaching Parabolas - Steve Wall

May 28, 2013

Have Resources, Will Share

Post 2400The next time you’re in a Christian bookstore — if you can still find one — walk by the music department and check out the variety of CDs in the contemporary section. While music labels have severely cut budgets and curtailed new artist development, new titles and new bands arrive each month and — partially thanks to social media that is part of the technological wave undermining those very music departments — find their way to an audience.

I owe my Christian heritage partially to bands and soloists like the ones you see on those racks. I’m not saying I would not be where I am today were it not for the whole CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) scene, but truthfully these guys mentored and shaped my faith in a variety of ways.

Today, I am more than happy to share new artists with others, though my greater passion has switched to books and online resources.

Oddly enough, it’s only recently that I connected the dots between my desire to “spread the word” about Christian print and music products and my blogging. Shortly after discovering CCM, I started writing record reviews for both print and secular publications. Then I started a radio show. Then I got into the Christian bookstore industry, though I came at it sideways as someone who was more of an alternative to traditional retail than someone who later became a part of that industry.

As a worship leader, part of my mandate was to introduce local churches to new worship leaders, new worship styles, and most importantly new worship songs. I came directly off leading worship in several churches into blogging, where I now get to reach the greatest audience and create awareness for the broadest number of causes, opinions, events, movements and resources.

And I write book reviews here. Which means I’ve either come full circle, or I haven’t gained any ground at all. In person, I probably have a credibility gap because I treat every book as if it’s the best thing I’ve ever read. But that’s what passion is; I think some people don’t allow themselves to be infused with passion about different things, places, ideas, institutions, events, etc.

BrioI say that I only connected those dots recently. Part of that was the realization that I was also a passionate evangelist for a soft drink. I don’t know if you can buy Brio in the U.S.; heck, I’m not even sure if it reaches all of Canada. I tasted it for the first time more than two decades ago at an Italian restaurant in east Toronto. It’s sort of similar to Coke or Pepsi, maybe a bit more bitter. It goes great with pasta, lasagna, or pizza.  Non-alcoholic. As you can see, we’ve purchased it over the years in a variety of formats.

When the conversation comes up — which it doesn’t very often — I can be counted on to recommend people stop by the local grocery store that carries the plastic bottle second from the left. We buy it even if we already have a few on hand, so that the grocery store’s computer will show the inventory as active. I order it in Italian restaurants that carry it.

The difference between Brio and the stuff I write about here, is that in the latter case, I make the conversation happen. I like Brio, but I don’t overflow with it as a topic like the drink itself does — it’s highly carbonated — when you pour a glass. In the case of my faith — especially in the case of Jesus I — I do in fact overflow and will steer the conversation in that direction.

Shouldn’t we all?

While I enjoy connecting people to life-changing resources, our ultimate goal is to connect people to a person.

What do you share with the people you come in contact with? What’s the first thing you think about each morning? What do you talk about when it’s your chance to control the conversation?

May 2, 2013

Reblogging: Salvation Army Invented Missional

It’s only been a year since I posted this, but this had a profound affect on me, and I hope you enjoy reading it for the first time, or reading it again.

I’m currently reading The General Next To God: The Story of William Booth and the Salvation Army by Richard Collier. Don’t go looking for this, I’m reading a used copy of the book published in 1965 by Collins Publishing that was left unsold at a recent fundraising event.

Although I’m only at the half-way mark, I am amazed at the degree to which William Booth carved entirely new ministry territory. I am now convinced that if anyone wants to understand the missional ministry philosophy that rose to prominence on a parallel track with the emerging church or Emergent Church movements of the last decade, they really need to begin by reading a history of the Salvation Army.

The thing that is most striking in what I’ve read so far is the contrast between what William Booth created and the revivalist movement of the day. While Wesleyan and Methodist meetings encouraged personal repentance and turning from sin, it was generally among the church people that such penitence took place. When it came to world at large, nobody wanted to get their hands dirty. Or their church building dirty, for that matter.

Booth was forced to go it alone. Here are some of the things that made what became known as The Salvation Army stand out:

  • Street Theater — The street preachers did whatever it took to draw a crowd: Counting on the curiosity of onlookers, outrageous stunts and costumes, the use of signs and banners, etc.
  • Connecting With Popular Culture — The early history of the Salvation Army — though the book doesn’t use this term — really defines what it means to be “in but not of.” Army volunteers stood apart and yet dwelt among.
  • Use of Secular Spaces — The book credits Booth with being the first to rent space in public and private buildings for his meetings, transforming those secular spaces into sacred spaces. Heretofore, in order to hear the gospel, you had to “come inside our church.” (I’ve phrased it that way because it should sound all too familiar.)
  • Celebrity Fascination — Booth’s meetings would include conversion testimonies by both the famous and the infamous.
  • Music — The brass band had never been part of the sacred music genre; it was therefore distinctive among religious sects, it was bright and lively, it worked well in outdoor settings. Salvationists also adapted popular pub tunes, giving them Christian lyrics; Booth originated the phrase, “Why should the Devil have all the music?”
  • Press and Publicity — Booth’s edict was that the emerging organization should get as much space in the pages of the newspapers as often as possible to keep awareness high.
  • Uniforms — While undergoing re-examination constantly in today’s environment, theirs was a culture of uniforms, so it simply made sense. One officer slept with his “S” pinned on his nightclothes to indicate that he was on call 24/7. Today, identification in the larger community remains a key value.
  • Attitude — Booth’s followers believed that as an army, they were triumphant. To the date the book was written, the Salvation Army flag had never been flown at half mast, because Christ was ever victorious.
  • Partnerships — From the outset, Booth was never trying to form another sect, but originally envisioned a ministry that work in tandem with existing denominations; and although he did in fact create a new church, his ethic of parallel ministry continues to this day.
  • Women in Ministry — From the first Sunday that Catherine Booth made her way to the pulpit and told her surprised husband that she had something God had given her to share, The Salvation Army has celebrated the role of women, and elevated women to the place where they can enjoy any rank in the organization available to a man.
  • Patronage — Booth realized from the outset that the very people he was reaching would not be able to financially support the ministry, so he sought to enlist from among the wealthy, people who would be patrons of the new work, not all of whom were necessarily believers.
  • Meeting Needs — Of course, the list would be incomplete without mention of the social services ministry which earned the street preachers the right to be heard. Food, clothing, shelter and health care (and health education) were all provided.

This list is far from complete; just a few things I scribbled before sitting at the computer to prepare this. But I have to ask myself and my readers:

  1. How close does our/my church come to reaching out to “the least of these” in our community and our world?
  2. What are we/What am I doing to be part of taking the gospel beyond the church walls?
  3. Money talks. What is my church doing with our budget to reach out? What am I doing with my personal giving that goes beyond benefit to other Christians, or merely pays for the programs our family utilizes?

Again, for those who believe in missional community, for those who strive for social justice, for those who prioritize world evangelization; a history of The Salvation Army is must reading.

And nearly 150 years later, the story of the Salvation Army is still being told.

Update: More on this book published on June 8th here at Thinking Out Loud.

Related post at Christianity 201: William Booth Quotations

May 1, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Church History

The week in review:

Christian music industry faces critical shortage of album titles

Christian music industry faces critical shortage of album titles; our reporters are investigating

April 18, 2013

Add to Bookmarks

Places to go, people to meet:

The Bridge Chicago

The Bridge Chicago

I’ll let them describe it:

The Bridge Chicago is a new ministry project from Mission:USA. On this blog, we’re drawing on decades of experience in front line ministry to provide help and materials to people trying to reach others for Jesus in their own communities.

The materials you find on this blog include media that you can purchase. The purchase price helps cover the cost of making it, and supports missionaries raised up from within the inner city who do not have other means of raising support.

There is a wide spectrum of music and interesting articles to hear and see at The Bridge.  Be sure to bookmark this site.

Click here to view The Bridge Chicago.

Faith Village

Faith Village

Make sure your flash player is up to date; the street is your navigation bar. After viewing the streetscape on the landing page — use your cursor to go further down the block — you have many choices where to go next, and the possibilities seem new each day. 

There are articles to read at Java Juice Blog House, videos in The Grove Theater, sermon podcasts in CityPod Studios,  leadership articles at Watermark Workshop, food ideas at Café on the Square, parenting advice at Momzie,  talk tech at Converge, discuss cultural trends at Denison Forum, and no surprise, you can buy books at the Faith Village Bookstore.  You can engage in social media in The Lofts at Faith Village either as an individual, a group or even as a church. There’s a whole space for youth 13-18 called Revolution called revultn; and also one for college kids (that looks like a frat house) called Epic House.  There are academic sites at Faith Village University.

There are also some parts of Faith Village still under construction.

This website is somebody’s labor of love to be sure. It sets the bar just a little bit higher as to what an ideal internet site can do. But who is behind this? The last stop on the second streetscape is Dallas Baptist University. Is that a clue? Is this some Christian college’s masterminded recruitment site? If it is, sign me up.

Click here to view Faith Village.

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