Thinking Out Loud

June 16, 2014

Preaching to the Choir

 

preaching-to-choir_from fritzcartoons-dot-com

…the problem is not that some churches are seeker-sensitive, the problem is that MOST churches are seeker-hostile. The problem is not that some churches are emergent, the problem is that MANY churches are stagnant. The problem is not that some churches are led by false teachers, the problem is that SOME churches are so busy bashing other churches that they really don’t teach anything. The problem is not that some churches have grown to become mega-churches, the problem is that TOO MANY churches are dying, and can’t see the reason why.

The above is part of a response I made to a comment on my other blog last week. People keep throwing around terms like seeker-sensitive, but that whole discussion is so 1990. Furthermore, in 2007, the church that popularized the term “seeker sensitive” published the Reveal study which showed, as least as far as data at that time was concerned, that the spiritual needs of seekers had changed. Some critics went so far as to suggest that the entire philosophy had been a mistake which needed to be repented of, but to do so is to both overstate the situation, and rob Willow Creek of its unique history which contributed to its growth and the the growth of other similar churches.

The thing that does need to continue to be addressed however is the opposite of seeker sensitivity, which is best expressed in the not-so-new term, “preaching to the choir.”

We have no idea how often we do this, and we do this at the expense of opportunities to reach a much broader, wider portion of the general population. I believe we do this specifically in two different areas.

In terms of felt needs, we often miss the brokenness that people experience as a starting point. The Four Spiritual Laws begin with the premise that “man is sinful and separated from God,” but the average person is not aware of God, or knowledgeable about what constitutes sin. They only know that they have an addiction problem, or that their employer is laying off staff, or that their marriage is in trouble, or that they are lonely, etc. As many have observed, the church is often answering questions people are not asking.

In terms of vocabulary, we truly don’t have filters for the words we toss around which are so familiar to us, and yet so foreign to the average listener. Terminology must be clear, and where uniquely-Christian theological concepts have no other lexicon, those words must be fully explained.  Plain speech can still be profound.

In terms of primary message, we think that we are sufficiently countering the anti-this and anti-that perceptions the world has about Christian faith, but really, we can’t say “God really loves you” enough times, especially when there are people in the church who don’t truly know the love of God. Yes, there is balance in many things, and the love of God has to be offset with a communication of God’s justice and hatred of wrongdoing. But maybe that’s the thing that’s needed, sermons that begin “on the one hand,” and move to “on the other hand.”

In terms of form, I don’t think the average pastor can pull off Andy Stanley’s 45-minute sermon length. Many start out with a really engaging premise, but are unable to maintain the intensity after the first seven or eight minutes. It truly is all downhill from that point. In a world where you can make an impact in just 140-characters, concision is all important. I often tell people who ask me about writing, “Pretend you are placing a classified advertisement in the local newspaper and you are being charged $1 per word.” That will cause you to excise much unnecessary verbiage.

In terms of context, we really need to take the message to the streets, figuratively if not literally. I heard this many years ago: So much of what we think constitutes out-reach is actually in-drag. We want people on our turf, in our building, attending activities that take place in our expensive facilities. Rather, we ought to look for ways to salt the broader community through involvement and participation in non-church activities, clubs, sports, recreation, arts programs, forums, reading groups, etc. Furthermore, we need to be ones staging events that have a huge potential to attract people from the widest spectrum of our cities and towns. Better yet, we need to go where people already are, places they already gather.

The choir know the story just as they know the lyrics and tunes of the songs they sing. It’s time to spend the greater portion of our energies on people who have not yet come into the family of faith.

 

 

December 3, 2012

What if the Biggest Billy Graham Event Ever Doesn’t Need a Stadium?

Filed under: evangelism, media — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:10 am

My Hope With Billy GrahamAlmost a year from now.

And they’re planning it now.

It’s that big.

This went out a few weeks ago:

Earlier this month, Billy Graham celebrated his 94th birthday. Next year at this time, together with our church partners, we will celebrate his 95th birthday by having thousands of specially trained Christian hosts open their homes to non-Christian friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers for a meal and a TV or DVD Gospel message from Billy Graham, plus special music and testimonies.

When the 30-minute program is over, the hosts will explain how Jesus Christ has made a difference in their lives, and invite their guests to commit their lives to Him.

This is the essence of My Hope With Billy Graham, and it’s been tested and proven—with more than 10 million decisions for Christ recorded in over 50 countries.

“As we moved into 2012, it just really moved in the hearts of Billy Graham and Franklin Graham and all of us supporting them in the work of the Gospel, a burden that now was the time to begin implementing this evangelism strategy in North America,” said Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Vice President Preston Parrish. “That’s what’s brought us to this moment.”

We are hosting luncheons in many communities… to explain My Hope With Billy Graham to pastors and church leaders—encouraging them to join us in the largest evangelistic ministry ever carried out in North America by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

In January, we will begin training coordinators… who will then recruit and train church leaders in thousands of congregations.

Billy Graham’s events in various cities were always labelled missions, and this living room strategy is the most missional of all.

November 16, 2012

Terminology: Liquid Church

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:30 am

This blog began its life as a newsletter that was emailed to a few hundred people. While combing through the archives last night, I found this piece from Spring, 2007.


When Michael Frost was in our hometown this winter, he introduced many people to the concept of “solid church” versus “liquid church” for the first time. I think the term actually originates with author Pete Ward. Because we use it so often internally in conversation, we thought we’d fill it in the rest of you.

“Solid” churches are visible. They have a brick and mortar building. They usually have paid clergy. They have been around for years and will continue to be around.

“Liquid” churches are usually invisible. They have no buildings. There are usually not paid staff. They, like liquid poured out on rocks, fill in the cracks where the solid churches can’t reach people groups that are distinct due to ethnicity, history, criminal records, socioeconomic status, etc. But liquid churches can also reach special interest groups, people bound by a hobby or sports-interest or just the fact they live in a certain neighborhood. Liquid churches can reach the poor, but also the wealthy.

Liquid churches aren’t so much about church “services” but about “being the church” for people who wouldn’t otherwise attend a solid church. They often begin casually, but eventually move towards what some would term “intentional spiritual formation.”

Not everybody likes this new development that’s taking place. Some would prefer to see nothing but solid churches in our future. But we need different kinds of outreach to connect with different kinds of people and our existing ways of “doing” church has been weighed and measured and it’s not as effective as we think it is. One person said, “Solid churches aren’t working, but we keep trying to fix them, or we build more of them.”

Look around you. There’s individuals and families and neighbors and co-workers and fellow-students nearby who are waiting for you to be the church for them. Not for you to drag them to your house of worship. To “be” the church.

July 18, 2012

Wednesday Link List

It’s Wednesday, but Friday’s a-coming!

May 3, 2012

Focusing Outward

Ever been to a sod turning?

A sod turning ceremony is what happens when members of a church that is about to move to new property go en masse to the new site where someone with a shiny shovel digs into the ground to symbolically represent the machinery which will then soon come to start moving earth to begin construction of the new facility.

Usually the members gather in a circle — perhaps even joining hands — to watch and then a prayer of dedication for the land. (The building dedication happens when the place is complete.)

Anyway, I heard a story recently about a church where, as it came to the gathering in a circle part, when it was time to pray, instead of facing inward, they formed the circle with everyone facing out, in recognition of the larger community they intend to serve.  Personally, I think they got it, and that’s the kind of faith family I would want to join.

I thought of that this morning when Zach at Vitamin Z reposted this piece from Thom Rainer.  (Yeah, the LifeWay guy… see, we can be open minded.) Click the link on the title to read the full introduction.

The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

  1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.
  2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.
  3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.
  4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.
  5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.
  6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.
  7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.
  8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.
  9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.
  10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

~Thom Rainer

What Thom doesn’t list here of course is the opposite, the ten signs of an outwardly obsessed church.  That, of course, would be a description of the whole Missional Church movement, and its characteristics wouldn’t be the opposite of these ten, but would instead would be indicators of apostolic, incarnational ministry.

Here’s a piece from Rev. Dr. Ronald Carlson with six characteristics of a Missional church. It’s a lengthy 2007 American Baptist Churches document that was only available as a .pdf file, so I’ve greatly edited and freely paraphrased it here.  But in the interest of equal time:

Six characteristics of a Missional Church

  1. Considers its context to be a changing mission field.  The church allows itself to enter into situations where the beliefs, culture, language and social needs are greatly different from its own.
  2. Is active in, and supportive of missions. The church frees up its members to be involved in longer term projects, according to individuals gifts and abilities.
  3. Gives recognition to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  In other words, the mandate to make disciples and the mandate to go out and be ‘love in action’ are not mutually exclusive but are one and the same.  You can’t have one without the other, and if you over-emphasize one you are under-emphasizing the other.
  4. Recognizes that all people are both the subject and object of mission. We exist not to be served but to serve, but also need to be reminded that Jesus received the service of others offered to him. Again, there is a balance.
  5. Engages in transforming persons, systems, cultures, and communities.  This includes transforming the church itself by creating new structures but know when to discontinue others.  This is best accomplished through a partial assimilation into the broader culture; something we often tend to want to avoid.
  6. Multiplies churches, disciples, mission. This is done not through cloning the original, but by constantly creating new teams and projects which spring from the original and its purpose but may take different forms to accomplish different purposes.

Michael Frost’s Five Characteristics of a Missional Community is also worth remembering:

  1. Bless. We will bless at least one other member of our community every day.
  2. Eat. We will east with other members of our community at least three times a week.
  3. Listen. We will commit ourselves weekly to listening to the promptings of God in our lives.
  4. Learn. We will read from the Gospels each week and remain diligent in learning more about Jesus.
  5. Sent. We will see our daily life as an expression of our sent-ness by God into this world.

Okay, my sod turning picture turned out to be for a sports club.  I was going to change it — and did once already –  but it best captured what I was going for, though I doubt they closed in prayer. Of course because I tagged it “church sod turning,”  now it will turn up in image searches perpetuating the error; another reason why you can’t believe anything you see on the internet.


I also meant to say here that articles like Rainer’s as good as they are, a dime a dozen in the Christian blogosphere.  It’s so easy — and I fall into this trap, also — to simply offer criticism and point out errors and negative traits present in many of our churches. That’s why I made this piece rather lengthy by finding a couple of examples of the opposite in order to give balance; but it is also why the missional church model is somewhat foreign to many people, perhaps even some of you reading this.  I encourage you to look into Michael Frost’s books if you want to uncover more.

March 3, 2012

‘If You Give a Cup of Water in My Name, Make Sure You Have a Permit’

All the people at Hope Church on the northwest edge of downtown New Orleans wanted to do was fulfill God’s direction to “give a cup of cold water” to partyers at the annual Mardi Gras (a French term meaning “Marty is gross”) street festival.

“We were given a cease and desist order,” said [Pastor] Matt Tipton… “We had no idea we were breaking the law.”

Tipton said volunteers from his church were handing out free coffee and free bottles of water at two locations along a Mardi Gras parade route when they were stopped by Jefferson Parish officials. The church volunteers were cited for failing to secure an occupational license and for failure to register for a sales tax.

“It kind of threw me for a loop because they weren’t in uniform,” he said. “But once they pulled the ticket out, I was conviniced.”

“We apologized,” Tipton said. “We didn’t know the rules.”

The church had purchased about five thousand bottles of water labeled with the church’s name and website address. They gave the remaining bottles to a local drug rehab center…

The story came to the attention of the Family Research Council:

Ken Klukowski, a senior legal fellow at the Family Research Council, said the citation was absurd.

“This is a perfect example of why so many people have a problem with big government,” Klukowski said. “The idea that a church needs a permit to hand out water to thirsty people is unfortunate.”

He said it’s hard to believe that the government would get in the way of citizens helping each other out – “especially a church which was just doing its duty to be good Samaritans and help those in need.”

Pastor Tipton said he sent an email to city leaders explaining that they were just trying to show their love to the city “and to serve the city.”

He offered to provide volunteers to clean up trash or even clean portable toilets. However, city leaders did not initially respond and Tipton said he was given the runaround – told to go through three different department heads.

Klukowski said the incident is outrageous.

“The idea that you need an additional level of bureaucracy stopping a church from showing kindness to members of the community is a perfect example of a waste of taxpayer money and resources,” he said.

Full story at Fox Radio News

This is just one of many recent stories of churches wanting to do what churches have done for years — such as giving out a free lunch — and discovering they’re running afoul of the law. What can churches do to meet needs and be involved in the community when government rules, regulation and red tape seem to shut them down at every turn?

February 19, 2011

An Outreach Piece The Smallest Church Can Afford

I first presented this here two years ago, but I remain convinced that it’s an inexpensive mailer concept that can be done by even the smallest church, and one that will especially resonate if your church is located near a mass transit line where people spend hours each week sitting on subways or light rail with their faces stuck inside a newspaper.

It’s a mailing piece that costs virtually nothing to produce, in fact it might work better the closer you can get to black-and-white, photocopy quality. You can also do a four-color enhancement of the idea with background gradients and even a photo of your church on the back page. Furthermore if you actually did photocopy them, you could target individual streets or blocks.

sudoku-flyerThe mailer is a simple 8.5 x 11 piece of paper (an A4 for you Brits) folded in half, producing a four-page layout. Each page contains the grid for the popular newspaper Sudoku game where you fill in the numbers from one to nine without repeating any within any given row, column or sub-square. Only on this the squares are all blank, with the first page bearing the text, “Sudoku Blanks. Because sometimes you just want to start all over.”

Talk about hitting two points of identification at once! This concept identifies with everybody who sees it, but for the exception of Canadian pastors I first shared it with who, for reasons I do not understand, do not read newspapers. (Or if they do, they certainly don’t lower themselves to looking at things on the puzzles and comics page, even though this occupies much of the time of anyone in their congregation who rides a commuter train or kills time in the staff lunchroom at the plant, or whatever, on a daily basis.)

The top two-thirds of each page are simply the blank grid as you see it above.

The rest of the piece’s text can be written as needed with as hard or soft a connection between your church and doing puzzles as you wish, In our sample version (available on request by e-mail if you can open a .pub file attachment) the pages read:

Page two:

You’re just about done and then you see it—two numbers the same in the same row, column or box. You try to backtrack a few steps, but eventually you realize the only way to win is to start over. Given the chance for a do-over, most of us get it right the second time.

Page three:

…If only life were like that; if only there was a way to get a new beginning a new start. But really there is; the Christian concept of grace is just that; the board’s wiped clean, everything begins fresh. We can’t turn back the clock, but we can get our record cleared and allow the scars to heal.

Page four:

The concept of grace isn’t widely talked about these days. If it’s new to you, or you want to unpack the meaning of a fresh start, let’s get together and talk about new beginnings.

Community Village Church
Sunday Mornings at 9:00 or 11:00
or drop by the office anytime during the week
555-555-1234
church@email.dot

I know that personal contact is better than mailing pieces, but if you think this has any merit as a discussion starter and you want to use it; just let me know, mail me a couple of souvenir copies and let me know how it works for you. Sudoku continues to be popular, and people will relate to this. It’s a useful piece of paper that may find itself sticking around long after other mailing pieces have been thrown out, and Joe or Barb or Dave might even find themselves making multiples of it on the copier where they work; hopefully with your church name intact. They may even drop by your church office just to pick up more blanks!

October 27, 2010

When is a Blog Not a Blog?

Normally, the Wednesday Link List would be here, and I’ve had comments both on and off the blog about how much you enjoy it.    Probably, it will be back next week, but today it’s not going to happen for two reasons:

  1. Although the comments have been most encouraging, the statistics tell another story.   Many people read the page, but only a handful actually click on the links in question.   I’m frustrated with that, and wondering how to change things.
  2. Some of the links have been to sites where I regularly visit and leave comments, and I’ve noticed lately there has been a recurring pattern where comments I’ve left have not been moderator-approved.   I think this is part of a larger issue concerning the “closed community” that has developed on certain blogs that I’ll deal with separately in a few days; but also the personal side inasmuch as I have dealt with various types of rejection from the Christian community throughout my entire life, so that on a subjective level, it hurts.

I’ve also noticed that there is an increasing tendency on some blogs to not allow comments, or just post the first half-dozen and then close comments completely.   One of the most glaring examples of this is Southern Baptist guru, Albert Mohler.    He likes the efficiency of using a content-management-system (CMS) to create an online presence, but isn’t up for the discussions that might follow.   I suppose if you see your page as nothing more than a “web-log,” that’s fine, but living as we do in a Web 2.0 world, the interaction is what makes this sector of the internet so meaningful.   In fact, I don’t know a CMS provider that doesn’t allow for the possibility of response.

So I poured this out in a heartfelt letter composed to Mr. Mohler, only to get back a form letter from his assistant saying he is too busy to respond.   But not to busy to post his daily encyclical.   Contrast this to Nashville multi-site pastor Pete Wilson, a guy who seems accessible on so many levels; or Thomas Nelson publishing president Michael Hyatt.   They’re busy, too; but they realize if they enter into this particular online world, it’s got to be a dialogue not a monologue.

The problem in so much of Christian endeavor is that people are dying to speak and have their views heard, but not so anxious to listen.     Many grew up in a world where Christian radio broadcast the message of preachers to a world that had no opportunity to respond.    Even today, the number of Christian radio and TV ministries that incorporate a “talkback” or “mailbag” segment is embarrassingly small.

If you don’t have time to listen, you need to reconsider the ministry of Jesus.   So many of his responses to people were in the form of a question; and in his case, questions for which he already knew the answers.

Although the comments-to-readers ratio here is somewhat lower than I’d like, I am so very thankful for the people I’ve gotten to know here, especially where the conversation moved off the blog.    I’m also thankful for being the recipient of the same hospitality from other blogs.   And I will continue to link to writers who have something to say even if they don’t reciprocate.

# # # #

FOOTNOTE 1:   The experiment in church planting that I did one hour east of Toronto — Transformation Church — had this as its advertising tag line:   “Ever wished you could put up your hand in church to ask a question?   Now you can.”     Interactivity is a feature today in many newer churches and the need for this is supported by many Christian authors.    But many are slow to catch on to this.

It’s also apparent in our evangelism efforts, where we ask people questions, but the questions have a pre-determined outcome.   (“So if you’ve told a lie, I guess that makes you a liar, right?”)   The end result is that we’re following the template of a set speech; we’re not speaking with we’re speaking to. That’s just so wrong.

FOOTNOTE 2 — Characteristics of Web 2.0

  • Openness
  • Modularity
  • User control
  • Modularity
  • Participation

For more information click here.

Here’s another way of looking at the “ingredients” of Web 2.0:


 


September 2, 2010

Taking it to the Streets

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:43 am

This is actually the third time this particular post has appeared here.   I never get tired of the quotation that forms the centerpiece of this…


Several years ago, a long-time customer came into our bookstore and brought with her a new purpose and a new motto for our business, “marketplace ministry.” It was a fresh vision and a reminder that we should try to be more present in the public square, in civic life, and less dependent on churches which so often let us down.

The phrase “marketplace ministry” also reminded me of this quotation:

“I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace, as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a high cross between two thieves: on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew, in Latin and in Greek…. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble. Because that’s where He died. And that is what He died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about.”

This quotation belongs to Scottish theologian Dr. George MacLeod (1895 – 1991). According to Wikipedia, MacLeod is also the founder of the Iona Community, an ecumenical movement committed to social justice issues and “seeking new ways to live the gospel of Jesus in today’s world.” Most of its activities take place on the Isle of Iona and its interdenominational liturgies and publishing are developed by the Wild Goose Group, the name taken from an ancient Irish symbol of the Holy Spirit. (Apologies to “dove only” readers!) Its books and music resources deal with social justice and peace issues, spirituality and healing, and innovative approaches to worship.

Someone years ago taught me that so much of what the church considers “outreach” is actually “indrag.” We need to find ways to engage the concept of “marketplace ministry.” Evangelicals have long neglected issues of social justice or relegated the ’social gospel’ to mainline churches. But that is changing. And perhaps the thing we need to do in the center of the marketplace is to live out the gospel with visible demonstrations of Christ’s love, not just taking the quotation above as a call to loud street preaching. Is there someone in your sphere of influence to whom you can give “a cup of water” to today?

August 17, 2010

Abilities Church Mystery Donor Disappears

Nothing is more frustrating in ministry than people who say they are going to do something, or give something, and then never come through.   It would be far better for everyone if they had never made empty promises.   In this story, the disappointment was greater than usual.

On March 1st, I ran a story on this blog about Abilities Church, a unique church project that happens Sunday evenings in Toronto, Canada for people who are physically or developmentally challenged.    This church is being used as a model for similar projects throughout North America.

Bishop Larry Gaiters

Needless to say, ministry to certain people groups is more financially challenging, so when Abilities Church was contacted by Larry Gaiters with an offer to provide $5,000 monthly in funding, the volunteer staff and members were ecstatic.

But at an event scheduled for the purpose of meeting Gaiters and receiving his donation, he never showed.    Twice.   And then he asked them for money.

The story is contained in this story online at Christian Week, Canada’s Christian news source.

Gaiters seems to be targeting churches and organizations in the Toronto area, including First Baptist Church.

As sad as this story is, my take on it, having attended a joint service at Abilities mentioned in the March blog post,  is that if it somehow brings more awareness of the unique ministry Abilities Church is providing in Toronto, that’s not a bad thing.   God can take this story and redeem it.

In the meantime, if you’re in ministry, and a mysterious donor seems to good to be true, do some research.

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