Thinking Out Loud

March 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Random screenshot from this week's Phil Vischer Podcast because, honestly, we didn't have a picture this week. Left to right: Phil, Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani

Random screenshot from this week’s Phil Vischer Podcast even though there’s no reference to it in the link list, because, honestly, we didn’t have a picture this week. Left to right: Phil, Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani (Click image to watch)

Each installment of the link list takes on a different flavor, and this one is no exception. No, that’s not right, it is an exception, that’s what makes it different. (Maybe I should have gone with the “no two snowflakes are the same” intro.) 

Clicking anything below will take to PARSE, who own the link list, then click the items there you wish to view.

Like I said, no time for picture shopping this week, so Mrs. W. suggested we mine the vault for classics:

Purpose Driven Parodies

March 1, 2014

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:42 am

Earlier this week, a package turned up in the mail containing the book Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids: How Moralism Suffocates Grace by Samuel C. Williamson (Beliefs of the Heart Press, 2013). The book is a quick read at around 86 digest-sized pages so I was able to complete it in a single morning.

Samuel C. WIlliamson

Samuel C. Williamson

The author’s background is compelling. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:

  • My father was born in China to Pentecostal missionaries. My mother was born in a farming family in Kalispell, Montana.
  • Though sympathetic to the work of the Holy Spirit, my father disagreed with aspects of AOG theology. He became a Presbyterian and was a PCA pastor until his retirement in 1995…
  • I studied European Intellectual History, Philosophy, and Hebrew at the University of Michigan.
  • I served in missions overseas for three years and felt God say “not now.” So I moved back to Ann Arbor, Michigan and got a job at a software company. (There weren’t many jobs in 17th Century, European Intellectual history.)
  • With two partners, I bought the software company and worked there as an executive and Chief Product Manager for 25 years.
  • In 2007 I heard God call me to writing and speaking. I left the business world and began Beliefs of the Heart.

I agree with the premise of the book as the subtitle defines it. We are teaching kids behaviors and virtues which, while they are important part of passing our values on to the next generation, are not necessarily distinct from what other religions teach. The heart of gospel is most evident when we’re not living out the fruit of the spirit; when we’re angry; when we fall into sin; etc. The heart of the gospel is the grace of God. It’s that grace that sets us apart from other belief systems.

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids - Samuel C. WilliamsonAs such, the book is commendable, but as the author confesses in an afterword at the end, the book’s main title is mostly provocative; he’s not addressing specific Christian Education or Children’s Ministry issues here as he’s also concerned with the predominance of moralism and performance-based faith that is found equally in adult sermons and Christian books, which are often concerned with offering a “quick fix” or “ten easy steps” to meeting any challenge.

There were also some areas where the book suffered the fate of self-published titles in its overuse of bold face type (though thankfully, not capital letters) on things like the titles of other works or for emphasis where italics is the common standard. I mention that only because I think that if some of the chapters were fleshed out more, and the book went through more editorial vetting, a major publisher could pick up this title, even though Christian publishers are not spared in the sixth chapter!

All that said, there was enough of interest here to render this worthy of recommendation and the above comments notwithstanding, I think that Christian educators and Sunday School teachers should give this a look as well, especially given its pricing at only $5.99 US, and especially due to a chapter on how simply teaching moralism may be part of the reason kids exit the church as soon as they’re old enough. As John and Kim Walton showed us in a much longer work, The Bible Story Handbook (Crossway), too often we are pulling out the wrong interpretation or spinning the story incorrectly anyway.

I encourage you to check out the author’s blog BeliefsOfTheHeart.com where you’ll also find more info on the book and podcasts. The book is available from A-zon online or if you order through a bookstore, you can tell them it’s available from Ingram using ISBN 9781941024003.

Sometimes I’m very happy to write a review and move on, but this time around, my appreciation of this little book grew as I wrote this analysis. If anything here or on the author’s blog resonates with you, I hope you’ll track it down.

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.

January 12, 2014

Single Story Reaches Two Diverse Audiences

I want us to think today about the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15. I’m assuming the story is somewhat familiar to you. If not, take the time to read it here.

I’ve been reading an advance copy of the book AHA by Kyle Idleman, releasing in the spring, and he noted something that my wife said we’ve heard before, but it struck me rather fresh this time. After completely digesting the story, Kyle returned to the setup that Luke provides in the first two verses:

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered…  (emphasis added)

There you see two distinct audiences for Jesus’ story: Tax collectors and sinners — interesting distinction, don’t you think? — representing the younger brother in the story who returns to his father at the end to say, “I have sinned…” and Pharisees and teachers of the law represented the older brother in the story. Kyle even hints that finding a way to reach the hearts of that second group may have more to do with how the particular story was crafted.

AHA Kyle IdlemanIn many respects, this represents the two types of people who sit near us at any given weekend church service. If your church is doing it right; you’ve got people from the community who you and your fellow church members are inviting who are on the road to crossing the line of faith, or have recently come into fellowship and are seeing everything for the first time. Then, you’ve got what is probably a majority of people who have been in church since they were minus-nine months; the Sunday School teachers, choir/worship team members, committee members, ushers, elders, deacons, etc.

Is every Sunday’s sermon a Prodigal Son type of story that bridges the two audiences? I can picture myself coming to your church and preaching this story and impressing everyone with how it reaches both types of people, but then what do the following week for an encore?

I was first made to think about this when I had the privilege of hearing Keith Green in concert several times before his death in 1982. (Did I just give away my age?) Keith was one of the most spiritually focused Christian musicians I have ever encountered and he easily bridged the gap between two kinds of audience members by stressing the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The call that Jesus makes in scripture is a call to people who are (a) hungry and thirsty and (b) people who need to have that hunger and thirst — that desire for God — perpetually stimulated. There is a saying that, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, but you can put salt in its oats to make it thirsty.‘ (Okay, you’re probably less familiar with that last bit.)

Psalm 42:1 (NiRV) states:

A deer longs for streams of water.
God, I long for you in the same way.

God wants to cultivate within us a hunger and thirst for Him. The person who has been a Christ-follower for 40-years needs this just as much as the person who has been a Christian for 40 minutes.

I believe it was Keith Green himself who pointed out that the word saviour occurs 37 times in the King James translation, while Lord appears 7836 times. That’s a ratio of nearly 212 to one. Our evangelistic and pre-evangelistic efforts are great as far as they go, but Christ’s intent is nothing less than that we make Him Lord over all our lives. If you ever find yourself facing two spiritually different audiences simultaneously, teach the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Bringing our lives in subjection to him is something the Prodigal Son story teaches both to the younger brothers and older brothers in the crowd; the message cuts across both demographics.


As I approached the end of the book, there were two brief things that also struck me that I wanted to share here.

“Let’s say the Prodigal Son lived in our culture today. He would have run out of money, but then, in order to prolong the pleasure, he would have continued his wild living by racking up credit-card debt. How much more would that have complicated his story? How much worse would it have been for the son to arrive home with looming debt? Picture him saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I have no money, and by the way, some creditors are coming, and I owe twice what my inheritance was worth.’ The longer we try and prolong the pleasure, the greater the pain will be.” (pp 168-9)

The other insight was in reference to the older brother:

“This is the problem with confidence in our own goodness. We begin to believe we’re going to earn something from the Father. But the Father’s house is not a house of merit; it is a house of mercy.” (p. 200, emphasis added)

Those of us who have been in the church for awhile need to curb the tendencies to fall into older brother syndrome, because the demand for Lordship that Christ places on us is actually greater than that placed on those who are meeting Him for the first time.

January 4, 2014

I’d Rather See a Sermon Than Hear One Any Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:55 am

This appeared a few weeks ago at the blog Saints in Training. You can read an introduction there.

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advise you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles and a strong man stays behind
Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.
And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.

One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to every one is clear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one, any day.

~Edgar A. Guest

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.

October 16, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Follow Me

Sometimes people say I don’t share enough personal stuff on my blog. Fine. Here we go.  As I compile this link list, my wife is frying fish in the kitchen. There. Is that the kind of thing you mean?  For the link list with the actual links in them, click over to the Wednesday Link List’s new owner, Leadership Today’s blog Out of Ur.

  • Ever wondered how the Catholic Church ended up with an amended Ten Commandments? Maybe there were Fourteen Commandments to begin with.
  • Think it’s bad where Malala Yousafzai is from? One writer thinks it’s just as bad in the United States where the daughters of homeschooling parents are being held captive and denied higher education.
  • Is it possible that we’ve missed a major nuance of a most-familiar story because of the placement of the chapter division?
  • Because it would be nice to know ahead of time, here’s six signs you’re dealing with a toxic person.
  • Programs, growth strategies, and ministry tools can all be helpful, but in this piece, a well-respected church blogger apologizes for seven years of misplaced emphasis.
  • The Hour of Power telecast is now airing fresh programs from their new home at Shepherd’s Grove, with pastor Bobby Schuller.
  • Facebook isn’t just posting your cat pictures, they’re also running the stats on info you provide, including your odds of getting engaged at a Christian college…
  • …But from a pastor’s viewpoint, what does a wedding ceremony look like when God isn’t invited?
  • CNN doesn’t so much interview Sarcastic Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber as it does ask for a guided tour of her various tattoos.
  • Stop the Presses! It’s a Justin Bieber photo album with pics of  J.B. with Pentecostal and Charismatic pastor friends.
  • Most Concise Reponse: Shane Claiborne on Texas’ capital punishment record.
  • September’s Best Object Lesson: Spiritual Warfare: What To Do When You Encounter a Lion. (Don’t miss page two!)
  • Essay of the Week: This week it’s another look at the (sometimes contentious) issue of infant baptism…
  • …while another writer suggests that errant doctrinal positions that led to the Protestant Reformation are slowly creeping back into Protestantism.
  • Most Linked-To Everywhere Else: An interview with Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell on the reigniting of his faith while working on David and Goliath.
  • From the Land of Unusual Allegories: Preaching is Basically a Hail Storm. (Are you making a dent?)
  • “Are we doing the right thing?” A prolific Canadian Christian author and mom to four boys on refusing to feel guilty in six different parenting departments.
  • Open Letter Department: Tony Jones to Marcus Borg: Jesus rose from the dead.
  • When writers Tweet older blog pieces: Michael Patton on reasons for and against the inclusion of the Apocrypha. (December, 2012)
  • And it came to pass that See You At The Pole begat Fields of Faith.
  • 25 Years Ago on this date (give or take several months) before we had the word ‘tween,’ the children’s music sounds of Prism Red.
  • Does your church dim the lights when the worship time begins? Lee Grady wishes you would leave the lighting alone.
  • If you’re in Atlanta on Thursday night, you can always catch the pairing of Ravi Zacharias with Jeff Foxworthy (and radio host Dennis Prager) but you’ll need tickets.  (Can’t wait to see if the next one is Hank Hanegraaff and Billy Ray Cyrus.)
  • When I say “Darlene Zschech” you say “Hillsong,” but more recently the word you want to remember is hope.
  • As wooden pews are slowly facing extinction in favor of chairs, this trend in church furniture has attracted the attention of The Wall Street Journal.
  • Married? Here’s a great checklist: Five Questions to Ask Your Spouse Every Week.  (Okay, I added the italics.)
  • Magic Musical Moment: Sam Robson’s acapella O Love That Will Not Let Me Go. Like that? Here’s a bonus: It is Well With My Soul.
  • Weird Video of the Week: Hosanna by Hillsong for Synthesia (Don’t think Michael W. Smith learned piano this way.)
  • Those “Get Inside Rob Bell’s Brain” mini conferences (my title, not his) must be going well, since there are two more events scheduled.
  • Last week was the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Tolerance aka the Edict of Milan. (Sorry I didn’t get you anything.)
  • Before you click the link, take a guess as to the Top 5 Bible translations in the U.S.
  • The Boy Scouts in the UK now have an alternative pledge for atheists.
  • King James Only advocates have a problem with the fact that HarperCollins publishes both the NIV and The Satanic Bible. So whatever you do, don’t show them this page.

Without giving away his age; Paul Wilkinson spent his formative years in Toronto’s Peoples Church at a time when it was Canada’s only megachurch, and attended their horse ranch, where one of the beasts once stepped on his foot. (More amazing personal details to follow…)

The upper image is from Church Funnies where it got 1,000 likes.  The lower image is from Christian Funny Pictures, where they’re trying to locate the artist.

vegan feeding 5000

Perry Noble’s Eight Questions for Pastors

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

Perry Noble posted this in January, 2009 as a series of four blog posts. I thought he made some great points that should be preserved somewhere as a continuous text, so I created this as a ‘page’ here, but now that we’re doing some blog maintenance, it needs to be moved. Rather than simply bury it under an old date, I thought I would allow it run again as a fresh piece. I do realize Perry is quite controversial in some circles, but I still felt this article had merit.

Eight Questions I Believe Pastors Should Wrestle With

by Perry Noble

The further along I get into this pastor gig…the less answers I have & the more questions that I ask. Recently I made a list of eight questions I feel like I always need to keep in front of me…its helping me and I pray it may do the same for others.

#1 – “What if this Sunday was the last sermon I ever got to preach?”

Dear pastor, STOP…and read that again. Think about it…wrestle with it, seriously, allow that question to consume you for the rest of the day.

If THIS SUNDAY were the last time the Lord allowed you to preach…what would you say? How would you say it? What fear would you let go of? (Hmm…maybe someone needs to scrap the sermon they had originally planned for this Sunday & just go for it!)

Two weeks ago I made the decision that I am going to preach every sermon like it is my last…because…reality is I don’t know when my last sermon is going to be…and I don’t want to EVER leave the platform full of regret.

My prayer every Sunday is that God will absolutely set me on fire…and that I will speak clearly and full of conviction. Galatians 1:10 is very real to me…and I want to honor Jesus by saying everything I feel like He’s put in me to say.

Pastor…if Jesus puts it in you…you’ve got to speak it…otherwise you are “burying your talent,” and all of us know how that story ends!

One more thing…the goal of a message like this should be to lead the sheep…not beat them. Just something to keep in mind.


#2 – Am I waiting on God to do something for me that He has clearly asked me to do?

Let me be very clear…the term “waiting on God” really ticks me off because…well…it basically says, “I am so fast that I outran God…and now I am waiting on the Almighty to catch me!”

Uh…that has NEVER happened!

We don’t wait on God…He waits on us! (By the way…He’s outside of time…He doesn’t have to wait!)

So many pastors use the term “waiting on God” in order to remain passive in their leadership decisions. It may work with others…but not so much with Him!

I was reading the book of Joshua the other morning when God told Joshua, “Hey man, the land is yours…but I am not going to ‘do it all’ for you…you’ve got to TAKE IT!” Joshua was NOT waiting on God…but rather had to get to a place where He could embrace all that God has planned for him before he was even born.
Pastors…leadership requires that we take action, not be passive and hope that by some miracle that God will handle the situation that He has given us clear direction on.

God told Joshua to go in and take the land…and went ahead of him as he moved in obedience to God’s direction…and He expects the same from us as well.
When we “wait” on things to happen…we play defense…and God has called us to play offense.


#3 – Am I willing to make uncomfortable decisions?

One of the things I have discovered in leadership is that LOTS of people can identify the problem, talk about it, discuss it, pray about it…HOWEVER, there are VERY FEW PEOPLE who are usually willing to actually DO SOMETHING about the problem…

…BECAUSE…stepping up and being the leader OFTEN means we are willing to embrace the fact that God is going to require us to embrace uncomfortable situations.

This question really stood out to me the other day when I read Joshua 5:1-3. Let me ask you a question…do you REALLY think the guys were excited when Joshua dropped this bit of information on them? Do you think THIS was the picture of leadership Joshua had always dreamed of?

NOPE…but, Joshua clearly heard from God, was willing to be unpopular…and God honored his obedience.

One of the WORSE things we could ever embrace is a passion for being comfortable in leadership. Leaders make tough calls…period.


#4 – Am I pursuing God’s heart?

One of the things I’ve been asking of God lately is that He would allow the things that bother Him to bother me.

WARNING…do NOT pray that unless you are SERIOUS. He’s messing me up right now…and revealing Himself to me in ways that are absolutely blowing my mind.

I cannot be a good leader of others unless I am a passionte follower of Jesus…and to REALLY pursue Him means that I am begging Him for HIS agenda rather than trying to convince Him to buy into mine.

NewSpring is HIS church…not mine. I am a steward, NOT an owner. The church is HIS Bride…not mine. And the things that keep me up at night with worry…if I will just make it my passion to seek Him I will begin to understand that HE’S GOT IT ALL FIGURED OUT…HE’S NEVER WORRIED ABOUT NEWSPRING, so neither should I!

This peace ONLY comes as a result of seeking His heart.


#5 – Am I trying to do this alone?

One of the things I’ve tried to do quite unsuccessfully in the past is solo ministry…thinking that I really didn’t need the help of God or others.

STOP…no pastor would admit they would try to do ministry without God…but here’s a question…how much personal time do you spend in the word…sermon prep NOT included.

In order for me to lead publically I need to have a passion to meet with Him privately as often as I can.

AND…pastors, we need the help of others! We will never be able to do EVERYTHING in our church well…and we should stop trying. God uniquely designed you for a purpose…and when we embrace trying to do everything we often wind up accomplishing nothing.

I used to HATE asking people to do things because I falsly assumed that because I hated doing something that others would hate doing it as well…until I heard Andy Stanley talk about how there are people who actually LOVE to do the tasks that I can’t stand. (Organizing, etc.)

Pastors…there are people all around you just waiting on you to ask them to do what you hate to do. They know you are horrible at it…they’re praying that you will stop!!! SO…ask for God’s help…and embrace Ephesians 4:11-12 and get others involved as well.


#6 – Do I care more about my sermon for this Sunday…or the people who will hear it?

This one FLOORED me because…there have been times that I crafted the “perfect sermon” and completely forgot about the people who were going to hear it.

Pastors…we are called to honor God by giving Him our best. (II Timothy 2:15) And we should desire to preach great sermons…but our passion should be for the people that hear them to be transformed by the Gospel…and for their lives to be radically different.

People MATTER to God…the sermon MATTERS to God, but it should NEVER be our goal to hear “great sermon pastor” at the expense of us forgetting to love and lead the very people whom God tells us we will be held accountable for.

BOTH MUST MATTER…one does not have to be sacrificed for the other…just something the Lord is teaching me.


#7 – Am I being faithful or looking for a formula?

REALLY need to spend some time here! In the fall of 2002 our church grew from 504 to 1,600 in a period of six weeks. In 2006 our church went from averaging 4,000 a weekend in the spring to averaging around 8,000 a weekend in the fall.

When I tell pastors and church leaders that they all ask the same question, “What did you do?” (After all, God probably had NOTHING to do with it, right?)

SO MANY pastors out there want a formula to make their church grow…and so they hop from conference to conference trying to figure out what might work rather than BEGGING God for a white hot vision that will change the community that they are in.
Here’s the deal…we didn’t “do” anything during those amazing times of growth. (We did move into a new facility in 2006…but still didn’t expect that type of growth!!!) We didn’t launch a new program. We didn’t really change anything…we just simply kept doing the vision God gave us week in and week out…and He blew us away as a result.

My job as a pastor is NOT to find the latest, greatest church growth methods…but rather to be completely faithful and obedient to the vision God has poured inside of me.

One more thing…yes, we SHOULD go to conferences…we should learn as much as we can from others…however, our leadership should be DOMINATED by REVELATION from God rather than INSPIRATION from others.


#8 – Am I trying to be the Messiah in my church…or lead them to the REAL ONE? Pastors…STOP trying to be perfect.

Our goal should be to make much of Jesus…and that means embracing John 3:30 and, at times, being honest with our people about our trials and struggles.

People can identify way more with our mistakes than they can our successes. AND they don’t need US to be the Messiah…but rather to LEAD them to Jesus.

Paul was honest with his struggle in Romans 7:15-20…we should always be willing to be honest as well.

My church doesn’t need me to be their hero…they need to know about Christ and how, without Him, I would be completely screwed when it comes to life and eternity.

One more thing…I am NOT saying to confess your sins every Sunday to your church…what I am saying is don’t be afraid to tell them about the time you were insensitive to your wife, you got angry when someone cut you off in traffic, the seasons with which you struggled with porn…

Leading with integrity is embracing honesty! We should always use our weaknesses to point others to Christ’s strength.

One more thing…when you do talk about your struggles you will have people criticize you. Just remember that when that happens people usually find delight in finding fault in others so they don’t have to deal with their own mess. They want you to be perfect…but they are not perfect…which makes them a hypocrite. Love them through it and always be honest!


Perry Noble
Senior Pastor, NewSpring Church, Anderson SC


August 12, 2013

How Preaching Sounds to the Uncommitted

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:35 am

On the weekend we went on a farm tour. I think the purists among the farming community call this ‘agritourism’ or even ‘agritainment.’ The owner guided us around her property consisting entirely of one ‘crop’ a somewhat obscure herb that some reading this might never have had contact with.

As we stood in one place in the hot sun for nearly 30 minutes, and in the field for about 60 minutes overall, our guide was oblivious to any potential discomfort. She speaks well and clearly. She is obviously intelligent.

More important are two qualities: She has a passion for what she is doing. It constantly leaks from the overflow of her heart. And she knows her subject down the last detail. I can’t imagine a question she couldn’t answer.

In the church, we generally give high place to those two criteria among the people who act as our guides, particularly those who teach us at weekend services. The formula looks like this:

genuine passion + extensive knowledge = audience engagement

In most cases, the sermons you remember because you’d like to forget them (there’s a phrase!) either lacked passion (a dry monotonous delivery) or lacked substance (the speaker hadn’t studied or had no depth).

The problem was, the farm owner had both, yet in our little group of six, I’m not sure how engaged we were. One person out of the six asked several questions however; this would represent the 15% of people in our local churches that some estimate are really into what is going on and are committed to lifestyle Christianity.

Bible teaching and preaching(I should also add that both my wife and I picked up the parallel between what we were experiencing and its application to church life. As soon as we were out of earshot of the rest of the group, it’s the first thing we mentioned.)

Now, we knew going in what the subject matter was going to be. We just didn’t know how that would be presented. For nearly an hour in the hot sun, we were presented with answers to questions we weren’t asking, details only a solid aficionado of the subject would want to know.

Now I know how preaching sounds to an atheist. We weren’t dragged to this event against our will; in fact we paid an admission to be there. So there was some interest, but not in the type of things that were presented. My wife noted a couple of things that were absent in the presentation; I’ll let her explain.

If the medium is the message, is the storyteller the story? Our credibility is born out of who we are, and our storyteller told us a story that communicated nothing of herself, or any other people. She shared an expert stream of hows, of dos and don’ts, of whens and wheres and hows, of so many centimetres apart and deep and high, of percentages and techniques, of days and weeks and months and years – but no who. We were told that the plant was native to the Mediterranean area. So who brought it over here and why? We were told that there are 57 varieties of the plant, examples of each to be found in a separate plot of soil. Who created them all? One little nugget that dropped was that her family had, until a few years ago, been market gardeners (implying a varied and multi-seasonal crop). She never explained how they’d made the leap from something so practical and communal to something so esoteric and exclusive. Where did this passion come from? There was no history, no personality. No identity.

So basically, all of our passion and all of our knowledge does not guarantee that our presentation will become infectious, or frankly, that anyone is listening at all.

I know that some people read blogs who are very distrustful of churches that try to make the gospel relevant. I like what someone once said on this: We need to communicate the relevance the gospel already has. I know in my own life there have been times when I was passionate and detailed about things that my hearers may have had a mild interest in, but I wasn’t addressing their felt needs.

Spiritual passion + Biblical knowledge does not necessarily result in audience receptivity, even if you’re the best orator in the world.

August 3, 2013

Who Plays “Supply Teacher” At Your Church?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:39 am

Preaching - Cake or DeathI’ve mentioned before that I have my feet firmly planted in two different churches.

This summer, the one church is repeating something they started last year where some of the (mostly) younger people in the church are being given a chance to step up and preach the Sunday morning sermon. It’s a great opportunity for these guys (and one woman) to hone their Bible study and leadership skills. As a group, they’ve studied sermon development and have done some practice teaching for each other. The results are usually spectacular: Great messages with both background and application.

The other church is entering into a couple of weeks with the pastor away. They have a list of usual suspects who do pulpit supply, but it seems like both ordination and ministry credentials are required. The pastor prizes education of all kinds; and you are much more greatly esteemed simply by taking a course. As someone committed to lifelong learning, I think courses are most helpful, but unfortunately what I do here online is informal and carries no similar recognition. In this church there is also a smaller pool of potential candidates, but certainly several who are capable.

Meanwhile, back at the first church, they are about half-way through the summer schedule, and while I celebrate what they’re doing, the execution of the plan there is — with a couple of exceptions — somewhat guilty of ageism. Most of the participants are under 35, if not 30. That’s the target. This church is fairly large, and growing, and the list is significant not only for who it includes but who it leaves out.

At North Point Community Church in Atlanta, Andy Stanley is constantly developing a roster of younger leaders. But when he is away — as he has been this summer — the sense you get is that despite the modern mega-church’s penchant for marginalizing older people, his pulpit supply list reflects a mix of ages, and doesn’t skew as young as the one in our town does.

In some ways I can’t complain. I have actually spoken at that church on Sunday morning over a dozen times when I was on staff there, and have spoken twice at the second church. But it frustrates me beyond belief to think that perhaps those opportunities from a previous decade may never return.

Mid-life crisis defined, perhaps?

I was torn with what to do tomorrow, but decided to help out my wife’s worship team at the second church; even though I’d really like to hear what the young man does at the first church. I’ve seen him in a couple of ministry situations, and I know it will be excellent.

It’s just hard to be sidelined, and realize that a generation of newcomers doesn’t really know who I am and what I am capable of. I guess I simply recognize my gift of teaching, and as time slips away, hate to see it under-utilized. But really, it’s more than a desire to be “the guy at the front of the room,” what I call a “gift of teaching” is more a “passion for sharing.” I wrote here about how I like to introduce people to ideas and resources they might never have considered, and with each passing day, I feel I’m better equipped to do this than I was the day before. 

Sigh! 

But while I want to celebrate what a particular doing is to foster the next generation of leadership, this is also a lament that more churches aren’t doing the same. Many people are greatly strengthened through sermon preparation. They need to be doing such things, or similar things, and your church needs to hear them share their gifts and ministry.

So what about your church? Especially those of you in small(er) church settings: Who fills in when the pastor is on vacation? What is being done to help lay-people mobilize their spiritual gifts?

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