Thinking Out Loud

July 28, 2014

“and now it’s time to dismiss the seniors for their service…”

In today’s worship-team driven, seeker sensitive, multi-site, mega-churches, participation is increasingly a young man’s game. Relevance is achieved through having relevant communicators, so those of us who’ve been around a bit longer are often forced to listen to sermons being taught by speakers who seem to be barely out of high school; speakers whose primary qualification seems to be that they are standing at the front of the room.*

Three years ago, I wrote about supporting the youth in your church in their various endeavors. Days later, I wrote what you’re now reading; about supporting the middle aged in your church; the people who have suddenly become excluded from any ministry that is high profile simply because one week they forgot to touch up the single gray hair that has emerged just above the temple on their right side.

For Logan, 30 was the cutoff year. A crystal system like this was proposed for church worship leaders, but it interfered with guitar chording

In many of today’s modern churches, those in their mid-forties are senior citizens, at least in terms of public ministry. Which is a real shame on so many levels; but mostly because, given the chance, many of these people have something to say. I really applaud some of the next generation people who are stepping up and demonstrating real spiritual maturity when thrust into a teaching or worship-leading role. But for each one of those, there are just as many who, while they can wear the clothes, assemble the accompanying slides, and open with the right stories; they simply don’t have the necessary content to justify the 30-35 minutes they are usually given.

So what can your church do to keep middle aged people active? In the item I wrote two days ago about empowering your youth in ministry, it was a simple matter of looking at a problem and throwing some money at it. In other words; the greatest need of teenagers for mission projects — either global or domestic — is for financial underwriting. That’s not the solution needed to affirm your middle-aged leaders.

You need to be intentionally multi-generational.

Robert Webber had it half right when he wrote of “blended worship.” But beyond the what of a given church service, the blendedness (a word I just made up) must also involve who is at the front of the room as well as who is at the back of the room giving direction. In fact, I would argue that you can’t achieve Webber’s blended ideal unless you have people representing different constituencies in the church providing input to the worship team.

Today’s church is so totally youth cultured, that it’s not hard to imagine the following:

“As we sing the next verse, we’ll invite everyone over 55 to come to the front; we have a special story for you; and then we’ll have a word of prayer and dismiss you to your own service in the church basement, where we have milk and cookies just for you.”

High fiber cookies, presumably.

No, that would be wrong. The capital-C Church of Jesus Christ is an equalizer. Rich and poor. Male and female. Labor class and management class. AND: Old and young. The target demographic should be defined as “anyone with a pulse.” The message of the gospel is a call to each and everyone.

Because the pastors and leaders who operate under a youth culture paradigm are going to find themselves — in just a year or two — suddenly out of a job. In fact the crystal on the inside palm of their hands is getting ready to turn red right now.




*For any of my local readers; this was written quite some time ago. The young man who spoke at our church on Sunday was amazing; I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the sermon.  Sometimes the timing of an article is awkward!!

July 22, 2014

Guest Post: Carlo Raponi — Sudden Urgency

Carlo Raponi is Evangelism Outreach Director with Kawartha Youth Unlimited, a Youth for Christ chapter in Peterborough, a city about 75 minutes northeast of Toronto, Canada. This is his second time at Thinking Out Loud.


There is not a day that I can remember where I’ve woken up alone in the world. Literally. I have no memory of any day of my life where I spent a whole day without ever encountering a single person. I think that if this ever happened it would carry with it a strange unfamiliar feeling that only gets seen in post-apocalyptic horror films. Instead, I, like all of us, am surrounded by people every day.

Most of the people we see are people we don’t know, many are people that we do; and some we only get to see on occasion. However they are all people that come into our spheres of influence. They are people with whom we have a chance to share the message of Jesus. Some of these encounters afford us time to develop His narrative slowly; other encounters require a faster and more succinct explanation of His hope. Either way, they all pass before us with a ‘best before’ date invisibly stamped upon them.

Last weekend one of the youth that attends The Bridge Youth Center told me that she’s moved to Toronto. She was only in town to deal with some court issues and then she would be returning back to the city. She is a girl that I have known for a few years now. When she first began coming in to the youth center she was a walking terror. Loud, boisterous and with a stubbornness that seemed incorrigible…she reminded me a little of myself. Perhaps that’s why we connected so well. But now she would be leaving, possibly for good. And so I apologized to her.

She asked me why I needed to apologize and I told her that in the years we have known each other I have approached the subject of our need for Jesus and who He is, but I never sat her down and REALLY challenged her. The ‘time’ never seemed right or the ’occasion’ didn’t present itself. There always seemed to be a reason that trumped the moment. Now she was leaving and I felt that I had done her wrong by not introducing her to the greatest thing she could ever possess – a relationship with the one who could change everything she knew about everything she knows.

I told her about a friend who’s younger brother had asked him the awkward question. He asked if he thought that the young brother would go to hell for not believing in Jesus. When the awkward reply came out as a ‘yes’ the younger brother’s response was, “…then if you love me, why haven’t you sat me down to tell me about Jesus?”

I told her that I owed her an apology because I wasn’t intentional enough to prove that I care by sharing this truth with her. The conversation that ensued was beautiful and honest, on both our behalves. It ended with her making a promise to find a church that she likes and to attend it 3 times. After that she could do as she pleases. With a smile she made me a pinky-promised that turned into a weird handshake of sorts (then I took this picture of it for proof).

the handshake

Now I must entrust her faith into the hands of God and the actions of others who I hope will do a better and more proactive job than I did. But I won’t forget this lesson. People pass in front of us every day. We’re surrounded by people all the time. There is a reason for this.

 ~ Carlo Raponi

 


 

Previously at Thinking out Loud: Three Conversations and a Wedding (March 2012)

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 17, 2014

When Outrage Becomes Fashionable

Last week Leadership Journal — the same organization that publishes my Wednesday Link List — stirred up a hornets’ nest when they published an article by a former youth pastor now serving time in prison for sexually abusing a girl in the youth group.

For people who have had to deal with any kind of sexual abuse, this article struck a lot nerves, but not in the way you might think. Rather, there was a groundswell of feeling that the language in the piece elevated the author beyond what he deserves, that it appeared to be prescriptive at a time the author should not be giving advice, and that it somewhat soft-pedaled what took place using words like affair or relationship when the legal system would clearly define it as rape.

To publish or not to publishThat Leadership Journal is a division of Christianity Today, Inc. only added to the controversy.

I became aware of this taking place on Twitter — where readers seized the hashtag #takedownthatpost — and followed it early on in real time since I now have more than a passing interest in what happens at LJ and CT. Later Tweets revealed that several Leadership Journal staffers were away at the time, but eventually a three-paragraph disclaimer was added to the beginning of the story, and then, about a day later, the six-page post was removed entirely with an apology.

I think, at that point, removing the article was the only sensible thing to do.

Rather, what concerns me is something I felt while all this was going on, namely that being outraged by this particular article became a Twitter trend. People, some of whom I am quite sure have never paid LJ any attention prior to this, simply joined the bandwagon because that was the correct thing to do.Again, I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the subject the article discussed. I merely want to make an observation here that for a few days last week, moral outrage became fashionable.

protest signSocial media has the potential to raise issues that are important, but when objection to a particular piece becomes trendy, I have to wonder if the outrage stems from deeply held convictions or if the the publication that is the subject of the outrage is simply being bullied into trashing the piece. As a regular reader of the weekly column by the Public Editor of Canada’s largest newspaper, I know that “You should never have published that article,” is an oft-heard refrain.

The article had it its issues. But as I pointed out in another blog post last week, the rule caveat lector always applies: “Let the reader beware;” or more literally, “be wary.” The author wrote what he felt about the whole issue, and yes, perhaps he is in denial about some aspects of what he did. Then again, maybe he simply wanted to write something that presented himself well.

The other question is one of the appropriateness of the forum the author was given. No doubt some felt that anything in the CT family simply gave the article too much profile; but the outrage that followed would only add to the website traffic.

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So…we have guest posts here sometimes. Would I have printed the article?

I think I would have been attracted by the idea that a convicted felon — incarcerated for something he did while on staff of a local church — would want to use my blog to tell his story. The inside nature of the story, or the exclusive release of the story would probably temper my desire to do some careful editing; and communication for the purpose of making changes might have been difficult.

Faced with objection and outrage, I might at first dig in my heels; and then I probably would start thinking about damage control after several days; basically exactly what CT did.

The situation would only complicate if I were working with a skeleton staff during summer holidays.

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The writer wanted to do something that would be redemptive for other student pastors who are vulnerable to temptation.

Instead we ended up with something that was prescriptive for editors faced with the temptation to run a story which perhaps should have stayed in the closet.

 

 

March 14, 2014

Lent Guilt

Filed under: cartoons — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

So which dies faster, New Year’s resolutions or Lent promises? If you’ve failed to give up something you can take some consolation in the fact that nowhere in scripture is this particular ritual sacrifice taught.

Which brings us to today’s infographic. The people at Twentyonehundred Productions — a division of InterVaristy — come up with these on a regular basis on their Facebook page. We thought we’d borrow this one in exchange for telling you to that, if there’s an IV chapter in your city or town, be sure to support them. If not, buy an IVP book or two!

Lent Guilt

If you liked that one, check out the latest Worship Poses: Olympic Figure Skating Edition.

February 25, 2014

Mark Hall: We Were Made to Thrive – Book Review

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River  in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]

Constitution Oak, a live oak at the junction between the Pea River and the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, Alabama. It is believed to be among the largest and oldest live oaks in the state. [Photo: Wikipedia Commons]


Like the book The Well by Mark Hall which we reviewed here in August, 2011, Thrive is both the title of a book and a compact disc. I’ve been privileged to hear the CD several times and read several sections of the book twice. While some authors may appear to write from a theoretical standpoint, Mark Hall is in the trenches, doing youth ministry first and foremost, and then what he views as a second role, as a musician with the band Casting Crowns.

Thrive - Mark HallThe book’s full title is Thrive: Digging Deep, Reaching Out and the subtitle and the cover telegraph the book’s outline and content. Using examples from his years in student ministry, as well as a few road stories from Casting Crowns, Mark delivers something fresh in each of the book’s 30 chapters. I’m struck by how he is both forthright and yet transparent and vulnerable at the same time.

The primary audience for Thrive will be people who are familiar with the band’s music, but really, this is a contemporary Christian living title that earns a place next to popular writers such as Kyle Idleman, Pete Wilson, or even Max Lucado. Almost every chapter brings new life to familiar scriptures.

I remember once hearing, “Part one of the gospel is ‘taste and see,’ part two of the gospel is ‘go and tell.'” That’s really the focus of this book. It is suitable for both new believers and those who are spiritual veterans. It is equal parts teaching, anecdotal and autobiographical.

I read parts of Thrive out loud this past week at our family devotions. I can only say that this was the right book for us and it arrived at just the right time.

Thrive is published by Zondervan in paperback at $15.99 US. Thanks to Laura at HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Toronto for a review copy. With both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson titles, you guys have the best books!

May 22, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Rescued

Welcome to yet another installment of “Let’s see what everybody else is doing online.” Actually there are some really strong links here this week, you won’t be disappointed, but I think both guys in the above cartoon are going to be.

  • Our lead link this week isn’t lighter fare. The Dictionary of Christianese worked hard to provide you with the meaning of all things kairos, such as kairos time, kairos season, kairos opportunity and kairos moment.
  • Todd Rhoades invites you to play: Who Said It? Oprah or Osteen? Before peeking at the answers, why not phone a friend or use this as a small group icebreaker.
  • Jamie the Very Worst Fundraiser admits that some of the pictures — and descriptive language — you see in missionary letters may not be entirely representative of what is taking place on the mission field. Partner with someone to read this. 
  • The church once known as the Crystal Cathedral will be renamed Christ Cathedral, while the people who once worshiped at the Crystal Cathedral will gather under the name Shepherd’s Grove.
  • The Christian teen whose song Clouds recently reached 3 million YouTube views, Zach Sobiech, died Monday surrounded by family at his home in Lakeland, Minnesota. He was 18.  
  • As of last night, Oklahoma pastor Craig Groeschel reported that 71 families from Lifechurch had lost their homes.
  • At Parchment and Pen, perhaps the reason many adolescents and young adults have faith collapses is because they aren’t properly conditioned on dealing with doubts. Must reading for Christian parents. 
  • Also for parents: If you’re wondering what to do with your teens (or tweens) over the summer, you won’t be after reading this list.
  • Catholic readers should note that there are some rosaries on the market that aren’t exactly kosher.  William Tapley guides you to spotting the iffy prayer beads.
  • This just in: “No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter the Lord’s assembly.” Actually, it’s in Deuteronomy. A must-read for guys.
  • A music therapist at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville gets kids to write songs, and then gets the songs recorded by the city’s best. A seven minute documentary; keep the tissues handy. (Love what the kid said who had a song covered by Amy Grant!)
  • Pastors’ Corner: What if your weekend sermon was more like a TED Talk? Could you deliver the same content in 18 minutes or less? 
  • So in a debate of house churches over traditional churches who wins?  This article includes discussion of The Meeting House in Canada which reflects the best of both.  (Be sure to continue to page two.)
  • Graphic of he week: A conversation at the atheist’s car garage.
  • Top selling Christian music in the UK this week is the band Rend Collective Experiment, according to a new music chart service there.
  • …And graphics for your Facebook or Tumblr each week at Happy Monday at The Master’s Table.
  • The subject of the Soul Surfer book and movie after losing an arm to a shark while surfing, Bethany Hamilton is getting married.
  • My video upload this week for Searchlight Books — sponsor of our Christian classics collection — was a scratchy 45-rpm single of Roger McDuff (the gospel music guy) doing Jesus is a Soul Man circa 1969. To get on this YouTube channel, the songs have to not be previously uploaded.
  • Baptist book publisher Broadman and Holman aka B&H wants to stop publishing fiction in 2014 unless the book in question can have a tie-in with Lifeway curriculum product or other brand merchandise.
  • Ron Fournier aka Tehophilus Monk has a short excerpt from the book Why Priests? by Gary Wills which calls into question the entire concept of priests in the ecclesiastic hierarchy.
  • We can’t do it by ourselves. Sometimes we need Outside Help. Classic pop/rock some of you might remember from Johnny Rivers.
  • Not enough links for ya this week? Dave Dunham’s got another 15 for you at Pastor Dave Online
  • During the week between link lists, I invite you to join my somewhat miniscule band of Twitter followers.
  • The lower graphic this week is from an article at the youth ministry blog Learning My Lines.

Teenager's Brain

May 21, 2013

Firsthand Faith: Making the Family Beliefs Your Own

Like authors Ryan and Josh Shook, I grew up in a Christian home. Years ago, I remember giving my testimony to the church high school group and being very clear that it wasn’t enough to simply ‘adopt’ the faith of your father and mother because that’s all you had; you had to take ownership of it in a more objective sense. Just because you were born in McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger.

Firsthand Ryan and Josh ShookThe Shook brothers — sons of Kerry Shook whose book One Month to Live attracted much attention — have developed this concept into Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own (Waterbrook Press). Although the book is written expressly to people in this particular faith situation, early sales of the book indicated that Firsthand struck a cord with Christian kids in their late teens and early twenties; the very people that statistically experience a great faith upheaval in what can be pivotal and transitional years. Here’s a sample:

We watched our parents step out in faith and plant a church when we were boys.  They had very little money at the time, just a dream God had placed on their hearts to reach the lost and hurting.  They started with fifteen people and from there it dwindled to eight after the first gathering.  Five were our family!  Now thousands are part of the church.  But we know all the little miracles God did along the way as our parents would step out in faith and watch God come through.

We feel as though we’ve had front-row seats to watch God working in our parents’ lives as they’ve taken risks in faith to obey God’s call.  But in a sense it’s been their experience, not ours.  We need our own experiences of stepping out in faith and watching God act. We don’t want front-row seats anymore.  We want to be in the game! We want to see God at work up close and personal in our lives.   (p. 108)

The structure of the book is notable. Each of the chapters is followed by a section called Making It Real, which is itself divided into Other Voices (quotes from people in similar situations) Think About It (a short study guide) and Might Try This (a variety of action steps and links to short films by Ryan). In addition to the Other Voices section, the book is very much the product of interviews with young adults whose journey contains the type of faith crisis the book addresses.

Firsthand is a resource worth knowing about that allows a specific audience to reconstruct the foundations of their faith. I’m not sure why the religious publishing division of Random House chose to do this in hardcover — especially when its target market is the demographic most likely to download rather than purchase a print copy — but the $17.99US/$20.99CAN price has not dissuaded buyers. It should also be must reading for anyone who works in high school and college-age student ministry.

A copy of Firsthand was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Waterbrook Press’ Canadian distributor, Augsburg Fortress.

May 15, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Giving Thanks

“For what we are about to receive…”  The human and the dog seem sincere but cats are always overly dramatic. (And why does the cat have a marking that looks like another cat’s tail? Photoshop? No way!)

Time for another link list. Try to have your suggestions in by 6:00 PM Eastern on Mondays. More during the week at Twitter.

Songs with substance: Classic worship

If you check the right hand margin over at Christianity 201, you’ll see that all of the various music resources that have appeared there are listed and linked alphabetically. Take a moment to discover — or re-discover — some worship songs and modern hymns from different genres.

March 25, 2013

Jamie, The Very Best Parenting

“It took me a lot of years and a lot of conversations with God (and with people who know more about God than me) to understand that everything I believed about my own sexuality was built on two huge lies.” ~ Jamie Wright

What happens when you have three teenager boys in the house, and your expectations for them come crashing against the realities of what you did when you were their age?

Jamie WrightThose of you who have been here for a little while know that this is a blog that places a premium price on transparency and honesty. We all clean up pretty good for Sunday morning (or daily blogging) but life is often messy, so when pastors, church leaders, authors or just everyday run-of-the-mill bloggers are straightforward and tell it like it is, they get my vote.

Jamie Wright may call herself “the very worst missionary” but she proves herself, in an article published on Friday, to be trying to be the very best parent.

This is a very explicit article that needs to be read in full, so I’m not going to excerpt from it here beyond the quotation above.  If you have children, have grandchildren, help with a church midweek program, teach Sunday School, or simply want some insight into what perfectly ideal Christianity looks like from the other side, you should click through now and read Jamie’s article simply titled Sex. (Yes, I know some of you are programmed never to click on that word online; however…)

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