Thinking Out Loud

October 22, 2014

Wednesday Link List

John Calvin Pumpkin

Can you guess who that is in the pumpkin?  Details below.

Welcome to the World Series of Christian news and opinion stories. Two teams: People who are screaming to be heard, and people with stories they wish we didn’t know.

 We leave you with the many creative camera angles of The Phil Vischer Podcast. (Bonus points for naming the guests in the comment section.)

Phil Vischer Podcast YouTube

 

October 18, 2014

Catch a Falling Star

image 1017

 

I started immersing myself in the Christian blogosphere at least a year before beginning to write my own, so I’m guessing it’s been at least nine years now. During that time I have unfortunately been made aware of the different tribes that exist among my fellow believers, and the degree to which tribal convictions isolate us from each other. While I enjoy the exchange of ideas that can pleasantly take place among those of divergent views, I have also seen firsthand the dismissive attitude that plagues attempts at conversation between people of differing doctrinal positions.

Despite this, there has been another feature of my personal ‘Christian internet story arc’ that involves people of all stripes, and that is the world of Christian publishing. Regardless of rapture views, Bible translation preferences, opinions on predestination, or positions on a variety of gender issues, popularity online usually precedes a book deal.

I have the luxury now of sometimes receiving books unsolicited, but most of the review books I get are things I have specifically requested. For that reason, my library is filled with authors who, at the time, I had enjoyed reading online and wanted to be in a position to promote their published works to others. Always, the books fulfilled expectations since the writing in question was already a known commodity.

Often it is the case that an author’s first book is the best. It says all the things they have most wanted to say. It is often birthed in the heart of the writer before any deal has been signed and there is any sense of deadline. At minimum, the author is offered a two-book deal, and while some authors just keep getting better and better with each new release, with others, the second book now imposes a commitment that must be met, a homework assignment that must be completed.

At the same time, the author is now devoting more of their attention to the book writing and dealing with the enhanced profile that has come with having a title in print. So the blog writing, the thing that brought them to the attention of publishers, often begins to suffer.

In other cases, to paraphrase Andy Warhol, their fifteen months of fame run out, and the attention has turned to newer voices. If they are pastors, their church growth possibly plateaus, if they are musicians, their new album doesn’t generate the same sales.

As a teenager I had one particular nerdy hobby: I would compose my own music charts. Working from the charts of other radio stations with a bias toward the music my friends and I liked, I sat the keyboard weekly and compiled my own Top 40 that was seen by a very select few each week and stored in a number of 3-ring binders. There was no direct benefit to me or anyone else, though I must say that I was faithful to it, just as I try to be faithful here on the blog on a daily basis.

I quickly learned the dynamics of charts. As the “last week” position was typed next to the “this week” ranking, it was obvious that some songs were still gaining traction while others were starting to wane. This of course, was in the days before SoundScan where titles now enter the chart at #1 and then begin a slow descent.

Today, I don’t bother trying to track book sales with the same diligence, though I do compile a chart for the Christian retail store I am involved with at least twice a year. But it is clear that there are always rising stars and falling stars both in micro terms of individual titles and the macro career of certain authors.

As I type this, we’ve watched another development take place in the plummeting of a particular pastor’s influence and credibility. While it saddens many as it should, there are others waiting in the wings to take his place.  Whether you get 15 months of attention, or only Warhol’s 15 minutes, the celebrity hunger in all of us keeps us scanning the horizon for the next big thing.

In Psalm 75 we’re told it is God who doles out promotion, honor, exaltation, lifting up. I don’t know why certain church plants go from zero to ten thousand in two years while others never receive the attention that results from significant metrics. I don’t know why great books languish on the shelves and end up in the remainder bins while others seem to crack the bestseller lists effortlessly.

I also know that within me is a desire to jump on the bandwagon only because sometimes that seems consistent with the idea of coming alongside where the Holy Spirit is moving. But is that always the case, or does human effort dictate what becomes Christian celebrity?

In show business there is saying that “The people you meet on the way up are the people you meet on the way down.” (The original suggests kindness to those people you meet, because of the eventual re-acquaintance.) It’s exciting to watch stars rise, it is sometimes painful to watch them fall. Both are taking place all the time, and sometimes there is a comeback or a second career.

The current chart status of a Christian celebrity is in no way a measure of their spiritual life, but their changing relative influence is part of watching an endlessly shifting landscape.

 

October 15, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Sunset - Mark BattersonThis is another photograph in a continuing series by people known to readers here; this sunset was taken Monday night by author and pastor Mark Batterson.

 

On Monday I raked leaves and collected links; you could call it my own little feast of ingathering.

Paul Wilkinson’s wisdom and Christian multi-level business opportunities — “just drop by our house tomorrow night, we have something wonderful we’d like to share with you” — can be gleaned the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and in the Twitterverse

From the archives:
The problem with out-of-office email notifications:


Lost in translation: The English is clear enough to lorry drivers – but the Welsh reads “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” …Read the whole 2008 BBC News story here.

October 10, 2014

The Clergy Caste and the Laity Caste

I originally posted this two years ago. I think I was somewhat angry when I wrote it. Sometimes that makes for the best blog items. Returning to it two years later, the anger is now more of a lament that things are the way they are in the church.

We had the option of staying in Toronto where we attended a church where people in leadership share the Sunday morning preaching responsibilities. But we felt God was calling us to a small town that didn’t have a church of that denominational stripe, or one where shared teaching was practiced. For years and years I had no regrets. But then, about 2-3 years ago, the regret just started pouring out of me.

I also think of how having to prepare weekly messages would have developed my Christian walk. Sometimes, I admit, I need to be forced into situations that create the fertile ground for spiritual growth. Mind you, I did do some messages back in the day that were terrible. It kinda works both ways…

…Anyway, what follows is what I wrote exactly 24 months ago. I believe in the concept of the church “setting people apart” for vocational ministry. I just don’t think that means they can’t share teaching/preaching responsibilities…


When
it comes to the availability of information and resources, these are interesting times. There is nothing that can’t be accessed, and as a member of the laity, it is easy to ‘pig out’ on all manner of commentaries and Bible reference materials that heretofore tended to be the exclusive property of those in vocational ministry.

Nowadays in any given denomination, it’s easy to find pastors who can’t preach their way out of a wet paper bag, and to hear as many stories about an absolutely phenomenal adult Sunday School Bible teacher with great gifting, who works the rest of the week on a automotive assembly line or is a cattle farmer, or sells restaurant supplies.

This week I was hoping to connect with a pastor friend, who mentioned that he had come down with somethingitis. I fired off an email joking, “Let me know if you need me to preach.”

Well, not so joking. I’ve actually done the Sunday morning message in his church many years prior to his arrival here, and for that matter, at six other area churches.

He ended up not being able to preach, as no doubt his somethingitis turned into otheritis. A mutual friend — who happens to be ordained — jumped in and filled the gap. I just chanced to hear about this yesterday afternoon on my way to the bank. After cashing a check, I walked back to my car and a strange thought hit me, “You’re not going to get those opportunities in the future because you’re not part of the clergy class, they are the ones who have the hidden secrets.

You know the hidden secrets, right? Well, actually you don’t; that’s the point. That extra bit of information that does not exist on line; the things passed on when you reach your 32nd degree ordination. The mysteries of faith that cannot be revealed to the common masses. The things not even known to that eloquent adult elective teacher.

That’s why the great chasm between the laity and clergy exists. There are some things simply too great — too lofty — to pass on to the rest of us. And that’s why the next time your church offers to help people ‘develop their gift,’ they do not include you in that gift-development if your gift happens to look terribly similar to their gift.

October 8, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Okay, so this was everywhere online this past week, but if you missed it here’s an explanation of the Biblical phrase Gird Your Loins. (click image to link)

Gird-Up-Your-Loins-2

Here are the news and opinion pieces from the past week that stood out. You can also read today’s links at PARSE by clicking here.

Because this is Blogger Appreciation Month, you can catch Paul Wilkinson at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, or @PaulW1lk1nson on Twitter.

Hotline to God

 

September 21, 2014

Climbing the Ministry Ladder

Filed under: Church, ministry, writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:25 am

Conrad sat in the living room staring at the “yearbook” that Central Church had given him when he resigned several years ago. Well, “resigned” wasn’t exactly the right word, but other than that, there was nothing about his time pastoring the 700-member church that did not evoke fond memories.  He was only the third pastor Central had ever known, and while he did not experience the rapid growth of his predecessors, he’d seen the church grow from 556 members to 703.

Not that it was about numbers.  Well, maybe it was. His first church was 168 members, but he was only there for three years. Then he jumped at the opportunity to go to a 289 member church, where he stayed for five years. Next, he entered a four year term with the 374 member — oh, my goodness; it really was about numbers; he couldn’t believe he had remembered all that detail.

Short StoriesBut Central was the pinnacle as it turned out, twelve years, and average weekend attendance just under a thousand in two services, with 703 of those people full members.

And then he got sent to East Valley on an interim pastor assignment, that ended up lasting six years. Smaller numerically. A little backward culturally. He was balding now and the 414-member church was an older demographic that signified, along with his own age, the numbers might start dropping. And then it did.

Before he knew it, he was doing a meaningless job in the district office waiting out the years to retirement. He had ridden the entire parabolic curve of church size.

He put the yearbook down and sighed.

“You’d better get ready to go;” his wife Carla admonished from the kitchen, “The service at Whispering Willows starts at 2:00 PM.”

So this is what it comes to, he thought.  Sunday afternoon chapel services in the local seniors’ home.

The pianist assigned from the Salvation Army didn’t know any of the hymns he’d bookmarked. “We tend to do Army music;” she confessed, “But I can do Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.”

“That’s all they ever want to sing anyway;” Conrad told her, and at 1:55 Whispering Willows staff started wheeling in the dozen-and-a-half women and three men who had signed up to go to chapel that week, plus two staff. Okay, a few of the residents used walkers, but he noticed that everybody that week had some type of appliance necessary to get them around.

At 2:00 he opened in prayer.  At 2:01 they sang How Great Thou Art. At 2:05 they sang Amazing Grace. At 2:08 he asked the pianist if she would play a little number from her Salvation Army hymnal. She gladly obliged, but the tune was unfamiliar and the melody was incomprehensible. But now it was 2:10.

Conrad checked his watch again. These services ran an hour, usually 40 minutes of singing and a 20 minute message. He knew he needed to stretch, so he asked if anyone had any prayer requests. “Just put your hands up.”

Surprisingly a woman in the second row did just that. He nodded toward her to share anything with the group and she said, “This isn’t the dining room.”

“No it isn’t;” Conrad replied.

Silence.

More silence. He noticed the ticking of a mantle clock he’d never noticed before. Things had never been this quiet.

“You know;” the retired pastor said, “I come here each month and I’ve never really told you much about myself, so before I share today’s scripture reading and message, perhaps I should share my story.”

So he spoke about his call to ministry late in high school, and how he had gone off to his denomination’s Bible college, and how he graduated and started climbing the ministry ladder. The problem was, as he had done before leaving for Whispering Willows, he was sharing more about the metrics of the various churches than about anything else that had happened in those various communities.

There was no story about Fred, or Jill, or Michael, or Jennifer, or anyone else. It was about the 168 and the 289 and the 374 and the 703 — there’s the high point again — and down to the 414. There was no reference to Carla standing by him in all those years in ministry, or raising a daughter and two sons in those various churches.

And then Conrad stopped. He had been listening to his own story. And he realized that it sounded pathetic.

It wasn’t that all he cared about were the numbers; it’s that he was bitter about never again getting the adrenaline rush associated with being able to speak to a thousand people each weekend. About being bounced down to a smaller church. And then left to deteriorate in a useless administrative position in the district office.

Another resident raised a hand, this time one of the men.

“You left out a number;” he said; “22. There’s twenty-two of us here, twenty-four if you count yourself and the woman who can’t play the piano.” (Of course he had miscounted by one, but…)

“Well actually;” he said, trying to do some damage control, “I think she did those hymns really well, she just doesn’t know the ones that are in your book.”

“Well I grew up Salvation Army, so hey, Miss, do you know Thou Christ of Burning, Cleansing Flame?”

“I don’t think we know that–” he started to say, but the pianist suddenly lighted up and launched into a rather rousing introduction, uncovering previously hidden keyboard skills, and the man stood to his shaking feet and in a loud and clear voice sang verse after verse.

As it turned out the song had a hook, a line that repeated constantly and by the 4th verse, all the residents were singing. Singing loudly, “Send the fire, Send the fire, Send the fire.”

By now it was 2:40 and he was back on schedule.

He read the text for the message, a sermon from the files of the glory days at Central Church, slightly shortened to fit the 20-minute window. In his mind he was back there. Two services. A thousand people every weekend.

One of the two staff members held up a cardboard sign that said “One Minute Left.” He thanked everyone for coming and gave a short benediction.  The staff members started getting ready to pull wheelchairs out of rows and into the hallway.

“Wait a minute! Stop!” yelled the man who had introduced the last song into the service mix; “That number you forgot. We aren’t 703 members, but there’s twenty-two of us, and we’re the best damn twenty-two people you’ve got right now.”

Conrad looked deep into the man’s eyes, and then noticed the smile.

And then he smiled back.

And then time froze and the staff stopped moving wheelchairs and everyone waited for Conrad to say something in return, except he couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. So he said the first words that popped into his head.

“This isn’t the dining room.”

 

September 17, 2014

Wednesday Link List

T-Rex Eating Icthus Fish Eating Darwin Fish emblem

The Wednesday List Lynx still prowls the office here after dark.

The Wednesday List Lynx still prowls the office here after dark.

Welcome to this week’s link list to those of you who didn’t already have it automatically download to their phone.

My wife makes these. I didn't have a closing photo this week, so I thought you'd enjoy seeing the puppets in an international mood.

My wife makes these. I didn’t have a closing photo this week, so I thought you’d enjoy seeing the puppets in an international mood.

Paul Wilkinson failed to find a suitable Christian media link related to tomorrow’s historic separation vote in Scotland, but you can read him the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud or devotionally at Christianity 201.

September 10, 2014

Wednesday Link List

From DailyEncouragement.net -- "...It is a camp for displaced Christian refugees in Iraq (Click to enlarge). Note the English on the center tent proclaiming in a very dark place, 'Jesus Is The Light Of The World'."

From DailyEncouragement.net — “…It is a camp for displaced Christian refugees in Iraq (Click to enlarge). Note the English writing on the center tent proclaiming in a very dark place, ‘Jesus Is The Light Of The World’.”

This week we celebrate the ellipsis, its utility as connective device, and its overuse. In other words, many of this week’s links were related.

Each week we scour the web for stories of interest to Leadership Journal readers, however several of our “usual suspects” have put up pay-walls or added pop-ups that can only be described as obnoxious. The goal is to deliver news and opinion pieces with a minimum of interruption and solicitation. Suggestions are always welcomed, you can contact me on Twitter, or at Thinking Out Loud before 6 PM EST Mondays.

Paul Wilkinson is considered Canada’s foremost authority on writing a Wednesday Link List, and he doesn’t just say that because he writes his own footer for this weekly piece.

From theologygrams.wordpress.com, a site I suspect we'll be visiting many times in the future

From theologygrams.wordpress.com, a site I suspect we’ll be visiting many times in the future

September 3, 2014

Wednesday Link List

The cartoon is from ASBO Jesus, which sadly isn’t being updated. The lower one appeared here about five years ago, and was from Pundit Kitchen.

They call it Labor Day because on Tuesday we all had to work twice as hard to catch up. Take a few minutes to pause and do some clicking:

Link sleuth Paul Wilkinson is also available for private investigations if there’s a link in your life that’s gone missing.  Or, for free, you can read his blog, Thinking Out Loud.

church and state from pundit kitchen

August 30, 2014

Methodology for Music Ministry

Yesterday we looked at some very superficial reasons which draw people into the larger music business with a hope that church musicians can understand their own music-personality type. Today we want to stay somewhat shallow in looking at the raw practicalities of drafting the music for Sunday morning.

treble clefFinding the recipe

If you look at a recipe, it’s always divided into two sections. First you have a list of ingredients, and then you have the instructions as to how you wish to use them. Worship planning is very similar. There’s a list of songs you want to use, but how do you blend and mix them? Perhaps there’s a song that is going to occur at the beginning and the end of the service. Possibly two songs might play off each other (i.e. How Great Thou Art and How Great is Our God). Some might stand alone, while others might combine into medleys.

Ingredients are key

You want to choose your ingredients carefully. Just as in baking, some elements might conflict. Some choices might be too spicy. Others might be too bland. In a salad, you go for color and music is no different. A seasoned worship leader will have about 5,000 songs in their head at any one time. Unless you get to plan a worship night, you’re probably only going to do about five songs. You have 4,995 songs to leave out.

What people are hungry for

Your job is to give people the means by which they can respond to God for his greatness and goodness, his holiness and majesty, his love and compassion; just to name a few. The songs should resonate with young and old, and therein lies a challenge. With different strains of ingredients (classic hymns, 20th century gospel hymns, Maranatha! Music, Vineyard, modern worship leaders, modern hymns, soaking music, Hillsong, UK-based songs, etc.) you can appeal to different demographics, or you can choose to present a more musically-unified selection. If you want to see a younger demographic, you also have to skew your choices to people who perhaps aren’t there yet. That’s risky, but some churches do this.

Appetizer or main course?

Some Evangelicals see the worship time as preparing the hearts of people for the teaching of the word. Some Evangelicals see the praise time more liturgically as valid on its own. I personally lean more to the second position. Still you want to know what the sermon topic is so your two selections don’t conflict.

Toppings

A worship time will be rather uneventful if it is just straight singing. You want to intersperse related quotations, read one of the verses before or after singing it, include quotations, or even do a “story behind the song” type of introduction. Many leaders default to Psalms, but some congregants tune them out. But there are exceptions; last week in our church the readings were all from the same Psalm and the songs chosen around that.

A shared meal

One of the values of corporate worship is that there are things we can do together that we can’t do alone (i.e. just listening or singing along with an album or Christian radio station at home.) The music should somewhat exploit the congregational dynamics. There should be some lively songs (by whatever parameter you measure that in your style of church) and there should be some songs where the beauty of blended voices can be both heard and felt.

When people like the recipe, don’t take credit

It’s very humble to say, “God gave me these songs this week;” but better to deflect the credit to the creators of the songs, or best, God Himself. “This is a new song, written by a musician who God is really using to stir us to deeper worship.” Or, “This song really focuses on God’s knowledge and wisdom and helps us consider how the ways of the Lord are so much beyond anything we could understand.” With opening statements like that it takes the focus away from you; you’re seen rather as a hunter and gatherer of worship that’s already out there.

We’re part of a much larger banquet

Occasionally, I would remind our congregation of the vast number of churches that were joining us in worship across our city, across our denomination, and in our nation; and then I would remind them that in North America, we occupy a place at the end of the timezones, joining a worship service that has been taking place around the world that weekend. Just thinking about that now, I am reminded of its potential to reshape how we approach worship.

So those are the superficial factors. But there are also some very spiritual considerations. That would make a great third part to this weekend series, but Laura covered that for us so well six weeks ago, I’m going to invite you to simply click here.

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