Thinking Out Loud

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!

February 7, 2014

Churches with Loud Worship Bands May Need More Than Earplugs

Browns Bridge at Church Stage Design

As someone whose hearing hasn’t exactly been helped by exposure to loud music at Christian rock concerts in my 20s, I have a special interest in today’s topic.  It started with a Tweet by Kyle Idleman, who apparently visited Pete Wilson’s church in Nashville last Sunday, and noticed the availability of earplugs at the door. Kyle likes his music loud, so he was excited at the prospect of extra decibels. His wife thought they were packages of breath mints.

Is this common, we wondered? (The earplugs, not the confusion with breath mints.)

Sure enough, a search revealed a host of results, including a review of a church in Nebraska,  or this worship apologetic from Mike Pittman, church location not specified:

At Vertical we like our music a little louder than a lot of churches. How loud? Loud enough that you can sing out and not feel like everybody around you is listening to you (and all of the people who can’t sing said “amen”!). We have great sound technicians who work hard to ensure that our sound is full and consistent from week to week.

One of the things that is difficult about music volume is that people’s opinion is subjective and personal. Not everyone likes their music the same volume and with that in mind we have made the conscious decision to let the volume of our music be defined by the people we are trying to reach. This means that a few people thinking it is too loud is not reason to turn it down in such a manner that it affect our what we believe Vertical Worship sounds like. Our worship to Jesus is alive, loud and vibrant. With this in mind we decided to make earplugs available to anyone who feels that our music is too loud.

emphasis in original

Evidence of the widespread use of earplugs turns up in articles like this one “And don’t offer me any of those blasted ear-plugs; I shouldn’t have to wear earplugs in church!  I should just like what is being played and how it’s being played.”  The topic also appears on discussion boards like this, “if they handed out earplugs to me it would be goodbye time;” or, “It seems to me that earplugs would be the bandaid, not the cure.” (Link broken as of this morning.)

The earplug phenomenon has been around churches long enough it seems that it’s already fodder for blog satire.  “Handing out ear plugs says to the congregation ‘The volume is as low as it’s gonna go’”

The question churches need to ask however, is this: “Is providing earplugs sufficient to avoid potential liability issues resulting from hearing loss?”  I’m willing to wager that the average visitor isn’t expecting rock concert volumes at a church service. Last summer, we attended a youth service held in a former nightclub on the east fringes of Toronto and I was reminded firsthand of the volume levels that have no doubt contributed to the loss of high-end sound definition I sometimes experience. Really. Isn’t. Necessary.

And it’s not just the music. A while ago we carried this excerpt from a bulletin at North Point:

“This service contains flashing lights which may cause problems for people with photosensitive epilepsy.”

North Point Church Lighting Warning

There’s no doubt in my mind that excessive volume levels simply puts people at risk and exposes churches to liability issues, but all of this is simply another example of the modern church using youth ministry models to guide what takes place on Sunday morning. I doubt the early church house meetings in any way resembled what megachurches do on the weekend, nor would they even recognize those gatherings as religious in nature if they simply walked into the back during the worship set. 

I also believe that handing out earplugs is an admission that something is not right. Furthermore, there are all types of contextual issues at being presented with a rock concert at a 9:00 AM service versus the same band, same volume at 6:00 PM, at least for this writer.

I like my music loud enough that I can sing out, even try some harmonies, without feeling intimidated. I love the energy. I love the passion.

But it isn’t supposed to hurt.

Upper Image: Browns Bridge Church story at Church Stage Design (click to link)

Plugger Feb 25 2012

January 25, 2014

Weekend Link List

The Weekend List Lynx

The Weekend List Lynx

Some classic stuff from my files; none of this is new — most is from the Summer of 2011 — but it might be new to you. Mostly these are links I saved that I felt worth keeping at the time…

  • For those of us who are too Evangelical for Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” here is a new set of lyrics for which the author obtained a mechanical rights release, the way you’re supposed to. You might want to bookmark this for Easter.
  • “Are religious enthusiasts just naturally obnoxious? Or do certain forms of Christianity attract people who have an insatiable need to impose their beliefs on others? Do some of us simply have nothing on the the mental dashboard that registers “too intense?”  Classic Michael Spencer at Internet Monk.
  • And some classic Michael Patton at Parchment and Pen: What if the Apostle Paul’s story of the Messiah were a book proposal or a movie pitch? Paul would almost certainly get a rejection letter for having something unmarketable.
  • From a 2011 Pew Forum study, when asked what is the main threat to Evangelical Christianity 47 percent of leaders said Islam is the main threat  but 71 percent put secularism in that category.
  • There are a lot of blogs and websites for pastors about leadership, but Mark Galli suggests that what is really needed is pastors trained for chaplaincy.
  • Ten quick facts about Mormonism.
  • The part of the church service that usually doesn’t come under the microscope is the announcements. The author of this piece once tweeted, “I wish the bible had direction on how to do announcements during a service. It has to be the least effective thing the church does universally.”
  • Since the beginning of time as we know it, Phil Johnson and the Kalvinist Klan at Pyromaniacs have been offering us a “Weekly Dose of Spurgeon.” if C. H. Spurgeon has never been on your radar, drop your scanning speed down a gear and soak up his explanation of what it means to say “Jesus emptied himself.”
  • “..There was a bacteria in this youth-ministry entrepreneurial movement that has now been passed on to pastors. Because the focus was on winning participation, there was a little need or desire to reflect, especially to reflect theologically about the practice of ministry.” Andrew Root at IVP’s Online Pulpit.
  • Predating The Phil Vischer Podcast: Skye Jethani interviews Phil Vischer in April, 2012.
  • I remember when atheist Hemant Mehta posted this like it was yesterday: A survey that found many atheists who were also scientists enroll their children in a church program.
  • Ravi Zacharias quotes one of his professors: “Prophecy is very difficult, especially when it’s about the future.” What’s the future of western culture?

 

I think we’ll limit this rewind edition to a dozen; sometimes there are so many and people don’t know where to begin. I tend to be a “hoarder” with bookmarks in my computer; I hate to delete things, even if they appeared in previous link lists, because I keep thinking they are going to be needful and relevant to someone.

There is definitely a wealth of “backlist” items in the blogosphere that one hopes will keep being discovered.

October 30, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Pumpkin Theology

I couldn’t decide whether my intro should tie in with Halloween or All Saints Day, so I decided to play it safe and just get to this week’s links…These links don’t actually link to anything other than today’s Out of Ur version of the list!

  • The UK has become Biblically illiterate to the point where while watching the Monty Python movie, Life of Brian, viewers no longer get the humor.
  • The Liberty Convocation videos on YouTube are a Who’s Who of Christians thinkers and leaders. Last week they welcomed National Community Church pastor Mark Batterson.
  • Essay of the Week: This one will leave you speechless. A writer shares her heart in the middle of a marriage that seems like a giant mistake.
  • Analogy Avenue: One more response to John MacArthur’s conference, this one invoking transportation (trains and the lunar rover) from author Mark Rutland.
  • So here is possibly the last word on that kid who was given the name Messiah, and the challenges that could create.
  • After Natalie Grant and Wow 2014, the number 3 position on the Billboard Christian music chart goes to Bryan and Katie Torwalt. “Who,” you ask? They’re part of Jesus Culture, and sound like this.
  • Randy Alcorn engages the subject of pro-life organizations that use explicit photographs to reinforce their anti-abortion message.
  • The authors of the non-Canonical gospel texts hoped that they would be taken seriously. It’s our job, however, to eliminate the late stories and isolate the early eyewitness accounts, even though we’re tempted to do otherwise.
  • The only thing noteworthy about an article that advocates for Christians to enjoy dancing, is when you find it at the website of Associated Baptist Press.
  • When your kids have a question, do they ask you, or do they automatically take all their questions to a search engine?
  • If you get struck by lightning twice in the same day, you may be correct in assuming that God is trying to get your attention.
  • When you read the Bible, do you follow the Flyover Route, the Direct Route, or the Scenic Route? David Kenney reviews a new NLT edition I’ve had my eye on for awhile: The Wayfinding Bible. (Tyndale Publishing, you have my address!)
  • Resource of the Week: You’ll want to bookmark (or share) Sam Storms’ eleven factors that can destroy objectivity in Bible hermeneutics, along with his basic rules for Bible interpretation.
  • Passionate Teaching: I always love it when Wheaton College’s Dr. Gary Burge drops in for a midweek service at Willow.
  • In Detroit a female Bishop in a Baptist denomination informed her congregation that for more than six months she has been married to another woman. And then she resigned.
  • After a week of focus on Steven Furtick’s house and John MacArthur’s conference, who would guess our attention on the weekend would be on Mark Driscoll, as evidenced here, here and here?
  • Meanwhile, Furtick debriefed his church on all the attention they’ve been getting.
  • Here’s another article suggesting you take an Internet hiatus. What makes this different is that it spells out exactly how to keep important messages coming. (Don’t all of you do this however, or nobody will be here next week!)
  • Here’s a link that gets you eight more links…to eight short newsletter articles the National Association of Evangelicals published on the subject of Holy Humor. (Includes some writers you know well.)
  • …And speaking of links to other links, here’s what an Academic edition of the Wednesday Link List might look like. (Brian LePort publishes one of these each week.)
  • 48% of teenagers have received a sexually explicit message on their smartphones. A mobile monitoring system offers some advice applicable to youth workers.
  • Get Religion is a media analysis site which last week looked at the coverage of the baptism of England’s Prince George from two different perspectives on what wasn’t mentioned.
  • Got 3 minutes? Turns out Eric Niequist, the brother of Willow Creek’s Aaron Niequist has a film company which recently completed this very short film.
  • That wraps up this week’s list. If we could end with a cartoon, it would be this one.

The Wednesday Link List is produced in our studios just east of Toronto, Canada where, for the record, we don’t have snow yet. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this link list, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, is prohibited.

Today’s graphics were located at Matthew Paul Turner’s blog.

Amazing Grace Baptist Church Book Burning

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

June 30, 2013

Children at Church: The Place for Inter-Generational Worship

At your church are the kids off in another part of the building throughout the service, or are they dismissed to the basement part way through? Perhaps another world is possible.

The YouTube channel that I oversee is named after our retail covering, Searchlight Books, but consists almost entirely of classic Christian music songs that you can’t buy at Searchlight or anywhere else. More recently however, we’ve been including some sermon excerpts and this weekend we posted an eleven-minute segment from the Phil Vischer podcast where Wheaton College Associate Professor of Christian Formation Scottie May spoke about visiting inter-generational churches during her sabbatical. The full podcast runs about 45 minutes, and I knew no matter much I mentioned enjoying these each week, the click-through ratio would be fairly low, so we created this highlight.

This is a must listen-to segment for anyone who cares about church and especially for people in children’s ministry or youth ministry.

This is an audio-only clip with no moving images, so even if you are not on a high-speed connection and don’t normally click on video links, you should be find with this one.

June 29, 2013

Christian Camps Without Counselors

Filed under: children, ministry — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:57 am

Christian Camp

My wife and I met at a Christian camp where she was serving on full time staff and I was invited as a guest speaker for staff training week. Ironically, my assigned topic that week was “Relationships.”

Previously, I had worked at another large Christian camp which, in the years after I left, chose to drop the “camp” moniker in favor of “sports resort.” The “campers” were thereafter referred to as “guests.” In some respects, I was quite happy to have missed that transition. More recently, the camp’s name has become the brand and “sports resort” has been dropped, at least in the official nomenclature.

But in any ministry endeavor — as in the wider spectrum of life — terminology is constantly in flux.

Here’s an interesting change that’s taken place in the last decade: Can you think of a word in which the singular form is always male, but the plural form can be male, female or mixed? Answer in the comments.

In many churches that were around in the mid-20th-century, the person who directed the music portion of the church service was the “song leader,” not the “worship leader.” Actually, many churches don’t use the word “services” anymore, they create “environments.” And if you do call them services, you don’t say “Sunday services,” because that doesn’t take in the ever-growing popularity of Saturday options, hence “weekend services.”

Meanwhile, back at camp, I was surprised this week when my youngest son corrected me as to his job description when I called him a counselor: “It’s ‘cabin leader,’ not counselor.” 

When I pressed him on this, he explained that with so many kids coming as campers who are caught up in the net of social services, the word ‘counselor’ is loaded with baggage. While I’m sure that some of these kids look forward to the weekly gabfest with the counselor in question, apparently the term is pejorative for enough of them that a new vocabulary is needed.

And that’s just sad.

I guess it’s unfortunate that many of them need a counselor, disturbing that probably many of them are shunted around to different counselors, and sad that the whole scenario brings with it negative connotations.

Hopefully in the change of words the essence remains intact: Kids get away from family, friends, computer and life in the city and get to refocus in an entirely fresh setting. Between that, and the focus on Jesus in the songs, skits and ministry time, great things can happen in a kid’s life.

With all that taking place, it’s great for a kid to have someone to talk with, no matter what you call him or her.


Photo: Heartland Christian Camp in the mountains of California. Take a deep breath… you can smell the forest.  Click the image for more about the camp, or this link for more photos.

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.

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