|Happy Birthday to Us!
The brother blog — I’m a guy and I can’t say “sister blog” — to this one, Christianity 201, concluded its first year this evening, and begins year two of providing devotional content and Bible study discussion material. Its motto is “digging a little deeper.” Check out C201 by following this link.
March 31, 2011
I’ve never been prouder of an initiative launched by the church we’ve attended — off and on — for 20 years since moving an hour east of Toronto.
Call it “reaching out,” or “community involvement,” or whatever you want. Cobourg Alliance Church has decided to participate — in a huge way — in the annual walk for Multiple Sclerosis; a walk which just happens to fall on Palm Sunday, what most would consider the third most important Sunday of the year after Easter Sunday and Christmas Sunday.
The church will still hold worship services for those who wish to attend, but the nearly 200 people who have signed up so far is a significant percentage of the regular attendance at church in this town of only 18,500.
Participation also means fundraising, and the pastor, Andre Turcotte, is hoping that the church will be one of the top fundraisers in the area. Those who can’t walk significant distances will be acting as volunteers. There are five individuals and/or families in the church dealing with MS.
I’m sure that organizers of events like this notice a dearth of participation from churchgoers when the events are held on a Sunday. “Skipping Church” is a big sacrifice for those who grew up believing the place to be on Sunday morning is singing the hymns and listening to a sermon.
Instead, this congregation will be busy “being church.”
Though we will be leading worship at another church that Sunday, we will be watching this with interest, and praying that it shows to the local community that Christ followers are willing to, literally, put feet to their beliefs; not just ‘talking the talk,’ but, literally, ‘walking the walk.’
March 30, 2011
March 29, 2011
Youth Pastor: …So guys, thanks for coming out tonight, I think we all had a great night, and don’t forget to bring five dollars with you next week. I can’t tell you what it’s for, but don’t forget… five dollars. Goodnight.
[30 Minutes later]
Student Youth Intern: So can you tell me what the five dollars is for?
Youth Pastor: Actually, I haven’t decided yet. But these kids all come from wealthy families and we’ll do something off-budget that we wouldn’t have done. Maybe we’ll just order pizza.
Youth ministry is pricey.
Or maybe it’s just that ministry is pricey.
A piece at this blog a few weeks ago about camp ministry ended up generating some comments about the costs of sending kids to summer camp, comments which were heartfelt, but a little bit of an aside to the intended main topic of that article.
Then last week, my review of the Passion 2011 Conference music CD resulted in some off-blog discussion urging me to tackle the subject of the cost of youth ministry.
There are three ways to look at this, the first of which I’ve hinted at in the introductory ‘skit’ for this blog post, which is to consider all the “extras” parents are expected to dig deep into their pockets for, both at church and school.
state province where I live, the Governor Premier has just ordered the Department Ministry of Education to follow a new set of guidelines with respect to what parents can be asked to shell out for their children’s education.
There are various articles online about this, like this one, which notes:
Fifty-three per cent of Ontario high schools charge fees for art classes, 41 per cent charge fees for physical education and 26 per cent impose extra costs for music courses…
This results in the new directive:
Ontario’s Ministry of Education has released new guidelines clarifying when a school can ask students for extra cash.
Under the guidelines, released Friday, schools cannot charge for textbooks, science lab materials, art supplies or musical instruments.
Schools cannot apply a fee to anything that is mandatory, essential for classroom learning, or the completion of a course, including a student registration fee.
“There should be absolutely no fee associated with any requirement for course completion for graduation,” Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said.
It is in this type of environment that youth pastors have felt no hesitation in asking the kids — most of whom turn around and ask their parents — to bring money for this, that, and the other thing.
But there’s a second concern here: On budget, youth ministry can be staff intensive. In a somewhat smaller church we attended a few years back, there were five staff positions. Two were the senior pastor and the secretary. The other three were for a children’s ministry director, a youth ministry director, and a youth intern. In a town where many college-aged kids left town eight months of the year, it was not lost on the older people in the church that 60% of the church staff were ministering to the needs of people under age 18.
The third area where youth ministry gets expensive has to do with the costs of print materials and curriculum. As someone who is employed in a business that sells youth ministry materials, you’d expect me not to bite the hand that feeds. In truth however, the cynic in me sees a few hungry publishers simply trying to carve out their piece of the pie. Sorry, but someone needs to say that.
Everyone is tripping over everyone else trying to be first in line for a piece of the action. After all, the churches have the money, right?
The pastor’s wife had rarely not been at his side in their nearly 40 years of ministry, but bedridden with the flu, he trudged the walkway from the manse to the church alone that Sunday night.
When he returned two hours later, she asked him, “Did you give an invitation?”
He smiled and replied, “Yes, and I had two-and-a-half people come forward.”
She stared at him for a few seconds, and then said, “You mean two adults and a child?”
He winked at her and responded, “Nope. Two kids and an adult.”
The above story is meant to convey that, with their whole lives stretched out before them, the faith steps of a child or teen are vitally important. And many people who espouse this will say that you can’t put a price on reaching a young person with the saving message of Jesus Christ.
But somewhere along the line, that evolved into a thinking that ministry can take place on a fee-for-service basis. And it’s further complicated when the fees have to be paid “up front” before a child or teen can attend or participate in the event in question. And it’s even further complicated when the group is a mix of “have” and “have not” families; wealthier families mixing with people who have had to deal with foreclosures or evictions.
So it’s not surprising that some people are concerned about the effect of all this on the poorer kids on the fringes.
I’m concerned about the message that it sends to all the kids.
…Last time I checked, the gospel was supposed to be free.
March 28, 2011
March 27, 2011
Earlier this week, I decided to go out on a limb on Christianity 201, my devotional blog, and introduce a few readers to Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. But before I embedded Greg’s sermon on Hell — spread out over three videos — I decided to write what was probably the largest disclaimer I’ve ever done.
For that one however, I skipped the Howard Jones reference. But if someone’s got the time, I think “What is Hell Anyway” would be a timely song parody…
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past three weeks, you’re well aware that a popular Christian author has caused there to be much discussion on the doctrine of hell. Sample topics include, but are not limited to:
- Is hell a physical reality or is it figurative language?
- What determines who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
- Is hell eternal; does it last “forever?”
- Are there people who initially reject Christ who will somehow “accept” Him after death?
- How is the concept of hell consistent with the loving, gracious nature of God?
…and so it goes.
Who engages in these discussions? Again, the list includes, but isn’t limited to:
- People who have their minds made up, and militantly defend their position and refute all other views; some of whom view themselves as somewhat ‘contaminated’ by merely listening to other viewpoints.
- People who simply like a good argument; people who enjoy the endorphin release that comes with lively, passionate debate, or enjoy the ‘game’ of just asking the awkward questions.
- People who are genuinely seeking answers; people new to faith; people confused by the variants of doctrinal positions.
- People who are relatively established in their faith, but are interested in exploring how others interpret scripture and how that affects their beliefs in other doctrinal areas.
- People who don’t regard their views on secondary doctrinal matters as
“set in stone” and would be open to reconsider their position of the points raised by those of different opinions were persuasive.
I think we need to ask ourselves, “Which kind of person am I? Do I just like a good fight? Or am I truly seeking for some answers? Or am I simply open to hear how those with different takes reconcile other doctrinal matters?”
At that point, I introduced the videos, which you’re welcomed to watch. T.O.L. readers can leave comments here at this post. Link here for the sermon videos.
March 26, 2011
If someone asked you if you’ve heard the new Chris Tomlin album, you would be forgiven for saying, “Which one?” While And If Our God is For Us is topping the Christian music charts, six of the twelve songs on Here for You were either written or co-written by Tomlin.
His music defines the sound of modern worship in U.S. churches, so that’s why I’ve begun this review of the new Passion album with a reference to the man who was arguably its weightiest contributor. Additional songs were written by other recognizable names including Rueben Morgan, Martin Smith, Matt Redman, Louis Giglio, Matt Maher and David Crowder.
In terms of performance, five of the twelve songs are performed by Tomlin, with an additional one co-credited to Matt Redman with additional songs featuring David Crowder Band, Kristian Stanfill, Kristy Nockels and LeCrae (this being, after all, a youth-oriented project.)
With the exception of LeCrae — for me anyway, not being a rapper — these are very accessible, ready-to-sing worship songs. The inclusion of Rueben Morgan is a good place to suggest that Here for You is very similar, on several levels, to the youth oriented worship of Hillsong United.
The live album was recorded mere weeks ago, at the Passion 2011 conference with more than 20,000 university-aged students in Atlanta, Georgia on January 1st-4th, 2011.
One of my favorite songs is Symphony, which will probably turn out to become better known as “Stand in Awe.”
The deepest oceans, rising mountains
How they sing your symphony
Let the earth fear the Lord
And all the people of the world
Stand in awe, Stand in awe.
…After listening to the album again yesterday, I considered continuing the usual song-by-song commentary, but I want to talk about the event itself.
In my day, the big youth events were summer festivals, but with the growth, rightly or wrongly, of the conference ‘industry,’ more opportunities are available for youth to connect with youth from other parts of the continent for corporate worship, contemporary concerts and some of the best youth communicators.
If you’re in the target demographic for these things, you need to find a way to get to a couple, at least, before you outgrow the opportunity. If your church doesn’t send a group, start your own group, or latch on to another church’s group that’s going. The events are expensive, but just skip a couple of video games.
If you’re outside the target demographic, but live near an event taking place, find out if they need adult volunteers. Personally, I’d be thrilled just to be standing outside in the hallway when a thing like this is happening.
Finally, if you’re not only outside the target demographic, but are fairly certain you’d find the music far too loud, you can still be involved in something that is huge in the spiritual formation of a young person. Consider sponsoring some teens in your church, or, better yet, setting up a subsidy fund that brings the price further below the advertised group rates. No kid should be denied an opportunity for spiritual growth simply because they can’t afford it, and even in the most affluent churches, there are kids who can’t afford it.
I say all that because with a live conference recording like this, there’s a tendency to end the review with a trite, “You had to be there.” But in truth, “You need to be there.” Don’t miss the next one.
…I tried to find some good YouTube clips from the conference so you could get the general idea, but they just don’t exist, so for now, I’m going to use this unofficial overview, which had only had about 90 views as of last night:
March 25, 2011
I realized yesterday morning that I’ve accidentally become an Anglican.
Well, sort of.
You see, as an Evangelical, we base everything on the sermon. As the sermon goes, so goes the service. As the sermon went, so went the service. And you could say, as the sermon will go, so will go the service. That’s why, for example, people don’t say, “I go to North Point;” they say, “I go to Andy Stanley’s Church;” as if he owns it or something.
We like good preaching.
We also like good worship, but that’s not really a biggie since its now been proven that the Top 100 Churches in America — as selected by Outreach Magazine — are all using the same MIDI loops of Majesty, I Will Follow, and (for less cutting edge congregations) Revelation Song.
So given the choice, we choose on the basis of a good sermon.
I have three choices this weekend.
The preaching will be great at all three.
So I’m making my choice based on some advance information on the worship. As it turns out, I have in my computer the exact worship setlists from two of my three choices for the weekend services. This the worship-nerd equivalent of insider-trading information.
In other words, I’m choosing based on the liturgy. I’m prioritizing the liturgy. And as every good mainline Protestant knows, as the liturgy goes so goes the service. As the liturgy went, so went the service. And you could say, as the liturgy will go, so will go the service.
I can’t decide if I’m being discriminating, or if I’m being shallow.
March 24, 2011
A couple of assorted Rob Bell related sentences from Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi:
- Sometimes I wonder whether the Christian church in our western countries has become, quite regrettably, a book club. (March 18)
- Tweeted by someone else: “More offended by the ugliness of the Evangelical response to Rob Bell than by anything he’s ever written.” (March 17)
“Farewell Rob Bell” has probably become the most famous Christian tweet of all time, even though no one really knows what John Piper meant by it. T-shirts will be made. Bumper stickers. The Farewell Rob Bell Bible? (March 13)
- Becky Garrison: I am commending HarperOne for a brilliant marketing plan that got their product out there in a very horrible market. (Comment on post March 13)
- They [the new generation of Christians] will desire a view of the end times that moves beyond a Jack Chick hell, a Left Behind rapture, and a Hal Lindsay burning-planet-ecology. (March 17)
- Becky Garrison (again!): I’d like to mention that HarperOne has a slew of books coming out on this topic – Evolution of Faith (Philip Gulley), Desmond Tutu (God is Not a Christian), Speaking Christian (Marcus Borg) and whatever NT Wright is cranking out… (Comment to March 17 post.)
- It will be interesting to see how they [Bell and N. T. Wright] differ, if they differ at all. I notice that Wright’s book remains quite unchallenged by critics compared to what Rob Bell is about to put out. Maybe its weaker theologically and therefore an easier target. (Comment to March 9th post).