Thinking Out Loud

April 11, 2016

How Are You?

Daniel White turned off the car engine and just sat in his car for an extra 30 seconds before walking into the church. On entering the church lobby there was a rush of sound as children carrying Sunday School take-home papers ran through the lobby, a woman at a table spoke loudly selling tickets for an upcoming banquet, and people engaged in conversation while drinking coffee from the church’s new café, open five days a week besides Sunday.

Fred Smits, the director of mens ministry spied Daniel coming in and with a big smile and a firm handshake asked Daniel how he was doing.

“Fine;” Daniel replied. But Daniel was far from fine. As he said the words, he was looking at Fred and internally screaming, “Help me!” The mental scream was so loud he wondered how Fred could not hear it.

“Good to hear;” replied Fred before noticing another member of the mens group arriving through the same door.

There is better acting done in that church lobby than you’ll ever see on the great stages of London and New York. People saying things are ‘fine’ when inside they are screaming.

So what about Fred and Daniel? Is it up to people who are hurting to be more honest, or is it up to the people who ask the question to probe deeper, to spend more time beyond superficial greeting?

April 4, 2016

Not Your Parents’ CCM

I realize we ended last week with both a Thursday and Friday post about worship music, and this isn’t a worship or music blog, but today’s topic just kinda landed on the doorstep over the weekend…


 

And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps.
 Revelation 14:2 NIV

There has been much talk about what the next wave of Christian music will consist of, and in particular, what the next generation will do with the enormous catalog of modern worship songs it is being handed.

Many idealists would prefer that the next generation simply accept the status quo, and that nothing drastic changes; even though that generation greatly shook up and shattered the paradigm handed it from their parents. However, a simple study of musicology reveals that for the past thousand years (and beyond) every period in music history is a reaction to the period which preceded it.

What follows is my opinion only, but there has to come a point when millennials reject the current styles in either large measure or in some small measure. People who agree with this notion usually say something like:

  • There will be an entirely new form
  • There will be a return to the hymns
  • There will be more of a blended worship approach
  • There will be new songs, but a return of four-part harmony
  • There will be fewer vertical worships songs and more songs of testimony
  • There will be less instrumentation; a minimalist or even acapella aproach
  • There will be more interest in Episcopal or Anglican forms; or chants and Taizé
  • There will be an emphasis on preaching, and less music, so it won’t really matter
  • There will be a decline of congregational participation, and a return to performed solos, choirs, etc.
  • There will be a situation where the congregation becomes passive, and music videos are simply watched

But I think a change is already in the works; it’s been happening for a few years now and it consists of

  • A rejection of Nashville as the music agenda-setting capital of the Christian world, with the next generation church embracing a more European sound
  • A rejection of the guitar as the primary contemporary worship instrument, with worship leaders playing keyboards, especially synthesizers.

(Apologies to Third Day and Big Daddy Weave; et al.)

Hillsong Y&F - Youth RevivalI believe that nothing expresses this better than the new Hillsong Young and Free album, Youth Revival. I’ve been listening to cuts from this over and over again. It puts a smile on my face. (I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s also the band I hear at North Point Online before and after the Sunday live service feeds.)

I realize that this opinion may not sit well with Chris Tomlin fans. I’m just sayin’ that if you have a choice between guitar lessons and piano lessons for the kids and you’re a forward-looking parent, I would go with the piano. As a keyboard player who never once got to play at a campfire, I realize the instrument has some limitations, but I think the next generation is looking for something completely different than G, C, Em, D7 or its many variations.

Hillsong Young and Free stand somewhere between Hillsong Kids and Hillsong United. I get the whole Radio Disney thing. Nonetheless, I believe they best represent the change already taking place. I leave you some samples:

March 22, 2016

Accelerated Social Change

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:05 am

Later this week, I want to look at one or two particular effects on the church that have been brought about by the internet, or perhaps one specific aspect of it. But today, as a prequel, I want to go back in time about 50 years.

We all are aware that the internet greatly accelerated social change in the countries that had access to it. The way we shop, the way we interact, the manner in which we obtain information, how we handle our financial affairs, etc.; all these have been greatly affected.

Printing PressThe standard comparison is that we are living in a time very similar to what happened when the moveable type printing press was introduced. Mass publication of printed materials was suddenly an option, and even more so when the presses were attached to steam power.

There was however, a small ripple of accelerated social change that took place in the 1960s and the medium of choice was the music of the day which we now know as rock. If you visited in a record store in the early part of the decade, the standard categories were:

  • popular
  • folk
  • classical
  • spoken word
  • country
  • marching band
  • big band / jazz
  • sacred;

but by the end of the decade, well over half the record store’s real estate was taken up with rock. “Drums and guitars;” wasn’t so much a description of the sound as a constant complaint on the lips of those who didn’t like it.

Let it BeYou can’t write about this without mentioning The Beatles. They certainly exploded quickly on the scene and were an icon of the rock music age. Their songs are forever identified with the musical style that defined the ’60s

But how much of this would have happened anyway? If you listen to the bands that were around in the pre-Beatles age, you certainly see the trajectory where music was heading. The group’s name is, after all, a play on words on the emerging “beat music” which was being played in clubs in both Europe and North America.

But in the wake of The Beatles, social change happened, and it happened fast:

1966 — Men for the first time in recent history started sporting long hair. It wasn’t necessarily the hair style of previous centuries, either. There was also a radical shift in fashion taking place introducing new colors, shapes, fabrics and combinations.

1967 — Psychedelic drugs in particular and drug use in general swept colleges and high schools. “Tune in, turn on, drop out;” was a motto that recognized the link between tuning in the music (on radio, the primary source for music awareness) and turning on (with both hard drugs and soft drugs).

1968 — Rock music became a unifying factor in the opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam. Protests spread throughout the U.S. “War! What is it good for?” is hauled out of the archives to this very day when America’s military finds itself involved overseas.

1969 — The Summer of Love. The Woodstock Festival and others like it introduced a sexual liberation such as had never been seen in the U.S. The musical Hair, launched a year earlier, summed up all the various things listed here (drugs, nudity, pacifism and of course hair itself) in a single production.

My point is that in terms of societal change, the 1960s were basically two decades for the price of one. In other words, change that might have come about over a 20-year period happened in seven years (if you track the Beatles back to 1963) instead.

beatles-cover-lifeWhy did this happen? Music!

Again, all this serves as introduction to an article coming later this week. I want to argue that the same thing has happened to the church, not because of music but because of the internet. By this I don’t mean church websites or live streaming of services, any more than The Beatles’ influence is limited to the playback conversion from vinyl to eight-track tapes. Rather, I want to make the case that a number of things happened in the same quick succession as we saw in the larger culture in the four years from 1966 to 1969.

I may not have the years so exact, but I think you’ll see that also similar to those years, the accelerated ecclesiastic change in the church brought about by the internet has come to a screeching halt.

Weigh in! If you have a comment that you would like to see form a part of the next article, feel free to email or leave it here.

 

March 21, 2016

With Every Head Bowed, and Every Eye Closed

Filed under: Christianity, Church, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:23 am

altar-call-first-baptist-church-hammond

Yesterday morning in church I had a flashback to the church of my childhood, and a part of growing up Evangelical which was common to some readers here and possibly quite foreign to others of you.

Our pastor’s message today ended with an emphasis on repentance, and he asked people who needed to make repentance in their lives a priority to raise their hands.

Or something like that. Apparently I was having multiple flashbacks at that point, and missed the exact way he worded it.

Anyway, people raised their hands, and given the theme of the message, I debated about whether or not raise mine. We can all use a little contrition, right? I blinked my eyes open for a split second and noted that a large percentage of people were responding. But something held me back…

…You see, in my childhood church, every Sunday night service was an evangelistic meeting. Almost every service ended with the singing of Just As I Am — the same “invitation hymn” the Billy Graham Crusade choirs would end with — and an opportunity to “come forward” for prayer. It was the part of the service known as the “altar call” even though we didn’t have an altar as such.

Personal workers would then escort the people who “went forward” to the chapel, a room furnished with the pews and stained glass windows from the old building and which, for reasons unknown, I always found rather scary! Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the church was built in the 1960s and everything was bright fluorescent lighting on off-white walls except for the chapel which was incandescents on wooden pews and wood panel walls. A dark place in which to see the light.

But before that happened, and before people went to the front of the church, and before the singing of the song, the pastor would ask people to raise their hand if they wished to be “included in the closing prayer.” This was the direct response to the message of the evening, and throughout the auditorium people would slip up a hand which he would acknowledge by saying, “I see that hand.” And again and again, “I see that hand.”

However, if you raised your hand, the personal workers, who were stationed throughout the crowd but mostly at the back would triangulate your location and then, minutes later, on the first words of “Just as I am, without one plea,” if you didn’t immediately step out into the aisle to “go forward,” they would swoop in like hawks and offer to go to the front with you. They were heading in that direction anyway, and wanting to get other riders to hop on the bus. (Mixed metaphor, I know.)

I made this mistake once as a preteen. My father, seeing that I was terrified of going forward told the personal worker that, “We’ll deal with this with him at home.” Whew! That was a close one!

So the lesson was learned rather quickly that if you didn’t raise your hand, you didn’t have to face an invitation to go forward for prayer and then be escorted to the Chapel House of Horrors…

…Which is why this morning I experienced that moment of hesitation. I didn’t want to get taken to the dark room, I guess; even though we don’t have one.

I guess I really do need to do a lot of repentance.


The image is of an altar call at First Baptist Church in Hammond, IN; the iconic church of Dr. Jack Hyles, which we visited once when I was a kid. Source. Judging by the number of people pressing in, and the empty spaces in the pews, they got a good response.

The church of my own youth is pictured in some magazines we own somewhere, but all of the pictures online are locked up by the vultures at Getty Images.

 

March 20, 2016

Why Go To Church?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:26 pm

 

Going to church

As I was driving to a worship service this morning, I heard a voice in my head asking, “Why are you going to church?”

I should explain that the voice wasn’t coming from someone with horns wearing a red suit and holding a pitchfork, but rather it was the voice of a repeated self-examination that I often do while making the ten minute drive.

I know there are various stock-in-trade answers to that question. To engage in corporate worship our creator and sustainer. To take time apart from the world and work. To honor God’s day. To fellowship with other believers. To partake of Communion. To give. To pray for those in need. To be prayed for.

Those are all good answers.

Ultimately the answer I find myself coming up with lately is:

Because it’s better than not going.

Let me say that (a) I know some will think that sounds lame, and (b) some will think that is simply an answer that is incorporating the collective aspects of the other usual answers, or the absence of experiencing those benefits. But I have to say that in my Christian life, I’ve seen the effect on people of choosing not to attend weekend services, and I’ve known in my own life the emptiness I feel during a week that didn’t start out with a gathered assembly of believers.

As you face the options of various Good Friday and Easter Sunday services in the week ahead, and consider factors like having to attend at a different hour, or facing parking congestion, or maybe just having visitors sit in your seat (!) let me suggest that the other option — staying home — is just not your best choice.

Go. Go expectantly. Ask God to meet you there. Ask what he has for you to hear. Ask him to show you someone to speak to that you can encourage.

And don’t just attend. Be all there; be all in.

March 10, 2016

Throwback Thursday

Recent comments by Dr. Russell Moore on how he wants to distance himself from the term Evangelical has sparked various discussions including one on this week’s edition of  The Phil Vischer Podcast about the rise of a new category, Progressive Evangelicals. I was reminded of a very lengthy post we did four years ago when a large controversy was happening over a book written by Rachel Held Evans.

We live in a time when battle lines are being drawn between conservative Christians and progressive Christians. I usually find myself standing somewhere in between, trying to build a bridge between both groups; trying to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy while at the same time recognizing that this ain’t 1949 or 1953 or 1961. It’s 2012 already.The world changed in-between; the world changed last year; the world changed last week.

We need to be mindful of the duality as we interact with the broader culture; as we live between two worlds; as we exist as aliens and strangers, having citizenship in another country; but having to live, eat, breathe, work and play in a world that’s not our permanent home. (See graphic below.)

To that end, we need authors and publishers who will translate our message into the vernacular of the day, or even the hour. We need books and book distribution networks that will illustrate Christian worldview in a way that people can understand.

In the end, the books we create should, at times, make us uncomfortable.

Christians Live in Two Worlds


If you’ve ever visited the blog platform Patheos, you’ve also seen that bloggers are divided into two categories, Evangelical and Progressive Christian (as well as Orthodox and Catholic, but strangely, not Mainline Protestant).  I’ve always felt that Patheos was ahead of the curve on this one in terms of making the distinction long before some had consciously considered the differences.


Another throwback: As I write this one of the many, many debates concerning Donald Trump’s aspirations to be U.S. President surrounds the idea of having someone elected to the position who is not a career politician, not a Washington Beltway insider. Some feel this makes Trump uniquely qualified.

Four years ago, we did a tongue-in-cheek post about a guy who is visiting a church and notices a board vacancy in the bulletin. He makes an argument for the refreshing perspective of someone who is not a congregation insider:

Dear Nominating Committee;

Visiting your church for the first time last Sunday, I noticed an announcement in the bulletin concerning the need for board members and elders for the 2012-2013 year. I am herewith offering my services.

While I realize that the fact I don’t actually attend your church may seem like a drawback at first, I believe that it actually lends itself to something that would be of great benefit to you right now: A fresh perspective.

Think about it — I don’t know any one of you by name, don’t know the history of the church and have no idea what previous issues you’ve wrestled with as a congregation. Furthermore, because I won’t be there on Sundays, I won’t have the bias of being directly impacted by anything I decide to vote for or against. I offer you pure objectivity.

Plus, as I will only be one of ten people voting on major issues, there’s no way I can do anything drastic single-handedly. But at the discussion phase of each agenda item, I can offer my wisdom and experience based on a lifetime of church attendance in a variety of denominations.

Churches need to periodically have some new voices at the table. I am sure that when your people see a completely unrecognizable name on the ballot, they will agree that introducing new faces at the leadership level can’t hurt.

I promise never to miss a board or committee meeting, even if I’m not always around for anything else.

I hope you will give this as much prayerful consideration as I have.

Most sincerely,

March 3, 2016

When the Big Box Retailer is a Big Box Church

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:12 am
The Whosoever Will Rescue Mission, San Francisco, date unknown. Every community has a unique ministry history and individual challenges.

The Whosoever Will Rescue Mission, San Francisco, date unknown. Every community has a unique ministry history and individual challenges.

Over the past twenty years we’ve seen a phenomenon in retail where big box retailers, sometimes called “category killers” have set up shop in cities and towns and in the process destroyed the livelihood of locally-owned, community-focused, mom-and-pop businesses. In my town we had four stores that sold office supplies which, over a period of about four years, disappeared off the map after Staples arrived. Perhaps where you live you’ve seen independent bookstores close when Barnes & Noble arrived; this in the era before A-zon finished the job for most of them.

There’s a difference between a “chain” of stores, and big box retail. Chains are stores like what you had, only affiliated with an organization for national marketing. A privately owned store can join a chain.

In the analogy we’re heading to here, chains are like church denominations. And sometimes a denomination will work hard to have representation in a local area. Historically however, they start small and build organically.

A big box retailer has more than name recognition. Their motto is, ‘If you build it big they will come in big numbers.’ Having so much more money to throw around than a basic chain, they create large environments and offer discounts.

In the world of what we call “multi-site” churches, growth often happened out of necessity. The original church was simply unable to handle the crowds, and because people were driving great distances, rather than expand the existing physical location, they basically replicated what they were doing in a different location, including having the sermon projected on a big screen.

North Point Community Church fits that definition. Starting from their original location, they’ve slowly spread out to encompass an area that is mostly north, northeast and northwest of downtown Atlanta. While they have a number of affiliate churches, North Point itself has never parachuted into completely foreign territory. They’ve never announced that the next church will be in Tulsa, or Boulder, or Scranton. Their geographic reach is well-defined.

On the other hand, there are also megachurches that have other sites which are not as huge as the parent location. In Ontario, Canada, The Meeting House has about 20 satellites, but some of them started out and small, and I believe a couple are still in that <100 average attendance category.

And then there is East Side, in Anaheim, California which, for whatever reasons, has a single satellite location in Park Rapids, Minnesota. I don’t know the history, but one has to assume this began with a nucleus of people in that area who were drawn to a particular style of teaching; or that the church identified this community as having a need, and proceeded to do something missional and meet that need.

Which brings us to Hillsong. In an article entitled Hillsong Church: Do Not Colonize San Francisco, Nate Lee responds to a video posted by Ben Houston:

Hillsong SF is not something I am looking forward to. In fact, their video offends me. And it makes me extremely sad for this city and what it is becoming. And I am convinced, beyond any doubt, that Hillsong SF has absolutely nothing to do with God’s Kingdom here in San Francisco.

San Francisco is a city under siege. There is a war going on here that can’t be seen or understood through the eyes of a naïve, idealistic pastor. So when Ben Houston shows up in his overly-produced video saying, “San Francisco is a city where we see great potential,” it’s painfully clear that he has no idea of the context onto which his words fall. Guess who else saw “great potential” in this city? The real estate agents, developers, and city officials who have destroyed neighborhoods, broken up families, and displaced poor people of color for their own idealized, dystopian visions for San Francisco. What kind of “great potential” does Hillsong fulfill with its presence? And why would this random Australian dude ever think he’s qualified to evaluate this city’s potential? San Francisco is not a hopeful candidate auditioning for his religious services. We have bigger things to worry about.

I’m so tired of this. I’m tired of pastors coming to San Francisco, posting pictures of bridges and crooked streets and declaring how much they love this city without actually understanding any of it, without being hurt by it, without any scars to show or dirt on their shoes or callouses on their hands…

…Any kind of language that implies that God’s work or God’s plan starts when we arrive (e.g., “God has a great plan for this city!” “San Francisco is a city where we see great potential!” “In San Francisco, the best is yet to come!” – Ben Houston) is indicative not only of terrible theology, but of white Christian exceptionalism, the oppressive belief that the correct kind salvation and healing can only be facilitated through us, on our terms with our methodsand us always happens to be white missionaries, white pastors, and white churches.

And that’s just for starters.

There’s a lot more to this however than just the retail analogy I’ve presented above. It’s not just about fears of Hillsong experiencing transfer growth while existing ministries experience transfer loss. And let’s be honest, some people do change churches every few years.

In today's world, many choose a church because of its music, and the Hillsong name is immediately recognizable.

In today’s world, many choose a church because of its music, and the Hillsong name is immediately recognizable.

No, there’s more to this. It’s a matter of knowing your context. Knowing the rhythm, the cadence, the tenor of the ministries working in that community. Studying the spiritual history. Having someone with their feet on the ground for months, even years; having others who are invested in the community. Missionaries often spend a year acclimating to the culture before they ever begin a word of proclamation. You don’t just show up and expect to rock their world overnight. That is what I believe is at the heart of Nate’s concerns; it’s not just about someone building a big worship center or having brand recognition. It’s about the ‘people context’ of the city.

To return to a retail analogy — a different one — we once owned three Christian bookstores. While each carried our name, kept the same hours, stocked the same core titles, and was run by the same policies, the spiritual needs of those communities were vastly different, and the authors and ministries known to their customers were often quite unique. When asked if we were going to expand further, I said at the time, “You can’t just take a store like this one, seal it in a giant container, and drop it in to another community. The needs and interests are not the same.” It might work with a dairy store, or if you sell jeans and t-shirts, but it doesn’t work in Christian endeavor. You can’t just colonize another territory; you have to have done, and be prepared to do as much listening as you talking.

I would be ill-equipped to want to start a Christian store or a church in an area where I didn’t have some previous familiarity, or wasn’t living, or wasn’t working in partnership with some people already in ministry there; and this doubly so if that is an area where there is a history of intense spiritual warfare; and while each of those three criteria is important, I would say working in partnership would be the way to begin.

On the other hand, I would not want to be obstructionist, I would not want to stand in Hillsong’s way; but I think Nate’s concerns are very real, and because he’s there, he has the right to express those concerns or misgivings.

I just don’t think the elephant knows when it is the largest animal in the room and what responsibilities go with that privilege, any more than Staples realized they were going to put those four office supply stores in my town out of business. Or did they?

My Christian ethic compels me to wish Hillsong well, but it also compels me to equally wish all the existing churches and mission organizations in the San Francisco Bay area well also.

One more time, here’s a link to the article: Hillsong Church: Do Not Colonize San Francisco.


Thanks to David Fitch for pointing out this article to me.

 

 

February 22, 2016

Welcome to Our Church; Come Be Part of Our Agenda

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:52 am

Serving Opportunity

Okay, I get it.

I know that there is something transformative that happens when people move from a passive seat-warmers to full engaged church members. I recognize that it’s better to move from the sidelines to the playing field. To step up your game. To be applying your spiritual gifts and your natural gifts.

I also get the need.

Several decades ago my mother sat in an adult Sunday school class when someone quietly tapped her on the shoulder saying, “Are you Mrs. Wilkinson? We’ve heard you have experience teaching high school students in another church. Would you like to do that here?”

She replied that she would very much like to do that adding, “When you want me to start?”

The reply was, “The girls are sitting in a classroom right now waiting for you.”

That’s a true story; that really happened! And the need in many of our churches is just as urgent.

However — you knew there had to be a however, right? — I have problems with churches, especially megachurches1 taking a Sunday out of the year to basically use the sermon time to try to enlist, conscript, or coerce people to be those badly needed volunteers. Or in the case of at least one U.S. megachurch, about three Sundays per year.

So much of what the local church is calling people to is a somewhat self-centered agenda. We want you to sing in our choir, serve in our midweek Children’s ministry, and help out on our property team. Maybe you think self-centered is strong language, but that is how it looks to

  • visitors2
  • those not ready or able to commit just yet
  • the cynics who think the church is trying to serve its own ends
  • people dealing with their own brokenness and in need of some teaching that will lift their spirits before they return to their personal life circumstances.

Volunteer Sunday(s) has got to go.3

Stepping into service is something that should happen organically in the life of the Christ-follower. Any local assembly that is doing everything they can to help people become fully committed followers of Jesus will find people seeking opportunities to serve.

They will, for certain, be turning volunteers away.


1 This can happen in a small church as well, where the coercion is multiplied by the fact you feel the pastor is looking directly as you as he preaches (which he is)
2 Where it ranks right up there with the give money sermon
3 This is why you read blogs, right? You don’t get this type of blanket or inflammatory statement at Christianity Today

February 19, 2016

Competition Among Ministries

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry, philanthropy — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:45 am

Do you get jealous when the church or ministry across town has an event that happens to catch the eye of the local newspaper? Or do you rejoice that God is using them in such a way? ~ Jennifer Maggio – Competition in Ministry.

John 3:26 NLT So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

competition among ministries

It started with a staff member at Organization A bad-mouthing Organization B.

Frankly, it resonated with me because I had some history with Organization B. Furthermore, Organization A was paying me a part-time salary.

But years later, I connected with the director of Organization B. We discovered many common interests. I saw their ministry in action. A friend started working for Organization B. I ended up financially helping him. Later, a ministry I was heading up partnered with Organization B for a project. Mostly, I came to understand why a certain group of people would gravitate to Organization B and not Organization A.

Immediately, I regretted the years I had been estranged from Organization B and its staff and its constituency.

Ministry organizations compete for donation dollars as well as for volunteers. But instead of staring at each other across a great divide, it’s better to find ways to (a) get to know each other better and (b) partner together. Perhaps even more. The charitable sector can see it as competition, but Christian ministries are, in theory at least, members of the same body.

We all labor in different vineyards, but we can’t afford to bad-mouth organizations whose work somewhat parallels — we may even see it as duplicating — our own. That just creates barriers to fellowship and friendship; and when heard by someone like my younger self, prevents cooperation and partnership from happening.

“…..whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31b

February 13, 2016

When the Work of the Local Church is Neglected

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

It was 1989. The big city Christian bookstore closed at 6:00 PM on Saturday nights. At 5:30 he walked in and we got into a conversation where he let it be known that his reason for shopping was that he needed to buy an accompaniment tape as he was booked to be the “special music” at church the following morning. He wanted to listen to a few songs and “get some ideas.”

This wasn’t a small country church. This was a church that would have about 1,500 people in each oftwo services. The next day.

img 021316He had left it to the very last minute.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when something similar happened at another Christian bookstore about an hour from where I live. The people needed six copies of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala.

They needed them for Saturday. The owner of the store wondered if I had any ideas.

Yes, I do! Plan ahead!

It amazes me how people can show up for work on time, pay their bills before the due dates, and never miss an oil change on the minivan, yet seem totally ill-equipped to do anything related to the church until it’s the last minute.

Historically, the typical stereotype was the Sunday School teacher who pulled out the lesson plan after supper on Saturday and spent ten minutes “going over it.” Is it too idealistic of me to imagine that somewhere there were Sunday School volunteers who began the process mid-week and actually allowed their minds to consider the lesson and fresh ways to present it? I certainly want to think that.

There’s a law in economics that states that everyone’s property is no-one’s property. What that means in this context is that many in the local church have simply never taken ownership of the life and ministry efforts of their local congregation.

img 021316aOne of the worst musical habits I picked up involved a group of instrumentalists who would be tuning their guitars or bass guitars and then, at a certain point, stop and exclaim, “Well… Good enough for gospel.”

Good enough for gospel? Is that what we’re aiming for? Simply good enough?

I was in church the next morning when the guy sang his solo. He did good, but not great. And I couldn’t enjoy it because I knew the story; the half-hearted, last-minute approach that had gone into preparing to minister in music that day.

 

 

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