Thinking Out Loud

November 8, 2018

Preempting the Sunday Morning Service

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:03 am

Yesterday I heard about a third church in my area which is replacing the normal worship time and sermon with a concert. That’s right, a concert.

While this is nothing new, it certainly is becoming more prevalent. In the case of the one I just heard about, I know the band in question and have no doubt that some good ministry will take place that Sunday morning; and I recognize that the Sunday Evening service has become extinct, so realistically, only one opportunity is available to do this sort of thing on a day when the church family is guaranteed to be present.

Still, I wonder about this.

I’m trying to picture a Roman Catholic, or an Episcopalian showing up for church and instead of the familiar liturgical call to worship, a band starts playing a song. And then one more. And then another. They would probably feel their worship service had been hijacked. While one or two might like the creative change, I suspect that most simply value their order-of-service too much to see it removed; even for a single week. Those forms simply offer too much spiritual benefit to be sacrificed, even for a single week.

But Evangelicals don’t approach church that way. In the modern, megachurch-mimmicking church service there are three elements:

  1. Worship
  2. Announcements/Offering
  3. Teaching

Apparently, it’s okay to take a week off from the formal teaching time or the teaching plus the worship time. Hopefully the concert serves as a drawing card that is part of a coordinated evangelism effort to which people are inviting their friends and the pastor will indeed deliver a short challenge.

Often the concert is actually a set-up for a pitch from a relief and development organization.

My wife finds this a rather consumerist mentality. People will come to be entertained. She also wonders why the people in the band want to miss participating in their own church’s worship service that morning. Many of these same people, if asked to work at their job on Sunday morning, would tell their boss they cannot because they attend church.

It’s also worth noting that this year with November 11th falling on a Sunday, many churches in our area are rearranging their worship service time to accommodate attending the service at the local war memorial or cenotaph. In Canada, we don’t have both Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, so our Remembrance Day takes on greater importance.

One church, which normally has two services is only doing the early one. Another church has shifted their worship to a 12 noon “Café Service.”

I don’t recall any Evangelical church rearranging their schedule when this day was also a Sunday, but admittedly it takes anywhere between 5 and 13 years (because of Leap Years) for this type of thing to repeat, and by then the memory isn’t as accurate.

And don’t get me started about what happens when Christmas Day is a Sunday. (Relax, it’s a Tuesday this year.)

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September 28, 2018

Repeated by Request: My Procrastinated Potluck Pickle Salad

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:44 am

A Thinking Out Loud Recipe Exclusive

Church Picnic Potluck: If you don’t like salads, pasta or casseroles, there’s always desserts. (Yes, I know we just used this graphic image in June, but once I create these things, I like to get lots of mileage out of them.)

With four of us planning to attend the church potluck lunch, I knew we couldn’t come empty handed, but with my wife on crutches, I couldn’t really ask her to help, and my two twenty-something sons who have far more culinary skills than I could ever dream of just didn’t see anything wrong with showing up with nothing. With my wife injured and off work, someone in the church family was bound to make us a casserole, and by not bringing anything we could just call it even. But I wasn’t buying into that logic.

So I had to step up, for the first time at age ___, and make a salad, because I figured this was something I could basically not screw up. Also, it had to involve chopped up bread and butter pickles, because once I come up with an idea, I get really obsessed. Also, we had a huge surplus of these at the time and despite the fact they were, by definition, pickled, I thought they were starting to go rancid, but they’d be close enough to be edible for our church family.

Paul’s Pickle Salad

Ingredients:
Romaine Lettuce
Radishes
Celery
Pickled Turnip
Bread and Butter Pickles
Onion
Lemon Juice and Vegetable Oil

Directions:

  1. Emerge from shower only to find out that wife on crutches has already chopped the Romaine Lettuce for you.
  2. Vacillate between shredding the radishes or chopping them, and opt for a mixture of both techniques as a nod to fusion cooking.
  3. Shred some celery. Most people would chop, but I am not as other salad makers. Watch fingers as stalks get smaller or keep bandages close by. (Note: Shredded celery is sometimes referred to as “mostly water.”)
  4. Chop pickled turnip. The reason we have this is that we do some Middle Eastern cooking and it’s an ingredient in shawarma. We also make our own Tebouleh. (Google it.) And Falafel wraps. Not bad for white people, huh?
  5. Search refrigerator for some chopped onions. There are just about always leftovers of these in our fridge — probably not more than a week old — and the people at my church certainly deserve the best.
  6. Chop up some bread and butter pickles. This is the heart of the whole recipe. I wondered about actually revealing this today, but I feel I can trust you. If I had been born a girl, I might have come up with this idea for a Home Economics class in Grade 7, but as a guy, the process of getting to this point took several decades longer. Do they still teach Home Economics? (Note: Do not leave a comment that chopped up bread and butter pickles basically constitutes relish. You obviously don’t possess the esprit de salad needed for a project like this.)
  7. Pause to be thankful the church is providing hamburgers and hot dogs, as people could starve if they were depending on people like me to cook for them.
  8. Stir in ingredients and bake at 375° for one hour. But not the baking part. Don’t do that. And certainly not in a plastic bowl. That was a messy day.
  9. Ask Mrs. W. for an appropriate dressing idea, since I have not thought that far ahead. Collaboratively, we come up with the oil and lemon juice idea. Realizing I haven’t shaved and we need to leave for church in five minutes, she mixes these in proportion. (Yes, you ask, in proportion to what? Do you see any actual quantities in this recipe?)
  10. Director’s Cut; Behind the Scenes extra: I considered crunching some saltine crackers on top for that faux crouton vibe, but thought better of it. Also time was running out. 
  11. Presentation is everything. True, it’s the same type of bowl we used when we had a large dog, but Crusher used the yellow bowl, and I used the red one. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, it was in the basement and it looked clean and contrasted the salad greens nicely. The point is try to find a nice looking bowl. And a set of those large forks and spoons, or at least some household tongs that haven’t been used medically.

…And then, came the moment two hours later when my salad appeared on the table along with the handiwork of all the other ladies, and I slowly poured my dressing on top and joined the ranks of generations of potluck providers. I know pride is a sin, but inside I was glowing.

While this recipe may not impress some (or all) of you, I want you to know that for me, once described as culinarily impotent by a former roommate, it was a personal triumph.


…I’m combining this blog post with the one from earlier in the week on candle-making when I start my mommy blog.


We have not heard of any serious illnesses since the potluck, so I have to assume it was a success.


Nobody brought us a casserole.


We’re having another potluck next week, the instructions read “A-M bring desert, N-Z (but not W) bring a salad. W bring napkins.”  


For further reading: Where the above graphic image came from; another salad story.

September 25, 2018

When It’s Time To Shut Down a Ministry Venture

One of the most difficult things anyone in ministry can face is the realization that a particular ministry project simply isn’t working, or has become no longer sustainable. I’ve had to do this many times including two Christian bookstores (after 5 years and 14 years) and a church plant (after 18 months); and my wife faced this with a monthly series of worship events (after nearly 5 years) she started.

Here are three particular challenges:

We don’t have good modeling for shutting things down.

If anything, some Christian organizations have overstayed their welcome. They were intended for a season, but became an institution that grew so large and inflexible; and so many people depended on it for their livelihood that shutting down has never been an option. This could also be said for some churches.

We haven’t learned from the world’s model of mergers and acquisitions.

Many times shutting down seems the only route because we haven’t fully exhausted the possibilities of partnering with other organizations who share a similar ministry focus. Which means relinquishing both the hard and soft assets of the ministry. That in turn would mean a loss of control. It could also lead to something which looks quite different than what we original envisioned.

We fear regret for giving up.

I can honestly say this is my biggest challenge even now, years later. “What if we’d stuck it out for another year?” Or, “What were we just on the cusp of seeing happen that didn’t happen because of our lack of faith, or faithfulness?”

The writer of Ecclesiastes said that there is “a time to plant and a time to uproot.”

Sometimes the challenge is knowing what time it is right now.

September 21, 2018

Prayer Requests in Writing

Prayer is a language unto itself, but it also uses language, and not unlike the emails and Facebook status you may have checked before reading this, it is language which, while it can be visibly seen, usually isn’t.

The reason is that most of our prayers are spoken, or perhaps cried out, or even breathed.

Still, some of you keep a journal where your prayers are written out. Seeing them often makes what is an invisible practice more tangible.

Others of you perhaps have been in a service where you wrote an immediate need or a long-term longing of your heart on a sticky note which you brought forward and placed on something at the front of a church sanctuary or perhaps on a piece of colored paper which you pinned to a wooden cross.

Seeing the above scene in Europe* reminded me of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Wikipedia reminds us that,

Today, more than a million prayer notes or wishes are placed in the Western Wall each year. Notes that are placed in the Wall are written in just about any language and format. Their lengths vary from a few words to very long requests. They include poems and Biblical verses. They are written on a wide variety of papers, including colored paper, notebook paper and even bubblegum wrappers, using a variety of inks.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall, receives hundreds of letters yearly addressed to “God, Jerusalem“; he folds these letters and places them, too, in the Wall.

Online services offer petitioners the opportunity to send their notes to the Western Wall via e-mail, fax, text messaging and Internet; the note is then printed out and inserted in the Wall. The Israeli Telephone Company has established such a fax service, as have a number of charitable websites.

But the above replica (if that’s what was intended) is made of plaster covered over with chicken wire, in a place available to all people all the time.

It’s a more tangible expression of what we might normally just say, and then the element of walking away, and leaving our request with God is also significant.

Some churches have a prayer request book in the lobby. Others have an email to which you can send requests. Still others will share requests in the main weekend service, although that practice is widely disappearing.

Does your congregation have a vehicle whereby you put either a physical or a community presence to your petitions to God?


*Picture above, taken by Ruth, is of the Heiliggeistkirche Lutheran Church in Heidelberg, Germany

September 18, 2018

When Everything is Working; While Together, Nothing Works

You have to feel sorry for this tourist.

After taking a funicular to see a hillside neighborhood up close and also be able to overlook the city, we discovered, like the man in the picture, that the latter was impossible.

The park benches were placed so that people could sit and enjoy the view.

The shrubs were planted probably to add some greenery, or stop erosion.

The tall trees probably had a mind of their own. It’s too bad nobody noticed them in their younger years and projected what might happen. Still, if they were the only problem, you would still get a good look at the city below.

The benches, as you can see are working perfectly.

The shrubs have grown in nicely.

Together, they have created a place from which to have a view of nothing.

…I’m always looking for analogies, so let me attempt one here. Thinking Out Loud is all about church life and church and culture, so let’s imagine for a minute that the bench and the shrubs represent different ministry departments in our churches.

Now I recognize that Christ is the head of the capital ‘C’ Church and that He also ought to be the head of our small ‘c’ local churches. Under God’s authority, local pastors are appointed, and I would think that about now you’re saying, “Whoever is in charge simply needs to point out that the view from the benches has been completely obscured by the shrubs.” That will solve everything. (Maybe there’s a blogger in the church who can find a pithy way of pointing out the current dilemma.) Perhaps nobody has noticed so far.

It’s like you can’t see the trees for the forest.

Or something like that.

I never said I was good at this, did I?

But many times in our small ‘c’ local churches different departments are allowed to flourish without anyone noticing they are actually running in opposite directions.

For example: The church has an amazing choral program, with junior and senior choirs, beautiful robes and a recently released album. You have to audition three times to get in.

But the youth minister is having great results with a very engaging program, and many teens are becoming part of a church family for the first time, and that leaves said youth minister wishing that the Sunday morning service was just a little less choir-y.

What’s the solution?

Back to the illustration.

You could cut the shrubs.

Or you could move the benches. (There’s a nice view just 50 feet to the left.)

Or you could decide that shrubs are also something worth looking at. (The guy in the picture seems a bit bewildered, though, doesn’t he?)

Back to the application.

Actually, I won’t. I’m already annoyed with myself for choosing a music-based example.

I’m all for empowering both laity and staff members to grow their departments. But in a decentralized structure (or even a top-down centralized one) there are going to be times when ministry objectives are in conflict.

Then again, we’re not just an organization; we’re also a family.

We can make this work.

September 17, 2018

Irresistible — Andy Stanley’s New Take on New Testament Faith

By his own admission, publishing this book is a career-risking move.

Furthermore, the criticism that Andy Stanley has already endured over statements which are contained in Irresistible would cause some to lay low for several months until the storm passes.

But that’s not Andy Stanley. Instead, he takes nearly 300 pages to fully flesh out his reasons for saying that Christianity needs to “unhitch” itself from the Hebrew scriptures, or what we call The Old Testament. Yes, that. For some those were fightin’ words. For others, the implication was that those writings weren’t inspired or aren’t relevant to knowing the backdrop from which events kickstarted in Bethlehem 2,000-plus years ago. That’s called putting words in someone else’s mouth

…It’s hard to review a book when, for many weeks, you were tracking with the sermon series on which the book is based. There are usually few surprises. Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleashed for the World (Zondervan) is based on a sermon series called Aftermath which the North Point pastor preached after Easter this year. The church website sums it up this way: “Jesus’ resurrection launched a series of events that introduced the world to his new covenant and new hope. But old ways don’t easily give way. Not then. Not now.” That could also well serve as a summary of the book.

The book is divided into four sections and like a good British mystery, each section is building toward the concluding chapters. I said, “few surprises,” above but unless I missed something in the teaching series, Andy pushes beyond the original conclusion and suggests something even more radical in the way we format our copies of the texts. (I’ve decided to avoid the spoiler.)

I was also struck by the humorous tone used to convey a rather serious subject. It creates a reading environment in which even a new believer — struck by the differences between the First and Second Testament and wondering aloud, “What’s up with that?” — can have a complete understanding of the world in which the news of the resurrection was first preached, and how the two parts connect.

In many respects, the book is personal. His motivation for writing begins with a 2007 trip to China in which he was asked a poignant question about the church in America. In the book (and elsewhere as well) Andy mentions a verse displayed in his office, Acts 15:19: “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (NLT) He’s committed to removing any barriers to faith which might be hampering someone who would otherwise want to be part of Christ’s family.

As he has stated many times, one of those barriers is the material found in the Old Testament (or if you prefer, First Covenant). The violence. The scientific questions. The seemingly arbitrary rules for conduct. The supernatural occurrences. Instead, he believes (as the book’s subtitle affirms) that we need to be focusing on “the new” and in so doing, focus on what the first generations of believers had in a world before church buildings, a world before printed copies of the scriptures, and a world where the resurrection was everything.

It was a faith to die for.


Release Date: September 18, 2018 | 9780310536970 USA | 9780310536987 UK, Aust/NZ, Canada


Thanks to Dave K. at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for a review copy.

 

 

August 28, 2018

Things Left Better Un-Blogged

As soon as she left, Pastor Matt picked up the phone and called his wife.

“You won’t believe who I had in here just now;” he teased her.

“Who?” she said taking the bait.

“Helena Morjann; and you wouldn’t believe how woefully confused she is about the Bible. She said some things and it was all I could do not to split my sides laughing…” and then he proceeded to tell her one of those in complete detail.

When he was done she was laughing as well she said, “I hope your office door was closed all that time. She obviously isn’t getting much from your sermons;” and then adding, “All I can say is, you totally have to blog that.”

Thinking it over for a few seconds, he replied, “You know I could never do that.”

In the year that he was between churches, Matt did an intensive doctoral program, occasionally blogging on a site he had begun many years ago. When he took his current assignment, most of his blog readers were people from his DMin cohort, as well as several he had met doing his MDiv.

Arriving at the church, the leadership there wanted to post his bio on the church website and after composing a few short paragraphs, they had quickly asked, “Are you on Twitter or Facebook?” and “Do you have a blog?” and without thinking of the long-term consequences he had quickly provided the answers.

Looking back, he wishes he had simply created a new blog for the duration of that position; a decoy blog that would prevent them looking for the real one, and that would allow him more freedom to write about the wild and wacky things that take place in interactions with his new congregation.

The things Helena had said in his office that morning would have totally cracked them up.

I’m not a pastor.

I’m also blessed with a fairly wide readership; a collection of people on several continents, in several time zones, representing the broadest diversity of denominational backgrounds.

Because the blog is faith-focused — I’ve never over the years wandered down the road of sharing much of our personal lives or things the kids did that week — I will often use events and situations which take place locally and have impacted me as fuel for blog posts, especially if they impacted my wife and I directly.

But there are some people locally who read Thinking Out Loud, and because of that, like Pastor Matt, I need to be careful. Many of the items which have appeared with the “Short Stories” graphic (above) are based on things which I needed to partially disguise as are the items in “The Lost Voice Project” collection of stories (which I would have loved to have seen develop into a book).

Today is one of those days.

There’s a topic I’m dying to get into today, but it strikes too close to home for some of those local readers. I need to table it for a few months and then find a way to introduce it, perhaps using a fictional story, or waiting until something similar breaks onto the Christian news scene, and then use it as a springboard to express some thoughts.

As someone once said, “Hurtin’ feelings is dumb.” I don’t want to scratch wounds, especially at a time of vulnerability.

So as much as I hope you enjoyed today’s story about Pastor Matt, the real blog post for today will have to wait.

Maybe I should consider this the decoy blog and launch another one. I could call it, “Dumb things churches do.”

We’ll have to wait and see.

 

August 20, 2018

Who is Mentoring Who?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

This weekend, an article in the automotive section of The Toronto Star on mentoring caught my eye. This is a topic that is often raised in the church, only the term often used is Paul/Timothy relationships. Either way, whether a person is religious or not, and no matter what terminology we use, we all have the picture of the older person instructing the younger. That’s the whole idea behind apprenticeship.

But in this article, a particular instance was raised which shatters the paradigm, namely technology. The writer, Susan Gubasta owns a Toyota dealership and is the president of a much wider car dealer association.

…About 10 years ago, I began to notice a shift in mentoring, at least in our industry. For decades, the older generation mentored the younger generation (millennials).

That all changed with the advent of online technologies and smartphones. Suddenly, the older generation began to seek help from their younger peers about the newest smartphones, online platforms and advanced technologies.

Millennials have grown up with these new technologies, platforms and devices, and they have become the teachers, or mentors, for the older generation. The role of the mentor has flipped.

At my Toyota store, the millennials are internet-savvy and possess a wealth of computer knowledge. New technologies do no confuse or intimidate them, which explains why older colleagues are constantly approaching their younger colleagues with questions about tech-related issues.

Does this mean that millennials have officially assumed the mentoring mantle from their older colleagues? Hardly. However, it does mean that dealerships (and workplaces everywhere) have become less about job titles and hierarchies and more about collaboration and engagement…

Again, you can decide how that applies to readers here. Are church leaders ready to submit to those from a different generation on topics such as: Using social media, designing websites, setting up a church office communications network? And if so, would they be willing to submit to their expertise on knowing what might attract their generation to that church? And what might turn them off? Their thoughts on music? Church design? Preaching styles?

As I say, it’s a paradigm shattering picture. We generally think in terms of older and younger. But it’s worth being open to a modified model. Collaboration and engagement are good goals to have.


Source for the article: Click here.

 

August 13, 2018

Willow Creek: From Bad to Worse, but with Some Hope

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events, leadership — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:07 am

Steve Gillen, interim lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL addresses the church’s weekend services.

Just six days ago I reported on the resignation of teaching co-lead pastor Steve Carter, incorrectly assuming perhaps that the worst was over. Instead, just days later co-lead Heather Larson resigned along with the entire Willow Board of Directors (in graduated steps to ensure some continuity in the very short term.)

I was greatly impacted by Willow in the 1980s, so for me, this is personal. While I’ve only attended 4 or 5 actual services — my wife attended an Arts conference as well — I’ve been a part of an extended Willow culture which preferred lost people over simply doing church for the benefit of the membership. Willow was a model for many of us attempting “seeker sensitive” churches, and when the needs of spiritual seekers was seen to have changed over a decade ago, Willow had the courage to change the model appropriately.

So for me it’s been a time of grieving the damage that has been done to one of the most significant movements of the last century, the loss of reputation for Bill Hybels, and the demise of the succession plan for Willow he worked for years to put into place.

I considered updating that story from last Tuesday but decided to revisit this again today.

Watching the Saturday night service live, new lead pastor Steve Gillen — previously at Willow Creek North Shore — was honest in his reluctance to accept the interim position at the main, South Barrington Campus. (You can read that here, or watch the service yourself.) But at the same time, as a seasoned preacher, he spoke with authority, while at the same time cautioning that the church is not out of the woods yet; more difficulties could follow.

Should they have chosen someone with a 20-year history in the organization or brought in someone completely fresh, from outside, to fill the position? Regrettably, time was not on their side, so they acted decisively and swiftly.

I tweeted that “I feel a small measure of optimism returning.”

I really do. I don’t think that all the families who have kids in Promiseland and youth programs are going to sever those relationships just yet, especially with a new school year commencing. I don’t think the people who are fixing cars and distributing food are going to just walk away from those they serve. Even in the middle of their own sorrow as a church, they rose to the occasion last week and welcomed a deluge of pastors and leaders to the annual Global Leadership Summit.

Willow isn’t the type of church where people stay away when it’s the pastor’s week off. Guest speakers have been common. That, at least, is something they built into their culture which other churches could emulate; especially those congregations in which attendance drops by 25% or more when the teaching pastor is on vacation.

Yet another investigation will commence, with Scot McKnight part of the team, though for many, what’s missing at present is an apology and confession from Bill Hybels.

Screen shot of capacity crowd at last week’s Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church. Despite their internal challenges, church volunteers stepped up to serve pastors and leaders from around the world, and those watching by satellite in over 600 locations.

 

July 15, 2018

Worship Planning is both Simple and Complex

I write a lot about the worship part of our church services because that is the area where I have served most frequently and consistently. If I had spent a lifetime serving in the church nursery, perhaps that would be the focus!

Years ago, when my wife was putting together worship sets, she encountered people who saw her work has very specialized and perhaps a bit mysterious. They viewed her adeptness at this with awe, often saying things like, “I don’t know how you do that each week;” or “I could never do that.”

The point is, at the basic level, they could do it. They could pick 5 songs and put together a worship set just as easily as anyone reading this could.

But in the modern worship environment, if you’re having to supply chord charts for band members, prepare presentation files for projection, deal with sound volunteers, and organize rehearsals; the job can get quite complex.

There are certain songs which just don’t follow other songs, usually for reasons of the pitch or key of each, but often for rhythmic or lyrical reasons. There are songs some churches don’t know and others that used far too frequently. A handful of popular ones today would go against the grain of the doctrinal position of certain churches.

Trying to be helpful to my wife, and as an occasional member of her team (I play keyboards, bass, incidental percussion and occasional guitar) I created the above document. It was a recognition of several things we were dealing with at the time.

First, it’s easy in rehearsals to under-communicate introductions and endings. Second, we sometimes feel instrumentalist on stage needs to be playing on every song, when in fact, the instrumentation would work better if some people took a song out to just sing. Third, it helped me personally visualize where some of the spoken readings fit into the larger set list, especially if I was only given a song set list, and the readings weren’t actually introduced until the actual service. Lastly, she was often run off her feet and I thought she’d appreciate the use of an organizing tool where churches didn’t have a budget for anything more sophisticated or personnel were still dependent on print resources.

Feel free to borrow it.

Yes, there is some complexity to all this, but again, if the demands are less complicated, this is something anyone can learn how to do.

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