Thinking Out Loud

September 12, 2019

The Importance of Cross Pollination in Worship

John Severns photo, Public Domain

The late Robert Webber will be remembered for encouraging worship leaders along the lines of “Ancient-Future” worship, but churches which are determined not to reach back to the hymns of past centuries might do well to at least heed the principle.

This week we discovered a new song being sung at a church we once visited, while the people were receiving communion. The song immediately resonated with us. After the service had played out, I found the proper title, the original recording artists, and some videos online.

I would teach this song in a heartbeat. It probably fits more into the “Modern Hymns” movement than it does “Modern Worship” but it had enough to offer to have been closing in on 3 million views online.

But then last night, we listened to it again, and followed up by clicking on another song from the same worship team.

Same key. Same rhythm. Same lead vocalist. Same lexical set.

By the latter, I mean that in some faith streams, there is a pressure to say certain things and to say them the same way. Each song is supposed to encapsulate not part, of all of the Gospel™.

We listened to a third song.

Same thing.

At this point, I turned to Mrs. W. and announced, “They’re plagiarizing their own music.”

Truly, it was partly that. It was partially an attempt to copy a style made popular by a particular husband-and-wife couple who are also leaders in this same sub-genre of worship. As the late Larry Norman once said comparing the present state of the arts to the Rennaissance, “Christianity is in an imitative mode.” We find things that are working elsewhere while 90% of the creative possibilities lie under-utilized if not undiscovered.

So to return to Dr. Webber, I think I would still teach the first song because it would form part of a set drawn from a larger catalog of available worship.

But if your church worship is all Hillsong, or all Bethel, or all Elevation, then it’s possibly not a healthy mix. In fact, if the trip back to the hymn area is too long a road to travel, I would suggest at least periodically looking to what you were doing ten years ago, and also occasionally revisiting the founding worship streams for the present movement, such as the original Maranatha! Music, Vineyard and Hosanna Integrity compositions.

There’s a value in cross-pollination.

It was getting late, and part way through the third song, my wife said, “I’m bored. I’m leaving now.” Each one of the songs was beautiful and lyrically rich, but as we would say to the kids at the dessert buffet, “You can only choose one.” We’d only heard three songs and we were starting to O.D. on this particular style.

For some reason, three songs from this worship family was two too many.

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September 9, 2019

Dad, I’m Gay

Filed under: children, Christianity, Church, issues, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:53 am

What do you do when your son says, “I am gay?” There’s a lot contained in that three word statement, certainly more than initially registers. A Christian friend experienced this several months ago and continues to wrestle with the implications. Recently, he asked to share this with readers here.


“Dad, I’m gay.”

When my son says “Dad, I am gay”, what he is saying is . . .

I had the courage to tell you something very important.

I have been trying to figure this all out for quite some time now.

I’m more likely to deal with depression than a straight child.

I’m more likely to have suicidal thoughts than a straight child.

I am more likely to be picked on or talked about than a straight child.

I would be arrested in certain parts of the world.

I would be put to death in certain parts of the world.

I’m not sure I will be accepted at church.

I’m not sure you will be accepted at church either depending on how you handle this.

Though I am your son, I am not just like you.

I am still your son, and in many ways, just like you.

I am still your child, but am not a child anymore.

I will want you to meet my boyfriend someday.

If I take a step of covenanting with a man to be faithful to him the rest of my life, many of your friends may tell you that you should not attend that celebration. My friends will not hesitate to be there for me.

You may not change your perspective on homosexuality, but I do expect you to be understanding of mine.

I want you to celebrate and have joy because of me, not merely tolerate me.

I know that you love Jesus and the Bible. I am also aware that you love me. You need to figure out what all that looks like.


This post originally ran in January of last year, but I’m running it so soon again because I was told last week it got a lot of ‘likes,’ so myself and the author decided we’d run it today in case some missed it the day after New Year’s.

Leave a comment — I’m closing comments here so you can add your voice to the original post at this link.

September 6, 2019

Stained Glass

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:41 am

Guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

When Jesus talked about us, he used words like “family,” “vine” and “body” – images of life, growth and diversity.

The journey of a Jesus follower was never meant to be a solo trip. His own vision for His Church was that we would build it together. Even when things were frustrating. Even when we got hurt.

If you’ve been trying to live this life by yourself, maybe it’s time to think ‘inside the frame.’ Your shape fits together with all the other shapes of all the other believers to make something far better than we can make on our own.

What are you a part of? A rainbow? A blossoming apple tree? A tool box? An orchestra?

If you’ve walked away from “church,” you’re missed. You’re needed. You belong in the picture.

This Sunday, take a chance – see where you fit.

August 29, 2019

July 22, 2019

Visits to Three Vancouver Churches Shattered Our Stereotypes

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am

I would love to have moved to take pictures showing the attendance at all three churches, but that would have been disruptive. First Baptist will relocate temporarily at some point in 2020 to undergo a seismic upgrade, since this is Vancouver after all.

We visited three different Vancouver Churches on Sunday. God has to let us in to heaven now, right? Our visits were (in order): First Baptist Church, Coastal Church and Tenth Church.

Several stereotypes I had were shattered.

To begin, Evangelicals have not all abdicated the city core and moved out to the suburbs, at the intersection of two freeways. These downtown churches were comfortably filled. At our first stop, people were streaming into First Baptist when we arrived. It was quite a sight to see! But the crowds continued at the other two.

Second, the classic Willow mantra that if people are going to visit, it’s going to be on Sunday morning just didn’t apply. Two of the services were at 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM. If you had told me that a 1:00 PM service would be filled, I would have been skeptical.

Third, it wasn’t a question of scarcity. First Baptist and Coastal were within blocks of each other.

My wife was especially impressed with the level of community involvement at First Baptist. This is the one that had the oldest demographic yet seemed to be most concerned about social justice.

She also noted that each was very different, and each had a number of different foci and different strengths. They all had good singers, they all had good musicians. First Baptist was plagued with audio problems, the sermon precariously perched on the edge of feedback for all 40 minutes.

First Baptist did a high quality mix of blended worship, including an organ postlude for which adherents remained seated and broke out the only applause of the morning at that church. Coastal may have been doing all original songs, we weren’t sure. (I asked the sound guy for his rundown sheet after the service, but he wouldn’t give it to me!) Tenth did CCLI Top 25 songs for which they have to keep the windows closed in order to avoid conflicts with the surrounding neighborhood. The windows get opened during the teaching.

Taken just ten minutes before the service at Coastal Church, latecomers totally filled this section by the third and final worship song. It’s a former Christian Science church. Entrance is on two streets, but some rather narrow hallways on the lower level. (Great bookstore, by the way!)

Two of the churches were using older buildings, and the one which wasn’t went out of their way to incorporate classic elements, i.e. candles and paintings.

No one who wasn’t serving as an official greeter spoke with us at all three churches. We had to be the ones to initiate conversations.

For what it’s worth, all had coffee. (I was given a banana at Coastal, which came in handy later!) Tenth impressed me by having their full kids program running at 6:00 PM. While we’re being superficial, none of these churches had air conditioning, something that would have been unthinkable back east. And what’s with communion on the third Sunday of the month? Must be a Vancouver thing.

The picture at Tenth was also taken ten minutes before the start of the service. The four rows in the center section to the left, which you can’t see, were 100% full by the third worship song, and the other sections filled up comfortably. A few people were sitting in the balcony. Many people are dependent on public transit in Vancouver, so they arrive when they arrive.

All three sermons were high quality. There was a basic scholarship error in an interpretation at First, and also a badly-worded comment about mental illness; and I think the title of this one implied the Bible passage was going to contain an entirely different emphasis.

Coastal mixed three video clips from a popular movie with a sermon that would have made Joel Osteen proud. Tenth had a younger, associate pastor speaking and I wasn’t sure where that would go, but for my wife it was the best of the three. Quite personal and an abundance of application.

By the way, in spite of any minor negative comments, all three would have my recommendation and I would happily visit each one again.

 

June 24, 2019

What Normal People Do

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

On Thursday last week I replaced the slats in this rocking deck chair as the ones facing skyward had weathered to the point of disintegrating.

This probably seems unremarkable until you consider it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve come close to doing anything that resembles what normal people do. I also did the caulking around the bathtub the same day. Look at me! The home improvement guy!

The reason this behavior is uncharacteristic is because 24 years ago this September, I walked away from a work-from-home situation and started being the face behind a Christian bookstore, that later grew to a chain of three stores. It was all-consuming

Over 12 years ago, I began the blogging activity — starting with a short-lived faith-focused blog at USAToday — that would also consume much of my time. Later, that morphed into five blogs, eventually settling down at three, two of which had daily (as in 365) content until recently. (I’m still committed to doing C201 daily.)

So I’m not a fix-the-deck-chair type of guy. I had to ask my wife where some of the tools were located and needed some up extra help when it came to changing the drill bit in the cordless drill. Sandpaper? I get the principle, but I’m not certified, so to speak, on that piece of equipment. Plus, I get flustered. I can take something like applying wood stain and make it complicated.

I suspect it’s the same for many people in ministry. The weirdness of the schedule and perhaps a sense of having to prioritize spiritual things can easily result in not doing what normal people do. Around the house. With the car. Involving the kids. Especially with the kids.

It actually felt strange having done something like this. I keep looking at the chair and thinking I want to finish the other half now. Those slats aren’t weathered and don’t need to be replaced just yet, but it was just the pride in having done something like this.

Can anyone identify with this?

June 21, 2019

Andy Stanley Clearly Articulates the Premise of Irresistible

Maggie John of the daily Christian television show 100 Huntley Street has posted a full, 49-minute interview she did with Andy Stanley, talking first about his famous father and his call to ministry, and then focusing in more directly on his book Irresistible: Reclaiming the New that Jesus Unleased to the World. (Thomas Nelson, 2018)

Some people have their minds made up about what Andy did say or did not say and that’s unfortunate, because I don’t see how anyone can watch this with an open mind and not grasp the point he is trying to make; namely, the need to switch our emphasis from “The Bible says it,” to “Hundreds witnessed it;” to remind ourselves that the key to our faith is not rooted in a book as it is rooted in a resurrection.

I suppose that actually giving this some thought is too big a stretch for some. It’s easier to pre-judge Andy and his book and bring personal bias to the discussion before actually slowing down to hear him out. It’s easier to go on the attack on Twitter and other media than it is to consider that if we fail to listen to this, we’re in danger of losing an entire generation. It’s easier to create a panic, accuse someone of heresy, or rally the troops around a common enemy.

I’m all in on this. 100%. I’ve embedded the video below, but if you click on the YouTube logo, it will open on their site and you can capture the URL to watch on another device. You may read my original review of the book at this link.

 

May 27, 2019

Now That We’re All Here, You Can Home

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:35 am

Driving to church yesterday, I listened to a radio broadcast from a church located about two hours from where I live. After the sermon ended, the pastor announced that as the month of June was approaching “our programs are winding down for the summer.”

Two years ago I combined a number for older posts into a single article, Church Continuity, Summer Shutdowns and Lake House Mentality. (Or you could say, ‘Cabin Mentality,’ or as we say here, ‘Cottage Mentality.’)  I’ll probably repeat that post in about a year.

What struck me yesterday however, was that the announcement came after what has been a very difficult winter for local churches. Snowstorms, ice storms, blizzards… whatever you call them, the weather has been rough this past winter, with a seemingly disproportionate number of weather incidents occurring on Sunday mornings. Even the spring hasn’t been particularly kind to church attendance, especially for people the Midwest in flood and hurricane zones.

But now, we have no excuses. Let the pews be filled. Everyone can get out for mid-week programs of all shapes and sizes, right? But no, we’re “winding down for the summer.”

I know it can be hard to get volunteers, but there are many who end up feeling isolated in the summer months because they’re church has nothing to offer. You could say, ‘Ah, look at all the lonely people;’ but you can’t look at them because you’ve left them on the sidelines just because the leadership didn’t think someone could step up and fill in for a week here or a week there.

Again, I encourage you to read the aforementioned article. And if you live in an area affected by winter weather, now that everyone is mobile, consider actually adding some programs, perhaps even convening them in the fresh air, weather permitting of course.

 

May 25, 2019

For Those Whose Church Attendance is Down

Filed under: Christianity, Church, God, worship — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:28 am

by Ruth Wilkinson

Boston was one of our most unique expeditions. Really interesting city, American history machine aside. Cool architecture, good subway, Chinatown, really easy to get lost, terrible maps, good food. Perfect. Some historic churches. Mostly for “freedom” reasons, of one kind or another.

We chanced upon one that really struck me. Not as old as some of the others, probably. No “Paul Revere slept through the sermon here” plaques. But a lovely red brick building, tucked away in one of the more serpentine neighborhoods. We climbed a few steps to a back door and found it unlocked, so we went in. Found ourselves in a foyer of sorts, creaky floored and unlit. There was another door in front of us, so we pulled that one open. Creak. Stepped to the threshold. Creak. Peeked through the door. Creak.

It was beautiful inside. Warm and hushed and soaring. Stained glass windows, old dark pews, draperies and candles. It smelled of polished wood and wax and flame and time and prayer. But we didn’t go in any further. We closed the door and left. Creaking all the way…

…You see, the reason why we left without really going in is that when we opened that inner door, we heard something.

Someone speaking. One voice.

One voice echoing through the room, over the pews, off the windows. The pews that were completely empty, the windows that were telling their stories to no one.

One voice, chanting in what might have been Latin. Reciting a text that no one would hear. Except the speaker and God himself. Because they were the only ones in the room.

As we left, we looked at the sign on the fence outside. “5:00 pm. Mass”. It was 5 pm. So the Mass was being said. Whether anyone was there to hear it or not. It had to be said.

Why? I have no clue. But it had to be said. If only to the antique pews and the priceless glass and the glowing candles and absolutely not a living soul. Haunted and driven by tradition. Disregarded by life and humanity…

March 8, 2019

What’s Missing in the Modern Church Experience?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

This is about half of an article by guest writer Mike Glenn at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed. You really need to click through — click the header below — to read it all, and the follow through to his conclusion. (I’m not including the spoiler.)

Church Attendance is Down, But Why?

…Fewer people are going to church.

Yes, there are reasons. For one thing, streaming services have impacted church attendance. If the weather is bad (meaning it has rained, might rain or … well, you get the picture), I’m sure to get several screen shots of people watching the services on line while wearing their pajamas. Not long after, a lot of these people will discover they can stream the service regardless of the weather.

Organizations that used to respect Sunday morning no longer do. Children have field trips and sporting events on Sunday morning most every weekend. Travel teams take up family weekends as the entire family follows the dreams of one of their children to play hockey, football, baseball, debate or gymnastics. Stores that used to be closed on Sunday start opening at 1pm. Now, they’re open all day.

Entertainment has discovered Sunday morning. The NFL kicks off at noon, but if you’re going to go the game, you have to go early for the tailgate. Concerts in the park, music festivals, food festivals, book festivals, and classic car rallies now consider Sunday morning to be prime time for their events.

I guess this is to be expected. Churches should not expect any culture to support the practices of their faith. Yet, there’s more.

For one thing, everyone is in a time crunch. Families are facing multiple demands from careers, schools and social obligations. The work/life balance has been compromised to the point many Americans can’t tell you when their work day actually ends and their home life begins. Most people are working longer hours than before, and social media demands more and more of our attention. Because of these growing demands on our time, most of us aren’t getting enough sleep.

When the weekend gets here, if we can catch up on some sleep we do.

All of this means when a person or family decides how they are going to spend their time, every investment of time has to be worth the time required. That is, more and more people are spending their time like they spend their money.

Every investment has to have a significant ROI – return on investment – or they won’t do it.

This brings me to a very hard question for those of us in church leadership. Is going to church worth it?

Why would anyone go to church?  …

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