Thinking Out Loud

January 9, 2018

When Churches Become Self-Serving

Filed under: Christianity, Church, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:49 am

Years ago I heard someone state, “Libraries aren’t made for the public, they’re made for librarians.” While some might object to that notion, there is a grain of truth, particularly in terms of the organization of the facilities, which often leaves those of us who haven’t memorized the Library of Congress classification system or the Dewey Decimal system asking for assistance.

Are churches any different?

Many times, especially around Labor Day Weekend in the U.S. or New Year’s Day, churches will get serious about appealing for volunteer help. And the pitch is always the same: Serve in our Sunday School; join our choir; lead one of our small groups. We’ve been there.

My wife and I visited a Presbyterian Church once and after the service ended, she was approached about joining the choir, without even an inclination as to whether or not she can sing. (She can and does.) There was no qualification if she considered herself a Christian, although I suppose visiting this church on a Sunday morning increased the odds.

More recently, a local Evangelical church wanted to replace traditional membership, with a form of covenant membership that would require one be involved in an area of service at the church in order to maintain that status. The problem is, many people in that church are involved with parachurch organizations based both in the community and nationally. They are already serving, just not within the confines of the congregation.

The problem is that this has no outward focus.

Furthermore, when we give, we’re subconsciously giving to ourselves. We are the beneficiaries of the programs the church offers. Our children attend the mid-week program and consume the resource materials and goldfish crackers. We show up Sunday night and consume the video material that’s part of an adult elective. We take notes during the preaching and sing with the worship team and consume what’s projected on the giant screen (and relayed to the baby/cry room; and later posted online.)

But at the first mention that some of our donations might be spent on projects in the broader community, or to a major overseas project, we bristle at the suggestion.

Surely, there are greater needs at home; and by home we mean within the church building. (“Lord, Bless me today and my spouse and our two children; us four, no more.”)

And then there’s the strange logic of the idea that we need to develop more inwardly in spiritual depth and discipleship before we’re ready and able to reach out to the broader community. This just in: It will never happen! We’ll never reach that point where we’ve got it all together and are now prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder and reach the world. We have to reach them not having it all together. They might actually like us better that way. They might be more inclined to want to join a family of the broken than a family of the perfect

…Are we missing something? Do our neighbors see us leave for church on the weekend and mentally follow us and ask themselves, ‘What goes on in that building?’ Indeed, what? Are we more like a community center or more like a secret society? (Especially given the current penchant for not having windows in our auditoriums.)

I think as we’re only days into a new year, we need to ask ourselves how much of our church activity, and how much of our church budget is completely self-serving.

To repeat, we need a greater outward focus.


Graphic: Sermon video (39 min.) from Vermon Pierre at Roosevelt Church, a Gospel Coalition Church in downtown Phoenix, based on this text:

NLT Mat. 20:25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

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January 6, 2018

The Steps to Decision

Two nights ago we were discussing the process by which people ‘cross the line of faith’ and identify as Christians. I looked all around for this graphic, including online, and discovered some people had improved on the one we posted in March, 2014.

Here’s what I wrote about this at the time,

A long time ago, in a galaxy rather close by, a new generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers. One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice. I am privileged to own (somewhere in our house) a copy of both.

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. But I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes in the graphic.

I ended up repeating some of this material and going into greater detail, including a second graphic image, at this post at Christianity 201.

November 7, 2016

The Brant Continues

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:53 pm

As most of you know blogs are called blogs because it’s a shortening of web-log. The original intention may have been more of something closer to diary, which is a void that Facebook presently fills.

A lot of what takes place in the blogosphere is ranting, therefore I propose a better name would have been web-rants, which would now be brants.

In yesterday’s brant, we looked at how Christian organizations which serve the public should be committed to the highest level of customer service. This reminded me of two other areas I’ve written about in the past, which involve the Christian commitment to excellence.

treble-clef1The first is church music, but I will be the first to admit that many congregations simply don’t have the vocalists and instrumentalists needed to pull of studio quality covers of today’s popular worship songs or classic hymns. There needs to be some other measurement of what constitutes good worship in those environments.

church email etiquetteThe other however has to do with answering correspondence; phone calls and emails in particular, and as I’ve stated before, this is a giant fail for many churches and parachurch organizations, which is strange because unlike the (music) example above, no special skills or training are needed to practice the common courtesy of responding to an email with an email, a phone call with a phone call, or a letter with a letter.

But I’ll stop there, because we wouldn’t want this to become a brant would we?


Related: Excellence in the details: How’s the coffee at your church?

October 16, 2016

Intentional Evangelism

Filed under: Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:38 am

If you see the notes on my mom’s life of Christian service I prepared for her funeral, there are entries for various churches and parachurch organizations through which she served. But there’s also a line that says, “Valu Mart.”

She viewed the grocery store around the corner and down the street — or any other place she happened to be — as a mission field brimming with opportunities. No doubt she prayed that God would lead her to strike up a conversation with someone who would happen to be there.

And it did happen. She would relate names to me of people with whom she shared, one or two of which would end up in the kitchen having coffee, or she in theirs. Or people she had witnessed to who would just happen to be shopping for groceries the next time she was there.

For her, the produce aisle, or the dairy aisle or the meat aisle were places to connect with people. She was prepared. I have no doubt she was low-key in her witness, but also fully aware that people are hungry for God, time is limited and “the fields are white unto harvest.”

The question for the rest of us is, How many such opportunities to we miss? Put another way, How many people does God place in our past but we miss hearing his voice, or being obedient to his voice asking us to speak with them.

Evangelism that takes place in grocery stores like Valu Mart is intentional. It no doubt began with prayer before she left the house, and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit once she got her shopping cart and began looking not for bargains, but for people.

March 13, 2014

The Spiritual Decision Making Process

A long time ago, in a galaxy rather close by, a new generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers.  One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice. I am privileged to own (somewhere in our house) a copy of both.

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. But I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes here:

Complete Spiritual Decision Process - James Engel

November 16, 2012

Terminology: Liquid Church

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:30 am

This blog began its life as a newsletter that was emailed to a few hundred people. While combing through the archives last night, I found this piece from Spring, 2007.


When Michael Frost was in our hometown this winter, he introduced many people to the concept of “solid church” versus “liquid church” for the first time. I think the term actually originates with author Pete Ward. Because we use it so often internally in conversation, we thought we’d fill it in the rest of you.

“Solid” churches are visible. They have a brick and mortar building. They usually have paid clergy. They have been around for years and will continue to be around.

“Liquid” churches are usually invisible. They have no buildings. There are usually not paid staff. They, like liquid poured out on rocks, fill in the cracks where the solid churches can’t reach people groups that are distinct due to ethnicity, history, criminal records, socioeconomic status, etc. But liquid churches can also reach special interest groups, people bound by a hobby or sports-interest or just the fact they live in a certain neighborhood. Liquid churches can reach the poor, but also the wealthy.

Liquid churches aren’t so much about church “services” but about “being the church” for people who wouldn’t otherwise attend a solid church. They often begin casually, but eventually move towards what some would term “intentional spiritual formation.”

Not everybody likes this new development that’s taking place. Some would prefer to see nothing but solid churches in our future. But we need different kinds of outreach to connect with different kinds of people and our existing ways of “doing” church has been weighed and measured and it’s not as effective as we think it is. One person said, “Solid churches aren’t working, but we keep trying to fix them, or we build more of them.”

Look around you. There’s individuals and families and neighbors and co-workers and fellow-students nearby who are waiting for you to be the church for them. Not for you to drag them to your house of worship. To “be” the church.

June 8, 2012

More on The Sally Army Story

So I’m sitting listening to the Michael Coren’s  May 19th interview on the Drew Marshall Show, and it suddenly occurs to me there’s no post up today.  I’m supposed to reviewing The Way, the new edition of the NLT, but how does one review a Bible?  I’m up to the third chapter of Genesis and need to have it finished by next week. I have a feeling there are different rules for Bible reviewing.

Anyway, I’m still a chapter short of finishing the 1965 biography of the Salvation Army’s William Booth that I mentioned two weeks ago.  This is my ‘bedside reading’ title, so I’m in no particular hurry and my pace is slowed by (a) the richness of the language employed back then (and it’s sad to say that 50 years ago constitutes ‘back then’) and (b) continually setting the book aside to contemplate Booth’s pure genius.

In addition to what I wrote then, two things are standing out now that I’ve substantially made it through the book.

First, Booth was immersed in what we call today the Wesleyan tradition.  Revivalism. Holiness. Repentance. But he actually despaired of altar calls that brought church people forward at meetings. He wanted the call to reach beyond the church doors, the message of holiness and repentance to see response from people in the broader population. But of course, the church people, would get upset when he brought what we call riffraff through the church doors.

You can see why, parallel to building his social service army, he needed to start a church; and actually even that statement misses the point because for Booth, the souls of men (and women) were his primary concern. So while the visible expression of The Salvation Army was providing meals and clothing, the object of the movement was always to see many added to The Kingdom, or as they termed it, “soup, soap and salvation.”

Their motto was “Go for souls, and go for the worst.” And their concept of how to do this involved far more than witness, but really it involved their people embedding themselves among the poorest of people. This concept extended to their international outreach; they went to establish a presence in a variety of countries; I’m not sure Booth would relate to our short-term mission jaunts today. They didn’t go to take a methodology for confronting poverty, but they took a message; the gospel.

The consequences of this when Booth’s army ‘invaded’ Switzerland were large:

Booth, in his enthusiasm, and overlooked the fact that the cold proud city of Geneva was the birthplace of John Calvin, whose religion taught pre-election. The destiny of every soul, Calvinists argued, was determined before it ever entered the body: If some were irrevocably chose, others were irredeemably damned.

It was a disastrous decision–for in country outside Britain was The Army subject to such bitter persecution.  (p. 158)

But for the most part, souls responded; and while Booth’s organization is remembered today for its brass bands and annual Christmas kettle appeal, he was, without doubt, the greatest evangelist of his generation.

…[A]ll Booth’s meetings, in a sense were children’s meetings; he knew that people like to learn by picture, not by precept. Seldom did he use a word a child of primary school age couldn’t have understood, and because of this, the flying shuttle of the years wove his message in the hearts and minds of millions across thee world. “Use words that Mary Ann will understand,” he counseled his officers, “And you will be sure to make yourself plain to her mistress. If you speak only to her mistress you will very likely miss her and Mary Ann as well.” (p. 242)

Good advice for preachers today, I would say.

Second, the thing that stood out to me was the very active role The Army took in addressing poverty: They didn’t treat symptoms, they treated causes.

So while soup and soap were provided, they created business opportunities in cities and regions, building plants that manufactured bricks and matchsticks (the latter more necessary in the 1800s than we realize) as well as agricultural operations that would not only provide income but feed people (where soil and climate conditions permitted).

Today, we don’t hear so much about churches starting business operations. In North America, a church would be so cautious about doing so, so concerned about the perception of using its nonprofit status to unfair competitive advantage, so fearful of insurance liability implications, so criticized for not keeping its focus on preaching the gospel, so distracted by nay-sayers who would say, ‘What if the business loses money, we will have squandered peoples’ tithes and offerings.”

Two months ago, our church took up an offering at the end of the service for a guy in the community who was unable to pay his rent. He doesn’t really attend the church, but he’s known to some of the leadership from another outreach they are involved in. His “employability” is somewhat limited, so yes, there are cases where direct assistance is needed. (We took up a similar offering just this week; as the instigator of both collections, I may have set a precedent here, I trust that it’s a healthy precedent.)

But there are times when the church can take the skills of its people and create micro-business opportunities (as we now see happening in third world missions) or even medium sized light industrial or farming projects.

Booth recognized this was the higher solution to the problem; in fact, William Booth was all about dreaming and visioning dozens of ‘solutions’ every single day.

The potential of The Salvation Army in those days was only limited by Booth’s imagination, and the potential for your local church is only limited by theirs.

There are souls to rescue, there are souls to save… Let us not grow weary in the work of God.

See my earlier comments here.

If you’ve never heard it, click over to YouTube for the song Cliff Richard made famous, Good on The Sally Army (fast forward to 2:59)

The General Next To God: The Story of William Booth and the Salvation Army by Richard Collier.  Don’t go looking for this, I’m reading a used copy of the book published in 1965 by Collins Publishing

May 16, 2012

Wednesday Link List

If you missed the bonus edition of the link list this week, be sure to click over to Monday.

  • Quotation of the day, from Arminius, after whom Arminianism is named: ““Next to the study of the Scriptures which I earnestly inculcate, I exhort my pupils to peruse Calvin’s Commentaries…” (appropriately, as quoted on an Arminian blog.)
  • Canadian author, apologist and television host Grant Jeffrey passed away on the weekend. His independent publishing catalog was purchased years ago by Random House subsidiary Waterbrook Press, with Wikipedia listing 34 titles including one scheduled for next January.
  • At Age 30, Chris Galanos is the youngest person to pastor a megachurch in the United States. Needless to say, it’s in Texas.
  • If you have ever struggled to sing the bridge to “Blessed Be The Name” — the “You give and take away” part — you might resonate with this article and many comments.
  • On the 20th anniversary of New Wineskins magazine, Keith Brenton deals with the emotional issues that arise when one reaches a crossroads in terms of their committment to their church home. To stay or to go, that is the question. 
  • Julie Clawson learns the hard way that when you’re in the fitting room trying on swimsuits, you’re a captive audience for the woman who wants to stand outside the door and share her faith. Not sure if this would work at the menswear store.
  • Lots of Bible-related links today; that’s a good thing, right? Now picture yourself sitting alone in your room reading your Bible. In the grander scheme of things, you’re not really alone.
  • Francis Chan makes a rather provocative statement about mission and worship, and — just like Andy Stanley’s fifteen minutes of controversy last week — the words get wrenched from the heart of what he’s saying. Gee…that’s never happened before.
  • How does a Bible translator feel when a new English version is introduced, knowing so many people still don’t have a Bible or even a complete New Testament in their language.
  • The Amish weren’t supposed to have cars, but did anybody say they couldn’t fly? In a community where the official ruling was still pending, a young man takes up flying in 1917, and where the Great War is going on, he also is an exception to the practice of exemption from military duty. All this makes The Wings of Morning a rather interesting looking novel.
  • The Gay issue. It’s the toughest challenge the church has faced in years. And each gay person is going to have contact — good or bad — with professing Christians. And for every 17 interactions, you have to hope one of us gets it right.
  • Pete Wilson boards a helicopter for a flyover of a piece of property central to a complete relocation of Cross Point in Nashville, and also celebrates a God-blessed history in this 15-minute video.
  • Sports Department: Victor Goetz is a championship golfer, however he’s also quite blind. He typically finishes with a score of 105. He also earned a Paralympic gold medal in lawn bowling.
  • Pop goes the music department: A new Owl City EP released yesterday with help from Matt Thiessen of Relient K.
  • A Lutheran (LCC) pastor thinks you can preach a perfect sermon but still get a failing grade if you’ve answered all the wrong questions or left people with the wrong mandate.
  • Michael Hyatt sits down with the originators of a rather unique new English Bible translation, The Voice. This edition uses a dramatic script format where applicable, and I’m hoping at some point to get a copy so we can delve into it here in much more detail. (There’s a page sample from one month ago at this blog when the usual suspects got upset about a particular phrase translation choice.)
  • For those who follow the Fundy Follies, Right Wing Watch blog is doing a series based on the student handbook at Liberty University; this link deals with the policy of random drug testing. Too bad thought-monitoring hasn’t been invented yet.
  • Which is a great lead-in to twelve easy steps the rest of us can follow that provide an absolute guarantee that we’ll never be mistaken for a Fundy.
  • ‘You and I in a little toy shop, buy a bag of balloons for the Bibles we bought…’ — They weren’t red balloons, but they carried Bibles into North Korea, and GPS tracking devices verified that they reached the target.
  • You’ve seen the line, “If you love Jesus click ‘like.'” Does that mean that if I don’t click, I don’t love Jesus? Is Facebook theology becoming shallow, or were the FB-ers who post this drivel spiritually shallow to begin with?
  • Now then, as to that Archie comic above. If you’re old enough to remember the “even then it was awkward evangelism” Spire Christian Comics and want to relive those memories, Carp’s Place has them waiting for you on .pdf files…
  • …And since one Archie deserves another, I thought we’d end with TV favorite 1970’s bigot, Archie Bunker; and if you dare, a link to Archie reading the creation story from Genesis, which isn’t quite the same as Linus reading the Christmas story.

December 17, 2011

Wednesday Link List on Saturday

List Lynx

I thought it was only fair to give you weekend lurkers a window into what happens here during the week. Maybe W.L.L. can also stand for Weekend Link List.

  • Given the season, we’ll kick off with a feel-good, flashmob video; Deck the Halls as it sounded at the Carlson School of Management.  Don ye now yer gay apparel.
  • Veteran Christian blogger Andrew Jones notes that 2011 was the year we talked about hell. “How can someone say that hell contains literal fire that scorches your butt while heaven contains metaphorical wine that you cannot enjoy? That’s not consistent. It’s also bad news for wine drinkers. And how can all the words for ‘hell’ in the Greek be interchangeable while the words for ‘love’ are highly nuanced?”
  • In response to the child abuse scandals that have rocked on particular denomination, a UK sculptor reminds us yet again in this pixelating piece titled Cardinal Sin.
  • Here’s a 2012 book title that looks interesting: Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos. From the book blurb:Imagine Matt’s astonishment when he finds out that the guy he knows as Jesus . . . isn’t. He’s an Imaginary Jesus: a comfortable, convenient imitation Matt has created in his own image.” Here’s the video preview.
  • Pastors must love it when parishioners are literally ‘overflowing’ with the weekend message; saying that they “knocked it out of the park.”  Check out Free Will vs. Free Will.  The preacher in this case is Mark Vroegop of College Park Church IN INdianapolis INdiana, IN case you were wondering.
  • Move over Martha Stewart Department: What Christmas table wouldn’t be complete without some Christmas Eve Mice desserts?   Mine, apparently; until I read about them at Daily Encouragement where they’re known as Church Mouse Cookies. Bet the Church Mouse name came first and then it got P.C.-ed. Looks too good to eat, though.
  • While this video was posted to GodTube a few days ago, I think I’ve seen this one before; the one where the little girl either steals the show or ruins the show depending on whether or not you had kids in this particular Christmas production. Note: Earplugs recommended.
  • Christian Week profiles Luke Gilkerson of Covenant Eyes and his summary of Five Ways Porn Warps Minds.  Sample: “It taps into the neuro-circuitry of our brains, making us desire the rush of sexual energy from porn again and again.”
  • Some Evangelicals may not have liked Christopher Hitchens, but the renown atheist kept us on our toes. Hitchens passed away Thursday at age 62.  Doug Wilson offers a Christian reflection at Christianity Today.
  • At Christianity 201, I offer up two videos to try to contrast the difference between apologetics and evangelism, featuring two people who are very skilled at both. Longtime readers here will recognize the first vid.
  • At Stuff Fundies Like, it’s time to reveal the truth about Christmas — and Rudoph — in this classic sermon based on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
  • Lastly, Roger Morris is a Christian in Australia who confesses that his kids have done the whole Harry Potter thing, and then goes on to recommend doing so, “in a controlled and supervised fashion.”  Read his reasoning at Christian Today.

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