Thinking Out Loud

October 2, 2018

Parallel Trends in Other Faiths

Not realizing the direction my life would take, I regret to say that I only took one Religious Studies course at the University of Toronto. It was a rather broad survey course, probably used as an elective for Nursing students or Engineering students who needed a “soft” course to round out their program.

The professor said something that has continued to captivate me to this day. In the previous decade, a hot topic in Christianity had been The Charismatic Movement, a movement marked by instances whereby the ‘Gifts of the Spirit’ were turning up in places not normally considered Pentecostal in theology; not the least of which was the gift of speaking in tongues, or what is known as glossolalia. The teacher said that this was not exclusive to Christianity but that glossolalia was turning up in other faith streams as well, and had longstanding expressions in religions not at all affiliated with Christianity.

That rocked my world. To my mind at the time, anyone not following Jesus was pagan, so how could pagans speak in tongues? Or did this confirm the suspicions of conservative cessationists (though I didn’t know that word then) that all of this was of Satan, not of God?

The idea of elements of movement having parallels in other faiths brings me to today’s topic…

…We had walked down Toronto’s Brunswick Avenue following a sign for a yard sale, that turned out to be rather misleading. She had things on sale. And they were in her front yard. But not enough to warrant the block we had walked. As we were about to take a shortcut through a small park, a small building, not much more than the size of one housing lot, caught my eye.

As it turned out it was the First Narayever Synagogue. I peered through the window, and someone inside saw me and opened the door. A few minutes later, we were standing in the lobby looking at the inside. It was Sukkot and downstairs there was a crowd of people sharing a meal together in celebration of the high holy day.

It was then that the person who had opened the door told us that it was “an egalitarian Orthodox synagogue.”  Wait, what? You can do that? It was confirmed that the women — at least the two we saw — were wearing a head covering, one of which was the familiar kippah (or what we sometimes call a yarmulke) normally worn by men.

Again, my world rocked. My brain is still trying to wrap itself on the idea of being egalitarian and being Orthodox at the same time.

Critics of egalitarianism in Protestant circles argue that this is simply the church capitulating to the broader culture. An echo of the feminist movement of decades gone by, perhaps. But it does mean that the same cultural pressures apply equally in other faiths.

The website states, “Our shul follows the traditional Hebrew liturgy, with changes made for the purposes of gender egalitarianism.” That would seem to imply inclusive language. And yet, in matters of theology and practice, still Orthodox. The page also states clearly that their services are what Evangelicals would term “seeker friendly,” and again with no hint of theological compromise; the charge often levied at Christian groups who structure their service to welcome guests.

…In another way what we saw reminded me of Next a church in downtown Kingston, Ontario which is characterized by its lack of parking. This is a neighborhood congregation, though again, being Orthodox, many would live within walking distance of the synagogue, since driving a car would constitute doing work on Shabbat.

As is taking pictures. We were told that wasn’t possible. The one above is from their Facebook page. The one below we took outside after leaving. I’ve always wanted to sit through an entire service in a synagogue, but assumed that if I did, it would be one of the major ones in Toronto’s large Jewish community.

Now I think I’d rather it were this one!

 

 

 

 

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July 3, 2018

Keeping Up With the Trends

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:12 pm

I noted on a recent link collection that in the new Hillsong Young and Free video, keyboards, digital controllers and synths dominate. If you listen to the feeds from North Point and Willow and other large churches, you’ve probably heard the presence of keyboards increase over the last two or so years.

Today I was in a magazine store, and was looking for a good keyboard magazine for my oldest son.

You guessed it.

All guitar magazines.

There’s a trend in music that the magazine industry hasn’t caught up with.

They’re just doing the same thing they’ve been doing for the past several decades…

As you know, I’ve been collecting analogies that can be instructional for those of us in the church. By this one today I don’t mean the type of instrumentation in our worship bands, but rather the larger situation whereby the world is changing and the church hasn’t noticed. Blissfully unaware we keep doing our thing and wondering why the world doesn’t find it as relevant as they once did.

I mean, you can certainly take the lesson literally if you want to.

But figuratively, we’re playing guitar while the world has switched to keyboards.

We need to always be aware where our methodologies and structures have fallen behind, and where we need to catch up.

March 16, 2018

Your Church Family Directory

One of the two churches with which I’m directly involved has a church directory which includes email addresses. The major benefit I see is that it allows people to continue the conversations started on Sundays throughout the week; to initiate contact; or to follow up with friends they haven’t seen in awhile.

The church family phone directory is probably something that will disappear over the next decade because of (a) privacy concerns, and (b) the degree to which the megachurches set the agenda of smaller churches. Nonetheless we thought we’d visit this topic.


Since my church uses a photo directory, I had a thought today that it would be fun to do one where instead of actual photographs, people submitted an avatar, as they do on social media. It would be 100% contrary to the purpose for which photo directories were created in the first place, but definitely fun and colorful.

Full disclosure: I was looking at this picture of two cats when I came up with this, and thinking it might be better than the dated picture of Mrs. W. and myself they’ve been using for the past four years.


Next, there is the issue of people who appear in these directories who have long moved on, hopefully to another church.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a megachurch pastor. We often forget that numerically, he would qualify by today’s standards. The church experienced phenomenal growth. At their size, not to mention the cost of paper, a church directory would have been impossible. But there was a membership roll and people wanted their name kept on it. He wrote,

Let us not keep names on our books when they are only names. Certain of the good old people like to keep them there, and cannot bear to have them removed; but when you do not know where individuals are, nor what they are, how can you count them? They are gone to America, or Australia, or to heaven, but as far as your roll is concerned they are with you still. Is this a right thing? It may not be possible to be absolutely accurate, but let us aim at it… *

I don’t think that everyone I’m aware of actually wants their directory listing to be kept. They’ve possibly changed churches and aren’t giving it a thought. Rather, the fault lies with the church for not noticing their absence. (Having written that, I just got in touch with someone I haven’t seen lately to see how they’re doing.)


I see we’ve covered this topic before. Four years ago, I proposed something different:

How a social media hub is different from a Church directory

I’m writing this in a vacuum, because I haven’t exactly seen done what I am proposing here. I just see a need. So here’s the proposal, and if you have any suggestions or revisions based on experience with a church that’s doing this please leave a comment.

Social media, as we have come to know it, is with us to stay. The platforms will migrate over time, but a generation has grown up communicating on line, and overall, I would say that for the church, this is a good thing. We can start a conversation at a weekend service, and continue it all week. We can learn that people have specific interests, and send them links to articles and channels of interest. It replaces the classic “encouragement notes” or “thinking-of-you cards.”

  • Ideally, a church directory lists every member and adherent. A social media index lists only people who want to share their various social media platforms.
  • A Church directory contains addresses and numbers for mobile phones and land lines.  A social media index has names and locations for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, tumblr, WordPress and YouTube pages.
  • A Church directory often exists in print; a church social media hub exists only online. It’s live, so information may be added or removed at any time.
  • Church publications generally promote the church’s own social media pages. A social media index highlights what the church family is doing online.
  • Church directories are usually only distributed to the people whose names are contained in them. A social media index can just be a page on the church website — “Central Community Church on Social Media” — with no restricted access, because each of the pages concerned are public anyway.
  • Knowing that anyone in your church can access your pages is a wonderful way of keeping yourself accountable for what you write, post or link to. Your social media pages may reflect a personal family focus and other interests and hobbies you have; but ultimately you are aware that fellow church members might drop in at any time, unannounced.
  • Social media is constantly changing. A social media index for your church family needs to be updated on a regular basis, perhaps weekly. If a given platform falls out of use, there can be a decision to delete all links to that platform.
  • If any social media platform from any church member is reported to have questionable content, all their listings would be removed.

If one of the basic problems in the church is that we don’t really know each other, I know of no other way to change that than to be interconnected online. This allows us to get to know each other to a greater degree.


We’ll look more at this topic tomorrow!

*Spurgeon quotation source, click here.

May 21, 2016

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

Today we’re featuring a re-post of an article which first appeared in April at the website I Already Am. To read this at source, click this link.

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Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

By Nathan Lorick

Fifteen years ago, we were living in a less technological society than we are now. Blockbuster, the video rental market leader, was booming with thousands of retail stores scattered across the nation. Millions of customers poured in week after week to rent the newest action thriller or comedy. Blockbuster was simply at the top of their game, or so they thought.

Beyond the glare of the blue and yellow lights, something was happening that went largely unnoticed. A new company had formed with a new creative form of video rental that would push the limits of the norm. This company, known today as Netflix, had the right idea at the right time. However, for various reasons, the CEO of the new company wanted to partner with Blockbuster to create a new dynasty that was sure to take the video rental world to levels not seen before.

In 2000, the CEO of Netflix approached the CEO of Blockbuster and offered to sell the newly formed Netflix for a mere $50 million. While that number sounds large to us, this is a small investment for a major retail business. It wasn’t the money that caused the CEO of Blockbuster to decline the offer; instead it was because he missed the opportunity to see beyond the present market. Hindsight is 20/20. Today, Blockbuster is out of business, and Netflix is the largest video rental company—worth more than $30 billion.

This is a modern picture of what many churches are going through. At one time they were thriving and growing at rapid rates. Their ministries were effective in every way measurable. Things were as good as they could be. However, somewhere along the way, attendance began to drift off, giving became less dependable, and the influence of their ministries became unknown to those outside of the church. Simply put, churches were so focused on the present, they stopped dreaming about the future. They essentially became a Blockbuster church in a Netflix culture.

So what can be done about this if your church is in this stage? What is the key element to moving forward into a new season of growth and vitality? While there can be many answers, I want to narrow it down to one key element: re-launching evangelism in your church’s strategy. Evangelism is the axis on which our church must turn in order to see it revitalized to life and growth. Nothing brings new life to a church more than seeing people experience new life in Christ.

So how do you bridge the desire for church revitalization and evangelism? I believe this is found in three simple answers:

  1. You must create a culture of evangelism in your church. Church members must sense the need and urgency to reach people for Christ and recognize their responsibility in God’s kingdom work to share the good news of Christ. Your church has to create strategies that are focused on reaching the lost with the gospel. When this happens, people begin to expect God to transform lives each and every week. Creating a culture of evangelism in a church will simultaneously create a culture of newfound enthusiasm in a church.
  2. You must create opportunities to train people on how to share their faith and to engage in personal evangelism. People are eager to see God use them for His purposes. They genuinely want to see people come to faith in Jesus; many just haven’t been discipled in how to do it. When your church equips people with the necessary tools to share the gospel, God uses them to expand his kingdom. Once someone leads another to Christ, they develop a new excitement because they know they have been used by God!
  3. You must consistently dream about the future and try new tools for evangelism. In our day, we have more tools and gadgets to share the gospel than ever before. Churches should always evaluate what is out there to utilize as well as continue to be innovative in how they engage those without Christ.

The tragedy of Blockbuster is that they settled for being good in the present and missed the opportunity to be great in the future. Likewise, God has given us an incredible opportunity to shine his light brighter than ever before. I encourage you as a church to be forward thinking in how to engage your community with the gospel. After all, we’re not a part of a video retail business; we are a part of a worldwide gospel revolution.

used by permission | see more at the blog I Already Am

January 4, 2016

Christianity’s Diminishing Influence: What if We Were the Refugees?

In eight years of blogging I’ve repeated many articles but this is the first time I’ve ever repeated a book review, especially one that appeared only 12 months prior. But as I was looking at these Pew Research stats, especially the one showing Christianity and Islam having relatively equal numbers in the year 2050 (based on current projections) I realized we are about to witness a massive paradigm shift.

This book is therefore very timely, but without the fear-inducing sensationalism of mass-appeal titles.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework? How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

August 17, 2015

The Perils of Being the Guest Speaker

guest speakingI was coming to my third point when I noticed my mouth was getting dry from all the talking. Sometimes at work, I just push past this, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the glass of water that had been placed there.

I paused, picked up the glass, hesitated, and took a small sip. You guessed it. It was water that had been sitting there from the previous Sunday. Were some in the audience aware of what had just happened? Should I acknowledge the distraction? With the adrenaline rush that you get when you’re speaking before a group of people, I simply continued on in my message.

I did not get sick that day. I’ve often wondered if in this denomination, it’s the pastor’s responsibility to refresh the water glass himself. As a guest speaker, it’s certainly an occupational hazard.

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Over the course of a couple of years, I had become the default speaker when the pastor, who had ministry interests both in Europe and Central America, needed to be away.

The first Sunday I arrived wearing a dress shirt and dress pants, but no jacket or tie. I was fairly certain this wasn’t normal for that church, but I wanted to make a statement.

The second time I spoke there I also went business casual, but this time, in my introduction, I explained how my work and my writing put me in contact with dynamic churches and pastors across North America and how the church is changing, being very careful to emphasize changes in church architecture, ministry philosophy, music and dress. I think I even acknowledge my own lack of a tie as example of this.

The third time — or just before the third time via email — one of the members told me that a few of them had been part of a discussion resulting in the decision that they would chip in and buy me a suit. “Where else would I wear it?” I asked. Even at the last wedding and funeral I attended, a sports jacket had been sufficient. “I think I do indeed own a suit;” I told them, “But that’s not the direction the North American church is moving.”

The fourth time I simply donned the sports jacket as I was leaving the house. When I arrived at the church, I noticed a few smiles.

…We got to hear John Wimber a couple of times in Southern California in 1989. They were both Sunday evening services, and he was wearing a track suit. Actually, he played with the worship band and then got up to preach, and if someone had said to you, ‘One of the people in the band is the pastor and tonight’s speaker; now guess who it is;” unless you’d seen his picture on his books, I guarantee you would have gotten it wrong.

Andy Stanley wears jeans for the most part, though not yesterday. In the south, it’s all very natural. Rick Warren has his trademark Hawaiian shirts. Bill Hybels is always very corporate, but I’ve never seen him in a suit, and not sure if I’ve seen him in a jacket and tie. (A quick scan of Yahoo Images bears this out, but for the one shot that I’m sure was taken at a banquet.)

The church in question now has a new minister so my guest-speaking and clothing-paradigm-smashing days there appear to be over. What I hope they remember is that the messages were good, but if my name is mentioned, what I think they may remember will have nothing to do with the Bible expositions I brought.

July 13, 2015

CT Article Gives Insight into Local Church Culture

I’m not going to provide any spoilers here, you’ll have to read the article; but in the July/August issue of Christianity Today, sociologist Bradley Wright unveils the results of a study that involved contacting nearly 3,200 churches by email using fake accounts belonging to people with distinct ethnic-sounding names, to see if the nature and volume of the replies said anything about racial attitudes in today’s churches.

Rather, I want to look at two things that were peripheral to the research results.

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2015-06-17 19:09:04Z | http://piczard.com | http://codecarvings.com

The article was also CT’s cover story. Their cover was nearly blown, however when one pastor, relocating from Alaska to Texas got the same email in both locations.

First, only 59% replied. Now in statistical research, for all I know, that might be a fairly decent response rate. But these are churches and that type of response is to me, very disappointing. For a faith that follows One who taught that a shepherd will leave 99 sheep in the pen to go after the one which is lost, that 41% did not reply is really close to abysmal. (Elsewhere on this blog, we’ve noted the same is true of Christian publishers, media outlets, and parachurch organizations in general.)

If you or someone you know oversees the general email box of your church, or gets the inquiries generated through an online form, make sure they have a mechanism in place where every legitimate email is getting a reply.

Second, it was interesting to note the definition of what constitutes racial diversity in a religious group. If 80% or more of a congregation is of a fixed race (i.e. White, Hispanic, Black, Asian) then that church is not diverse, regardless of how prominent a role some families may be given. Overall, among all religions the rate is 15%, but if you pick a Protestant Church this Sunday the rate is only 5%, in other words, nineteen-times-out-of-twenty, that congregation will be four-fifths or more of one race.

It was noted that one church body, Willow Creek, which also provided the greatest number of responses (and was declared “the winner,” assuming this was a contest) has been intentionally looking for ways to diversify its attendance.

The article is available to subscribers, or in print at newsstands. A number of charts also break down the research results.

 

June 11, 2015

Gay Marriage: When There’s No Room for “I’m Not Sure.”

There are small churches everywhere for whom the pressure to respond to every cultural issue simply doesn't exist.

There are small churches everywhere for whom the pressure to respond to every cultural issue simply doesn’t exist.

It’s hard to be on social media and ignore the dust that Tony Campolo kicked up on Monday in affirming gay marriage. I’m not here today to discuss the actual issue, but a particular nuance raised in an article on Religion News Service referencing Albert Mohler, in which he’s quoted as saying: “This is a moment of decision, and every evangelical believer, congregation, denomination, and institution will have to answer. There will be no place to hide.”

I immediately thought of the four older women who sat in the back row of a church I once attended. They have to stake a position on this issue? They need to have an opinion? He did say every believer. And what does he mean by a place to hide? If it means hiding your position that’s one thing, but what if you just want to hide from this issue?

Furthermore, I’m not sure that I could state my own position on this with clarity because the issue is so terribly complex. It bears on one’s feelings about homosexuality, but even there we find people talking about different degrees of everything from mild same-sex attraction to actual copulation. It bears on one’s feelings about the word marriage, and whether or not one can be opposed to gay marriage but support gay civil union. It bears on your response to sin and whether or not we have to clean up to meet God or if we’re invited to be ourselves; to come as we are. It bears on how one feels about how the church sees itself: As a private club for members only, or as agents of grace and mercy on The Jericho Road.

(My personal take leans toward the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ position; the belief that some people are experiencing something that is good, but it’s good only because it borrows elements of the best.)

The article by Jacob Lupfer cites Mohler’s own blog noting, “For conservative evangelicals, there is no middle ground — no “third way.” Either churches will affirm covenanted same-sex relationships or they will not.”

Maybe it’s ostrich-like of me to believe this, but I like to think that somewhere — many somewheres — there is a church that simply hasn’t done a sermon or held a seminar on this topic; they are quietly working their way through a study of Hebrews, or Mark’s gospel, and they don’t feel the need to respond.

The article was prompted by support for Campolo by Christianity Today’s former editor David Neff. Fearing that this might send a signal that CT lines up with Campolo, current editor Mark Galli is quoted as saying, ““We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter,” he wrote.”

Galli is touching on something important here. As the capital-C Church, we can’t let ourselves and our positions be overwhelmed by what’s happening in the broader culture. We can’t allow the daily news to be the lens through which we interpret scripture and establish doctrine.

But there’s a lesson in that principle for Mohler as well. Just as we can’t allow culture to shape our theology, so also we can’t permit culture to force what constitutes the preaching and teaching agenda of local churches. The rest of us don’t have to call an emergency membership meeting next Wednesday night to sort out our position just because we’re being told we have to have one. Again, this is a very complex issue.

Some will say my imaginary somewhere churches exist in a cultural backwater somewhere, but if they just want to trust God and let these social issues work themselves out under God’s sovereignty, I’m fine with that. True, the gay issue may come home to roost in some of those places, as it might in the families of the blue-haired women on the back row of my former church; but armed with a knowledge of the ways of God that only comes through in-depth study of the Bible, they’ll meet that crisis with a calmness and conviction that’s rooted in Christ, not in the need to declare a position that puts them on one side or the other.

In other words, thanks Tony, Albert, David, Mark; but now can we please talk about something else? We’re allowing ourselves to get oh, so distracted.

 

 

 

February 11, 2015

Wednesday Link List

The classic photo archive, Shorpy.com called this photo "Church of Meteorology." Here's why: "Going to church to pray for rain. Grassy Butte, North Dakota; July 1936."

The classic photo archive, Shorpy.com called this photo “Church of Meteorology.” Here’s why: “Going to church to pray for rain. Grassy Butte, North Dakota; July 1936.”  Click the image to view at source.

Each week we begin with a blank slate, never knowing what direction the week’s links are going to take.

  • When Bible Superficials are not Superficial – How words and paragraphs are set out on the page can affect the meaning we take away from the passage, so Bible typography — especially punctuation, paragraphing and chapter divisions — actually matters.  48 minutes; some of it quite humorous; and most of it is translation-neutral.
  • Taking the Plus-One Approach – Kevin DeYoung: “Are you just starting out at a new church and don’t know how to get plugged in? Have you been at your church for years and still haven’t found your place? Are you feeling disconnected, unhappy, or bored with your local congregation? Let me suggest you enter the ‘Plus One’ program of church involvement…In addition to the Sunday morning worship service, pick one thing in the life of your congregation and be very committed to it.”
  • Praying Together as a Couple – Last week the Stand to Reason blog had an excerpt from Tim Keller’s book on prayer, in which Keller, in turn quotes his wife on the necessity of prayer: “Imagine you were diagnosed with such a lethal condition that the doctor told you that you would die within hours unless you took a particular medicine—a pill every night before going to sleep. Imagine that you were told that you could never miss it or you would die. Would you forget? Would you not get around to it some nights? No—it would be so crucial that you wouldn’t forget, you would never miss. Well, if we don’t pray together to God, we’re not going to make it because of all we are facing. I’m certainly not. We have to pray, we can’t let it just slip our minds.”
  • When God is Silent – Tony Woodlief at InTouch Ministries: “[O]ver the years I have buried a child, ruined a marriage, and disappointed so very many people. In the midst of this life’s wreckage, there have been many long, dark nights when I scarcely had breath for prayer, let alone presence of mind to formulate the right words. Some nights I have lain across my bed, or on the floor, and I have wept, and hoped that tears suffice where words won’t come.” Tony at his blog: “I’ve talked about saudade, a Portuguese word meaning the presence of absence, which is how you feel, every day for the rest of your life, when you have lost someone you love. Their absence is a weight, it is a presence… This weighty nothing is also what you feel when you cannot discern God’s response.”
  • Saturday Morning at the Inter-Faith Service – This may resonate with some of you: “I am weary from a full and demanding week, and…to say that Sunday’s sermon is “unfinished” would be the height of understatement… I usually feel a little out-of-place at these ecumenical services, standing amidst all of my more impressive-looking clergypersons with their beautiful robes and vestments. I can only imagine how it looks from the pew. Who’s that guy with the scruffy sports coat who forgot to shave?  What’s he doing up there? Who let him sit amongst the real pastors and priests?”
  • Women in the Bible: Entirely New Metrics – “There are 93 women who speak in the Bible, 49 of whom are named. These women speak a total of 14,056 words collectively — roughly 1.1 percent of the total words in the holy book. These are the findings of the Rev. Lindsay Hardin Freeman, an Episcopal priest who three years ago embarked on an unprecedented project: to count all the words spoken by women in the Bible. With the help of three other women in her church community — as well as highlighters, sticky notes and spreadsheets — Freeman painstakingly dissected the Bible’s New Revised Standard Version.”
  • Religious Freedom in Canada – Television journalist Lorna Dueck devotes her half-hour program Context to the background story on the accreditation of the Law School at Trinity Western University by the various law societies in each of the Canadian provinces. At broadcast time, the legal battle was being fought on five separate fronts.
  • Is Christian Music Worth Listening To? – Is it worshiptainment? Jonny Diaz, a popular Christian recording artist, John Thompson, an executive with Capitol CMG Publishing, and Dr. T. David Gordon, a professor of religion joined host Julie Roys on the weekend for a sometimes heated discussion at Up For Debate, a program at Moody Radio. 48 minute audio. Which leads us to…
  • Where They Are Now – Jesus music and modern worship pioneer Kelly Willard talks about her battle with Bipolar Disorder and how it intersected life circumstances: “I KNOW that if I had not been on the correct medication(s) for my Bipolar Disorder, I would’ve ended up somewhere in a padded cell wearing a straight-jacket indefinitely. For you see, in 2004, my father died, my daughter committed suicide, my mother died, my 29 year marriage died (we divorced), and my stepmother took my inheritance from my father away from me.”
  • Finally, Just in Case You Need It – A directory of American churches — no doubt incomplete — where the lead or senior pastor is a woman. “I sense that some people would really prefer to have a woman in the senior pastoral role and the directory can help them find such a church.”

Short takes:

  • Vice.com gets into an in-depth article on Christians and pornography, including a focus on the ministry XXXChurch.com
  • Ten reasons why Jesus probably would be an outcast in today’s church.
  • A mission agency focused on Bible translation is using new methods to get the job done more efficiently as donor dollars decline.
  • David Platt talks to PARSE about his new book, Church and Culture.
  • InterVarsity has won a pivotal sex discrimination court case over hiring practices, with ramifications for other churches and Christian charities.
  • Pentecostal prayer gangs in prison: An interview with the creator of the documentary I Give My Soul.
  • K-LOVE goes video: “K-LOVE, the national Christian music radio chain, is launching a multi-platform video channel through a partnership with TAPP TV. ‘We are thrilled about K-LOVE TV creating another avenue for fans to connect and go deeper with K-LOVE, their faith and the artists they love,’ said Mike Novak, K-LOVE President and CEO. The service costs $9.95 per month.”
  • The band I Am They — named after passages in the New Testament — formed somewhat by accident.
  • And speaking of bands, our video of the week is the song My God by new Canadian band Caves featuring Amanda Cook.
  • If you’re having trouble beating the February blahs, why not relax and enjoy some lighter side reading from author/speaker Phil Callaway. (Though my pick was the more serious items in the interviews section.)

Leonard Sweet tweeted this on Tuesday, calling it “a different kind of last supper.”  The artist is Johan Andersson. Click the image for more information.

A Different Kind of Last Supper

January 22, 2015

As Christianity Loses Its Majority Status in the US

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Ps. 137:4

Book Review: The Church in Exile

Although I worked for InterVarsity Press briefly several lifetimes ago, and have covered other IVP books here before, this is the first time I’ve attempted to review anything from the IVP Academic imprint. So let me say at the outset that perhaps I have no business considering scholarly titles here; however there is a personal connection that had me wanting to read this book, and that resulted in my wanting to give it some visibility here.

Lee Beach was our pastor for nearly ten years, and one year of that overlapped a staff position I held at the church as director of worship. He came to us after serving as an associate pastor and then interim pastor of a church just 45 minutes north. He was young, passionate and everyone just called him Lee.

Today, years later, when mentioning him to students in his university community, the honorific is always used, it’s Dr. Beach at McMaster Divinity School in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where he serves as assistant professor of Christian ministry, director of ministry formation and teaches courses on pastoral ministry, mission, the church in culture and spirituality.

The Church in Exile - Lee BeachThe Church in Exile: Living in Hope After Christendom is made more accessible to those of us who are non-academics because of its timeliness. Because of immigration, the rise of secularism, and a decline in church membership and attendance, Christianity is losing both numbers and the influence that those metrics bring. In some communities already, Christians are no longer the majority stakeholders.

From his vantage point in Canada where religious pluralism has been normative now for several decades, Dr. Beach has a clear view of where the U.S. is heading. From his background as a Christian & Missionary Alliance pastor, he also has a heightened awareness as to the status afforded Christianity in other parts of the world.

The book is divided into two sections. The first begins in the Old Testament with a focus on those times God’s people lived in exile, or were scattered, particularly the narratives concerning Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and what’s termed the Second Temple period, where the community of the faithful seems to be diminished; a shadow of its former self. (Sound familiar?) From there, the book moves to the New Testament with particular attention to I Peter.

In the foreword, Walter Brueggemann points out that while exiles may have a sense that the present situation is temporary, the Jewish Diaspora brought with it no expectation of returning home. In other words, their placement was what we would call today ‘the new normal.’ That so well describes the church in 2015. There is no reasonable anticipation that things will go back to the way they were.

The second section builds on the theological framework of the first to turn our thoughts to the more practical concerns of being the church in the margins. How does one lead, and offer hope in such a period of decline? How does our present context govern or even shape our theological framework?  How does a vast religious mosaic affect evangelism, or one’s eligibility for inclusion or participation in church life? How do followers of Christ maintain a distinct identity?

To that last question, the term used is ‘engaged nonconformity’ wherein

Exilic holiness is fully engaged with culture while not fully conforming to it. Living as a Christian exile in Western culture calls the church to live its life constructively embedded within society while not being enslaved to all of its norms and ideals. p. 183

It should come as no surprise that some of this section cites practitioners of what has been termed the missional church movement.

“But wait;” some might say, “We were here first.” While that may not be exactly true, the spirit of it is well entrenched, and early on we’re reminded that you can experience the consequences of exile even in your own homeland. You don’t have to sell your house to feel you’ve been displaced, and that’s the reality that will impact North American Christians if it hasn’t touched some already.

In the post-Christian revolution, it is fair to say that the church is one of those former power brokers who once enjoyed a place of influence at the cultural table but has been chased away from its place of privilege and is now seeking to find where it belongs amid the ever changing dynamics of contemporary culture. p. 46

In the end, despite my misgivings about wading into academic literature, I read every word of The Church in Exile, and I believe that others like me will find this achievable also, simply because this topic is so vital and our expectation of and preparedness for the changes taking place are so necessary.


The Church in Exile is now available in paperback (240 pages) from IVP and wherever great books are sold (click the image above for a profile) and retails at $25 US.

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