Thinking Out Loud

April 7, 2022

Lessons (Hopefully) Learned from Willow Creek and Harvest Bible Chapel

Living in what the people of Chicagoland call “the northwest suburbs” theologian Scot McKnight and his daughter, teacher Laura Barringer had a front row seat when things began unraveling at Harvest Bible Chapel and Willow Creek Community Church, and furthermore were acquainted with many of the people who became a part of our daily Twitter and blog feeds about both stories.

For this writer, the allegations about James MacDonald were hardly surprising, but I was more deeply invested in Bill Hybels, so there I found the greatest shock and disappointment. That the actions of these leaders were both shielded from the parishioners and the general public, and/or softened for public consumption meant that other leaders were culpable as the accusations intensified.

As I pointed out in this article, by the end of 2020, the damage done to the lives and legacies of various church leaders — not just pastors — was devastating and in no way limited to Harvest and Willow. So in writing A Church Called TOV: Forming a Goodness Culture that Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing (Tyndale House, 2020) McKnight and Barringer were not afraid to name names.

This serves as an example of the truth and transparency that they see as just one of the seven marks of what they call “the circle of TOV,” which ought to be a mantra for every church wishing to have a healthy internal governance culture. Before getting there however, the first 80-or-so pages define the problem, and only then do they embark on what I consider the redemptive properties of the book, though they do not, by any means leave the naming of names behind, but continue to address situations that are relevant to each of the seven healthy characteristics they are defining.

It is at that point that some more positive anecdotal content is presented, including some very moving accounts from the late Calvin Miller. And the scriptures. In some chapters, especially the scriptures. (I ran a very brief excerpt from the book at Christianity 201 a few days ago as an example.)

If you get a copy, you need to copy and print an enlargement of their “circle of TOV” and hang it in whatever room your church board/elders meets. It should guide every aspect of the decision-making processes.

So why review a 2020 book now? In publishing marketing and publicity, this isn’t done, but reading Jesus and John Wayne (reviewed here) and The Making of Biblical Womanhood (briefly reviewed here), I simply had to include this one in my personal reading, especially knowing how much it has impacted many church leaders since its release.

(Unfortunately, Tyndale House doesn’t have representation in Canada, so I had to use a borrowed copy, but by mentioning the book here and now for my U.S. readers, I am trying to practice in this situation my own culture of grace and goodness.)

The book also begs the question, ‘Should megachurches even exist?’ Or to say it differently, ‘Was the modern megachurch ever part of God’s plan?” If you’re reading this, and in the middle of a search for a church home (a new church, or you’re looking for the first time) I would strongly suggest looking at churches with 200-500 in attendance (or 100-300 in Canada) as your best options.

With the passage of time since the book’s release, our emphasis now, rather than focusing on what went wrong, should be to look to the future with a vision of local church communities which promote the good, just as God, when he saw all that he had made, said that it was very good.

 

February 12, 2022

Planning Women’s Ministry Events

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:35 pm

I know what you’re thinking…

Why is HE writing about women’s ministry?

Don’t worry, this isn’t mine. It’s actually a Twitter thread unravel of something that landed in my feed a few days ago from someone I don’t actually follow.

Gena B. McCown is the author of Women’s Ministry with Purpose: A Vibrant, Gospel-Centered Approach (Leafwood Press, 2019). Admittedly, the phrase “gospel-centered” is a trigger phrase for me, as it often means “Neo-Calvinist,” but let’s not allow that to make us miss the wisdom in what follows.  You can follower on Twitter at @GenaBMcCown or learn much more at her website, GenaBMcComb.wixsite.com.

This really resonated with Ruth, who has had experience with women’s ministry, and even more experience avoiding women’s ministries in various churches. The complete thread, with comments, may be found at this link.

Women’s Ministry Leaders:

When you are planning your events please remember not every woman in your church is a wife or a mother. You can have amazing events that cater to women without focusing on these 2 roles.

Not every woman in your church has the ability to go hiking, sleep in a bunk bed, or icebreaker games that involve moving around spaces. You can have amazing events that are accessible by all of your women, regardless of age and health.

Not every woman in your church is an extrovert. You can have amazing events that factor in the introvert. Where we do not publicly put people on the spot, or incorporate times of quiet and solitude (especially at weekend long retreats) for our introverts to reset.

Not every woman in your church has childcare support (even if she is married), budget for expensive trips, or a home that she can entertain in. You can have amazing events that provide childcare, are affordable, and can allow women to come to a safe space.

Not every woman in the church is going to be excited by the same things you are. You can build a Women’s Ministry team with a diversity of women, so that you can build up a Women’s Ministry calendar that has a little something for everyone.

Not every woman in the church is looking for another place to socialize or fellowship. Some are looking for discipleship, mentoring, and even deep theological training. You can build an amazing Women’s Ministry that includes both social opportunities and spiritual growth at varied levels.

A vibrant women’s ministry is one that sees the fullness of the women of the church and says there is room at the table for all of us. All are wanted and welcomed.

…I thought that was worthy of being seen by more people. There are also some principles here for which application can be extrapolated for the church as a whole. Thanks, Gena.

 

January 15, 2022

Skye Jethani on Pastors Creating “Mini Me” Parishioners

Over the years, dinnertime conversations at our house have had a recurring theme. When pastors do a series of teachings on discovering and using your spiritual gifts, the conclusion is often self-serving, inasmuch as the deployment of those gifts always involves serving the church’s own agenda, its own programs, and activities limited to its own physical building.

So the end appeal is, ‘Volunteer for our church clean-up day, volunteer to teach Sunday School, sing in our choir.’ Sadly, we’ve also known people who stepped up to the plate, only to be rejected in the particular area of service where they felt they could help.

In a recent Twitter thread, Skye Jethani (author of the three What if Jesus Was Serious books) pushes this one degree further. He suggests that the pastor has a vision and calling on his life, and thinks that everyone else should have that same vision and calling, forgetting that God has planted them within their own context, consisting of a unique neighborhood, extended family, workplace (or school), and network of friends.

by Skye Jethani

posted to Twitter by @SkyeJethani on 1.14.22 [link] in response to an article at Christianity Today on 1.13.22 [link]

I have so many thoughts about this. It bugs me beyond words when I hear church leaders say people are “apathetic.” No they’re not! The people rightly care more about their own callings and too many pastors want them to care more about the pastor’s calling.

A pastor’s effort should not be to convince more people to give more time and treasure to the pastor’s ministry activity. It should be to shepherd people to live with God in the places and vocations he’s called them to in the world.

The problem isn’t that people are apathetic about what church leaders are called to do. It’s that church leaders are too often apathetic about what God has called his people to do Monday thru Saturday. Get outside the church, pastor. Genuinely seek to understand the lives and vocations of your people. Seek to equip them for the works of service they are called to in the world (Ephesians 4:12). It will transform you and your people and you’ll discover they are not suffering from apathy; it’s pastors who are suffering from myopia.

Few will admit it, but too many pastors believe their calling matters more than others’. I know, I was a pastor and I had this same delusional arrogance. I tried to convince non-pastors to abandon their callings in order to do more activities that looked like my calling all in the name of “mission” or “purpose” or “significance.” But I gave little thought to the value of what God had called them to do 40+ hours each week. And I had little vision for the true scope of God’s redemption of “all things” (1 Corinthians 15). I ministered as if God only cared about the institutional church. I preached “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth” but I pastored as if “God then retired into full-time ministry.” If this is the vision church leaders have, it’s no wonder we give so little energy to what happens beyond the church.

It wasn’t always this way. In the past, most pastors spent the week outside the church ministering to the sheep where they were—homes, hospitals, fields, factories, prisons and schools.

Today, we’ve reversed that. Pastors stay inside the church and people must come to them for care. This professionalization of pastoring means few pastors really know what life looks like for their people outside church walls. Few know the dignity and difficulty of vocations of their sheep and therefore few know how to truly minister and equip them.

What they see are passive, tired people on Sunday morning reluctant to sign up for yet another commitment or another church program and interpret this as “apathy.” It’s not apathy. It’s exhaustion. And rather than alleviating this burden, too many churches make it worse. Rather than offering rest for the sheep, too many churches want to extract more work from them in order to validate the pastor’s calling by growing the church or expanding its influence.

Pastor, spend one year outside your office with the sheep and then tell me if they’re “apathetic.” If you still think so, I’ll repent.


Skye Jethani is the author of several books including Futureville, With, and Immeasurable; is the co-host of the Phil Vischer podcast; and is the creator of the With God daily devotional.

November 29, 2021

Mixed Ministry Motives

This material appeared this weekend at Christianity 201 as a two-part article. The content has been combined here to a single article.

Last week, tongue-in-cheek, I posted two mis-quoted passages on social media:

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds … to be seen on Instagram. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

and

And He said to them, ‘Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s branding?’

As one gets older, it becomes more apparent when people are doing ministry for the purpose of promoting themselves and their church or organization. The blurred ministry motives become so blatantly obvious, that you have to ask yourself why the people are not more spiritually self-aware to realize the pride which drives much of their activity is staring them in the face.

First, let’s look at the verses as they actually appear:

And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?” – Luke 2:49 NASB

The context is the short snapshot we have of Jesus at 12-years of age when he gets separated from his parents. They retrace their route and find him back “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” vs. 45

The phrase in vs. 49 that Jesus is “being about my Father’s business is unique to the KJV. We’ve never discussed it here before, but the phrase ‘kingdom business’ gets used to describe all manner of church activity (and busy-ness), but it’s important to notice that Jesus was discussing theology, not planning a building program, or starting an organization, or discussing a stewardship campaign.

Our satirical ‘my Father’s branding‘ is seen so frequently these days. It’s about lifting up the name and tag line of a single congregation or organization, not the name of Jesus who ought to be the central focus of the worldwide church referenced in The Apostle’s Creed.  (‘Catholic’ in that context meaning universal.)

The other verse alluded to is

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. – Matthew 6:1 NIV

which is echoed a few verses later:

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. – 6:16 NLT

Practicing good works to be seen on Instagram is more common than you might think. It’s all about optics.

Back in 2014, I looked at this writing

I Samuel 16 offers us a verse we know but tend not to practice:

7bI do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart.

The Louis Segund translation renders it this way:

…l’homme regarde à ce qui frappe les yeux, mais l’Éternel regarde au coeur.

In English, it would read that man looks at what “strikes the eyes;” in other words first impressions and superficial indicators.

Creating Instragram moments in ministry is more commonplace than you might think. Perhaps in some small way it can be justified in that it models or encourages others to think about their own Christian service or lack thereof.

But it’s often a thing in and of itself.

And therefore it’s not about Jesus.

The last part of Matt. 6:5 reads,

I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. – AMP

This self-promotion mentality goes all the way back to Babel.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:14

They wanted to make a name for themselves; “…This will make us famous…” (NLT) This is so backward and the polar opposite to the upside-down kingdom of Christ which is characterized by humility. Philippians 2: 3 begins

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes…

Four times at Thinking Out Loud, you’ll find this quotation which we heard in a sermon and it has stuck with us.

“There is no limit on what can be done for God, as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.”

If that’s true, then if a church or organization is always consciously aware of building their own brand, logically, there are going to be limits on what they will be able to accomplish…

…The next “Evangelical obsession” I want to touch on quickly here is a preoccupation with numbers.

Earlier this week we listened to a podcast where a pastor was clearly boasting about all that his church has accomplished in the last several years and it came out in phrases (which I’ve altered slightly here) like,

  • We have 150 people serving in this department of our ministry
  • We’ve prayed for a thousand people in this area alone
  • We want to be a church of 12,000 people

The numbers I’ve changed, but the substance was real. It was about building a brand, promoting a book, and, inevitably, hosting a conference.

Sadly, it somewhat undermined the good things he shared. Let me clear on that, there were some excellent takeaways that I will remember, but I’ll also remember the attitude and how reminiscent it was of another pastor we’ve been examining on another podcast who eventually crashed spectacularly.

Instead, we should be looking at partnerships where we work in cooperation with other ministries to build the Kingdom.

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. – 1 Cor. 3:8 NLT

The passage that comes to mind here is one where John expresses concern to Jesus that a group that is outside their circle of disciples is ministering in the name of Jesus. Mark chapter 9 (CEB) reads,

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.”

39 Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him. No one who does powerful acts in my name can quickly turn around and curse me. 40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. 41 I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded.

I once heard someone’s unique interpretation of the “mark” in Revelation represented by “666.” They said the mark was simply numbers. It was an interesting take, and one that fits our data-driven society.

We in the church can indeed be easily obsessed with likes, website stats, church growth, average attendance, yearly budgets, numbers of people baptized.

Numerics are simply not the name of the game.

Later, I felt there were a few more things that could be said about pursuing church growth at all costs, and doing ministry for the sake of having good optics online. This verse definitely should have been part of the discussion:

Proverbs 16:2

All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord. (NIV)

Because we just spent time in this verse two years ago in a piece titled Motivation Matters, I don’t want to spend a lot of time except to note that God is concerned with the why we do things as much as the what we do.

The apostle Paul saw this happening even back in his day. In Philippians 1 he wrote,

15 It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. 16 They preach because they love me, for they know I have been appointed to defend the Good News. 17 Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me. 18 But that doesn’t matter. Whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice.

I think this is an important passage in our time because ministries do compete with each other, so let’s visit the same verses in The Message:

15-18 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them. So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul was able to see the good that could come out of such proclamation, even when the motives were suspect. The grace he shows in this situation is remarkable. In I Cor. 4:4-5 he again says,

My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right. It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide.  So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time—before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives. Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due. (NLT)

The last two sentences suggest that are reward will be based on the motives which drove our activities. (Someone has quipped, ‘There will be a lot of surprises in heaven,’ for reasons such as this.)

Although I don’t have a copy, earlier in the year I was intrigued by this book title: Rooting for Rivals: How Collaboration and Generosity Increase the Impact of Leaders, Charities, and Churches (Bethany House, 2018).

When the church growth movement is analyzed, it’s said that much of the growth that takes place is transfer growth, in other words, people moving from one church to another. (This isn’t always true of fresh church plants however, in which genuine overall growth can be measured.) Transfer growth means that church leaders are competing for the same people, the same bodies if I can use that term.

But rivalry can also get to the point of bad-mouthing another organization without justification. The blurb for the book says,

Faith-based organizations are sometimes known for what we’re against—and all too often that includes being against each other. But amid growing distrust of religious institutions, Christ-centered nonprofits have a unique opportunity to link arms and collectively pursue a calling higher than any one organization’s agenda.

In today’s polarized world this comes as no surprise…

…Although I’ve looked at our opening verse many times, it was only today that I caught that it’s repeated at 21:2. Taking one last look, I noticed something at BibleHub.com that I’d also not seen before, the inclusion of the Brenton Septuagint Translation. Its rendering of 21:2 is:

Every man seems to himself righteous; but the Lord directs the hearts.

We can genuinely deceive ourselves sometimes or decide that the end justifies the means. But God’s concern is always deeper.

November 23, 2021

The Gideons in Canada Charts Its Own Course

Organization is now officially ShareWord Global

For ten years now, the ministry organization formerly known as The Gideons has been on a path to carve out its own identity; one separate from its U.S. counterpart. Recently, they completed that process with the official change to a new brand identity: ShareWord Global.

Recently, the Guelph, Ontario (about 45 minutes west of Toronto) based ministry celebrated the changes with a publication bearing a timeline of the changes which make it unrecognizable from its shape and form a decade ago. It’s an amazing tribute to innovative thinking, and how a Christian organization can reinvent itself to meet current needs and the challenges of a new century.

There were too many high points in that timeline to list them all, and I considered simply listing some in bullet point form to avoid a TL:DR situation, but I really wanted to embellish some, and therefore offer the list which follows. This is my own take, and it’s subjective, but the changes are all good, and having a positive story like this to share is something we need right now.

International Missions – In 2011, while the ministry was celebrating its 100th anniversary, the Canadian branch adopted changes further distinguishing it from the U.S. parent, under the name The Gideons International in Canada. At the same time it was busy forming ministry partnerships and that year sent its first international team to Peru.

New Living Translation (NLT) – Gideon print runs of the Bible were using the New American Standard Bible (NASB) when the decision was made to switch over to the NLT as the default scripture text.

Full Participation of Women – Up to 2012, in a situation analogous to the Roman Catholic Church where only a man can be priest, only a man could be a Gideon. The women served as part of an “auxiliary.” That changed.

Biblezines – While publisher Thomas Nelson had pioneered the format previously with a dozen different publications which were half magazine, half Bible; The Gideons in Canada updated the concept in 2012 with the release of Hope and the next year Redemption. With scripture portions paired with beautiful photography, and a full text copy of John’s gospel in the back, these had broad appeal, but were especially targeted for use in hospitals, prisons. In 2014, Light would follow.

Digital Bible – Ultimately, 2012 would prove to be a pivotal year, as it was also this year that saw the launch of the NewLife Bible smart phone Bible app, made available for free download. (In the picture at the top, from 2014, the app is represented by the pocket cards for giveaway to introduce the app to friends.)

ShareWord – In 2015, what would become the organization’s sole brand name was introduced, with both identities being used simultaneously. (The situation was similar at Wycliffe Bible Translators, with the addition of the OneBook brand; one division denoting the various translation projects; the other the support of the missionaries doing the actual work.)

Outreach to Children – In 2017, Spark, another smaller-format Biblezine was introduced. By this point, Spark included, the Biblezines were translated or being translated into multiple languages.

Expansion of Worldwide Ministry – Although we began our list with International Partnerships, it’s worth saying twice; by 2019 publications were being placed in Ukraine, China, Zambia, India, Kenya and countries in the Middle East. More recent inroads have been made in Cuba and Chile. (Pictured below are Spanish resources.)

Name Change – In the Fall of 2021, The Gideons International in Canada (TGiC) ceased as an operating name, and the ministry was fully branded as ShareWord Global.

At the outset, I stated that this is a positive story. If the organization was locked in to its original paradigm — such as handing out New Testaments to Grade 5 students, or placing Bibles in motel nightstands — it could have walked away defeated as it found itself shut out of schools or sharing (or pushed out of) hotel drawers by The Qur’an or The Book of Mormon.

Instead, some rather forward-thinking leaders decided to take the original goals and apply them the way the original founders, over a century ago, would apply them in our day.

At times like this I’m reminded of a sidebar in Acts 13 which references King David, “after David had done the will of God in his own generation…” (36a NLT) or “David had served God’s purpose in his own generation…” (NIV). While the Great Commission has never changed, the means by which is carried out will be chronologically and contextually specific to those times.

This is a great example of an organization understanding that and applying it.

This article was written independently of ShareWord Global and without their input. All these glowing reviews are entirely my own! Canadian readers: With year-end giving in view for tax purposes, consider a one time or (as we do) a monthly gift to ShareWord Global.

June 13, 2021

I Have Become a Senior Ageist

I realized this morning that I have become an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms when it comes to which voices I look forward to hearing preach and teach each week.

For the record, an ageist is someone who is “Unfairly discriminatory against someone based on their age,” and while this usually is applied as working against the elderly, I suppose that reverse ageism is also popular.

Also for the record, I’ve reached an age where, when it comes to Bible teachers and authors I should be resonating more with the “men in suits” crowd. But I don’t. I gravitate toward younger communicators. John Mark Comer recently introduced me to Tyler Staton, and as an egalitarian, I will always tune in if Danielle Strickland or Tara Beth Leach is teaching.

I get what it’s like to be on the opposite side of this issue. A local church where we spent many years buys into the philosophy of, “Never put someone older 40 on the platform or picture older people on your website.” At least, they buy into it theoretically (and selectively) but both their own leadership and congregation is aging as well. Another local church member commented that he has a hard time picturing his church bringing back many of the younger families they had, because the Sunday morning services are planned and shaped by an older mindset.

And yet a third local church has now encountered a pastoral vacancy. In my heart, I keep hoping they can snag someone mid-to-late 30s. It would be a breath of fresh air. But then I ask myself why someone that age would want to move to the small town we’ve called home for the past several decades. True, we’re an hour from Toronto, but I know that many younger leaders want to stay close to the city and all the networking and potential it appears to offer.

So I am an anomaly; some type of reverse-ageist. But I’m not alone. I remember being a much younger person in churches in Toronto where the teens and twenty-somethings would grab all the front seats and the older individuals and couples would sit further back cheering them on. Okay, not literally cheering; maybe praying is more accurate. It was good to see. These churches had an enviable demographic for preachers.

If your church happens to have a younger teaching pastor, or lead pastor, you need to cheer them on.

I think the Bible’s word for that is encouragement.

 

May 4, 2021

The Church: Before and After

by Ruth Wilkinson

This is something I’ve been thinking about. See what you think…

There’s been a lot of discussion about what ‘church’ will look like after Covid-19, having experienced so much time away from in-person weekly gatherings. Previously, Sunday morning services were the hook on which many other programs and activities hung. It was where we started getting to know new people, and finding our place in the faith community. It was the forum in which we crystalized our shared identity.

Right now (with a very few exceptions) local congregations are operating without that centerpiece. We’re doing everything we did before, but in new ways. We’re building new relationships without necessarily making in-person contact. Some ministries are doing quite well online or in lawn chairs (weather permitting) which is an indicator, I think, that many churches are more healthy and organic than we might have given them credit for.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years. Will our music and other creative arts continue to grow into the rest of the week, and online? Will we have board members and elders who seldom if ever sit in a pew? Will programs and ministries continue to be financially supported by people who never meet a Sunday School teacher, but who pitch in at the soup kitchen? Will we need to adapt our policies and practices to allow for this evolution?
I guess we’ll see

April 15, 2021

An open letter to open churches

by Ruth Wilkinson

An open letter to open churches:

There are many day to day issues and decisions that we face that are not directly prescribed or proscribed in Scripture. Situations in which we need to ask ourselves WWJD and do our best.

Ministry during this season of pandemic guidelines has presented us with a need to be flexible, and to understand and perhaps rediscover our priorities.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had people quote to me Hebrews 10:25, which says, “Do not stay away from our worship meetings as some habitually do…” as a push back against government mandated or requested suspensions of Sunday gatherings. “See?” goes the argument, “we are commanded to gather! We aren’t going to disobey God just because the government tells us to.”

On one hand, I agree. If the government were commanding us to disobey God, I hope we would stand up against that. Christ has had His enemies throughout history and will continue to do so until the end, and the Church must declare her allegiance.

Except that’s not what the government is asking us to do today. In the Hebrews passage, the word variously translated “neglect” or “forsake” (enkataleipō) in the original language has a context of permanence. It speaks of abandoning or leaving behind. Not of temporarily finding other ways to connect with each other. Not of telling the worship team to stand down for a while. Not of expecting the preacher to do without an audience for a time. But (and this is a ‘worship leader’ speaking) Sunday mornings are not the Church. Those gatherings are good, healthy and powerful. I would argue that they aren’t who we are. They are not Christ’s kingdom.

I choose instead to consider passages like 2 Corinthians 10:23-24:

“”I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. 

“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

The believers to whom these words were written were having to make difficult decisions around personal freedom, and relational influence. The idols in question for them were enculturated false gods. For us, liberty itself can be a false god. We insist on indulging in the pleasures it provides, while demanding that everyone recognize our right to do so, regardless of the effect it has on the people around us and their perception of the Body of Christ.

Even more strongly worded are passages in Amos 5. God expresses His distaste toward the gathered worship of Israel, ostensibly an act of obedience and honor. True, God has Himself instituted these “festivals” and inspired the writing of these “songs,” but when practiced without humility and in the face of a callous disregard to the vulnerable in their society, God refuses to receive that honor. And of course, Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Given the principles at work in these scriptures, my choice is clear. To suspend my rights in solidarity with those around me, to do the hard work of finding other ways to connect with people in need, to “stay home.”

True, the government has, in this most recent lockdown, given houses of worship an almost exclusive exception. But just because I am offered privilege does not mean I have to accept it. I am a member of my community. I will live as such.

March 27, 2021

Outgunned by Talent and Tech

I was walking through the room we used for coffee and fellowship when I heard it. Lee (or perhaps Leigh) who was a 15-16 year old member of the youth group was sitting at the piano playing the theme song from The Simpsons.

I was the music director. Actually, that’s not true, I was the entire music department. No worship band. No vocal team. Just me. And if you came back the next week, it was me.

The Simpsons theme has an interesting melody and there are some adornments to it which go beyond basic chording. It requires a bit of keyboard competence, whereas my goal with the worship at the church was to keep it singable and engaging, and to use simple chords.

I realized that if this was a sample of his playing, Lee (or perhaps Leigh) was a better pianist than I. But the likelihood of getting him to do something on a Sunday morning was small, and the one time I did get him to do a postlude once. The congregation, instead of heading for the exit in spirited conversation, as they normally did, sat in absolute silence staring, while he turned a shade of red I didn’t know was humanly possible. I think he was traumatized, and he never did do anything else at that church.

Fast forward a few years and I was doing the same thing in another church. Very little talent to draw on, except for Martin, an oboe player. Looking back now, if I had not been juggling so many activities, it would have been nice to write him some actual ‘parts’ for some of the songs, but I was too rushed to consider that.

Again it was me. If you came back the next week it was me. For two-and-a-half years. A recipe for burnout if ever there was one.

Then I found about Dave. He was a classical guitarist. The music he was able to make on his guitar — any guitar really, including a cheap beat-up one that might be laying around — was incredible. It would have added so much to a Sunday morning. But he wasn’t interested in doing anything that would be considered “church music.” Sigh!

There were people with so much talent, so why was I up there, week after week?

These days, I have decided not to try. I’m not so much intimidated by the Lees and the Daves as I am by the technology. Not the simple microphone and mixer stuff, I was after all, the audio technician for a national Christian television show once.

No, I mean the more recent access people have to studio software that allows you to sit in your basement and create multi-layered tracks, add special effects, get friends to do a solo on the bridge and send it to you in an email, and sync the whole thing to a video presentation.

We could only dream of things like that, or pay someone $80 an hour for studio time.

Talk about blogging in your underwear, people can make amazing things under similar conditions. (For the record however, I am wearing shorts and a pullover as I type this.)

Sadly, I didn’t keep up with the tech. A year of virtual choirs has only shown me how much I don’t know, and trying to read tenor and baritone vocal parts (in bass clef) have demonstrated the degree to which my sight reading has atrophied and my vocal range has diminished with respect to high notes or holding notes for a long 12-beat ending.

I tweeted a few days ago something to the effect that today, ‘he who controls the tech controls everything.’ Or she. I no longer feel that I can contribute anything meaningful with respect to instrumentation or vocal harmonies or song selection because I’m a hands-on person who likes to be part of the entire process, and these days, I have to take a back seat to those who are technically more proficient.

And of course, we’re living at a time where all the worship music anyone wants to sing is coming from either Hillsong or Bethel Worship (even the Elevation songs’ publishing is Bethel) and nobody is interested when I talk about a classic hymn, or a metrical Psalm or even a song I heard on YouTube by City Alight. I just don’t have the same passion for what’s being created currently.

If I were parenting a young child, or advising anyone with kids, I would encourage them to get the kid to obtain proficiency on one instrument, but also be spending 25% of their music education time learning all they can about the emerging technology, and how they can take the sounds they produce and build upon them to create things which have heretofore not existed, and get them online to reach people around the world they will never meet in person.

I do sincerely envy those who have mastered the tech. Covid-19 has created a tremendous learning opportunity for those in music ministry, and those skills will still apply long after the masks have been folded and placed in a drawer.

 

 

January 18, 2021

Is Your Church Board (Elder Board) Theologically Minded?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:09 am

After taking several weeks off, we’re back!

Last week Ruth and I were discussing the composition of church leadership boards. Some of you are familiar with the Brethren model whereby the elders of the church take turns doing the weekly teaching. It’s not a requirement for each and every elder, and some clearly have other gifts which they bring to the board of which teaching is not one of them, and those other gifts affirm their calling to serve at the highest level of lay-participation in local church leadership.

Some other types of churches have been toying with this model and inviting people in the broader congregation to identify and nurture their preaching gift.

Our discussion tied in with one of last week’s posts at Christianity 201 — the blog to which most of my attention is now devoted — and what’s called “The Five-Fold Ministry of the Church,” sometimes  just abbreviated as APEPT: Apostle, Pastor, Evangelist, Prophet, Teacher. Michael Frost said that he believes that each church currently has all five of these giftings operating in different people. He would say it’s necessary to identify these people and then come alongside them and resource them and support them.

I would agree and further pursue this to add that I think that the people on church leadership boards should show evidence of, at the very least, a propensity toward one of these ministry gifts.

But this is often not the case.

Some people are chosen because they have done well in business. That can be helpful, given that one estimate is that 80% of local church board meetings are dealing with capital concerns (budgets, expenditures, etc.) and property issues (facilities, maintenance, etc.).

Some are chosen because they are highlight regarded in the community. I can certainly see what outgoing, gregarious, extroverted people would come to mind. Church nominating committees do indeed look at the outward appearance.

Some are selected because their family has a long-running history with the church. To not select one of these people would be considered almost scandalous.

I could go on, but you see that it’s not always spiritual considerations that drive the process.

You could argue that the Biblical model is to have two leadership levels; a nuts-and-bolts leadership team that can attend to the aforementioned facility and financial issues; and a spiritual issue that can look at programs, ministry teams, preaching topics, small groups, etc. That’s great, but the one guy we know from the nuts-and-bolts team, Stephen, was selected on the basis of spiritual qualifications. He was “a man of faith and full of the Holy Spirit.” And he preached! Boy, did he ever preach, becoming the first Christian martyr for the force and trajectory of his message. (Don’t mention this to prospective board candidates!)

I don’t think every board member should preach. But in the average small-to-medium-sized church they should be seen at least once a year doing something in public ministry. A scripture reading. The announcements. Assisting with a baptism. Sharing a word of recent testimony of what God’s doing in their life.

More simply stated, there ought to be reason as to why each was chosen, and it ought to be a spiritual reason.

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