Thinking Out Loud

November 30, 2016

Wednesday Link List


We’re not part of the online echo chamber. You’ll find links here you won’t find elsewhere, plus a few we stole outright. The piece of wall decor above is from P. Graham Dunn; you can order it by clicking the image.



November 28, 2016

Music Musings (2) The Worship Agenda

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

Recently I read somewhere that the present worship agenda for many of our churches is being set by three large churches which have produced three worship music families: Bethel Worship, Jesus Culture and Hillsong. While the word agenda may imply something rather sinister, the point is that compositions from these groups currently dominate the music used in churches which have adopted a modern worship format.

hymnboardI was thinking about that this weekend as I processed a service we were attending and also seeing it comparison to a more liturgical Reformed service we had attended the week before and the thought occurred to me that these newer songs are just plain long. They were birthed in environments were the term soaking music is broadly understood and in environments where songwriters simply adopt the dominant style they are experiencing.

I’m not going to place emphasis on the length of the songs in and of itself but I want to simply point out that in the half hour we set aside for that worship time, we might have sung about ten hymns, or even about ten worship songs of an older vintage.

However, if we went with the hymns, and each one had only three verses, that might we would have sung about thirty verses and what a different thirty verses they would have been; each rich in deep theology and scripture, and each both proclaiming/declaring truth and also teaching and reminding ourselves of these truths.

I like modern worship. But I crave something deeper, more profound.

For yesterday’s Music Musing, click here.

Want an outside-the-box fresh alternative for your church? I’m not a part of the doctrinal tribe from which it originates, but consider the material Sovereign Grace Music is producing.

November 26, 2016

Always Something There to Remind Me

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:48 am

reminderEvery Thursday afternoon I get an email from my church reminding me what’s happening at weekend services. It’s somewhat the same every week — I’ve told them a weekly verse of scripture and a graphic people can use on their Instagram and Facebook accounts would help — but it’s definitely appreciated. (Someone even takes the time to make sure things happening between its arrival and Sunday morning are covered for one last time.)

We live in a world where we need to be reminded of things. We’re too busy. We’re too forgetful.

For years in my early 20s I attended a weekly Bible study that was held in a private home and wasn’t associated with a particular church. Each week the leader would phone, remind me, and then ask for a direct commitment; “Will you be there this week?” He was a very busy guy in the commercial banking industry and besides leading the study, he took time to phone the entire list every week. By doing so he had extra contact with us. (I look back now and see it as the equivalent of the traditional ‘pastor at the door’ thing on Sunday mornings.)

This morning I attended a men’s Bible study at another church. I mentioned that it’s too bad they don’t have a phone list, or better yet, an email list. This particular church has leveraged social media well; they have a good person at the helm of this who knows the internet, but her particular strategy has been more Facebook-oriented whereas I still see that as skewing slightly more to a female demographic. I believe traditional email might work well to remind the guys to come for the breakfast.

This church also doesn’t have a church directory which includes email addresses. The church I mentioned first does do this and 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.

But back to reminders: I think we need them. We also need the encouragement to join in on various church activities in a general social climate where many find themselves isolated.

Related: Here are three devotionals which deal with our tendency to forget.

Tangentially: Email bulletins reduce the number which need to be printed each week, thereby saving the environment. Phone calls to ministry group members also reduce the need for printed bulletin inserts.


November 23, 2016

Wednesday Link List


The above seasonally-appropriate treatment of a VanGogh classic is by Dan Reynolds who works in a variety of media. You can learn more about owning the original or a $25 print by clicking the image or this link

A shorter list this week as my 74% American readership is preoccupied with travel, turkey, football and what one advertiser called “Thanksgathering.”



November 20, 2016

Wherever Two Or Three…

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:41 pm


Every once in awhile, someone whose blog or Twitter I follow, or whose books I review will leak a bit of information as to where they hang out on Sunday mornings.

I know it makes no sense, but because of the vast influence these people have online or in the world of Christian publishing, I often picture them attending a church that in my human way of thinking is influential in terms of church metrics. I say that fully aware that some of these people go on Sundays to receive and not to give and after a week of much speaking, writing or teaching are happy to just kick back, yet still, in my mind’s imaginary stereotype, they’re part of a larger enterprise; sitting in some megachurch somewhere, even if on the back rows.

And then I see a picture like the one above posted today — who it is isn’t consequential — and I’m reminded that the reality of church life is that many assemblies are quite small; some teetering on the borders of financial subsistence. Many of these have an effective, Spirit-led, fruit-bearing ministry even though they are not necessarily known. Furthermore, many of these are closer to the model I believe Jesus intended, and that the book of Acts describes as “fellowshipping from house to house.”

A few years ago a picture like the one above would not impress me at all, but today, I find it appealing. I’d like to get to know these people. I’d be willing to call them family. I would embrace their community.

I hope the church service you attended this weekend made you feel that way.

November 16, 2016

Wednesday Link List


Welcome to another week of linking. A few more music-related things this week than average. Also, this was again a challenge assembling to get past all the American political content that continues to flood the internet. Will this all start to fade into the background, or will it just intensify in the buildup to Inauguration Day?

You can show support and encouragement to us by downloading my wife’s Christmas album for only $7 or for just a buck ($1) download the title song.

November 9, 2016

Wednesday Link List


Link list #333, which is half of 666. I’m putting this together Tuesday night not knowing if anyone is going to be around to read it, or if the world will have ended with announcement of the election results.

So in the end, all my sources were simply too distracted by the election; the results of which I still don’t know as I type this. Hopefully the link list is back to full size by next week. Suggestions are welcomed; try to have them to me via Twitter or email by Monday at noon.


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?

November 4, 2016

Small Group Leadership is Like Playing Mini-Me to Your Pastor

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:59 am

small group

Different churches have different takes on the nature and title given to people who lead home church meetings or what are more widely called small groups. There’s no denying that this is an awesome responsibility, as these cells are a microcosm of the larger congregation, and some churches confer a lay-pastoral authority1 on those who take the helm.

If you’re the one getting the discussion started, or asking someone to get things going by reading a key scripture passage, or even leading off with an open question like the one in my wife’s study on Melchizedek, “Do you have a friend with an unusual or very long name?”2 then you have to be open to surprises.

So how would you deal with these situations? 

█ Derek finds it difficult to open up at the weekly group Bible study. He is naturally shy and insecure, so over the last few months has found it easier to have a couple of shots from the liquor cabinet before leaving home. Fortunately, Derek lives two blocks away and walks to Phil and Karen’s house. Lately, it’s been obvious that Derek’s on a bit of an artificial high when he arrives. He pets the cat now and says, “How’s my little furry lurry friend?” Formerly he made it clear he hates cats. And sometimes his breath is a giveaway. Should Phil and Karen

  • offer Derek a breath mint as soon as he arrives?
  • have a word with Derek about his shyness and insecurity?
  • lock up the cat before group members arrive?

█ Belinda is the stereotypical one-issue candidate. All of the issues of life — including things facing the Corinthians and Ephesians in recent Bible studies — could be resolved if Evangelicals would band together to impeach President Obama. She makes this point at least once a week in the discussion time, and should the opportunity not arise, she works it in as a prayer request. Everyone in the group is torn between tearing Belinda’s head off, or simply giving up trying to restrain their laughter. Should the group leaders,

  • remind Belinda that Bible studies should be apolitical and keep on topic?
  • give Belinda 10 minutes to let it all out, on the condition she never mentions it again?
  • remind Belinda that as a Canadian in Kentucky on a special work visa, she can’t vote anyway?

█ Thomas has serious ADD and ADHD issues. His mind wanders off at the worst times, which is unfortunate because Jim, the group leader, often will throw out a question and then ask a specific person what they think about the topic; as in, “How do you think the people felt when they heard this, Thomas?” Should Thomas, when he has no clue what the question was, simply respond

  • “Jesus”?
  • “love”?
  • “squirrel”?

█ Marita has the gift of evangelism. Realistically, she does have a good impact in the community and her workplace and has often invited friends and co-workers to church services with life-changing results. The problem is that she brings her gift to the Bible study group where, most clearly, everyone is already among the saved and committed. When she asks you “if you know for sure where you’re going when all this is over” should you say

  • “We have some pictures that are ready at Wal-Mart, and they’re open tonight until 10:00.”?
  • “That sounds like something I need to do;” and allow Marita to lead you in the sinner’s prayer?
  • “You know Marita, you need to share this with Derek. He has a drinking problem, you know.”?

█ Brandon never remembers to bring his Bible. Before group starts he downs three cups of coffee and about half of all the snacks on the kitchen table. Part way through each study, he excuses himself to use the restroom which is located just off the room where the group meets. Ten minutes later he returns, and about ten seconds later, it is apparent that he has sprayed copious amounts of air freshener which is now wafting in and choking those who have asthma and those that don’t. Should the leaders

  • refer all bathroom breaks to a location further away in the house?
  • find a way to ration the snacks before each group meeting?
  • lock up the cat before Brandon arrives?

Small group leadership is never easy, but through helpful quizzes like this one, we believe we can provide you with the decision-making tools you need to further your ministry.

1I just made up that term. But some assemblies call them “home church pastors” so the job carries some responsibility and authority. In other churches, the small group pastors are the elders.

2This was an actual open question in the Serendipity Bible study she was leading.

The graphic used to accompany today’s article was hijacked from this source, where you’ll find a humorous 2-minute video.

November 2, 2016

Wednesday Link List


Well, another week, another book banned by LifeWay. Hope your week went better than Jen Hatmaker’s. On the other hand, she joins a growing list of people Baptists can’t handle, including a few I’m proud to say are in my personal library. Relevant links on this story start at item #2 below:

This Tuesday, U.S. voters will find themselves caught between two choices with nowhere to go

This Tuesday, U.S. voters will find themselves caught between two choices with nowhere to go and perhaps a bit bewildered as to how they got there.

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