Thinking Out Loud

September 20, 2017

Wednesday Link List

This picture of Czemna Chapel in Poland is featured in an article at a Gothic website titled “Bone Churches of the World” where we’re instructed that “Pelvic bones become a chandelier.”

This is theme to Wednesday’s list, the opening theme to Wednesday’s list. Paul called me up and asked me, ‘Would you write a theme song?’ This is the theme to Wednesday’s list. (I think we’re past the part now that shows up as a preview on Twitter…Did anyone get the reference?)

  • She was a victim once, and then the Christian college where she was a student made her a victim again, several times over. “To me it feels like a David and Goliath situation, only this time Goliath wins. I just want to forget all this and go back to…when I was happy and safe and optimistic.” Furthermore, she had been studying to be a rape counselor.
  • Podcast of the Week (1): You’ll never hear scripture quoted more frequently or as helpfully on a difficult issue than in this podcast, “The Bible and Intersex Believers”  with Megan DeFranza, researcher and lecturer. (49 minutes)
  • Podcast of the Week (2): John Mark Comer sits down with Gerry Breshears to look at situations involving self defense, home invasion, Christians as police officers, and even pepper spray from an Anabaptist mindset of non-violence. (43 minutes)
  • Hazing happens at Christian colleges, too. Chicago Tribune: “Five Wheaton College football players face felony charges after being accused of a 2016 hazing incident in which a freshman teammate was restrained with duct tape, beaten and left half-naked with two torn shoulders on a baseball field.DuPage County Judge Joseph Bugos signed arrest warrants and set $50,000 bonds against the players…They are expected to turn themselves in to authorities this week.” 
  • More tributes and articles remembering Nabeel Qureshi:
    • Sadness – Nick Peters: “There is a picture going around Facebook of Nabeel after his baptism. He has his arms raised in his air in victory. In the past, it brought joy, but today it brings me sadness. I know it should bring me joy, but it doesn’t because I want to see the happy and healthy Nabeel again, and I don’t.”
    • Apologetics Associate – Justin Brierley: “Firstly with his friend David Wood, and then latterly as a speaker with RZIM he went on to speak to thousands of Christians, Muslims and skeptics and saw many come to faith as a result. His books, which married his intellectual pursuit with his own testimony, were widely read. In person he was robust in his exchanges but gracious in his demeanor. He was endlessly patient with his critics, who were vociferous especially within parts of the Muslim community.
    • The Question – Frank Turek: “Nevertheless, while it seems insensitive to ask this while we grieve, people are wondering why didn’t God heal Nabeel. After all, he was a brilliant and charismatic young man taken away from his wife Michelle and daughter Ayah, and the rest of us, far too early. Nabeel had so much more to give to his family and the Kingdom of God that his death seems senseless. So why didn’t God heal Nabeel?
  • Attending a Christian University & College Fair can be the first step for many students when searching for the right college or university. There are over 120 fairs throughout the U.S. and Canada each year…
  • …Related: A critical (at first) and then positive (the larger balance) look at the value of Christian higher education
  • I’ll let Ann Brock explain this one: “Christianity still exerts a powerful force in many black communities, but some young women are turning their back on the faith and returning to the older, traditional religions of their ancestors. The use of social media is letting the younger generations learn of our history and how the religion of our oppressor was more a tool to control and oppress than benevolent religion.” Check out Jesus Hasn’t Saved Us at the website Broadly.
  • Times of Transition: “We’ve all heard the stories of churches losing members, losing funding, losing their ministries in the wake of a pastor leaving…Perhaps the greatest reason for so much hardship during the point of pastoral transitions is because most pastors fail to plan for their departure. Unless you kill the church, you won’t be their last pastor. You’re just a temporary leader. There’s a guy coming up behind you…” This and four other causes for the pastoral leadership void.
  • Horrific Headline Department: Christian Refugee Children Denied Food Unless They Recite Islamic Prayers in Sudan.
  • Religious Journalism: Is rooting around a spiritual community’s founder’s past relevant? An analysis of a New York Times profile of Zarephath Christian Church in New Jersey‘s rural Somerset County.
  • “‘Praise God, I have NEVER changed my beliefs. I am seventy years old and I still have the exact same beliefs I had at age twenty — fifty years ago.'” That’s a common sentiment, but “In most spheres of life, learning new things and discarding old beliefs, practices, and ideas is desired and expected. Not in Evangelicalism. Evangelicals cherish certainty.”  (Be sure to read the full article, past the video.)
  • 🎬 Video of the Week (1): In a 4½ minute confessional, Crosspoint Church (Nashville) pastor Kevin Queen shares the discovery that his random act of kindness could have been a whole lot kinder.
  • 🎬 Video of the Week (2): This 2½ minute commercial aired in Canada during the last SuperbOwl game and celebrates the value of a shared meal.
  • 🎬 Video of the Week (3): David Platt says inviting people to “accept Jesus into your heart” is dangerous, damning, unbiblical and superstitious. (Just not sure why Charisma News has this as “news” since the clip was first posted in 2012.)
  • Buried in the Last Paragraph: It’s a short article by a pastor who empathizes with survivors of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but he notes that PTSD may set in months down the road.
  • I don’t have a link for this but North Point Community Church has kicked the bucket; the offering bucket that is. With so many people automating their giving online, they announced this week that they have decided to end taking up the collection at weekend services… 
  • …On the other extreme is the church that decided to recognize it’s Top Three Tithers. [insert fanfare music here] Before you say, ‘Well that was in Nigeria,’ not every Nigerian thinks this is a good idea, including the guy who dumped his church over this action.
  • Quotation of the Week: “For most of humanity’s past the Bible was not a book. For most of humanity’s future the Bible will probably not be a book. Many of our fears about the future of the Bible are based on careless thought about its history. We assume that since we first encountered the Bible as a book, this is how it has always been and how it must always be. Now, as the printed book begins to fade, many are worried that the Bible will fade with it. But it won’t because the Bible is not essentially a book. It is essentially God’s recorded words to humanity, and those words transcend any single medium.”
  • John Stackhouse isn’t sure he can trust an auto mechanic who drinks Pepsi. A look at the present culture of unfriending.
  • Coming this Saturday, September 23rd to a Planet Earth near you:  “‘Researcher’ David Meade says a hidden planet called Nibiru will crash into Earth that day.” End-times date-setting hinders the cause of Christ.
  • ♫ Music: This song has a weird title if you don’t listen. Mandisa with guests TobyMac and Kirk Franklin on Bleed the Same
  • ♫ Music: New artist Heather Schnoor’s just released video for All In.
  • Not enough links for ya? Check out Links to Go at Timothy Archer’s Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts. (There’s been several installments lately!)
  • Penultimate Finally, A liturgical dancer has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.
  • Finally, during 2017 I’ve often ended these lists with something from Matthew Pierce simply because you all read The Babylon Bee anyway, right? So this time around M.P. has something he calls Worship Leader Power Rankings, where I learned that, “According to LifeWay research, by the year 2031, all of the old people will be dead and we won’t have to keep shoehorning that one hymn into the worship set list because we’re afraid they’re going to get mad and stop tithing.”

We missed Parenting Place, Missions Moment, Leadership Lessons and Canada Corner two weeks in a row. There’s always next week. OR…you could email your suggestions. [Hint!]

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September 13, 2017

Wednesday Link List

LongBay Adventist Church in Anguilla after the roof blew off and walls were destroyed from Hurricane Irma on Sep. 6. Click image to link to story.

Welcome to Link List #375, and it’s a good one! I promised a tighter number of links, but this post actually runs longer because of the excerpts.

  • Op-Ed Essay of the Week: This is both hard to read and must reading at the same time. How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me).
  • The Justice Department on the gay wedding cake case: “This case happens to arise in the context of expression regarding same-sex marriage. But the First Amendment principles that control here transcend, and will long outlast, the nation’s current dialogue about same-sex marriage.” The case reaches the Supreme Court later this Fall.
  • A Houstonian on what happens when Hurricane Harvey hits:
    ► “When your husband sends you and your kids away from Houston, you will not see him again for two weeks. You will have brought enough clothing for two days…”
    ► “On your unexpected cross-country “Hurrication” (patent pending), you will cry in a Target and a McDonald’s. All in the same day. You will yell-weep at the elderly man ‘in charge’ of the safety mask section at Lowe’s because he doesn’t know if they are mold-proof or not…”
    ► “You will not care what Joel Osteen did or did not do. You will be too tired for that.”
  • Nabeel Qureshi enters the final stages of life.
  • This article on Gateway Church contains many revelations, including that “…[Pastor Robert] Morris has always been clear about his target audience: businessmen and entrepreneurs.” And that, “Gateway Church has been accused of erasing the line between church and state, and there is merit to the charge.”
  • Missional church planting advocate and prolific author Michael Frost:
    • “You don’t seem to read or hear many ministers quoting Jesus’ words about family while trying to defend traditional marriage.”
    • “Jesus completely redefines family. His is a radically new social order, a welcoming, open community not forged by bloodlines or betrothals, but by repentance and discipleship.”
    • “And when he says that, he means it. Not like all those churches you’ve visited that said they were a family but no one talked to you.”
    • “And in a cold and brutish Roman empire where all men had three women at their disposal…where orphans and childless widows were as good as dead, where sojourners and strangers weren’t welcome, the new social order embodied by the Christian community was gold!”
    • Check out “Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family.”
  • Regular readers here know I’m not a fan of Operation Christmas Child, the “shoebox ministry” of Samaritan’s Purse. (If not see this plus its comments section.) But it’s concern over the politics of Franklin Graham that are leaving some looking elsewhere this Christmas. Baptist News offers, looking a little closer to home this year, Ten Alternatives to Operation Christmas Child.
  • Overcompensating: Citing an Ohio University study, the website Science Alert reports that atheists are nicer than Christians, but for a reason.
  • Retro-Link: Going all the way back to May, Timothy Archer posted this link last week, and I decided it was worth sharing: 3 Quick Ways to Improve Short Term Missions Trips:
    1. Stop calling it a “Short Term Mission Trip”
    2. Put away your wallet.
    3. Think beyond the short term hit and run.
  • Another study reported that while acceptance of evolution is widespread, when you look only at stats from atheists and the non-religious showed that one in five have problems with that science in the UK and that jumps to one in three in Canada.
  • Church History Department: Meet Benjamin Lay, the 18th Century Quaker dwarf abolitionist: “…only four foot seven in height; his head was large in proportion to his body, the features of his face were remarkable … He was hunch-backed, with a projecting chest, below which his body become much contracted. His legs were so slender, as to appear almost unequal to the purpose of supporting him…” He opposed slavery and racism.
  • The times we feel we lost faith: “This can happen at any age in life and when not given enough attention, the phase can last multiple seasons, even several years for many individuals. These periods of time can produce drastic effects on our attitudes and behaviors. They have the ability to change the way we act and respond to both situations and circumstances. A loss of faith can be powerful enough to tear families apart and end life-long friendships. Even worse, they create separation with God.”
  • When Henri Nouwen left his academic job to work for L’Arche, he joined an organization headed by Jean Vanier. Meet the Templeton Prize winning advocate for the value of each person. (Links to a series of seven videos.)…
  • …also at Englewood Review of Books, some cartoons with a difference. Sabbath Wanderings by John Dease.
  • Latest Barna Research: 71% of respondents say sex education should include practical skills reinforcing abstinence.
  • Are some kids too young to make life-altering decisions? “At just 12-years-old, Patrick Mitchell, begged with his mother to begin taking estrogen hormones after doctors diagnosed him with gender dysphoria – a condition where a person experiences distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity.” Now, he’s reconsidered and is changing back.
  • Provocative Title of the Week: “Heroin in the Hymnals” a review of the Netflix series, Ozark.
  • ♫ Welcome another church promoting its worship resources a la Hillsong, Bethel, Gateway, etc. The Belonging Co. is a church in Nashville with lead pastors Henry & Alex Seeley. From their debut worship album, All The Earth, this video is titled Peace Be Still featuring Lauren Daigle.
  • Stuck at cocktail parties to describe what you do for a living? Peter Enns doesn’t have that problem, he now tells people he’s a Bibliogian©.
  • A fire at an Assemblies of God church in southwest Arkansas is believed to be arson; an attempt to cover up a burglary.
  • One more about Nashville, asking the musical question, “Can We Stop Making Statements on Sexual Ethics?” 
  • Video of the Week: A full interview with Pastor Lim, held in prison in North Korea for over two years.
  • In Italy, a ten-year old girl is washed out to sea by a rip tide and is rescued by a 17-year old with Down Syndrome.
  • Not Lost in Translation: First year students in theological colleges across the UK will get a glossary to help translate the Book of Common Prayer.
  • ♫ New Music: Real Love by Blanca.
  • ♫ Vintage CCM (from 1974): I’ve Been Wanting To by Pat Terry.
  • They are 104 and 92 respectively. They’ve been married for 75 years. Their names will sound familiar this week: Harvey and Irma
  • I have a friend who regularly frequents the religion and Christianity pages of Reddit. In one forum, the question, “Protestants, if the Catholic and Orthodox Churches were to join back together, would you join the Cathodox church?
  • Finally, rather than link you to this video, we’re embedding it here. Can a robot be a priest? Meet Pepper, the Robo Priest.

Parenting Place, Catholic Corner, Canada Corner, Leadership Lessons, et al will return.

September 12, 2017

When the Color of the Carpet Actually Matters

While touring a church on a recent vacation day, I was taken to this church library where I simply had to take a picture. I love books and am a product of the power of Christian resources.

“The acquisition of Christian books is necessary for those who can use them. The mere sight of these books renders us less inclined to sin and incites us to believe more firmly in righteousness.” – Epiphanius, 4th Century

In Evangelical parlance, the phrase “the color of the carpet” is used as a euphemism for other superficial issues which can serve as a distraction to true worship and fellowship. It functions in the place of a myriad of other topics which can be divisive in the life of a Christian congregation.

I’ve always sworn I would never be a “color of the carpet” type of person. Some things are worth making a fuss over, and others should be consigned to the periphery of church concerns.

And then it happened.

At some point over the course of the summer they removed the church library and gave the contents to a local thrift store.

And I find myself seething.

So in order to justify myself, I have to be convinced that this is more than superficial; this is not about the color of the carpeting. Here’s why I am so strongly persuaded.

This was someone’s ministry in the church. This was a ministry that someone had poured their heart into for the better part of a decade, receiving an annual budgetary commitment, but little else in the way of enthusiasm. The person was away for six weeks visiting family in another part of the country. They did receive an email warning of what was to come, but little could be done at a distance of thousands of miles. This person deserved some opportunity for closure even if it was one last opportunity to view the boxed-up collection. I list this factor first because as a family, we experienced grieving the loss of a ministry, more than once, at the hands of this same church, and so we identify strongly with this particular aspect of the closure.

The library showed the value the capital-C Church has placed on writings throughout history. Though many weeks less than a dozen resources went out, its presence in the church was iconic in the truest sense of that word. It contained resources for parents, books on basic doctrine and Christian theology, chronicles of the history of the denomination. There were Bibles, videos, CDs, and a host of teaching materials instructive for children.

Donations kept the collection fresh. The people, myself included, who donated resources for this were invested in this particular type of ministry. Some books had been given just weeks before the whole thing was eradicated.

Stewardship was squandered. Because of my vocational role in the community at the local bookstore, I know that several hundred dollars worth of books had been purchased only this year. (But only a few hundred dollars. I have no significant conflict of interest here. My reaction is that of a bibliophile.)

The resources belonged to the congregation. People should have been told about the closure weeks ahead, and had the opportunity to take books of interest and make them part of their home library. They belonged to the people of the church, not the church staff.

They could have helped another church that wanted to have this ministry in their church building. This is a denomination that keeps talking about ‘church planting’ and ‘daughter churches’ and being a ‘network of churches,’ but I doubt any were offered the contents of this already-carefully curated collection. Some would be saddened to know what they missed out on.

They could have sent the resources overseas. Again, as a missionary-minded denomination the idea that the collection wasn’t considered to send to pastors and workers who were unable to take their libraries with them to Third World countries is equally perplexing. On a personal level, as an area volunteer for Christian Salvage Mission, I know the organization would have  embraced this acquisition with open arms and heartfelt gratitude on behalf of North American pastors and English-speaking indigenous workers in Africa and Asia. Instead, I wasn’t given the slightest inkling that this was in the works.

They kept two racks of fiction. This was the most disturbing thing of all; what was kept. These shelves are now located in the church’s new café and someone noted that some were books with exceptionally loud colors on the spines. If you were going to keep fiction, these were some of the worst choices. In other words, these books are props. They are being used solely for decorative purposes, to create atmosphere.

They may be deluded that electronic media has replaced books. This church recently signed a contract with Right Now Media, giving church people free access to a large grouping of video content. This is fraught with issues. Video teaching is not the same as learning off the printed page, nor is long-term absorption of the material as great. Older people in the church won’t bother to sign up for Right Now or figure out how it works. The mix of authors and teachers with online content is totally different than those who work solely in print. The library would have complemented the other service. Now they’ll never know if that would have happened.

The space will not see a higher purpose. Looking at that empty room, I wanted to be optimistic; I wanted to say, “Prove to me that what you’re about to do in this space is better than what you had.” It absolutely won’t happen.

The church bylaws are flawed. Major expenditures require approval in a congregational meeting, but the jettison of a major church asset requires no such approval. Given the number of now out-of-print titles that were displayed alongside more recent titles, I’d put the value of what was effectively trashed at at least $20,000 — books aren’t cheap — and that’s an informed opinion of someone working in the publishing industry. So you need to call a vote to acquire larger things, but you’re free to simply give away previously-acquired larger things? No. Not a good idea. For churches or families. Churches operate on the basis of consensus.

The library was doomed for at least a year. I kept forwarding PowerPoint slides along the lines of “Be sure to visit the church library…” to be used in the on-screen announcement crawl before the service, but never saw them used. Now I know why…

…I’m not sure where I’m going to church this Sunday. I have real issues with this. I’ve become what the church staff may say is a “color of the carpet” curmudgeon.

I don’t care. It was plain wrong. The stakeholders weren’t consulted. A horrible decision.

Now there’s no turning back.

 

September 3, 2017

If It Seems Creepy, Cut Your Losses

Filed under: Christianity, ministry, personal — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:23 am

I was a blue-jeaned 17-year old who had come out to my youth group as a half-competent piano player. He was a well-dressed mid-20-something who the church frequently sent out to traditional, small churches as a soloist. He needed an accompanist.

He came by the house with a brown leather briefcase stuff with more sheet music than I knew had ever been printed. Church soloist stuff. Arrangements of classic hymns. Growing up in church I knew many of the songs, and the ones I couldn’t read note-for-note I could play well by ear. Not my usual repertoire, but at least a chance to serve.

He left the briefcase and encouraged me to “dig through it.”

I dug.

At the bottom were what I can only describe as a collection of erotic poems. Tame by today’s standards to be sure, but shocking and unexpected given the context. Pages of the stuff parked almost adjacent to Gaither’s “The King is Coming” and Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer.”

I was no prude. My high school friend Mark and I had the book, a pocket sized pornographic paperback we had found on a walk in the woods. I’ve never seen anything else that particular size and shape. We traded it back and forth a few times.

But I wasn’t putting myself out there as a “music ministry ambassador” for a large church. The hypocrisy of it was evident to me even at that age. And the fact that he wanted me to discover these photocopied, typed and hand-written pages was just… creepy.

I played the one church I agreed to play, and then told him I couldn’t do this moving forward. I’m not sure if I went into details. Years later, I find myself recalling the incident, but can’t think of the guy’s name or what happened to his singing career.

I had been aware enough to discern that something was wrong, but didn’t necessarily catch all the imagery in the poems. At that stage in life, I made the choice to stay blissfully ignorant.

August 30, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Just because it’s not mentioned in the links below doesn’t mean we’re not fully following the events in Houston, TX and the surrounding area. We stare at the screen in horror as the stories are told. It’s tempting to say, ‘Thank goodness it’s not else,’ but at that level of water saturation, no one is immune if a weather system parks itself over an area for several days. Lord, have mercy upon us.

  • True Confessions: In an interview about a new book, a former producer for The 700 Club shares his admiration for and his concerns about Pat Robertson. “As smart as Pat Robertson is, and as good as he is at marketing, he is also highly susceptible to his own hype. In that way, [Donald] Trump plays him like a piano. If you watch his most recent interview, some of the things that Trump says to Pat are really way out there in terms of manipulating Pat. He builds him up like a salesman would, and Pat is susceptible to that…
  • …which brings us to our…
    Quotation of the Week: “This bastard love child of the Church and the State currently calling itself Conservative American Evangelicalism, would have been unthinkable and abhorrent to Jesus. It it the full antithesis of his life and ministry, and of the grassroots, counterintuitive community he curated in the rural roads, rugged hillsides, rough neighborhoods, and dusty temples where he spent his days.” The writer proposes we seek to “rid the American Evangelical Church of toxic Christianity.”
  • To the Third and Fourth Generation Department: Meet Jerry Falwell III, better known as Trey Falwell. With a $4.65 Million loan from Dad, he bought a shady hostel in Miami Beach; what the writer calls “Falwell’s gay-friendly flophouse with an on-site liquor store.” Yes, you’re reading correctly. “The Falwell-owned hostel encourages behavior that would get Liberty students expelled—the drinking, the smoking, the advertising for strip clubs, the free shuttles to local bars, the possibility of co-ed sleeping arrangements, and so on. And they certainly wouldn’t be allowed to buy anything from the adjoining liquor store on Falwell’s property—an amenity the hostel touts in the self-description it provides to travel sites like TripAdvisor: ‘There is a liquor store connected to the hostel with almost anything you need for partying!'”
  • Zondervan author Nish Weiseth called it “a gross example of pastoral & leadership malpractice.” Jen Hatmaker said, “The timing is callous beyond words.” Nadia Bolz-Weber called it a “Perfect example of ignoring the hearts and lives of real people so you can adhere to an idea or doctrine.” Read about the anti-LGBTQ message contained in The Nashville Statement on Human Sexuality, released by Evangelical leaders. (Link to the actual document contained in the story.) …
  • …Nadia releases a statement of her own. Read The Denver Statement.
  • Choosing My Translation: For pastors, the translation used personally, or the one they preach from, or the one used where they’re doing graduate work, or the one the church has in the pews; these three may all be different at any point in time. Things about when choosing which translation the congregation hears in weekend teaching.
  • The man’s story reached the ears of the Dallas Morning News and they carried his story. Concerning that, this writer says, “I just find it astonishing that gay activists and other radicals on the left think that they can try to bring in the mainstream media and the law to punish the church for holding to orthodox Christian moral values. But this is why we call sin “sin”.  Read the fuller story of what happened.
  • The Apostle Paul, the original networker. “Paul did not create much in terms of infrastructure–church buildings, cultural centers, and the like. Instead, he discerned what was already available and used them to their fullest potential.” (The graphic image alone on this is worth the look.)  
  • Names to Watch: Denver Snuffer (real name, as far as we know) who is leading a splinter movement of between 5,000 and 10,000 Mormons from the LDS to something new called The Remnant. (Everything the LDS teaches is on the table this coming weekend in Boise.)
  • 60-Second Devotional: The sin of self-deceit.
  • ♫ Don’t know the name Cody Carnes? You probably know his wife, Kari Jobe-Carnes, who also sings on Til The End of Time. (Really like this song! So much so that…)
  • ♫ …Liked it so much that…same artist! Cody Carnes’ song Full of Faith posted just 5 days ago
  • Parenting Place Podcast on Presence: How to Be More Present With Your Kids with Kara Powell. 32 minutes audio. 
  • Non-Music Video of the Week: Check out this look at “real people who have wrestled with their faith, sexuality or gender, and you’ll see that these issues aren’t just about issues. They’re about people.” Dear Church, I’m Gay. 21 minutes.
  • Leadership Lessons: Thom Rainer called his article, “Six Traits of a Church Disrupter.” (I can think of a better two-word term and the last word is similar, Dis—-er.) #5: “He often assures the pastor and other church leaders how much he loves them and supports them. And then he goes and stabs them in the back.”
  • This Fall, a number of churches are embarking on The Immerse Bible Reading Experience.
  • Don’t ask me how, but I scored 100% on this 15-question test of Lutheran knowledge.
  • Canada Corner: The link is to the New York Times, but the story is that Canadian passports can now contain a “M” an “F” or an “X” in the space for indicating gender.
  • If you’re going to seek asylum in Britain as someone who has converted to Christianity, it might be helpful to know what Easter is or recognize the names of the Gospel writers.
  • Finally, you may have seen this item about Iceland banning American televangelists.

(Yes, it’s longer than I said WLLs were going to be moving forward, but it was a busy week. And I didn’t even get to Twitter today!)

August 23, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Welcome to the economy size link list. If you missed Friday here, we offered this explanation.

This week in the comic pages, Beetle Bailey learns what it does and doesn’t mean to find refuge in the church:

 

August 21, 2017

Shopping for Church Curriculum on Amazon or Google Involves Risk

The IVP art director who designed N.T. Wright’s Bible study series had a thing for boats.

Today’s topic deals with an internet reality that is filled with complexities on a number of levels for churches and people organizing independent fellowship groups and Bible studies.

Before delving into the meat of today’s subject, I want to address two potential situations which can exist in a majority of churches, at least in North America.

  1. In some churches, individual leaders are charged with sourcing and ordering materials for different ministries within the church, and expenses are reimbursed either through charging participants, or from the general fund account.
  2. In other churches, study material is a ‘top-down’ decision, with paid clerical (or administrative) staff choosing what each group will study and ordering it themselves on the group’s behalf.

The problems we’re discussing today generally apply to the former situation, though can also take place in a surprising number of cases involving the latter situation.

So…the group leader, capitulating to an internet shopping world goes online and discovers a particular resource for their small group that seems to fit the bill.

  1. It’s on the book of Philippians, which is exactly what they want.
  2. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks format, which is exactly what they want.
  3. It runs ten weeks, which is exactly what they want.
  4. It’s under $10 US per book, which is exactly what they want.

What could possibly go wrong? (go wrong? go wrong? go wrong?)

I’ve seen these things happen firsthand:

  • The website is out-of-date and the particular resource is out of print and now it’s become a ‘Holy Grail’ type of quest to find the item in question. (Some groups will locate a single copy and do photocopying which in my opinion places them in a gray ethical area in terms of both the practice and the appearance.)
  • The expectations of the group aren’t the same as the person doing the purchasing. (You’re looking for a study book and they want to do a book study.)
  • A Baptist group accidentally orders a resource by a Pentecostal/Charismatic author. (Though in one case, they actually decided to go around one more time with the same series.)
  • A Charismatic/Pentecostal group orders a resource by a cessationist author. (Discovered when they like it enough to check out their other writings, only to find their doctrine being slammed.)
  • A small group discovers they’ve accidentally ordered something belonging to what would be considered a fringe Christian group with doctrinal distinctives that were not readily apparent (eg. Seventh Day Adventist)
  • The search process lands someone on a website not realizing it belongs to an even further-removed group such as LDS/Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness and is impressed enough to delve further into their writings, never returning to their place of origin.

There are several ways this can happen:

  1. The product they followed up on when they typed their criteria into a search engine belonged to a commercial publisher or distributor who was paying for search engine optimization (SEO) or even a paid ad itself.
  2. The internet isn’t very discerning; it follows an algorithm to obtain results depending on what you type. But too many search terms can also send it off the rails.
  3. The person searching isn’t very discerning; they are not trained in terms of knowledge of who it is behind the website or the publisher.

At risk of leaving somebody out, here, in no particular order, are some publishers of Evangelical Bible study material I believe everyone in that target group can trust:

  • InterVarsity Press (IVP)
  • Zondervan
  • Baker Books
  • NavPress (publishing arm of The Navigators)
  • David C. Cook
  • Thomas Nelson
  • AMG Publishing
  • Tyndale Publishing House
  • Moody Publishers
  • City on a Hill Productions
  • Bethany House
  • Harvest House
  • Concordia Publishing
  • Abingdon Press
  • Waterbrook Press

(Some omissions were intentional; others I will correct depending on comments or emails received.)

Some of you who know me know that I continue to advocate on behalf of remaining Christian bookstores. This is the best way to source material because it has been vetted both by the above publishers and the individual store owner, who is a professional in this field.

Additionally, some authors who have books issued by the above publishing houses, have chosen to do some of their small group material in-house in order to capitalize on the smaller profits necessitated by smaller print runs. It’s hit and miss on whether local stores can get these, and the situation is greatly complicated for people living outside the US, where the shipping and handling costs are prohibitive, unless they’ve arranged for a representative in that country to stockpile copies for buyers there.

It reminds me of the story we carried last week on our trade blog, where a woman was looking for fall Bible study material in a thrift store.

She had found an old book — and I’m not saying it wasn’t a worthy resource to use — and now wanted to order ten of them.

You know what comes next, right? Long out of print. To be expected…

…I shudder to think people don’t realize that hoping to find your church’s adult elective curriculum in a second-hand store is rather foolhardy.

If you find something which meets the established criteria (as in the above example) and is included on the publisher list above, there are still things that can go wrong. Someone trained in the field can quickly spot potential for product mismatches like,

  • “Do you know that study guide needs to be used with a DVD?”
  • “That guide is actually a companion to the book, produced for people who are using both.”
  • “That only covers the last six chapters of Romans; it’s a part two which only makes sense if your group has done part one.”
  • “This series is intended for new Christians; your group might find the material a little oversimplified or even condescending.”
  • “They call that a study guide but it’s really meant for people who have some background in Biblical Greek (or Hebrew).”
  • “That resource is actually divided into 52 readings, meant to be done weekly over the course of a year.”
  • “It’s really just a few pages long; the price you’re seeing is for a package of ten.”
  • “The text quotes in that one are entirely from the KJV; your youth group might find that a bit awkward.”

Ultimately, you can’t get this type of service from Amazon and you’ll never get this type of product discernment using a search engine such as Bing, or Google. Admittedly, I am biased, but this simply isn’t the way to shop for materials for your study group.

 

August 19, 2017

For nearly an hour we were given answers to questions we weren’t asking

How Preaching Sounds to the Uncommitted

A few years ago we went on a farm tour. We still speak of it whenever we’re driving down the highway and see the sign indicating it as a tourist attraction. I think the purists among the farming community call this ‘agritourism’ or even ‘agritainment.’

The owner guided us around her property consisting entirely of one ‘crop’ a somewhat obscure herb that some reading this might never have had contact with. As we stood in one place in the hot sun for nearly 30 minutes, and in the field for about 60 minutes overall, our guide was oblivious to any potential discomfort. She speaks well and clearly. She is obviously intelligent.

More important are two qualities: She has a passion for what she is doing. It constantly leaks from the overflow of her heart. And she knows her subject down the last detail. I can’t imagine a question she couldn’t answer.

In the church, we generally give high place to those two criteria among the people who act as our guides, particularly those who teach us at weekend services. The formula looks like this:

genuine passion + extensive knowledge = audience engagement

In most cases, the sermons you remember because you’d like to forget them (there’s a phrase!) either lacked passion (a dry monotonous delivery) or lacked substance (the speaker hadn’t studied or had no depth).

The problem was, the farm owner had both, yet in our little group of six, I’m not sure how engaged we were. One person out of the six asked several questions however; this would represent the 15% of people in our local churches that some estimate are really into what is going on and are committed to lifestyle Christianity. In Canada we call them keeners.

Bible teaching and preachingI should also add here that both my wife and I picked up the parallel between what we were experiencing and its application to church life. As soon as we were out of earshot of the rest of the group, it’s the first thing we mentioned.

Now, we knew going in what the subject matter was going to be. We just didn’t know how that would be presented. For nearly an hour in the hot sun, we were offered answers to questions we weren’t asking, details only a solid aficionado of the subject would want to know.

Now I know how preaching sounds to an atheist.

We weren’t dragged to this event against our will; in fact we paid an admission to be there. So there was some interest, but not in the type of things that were presented. My wife noted a couple of things that were absent in the presentation; I’ll let her explain.

If the medium is the message, is the storyteller the story? Our credibility is born out of who we are, and our storyteller told us a story that communicated nothing of herself, or any other people. She shared an expert stream of hows, of dos and don’ts, of whens and wheres and hows, of so many centimeters apart and deep and high, of percentages and techniques, of days and weeks and months and years – but no who.

We were told that the plant was native to the Mediterranean area. So who brought it over here and why?

We were told that there are 57 varieties of the plant, examples of each to be found in a separate plot of soil. Who created them all?

One little nugget that dropped was that her family had, until a few years ago, been market gardeners (implying a varied and multi-seasonal crop). She never explained how they’d made the leap from something so practical and communal to something so esoteric and exclusive. Where did this passion come from?

There was no history, no personality. No identity.

So basically, all of our passion and all of our knowledge does not guarantee that our presentation will become infectious, or frankly, that anyone is listening at all.

I know that some people read blogs who are very distrustful of churches that try to make the gospel relevant. I like what someone once said on this: We need to communicate the relevance the gospel already has. I know in my own life there have been times when I was passionate and detailed about things that my hearers may have had a mild interest in, but I wasn’t addressing their felt needs.

Spiritual passion + Biblical knowledge does not necessarily result in audience receptivity, even if you’re the best orator in the world.

August 16, 2017

Wednesday Link List

The return of Pastor Hyeon Soo Lim to Canada from imprisonment in North Korea is a story worth hearing. We devoted our first four links to it today.

Each week’s list begins with a template looking something like this

This week we have several audio (and video) options for you. We won’t be so podcast happy next week, but we thought we’d give you something different. The listening/viewing time is shown in parenthesis after each.

From the image archives:

August 15, 2017

Pastoral Communications – Part Three

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:36 am

Well, I thought it was good idea. Two ideas really.

The first was something that’s commonplace in Mainline Protestant churches in the summer but not so big among Evangelicals. I thought it would be a good fit.

The second was something that actually happened in the church parking lot rather serendipitously which I thought should be a permanent feature.

I sent it to two people on church staff. There’s a problem right there. Each probably assumed the other would reply to it. (Okay, I’m being charitable with that.)

Just suggestions. No personal agenda. No history of making this type of suggestion in any recent memory.

No reply.

We’ve written about this before here, so I don’t want to belabor the point, but shouldn’t churches be pleased when someone cares enough about the church’s programming, image, environment, etc. to write a short note? They could even send me a form letter for the wrong response as in, “Thank you for your suggestion, we’ll consider adding both books to the church library;” or “We apologize for the shortage of diapers in the nursery you experienced.”

Rather, I got silence.

Working in Christian camping, I learned that first impressions count and the camps have increased their attention to making each week’s Opening Day a big welcome both for the kids who are staying and the parents and guardians who are dropping them off. It’s not just a matter of saying ‘We’re glad you’re here;’ but actually putting some energy into it.

I thought I was on to something. I’ll share the details with you in the Spring so churches that want to have time to ramp up, though I suspect many are doing similar things already.

When a parishioner cares enough to make a suggestion, even if the idea has flaws, they should at least get an acknowledgement of their contribution.

 

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