Thinking Out Loud

July 19, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Meow

We’re back after a week away from link-listing. One of the big winners here each week is me! I get to prepare this thing and see such a wide swath of what Christians are thinking and doing. There are some topics here for your consideration. Take some time, and tell your friends to visit.

  • Essay of the Week: Shane Claiborne chronicles the history of Christian civil disobedience. “You can go to jail for doing something wrong. And you can also go to jail for doing something right. We went to jail for doing something right.” 
  • Listicle of the Week: 5 Sure Signs You’ve Been Hoodwinked by the “Prosperity Gospel.
  • Electronic Dance Music (EDM) in church? “It’s not supposed to draw out the voice of a congregation. It’s supposed to make people want to move and leave their rational selves behind. And buy music. And stay in the club longer and spend more on drinks. It doesn’t facilitate the liturgy, it hijacks the liturgy, making it something else entirely. ” (Some of the points here apply to more than just EDM at church.)
  • Making your church introvert-friendly: “Our church cultures are unintentionally designed to identify, groom, and celebrate a specific personality type which leaves most introverts unseen, undeveloped, and left with a stigma of guilt and shame. Our ministry and discipleship opportunities implicitly communicate what a ‘disciple’ looks like, what ‘ministry’ looks like, or what ‘leadership’ looks like. And most of those narratives are very, very narrow.”
  • Quotation of the Week: “Sadly, it seems like John Piper has trouble dealing with the fact that women have bosoms even though he is free from sexual feelings towards other women.” Documenting John Piper’s ongoing obsession with this particular topic, including mothers allowing their 2-year-old daughters to show their knees. (Trigger alert: This discusses the private parts of men and women.)
  • Colorado’s gay wedding cake case: “There is an impulse to frame every issue as a clash between the tolerant and the closed-minded. But the Masterpiece case doesn’t challenge, undermine or re-litigate the issue of same-sex marriage in America. Gay marriage wasn’t even legal in Colorado when this incident occurred.” 
  • Moving: After 25 years at Wheaton College in Chicago, New Testament prof. Gary Burge is joining the faculty of Calvin College in Grand Rapids.
  • Farewell, SBC: “Today I am officially renouncing my ordination in the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant body, with about 15 million members, and the world’s largest Baptist denomination. My reasoning is simple: As a black scholar of race and a minister who is committed to social justice, I can no longer be part of an organization that is complicit in the disturbing rise of the so-called alt-right, whose members support the abhorrent policies of Donald Trump and whose troubling racial history and current actions reveal a deep commitment to white supremacy.” Lawrence Ware writes at the New York Times.
  • Apologetics Alley: Did Jesus speak Greek? When the subject of whether or not our Bibles contain the exact words of Jesus, we default to:
    1. Jesus primarily spoke in Aramaic.
    2. The Gospels were written in Greek.
    If Jesus ever used Greek to speak, then the Gospels may contain his exact words. Three reasons why Jesus probably spoke Greek at least some of the time
  • …Meanwhile, a different view at Zondervan Academic: “Jesus probably knew enough Greek to understand it. But he wouldn’t have spoken it as his first language. He also wouldn’t have used it in his daily conversation or taught the crowds in Greek.” …
  • …Also at the same blog, a look at both sides of the authorship of Hebrews issue.
  • Sermon Stats: “In these days of Ted Talks and 20 minutes messages, we were surprised that the most watched and beloved preachers in America preach almost twice that long!” Check out the average sermon length for ten popular pastors.
  • Dialing for Doctrine: Who exactly did Jesus die for?  The debate on “particular redemption,” which most of us refer to us “limited atonement.” (If nothing else, be sure to check out the 6-minute video.)
  • This is a developing story which may have changed by the time you read it, but the TGC website deals with the basics of the Charlie Gard case.
  • Sermon of the Week: Full disclosure, the one I chose was from June 23rd. The pastor is Levi Lusko a name that was new to me. He pastors Fresh Life Church in 8 locations around Kalispell, Montana. He was one of the ten pastors on the sermon stats piece above, and is the author of Swipe Right: The Life-and-Death Power of Sex and Romance from Zondervan. Enjoy all 39 minutes of The Things That Make for Peace.
  • The Christian Patriarchy Movement: “My father told me so often that God works through men to reveal his will for women. ‘You can’t know God’s will without a father or husband.” Of 30 of her friends who were subject to this mindset, she knows of only three who are currently following Christ.
  • Jesus and Yoga: For me this sentence sums up the entire article,  “I was once a super devout Christian, and I have a lot more ideas about my creator now from practicing yoga. It’s turned into another type of worship of me.” Or how about the woman who, “was actually a Pentecostal minister before she found yoga. When she became interested in the practice, she decided to eschew U.S. studios and traveled to India to study the yoga there. The choice forced her to reconcile her Pentecostalism with her new passion. “My yoga made it difficult to maintain my religious relationships, so much of that ended when I announced I was going to India.” An insight into the practice of what is called trap yoga.
  • In the four years 2012-2015, Trinity Broadcasting Network spent over $20M (US) in legal fees, and that number doesn’t include amounts paid out in settlements. “Besides examining a preacher’s theology, donors should determine if giving to them is good stewardship.” 
  • Marriage Matters: “What do I do when my spouse doesn’t have the same sense of calling to the poor, or mission, or ministry, that I do?” 4 Guidelines when facing a mismatched sense of calling.
  • Translation Troubles: We’ve all experienced it. Something like, “I don’t really like what the ESV does with verse 21, I think it should be more like…” Three reasons pastors should avoid a public put-down of particular translations.
  • Today’s Trivia Question: A classic preacher and author is quoted as, ““I can say quite honestly that I would not cross the road to listen to myself preaching.” Know who he is?
  • Breaking another glass ceiling, “Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens was elected …to serve as the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada. She is the first African-American to hold this post and the second woman to lead the denomination.” (Or lead any mainline Protestant denomination…)
  • …Also, increasingly more black families in the US are choosing to homeschool.
  • Church on Wheels: His sanctuary is a 2009 Mercury Grand Marquis. His Uber passengers are his congregation.
  • ♫ New Music: Some recommendations from New Release Today:
  • Canada Corner: Booksellers on the prairie are always surprised when people keep returning to buy Paul Young’s The Shack.
  • Pot Calling the Kettle? Young Earth Creationists accuse Flat Earth devotees of taking the Bible too literally.
  • Catching up with the Phil Vischer podcast while I was away; a great interview two weeks ago with Kevin Palau who is the son of…well, you guys are smart…
  • …A week later, somewhere after the 30:00 mark, Phil suggests to Skye that a future badge of honor on consumer products might be “Made By Humans” in a world where robots and automation have replaced workers
  • Finally: “Probably a good idea would be to pick an age (maybe 73 or something) and agree to never get upset by something a Christian says once they’ve crossed that line. We could call it the King David Line, or the King David Rule.”
  • Finally, finally: One good Matthew Pierce link deserves another, and after debating it, I decided to actually conclude with this one about how to be an introvert in the modern church. ” PRO TIP: You can’t really get in trouble for anything if you’re not an official member. Then the pastors will come to you and be like “if you’re not a member, you can’t be a leader or vote on things” and even though that sounds really good, they mean it as a bad thing.”

Below, the Goliath Wall fresco in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany. Not sure why I took this picture as there are exactly 2.43967 zillion of them online and they all look the same. Modern renderings in children’s Bible story books tend to put more distance between the two combatants. Could this be more accurate?

 

July 13, 2017

6 Areas Where Church Dropouts Miss Out

FellowshipWe are in the middle of a church attendance crisis. What was always a weekly occurrence for individuals and families is often, at very best, only twice a month. Some are skipping entire months at a time. Others have simply discontinued the church habit, with no return in sight.

While some continue the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study, others are more certain to have their absence from weekend worship signal a drift away. Twice in 1 Timothy 6:10 and 6:21, Paul uses the phrase “wandered from the faith.” The micro-context is “the love of money” and worldly influences; but clearly a faith that was more anchored would not drift.

Some will argue, “I haven’t wandered from the faith, I’ve simply had it with the local church.” Believe me, I get that; I get that more than you can imagine, even if you’re a regular reader here. But every Sunday I get up and make the trip. Not because I’m obeying the commandment to, or because I’ll feel the Evangelical equivalent to Catholic guilt if I don’t, but rather because the benefits clearly outweigh the cost.

We could look at all the factors that are in play right now causing many to give up a lifetime of church participation, but today I would rather focus on the positives; the things we gain by gathering together.

FellowshipThere is so much to be gained from community. The small group movement has made this even more meaningful. In that context, as Andy Stanley says, “It’s harder to fall out of a circle than it is to fall out of a row.” When we worship in a larger body, we’re also observing other people at worship, hearing their testimonies, and witnessing the spiritual growth taking place in their lives. We’re also putting ourselves in a place to minister to others.

Corporate PrayerIt’s hard to participate in “If two of you will agree as touching anything on earth” prayers by yourself. There is something to be said for coming into God’s presence en masse and then interceding on behalf of individuals facing great needs, our spiritual leaders, the local and national government, and the work of God around the world.

Personal PrayerThe obvious consequence of corporate prayer is that there are people available to pray with you when it’s your need that is uppermost.

Corporate Worship Even if you don’t like the song, or don’t prefer the style, there are many intangible blessings of being part of a local assembly lifting their voices in praise that simply can’t be duplicated at home. I know those “worship moments” in nature are meaningful, and singing in the car with a worship CD turned up loud can be inspiring, but in my life, many corporate worship occasions have been life highlights.

GivingYou can give online, of course, but many people don’t. In the offering, we participate together in financing God’s work in the local church and are made aware of the needs of missions operating throughout the world. Giving is an act of worship.

Confession Many services offer a call to go forward or stand or raise a hand and through a physical action affirm that God is speaking to us about a particular aspect of the day’s teaching. Even a short time of silence gives us an opportunity to respond to God in ways that might never come about through watching a sermon on a computer or television, where ‘dead air’ isn’t desirable.

CommunionThis is last, but certainly not least. The modern “breaking of bread” service, or Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist has a direct connection to the Passover meal. As we receive the bread and wine in community we do so in humility and thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us.

These are just a few of the benefits that occur when we don’t give up meeting together. You might be able to approximate some of these individually, and if circumstances require that, then you certainly should try. But I believe these things were intended to work best collectively.


Appendix: Support scripture passages:

We should not stop gathering together with other believers, as some of you are doing. Instead, we must continue to encourage each other even more as we see the day of the Lord coming. – Hebrews 10:25 GW

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer… And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had…They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity. – Acts 2: 42, 44, 46 NLT

I was gladdened when they said to me, “We are going to the house of Lord Jehovah”! – Psalm 122:1 Aramaic Bible in Plain English


Christianity:

Coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus Christ and being joined to a company of imperfect people who are trying to live a new life in a new way.
~ Larry Tomczak (circa 1976)

July 11, 2017

Post-Camp, Post-Festival Spiritual Highs: When they Crash

From the moment she got in the car for the one hour drive home, she didn’t stop talking. It had been an awesome two weeks. God was doing incredible things. She started talking about the people she wanted to take from her home church the following year. She described the insights the weekly speaker had shared on one particular Bible passage. When she got home she went into her room and for another hour worked out the chords for various worship songs she’d learned that week. 

So what happened? Over several days she got very sullen. On Sunday she seemed a little unsure if she even wanted to go to church. “Don’t you want to tell your friends about your great week?” you asked her. She had come down off the spiritual high and simply crashed

image 073115…Over the next few weeks, teens in your church will return having spent some time this summer

  • going to a Christian music festival
  • attending a Christian camp
  • working at a Christian camp
  • serving on a missions trip.

They return spiritually energized only to discover that their church experience now seems rather flat by comparison. Suddenly, business-as-usual or status-quo church holds no interest. I say that from personal experience. One summer, after the spiritual high of 13 weeks on staff at large Christian resort, by whatever logic it seemed to make sense, I simply dropped out of weekend services for an entire month, until a friend said something that gently nudged me back.

On the other hand, there are other teens in your church whose summer experience has not been so positive. They’ve been negatively influenced through contact with people

  • hanging out at home
  • vacationing at the campground, cabin or RV park
  • met on a road trip
  • interacting in the virtual world online

For them, returning to church has lost its appeal because they’ve either backslidden a little, or taken a nose dive into the deep waters of sin. Perhaps they’ve made new friends outside their Sunday or youth group circle.

Either way, summer is always a transitional time for preteens and adolescents, and while that’s true of mental, physical, emotional and social development, it’s also true in terms of spiritual development; and while some have soared spiritually, others have taken one step forward and ten steps backward.

The first challenge is knowing the difference between the two types of summer experiences. Identifying the source of the first type of disillusionment is easy because you probably already know the youth went to camp, the music festival or the mission field. It’s then a simple matter of probing what is they are now feeling after having had such an inspiring and uplifting summer experience. That might consist of finding ways to get them soaring again, although here one is tempted to caution against having teens live a manic life of going from spiritual high to spiritual high.

The group in the other category might not be so willing to open up. There may have been factors that drove them away from the centeredness of their past spiritual life. Perhaps their summer has been characterized by

  • a divorce in the family
  • an experiment with drugs or alcohol
  • delving into alternative spiritualities and faith systems
  • a loss of someone they loved or a pet
  • depression following a regretful first sexual experience.

They are dealing with pain, or doubt, or guilt, or uncertainty. Restoring them gently, as taught in Galatians 6:1, is likely your strategy at this point.

The second challenge is that many of these youth were, just a few weeks ago, on a parallel spiritual track. In post summer ministry, you’re reaching out to two very different types of kids: Those who prospered in their faith and those who faltered. Either way, they now find themselves back into the fall routine and the spiritual spark is gone.

A temptation here might be to let the first group help and nurture the second, but I would caution against that. The first group needs to sort out their own spiritual status first. They need to process how to return from what they did and saw and felt and learned and apply it to life in the real world. (One only goes on a retreat if one expects to go back to the battle and advance.) They shouldn’t live off the experience, but rather try to keep the closeness they felt to Christ during their time away.

The group which experienced everything from a lessening of their faith to a spiritual train wreck need a lot of love. They need to be reminded that their church or youth group is a spiritual home to which they can return, no matter how they feel, what they’ve done, or where their summer experience has left them.

Youth ministry is not easy. I only worked in it as an itinerant presenter, not as someone facing the same group of kids over a period of several years. If you were to graph their spiritual life, some would present an even line rising to the right, while others would show erratic ups and downs.

Either way, I think the greatest challenge would be those critical roundup weeks in the early fall when you’re trying to assess where everyone is at, and then try to collectively move on. For teens, and for all of us, the spiritual landscape is always changing.

July 5, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Our lead graphic this week comes from This is Indexed, a blog I’ve been following for many, many years.

I think the fundamental thing about compiling this each week is to look at an array of stories, many of which turn up on other roundup lists like this, and say, ‘Is this the type of story that fits our Wednesday list?’ Hopefully we’ve evolved a style where you might know what to expect. 

The link list won’t be here next week. We’ll see you in two weeks.

The media and graphic arts division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) is the gift that keeps on giving! At their Twenty One Hundred Productions Facebook page you find things both of interest to IVCF staff members and also broader topics for the rest of us.  Like this one from 2014:

(Here’s another one of my favorites from them that we’ve used before.)

June 29, 2017

Your Church’s Worship Playlist: How Many Songs is Too Many?

Worship Band 2This topic came up in conversation with a friend. His church wants to create a rather tight playlist of about 18 songs which would be rotated through. In other words, worship leaders would select from that list only. For me a whole lot of red flags surfaced. He dived into the web and found some articles on the topic:

A 2008 article at Practical Worship:

We currently have a list of about 50 songs (actually, it’s closer to 60, which means it’s time to cut a few), and every song has been chosen for a very specific purpose…To be honest, I don’t think I could find more than about 75 songs that we would even want to use in our church (either because of the lyrics or musical style)…having a small list means that we get to choose the cream of the crop. We don’t have any “fillers” (not that having a large list means you have fillers), nor do we keep any songs that have outlived their usefulness for us…

A reader commented:

You’re not taking into consideration the culture changes between churches. Some congregations are quick to learn and quick to remember, while others are much slower. Some can do a song 3 times a year without any troubles, while others may need to a song once a month for a year before people feel like they’re comfortable with a song.

A 2013 article at The Church Collective:

I feel strongly that the size of your song repertoire is not nearly as important as how frequently you sing any given song… While I would say we aren’t a super progressive church musically, we do have a good number of people that listen to K-Love/Air-1 and so, hear a lot of the songs during the week that we play on Sunday. The amount of time allotted for music is usually somewhere around 20-30 minutes given what we have going on during service that day. This translates to 6-7 songs per week depending on how I arrange them. I feel like repeating songs every 10 weeks or so has worked well for both congregational familiarity/participation and worship team excitement. Given all of this, I try and keep our repertoire somewhere around 70 songs.

A 2016 article at Worship Him 24/7:

At our church, we normally have 6 songs (24-30 min) each week. This would put us at 70-80 songs. That’s the ideal. We also have many older hymns and worship songs which the current congregation knows very well, so we’ve kept our range higher at the moment… 105-115 songs. This has been a big change for us. Prior to my arrival the repertoire was at 300 songs. Many people did not know the music and as a result worship engagement was low. Bottom line: a repertoire that is too big or too small can negatively impact your church’s corporate worship time. If they don’t know the music well, worship is difficult.

As I thought about this, I couldn’t help but think this left the potential syllabus uncomfortably small for the churches I’ve worked with over the years. So I quickly dashed this off to my friend:

A Diplomatic Solution and/or Fresh Way of Looking at This

©2017 Paul Wilkinson Worship Consulting, a division of Thinking Out Loud Enterprises

Here’s another way of seeing it: Let’s say you’re planning a worship set that allows you time for 7 elements of which 6 are sung. Here’s a possible configuration.

  1. Open with CCLI Top 25 song [potential pool of songs = 25]
  2. Next, move to the new song you’re introducing that month [potential pool of songs = 1]
  3. Hymn of the week [potential pool of songs = 200 – 400 that this congregation knows]
  4. Interactive / Scripture Reading / Antiphonal Reading [non-music element]
  5. Recurrent song from congregation’s past [Week “A” from ~5 years ago, potential pool = 70; week “B” from ~10 years ago, potential pool = 50]
  6. New emerging worship song that’s on theme from the bottom 75 of the CCLI Top 100 [potential pool = 75] OR Song written by local church congregation member [potential pool = 2 or 3 probably at any given time]
  7. Close with strong worship song from CCLI Top 25 [potential pool =25; same 25 as #1]

The advantage to this type of thinking is that you’re working with a much tighter base on 3 of your selections (total is 26) but on the other 3 modules (#3, 5, 6) you’ve got potential expansion involving hundreds of songs.

Of course, this isn’t the way to choose songs weekly or it gets sterile, but over the course of a month you’re generally conforming to this.

June 28, 2017

Wednesday Link List

So who’s this happy youth group? These are the interns working at Craig Groeschel’s Life.Church this summer. As we pointed out at this time last year, their roster of interns is larger than many American churches.

Welcome to WLL #365. We continue to try to direct you to sites not containing pop-up ads or paywalls, but the internet is not the same place as it was 365 link lists ago.

As we prepared this, the trial of Shane Claiborne and 17 others arrested in Washington for protesting the death penalty was scheduled to begin at 9:00 AM today (Wednesday). Pray, as this is a watershed moment for this particular social justice issue.


Today’s ephemera:

Not sure how we missed this 2014 title, from no less than Zondervan.


An 11-year old Chris Tomlin. This baseball-card-sized object may have been a cassette insert.


Why I always say my wife is actually the better writer in the family.


That’s, “Doctor Karen Kingsbury” to you. The leading Christian fiction author picked up an honorary Doctor of Letters this Spring at Liberty U.


This isn’t a parody. The author Robert W. Schambach (1926 – 2012) was an American televangelist, pastor, faith healer and author.


Published in 2001, N. D. Wilson’s book features “tweaked versions of all the original characters … in an absurd tangle of Evangelical goofiness struggling to make sense of the pathetically gnostic vision of the original story. You won’t want to miss all body parts, cats, and youth pastors left behind…”


Don’t say you don’t see the similarity. Should Benny run in 2020?


I don’t claim to have all the answers, but surely they could have come up with a better name for the place.

June 21, 2017

Wednesday Link List

I keep thinking the title of this game implies that it focuses more on the edgy, racier stuff in the Bible.

As of 12:24 this morning, it’s officially summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Welcome to WLL #364. I guess you know what that means? Right. Next week is WLL #365.

See y’all next week!

 


*Referenced in the links this week: Australia’s Hot 25 Countdown. An Aussie equivalent to 20 The Countdown Magazine.

 

June 14, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Because prosperity gospel churches can always use an offering liturgy.

This was the link list that almost didn’t happen as my version of Firefox crashed on Tuesday night. My wife theorizes that the problem originated with my anti-virus program (Avast) just as did on her computer (AVG). She thinks the incompatibilities with Windows 10 are intentional to make people switch to Windows Defender, the program now running on both of our computers. Still, we did have some time to get some of the links ready for market; hope you enjoy them.

June 7, 2017

Wednesday Link List

First of all, this was a Weekend Link List weekend. About 15 really, really good links. So pause for a moment and go to Saturday to catch up.  As to this list: Recommended processing time is 18 minutes.

But wait, there’s more!  Again, this was a Weekend Link List weekend. If you’re done here, go to Saturday for the good stuff!.

June 4, 2017

Christian Counseling: A New Paradigm Where Churches Buy Services in Bulk

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:59 pm

One of the local churches my wife and I are involved with is part of a service which may or may not be unique to our part of the world.  The Congregational Assistance Plan (CAP) is one of many services of Shalem Mental Health Network — pronounced ShaLAME — an organization based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Although I’ve never availed myself of this service so far, basically, in exchange for an annual fee, the organization has a list of members and adherents of this church and if someone on the list needs help, they call the number and arrange a meeting. The church receives a total number of the people who used the service that month, but not names. The local church in question is the first in its denomination to sign on for the program.

Here’s how the organization describes it:

CAP enables churches to make short-term professional Christian counselling support available to their members.

  • local professional, Master’s degree-level Christian counsellors
  • available to all church members and adherents
  • up to six sessions per year for each member
  • services are anonymous and strictly confidential
  • provided at no cost to the church member
  • CAP works seamlessly behind the scenes in your congregation.

This is a win-win. I especially like the last point, “CAP works seamlessly behind the scenes.”

Christian counseling can be expensive. This is something we learned as a family a few summers ago. But for some people a listening ear and some direction is much needed. (They also work with at least one Christian university we’re familiar with.

This blog goes all over the U.S., Canada and the world. I hope people of influence can study this model to see if it has application where you live.

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