Thinking Out Loud

August 15, 2018

Wednesday Connect

When in Holland, be sure to pick up the latest copy of “Nun of the Month” magazine.

Welcome to Wednesday Connect.

I wonder, when you stage a Lethargy Festival, does anyone bother to show up?

Breaking: Trinity Western University in Vancouver announced yesterday that it has dropped its controversial mandatory student covenant prohibiting sex outside of heterosexual marriage, effective with the 2018/2019 school year. The covenant was the major issue in a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision which blocked the school from establishing a School of Law. The covenant remains in effect for staff and faculty. In June the court “ruled that provincial law societies have the power to refuse accreditation for the school, saying the covenant would deter LGBTQ students from attending.” At issue is the idea that students entering that profession with such a perspective cannot practice law unbiased. (Statement: From the University President.)

♦ The Pipester Strikes Again! This time around adding verses to the hymn Great Is They Faithfulness, “he may have undermined the original writer’s intention. Thomas Chisholm, who wrote the hymn, was Methodist, meaning he probably held Wesleyan-Arminian views. Piper, famously, adheres to the more Calvinistic brand of Reformed theology.”  (The article doesn’t mention that The Gospel Coalition’s music superstar, Bob Kauflin, is on record as being opposed to congregations making lyrical adaptations to existing material.)

♦ The Museum of the Bible will return a manuscript to Greece which was deemed to have been stolen, after already paying a $3M fine for illegal importation of items from Iraq.

♦ Something-to-Think-About Post of the Week: The Assumption (Catholic) or Dormition (Orthodox) of Mary beyond it’s primary purpose, serves to keep her eternally young. Is there a connection between this and today’s modern church emphasis on attracting youth? Several things going on at once in this article; worth reading.

♦ So what about the notion that “Everything happens for a reason?” Greg Boyd refutes that and notes a distinction in the Greek text of the story of the man born blind which translators seem to ignore.

♦ Congratulations to Rick Warren’s Saddleback Community Church in California which at some point this weekend crossed the 50,000 baptisms mark.

♦ Warning: Content may be graphic. (Actually, that’s a pun.) Sojourners looks at artists using the comic book or graphic novel format to tell the Christianity story.

♦ Canada Corner: When churches close society overall takes a hit. “…it’s just not religious people who benefit from churches and other places of worship. A lot of what we take for granted in Canada depends on them, too. Take charitable giving, for example…as church membership and attendance falls, fewer people will get those reminders—or not have an opportunity to put money in the offering plate…Nor will just charities feel the pain as churches and other places of worship close. The changes will also affect how people learn to be engaged citizens.

♦ The Summit Summarized: As he does each year, Joshua Reich offers 232 quotes from this year’s Global Leadership Summit.

♦ Should I stay or should I go? Stay home that is. Or go to church. Pew Research learns that 76% of Evangelicals identify the sermon as a key reason for going, while only 36% of Catholics share that view. This and many other stats on why people go and why others stay home.

♦ Is the canon of scripture open to new additions? Greg Koukl deals with this and two other topics in the 4-minutes-or-less Stand to Reason Ask podcast. (18 min. total)

♦ Worship Workshop 1: Have you ever sung a song containing a part where you’re expected to just go “Oooh…?” Can the “Ooohs” be considered worship? The worship perspective on songs which appear to missing some of the words.

♦ Worship Workshop 2: “A richness in the simplicity.” A keyboard technique which even some guitar players can perform on piano. “Hover Chording” is not to be confused with “Hover-boarding” which is a different extreme sport.

The Ark Encounter recently broke its previous attendance record, with over 8,500 guests.

♦ This beautiful song was posted back in April, but I heard it on the weekend for the first time. The title is Sails, performed by Pat Barrett featuring Steffany Gretzinger & Amanda Cook. ♫

♦ For the teenager in your house: We like to encourage young writers. She’s 13, calls herself Bible Blogger Girl and her site is titled Teen, Meet God

♦ At the Movies, One Year from Now: The Kendrick Brothers next feature is titled Overcomer, about a basketball coach. Scheduled for August 23, 2019.

♦ There’s never, ever, ever, ever been a show like Veggie Tales. It’s time for Veggie Tales: The Remix.

♦ Finally, God as Rust Remover: Kenneth Copeland lays hands on his airplane and its corrosion is healed.


The Newsboys (the originals, long before Michael Tait) appear in a story about journalism at a Catholic website. “Christopher Dawson once remarked that, had we read the Jerusalem Post or the Roman Daily News on the morning after the Crucifixion, we would find hardly any mention of it, other than perhaps a note that three bandits had been executed under Pontius Pilate. The ‘bad news’ of the Crucifixion turned out for the Christians to be a felix culpa, a happy fault – good news.” Click the image to read in full. (Library of Congress photo)


Follow Up: Many of you have wondered what happened to this documentary film; this update is from early last month. Click to bookmark their Facebook page.


Your Word of the Week

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August 4, 2018

Secularization in Europe: Where it Begins

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:05 am

You won’t see a picture like this often: Just 5 minutes earlier this Cathedral in Strasbourg was teeming with tourists, but they shut it down at 11:15 AM every day, evacuating all the guests. Empty churches is the theme of my writing on our concerns for Christianity in Europe.

I’m not a social scientist, though I play one on television.

However, in the informal interviews we had with people in July (and the year before) there is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that the secularization taking place in Europe has two very strong nodes; two places where it begins from which the ripple effects spread out throughout each respective country. Furthermore, I’m predicting that in the future, things won’t be much different in Canada and the United States.

One is cities. I know the stereotype. Country people are closer to the land, and it better lends itself to worshiping God in creation. But so many things reinforced the continued devoutness of the people in the smaller communities, as opposed to the secularized society we witnessed in the urban environments. Rural values are more spiritual.

For now.

The second is the young. Even as secularization spreads from the cities to the towns, it spreads as those in their teens advance into their twenties, have their own families for which church attendance is not a part of normal life.

We used to say, “Just wait until they have children.” The theory was that the children would ask questions that would force the parents to provide a structure to help them answer the metaphysical, philosophical, and spiritual questions of life.

Then studies proved that didn’t happen.

I’ve quoted this (source unknown) before:

A faith community that does not impart its sacred writings to its young people is one generation away from extinction.

I would add another today:

A faith community which has lost its children and teens is one generation away from extinction.

…and all the organ concerts and gift shop sales won’t be enough to stop that.

August 2, 2018

Breaking the Repetition Factor in Worship

A few days ago, our friends at Flagrant Regard posted this question at Worship Leader’s Collective:

 

Does anyone else feel the 7/11 treatment of songs (7 words, 11x in a row) can get a bit taxing if you’re standing, have ADHD or just want to sing worship songs that render its message in 4 minutes or thereabouts?
 
We took the nearly 8-minute version of Elevation Band’s great song ‘Resurrecting’ and rejigged it down to a comfortable 5 minutes (example below). Anyone else doing the same or feel the need to?”

We asked if we run this larger response for readers here at Thinking Out Loud.


Hey there. It’s the Original Poster (Flagrant Regard) here. So, after reading the many responses to the question asked above, the first thing I’d like to say is thank you all for taking the time to answer/reflect. Much appreciated!

I think from the many responses, the idea of the worship leader/team having to cut back on a Hillsong/Bethel/Elevation song’s length during worship time seems to be out of sync with the modern worship trends and not a favorable action with the majority here.

You know, if it were just young people in your services who are into the whole Bethel/Hillsong/Elevation Worship thing that has come to dominate the ‘industry’ of worship music in this century, I’d be like, “Yeah, that’s fine. Don’t cut back on your song lengths and repetition of choruses.”

But the church is made of many parts and many peoples. People who give a fig about older hymns, people who don’t. People who like songs from the 90’s and 00’s, people who don’t. People who like to sing and people who’d rather read the lyrics on the overhead projections and just ‘soak’ while the worship band does their shtick.

What bothered me in this thread was how some of the reasons for not wanting to trim some songs (in attempts to accommodate many people’s comfort-levels in the church body) came across as rather snobbish or selfish even. And musical snobbishness is a reflection of worship leadership that is more concerned with elevating one’s self or one’s musical agenda rather than attempting to meet many people where their at in an oft-diverse congregational body. We are taught in Scripture to ‘be all things to all men’. One good way to do this, as a worship leader, is to not just play the music YOU dig or get into. To honour one another above yourselves is sometimes playing that old hymn for those 10 or 11 folks there who would so much appreciate the effort that you’d take to do so. Maybe play only 1 longish song with multiple layers/choruses and then play others from the 90’s or the 00’s even that are less repetitive. Not everyone in the congregation is ‘bent’ toward meditative worship music that constantly refrains things for up to 8 or 9 minutes. This does not make them less spiritual than you. This does not make them less deserving of your respect or outreach or occasional accommodating their comfort-levels.

What’s wrong with a balance of song styles/lengths to reach a whole congregation and not just the Bethelites/Hillsongians among the crowd?

Listen to how much of your ‘SELF’ came out in your responses to the question.
“Gets ME into a meditative state”

“Sometimes it takes a little time and repetition for ME to really set aside MY day …”

“I THINK they can stand for 25 minutes once a week”

So it’s about you is it?

And then some of the reasoning for playing longer songs had me going, “Uh, really?”

“Why don’t we feel the same way when Scripture gets repetitive? Psalm 136 is a good example. … I wonder if we can’t stand as long because we just don’t want to. We like things our way because we feel entitled to things being done our way.”

“people who complain about repetitive lyrics, ask them if they like the Hallelujah Chorus”

“that whole idiotic 7/11 thing is what many of the prominent reformed guys use to smear the entirety of the charismatic church, while still being fine with the eternally repetitive ways that the angels are projected to be worshiping God in heaven.”

1. Psalm 136. Reminds me of my Roman Catholic days. You know, where every Sunday you’re made to say the same prayers over and over again in a ‘call and response’ fashion till it became lip service. Who warned us against ‘repeated prayers’ because of their inherent nature to disengage us from reality and make us think we’re doing something spiritual when we’re not? (Matthew 6:7)

Not saying that this Psalm isn’t wonderful. But I was able to read it aloud comfortably in under 2 MINUTES – TWO MINUTES folks … Not eight.

2. The Hallelujah Chorus … is not a congregational piece. It’s a highly designed performance piece. Doesn’t fit in with Sunday mornings now does it? Silly example.

3. People of a certain age (you’ll get their friends, trust me) will be sore. Yes, the ‘whole of Israel’ (hyperbolically speaking) was there for the reading of the Decalogue in Nehemiah, but Israel would not be telling a crippled old widow, “Stand up, you lazy serf. We’re worshipping God here.” Unless you believe in a God who would expect that, our role is to accommodate the suffering and struggling in our midst. People struggle with attention spans when they’re very young and very old and long, repetitive songs DO NOT ASSIST in their attempts to become more spiritual!

4. The angels in heaven … are in heaven. They are angels and not humans. They praise God because they are self-aware in a way that you and I could never comprehend (in this life) and feel compelled to worship our Mighty God in ways that you and I could never fathom.

Not all raise their hands in praise. Are they less worshipful? Not all have a singing voice, is it right to compel them to sing or hear things over and over again that do not centre their minds on God, say, the way a well-worded sermon does?

My wife was right yesterday when she noted that the modern worship service seems to be moving in this direction: its structure is being dictated by the worship music or leadership … not the pastor, not the preaching, not the theology, not the disciplining efforts.

She was right, I began to conclude. Is it because the whole ‘paid worship pastor’ thing (which is rather new in the history of the modern church) forces the worship pastors to ‘earn their salt’ by making sure they’re ‘performing’ to expectations? That their singing long enough songs … playing extended musical sets?

I wonder how many of those here in favour of the longer songs and longer sets are the same people who start looking at their watches when the pastor begins to go ‘overtime’ with his message? If you’ve ever done that … do you see the duplicity you’ve just found yourself chewing on?

I guess what it all comes down to is this:

Who are you serving? Why are you serving? How could your serving best meet the variety of souls that have to listen to you for 25 minutes or so? Old music is not bad. I used to be one of those ‘hymn haters’ … “Why can’t they do the new stuff here? They’re such FUDDY-DUDDIES!” But that was because my agenda was to make them – the less ‘with it’ folks – get with the program. Yeah, that’s what Christianity is about – making the people bow to YOUR preferences.

Christian worship leading is not about fulfilling YOUR preferences. It is about ‘being all things to all men/women’ and ‘honouring another above yourselves’ VIA YOUR GIFTINGS.

So before next Sunday, think about your congregation – the blue hairs, the young, the middle aged, the smart/the not so smart, the attentive, the less talented, the seeking … are you doing everything in your power (in the Spirit’s power, rather) to lead them closer to the Throne by meeting them where their at by way of the many songs available to you from the many glorious eras of Christian song that are wonderful as well and often succinct in their message/presentation?

Worship the Lord with your love and humble-heart, and love others with your various giftings. Play well and professionally of course. But love others – as many others as you can – with your gifts.

That is the true Worship Leader’s calling.

August 1, 2018

Wednesday Connect

My wife told me the sign means, “Christian Citizen School for Ordinary and More Extensive Primary Education;” but to me it will always say, “Christlike Burger School.” I think “Christlike Burgers” would be a great name for a chain of fast food places.

My wife and I were on separate buses, heading for different tours, but we both caught the familiar logo of Calvary Chapel next to a river in Heidelberg, Germany.

“…And, we’re back!” While we were away I was collecting items for this Wednesday Connect with Twitter, clicking “like” for the items I wanted to include. As we arrived back at the hotel each night, my Tweets would upload, so I had no idea that all my likes — two weeks’ worth — were disappearing into the ether. Nonetheless, we compiled this list in a hurry last night.

► Bethel Church in Redding, California has been criticized for not being a sanctuary for people who needed to evacuate because of the rampant fires happening there. But there is an explanation.

► Persecution Watch: With a change in status from prison to house arrest, praying people around the world are hoping that American Andrew Brunson is one step closer to leaving Turkey.

► “Now the youth group is taking another week-long summer trip, and she’s coming too. And just like last year, at some point in the week, she gets emotional about Jesus. Also like last year, she asks to talk to her youth minister, and yet again like last year, she comes to realize that she wasn’t “really” a Christian after all. Through tears and hugs she announces her newfound authentic faith, and again brings her testimony home to the church. But like last time, summer doesn’t last forever.” It’s easier to have a re-conversion than repentance

► Mark Driscoll: It’s déjà vu all over again. A new book looks at the rise and fall of Mars Hill Seattle from an academic perspective.

► Essay of the Week: “When you find yourself (for whatever reason) standing between a parent and a child—you’ve chosen the wrong side.” When a nation stops caring about its children, it has stopped being human.

► “We are experiencing characters and a dramatic developments (sic) in the world, which indicate that we are increasingly approaching the end times and Jesus’ return.” That may be true, but it’s not exactly what people were expecting to appear spontaneously from Google Translate.

► Parenting in the wake of dramatic news events: “For many teenagers and children, responses to a traumatic event are normal reactions to abnormal events. But some reactions may point to the need for further help.” The Thai soccer team cave rescue is an example where sometimes greater emotional and spiritual support is needed for kids and teens.

► Are Worship services for seekers or disciples? The problem with attractional worship is discussed in this Seven Minute Seminary video.

► The man who brought us “Chrislam” (a purported forthcoming merger of Christianity and Islam) now declares himself to be God’s Final Prophet

► What shall we name the baby? “Religion has taken a backseat in many people’s lives, but that doesn’t mean people have lost interest in it entirely. In fact, a rising number of parents are turning to the Bible for name inspiration for their kids.” Ten trending Biblical baby names. (Even if the parents don’t know they’re in the scriptures.)

► Parenting — Alleviating Awkwardness Dept. Having “the talk” with your daughter is made easier when three funny “big sisters” are telling the story on video. For just $39.00 you can partially outsource this normally precious mother-daughter moment.

► Chick-Fil-A is coming to Toronto, Canada, and already the gay community is planning a boycott. (Note: Link is to a gay news website.) … 

► … In other Toronto news, local churches open their door along a stretch known as The Danforth which was the site of another act of mass violence in a city often called Toronto the Good.

► On what we do here (blogging): “All it takes is a cursory stroll through Instagram to see that comparison- and bragging-based platform building has grown rapidly while the more thoughtful daily-logging and think-piecing have fallen out of fashion.” Zach Hoag returns to long-form writing at the new “General Christian” channel at Patheos. 

► Stepping aside from a church he helped found: Shai Linne gives an insight into what circumstantial burnout looks like.

► From our “Finds” department: Living Waters Europe documents both one-on-one Evangelism situations and adventures in street preaching on their YouTube channel.

► A look at the changing definition of masculinity. “How does this new masculinity function better? In what sense has it improved on the original version? The old masculinity drove men to provide for their families, protect their loved ones, win wars, build civilizations, among many other accomplishments. New masculinity may make effeminate men more comfortable, but what are they achieving and doing that traditionally masculine men couldn’t do as effectively? I can’t think of anything, besides, perhaps, matching their blazers to their shoes…” 

► Provocative Headline of the Week: One in Eight Divorces Caused by Student Loan Debt.

Lead Small is a new resource from Reggie Joiner (Orange Curriculum, Rethink Group) to help people learn five basic principles in leading small groups in various sized churches with particular highlighting of material which can be adapted in children’s ministry as well.

► Worship Workshop: This week on NoPro Worship, David Wesley suggests several reasons for adapting hymns in a modern church environment

► Christianese: Relevant Magazine’s Twitter poll results lists 9 phrases which confuse new and veteran Christians alike.

► Reaction to last weekend’s Revoice Conference in St. Louis, “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” 

► Video of the Week: An atheist gets locked in a church. (9 minute standup comedy w/ mature language.)

► Finally: Is Satan uploading sin into your brain via wi-fi? This may be satire, but best be safe and avoid fast food restaurants with free wi-fi.


Click the image to read the article related to this image.

July 19, 2018

A Church Paradigm Which Should Not Exist

Darlene Kirk smiled at the greeter at the church’s west doors, but with a 3-month old in one hand and a bag of diapers in another, taking a church bulletin was physically impossible, so she simply walked by. Fortunately, her husband Tom had taken the other three children when he left early for the worship team sound check.

Arriving at the nursery check-in station she met Cynthia, who was in her small group.

“Have you heard?” asked Cynthia; and then without waiting for a reply, continued, “The entire church staff has resigned. Everybody including the janitor.”

Darlene just stared at her finally got out the words, “There are 14 people on full-time staff here.”

“It’s a policy;” continued Cynthia, “from before we all started coming here. When the senior pastor resigns the other staff are expected to tender their resignations. It’s supposed to be a courtesy thing, but the new pastor has the option to accept or reject their letters, and the new minister has chosen to accept all their resignations.”

Darlene was non-plussed. “You mean Melissa’s not the Children’s Director?”

“No. And Derek is not the youth pastor, and Maggie is no longer the secretary.”

“So who is going to do those jobs?”

“Right now, it’s up to the new pastor, but he’s not from here, so I don’t know how he’s going to do that before he gets here.”

“This is just wrong.”

“Apparently it’s church policy and it’s a fairly common thing in churches.”

Common or not, I have to agree with Darlene. This is just wrong. Under whatever conditions it was instituted, it seems to harken back to another time, another place, another set of conditions.

It also reflects a world in which the pastor is all-powerful, all-authoritative. A world where the pastor is a God.

To go along with this, a pastor has to be determined to miss out on what God might have for his own personal, professional and spiritual development; the benefits that come when, over a lifetime, you get to interact with people from a broad range of backgrounds and interests.

It is, if anything, the first step to denying the uniqueness of the town or city in which you are called/sent to minister. It’s an attempt to plug in a ministry module — in this case, the man himself and those who think and act like him — into what is believed to be a “one size fits all” ministry situation.

It turns local church ministry into a revival roadshow where the traveling carnival team pulls into town not for a few weeks of meetings, but for several years. Stories of men who bring their own secretary with them are not unheard of, but given the interaction that a church administrative assistant has with the congregation; it becomes difficult to do this in a location that is completely foreign.

It disrupts the lives and stability of people like Darlene who are trusting Melissa, the Children’s pastor for the oversight and care of her four children, including that 3-month newborn. It changes the dynamic for her husband Tom, a respected worship leader who has been given much latitude by the present Music Director that allows him a freedom in worship that the congregation recognizes and embraces.

It’s also an admission by the incoming pastor that maybe there are people out there with whom he can’t work; with whom he can’t get along.

Or it may be a giant power play.

It shatters the careers of eight of the 14 people in Darlene’s church who are in full-time vocational ministry and moved to this community to further their calling in visitation, discipleship, music, youth (2), Christian education, seniors ministry and urban outreach; all of whom must now circulate resumés and prepare to re-settle, one of whom just arrived six months ago from the other side of the country.

No exceptions. No compassion. No face-to-face meetings with the people just dismissed.

This is standard operating procedure in many U.S. denominations and at least one in Canada. It’s a policy that needs to be repented of.

Darlene opened the door to let Cynthia in.

“Good timing, Cynth; the kids are all settled down.”

“You sounded like it was important.”

“Yeah,” Darlene continued; “We’ve decided to leave Central Church.”

“Is it because of the staff thing?” quizzed Cynthia.

“Yes and no. I can get to know new people, and I’m sure they’ll be qualified; but it bothers us that a system exists that allows this to happen; that everybody accepts that this is how it’s done. Tom found about a fairly new church about five miles further that’s desperate for some help in their music department, and the kids will fit in right away because they use the same curriculum and they know some of the kids from school. I’m sorry….”

“No, it’s not your fault. We’ve been wondering about all this ourselves… Maybe we’ll come to visit on Tom’s first Sunday leading the worship.”

July 18, 2018

Wednesday Connect

A shorter list this week, as we’ll be taking our first ever break from the blog in a few days. The above image is from yet another Calvinist cartoonist, Reftoons. Click image to link. Them Reformers love them their comic panels.

► Essay of the Week: Given concerns about the role of patriarchy in Bible translation, which version of the scriptures is the best

► Provocative Headline of the Week: “Clergy Consider Handing Out Morning-After Pill in Church.” “The thing most of us have been talking about is to encourage the use of medical technology, the morning after pills and very good new drugs. We need to get some wise pharmaceutical company to make money off distributing them so people don’t need abortions, and/or smuggling the drugs in from Mexico and Canada. There are already very interesting groups of women my age feeling we could take the risk of loading up our vans to take road trips and give them out at churches.” 

► Misleading Headline of the Week: “UK refuses to accept any Syrian Christian refugees in latest statistics.” Yes, statistics can be spun. The article actually reads, “The newly obtained statistics revealed that the UNHCR (UN High Commission on Refugees) recommended 1,358 Syrian refugees for resettlement in the UK of which only 4 were Christians. The Home Office agreed to resettle 1,112 of these (82 per cent) all of which were Muslims and refused all recommendations of Christians.” So the headline is correct, but it simply means the 4 people weren’t part of the package.

► The revolt in the UK you didn’t hear about last week: “Bus ads promoting an upcoming evangelistic festival with Franklin Graham in England were pulled in response to outcry from LGBT communities.” A petition is circulating calling for him to be banned from the UK altogether.

► Clay Scroggins and John Crist. Together as they were meant to be… 

► …Okay, actually, the thing on the Zondervan YouTube channel I intended to feature was this 6-minute preview of the study curriculum based on The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

► From our own archives: My son, the engineer in training takes an analytical view on Calvinism and Arminianism, circa 2013.

► Parenting – The role of Fathers: Missed this on Father’s Day as Philip Yancey pays tribute to Frederick Buechner, followed by a short book excerpt on fatherhood

► Another Denominational Fracture: “Windsor Village United Methodist Church of Houston, which has approximately 18,000 members, …a predominantly African-American megachurch in Texas, says it might leave the United Methodist Church amid the denomination’s ongoing debate over issues like homosexuality and same-sex marriage.”

► It’s not exactly the latest fad to hit Christian culture because it’s been around too long for that; but there’s no denying that everyone is currently nuts about The Enneagram

► New Music ♫ Francesca Battistelli’s “The Breakup Song.”

► Chuck and Andy’s Boat Tour: Charles Stanley and Andy Stanley recently wrapped up another Alaska Cruise. (Twitter pic) 

► Finally, from the first sentence, you get an idea of the improbability: Fan Fiction: Pastor Justin Bieber and Homeschoolers in Space. (Of course it’s Matthew Pierce; who else?)  


Book and Music Highlights:


Last week’s top clicks:

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July 16, 2018

Dying Breeds: Things Disappearing from Christian Bookstores (Not Including the Stores Themselves)

bible bookstore

As if Christian bookstores aren’t already under siege from technology competing for leisure time spending, eBooks themselves, the rise of online ordering, and the decline in reading; some product lines are being completely wiped out. Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

Lapel Pins: Seems silly to begin the list with what was generally a $2 – $3 item, but Christian bookstores sold a ton of the little pins. Evangelicals were the biggest customers who preferred pins that were witness items. But then everything went Casual Sunday. No suits for men = no lapels. Relaxed dress for women = no jewelry.

Bible Software: With so much available online, we don’t hear much about new software anymore. Furthermore, retailers got tired of being stuck with software that became obsolete with newer operating systems, or newer versions of the software itself.

Concordances: While it could be argued that the proliferation of online resources limits the need for all Bible reference products, once you’ve used Bible websites, using a print concordance is a real pain.

Choral Music: What’s a choir?

Praise & Worship Songbooks: Surprise! You thought we were going to say hymnbooks. But in some stores hymnbooks actually sell better than worship folios and chorus books. The reason? Modern worship leaders get everything they need from CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing Inc.) and in the trenches, the congregation doesn’t use print music at all, as everything is projected on a screen. So yes, Hymnbooks and the things which replaced them are vanishing.

Tracks: In many churches, a soloist can simply get the worship band to get charts for her/his song, and audiences prefer live music over canned music. But in many churches the “special” has gone the way of the dinosaur.

Tracts: The printing and distribution of gospel tracts was a cultural phenomenon that was an extension of a wider movement in which political broadsides were as common as religious ones on Main Street. Furthermore, current trends are moving away from conversion by argument. However, the cream always rises to the top, so tracts like Steps to Peace with God still sell well.

Bookmarks: If fewer books are selling, then that means fewer bookmarks, right? Well, not so fast. Sometimes the bookmark (minus the book) simply becomes the gift in the hope that the recipient is currently reading something that needs one.

Children’s Colouring Books: Older elementary kids can do amazing things on their Mac or PC, so you’re not going to impress them with a coloring book and a package of four crayons. Of course, as we learned in the last five years, for adults, it was a whole other store.

Pencils: This was once a huge industry with over a hundred available designs from a half-dozen suppliers. But you aren’t going to impress a kid today with a 29-cent pencil. (Unless maybe you throw in a colouring book.)

Sunday Bulletins: Churches large and small can create amazing color graphics on the church computer, and megachurches send all their weekend bulletin needs to a local print shop. Ditto brides planning their weddings or families constructing a print memorial to be given out at a funeral. So while Broadman, Warner, Cathedral Art and others can claim healthy sales, the handwriting is on the wall, or more accurately, on the laser printer. In Canada, funeral bulletins are about the safest inventory bet.

Sunday School Record Books: Attendance records still exist as parents use a swipe card to check their kids in and out of the Children’s Ministry Centre, but there’s no need for wall charts and stickers. Besides, what organized sports couldn’t do to disrupt church attendance, the demands of parents’ shift-work jobs did. Many kids can only make it every other week, so publicizing attendance almost shames the child who can’t make it each Sunday.

Christian Magazines: In days of yore, when the pastor came to visit, you demonstrated your spirituality by having Christian Life and Moody Monthly prominently displayed on the coffee table. Nothing needed to fill the gap here because increasingly, the pastor doesn’t come to visit.

Clip Art Books: In the days before copy-and-paste there was cut-and-paste, and any church secretary worth their salt knew how to integrate these in the weekly bulletin and inserts. Someday archeologists will find one of these and not know what its purpose.

Christian Breath Mints: It’s not that people don’t still need breath fresheners, it’s simply that Testamints became such an object of ridicule. Apologies to the company if they still manufacture.

♦ The upside? Christian bookstores can better focus their energies on books and Bibles.  Strengthen the things that remain.

So what did we leave off the list?

July 15, 2018

Worship Planning is both Simple and Complex

I write a lot about the worship part of our church services because that is the area where I have served most frequently and consistently. If I had spent a lifetime serving in the church nursery, perhaps that would be the focus!

Years ago, when my wife was putting together worship sets, she encountered people who saw her work has very specialized and perhaps a bit mysterious. They viewed her adeptness at this with awe, often saying things like, “I don’t know how you do that each week;” or “I could never do that.”

The point is, at the basic level, they could do it. They could pick 5 songs and put together a worship set just as easily as anyone reading this could.

But in the modern worship environment, if you’re having to supply chord charts for band members, prepare presentation files for projection, deal with sound volunteers, and organize rehearsals; the job can get quite complex.

There are certain songs which just don’t follow other songs, usually for reasons of the pitch or key of each, but often for rhythmic or lyrical reasons. There are songs some churches don’t know and others that used far too frequently. A handful of popular ones today would go against the grain of the doctrinal position of certain churches.

Trying to be helpful to my wife, and as an occasional member of her team (I play keyboards, bass, incidental percussion and occasional guitar) I created the above document. It was a recognition of several things we were dealing with at the time.

First, it’s easy in rehearsals to under-communicate introductions and endings. Second, we sometimes feel instrumentalist on stage needs to be playing on every song, when in fact, the instrumentation would work better if some people took a song out to just sing. Third, it helped me personally visualize where some of the spoken readings fit into the larger set list, especially if I was only given a song set list, and the readings weren’t actually introduced until the actual service. Lastly, she was often run off her feet and I thought she’d appreciate the use of an organizing tool where churches didn’t have a budget for anything more sophisticated or personnel were still dependent on print resources.

Feel free to borrow it.

Yes, there is some complexity to all this, but again, if the demands are less complicated, this is something anyone can learn how to do.

July 11, 2018

Wednesday Connect

Remembering: Psalm 91 was always one of Maggie’s favorites. Click image to link.

This was a week where we were consumed by concern for a boys soccer team in Thailand. At the same time as Christians were praying for the Wild Boars team, many were crediting their Buddhist meditation for keeping the boys calm in the middle of the storm. Does it matter which religion gets the credit? I’ll leave that for another blogger to take on! 

Here are this week’s articles which I chose just for you. Take the time to select a few and dive in!

Billboard magazine updates this chart regularly. It shows song titles, not albums; airplay, not sales.
Click the image to see all 50 of this week’s most active Christian songs.

► A much better TULIP: This is the article also referenced in Dee’s tweet below. It’s included twice here so nobody misses it. “…Sometimes it can seem like the safest thing to do with a new Calvinist is lock him in a cage for a few months (perhaps even a couple years), until his spiritual maturity can catch up to his newfound theology. The ‘doctrines of grace’ are explosive — first mind-boggling and then, if they truly take root, inevitably life-transforming. When they land on a young and restless person, they can make him a kind of liability for a season…Maybe we could use a second TULIP to pair with the first. What might it look like to encourage young Calvinists — and all of us — to the kind of spiritual virtues that should accompany the biblical theology…” You know Thinking Out Loud has come full circle when our first link today is to the Desiring God website.

► Essay of the Week: Scot McKnight’s second piece on the mess at Willow Creek is in many respects much better than the first. This time he looks at the management structure of churches like WCCC and why he feels it was absolutely necessary for the people involved to go to media such as The Chicago Tribune. “Willow’s process, however, lacked the wisdom of denominations or outside unbiased voices and its process was profoundly imperfect and corrupted.” Beyond the analysis, there is some implicit advice here that may apply to the place where you worship.

► A different type of church service: With Andy away, North Point campus pastor Clay Scroggins launched a 3-week series based on the movie Wonder. But this service is different, based on an entirely different paradigm which is more like a multi-media presentation. (Watch at least the first 15 minutes to get the idea.) 

► On an entirely different end of the video spectrum, “No Alcohol, No Musical Instruments, No Voting: Montana Mennonites Share Their Life.” After driving to Portland and passing through Montana, this documentary filmmaker spent some time with a Mennonite husband and wife and their four kids, leaving with hours of interview footage which was edited down to 22 minutes.

► With the first one now graduated from high school, blogger Tim Challies reviews (again) his (and his wife’s) decision to send their child to public school, when so many in their tribe prefer Christian schools or homeschooling.

► Apparently The Babylon Bee does NOT like satire, when it’s their own website being spoofed; as the folks at The Babylon Cee discovered when they were hit with a Cease and Desist Order.

► Michael Brown talks to Andy Stanley about the latter’s latest controversial message, on “un-hitching” Christianity from the Old Testament. (50-minute video podcast.)

► Inclusion here does not imply endorsement. Systematic theology guru Wayne Grudem offers a Biblical argument for the morality of building a border wall

► Church closings in Minnesota: “Church was a bedrock of daily life. Its absence leaves a large gap — spiritual, social, emotional — that for many seems almost impossible to fill.” And this quote: “It’s not uncommon for me to hear, ‘We had a funeral last week and the congregation had to revise its budget…’” An entire way of life disappears in this northern state.

► Illustration of the Week: A tale of two captains; a boat captain and an airplane captain who took two very different approaches to an emergency situation.

► This isn’t a faith-focused link, but I believe it’s helpful for those who want to know where the current technology is taking us. The CEO of search engine DuckDuckGo.com explains how his company remains profitable when not tracking individuals as does Google, which now has trackers on 76% of all websites.

► The Episcopal Church in the U.S. may end up spending as much as $8 million to update their prayer book with more inclusive language.

► A great writer and reporter, Jonathan Merritt has left Religion News Service, following a number of other departures. (Just me talking, but Merritt and Katelyn Beaty could spearhead an awesome news gathering organization.)

► CBS is burning off the remaining, never-seen episodes of Living Biblically on Saturday night (and one on the 21st) after canceling the series based on A.J. Jacobs’ bestseller.

► Getting to know your cousins: “In his classic book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis compares Christendom to a large hall in a house ‘out of which doors open to several rooms.’ These doors represent the traditions and branches of historic, orthodox Christianity; a follower of Christ may open a door and find behind it a chair and fire with which to make oneself comfortable… Curiosity is just generosity plus energy. Aren’t you a little curious who shares this “great hall” with you? What similarities and passions you might share with your neighbors in the faith? What distinctives and cultural quirks you might learn from? What new friends you might discover?” A new series is introduced at the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  

► Interest groups in Canada caught in the crossfire of the “attestation clause” in their summer job grant applications are now taking action against the federal government. Example: “Sarnia Concrete makes concrete… The government is forcing them to take a position on something they don’t have a position on.”

► The Calvary Chapel Association conference started yesterday following a split in the organization created by Chuck Smith. Michael Newnham writes,”These are the true believers, the ones who preach chapter by chapter, verse by verse through Numbers and Leviticus, the ones who preach the pre tribulational rapture of the church, then have conferences about the pre tribulational rapture of the church… They will invoke the founders name and pray for his ailing widow because without wrapping themselves in his mantle they are mere mortals, simply power hungry schismatics who took their toys and went home.” But hey, Michael, tell us what you really think!

► Opinion Piece: Does the number of Christian denominations — 40,000 or so — grieve the heart of God? “I think you could mount a good case for a small set of core beliefs being important, but the diversity in the world and among people suggests God likes diversity.”

► Happy 10th Birthday to the YouVersion Bible app. “The app, which initially launched with 15 versions and two languages, has since partnered with publishers and Bible societies to offer more than 1,700 different versions of the Bible, including Bible text in more than 1,200 languages.”  ❿

► The Canadian Bible Society is reinventing the way we imagine Christian bookstores.

► LifeWay research claims that our loyalty to our local church has little to do with music or the preacher’s powerful rhetorical abilities. Rather, it’s all about the theology.

► A prankster with 2.2 million YouTube subscribers, and 361 million YouTube views. That’s Justin Stuart. But look closer and his “about” page says, “All the Glory goes to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Faith Today’s youth magazine Love Is Moving caught up with Justin.

► The investigative site, Spiritual Sounding Board takes a different tone on weekends, when Kathi presents “Sunday Gathering” which always includes scripture readings two music videos. In this week’s post, she introduced us to Urban Doxology performing Father, Let Your Kingdom Come.  ♫ 

Four Christian movies releasing in the second half of 2018.

► A classic: Nice to see this song by J. J. Heller reach a million views on YouTube. ♫ 

► The Biebs’ fiancée Hailey Baldwin speaks out on her faith. Well, at least she did in 2016, and Relevant Magazine had it on file. 

► Finally, it was satire, but many took it seriously.

To the tune of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” —

July 4, 2018

Wednesday Connect

July 4th: A day to gather round the red, white and blue.

F O U R T H  o f  J U L Y  E D I T I O N

► Should Christian churches observe Canada Day or the 4th of July? “[W]hen you add that patriotic song, display that flag, or invite that politician to offer a special word to your church gathering, you risk working against the Great Commission. Jesus commissioned us, ‘Go into all nations.’ That means he was establishing a people not bound or defined or constrained by this world’s national borders. He was building something multinational.”

► The more wealth a nation accumulates, the less it depends on prayer. I guess they don’t need God at that point. However, the United States is a glaring exception, with a huge GDP and high incidence of daily prayer. (Click the image to see full size. The link to Pew Research takes you to full 97-page .pdf of the full report.) 

► Essay of the Week: Recent events are nothing new. “We have a dark history – a sordid, sinful pattern even – of taking children OUT of their families.” The author then lists these:
African-American children
Native American children
The Stolen Generation
Orphaned Children
Refugee children
“…It is time to turn away from this pattern. It is time to repent.” 

► Illustration of the Week: “Las Vegas, the consummate sinner’s town… a deeply broken place where people get really messed up. But we can put aside our moral misgivings and choose to look at the gambling dens with more missional eyes. We might ask, what is the person who is sitting at the slot machines really searching for? Perhaps it is the search for redemption but in the wrong place. It is the belief that to win the jackpot means to be changed and transformed into a new life. This search might also be driven by a now pathological need to take risks because life has lost its sense of real adventure.” Author Alan Hirsch on how the Gospel addresses Las Vegas’ issues.

► Will a change at the U.S. Supreme Court trigger a new hearing on Roe v. Wade

► “Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, believes that babies shouldn’t be baptized. To baptize an infant, she said, “imposes lifelong obligations of obedience to the Church’s Magisterium.”
In an interview with the Irish Times, McAleese expanded upon her objection, calling the children “infant conscripts.” There has to be a point, she said,
“…at which our young people, as adults who have been baptized into the church and raised in the faith, have the chance to say, ‘I validate this’ or ‘I repudiate this.'”
Is it just me or does this sound a lot like adult baptism or confirmation? 

► For the Mothers: That moment where you realize you’re becoming your mom aka The Mom Curse.

► Parents, kids and smart phones: “It’s difficult to say how many kids are pushing digital boundaries this way, not least because the whole point is to escape adult detection. Social media accounts are easy to establish and discard. Particular apps also rise and fall out of favor among teens with lightning speed, making them a moving target for researchers…Parents are clearly outmatched. Exposed to tablets and smartphones at an increasingly early age, kids are correspondingly savvier about using them and easily share tips with friends. Parents, by contrast, are both overwhelmed and often naive about what kids can do with sophisticated devices…”   

► In a black-and-white world, Chaplain Mike calls himself “a both/and person.

► He describes this 58-minute message as “the most compelling call to mission sermon I have ever heard.” Location: Sydney, Australia. Speaker: Michael Ramsden from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.

► The Druids were out in New York again for Summer Solstice, but for a better NYC experience, there’s always Manhattenhenge on July 12 and 13. Here’s a unique Catholic perspective from a pastor whose church windows captures some of the effect.

► On the short list for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy is Amy Coney Barrett, a charismatic Catholic.

► Does your church have a philosophy of food? A statement-of-faith type of item on the importance of food? Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral spells out the connection between faith and food in no uncertain terms…  

► …which, although I wasn’t intending this is a great opportunity to link you to this sermon from a few weeks ago by John Mark Comer on the topic of Hospitality: Eating and Drinking Together. (Listening to parts of this one-hour sermon for the 2nd time!)

► Religion Dispatches, a news source from which we derive many items here, is now part of Rewire.News

► His book pulled from one publisher after a marital affair, Tullian Tchividjian’s book is now being published by Fortress Press.

► Hyperbole? This article from Fox News suggests that contemporary worship music — Bethel Music is mentioned — is leading us into the next Great Awakening… 

► … Or consider this rather tongue-in-cheek piece which also had Bethel Music in view. 

► On a more upbeat music subject, why had I never heard of AccuRadio before? The Christian music page offers 15 Christian music channels. Streaming playlists allow you to skip to the next song. Creating an account allows you to vote on songs. This could be the best thing online you discover this week. ♫♫♫

► Testimony Time: “While our daughter was in school, we still weren’t sure about [Grenville, SC’s Evangelical Institute] for our last child, because he wasn’t academically inclined… Heart-breakingly, this son also wasn’t a Christian and was willing to say so… [O]ur son decided he was willing to go. ‘This is God’s last chance to show up in my life,’ he said to me. We told him not to pretend to be a Christian when he applied, but to be honest with the dean of men. He was, and he was conditionally accepted…” 

► Canada Calling: A graduate of Trinity Western University in Canada offers her opinion on that country’s recent Supreme Court decision effectively denying that institution a law school.

► The 22-year old daughter of Lysa TerKeurst discusses the pain of her parent’s divorce.

► Chris Tomlin introduces his forthcoming album, Resurrection Power releasing late September.

► Finally, in an item I’m sure is totally unconnected to the previous link, we return to the blog Ponder Anew for A Prayer for Those Forced to Listen to Contemporary Christian Music in the Car.


Sadly, this adult-oriented animated TV show, What Would Jesus Do?, is probably coming to TV networks in Europe soon. Click the image to read the story at Variety.com


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