Thinking Out Loud

June 7, 2016

Rewind: Visiting Past Themes

We don’t…

Not AllowedAs someone who has spent a lifetime in and around Christian music, whenever I visit a church I often make my way to the front after the service and converse with the worship team, especially when I know one or two of the musicians.

A few weeks ago I did just that, and we started talking about songs that have the possibility of two parts being sung at the same time. Then we talked about ‘call and response’ songs where the worship leader sings a line and then the congregation repeats it. Then we talked about songs that parts for men and women.

At that point someone on the team said, “We don’t do men’s and women’s parts here.”

Days later, I was sharing this story with someone who knew exactly where I had been and they made an interesting comment, “I wonder how many times in the course of a week someone at that church begins a sentence with ‘We don’t?’

So true. So sad. Some Christian institutions have policy after policy; operating guidelines carved in stone for no particular reason. My feeling is, if you don’t have worship songs that offer something where women’s voices and men’s voices can highlight their unique giftedness, then next week would be a good week to start.

I hope the place where you worship isn’t characterized by a spirit of ‘We don’t…’


Children at Church: The Place for Inter-Generational Worship

At your church are the kids off in another part of the building throughout the service, or are they dismissed to the basement part way through? Perhaps another world is possible.

The YouTube channel that I oversee is named after our retail covering, Searchlight Books, but consists almost entirely of classic Christian music songs that you can’t buy at Searchlight or anywhere else. More recently however, we’ve been including some sermon excerpts and this weekend we posted an eleven-minute segment from the Phil Vischer podcast where Wheaton College Associate Professor of Christian Formation Scottie May spoke about visiting inter-generational churches during her sabbatical. The full podcast runs about 45 minutes, and I knew no matter much I mentioned enjoying these each week, the click-through ratio would be fairly low, so we created this highlight.

This is a must listen-to segment for anyone who cares about church and especially for people in children’s ministry or youth ministry.

This is an audio-only clip with no moving images, so even if you are not on a high-speed connection and don’t normally click on video links, you should be find with this one.


Paul Vaughan on 90% of the Work is Done by 10% of the People

Paul was a Canadian pastor who, after a successful insurance career, served as a missionary in Kenya; a place so arid that converts were baptized in sand. Returning to North America, he dedicated his time to the type of causes that nobody else wanted to embrace. He was a big influence on me…

It’s probably accurate that 90% of the work of the church is done by 10% of the people. The problem is that those who do the work, if they do it anonymously, receive all the glory. If they do it publicly, they ruffle feathers. Those who take the lion’s share of the life of the church are denying the body of the church the blessing and the opportunity. Probably the most blatant thing is that if a few are doing the work of many, then why would the Lord surround himself with a number of people with which to share the ministry? Why would he commission and ordain and send them two by two. Let’s ask ourselves the basic question, why isn’t all ministry, preaching, teaching and healing done by legions of angels? Why does God choose the fallible, unreliable, flesh-covered method that he did?

He chose us knowing that, through the Holy Spirit, we are capable of fulfilling the task given to us. But in addition, his constant emphasis of community of family — in the Hebrew, hebron; in the Greek, koinonia; in English, fellowship — is critical in church life. If it’s going to be a one man band then we will certainly stir a lot of people, but I wonder if we’re praising the Lord, serving the Lord, healing the hurts, and reaching the untouched.

One of the reasons that the modern day cults are successful is that they have clearly grabbed the demonstration given in scripture about assignment of tasks. If you become a Mormon, you owe their church two years missionary service. So if an apostate church demands that, why are we humming and hawing and hoping that if someone accepts the Lord, they might ask for offering envelopes and maybe they’ll join a small group and wouldn’t it be wonderful if they offered a musical gift, or taught children, or could sweep the floor. Why are we not a little more bold in demonstrating that millions haven’t heard and there’s work to be done?…


Paul Vaughan on Over-Commitment

There is a natural fear within a man that he is either going to overextend himself — because he knows the effect of a shotgun scattering small pellets is not as effective as one shell under high velocity compressed into a small area — and some people are able to so spread themselves that they are ineffective in any one area. But I believe that God who has given us mercy, grace and wisdom and peace also gives us the opportunity to exercise prudence and in doing so we are led to resign from one particular organization — graciously — in order to amplify and reapply ourselves with greater intensity in another area.

One of the measuring sticks of that might be that you decide which talent you have is least likely to be accepted by the mainstream of Christianity. And that’s where God really wants you. …He does release power, long-suffering, endurance and incredible energy to apply ourselves in the hard places of the world.

…I suggest to everyone who is seriously to apply themselves before the Lord to ask God, who is the creator of time; and God, who will cause time to stand still; to direct them toward a specific plan and program of action, suited to their lifestyle under the Lord and suited to the gifts and talents that God has given them.

 

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March 1, 2012

Warning Signs: Your Church May Be Dying

Blog Crime in Progress:  I want everybody to read this, so it’s here in full, but give credit traffic where credit traffic is due and read this at Trey Morgan’s blog.

You may have already read these, but according to Barna, 3500-4000 churches close their doors every year… AND recently the Christian Chronicle just published a report saying that in the past nine years that church attendance has dropped by more than 100,000.

Just a few days ago I visited with a man that was very concerned about the church where he was attending. His exact words were, “We’re dying and the sad things is … some don’t care, and the others don’t know what to do about it!” He and I got to talking about some of the signs they were seeing that pointed to their church dying out. We made quite a list, and of course a few were tongue-in-cheek. I thought I might share a few with you today. Of course I’m no church growth expert, but I’d bet that most are generally true.  So, here are “17 Signs your Church may be Dying.”

  1. If your church does nothing to reach the community where it is located.
  2. If your church believes doing church is something that takes place inside the walls of the building on Sundays and Wednesdays … instead of outside the walls in the community during the week.
  3. If your church’s sermons are issue oriented or not relevant, instead of being relationship centered and Jesus focused.
  4. If your church is afraid of change, making changes and taking risks.
  5. If the only thing your community knows about your church is where it’s located.
  6. If the only thing that seems alive in your worship service is the greenery at the front of the auditorium.
  7. If the song you sing most on Sundays is, “Tis so sweet to Rust in Jesus,” or something close to it.
  8. If your worship is quiet because there are no children.
  9. If the only new members that are ever added to your church are people who have moved into the area … instead of people from your community.
  10. If your church is content with just keeping its heads above the water.
  11. If your church is out of touch with the current generation.
  12. If your church’s leadership’s motto is, “But we’ve never done it that way before.” 
  13. If your church has money in the bank that could be used to reach the lost and serve the poor, but it’s being saved for a rainy day or an emergency.
  14. If your church’s biggest fear is criticism.
  15. If your church’s leadership doesn’t set the tone, and is more concerned with supporting the system than shepherding the people.
  16. If your church promotes outreach as an option and not a necessity.
  17. If your church lives in the past not in the present.

Honestly … It makes me sad that the topic of churches dying is even a topic that is trending…

~Trey Morgan

October 25, 2010

Traditions that Don’t Make Sense

Tradition Bible Church is probably the most well-named church we’ve visited.   It had everything you want in a 1930s church service:   Women in long dresses and hats, King James English, classic hymns and a large church kitchen that was regularly employed for what one person called “all day dinner on the grounds.”

It was also a dying church; we didn’t see any young couples and there were no children, to speak of, anywhere in sight.   Most people seemed to be at or near retirement age.

But there were a few middle aged couples and curiously, a row of teens in the back row; their presence explained to me later by the couple who invited for lunch being due to the fact the nearest ‘contemporary’ service was at least a 25-minute drive, and that church was looked on with suspicion.  These teens had all grown up in TBC, and regarded each other as family.

So when a woman who I think was maybe 80+ years old announced it was “time for the children to come forward for their story;”  I looked around again to see who exactly she had in mind.

“C’mon, Taylor; come up Melissa… where is Justine?” she beckoned; and one-by-one the teenagers — average age approximately 16 — arose from the comfort of the back pew and sauntered up to the front.

I learned later from our lunch hosts that the youngest among them — two boys 12 and 13 — were the ‘last’ kids that had been born in that church, and that there was a time when all of them had simply refused to come forward after Mildred would issue her summons from the platform, feeling they had reached a point in life where being asked questions like, “Do you think you could hit a giant with a slingshot?” were a bit beneath them.

But Mildred would not be denied the chance to tell her story; she had been doing so for 48 years; and so a few years back she started calling the teens by name, and rather than suffer that embarrassment, they returned to going forward and being dismissed to their service, which also got them out of having to sit through the sermon, and granted access to the aforementioned large kitchen.

It probably looked like this once; but that was then...

Phillip and Mark, the two youngest boys, simply sat on the far right of the platform sharing some kind of portable game console with the volume off.    Derek, who was about 16 occupied the other end of the platform and simply stared at the back wall of the sanctuary as though caught in some kind of mystic vision.   I turned around to see if whatever he was seeing might be of interest to all of us, but saw only a wall.

In the middle was Melissa, chewing gum loudly and whispering to a girl who looked 18 or 19, whose name I didn’t get; who laughed at something Melissa said, but then started a contagious yawn which I noticed spread to the adults.

Brianna, the niece of our lunch contacts, sat texting during the entire story and at one point her phone erupted with a loud chime that caught everyone by surprise except Mildred, who didn’t miss a beat telling the story of Samson and his long hair; a story which brought a question from the rather shaggy Nicholas, who looked about 17, and who asked as to whether Samson’s story indicated that he should not need a haircut; a question that Mildred apparently hadn’t anticipated and didn’t answer.

I think Kayla, who introduced herself to me personally after the service, just before trying to sell me a $5 chocolate bar to raise funds for the cheerleading squad, spent the whole story time rummaging through her bag in search of lost treasure.   This is just a guess, but I would say that, like so many of the ten of teens up there, she didn’t hear a word, but I couldn’t pay much attention to her because — and this is also a guess — I’ll bet her cheerleading skirt is longer than whatever it was she was wearing sitting on the platform.

Amber had a pair of ear buds attached to an mp3 device which we couldn’t hear until she decided to scratch an ear itch, and then we heard a few bars of a rapper saying, “I’ve got what you need;” which caused Amber to blush and quickly return the offending bud to her ear.  Near the end of the story there was also a shorter few seconds of drums when she pulled out the other ear bud and simply jammed it in Melissa’s ear and loudly whispered, “Check this out.”

And then there was Cody, the nephew of our lunch hosts, who simply read a comic book while sitting on the floor in front of the platform, kicking the communion table every 30 seconds or so, and never once looked up.

I really appreciated the fact the teens didn’t feel the need to feign interest in anything being said.   At least there was no pretense.

At one point Mildred interrupted herself and noticed that Justine still hadn’t come forward.   “Is Justine back there?” she asked, looking toward the back pew.

“No;” the kids replied as one, with Melissa adding, “She went into labor on Saturday afternoon.”

So maybe, finally, Tradition Bible Church will get a child to add to its cradle roll; the first in a dozen years; and maybe that will justify the continuation of the children’s story as part of the Sunday morning service there.  Justine is 16 and says she really wants her child to grow up in church like she did and Mildred says she really wants to say she’s done the children’s story for 50 years, and she’s only got a couple of years to go.

December 19, 2009

If Target Operated Like a Church

Filed under: Church, Humor — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:38 pm

I was going to save this for the next link list, but it’s too good not to reprint here in full.   This is from Tony Morgan Live, which you’ll have to visit anyway, because the comments are too good to miss.   [Canadian readers: Target = Zellers]



‘Tis the season to shop for Christmas gifts, so I recently made a trip to Target. I love Target because I don’t have to spend a lot of money, and I avoid going to Wal-Mart.

After spending a little bit of time in the store, it struck me how different Target is from most churches I’ve visited in the past. That led me to wondering how Target would be different if it operated like the typical church. So, with that in mind, here’s my initial list:

What if Target Operated Like a Church?

  • Instead of having men’s and women’s clothing departments, they would be called clever names like Impact and Embrace that are completely meaningless to new shoppers.
  • Each department in the store would have its own logo to go with their clever name. And, of course, all those logos would be different than the logo on the front of the store.
  • The workers in each department would all have their own t-shirts and flyers to promote what’s available in their departments. The youth clothing department would, of course, have the best flyers.
  • The store manager and his wife would be pictured on the front page of the website.
  • You wouldn’t actually be able to buy anything from the website, but each department would have its own page explaining why they are such a great department and the the information would be several months out-of-date.
  • If you are in the shoe department and have a question about flashlights, the shoe department employee has no idea how to help you because it doesn’t have anything to do with shoes.
  • Shoppers would be able to start their own departments so that they can buy the items that they want to buy. Don’t worry…that means there will certainly be a clothing department for singles.
  • Shoppers would also be able to appoint their own store manager and then serve on committees and boards to tell the store manager what to do.
  • The store would only be open one day a week between 9:00 a.m. and noon and on the first Wednesday evening of every month.

Hope this makes you laugh. (Emily and I did.) And, maybe it also challenges some preconceived notions. After all, churches are sort of notorious for worshiping methods and traditions whether or not they actually produce results.

What would you add to the list?

~Tony Morgan

I’ve closed off comments on this one so you can add your comments directly on Tony’s blog.

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