Thinking Out Loud

April 15, 2021

An open letter to open churches

by Ruth Wilkinson

An open letter to open churches:

There are many day to day issues and decisions that we face that are not directly prescribed or proscribed in Scripture. Situations in which we need to ask ourselves WWJD and do our best.

Ministry during this season of pandemic guidelines has presented us with a need to be flexible, and to understand and perhaps rediscover our priorities.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had people quote to me Hebrews 10:25, which says, “Do not stay away from our worship meetings as some habitually do…” as a push back against government mandated or requested suspensions of Sunday gatherings. “See?” goes the argument, “we are commanded to gather! We aren’t going to disobey God just because the government tells us to.”

On one hand, I agree. If the government were commanding us to disobey God, I hope we would stand up against that. Christ has had His enemies throughout history and will continue to do so until the end, and the Church must declare her allegiance.

Except that’s not what the government is asking us to do today. In the Hebrews passage, the word variously translated “neglect” or “forsake” (enkataleipō) in the original language has a context of permanence. It speaks of abandoning or leaving behind. Not of temporarily finding other ways to connect with each other. Not of telling the worship team to stand down for a while. Not of expecting the preacher to do without an audience for a time. But (and this is a ‘worship leader’ speaking) Sunday mornings are not the Church. Those gatherings are good, healthy and powerful. I would argue that they aren’t who we are. They are not Christ’s kingdom.

I choose instead to consider passages like 2 Corinthians 10:23-24:

“”I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. 

“I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

The believers to whom these words were written were having to make difficult decisions around personal freedom, and relational influence. The idols in question for them were enculturated false gods. For us, liberty itself can be a false god. We insist on indulging in the pleasures it provides, while demanding that everyone recognize our right to do so, regardless of the effect it has on the people around us and their perception of the Body of Christ.

Even more strongly worded are passages in Amos 5. God expresses His distaste toward the gathered worship of Israel, ostensibly an act of obedience and honor. True, God has Himself instituted these “festivals” and inspired the writing of these “songs,” but when practiced without humility and in the face of a callous disregard to the vulnerable in their society, God refuses to receive that honor. And of course, Micah 6:8:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Given the principles at work in these scriptures, my choice is clear. To suspend my rights in solidarity with those around me, to do the hard work of finding other ways to connect with people in need, to “stay home.”

True, the government has, in this most recent lockdown, given houses of worship an almost exclusive exception. But just because I am offered privilege does not mean I have to accept it. I am a member of my community. I will live as such.

September 6, 2019

Stained Glass

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:41 am

Guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

When Jesus talked about us, he used words like “family,” “vine” and “body” – images of life, growth and diversity.

The journey of a Jesus follower was never meant to be a solo trip. His own vision for His Church was that we would build it together. Even when things were frustrating. Even when we got hurt.

If you’ve been trying to live this life by yourself, maybe it’s time to think ‘inside the frame.’ Your shape fits together with all the other shapes of all the other believers to make something far better than we can make on our own.

What are you a part of? A rainbow? A blossoming apple tree? A tool box? An orchestra?

If you’ve walked away from “church,” you’re missed. You’re needed. You belong in the picture.

This Sunday, take a chance – see where you fit.

December 6, 2018

Remembering Larry

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:44 am

Admittedly, readers here didn’t know Larry. In the paragraphs that follow I hope you get to know him. The turnout at his funeral astounded me. There were many other things I learned in that short hour. I’ll let Ruth explain.

Guest post by Ruth Wilkinson

A while ago, I posted on Facebook somewhat tongue in cheek that “It takes a village to raise a Larry.” Tuesday night, about 50 people gathered in a cozy room at the Salvation Army to say goodbye to Larry, a man I met when we were having weekly dinners at Greenwood Motel.

Larry was a pain in the neck. Messy, noisy, always drunk. He’d sit in his favourite seat nearest the buffet table and loudly hector other diners to the point where they’d lose their temper, and then he’d laugh. Every week he’d holler at me across the room to bring him a cup of juice, which I’d do. Every week he’d holler his thanks to everyone who’d brought the meal as he headed out the door. He couldn’t remember everyone’s name so he called us “Ruth and all you Ruths.”

But Larry loved Connie, and when she was hit by a truck while walking drunk across the road, it shook him loose from the bottle. He joined AA and did me the honor of inviting me to the meeting when he received his one year chip, and of acknowledging me in his speech as one who, in some way, contributed to that moment. That was cool.

Many of the people who gathered that evening were folks from around town, or from AA, or from one of 5 or 6 different churches whose phone numbers Larry had collected over the years. We’d all take our turn getting phone calls at odd hours, “Hey, it’s Larry. Could you give me a ride to…” wherever. The grocery store, the eye doctor, the sub shop, the bank, the hospital, to Connie’s house. And we all sometimes said yes and sometimes said no. He’d just say, “OK, well, thanks. That’s ok. God bless, eh?” And try someone else.

I remember driving him home from the hospital during a blizzard the first time he’d been in for some really serious respiratory problems. Pushing him down the hall and into the elevator with one hand and pulling the oxygen tank with the other. Getting him through the snow in his slippers from the chair to the car. Skidding a few times as we drove. Then out of the car, through the snow and up a full flight of stairs to his room in a run down house. With him thanking me and thanking me and thanking me.

His health got worse and worse over the last few years and he’d wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe. Terrified of dying. People who knew him would reassure him that Jesus loved him and that because he’d prayed and asked Jesus to be his Saviour, he’d go to Heaven when he died. And he’d say, “Yeah, that’s right.” But as one speaker said, “Maybe he was afraid to die because he didn’t know whether he’d done enough to matter to anyone.”

He lost and regained his one year chip a few times over the years, but he never gave up. And the more he tried, the more we loved him. The more he mattered.

So I was glad, but not surprised, to see such a good turnout for his memorial on Tuesday. Connie hadn’t been sure how many would come, but she needn’t have worried. He’d built around himself a community of friends and supporters and even a few admirers who wanted to say goodbye.

Because maybe, sometimes, it takes a Larry to raise a village.

May 18, 2017

The Case for Online Church Community

Like “real” church though, you need to be all in…

I wrote this almost exactly eight years ago. At the time, what I had in view was the blogging community to which I had become a part. The word podcast wasn’t in my vocabulary though there was a healthy choice of online sermons on demand. There weren’t so many full service broadcasts (live or delayed) back then because of a nervousness concerning the worship song copyrights.

Also, more blogs allowed comments back then, and people engaged more. Today comments are closed at many sites and you also have a number of key bloggers who migrated to Twitter and other platforms. To relive those days, check out our post from Monday, A Golden Age of Christian blogging.

For those of you reading this on a PC, or subscribers who have always wondered, the default font for this blog’s theme is very small and to this day we take a minute to manually enlarge every paragraph. However, for a few years we also were putting everything in bold face as well.

Remember, this was all about community. It doesn’t purport to address the five other things I see as central to actually showing up in person at a physical church: Corporate worship, corporate prayer for others, potential prayer for your own needs and concern, corporate giving, and communion. I also think the level of personal accountability is higher when you’re there in person. 

I do know there are people for whom physical attendance at weekend worship is currently impossible for a wide variety of reasons. For those of you in that category, I hope you will endeavor to develop the type of online community I had in view when I wrote this. Many churches now have a online pastor to cater to the needs of those who don’t attend in person. 

Two “finallys”: Again, remember that I wrote this at a time when I envisioned the blog community becoming a surrogate church for some (which it did.) Also remember there’s nothing new about this; for generations the church wrestled with the issue of people dropping out on Sunday mornings to stay home and watch services on television. (I wonder what that would have looked like if it had a chat or discussion option as did blogging?) 

How can online churches better address the issue of community?

If your background is mainline

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “the passing of the peace.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake (or in a few places, a “holy” kiss) and say, “The peace of Christ,” or “The peace of Christ be with you.” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “And to you also;” or “And to you also, the peace of Christ.” If the church is smaller, you know these people, at least by name, but if it’s larger or it’s tourist season, you may not know them at all.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the pancake breakfast and the strawberry tea held each year.

To get to know people a little deeper, or other people, you can join the choir, or volunteer for a host of guilds or committees that are always in need of help. You’ll also find a lot of the same people serve on civic projects and thereby will run into them in other contexts outside of the church itself. Don’t expect to break into the core community until you’re a “regular,” which occurs after you’ve attended and been involved for a gazillion years.

If your background is Evangelical

At a certain part of the service there is a time set aside for “greeting” or it may be formalized as “the ritual of friendship.” You greet one another with a hug or a handshake and say, “Good Morning;” or “Did you happen to catch the game yesterday?” In reply the other might say the same, or say, “Is that a new car I saw in the parking lot?” If the church is smaller, you might know these people, at least by name, or if it’s a mid-sized church, you can look them up in the photo directory when you get home.

After the service there is a time when coffee and juice is served and you can engage people conversationally for about five minutes; usually people you already know. For an extended time like this, don’t miss the annual potluck lunch and the annual bowling night.

To get to know people a little deeper, there isn’t a lot to volunteer for, since everything is done by the paid staff. The mens’ and womens’ retreats would help, but that’s $120 and $130 respectively. Better to join a small group. That way you’ll get to spend time in at least one person’s house each week, and get to know them and about four other families (or eight other singles) more intimately.

If your option is blogging community

There is a possibility that there will be people in your fellowship who you do not have any idea what they look like, or exactly where they live. However, you don’t have to wait for an opportunity to engage conversationally. Those opportunities occur at any time and may produce a variety of responses from a variety of people.

Through those conversations you will learn about their likes and dislikes, events in the life of their family, where they stand on a variety of issues, and what challenges and needs they face. You’ll possibly learn the names of — or see pictures of — their kids or their parents, be given insights into their job, and you’ll almost certainly know a little about every book they’ve read since they started blogging. And they’ll know the same about you.

You may find very quickly that their prayer requests become your prayer requests; you feel drawn to the needs of these people as one might with someone in their church family. If Twitter enters into the picture, you’ll know even more about their daily routine, the various thoughts and challenges that burst into the brain brought about by various stimuli. And if you Twitter, they’ll have that input from you also.

Plus, they will introduce you to their online friends, and you might pick a few of those to subscribe to or at least bookmark, and over time, perhaps their friends will become your friends also. It’s not unusual to pick up e-mail addresses from comments you’ve received and send out some off-the-blog messages. (In fact, two weeks ago, I sent out about 60 such e-mails about a project I wanted to get going that needed an off-the-blog start-up.)

Finally, if you want to get really hardcore, you might find yourself contemplating attending a bloggers event which sometimes take place in conjunction with other events, and at other times are stand-alone events. Not because online fellowship is insufficient, but simply because the relationships are already well established. (And nobody’s pretending to be a 17-year old girl from Ohio; at least I hope not!)

So at the end of the day, online community isn’t better or worse than Sunday church fellowship; it’s just different. And I would argue it’s a good different. One can’t entirely substitute for the other, and hopefully people using online community as a surrogate for a physical community that is currently absent from their life would, over time, find themselves drawn back to something resembling a church or house church; and then maintain a balance between the two relational paradigms.

October 2, 2010

CNN: Shane Claiborne on U.S. Gun Violence

The Belief Blog at CNN, in addition to providing breaking religious news, regularly includes columns and editorials by key figures in Christianity and other faiths.    This week that included author and speaker Shane Claiborne…

My Take: Getting in the way of gun violence

By Shane Claiborne

Last week there were gunshots again. This time, four people were hit with bullets. One was 3 years old.

I don’t live in Afghanistan or Iraq, but in North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a place where 5-year-olds know how to distinguish the sound of fireworks from the pops of a gunfire.

Nearly every night this week there have been gunshots. And it’s been only about six months since we heard gunshots on our street one cold February night and looked out the window to see a 19-year-old kid stumbling down the block with blood pouring out of his body. We held him, prayed with him and watched him die.

Martin Luther King, Jr. remembered the good Samaritan story in the Bible and said in effect (my paraphrase): We are all called to be the good Samaritan and lift our injured neighbor out of the ditch… but after you lift so many people out of the ditch, you start to say, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be re-imagined.

For over a decade…[continue reading at CNN Belief]

March 13, 2010

Redefining “Giving Back” To The Community

Filed under: environment, issues — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm

St. Sargis Armenian Orthodox Church, Yerevan, Armenia

It could be something as simple as setting up a soup kitchen and serving lunch one day per week.   Or it could be spending $100,000 (CDN) to put solar panels on the roof of the church to give electricity back to the power grid.

Hillcrest Mennonite Church in New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada is one of many churches around the world doing the latter:

This year, the congregation plans to install $100,000 worth of solar panels on the church grounds, said Rob Yost, the congregation’s green advocate.

Energy from the panels, covering an area of nearly 57-square-metres (613-square-feet), will be sold to the Ontario Power Authority.   “It (the solar power system) should pay for itself in 10 years…”  [full article]

It’s the same story in the UK, where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams weighs in:

Considering the effectiveness of the solar panel project, Dr Williams told the Standard: “I think it works amazingly well. They have used the natural advantages of the church roof in the best possible way.

“It is really a model that I hope a lot of places will be following. I was in Grimsby yesterday and at one church there already they were thinking of doing the same thing on the model that has been done here.   It is a pioneering thing.   [full article]

In the U.S., Bethel Lutheran Church in Cupertino, California is part of the trend:

The new panels will also give children in the church’s school the opportunity to learn about solar energy, as a website that shows the congregation’s energy usage will teach the kids about its importance.

And in a move that benefits the entire town of Cupertino, Bethel successfully petitioned the city council to lower solar permit scheduling fees for non-profits from $5700 to $1500.

According to Pastor Randy Pabst, this is just the beginning of the church’s plans— the congregation wants to double or triple its present solar capacity in the future.

Why solar? “We’re being good stewards of the world God has given us,” said Pabst.   [full article]

And in southeast Europe, solar panels blend with classical architecture (see picture, above)  in Yerevan, Armenia:

One can agree that it is a very rare phenom to see solar panels on the top of the roof of the house of God. Moreover, when solar energy panels are seen on the roof of an Orthodox church, known for its conservatism, the challenge to reconsider your view on Orthodoxy and its approach to stewardship of creation becomes irresistible. [full article]

The capital outlay for solar panels is huge, with churches not expecting to see the financial break-even point for at least ten years.  So you could argue that this is another example where the rich [churches] get rich and the poor [churches] get poorer.

However, it can clearly be argued that the churches that are doing these projects are not doing so to see increased attendance, or make a profit, but are truly giving something back to the communities where they live.

The more electricity generated in this manner, the fewer highly-capital-intensive projects that need to be undertaken to build electrical generating stations powered by wind, fossil fuel, water or nuclear energy.

January 21, 2010

Eight Things To Look For In A “Real” Church

It’s less like a train station and more like the pub in Cheers.

In yesterday’s link list, I included David Fitch’s piece “Eight Things You Should Notice At a Missional Sunday Gathering” from the blog Reclaiming The Mission.   I can’t think of anything better today than to amplify the ideas contained in this excellent article.

As someone who has had their work ripped from their blog and reposted in a variety of different forms, I want to make it clear that I’m paraphrasing, extrapolating and putting my own spin on David’s text.   You are therefore strongly urged to read the original blog post.    Also, he is claiming these as features of missional churches.   I am suggesting that he’s touched on something that goes far beyond that church definition.

  1. Team Leadership, i.e. not autocratic.   At the end, people leave having heard the sound of many voices.  What’s often termed “a plurality of leadership.”  This can include invisible leadership.   If there is a senior pastor, he or she is often in the background, or mingling among the ‘common folk.’
  2. If there’s a script for the service, it’s written in pencil on the back of an index card.   In other words, there is flexibility and flex time (they’re different) built into the service planning.   There can be a commitment to excellence, but some of the best worship will take place in moments that are fragile or even tentative.   There’s room for the Holy Spirit to break in through people who have a variety of giftings, and also through people who we may not consider gifted at all.  There’s every attempt to create visitor-friendly environments, but not to necessarily control those environments.
  3. There is ample evidence that the people gathered together are in community with one another.   This happens naturally, not with name tags or photo directories.    It’s less like a train station and more like the pub in Cheers. Connection to the larger world takes place in mid-week situations, though there are many openings for those people to be assimilated into the community.
  4. You see similarity to the diversity of the early church, where there was neither Jew nor Greek (ethnicity), male nor female (gender), slave nor free (status), etc.   This doesn’t mean that these people exist in sub-groups or cliques, but there is full integration, perhaps even in small groups if they exist.
  5. Warmth, friendliness and caring are communicated naturally.   There are no greeters at the door because everyone knows to give a welcome to someone walking in; they want to do this.   No time is spent “passing the peace” or shaking hands because everyone has already connected with the people sitting near them before the worship has begun.
  6. The true service and indeed the life of the congregation kicks into high gear when it ends.  The real ministry takes place after the last speaker has finished.   A day after reading David’s article, I read about a dream someone had where the pastor said, “And now we’ll begin our time of worship;” and at that moment the ushers flung open the doors and the people filed into the streets.    (Wish I could find the link.)
  7. The service is interactive.   Fitch talks about having the chairs arranged in a circle instead of in rows.   That’s just part of it.   There is the expectancy that everyone has something to contribute, and some of those contributions may be spoken words to everyone else.   Everyone gives.   Everyone receives.   Think of a Pentecostal or Charismatic service but without the “forms” or “attachments” present there when someone has a word in tongues or a word of prophecy.
  8. Fitch’s eighth point is ethnic diversity which I’ve already included in number 4.   I’d simply add this:  No one is left out.   The ‘flavor’ of the church’s programs reflects the people who are actually present; furthermore they play a part in the development of those activities or ministries.   Also — and this is often the tough one — the diversity should be reflected in staff and leadership positions, too.

Once again, don’t miss the original post at Reclaiming The Mission.

September 11, 2009

Starting a Town Laiterial

Like most North American jurisdictions, we have a ministerial association where the various rectors, priests, ministers, pastors (and rabbis if we had any), etc. meet monthly to “talk shop.”   These groups often include chaplains from local seniors’ homes, hospitals or jails, as well as full-time youth workers with parachurch organizations.

The local shoe stores may be in competition, but by virtue of this monthly meeting, the churches can honestly say they are working together on various community initiatives.    The various clergy may not agree on every matter of faith and doctrine, but these religious professionals have, at the very least, a context in which to dialog with other men and women who have chosen the same vocation.

But they are, at the end of the day, restricted to the professionals, and there are a great deal of initiatives that never get brought forward for discussion, and a whole host of other ideas that never get presented because, despite the stereotypical idea that these people only work on Sunday, they are actually quite pressed for time.

Which is why I think our ministerial should be complemented by a laiterial.   That’s right, a laiterial.    Didn’t expect my spell-checker to be too happy with that one.   Why not something where one member of the laity in each congregation meets with representatives from other assemblies and places of worship for the purpose of seeing if more can be accomplished by working together?

This means not just a loose collection of people meeting in an “inter-faith” context, but actual selected delegates, representing each faith group with a purpose and agenda.  People who know what it means to get something accomplished. People who recognize that their various pastors and ministers have an entirely different set of priorities when they meet each month, and want to produce something in conjunction with them that may take great amounts of time and effort.

People from different places of worship can work together in ways that clergy simply cannot.    It’s the potential of cooperation on a much more grassroots level.   It’s about interacting with people who attend the church across town.   It’s about being in conversation with people whose believes are often extremely divergent.   For the Christian, it’s a context yielding to a different definition of what it means to be salt and light.

The type of thing these meetings can produce is going to be  of a very general nature in terms of inherent spirituality.   But it can show that religion — any religion — is more than just doctrine.   It’s doctrine plus ethics.   Orthodoxy plus orthopraxy.   Talk plus action.

Laiterial.   It’s not in the dictionary.  Not yet.

Coming monthly to a restaurant meeting room or church basement near you.

The word “laiterial” is the exclusive intellectual property of Paul Wilkinson and Thinking Out Loud unless of course, you actually make public use of the term, in which case I’d be too flattered to object.

August 29, 2009

Reblogging The Best of September 2008

Even though the traffic was lighter back then, this one obviously resonated with a few readers:

Getting into Classic Authors

This week my kids and I are “binge reading” a number of devotionals from a collection by A. W. Tozer, one of the pioneers in the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination. His final pastorate was at the Avenue Road* Church in Toronto, Canada, which continues to this day as Bayview Glen Alliance. Tozer is one of a number of classic reads, in a list that includes D. L. Moody, George Whitfield, Watchman Nee, Jonathan Edwards, E. M. Bounds and others.

What is it that’s different about reading classic authors like these?

– Right away you notice that they speak with a different voice, and having studied the Philosophy of Language, I know that our use of words shapes our understanding. There is also a greater economy of words on some points, but there is laborious repetition on others, so that we don’t miss something profound. Clearly, the did understand some concepts somewhat differently than many of do today; and the “spin” on some Bible passages is distinctive by our standards.

Intensity – These classic writers endure because they were passionate about living the Christian life to the nth degree. There is an urgency about their writings that is sorely lacking in some modern Christian literature. Were they preaching to the choir, or were they voices crying in the wilderness? Probably both, and with the same message for both.

Response – They wrote in response to the issues of their day, some of which are unknown to us now, but some of which are strikingly similar to the issues of our day. There was a concern for a general apostasy, a watering-down of the gospel and of Christian ethics. Is this just preacher rhetoric, or are things truly deteriorating with each successive generation? Or do Bible teachers and preachers just get so “set apart” that they start to view both the church and the world less charitably?

Wisdom – These books represent the cultivation of much wisdom in an era that wasn’t full of the distractions of our era. While we will inevitably turn back to our modern writers; there is much to be gained from seeing how scripture was interpreted in a previous century. They did their homework so to speak, and interacted with others who were on the same path of study; and some of them were simply a few hundred years “closer to the story” than we are today.


What classic authors do you enjoy?

What about material that pre-dates this, what we call “early Christian writings?”

Why did I not mention Charles Spurgeon?

*Gotta love the redundancy of the name, “Avenue Road.” Still exists, running parallel to Toronto’s main drag, Yonge Street. (Pronounced “young street.”)

This next post is about blogging itself and my initial realization as to what it meant to be part of the blogging community.

A Great Big Blog Hug

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and suffer with those who suffer.

Blogging introduces you to a worldwide collective of people you will probably never meet in this life. Nonetheless, the online connection means that you can be a source of encouragement to many, many people. The right words, fitly spoken at the right time, can really make a difference in a person’s life. That’s why I like this picture. The words are coming off the page to bring comfort. Everybody needs a bit of that now and then. The best things that are happening in the blogosphere aren’t always happening on the blogs themselves, but in the meta. When you get to follow-up with someone who has a particular interest. Or try to offer some direct, offline advice to someone who might appreciate a bit of a challenge. Or know of a third-party resource that could be of great help. Or just to say, “I really don’t have a clue about your whole situation, but I want you to know someone is reading your blog who really cares.” Or offer to pray for them. To actually pray for them.

Words communicate. People are listening. You can have a part in what they hear.

Finally… it turns out there’s enough stuff from September to do two installments in this series, so that’s what we’ll do.   Here’s one more to cap off today though, because I’d hate for anyone to miss out on this excellent resource.

Delving into Prayer with Philip Yancey

Thirteen years ago, when we changed from being a ‘behind the scenes’ promoter of Christian books and music, to being a front line retailer with our own stores, our first bona fide bestseller was the book The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. Although I was familiar with his writing from Campus Life magazine and the NIV Student Bible, this was the first book by him I had ever read, and with my recommendation, the book remained our number one bestseller for more than two years. I still have the ISBN memorized!

So when the curriculum DVD for that book was released, I was a little disappointed. It was Philip, who is very softspoken, sitting in a dark studio, speaking in a low tones. The clips were short, too; as this kind of product is intended to be led by a small group chairperson, with the DVD serving as a supplement. Later on, Zondervan would produce some excellent DVD material for author John Ortberg (who is now linked on our blogroll on the right side of your screen under ‘sermons’) which were filmed on location. I made a mental note that the quality of these things was improving.

This weekend I watched all of the DVD material that goes with Philip’s book, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? There are six weeks in the DVD study, with each one having at least three film clips, all of which were filmed in various parts of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The scenery certainly draws you in to the discussion of the topic, and Philip seems much more relaxed in front of the camera, and much more himself in the context of his favorite hobby, mountain climbing. (Do you have an altimeter on your wristwatch?) If you’re going to use visual media, it’s important that it look good, and this does.

I felt that the last session sometimes seemed to start to stray a little from the core discussion; but otherwise, this is an excellent lead-in to some good discussion; and since all Christians (and not a few non-Christians) pray at various times and in various ways, this is certainly going to bring out a lot of comments from your small group; many of which will be subjective and some more objective. Frankly, I would love to have some context to share this series with a group of people. (The church I attend has a policy that all small groups cover the same material; so there is no room for electives.) I think it would be an interesting process to explore something so basic to our Christian lives, yet reflects so differently in each of us, including the complexity of dealing with unanswered prayer, which is discussed in the fourth session.

You don’t need a DVD player in the home to run a good small group, but good resources like this are available, and are increasingly being released at lower cost.* Conversely, you don’t need to have read the book to use the DVD and the participant’s guide, but the book is probably one of the best and most thorough treatments on this subject. With small group season about to kick off; I give the book and DVD a five star rating.

~Paul Wilkinson

* Prayer DVD U.S. SRP is only $24.99 Each session begins with someone placing an envelope into a mail box, but when it comes to the one called “prayer problems” that deals with unanswered prayer, the letter becomes a thick package! Ain’t that the truth.

August 28, 2009

What Goes On Before and After Your Church Service?

Filed under: Church, worship — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:48 pm

I left this comment at the discussion at Internet Monk called “The Evangelical Liturgy,” a continuing analysis of the various elements that make up a church service.

I’m thinking that while the weekend service may be the hub around which the local church wheel revolves — except of course for that small handful of churches that are totally defined by what they do the rest of the week — you can also gauge much of their spirituality by watching what they do in the minutes that lead up to the call to worship and the minutes that follow the benediction.

“There’s nothing wrong with pre-service ‘fellowship’ if it’s true spiritual fellowship. Building depth and community through being invested in other peoples’ lives and allowing them to invest in yours. NOT discussing yesterday’s game, the weather or a new car purchase.

There’s nothing wrong with pre-service announcements if we see them as opportunities for greater service, building community, deeper teaching, or meeting needs. NOT ‘commercials’ for the agendas of different ministries or committees who also compete for who gets the brightest colored bulletin insert.

I’m not saying we should try to ’spiritualize’ everything we do in life, but I think we should try to intentionally spiritualize everything we do in church.”

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