Thinking Out Loud

August 21, 2017

Shopping for Church Curriculum on Amazon or Google Involves Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve seen these things happen firsthand:

  • The website is out-of-date and the particular resource is out of print and now it’s become a ‘Holy Grail’ type of quest to find the item in question.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

There are several ways this can happen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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March 10, 2017

House Party: Barbecue, Pool, a Movie, and “We’re having a guest preacher.”

It’s a summer weekend. You invite a few friends over to use the pool, enjoy a barbecue, and watch a movie on DVD. Oh, and you’ve also invited a preacher who will sit everyone down in the living room for a 40 minute sermon. Wait, what? Wouldn’t an Amway Ambush be better than listening to a sermon?

While your swim, burger, and film night might include comfortable chairs, popcorn, refreshments, etc. in 2017, inviting a preacher might have been the equivalent type of party in the 18th century.

Victorian ParlourWhile reading 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas a few years ago, I encountered the term parlor preaching, or if you prefer, the more Anglicized spelling, parlour preaching. Apparently William Wilberforce’s family would have John Newton over for the evening as a guest speaker. If magicians can do parlor tricks, I suppose pastors can parlor preach.

A short trip to a few search engines later, I am not a whole lot wiser on this subject. How widespread was this type of social event? Was it the province of the aristocracy or upper class, or could anyone commission the pastor for a thousand words of exegesis and exhortation?

Though it seems to harken back to a long bygone era, I love the concept. I just can’t see anyone pulling this off successfully today, especially if you get the kind of preacher whose voice raises when he gets passionate. The sermon, as an art form is slowly fading. Rhetoric in general is getting lost in a world of txt msgs and 140-character Tweets. Most party invitees don’t want to arrive at your home only to find they’re at church.

With the absence of information we have to do some guessing. My money’s on this phenomenon as being more church service than small group, but as one-off event. A theological education was highly prized and respected, so the type of interactive format we enjoy in small groups wouldn’t be as likely to occur. You certainly would never offer an alternative view and you might not feel comfortable asking a question, either. At best, you’d save it until afterwards when tea was served.

But it could have resembled house church. There would be a piano in the parlor (aka ‘front room’ or what we would call the ‘living room’) so possibly there could be some singing, with the latest worship songs being transmitted from place to place via printed sheet music (no doubt, CCLI song #5) followed by something the preacher had prepared. Start time and dress would be less formal than Sundays and probably children (if present) would be free to sit on the carpet.

Again, I’m making all this up because there is very little corroboration online for this. If you know differently, please fill the rest of us in.

We do this today, sometimes inviting friends over to watch a sermon podcast, though we have the freedom of hitting the pause button. Today, we don’t expect our pastors to be suburban circuit-riders, in fact pastoral home visitation in general is going extinct, a topic for another article, I suppose.

Still, I would love to travel back in time to be part of one of those informal house meetings; a kind of house concert with a spiritual orator instead of a singer. I’ll bet the preaching would be first-class.

March 25, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Today’s graphics are a couple of Cheezburger classics from 2009.

cat-can-part-snow

Is the Modern Offering the Same as Biblical Almsgiving? – “I have never heard an evangelical sermon on almsgiving. Despite countless texts in the Hebrew Bible about generosity toward the poor, the example of the first Christians, and a long tradition of the practice, especially during Lent, I have rarely heard the word mentioned in my adult life as a Christian. ‘Tithes and offerings,’ yes of course, and many are the sermons I have heard about the generic subject of ‘stewardship’ or ‘giving,’ but rarely has anyone explained to me what ‘almsgiving’ means and how it relates to other kinds of giving practices…’Bible-believing’ churches…have gotten the subject of Christian generosity and serving others with our resources all jumbled up… Almsgiving is not grounded in the need to support theocratic institutions, but on the specific call to “remember the poor.”

Fans Continue to Make(up) Pilgrimages to See Tammy Faye – From January in The Witchita Eagle: “Since her death on July 20, 2007, fans and friends of Tammy Faye Bakker Messner occasionally make pilgrimages to where the ashes of the Christian television celebrity were laid to rest. There, they leave the types of cosmetic items – lipstick, mascara – that helped give Tammy Faye her distinctive look. In a Harper County cemetery, remote and unmarked, Tammy Faye’s gravestone is far away from the glamor, controversy and cameras that followed the woman who helped build three Christian television networks…” Widower Ron Messner said, “She was the most common, down-to-earth person you ever saw. The press always made her out to be some nitwit type of person. She was totally different. Her IQ was 165.”

35 Years Later, Bob Jones Retracts Idea of Stoning Gays – The Washington Post quotes him: “I take personal ownership for this inflammatory rhetoric…This reckless statement was made in the heat of a political controversy 35 years ago. It is antithetical to my theology and my 50 years of preaching a redeeming Christ Who came into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved… Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached.” The retraction came after a petition was begun demanding it.

The Divide Over Franklin Graham’s Facebook Comment – First Graham said, “Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that.” Then Jim Wallis responded, “It is not that simple. As a leader in the church, you are called to be an ambassador of reconciliation. The fact that you identify a widely acknowledged social injustice as “simple” reveals your lack of empathy and understanding of the depth of sin that some in the body have suffered under the weight of our broken justice system. It also reveals a cavalier disregard for the enduring impacts and outcomes of the legal regimes that enslaved and oppressed people of color…” Other leaders signed on to his statement, while the discussion plays out in over 1,000 comments at Sojourners. (More coverage at CT Gleanings.)

Small Groups Based on the Sunday Sermon – This is an in-house link to a sister blog of PARSE that really struck a chord because we’ve had the discussion at our house many times over the past few years; and as it turned out, Ed Stetzer wasn’t just trying to sell more LifeWay curriculum: “Proponents of the sermon-based model love the synergy their people get; instead of bombarding them with different messages multiple times in a week, the church is able to hammer again and again the core truths of the week. It creates a greater sense of focus than you might otherwise have; that sense of focus is at least part of the reason for the growth in these types of groups. But with the benefits come a new set of challenges to effective disciple-making through sermon-based groups.”

USA Today Explores the Decline of Sunday School – “Instead of a day of rest, Sunday has become just another day for over-scheduled kids to be chauffeured from sports practice to music lessons or SAT tutoring. It doesn’t help that parents themselves, so overwhelmed by life, are skipping church. ‘You would go to church, and then an hour or hour 15 minutes of Sunday school. It takes up all your morning. It felt like more of a chore for them to go, when you’re giving up some of your weekend and attending school during the week,’ says [LeeAnn] MacNeil. ‘By the time they come home, it’s 12 noon, and when you have a weekend, you want to play with your friends outside and be a kid.'”

On Commercial Christian Publishing – Ed Cyzewski: “When I didn’t reach the sales goals I needed to meet, my future as an ‘author’ hung in the balance. I didn’t know how to survive without the approval of others for my work. Adding in the pressure to make at least some money from book publishing, I had created a toxic mixture of personal approval and financial pressure that poisoned my writing work… I never knew how tightly I was holding onto commercial publishing as the source of my identity until I let go of it.”

How Your Sponsored Child Picture is Taken – Some of the Compassion International children have never had their picture taken before and so it’s a pretty big deal.“They feel so excited to take the pictures that they come jumping and dancing to the project. At the time of their photo shoot, they become more serious, and we have to keep telling them to smile. Otherwise, they are enthusiastic.”

Men, Sinful Cravings, and Pornography – Two related articles; first, one by J.D. Greear when you wonder why God doesn’t simply remove the cravings: “[S]ometimes God allows us to struggle with a lesser sin to keep us from a greater one—pride. Because if you or I were immediately cured from certain sins, we’d become insufferably proud.” Second, Dave Jenkins with six essential ingredients necessary in repentance from porn: “The porn addict lives in a world where they go through a cycle of feeling sorry for what they did, but never coming to see the gospel seriousness of what they have done.”

Ten of the Worst Christian T-Shirts – and we’re sure there were plenty of runners up. “I’ve always found American Christian culture’s diminishment of the sacred to be extremely troubling. In a manner foreign to other faiths, evangelicalism often obscures the holy in a cloud of kitsch. Take, for instance, the Christian t-shirt. Now here’s a phenomenon that serves absolutely no purpose. Oh, I know that they’re sold as powerful tools for evangelism, but let’s be honest. Have you ever met someone who saw a ‘Lord’s Gym’ t-shirt and fell to the ground crying, ‘WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED!?‘”

Song of Solomon’s Ideal Woman – “At first glance, this might look like nudity. But I promise it’s just gazelles.” Okay, but it may not be safe for the church office. (And yes, we remember the Wittenburg Door version.)

A Refreshing Musical Voice – This time last week we had never heard of Heather Janssen who has been posting videos to YouTube for six years. Enjoy a minimalist acoustic guitar cover of Hillsong’s This I Believe, or the fuller grand piano sound of an original song.

I had enough material this week for two columns; be sure to check back on the weekend for more.

funny-dog-pictures-jesus-shepherd

May 9, 2014

Curriculum Review: AHA by Kyle Idleman

AHA Church Kit - Kyle Idleman - City on a Hill ProductionsAfter veering off into a more documentary style with the small group curriculum for Kyle Idleman‘s Gods at War, City on a Hill Productions returns to the cinematic type of production it does best: an integrating of multiple dramatic story lines with direct teaching. AHA: Awakening.Honesty.Action takes a modern look at the story of The Prodigal Son in Luke’s gospel and has the courage to suggest that not every wayward son who has a moment of clarity while feeding the pigs actually makes it back home.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching all six episodes. The video clips run about a half hour each. The acting is superb to the point where I wondered, with all the Christian movies releasing lately, if City on a Hill ought to be reaching for an even wider audience.

There are various applications to this curriculum. So far, Idleman, the teaching pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky has released three books and three videos, plus the H20 video series (see the review linked below) which landed him on our radar. So that leaves you with several choices, and these are just my suggestions:

  • If I were working with new Christians or even seekers for whom the story of The Lost Son in Luke is foreign, I would probably use the video.
  • If I were working with people who have been Christians for awhile, I might do the book study.
  • If I were working with people who have been in small groups for a fair amount of time, and like to think and like to discuss, I would do the video.

The video really provoked some thought when we watched it as a family in ways that the book didn’t. And like the parable, not everybody lives happily ever after. But the book is excellent by itself as I stated earlier this year.  And the curriculum possibilities get even more complex:

  • The church kit comes with a leader’s guide and a journal. You could simply watch the videos, have a weekly discussion, and a small homework assignment for the following week.
  • You can also get a journal for each group member, for which a sample is included. It provides a day-by-day writing assignment between group meetings, so the teaching content remains fresh when the group reconvenes and there is opportunity for personal transformation.

If you’ve been around the church for any length of time, you might argue there’s nothing new here. In many respects, Idleman’s Gods at War covered material also found in Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods or Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises and AHA is reminiscent of Keller’s Prodigal God which Idleman quotes at one stage in both the book and the video.

But Jesus’ parable in Luke offers limitless applications; it’s the story that keeps on giving.

[Note: This is a review of the Small Group Kit; AHA is also available for a teaching series in your local church in a Pastor’s Kit, which is an entirely different product containing only short video clips at a much lower price.]

At the end of the last episode, we watched a couple of the features which clearly reveal the hearts of the director and cast. They are truly committed to excellence. Honestly, I can’t wait to see where City on a Hill Productions goes next. I leave you with their corporate tagline:

Story is the language of our Hearts
Media is the language of our times
We use both to share Jesus with the world

October 1, 2013

What if Jesus Was Your Small Group Leader?

Filed under: Church, Jesus — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:58 am

Some great thoughts here from Justin Knowles at Download Youth Ministry Blog.  Click this link to read.

You didn’t click, did you?

Sigh.

If Jesus was in charge of small groups at a church, what would they look like? What would he focus on? Why? What would be his priorities? It actually is really fun to think about and I think it’s relatively easy to figure it out because we just need to look how Jesus lead. I think if we are doing these things, we ought to be doing pretty good.

It’s all about relationships. Jesus had a small group. His disciples. He poured his heart and life out for this group of men. He spent time with them. Ate with them. Lounged with them. Prayed with them. Prayed for them. Yes he loved the crowds and did miracles but a majority of his time was with his small group and he poured into them.

His curriculum was story based with real life application. Jesus is the ultimate story-teller. Everything thing he taught he taught with an illustration and story. He brought up scripture, then a story, then application. “Go and do likewise. Go and sin no more. Truly I tell you…”. When it comes to high school small groups, we need to have Scripture and then stories of real life and then an application they can actually do that has to do with that lesson.

Invested in the core leaders. Jesus had the 3 close disciples. The one who we took on the mountain with him. They were his core. He knew what they were going to do later so he wanted to make sure they were properly poured into. Same with our small groups and leaders. There are some we see have major potential so we want to make sure we pour into the core so they in turn can pour into others.

Put his foot down. Small groups need to be fun and about relationships but they need to be structured. Jesus knew when to put his foot down. He knew when to speak into someone’s life, always with grace and truth, but he still had that conversation. When things got out of control in the temple, he made a whip! Imagine the phone calls we would get now if we whipped those who got out of hand in group last night. Small group is a great place to teach discipline in many factors of life and as leaders we need to help our students realize these things. Disciplines in: respect, reading daily, praying, knowing when to mess around, when to be serious, how to talk and interact with others.

Spent one-on-one time with God. Many times in the Bible Jesus went off to a quiet place to be with the Lord. I would like to think if a man who could predict his own death and resurrection we should be doing all of the things we was doing while on this planet. If Jesus went off to pray we need to be doing the same. As leaders of small groups, we should be praying for our hearts, the groups we are leading, the leaders and the students all year-long because I really do believe that life change happens in small groups!

March 3, 2013

House Concerts, Only With Preachers

So you invited a few friends over to watch a movie on DVD this weekend. Comfortable chairs, popcorn, refreshments, right? But what might have been the equivalent in the 18th century.

Victorian ParlourWhile reading the forthcoming 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas, I encountered the term parlor preaching, or if you prefer, the more Anglicized spelling, parlour preaching. Apparently William Wilberforce’s family would have John Newton over for the evening as a guest speaker. If magicians can do parlor tricks, I suppose pastors can parlor preach.

A short trip to a few search engines later, I am not a whole lot wiser on this subject. How widespread was this type of social event? Was it the province of the aristocracy or upper class, or could anyone commission the pastor for a thousand words of exegesis and exhortation?

Though it seems to harken back to a long bygone era, I love the concept. I just can’t see anyone pulling this off successfully today, especially if you get the kind of preacher whose voice raises when he gets passionate. The sermon, as an art form is slowly fading. Rhetoric in general is getting lost in a world of txt msgs and 140-character Tweets. Most people would rather arrive at your home to find an Amway ambush than to be made to feel they’re at church.

With the absence of information we have to do some guessing. My money’s on this phenomenon as being more home church than small group. A theological education was highly prized and respected, so the type of interactive format we enjoy in small groups wouldn’t be as likely to occur. You certainly would never offer an alternative view and you might not feel comfortable asking a question, either. At best, you’d save it until afterwards when tea was served.

More likely, it would have resembled house church. There would be a piano in the parlor (aka ‘front room’ or what we would call the ‘living room’) so probably there would be some singing, with the latest worship songs being transmitted from place to place via printed sheet music  (no doubt, CCLI song # 12) followed by something the preacher had prepared. Start time and dress would be less formal than Sundays and probably children (if present) would be free to sit on the carpet.

Again, I’m making all this up because there is very little corroboration online for this. If you know differently, please fill the rest of us in.

We do this today, sometimes inviting friends over to watch a sermon DVD. But we don’t expect our pastors today to be suburban circuit-riders, in fact pastoral home visitation in general is going extinct.

Still, I would love to travel back in time to be part of one of those informal house meetings; a kind of house concert with a spiritual orator instead of a singer. I’ll bet the preaching would be first-class.

May 9, 2012

Wednesday Link List

I always type a ‘filler’ introductory paragraph here when I start, only last week, I didn’t update it and you were left with the rather lame, “Wednesday is here again.”  If you’re reading this, I didn’t catch this one, either.

  • For one week, Talbot Davis cancels the morning service at Good Shepherd United Methodist in Charlotte in favor of having multiple home church meetings instead, though they do gather at the church later in the day.  “You don’t bring your family to church… but we are living, breathing churches; the temple of the Holy Spirit, so we actually take the church with us to the campus each Sunday to celebrate in community what God is doing is in the home.”
  • For some people, the upcoming weekend just hurts, and church services just amplify that hurt. Those are the people dealing with infertility. Russell D. Moore rethinks Mother’s Day:”What if pastors and church leaders were to set aside a day for prayer for children for the infertile? In too many churches ministry to infertile couples is relegated to support groups that meet in the church basement during the week, under cover of darkness…”
  • Save the date: June 21-24 — The second Wildgoose Festival in North Carolina; with the most amazing mix of musicians and speakers. If I could get to only one U.S. summer festival, this would be it.
  • Here is Proverbs 1:8-9 in the new Social Media Bible: “My followers, read your father’s tweets & do not delete your mother’s messages. For they will be retweetable.”  The genealogies in Matthew are especially interesting.
  • Antioch Baptist Church pastor Ken Hutcherson says, “I am the gayest man I know.”  But then he explains what that means. “…Hutcherson is not a homosexual, nor does the happily married man have a same-sex attraction of any kind. He is, however, on a mission to take back words, phrases and symbols he believes groups…have “hijacked” from the American lexicon.
  • Michael Belote thinks that both at home school and public school, children aren’t learning how to learn.  “…we have become a nation of individuals who are firmly entrenched in philosophies that we do not understand: we are loyal to paradigms of which we remain mostly ignorant with regard to detail…”
  • Rebecca St. James narrates Mother India, a documentary premiering this fall about the real backstory in another film,  Slumdog Millionaire.  “…a compelling documentary following the adventure of 25 courageous orphans living as a family along the railway as they make pivotal decisions that will directly impact their future… filmed in January 2012 in southern India with a small production team…”
  • Karen Spears Zacharias has released a true story highlighting the impact of child abuse. A Silence of Mockingbirds is released through MacAdam Cage Publishing, which means this one may not be at your local Christian bookstore.
  • Does your church sing a lot of worship songs that are exclusive to your church; songs that were written by your own worship team leaders?  Bobby and Kristen Gilles recommend finding a place of balance.
  • An interesting dinner date: Canadian cult-watcher James Beverley dines in New York with Peter H. Gilmore, head of the Church of Satan. “…His positive characteristics are nonetheless evidence of God’s common grace…”
  • Don’t know where Tim Challies finds these things, but here’s an interesting blog about an Australian couple now serving in Mongolia.  This is a general link, scroll back and follow recent developments in a country where even buying a chair is a major accomplishment.
  • Michael Kruger suggests five different ways technology is affecting us in Rescuring Church from a Facebook Culture.  “…It is a low-commitment and low-accountability type of interaction.  We control—and entirely control—the duration, intensity, and level of contact.  At any moment, we can simply stop.   But, the Christian life, and real Christian relationships don’t work like this…”
  • Here’s another piece about technology at church, as in Matt Hafer’s Showing VHS’s to a Blu-Ray World. “Our financial giving isn’t where it needs to be and we brainstormed on why. One of the reasons that was plain to us is, we pass a bucket around and tell people the drop in cash or checks. The problems is, no one in 2012 carries cash and most people under 35 write a check about once a month…”
  • To post or not to post?  Matthew Paul Turner found this picture of a rather disturbing piece of fashion he called The Jesus Mini-Skirt.  If the image isn’t here, then you’ll have to click; it means better judgment prevailed.
  • Not exactly a Christian story, but CBN News reports on Chinese students being given IV hookups to amino acids to boost energy as they prepare for college entrance exams. It’s controversial, but not believed to be harmful.
  • Eugene Peterson didn’t just get up one morning and start translating the Bible. Several steps led up to the creation of The Message including: “…He read translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, from Greek to English. He discovered the translation principles use by these translators.”
  • The Grace Television Network now claims to be “Canada’s Largest 24/7 Provider of Christian Programming.”
  • As I type this, on Monday, Jon Acuff is at Stuff Christians Like #1199, but if I remember to update this, he will have passed the twelve hundred mark. [Later…] SCL #1200 was inspired by some people who chose to talk all through the service on Sunday… while sitting in the front row!
  • If you feel you must criticize something your pastor did or didn’t do, save it for Tuesday. Many pastors have a tougher time getting through Monday than Sunday.
  • Click the images to connect with more comics from ASBO Jesus (above) and For Heaven’s Sake (below).

December 23, 2011

Church Piano on a Budget

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:43 pm

Toy pianos have gone upscale.  Maybe the word ‘toy’ should not apply here.

After seeing three of these played simultaneously at Andy Stanley’s church a few weeks ago, my wife decided that these would actually be perfect for home church.  Or a church on a budget.  The ones pictured above are all under $140, with the red ones that North Point used coming in at $79.99. But for church use, it’s the top tier one, pictured at right that you really want.  Click the images to see the page at Schoenhut Piano.  We’ll continue this series as soon as we find a source for tiny little offering plates.

July 23, 2009

Free Market Small Groups: National Community Church

In a few weeks churches will be starting to promote the fall season of small group ministry.  In the part of the world where we live, the dominant model is one where the pastoral leadership determines a course of study for the whole church, regardless of when and where the group meets, often consisting of material based on the sermon the previous Sunday.    So I was intrigued by a comment in the book unChristian by David Kinnaman, where guest Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington says something to this effect:  ‘We have a free market approach to small groups.’  I wondered how this plays out and asked them for further clarification.   Does it always work out or are there liabilities?   Heather Zempel, Discipleship Pastor at NCC was good enough to write back and include a link to her blog, where she defines “Free Markets” more clearly.   You can link here to read the article as it appeared in 2006 at her blog, Wineskins for Discipleship, or simply read it reproduced below, with a special greeting from Heather.

I’m the discipleship pastor here at National Community Church… The bottom line is this: we encourage our leaders to get a vision from God and run with it. We don’t have a structure and a system that we ask leaders to come serve. We don’t have a set of curriculum we ask them to cover. Instead, we encourage them to leverage their gifts, abilities, interests and influence to create community and make disciples.

I view my primary job as not to give our leaders direction on what to do or study in their groups but to discover and excavate the God-given disciple-making DNA he has placed inside our leaders and then equipping them, encouraging them, and empowering them to go make disciples.

Free Markets

A free-market small group system allows for a high degree of relational connection and creativity by allowing leaders to turn their existing relationships, gifts, interests, passions, and hobbies into disciple-making small groups.

Oswald Chambers said, “Let God be as original with others as he was with you.” So why do churches force people into little clusters that all look alike, slap the label “small group” on them, and then promise that they will grow exponentially in their faith as a result?

For any small group or discipleship program to be successful, you need leaders who burn white hot with a vision for making disciples. That’s why we implement a free market small group system at NCC. We believe discipleship happens best within the context of shared interests, and it flows naturally out of leaders who are driven by a passionate vision from God.

Too many churches establish a vision and a small group model and then ask their leaders to come serve that vision and model. At NCC, we have reversed that by encouraging leaders to get their own vision for discipling others and then equipping them to do it in whatever relational context they find themselves. The NCC vision for small groups is specific enough to give direction and focus, but broad enough to give latitude for leaders to get their own vision from God and run with it. Leaders are motivated when they see where their passion meets a need.

We only have 2 basic requirements for NCC small groups. One, there must be opportunity for connection and relationships (relational). And two, discipleship should be the primary purpose (missional). And of course, the leader must also meet the leadership deployment requirements as specified by NCC to be an officially recognized NCC group.

We want to encourage innovation and creativity. We believe that God has designed each person uniquely, and he can use that uniqueness as a catalyst for disciple-making.

Examples of some groups that have come out of our free market system include:

  • Fantasy baseball
  • Spiritual warfare
  • Sign language
  • Inductive Bible Study
  • Acting
  • Evangelism
  • Running
  • C.S. Lewis’ Writings
  • Women in Leadership
  • Weight Training
  • Church History
  • Crown Financial

For more reading on this particular topic, see the following resources:

Dog Training, Fly Fishing, and Sharing Christ in the 21st Century (Ted Haggard)

Small Groups That Buzz (Heather Zempel)

  • So how are leaders and topics for small groups (cell groups, house church, etc.) chosen where you worship?
  • Does your church allow a free-market approach to midweek groups, or is the course contented dictated to house leaders by senior leadership?

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