Thinking Out Loud

January 5, 2018

The Antidote to Church and Worship Overanalysis

So on Monday we talked about the danger of falling into what is, if not a critical spirit, perhaps a critique-ical spirit when it comes to things like the worship time and sermon time at your local church. We said we would come back and discuss some solutions. Here are some things we came up with:

Celebrate the good things taking place at your church.

Try to keep a focus on the strengths, rather than the weaknesses of the people in leadership. Rehearse those things in your mind and in conversation with family and friends. Remember some moments where your church really stepped up its game and made a difference.

Develop a positive, wholesome attitude toward things in general.

Here’s how two contemporary versions translate Philippians 4:8 —

Finally, brothers and sisters, fill your minds with beauty and truth. Meditate on whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, whatever is virtuous and praiseworthy. (The Voice)  Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. (The Message)

Hang out with people new to your church, especially new believers.

What a breath of fresh air to spend your fellowship time at church with people who haven’t developed negative attitudes; people for whom everything is new, and fresh, and exciting. These people are the fresh blood which keeps the church functioning at its best. They may also have questions and answering those will keep your mind from going in other directions.

Make your comments as constructive suggestions.

The best way to do this is to ask questions. What if we did this differently? Or, What if we offered ______ an opportunity to take the lead on that segment of the service next week? Or, What if we had the youth group handle worship one week? While you don’t want to overdo this, it is less threatening than to make overt complaints and express overt dissatisfaction without offering anything as an alternative.

Visit another church.

You might just need a break. If you visit another church and find they’re doing everything perfectly, at least you’ll have a perspective or an authority to make suggestions. (Or maybe even a new church home.) Chances are however, that your church has some things it does better, and the other church has its own issues which, while different, are equally important to people there.

Put your name forward for a leadership position.

Six months of elders/deacons/board meetings might open your eyes as to why things are the way they are. You may find the issues are far more complicated than you realized. Don’t lose your idealism, but try to gain an understanding of how process works in a local church and how to bring about constructive improvement.

Avoid taking a leadership position.

Yes, I know. The opposite. It may be that you’re happier putting some distance between you and the things that tend to upset you. Perhaps changing diapers in the nursery or serving outside on the parking team would be more satisfying right now, both to you and the people who may have been caught in a rant or two.

Those are a few suggestions. Can you think of any we’ve missed?


January 1, 2018

Worship Analytics

You’re at a church service and one or more of the following happens:

  • You find yourself considering the theological underpinning of the opening prayer
  • You’re noticing all manner of technical things involving the worship music; everything from audio levels, to the competency of the musicians, to the song choices.
  • As the sermon progresses you find your brain, which should be absorbing the message, is more in the mode of critiquing the delivery, clarity, depth, application, etc.

Try as you may, you can’t stop analyzing everything that’s going on.

Maybe you know too much!

Here’s the question — because I already know some of you who are readers here do this — I want to ask: What percentage of people who are also among you in the congregation are also doing this?

I’d like to think in the case of music that the worship leaders (or people who actually do these things but are on a Sunday off) only number about 5% of the total congregation. Idealistic? Absolutely! Certainly the critical remarks you sometimes hear in the church lobby are based on significant numbers of people who have been treating the thing as though the pastor or worship team are contestants on a reality show.

But I might be wrong. Perhaps like Statler and Waldorf everyone has detached themselves from the prayer or worship or sermon and is filling in their scorecard.

That would be tragic, though some might argue a consequence of a consumer-focused church where the congregation is more of an audience.

I think there are ways to combat this mentality, but first, I want to hear from you how prevalent it might be.

February 22, 2016

Welcome to Our Church; Come Be Part of Our Agenda

Filed under: Christianity, Church, ministry — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:52 am

Serving Opportunity

Okay, I get it.

I know that there is something transformative that happens when people move from a passive seat-warmers to full engaged church members. I recognize that it’s better to move from the sidelines to the playing field. To step up your game. To be applying your spiritual gifts and your natural gifts.

I also get the need.

Several decades ago my mother sat in an adult Sunday school class when someone quietly tapped her on the shoulder saying, “Are you Mrs. Wilkinson? We’ve heard you have experience teaching high school students in another church. Would you like to do that here?”

She replied that she would very much like to do that adding, “When you want me to start?”

The reply was, “The girls are sitting in a classroom right now waiting for you.”

That’s a true story; that really happened! And the need in many of our churches is just as urgent.

However — you knew there had to be a however, right? — I have problems with churches, especially megachurches1 taking a Sunday out of the year to basically use the sermon time to try to enlist, conscript, or coerce people to be those badly needed volunteers. Or in the case of at least one U.S. megachurch, about three Sundays per year.

So much of what the local church is calling people to is a somewhat self-centered agenda. We want you to sing in our choir, serve in our midweek Children’s ministry, and help out on our property team. Maybe you think self-centered is strong language, but that is how it looks to

  • visitors2
  • those not ready or able to commit just yet
  • the cynics who think the church is trying to serve its own ends
  • people dealing with their own brokenness and in need of some teaching that will lift their spirits before they return to their personal life circumstances.

Volunteer Sunday(s) has got to go.3

Stepping into service is something that should happen organically in the life of the Christ-follower. Any local assembly that is doing everything they can to help people become fully committed followers of Jesus will find people seeking opportunities to serve.

They will, for certain, be turning volunteers away.

1 This can happen in a small church as well, where the coercion is multiplied by the fact you feel the pastor is looking directly as you as he preaches (which he is)
2 Where it ranks right up there with the give money sermon
3 This is why you read blogs, right? You don’t get this type of blanket or inflammatory statement at Christianity Today

August 1, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Apologies to subscribers whose paragraphs have had ever-increasing font sizes. WordPress doesn’t always interpret HTML tags consistently, but we’re checking each post now before it publishes. Hopefully…

  • In 40 rooms in England’s Lake District, copies of The Bible in the bedside table have been replaced with Fifty Shades of Grey.
  • Classic Media, the parent company of the Veggie Tales brand is to be purchased by DreamWorks, creators of Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.
  • God called me to add this link — okay, not really, but Heather Goodman things we overuse Holy Spirit language.
  • “Accepting people is more important than agreeing with them;” is among the findings of Elastic Morality, a 2011 Canadian youth research title that’s been flying under the radar.
  • Anglicans at The Falls Church in Virginia prove they can do modern worship songs as good as anyone else. Click here to listen to A Thousand Amens
  • And speaking about breaking denominational stereotypes, how about this: Baptist Monasteries. Yes, they exist and they aren’t new.
  • Meanwhile, conference speaker and author Gordon Dalby gets busted by a Catholic Priest for receiving communion. 
  • Mixing church history and doctrine, Parchment and Pen offers a thumbnail sketch of the rise of the Catholic Church
  • If you missed the video embed here Monday, you need to go take a look. For those who did watch, here’s another speaker from the same Lutheran youth conference, Leymah Gbowee.
  • When churches close, there’s no place for no place for marginalized kids to go; and Karen Spears Zacharias knows this from experience.
  • It’s not new, but here’s a classic video of Tony Campolo explaining how he came to throw a birthday party for a hooker at 3:00 AM.  
  • David Platt on video talks about comparing modes of radical Christian living. 
  • Two articles from New Direction Ministries that someone you know might need: (1)For the straight conservative Christian trying to repair a relationship with a gay loved one; and (2) The other side of the coin: When gay people long for reconciliation with their conservative Christian family
  • A portrait of Joel Osteen has been removed from a Georgia Library even as the TV preacher describes his message as not so big on hell-fire.
  • And speaking of preachers, this list goes back to February, but I like how Dudley Rutherford handled this listing of the top ten preachers in America.
  • An Australian church that averages about 300 attendees is applying for permission to build a 5,000 seat auditorium.
  • In the spirit of the First World Problems meme, Michael Belote offers First World Theology Problems, though I’m not sure I get all the nuances of this.
  • To new bloggers just starting out on WordPress: (1) Get rid of that “Hello World” post that came with your theme template by either deleting it or writing something profound to appear as the ‘first post’ you never wrote; and (2) Replace that “Just Another WordPress Blog” with your own tagline. Please!
  • Graphics today are from Faith in the Journey.

April 3, 2011

No, Your Pastor Doesn’t Write as well as Max Lucado, Preach like Andy Stanley or Dress Cool Like Pete Wilson

Filed under: Church, ministry, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:12 pm

Today, I decided to go for the longest post title ever.  Your suggestions for a more concise title are welcome.

Speaking of blog post titles, today I want to link you to something at Pyromaniacs which Dan Phillips has provocatively titled, Porn and Paper Pastors.

While regular readers here know that I’m not likely to start a fan page for the Team Pyro writers anytime soon, I’m not about to write them off when they get it right like they do with this one, which basically equates the “not real” aspect of the people in the porn images to the “not real” aspect of the superstar Christian TV preachers and authors that so many — especially here in the Christian blogosphere — tend to idolize.

…They never half-listen, never have an appointment that cuts short their time. Their office hours are your office hours. They’re available 24/7, and everywhere, at your whim, and you always have their undivided attention.

What’s more is they always have all the answers! They can tell you with complete confidence and masterful eloquence. They never stammer, guess, nor search their memory. And they can prove it — whatever they’re saying! With footnotes!

And these paper pastors maintain the perfect distance. If you don’t want to hear something, they don’t press it…

When you’re done reading the full article, I hope you appreciate the real pastor; the one you have.  He doesn’t write as well as Max, preach as eloquently as Andy or dress like Pete; and that’s the way God intended it.

March 6, 2011

People Who Don’t Attend Our Church Anymore

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:29 am

Billy and his mom are walking alongside the stores in the mall, which has a landscaped display in the middle separating the shops on either side.

Billy: Thanks for the ice cream, Mom; this is great!
Mom: You’re welcome.
Billy: Hey isn’t that Mr. Watkins, my old Sunday School teacher?
Mom (grabbing Billy’s hand): Why don’t we walk down the other side?
Billy: But I wanna say hi to Mr. Watkins.
Mom: He doesn’t go to our church anymore, Billy.
Billy: Oh. He’s not a Christian now?

Why do we do this?

It’s a problem that seems to be rampant in the church, especially small to medium ones where the departure of a particular individual or family is more noticeable. You might as well have died. What message does this send to our kids? To the world at large?

I got an e-mail this week from someone who expressed this frustration.

Not one person has contacted me to find out why I have not been there… A terrible place to call a church home…

The church is the body of Christ. It’s much larger than any one house of worship; so much bigger than any single faith family. Why do we not see this?

Luke 10: 31 NIV A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.

If we’re to love our enemies; if we’re to regard the Samaritans — the people who the audience hearing the parable would think of as “the despised” — as our neighbors, how much more should we have love for people who have chosen to attach themselves to a different congregation?

Is leaving a church really a sin?

UPDATE: I realized many hours later how related this post is that I wrote a few days ago at Christianity 201.

April 18, 2010

Seeds, Roots, Branches, Fruit

Today’s post is a simulpost with the blog,  Christianity 201.

A guy I knew locally, Paul Kern, is now pastoring the Highland Park Wesleyan Church in Ottawa, Ontario the capital city of Canada. I decided to see what he was up to by checking the church’s website and got more than I hoped for.

This chart shows their purpose as a church. The third horizontal section is about their particular ministries and won’t make a lot of sense to you and I, but I left it intact, since it shows how a theoretical purpose is played out in practical ways through their weekly programs and special events.  Here’s what it says:

“Our purpose at Highland Park Wesleyan Church is simple: We want to be disciples who go out and make disciples.

“Many people are at different places on their spiritual journey and the design of our ministry is to meet your spiritual needs where you are and help you along on your Christian path. We believe God wants us to be consistent in our growth and maturity as Christians.

“Our plan is similar to many good churches, and is taken directly from the journey Jesus invites us to in the Bible. These are the milestones of our Christian Journey that Highland Park endeavors to help us through as we hear Christ inviting us to:

April 16, 2009

Take The BS Challenge

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:20 pm

photo-essay-newarkLast night, I spent about twenty minutes checking out a number of Christian blogs that feature book reviews.   Right now, the hot title is Tullian Tchividjian’s new book Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different.

Letting my mouse hover above the links on these different blogs, each one directed readers to Amazon.    Christian leaders — or perhaps the Christian community in general — have ceded sales to Amazon the same as local restaurants have stopped making coffee and ceded sales to Starbucks.

This makes me rather sad.

That’s why I’m inviting my readers to take the BS Challenge, or more fully, the Book Store Challenge.   I’m challenging you over the next seven days to visit — if your community still has one — your local Christian bookstore.

The Christian bookstore model served us well for over half a century.   These stores provide a storefront gateway to local churches, parachurch ministries and Christian counselors in the center of the marketplace.   They provide an additional level of discernment, determining what Christian products reached homes, schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods.   They pass on knowledge and insight when a young person or new believer is buying their first Bible that no online service can begin to match.

I’m not saying you have to buy anything.   Your mere presence registers a vote with the store staff that such places still have relevance to your community.    Simply check out some books.   Read the back covers.   Flip through the table of contents.    Visit the sale section.   Check out the Christian music section.    All things that, granted, you can do online.

Look at the larger retail environment and you’ll see that among retail sectors — housewares, hardware, linens, pet supplies, greeting cards, toys, sporting goods — no one is taking a hit as hard as sellers of books and music.   Unfortunately, Christian stores are getting swept up in the paradigm shift brought about by technological change.  But nothing online can fill the ‘ministry gap’ this is leaving in cities and towns.

If the issue is truly ‘price’ then ask the store management if they’ll match the price on a particular webpage.   The store where I work will do this with quantity orders for churches.   Some have the right to decline.    We feel it’s better to make only ten cents per book and keep the communication alive than to lose contact completely.

But if it’s just about price, that’s sad, because the books and resources at issue are truly priceless.   To make price the issue simply diminishes the integrity of the product.

Either way, take the BS Challenge in the next seven days.    Target a Christian bookstore in your community and determine that your visit’s purpose is to bless the store, if not by your purchase, at least by your presence.

The loss of a Christian bookstore in your community won’t just be a loss to the owners; it would be a loss to every local church, parachurch organization and every unchurched person who at some point in the future will need a first-contact, marketplace location from which to connect to the larger Body of Christ.

Take the Bookstore Challenge this week.

March 31, 2009

The Presence and the Perfunctory

Filed under: Christian, Christianity, Church, Faith — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:35 pm


Because I paid the ultimate price for some things I wrote here a few weeks ago, I’ve had a lot more time to think about what it means to expect God’s presence in all that we do “at church.”      I’ve heard people talk about being at a fairly typical church meeting thing, and “then God showed up.”   This may assume that he wasn’t “showing up” at previous meetings, or it may mean that he was there all along but an awareness of his presence finally broke in on the assembly.

When leading worship, I have often — though not every time — begun by following the traditional concept of invocation; inviting God’s presence into our time together.    Or at least, sort of.    I take it as a given that God is already among us, especially on Sunday morning.   He never misses our church service, right?

So I’ll begin with something like,

“Lord, we don’t presume to invite your presence because after all, you said you would never leave us nor forsake us.   Furthermore, we sometimes say that this building is your house, a place set apart for your worship, so we know if you’re omnipresent, you’re everywhere, then certainly of all places you are here.   No, instead, we ask you to help us have an awareness of your presence, an awareness of a presence that already exists, but we’re too distracted to realize.  Open our hearts.   Meet with us today in a special way.  Amen.”

The fact of the matter is however, that some things the church — as opposed to The Church — does are purely perfunctory.   And I think a church business meeting is a good example of that.   Unless of course, you are committed from the beginning that this business meeting is open to the possibility of God breaking in and doing something greater.

Basically, the question I want to ask is, “What if we spiritualized church?”   Yeah, seriously.   What if we decided there were no task-only, business-only events, but lived out each time we gathered together as moments full of eternal possibilities?    What if…

  • What if every item run through the church photocopier had to have a ministry value, even if it was just a verse tacked on at the end?
  • What if every church spring cleaning day was seen as a teachable moment, the way Jesus taught as he walked along the road with his disciples?
  • What if every mailout and every church newspaper advertisement kept its seeker appeal, but still contained the DNA of the gospel?
  • What if every church business meeting was more like a town hall forum where old men (and women) could prophesy and young men (and women) dream dreams?
  • What if every time there were announcements, they were viewed not as commercials, but as opportunities for greater fellowship, greater teaching, greater service?
  • What if every time there was a collection or offering, it was truly viewed as an act of worship?
  • What if your tax receipt for those donations was accompanied by a note of thanksgiving, or a teaching on how God delights and will reward our cheerful giving?
  • What if every salesman, tradesman, public sector worker, etc., who came in the front door of your church was told, “It’s no accident that you came in just now…” and then heard a piece of the particular good news that he/she needed that day?
  • What are the “What ifs” that your heart longs for?

That’s what I mean by “spiritualizing Church.”   Yes, God is there with us all along, but we need to leave him a place to break into our program.


Quick example.   Before we got married, I was a performing Christian solo artist in southern Ontario.   I worked alone.    One time, a friend of mine who was a professional, recording-studio quality jazz bass player offered to do a concert engagement with me at a local church.    To maximize his talents and contribution, we rehearsed the songs with some instrumental ‘bridges’ in them so he could do a few improvised bass solos.

But when we actually got out before the audience, I got distracted and started playing the songs the way I normally do, moving quickly from verse to chorus to verse.    At the end of the first set, I realized this and told him, and his reply was, “I was trying to break in, but I couldn’t find a place to jump in.”

I think that’s how the Holy Spirit would say it to us today.   I was there, but you didn’t leave me any room in the program.   (See this post, Blocking Peoples’ View from exactly one year ago, for another way of describing this.)

Nobody is saying that God isn’t with us.   But we need to see the spiritual possibilities each time we get together, even if it’s just to rake the leaves on the church lawn or clean the church kitchen.   And just think, if we were really focused on doing this, we could actually invite our neighbors to “help out” in our church clean-up day, and they might actually see Christ in the most seeker friendly of all possible environments.

It would also revolutionize the way we do things  outside of church.   We would be spiritualizing or God-focusing our entire lives.    Nah.  That’s way too radical.

…After committing to write this piece a few days ago, I came across this today from Kaybee, a regular visitor here, on her blog Important to Me.   She looks at the way we approach our local church as a sign of what our expectations are.  Do we expect that God is really waiting to meet with us?

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