Thinking Out Loud

June 19, 2018

Empire Building


Empire Building

One thing my wife and I totally agree on is our disdain for Christians who are constantly trying to promote themselves or their organization.

I’ll admit if you’re a charity you need to do some fundraising, and if you’re a musician you need to sell some albums and book some concerts in order to survive. That’s not what I’m talking about.

Rather, there’s an underlying attitude that you simply know it when you see it. It loudly proclaims, “It’s all about me;” or “It’s all about my little empire.”

And it’s sad.

Kingdom Building

The only good thing about empire building is that it provides a healthy contrast for the times when you meet people who are all about promoting and building God’s kingdom.

It’s beautiful when people walk in an attitude of humility and simply trust God with their own projects in order to focus their primary energies entirely on seeing his will done in the earth.

…I was reminded of this song, and this particular version of it includes the lyrics. As Greg Boyd famously ended his services with this benediction for many years, “Now go and build the kingdom.”

Just make sure it’s the right kingdom.

 

April 27, 2017

The Courtesy of a Reply

church email etiquette

This a pet peeve of mine. Churches and Christian organizations get many, many e-mails and other types of communication every day, and while this can be overwhelming, the ones that aren’t newsletters, bulk mailings or spam represent an individual who is expecting some type of reply.

I was reminded of this again when I was housecleaning old emails. A guy had shared with me how he and his wife had tried every local church in his town, and had run out of options. So I suggested something more informal: House churches. I did some research for the area where he lived and gave him contact information, but also made some of the contacts myself. A month later, I get this:

Dear Paul,

We have never heard a word from anyone in any of the home groups that you sent your e-mail to. I guess they aren’t interested in having anyone new join their group. The fact that no one even took the time to send an e-mail was very disheartening and made us realize this probably isn’t the type of group we wanted to be associated with anyway.

I can’t imagine if Christ were on this earth that he would ignore anyone who showed an interest….maybe these groups are missing the mark.

Again Paul, thanks for your help. You were very kind and we did appreciate your efforts.

No, no, no! My efforts are useless unless they get results. This couple deserved better.

But honestly, this scene plays out tens of thousands of times per day. I can’t tell you the letters I’ve written to churches, ministry organizations, missions, etc.; letters written on behalf of myself or others; letters that nothing in them to suggest that I would be the kind of person that you would want to simply ignore. And probably there are people reading this who this has happened to as well.

We live in an interconnected world where even local church congregations have to potential to make a global impact. But if you put yourself out there online, you have to be prepared to be approached on a wide variety of issues. You also have to remember that when you ignore a letter written by a fellow-human, you are being less than what Christ intended. Being ignored hurts. Hurting people is just dumb.

Some response is better than no response.

April 28, 2014

Community Presence versus Ministry Support

Offering PlateIn the community where I live, a transformation has been taking place over the last few years in how we approach charitable giving. Historically, the mindset that I was raised in suggested that we give toward those organizations which only church people will give to. That’s been my response to canvassers and telemarketers, “Our giving is directed toward church-based charities;” which is slightly inaccurate because we’re talking about parachurch organizations, but it gets the point across.

Recently however, the churches themselves have been turning over the proceeds from some large gatherings to broader community causes. It’s showing that we are supportive and willing to invest in those causes as well as doing our church thing. I think this is a worthy concept.

The problem is, in so doing, Christian ministry organizations serving our community aren’t receiving the proceeds from those annual gatherings. Furthermore, the number of parachurch organizations operating in our area has grown from 12 to 14 in the last two years. Many are under extreme financial pressure at the same time as the size of donations being made to the non-religious charities are rather huge; amounts that would go a long way to fuel various ministry efforts.

Is there a balance to be had here? Is it necessary for the pendulum to swing to the opposite extreme first, before coming to rest in the middle? Should Christians show our support for causes that already enjoy wide community support, or should we stick with organizations that mix compassion with gospel proclamation?

February 27, 2014

30 Key Evangelical Movements

Brad Lomenick’s name has come up repeatedly over the years here at Thinking Out Loud. He has been a force in the Catalyst conferences, and we often reference and link to his monthly list of Young Influencers, younger leaders who are making a difference.

A few days ago he published a list of 30 links to organizations that he considers to be the top 30 vital movements currently shaping Christian community. Many, but not all, are American. Three of these I had never heard of. I’m taking the liberty of reproducing it here, but if you wish to comment, why not do so at Brad’s blog.

1. Hillsong

2. Passion

3. Catalyst

4. Jesus Culture

5. Exponential

6. Worship Central (London)

7. Verge/Austin Stone

8. Q

9. IF Gathering

10. Reach Records/Lecrae

11. Leadership Summit/Willow Creek

12. Misfit/Christ Tabernacle

13. Compassion

14. Orange

15. North Point Ministries/Drive Conference

16. LifeChurch.tv

17. ARC

18. Resurgence

19. FPU/Dave Ramsey

20. Rick Warren/Saddleback/PEACE

21. Gospel Coalition

22. HTB/Alpha Course

23. Leadership Network

24. Thrive Conference/Bayside Church

25. Luis Palau Association

26. Women of Faith

27. Send North America

28. The Bible Series/Son of God Movie/Mark Burnett and Roma Downey

29. Relevant Magazine/Media Group

30. PlanetShakers

December 5, 2013

Reinventing Christian Television

preacherWith the passing of TBN founder Paul Crouch on the weekend, J. Lee Grady takes time to suggest reinventing the wheel, or as he calls it It’s Time To Reboot Christian Television. Knowing statistically all of you won’t click through however, here are the high points:

1. Support it with advertising, not donations. Who said Christian programming has to be donor-funded? I’d rather watch ads for steak knives or dietary supplements than endure two hours of begging—especially when the slick-haired evangelist running the telethon reminds you of a used-car salesman.

2. Prosperity preaching shouldn’t be allowed. Networks need to declare a moratorium on sermons that promise magical monetary benefits to people who “call now” to give a credit card donation. This type of merchandising of the anointing of the Holy Spirit grieves God and drags Christian TV down to the level of scam artists.

3. Preachers—and their doctrines—should be more carefully screened. Christian networks should not air programs by ministers who have questionable morals. If we wouldn’t allow that person in our church’s pulpit, why would we let them preach in front of millions on the air?

4. Donors should never be manipulated. If there is an appeal for donations, there should be no hanky-panky allowed. Don’t tell people that if they give tonight, God will give them a house. Don’t promise that God will heal their bodies if they sow a “$1,000 seed.” And don’t tell viewers that if they give in this special “Day of Atonement offering,” God will forgive their sins. This is witchcraft! Shame on any broadcaster who has allowed this garbage to deceive audiences.

5. Money should never be misused. TBN makes millions in donations every year—and the network has donated some of the funds to charitable causes. But why is it that broadcasters like Paul and Jan Crouch had to purchase lavish homes, a private jet and an enormous trailer for their dogs? Donors should demand more accountability for financial contributions.

6. It should be relevant to today’s culture. Young Christians today care about justice, world poverty and community transformation. They also want teaching on relationships, sexuality and practical discipleship. Christian TV must move beyond the talking-head style of the 1980s. If we want to appeal to young viewers, the false eyelashes, pink fright wigs and “Granny hootenanny” music will have to go.

7. Network owners should not set up broadcasting kingdoms. Some leaders in the past generation believed that ministries are like dynasties—that God expects the founder’s son to run it when he dies. But there is nothing in Scripture that even hints at ministries being passed down through family lines. God entrusts His work to faithful people—and He expects us to manage ministries with integrity, humility and accountability. Many of the disasters we have seen in American televangelism occurred because men thought they could take ownership of the work of God.

April 30, 2013

To Churches and Christian Organizations: Answer Your Mail

church email etiquette

Some of you know this a pet peeve of mine, and you’re wondering what I could possibly add to what I’ve already said on this.  Churches and Christian organizations get many, many e-mails and other types of communication every day, and while this can be overwhelming, each one of these is an individual who is expecting some type of reply.

I was reminded of this again when I was housecleaning old emails. A guy had shared with me how he and his wife had tried every local church in his town, and had run out of options. So I suggested something more informal: House churches. I did some research for the area where he lived and gave him contact information, but also made some of the contacts myself.  A month later, I get this:

Dear Paul,

We have never heard a word from anyone in any of the home groups that you sent your e-mail to. I guess they aren’t interested in having anyone new join their group. The fact that no one even took the time to send an e-mail was very disheartening and made us realize this probably isn’t the type of group we wanted to be associated with anyway.

I can’t imagine if Christ were on this earth that he would ignore anyone who showed an interest….maybe these groups are missing the mark.

Again Paul, thanks for your help. You were very kind and we did appreciate your efforts.

No, no, no! My efforts are useless unless they get results. This couple deserved better.

But honestly, this scene plays out tens of thousands of times per day. I can’t tell you the letters I’ve written to churches, ministry organizations, missions, etc.; letters written on behalf of myself or others; letters that nothing in them to suggest that I would be the kind of person that you would want to simply ignore. And probably there are people reading this who this has happened to as well.

We live in an interconnected world where even local church congregations have to potential to make a global impact. But if you put yourself out there online, you have to be prepared to be approached on a wide variety of issues. You also have to remember that when you ignore a letter written by a fellow-human, you are being less than what Christ intended. Being ignored hurts. Hurting people is just dumb.

Some response is better than no response.

March 8, 2012

A Message to Elder Evangelical Statesmen: Retire Graciously

I’m not sure the mystery writer known as Bene Diction has connected the dots on the last three (almost) consecutive posts that ran on his blog on March 6th and 7th. To me the common theme is inescapable.

First, we have John Piper make pronouncements as to the message behind the run of tornadoes in the U.S. heartland that left dozens dead and thousands homeless. This is nothing new. Piper is required to have a take on everything. It’s in his job description. Just as sure as the morning DJ on the local radio station will fill time between commercials pontificating on the events of the day prior, so also does JP feel compelled to weigh in on everything from soup to nuts.  Bene D links to Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk, who in one of his most heated posts ever, spares no words to express his disdain for Piper’s analysis:

After directly attributing these devastating, death-dealing storms to the sovereign, all-controlling God, Piper comments on what he might be trying to teach us. Despite his own warning — “We are not God’s counselors. Nor can we fathom all his judgments. That was the lesson of Job. Let us beware, therefore, of reading the hand of providence with too much certainty or specificity.” — Piper goes on to read three lessons in the storms:

  • Like Job, we should just submit and say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
  • We should heed Jesus’ words in Luke 13:4-5 and take every storm as a divine warning to repent.
  • We should not think that God’s people themselves are exempt from such judgments.

This is a pastor’s message in the immediate aftermath of a terrible disaster.

How comforting. How helpful. How sympathetic. How sensitive. How pastoral.

Not.

But then, a day later, Bene D. reports on the firing of three family members from the Crystal Cathedral/Hour of Power; a media ministry conglomerate now just a shadow of its former self. Lesser people would have waved a white flag at this point, but apparently the church and its television broadcast are soldiering on.  Bene links to the Orange County Register:

…On Sunday, Sheila Schuller Coleman is expected to give the sermon.

Meanwhile, the Hour of Power program, which once reached millions of viewers across the world, will replay previous episodes for the next few weeks while leaders “determine a new direction for the show.”

“Organizational changes affecting ministry leaders are never easy to make, especially when it involves individuals who have devoted their lives to this ministry and have served with great distinction,” John Charles, president of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries, said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision the Crystal Cathedral Ministries board of directors prayerfully deemed was necessary in order to make a change in direction for the ‘Hour of Power’ and reverse recent declining donations and viewership.”

Five other individuals were expected to lose their jobs in the reorganization.

“Because of privacy concerns, we won’t identify them,” the spokesman wrote in an e-mail.

This is the latest shake-up for the troubled ministry. Last month, Schuller Coleman was removed as the chief executive officer and president of the Ministries and replaced by Charles, who had previously held different positions with the Cathedral.

Then, on the same day, Bene D. reports the apology (sort of) from end-of-the-world date-setter Harold Camping, with the spin emphasis on the people who delved into Bible prophecy as a result of his flawed prophetic calendar. For this, he links to the Family Radio ministry website via Strang News:

Yes, we humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing; yet though we were wrong God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way. In the months following May 21 the Bible has, in some ways, come out from under the shadows and is now being discussed by all kinds of people who never before paid any attention to the Bible.

Do you see the connection? All that’s missing is Fred Phelps and the guy who was going to burn the Qur’an, whose name we have thankfully forgotten.  

Ministry organizations and individuals who have contributed greatly to the spiritual life of many have a sell-by date, and it’s time to disappear graciously and start writing memoirs. Memoirs that can be edited by others, as opposed to media statements and blog posts which appear all too quickly.

I say this with empathy. Having already reached an age where I have been sidelined from certain activities — worship leading is apparently now a young man’s game — I know that being silenced is not easy to take. But in the case of the men and women at the center of these three stories, it’s necessary.

Time does not permit me the luxury of fleshing out this topic as fully as I would like, but perhaps some of you can continue in the meta. Meanwhile, I want to add one extra story.  James Alexander Langteaux is a former senior producer for The 700 Club, who is the author of the forthcoming (April) book, “Gay Conversations with God – Straight Talk on Fanatics, Fags and the God who Loves Us All.  In an interview with Phil Shepherd at Huffington Post, he’s asked how he thinks his former boss, Pat Robertson will react when he comes out of the closet in a major way:

“…Well, after the uproar that resulted from Pat’s comments of dementia being grounds for abandonment in a marriage union, I’m not sure that really matters much…”

In other words, in Langteaux’s eyes, Robertson has already lost his voice.

Joining the dots in Bene Diction’s stories, John Piper, the Crystal Cathedral and Family Radio have lost their voices, too. 

Just as today’s younger communicators need to earn the right to be heard, the elder statesmen of the Christian church need to see that the ‘wisdom of age’ is not a respect automatically granted. Rather, it needs to be proven on a regular basis by statements that continually reflect that the person in question is wise.

In the end, the only expiry dates on credibility in ministry life are the ones we create for ourselves.

September 5, 2011

A Lesson in Humility

There are times we can be so convinced that God is leading us to do something, that even afterward, when the particular vision or project doesn’t meet expectations, it’s hard to believe that, in terms of its original goals, the project was a bit of a failure.

Many years back, I would wake up in the morning, have breakfast and brush my teeth, and somewhere between the cereal bowl and the restroom sink my brain would flash this:  “$100,000.”  I tried to interpret this in different ways.  Was it a reference to Canada’s daily Christian television show, 100 Huntley Street? No, I decided that what it meant was that I was to raise $100K for Camp Iawah.

Iawah — pronounced the same as Iowa — is an acronym for In All Ways Acknowledge Him. It’s the camp my wife and I met at, and the camp where our two boys served on staff this summer. I guess I was hoping that in the process of raising some money for them, I would be welcomed more warmly when I arrived on the property. The camp — though already a second home — would become my “Cheers” bar, where everybody knows my name and they’re always glad I came. Plus, like most parachurch ministries, they could really use the money for capital projects. Secretly, I hoped my efforts would raise $200K.

My strategy was to advertise in Canada’s national Christian magazine, Faith Today, a publication of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. To draw in interest on a national scale, I would focus on the ‘mission field’ aspect of eastern Ontario, the part of the province designated by the “K” postal code.

It’s important to note that this area stands in contrast to the relative ‘Bible belt’ of western Ontario. “K” at the time didn’t have more than 100 churches where there would be more than 100 adults present on a Sunday morning. Most of these were in major cities like Ottawa, Kingston, Peterborough, Belleville, etc. and “K” wasn’t the home of any major Christian organizations or Bible colleges.

“Name a mission field that starts with the letter ‘K'” was the tagline for the advertisements.

Yes, several ads. One for Camp Iawah. One for Northumberland Christian School, a ‘diamond in the rough’ where I had taught part-time for a year, which really needed a financial kick-start; and one for CHRI radio in Ottawa, Canada’s first-licensed commercial Christian radio station. The series of three advertisements would be a win-win-win. The magazine would be an immediate winner with some advertising revenue. My three (at the time) bookstores, also all located within the “K” code, would get fine-print mention at the bottom of the page, also ensuring a business write-off. And of course the organizations in question would be placed on the hearts of readers across the country who would respond with donations.

The first advertisement hit a bulls eye of sorts. The magazine was already running a cover story on Christian camping, and within a week, I was emailed that a family had signed up their kids for that summer. But after a couple of months, I was told, “If any donations we’ve received are a direct result of the advertisement, we aren’t aware of it.”

That was disappointing, but by then the next advertisement was already running. These were 1/3rd page display ads, and I was reminded that, “The effectiveness of any advertising campaign increases after several repetitions.” And due to a technical error, that second one got run twice. But six months in, money was neither pouring into the camp nor the school, and my attempt at raising awareness of ministry need in “K”-land was clearly flawed. I ran the third one anyway for CHRI Radio in Ottawa. After the eight month campaign, I wondered if just giving the money directly to the organizations in questions might not have been a better use of funds.

These were good advertisements, persuasive, informative and well written. So what went wrong? Here are some thoughts, you might have more to add:

  1. The first one, for the camp, was done with mixed motivation. I wanted greater acceptance there, so I sought to earn it somehow.
  2. I acted as a lone ranger, “gifting” my promotional and writing abilities to the organizations, but not working with those people to optimize the opportunity.
  3. I overestimated those same abilities, forgetting that I was, after all, a person who once held a yard sale to which absolutely no one came. A bit of a record, wouldn’t you say?
  4. I possibly needed a lesson in humility.
  5. I got confused by thought patterns like the “$100,000” thing that got stuck in my head, forgetting there are people who, every time they drive by a certain tree or stop sign on the way to work have a song that triggers in their brain for no apparently connected reason.

Since then, I’ve also learned the line, “The voices in your head may be due to the pizza you ate last night.”  But there are also some things that came out of this I need to remind myself:

  1. I did provide some needed revenue to the magazine.
  2. There was the family that signed up for camp, and apparently one that learned of the school.
  3. I will never know if some donations were sent as a direct result of the campaign but just not connected by the donors or the recipients. Or perhaps the ads served as a reminder to people who were already on the mailing list of those organizations.
  4. Despite a lack of tangible results, I did raise awareness of the needs in the “K” postal code, an area that continues to struggle.
  5. I was obedient to the vision I thought I had received with no negative complications or side-effects for pursuing that vision.

Fall is a time in ministry to dream dreams. You need to know with clarity that those dreams are God-sent, but that won’t always present itself with 100% assurance; some of it has to be a step of faith. You need to be willing to risk failure. You need to be willing to do the necessary analysis afterward to see if there’s anything you can learn. I believe that doing something is better than doing nothing.

[] [] []

Camp Iawah is growing and meeting spiritual needs in the lives of hundreds each year. If someone were wanting to invest in the lives of the next generation, this ministry organization would be at the top of my recommended list.  CHRI Radio has moved from being a commercial music station to the financially-safer format of selling blocks of air-time to radio ministries, but still requires donations to meet its budget. I believe that the Christian school still faces some long-term challenges, though its larger family of schools is worthy of support. 

And yes: The magazine Faith Today continues to be published by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, our equivalent of — but not connected with — the National Association of Evangelicals in the U.S.

July 23, 2011

Campus Crusade? No, Just Plain “Cru.”

Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI) is embarking on a nine-month mission to change its name to Cru, years after its founder, Bill Bright, wondered whether the evangelistic ministry should alter the brand. ~Christianity Today

They’ve taken the military theme out of Campus Crusade.  Can the hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers” be next?  That’s a discussion for another time.  Right now it’s about one organization.  And Campus Crusade (CCCI) has been taking some heat for this decision as indicated on its website:

Recent media reports have questioned our commitment to Jesus and our calling as ministers of the gospel. Those who know and partner with us realize that this is simply untrue. As an organization, we are unswervingly committed to proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ in all that we do. We are committed to the centrality of the cross, the truth of the Word, the power of the Holy Spirit and the global scope of the Great Commission.

As Christianity Today points out in an article this week, it’s a change that CCCI founder Bill Bright had talked about making but never implemented.  The move is part of a general trend:

Campus Crusade is not the first organization to distance itself from the term. In 2000, Wheaton College removed its Crusader mascot and eventually became the Thunder. Only this year, the school unveiled a physical mascot, “Stertorous ‘Tor’ Thunder,” a 2-person mastodon costume weighing 99 pounds (the largest mascot in the NCAA). In 2002, evangelist Billy Graham began using the word “mission” to describe what he always called “crusades.” His son Franklin Graham and evangelist Luis Palau call their gatherings “festivals,” while Greg Laurie uses “crusade.”

But many of the 80 people who left comments after reading the story aren’t convinced that “Cru” is the best they could come up with, even though the name was used internally by staff for many years; while some of the same respondents freely admit that it was time for “Crusade” to be retired.

  • If the problem is that the word Crusade is offensive, how does just shorting the word help?
  • So…we get rid of an organizational name that had name recognition that is the envy of almost every other Christian organization…Name recognition on par with World Vision or Red Cross….AND, we remedy all of this by SAVING three letters out of the offending word…and, make THAT our name?
  • What is with the trendy names? My own denomination the Baptist General Conference changed their name to Converge Worldwide. I guess I am now a “convergist.” What is that? What does it mean? What an idiotic name. “Cru” is another name that communicates NOTHING.
  • The thing about tattoos is that by the time you realize they’re stupid… its too late. Fortunately, this is not so with a stupid name. Change it; never should have had the dumb name to begin with.

Meanwhile, over at Faith and Reason, the religion blog of USAToday, Cathy Lynn Grossman focuses more on the dropping of the “…for Christ” element of the former name; a point which CCCI (or Cru) addresses at its website.

We were not trying to eliminate the word Christ from our name. We were looking for a name that would most effectively serve our mission and help us take the gospel to the world. Our mission has not changed. Cru enables us to have discussions about Christ with people who might initially be turned off by a more overtly Christian name. We believe that our interaction and our communication with the world will be what ultimately honors and glorifies Christ.

This is of course the thing that the “discernment blogs” are jumping all over.  I checked out a few of them.  But we’re not linking to them here, and we’re not posting their comments.

But Cathy Lynn also raises a point about the “Campus” element of the name:

And it turns out that “Campus” had become passe. The web site touts that the movement launched by Bill and Vonette Bright as a campus ministry in 1951 is now on 1,029 campuses. The group claims 37,900 new souls for Christ over the last five years.

That sounds exciting until you do the math — about seven converts per campus per year. However, the campus side of “Cru” — as it will be known next year when the re-branding is finished — is not the primary focus any more.

So what’s your take?  What’s in a name?  Do you like the sound of “Cru?”

July 10, 2011

Promise Keepers’ Seven Promises

There are some classic things that have been devised to reinforce Christian living that everybody needs to have read just once.  Like “The Four Spiritual Laws.”  Lots of people know that term.  But can you name them? 

With that in mind, a few weeks ago I posted here, just for the record Henry Blackaby’s Seven Realities of Experiencing God.   And then I thought, why not post here, just for the record, The Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper.  For those of you reading this from distant places, Promise Keepers is a men’s movement, the term refers to both the organization and those who commit to living out a spiritual legacy. 

So here are the seven statements that form the organization’s foundation.  Honestly, you can get these elsewhere, but people pay big money to subscribe to this blog…

PROMISE 1
A Promise Keeper is committed to honoring Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit.

PROMISE 2
A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.

PROMISE 3
A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.

PROMISE 4
A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.

PROMISE 5
A Promise Keeper is committed to supporting the mission of his church by honoring and praying for his pastor, and by actively giving his time and resources.

PROMISE 6
A Promise Keeper is committed to reaching beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.

PROMISE 7
A Promise Keeper is committed to influencing his world, being obedient to the Great Commandment (see Mark 12:30-31) and the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19-20).

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