Thinking Out Loud

May 4, 2021

The Church: Before and After

by Ruth Wilkinson

This is something I’ve been thinking about. See what you think…

There’s been a lot of discussion about what ‘church’ will look like after Covid-19, having experienced so much time away from in-person weekly gatherings. Previously, Sunday morning services were the hook on which many other programs and activities hung. It was where we started getting to know new people, and finding our place in the faith community. It was the forum in which we crystalized our shared identity.

Right now (with a very few exceptions) local congregations are operating without that centerpiece. We’re doing everything we did before, but in new ways. We’re building new relationships without necessarily making in-person contact. Some ministries are doing quite well online or in lawn chairs (weather permitting) which is an indicator, I think, that many churches are more healthy and organic than we might have given them credit for.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next few years. Will our music and other creative arts continue to grow into the rest of the week, and online? Will we have board members and elders who seldom if ever sit in a pew? Will programs and ministries continue to be financially supported by people who never meet a Sunday School teacher, but who pitch in at the soup kitchen? Will we need to adapt our policies and practices to allow for this evolution?
I guess we’ll see

April 15, 2021

An open letter to open churches

by Ruth Wilkinson

An open letter to open churches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 27, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Needn’t Be Seen as Problematic

In the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for the other one, I do want to share these here from time to time. This one appeared earlier this month…

Previous generations didn’t have the word, “megachurch.” Of course they didn’t have “televangelist” either. There were indeed large churches, however and there were preachers (George Whitefield is a good example) who preached to thousands — in the outdoors, no less — without the benefit of sound equipment. But we tend to look back favorably on those days, believing it was a matter of substance over style.

Today, we have popular preachers whose television ministries have huge followings and whose close-up pictures are plastered on the front cover of their books. (No, not just that one; I’m thinking of about six.)

The general conclusion at which people arrive is that they are getting those followers because they are saying what people want to hear. On close examination, it’s true that many of the hooks of their sermons and books are positive motivational sayings that also work on posters and coffee mugs.

For those of us who are insiders, we immediately default to the phrase itching ears. This is drawn from 2 Timothy 4:3

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. (NLT)

This true, probably more true now than ever, but the challenge for Christians today is that everyone who drives by a church with an overflowing parking lot is likely to jump to conclusions and declare that church liberal in their theology or empty of doctrines; or infer that people only go there for the music.

It’s true that Jesus warned his disciples they were not going to win a popularity contest. In Matthew 7: 13-14 he tells his disciples,

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”. (NIV)

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

Jesus had his own fall from popularity when he began what I call the tough teachings and others call the “hard sayings.” A month ago I referred to “the ominously verse-referenced” John 6:66

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (NIV)

Many of you grew up in churches where you were told you were part of “the chosen few” a reference to Matthew 22:14

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)

Jesus told his disciples that they would experience rejection in some places. In Matthew 10:14 he is saying,

If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. (NLT)

In other words, there is, at least in Evangelicalism, a mindset that says that we are a tiny remnant, and by extrapolation is suspicious of large crowds.

But there are exceptions.

I think of an American pastor who since Christmas has been walking his church through some very challenging sermons; raising the bar when it comes to expectations for both compassionate service and lifestyle evangelism. But he’s not off in a corner doing this, it’s one of the top ten churches in the U.S.

I think of two Canadian pastors, from two very different eras, who have a giftedness when it comes to taking Bible passage “A” and showing people how it relates to Bible passage “B.” I’ve seen both of them preach before thousands of people. It was far from “itching ears;” you had to work hard just to keep up with the note-taking, which is challenging when you’re sitting there with your mouth open going, “Wow!”

I think of Nicodemus who we characterize as coming to Jesus in secret. I was always taught that was the reason for his nighttime visit in John 3. But lately I read that the rabbis set aside the early evening for further discussion. He was coming back for the Q. and A. part of the teaching. He wanted more. I find him to be representative of people in the crowd who were there for all the right reasons. (Compare his motivation to that of Felix in Acts 24:25-26.) The itching ears crowd don’t come back for the evening service, the Tuesday morning Bible study, or the midweek prayer meeting.

The website Knowing Jesus has come up with more than 30 good examples of Jesus being surrounded by crowds. True, the Bible tells us that some of them were simply there for the miracle spectacle or the free lunches, but I’m sure that many of them were drawn to Jesus for greater, higher reasons. (There’s a limit to how many hours people will listen to teaching in order to get a fish sandwich lunch.)

So where did all this come from today? A friend posted this on Facebook. I’ve decided to delete the original author’s name.

His words appear deep, meaningful and mature, but indirectly he is lashing out against individuals or movements which are left unnamed. He’s implying that everyone who is drawing a big crowd is doing so at the expense of preaching the Word. I suspect his words land with people who are already on-side, so I don’t really get the point of posting things like this at all.

Furthermore, the inference is that the sign of a successful ministry is suffering, hardship and opposition.

Like so many things in scripture, there is a balance to be found.

In Matthew 5:14 +16, we find Jesus saying

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden”
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
(NASB)

If all you experience is suffering, hardship and opposition, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing everything right, but rather, it could be you’re doing something seriously wrong.

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

There is joy in serving Jesus
As I journey on my way
Joy that fills my heart with praises
Every hour and every day

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

 

February 18, 2020

Lost Voice 1: Rick

For the last few days here, I’ve shared the texts from something I started working on in 2010 called The Lost Voice Project. They’ve never been republished until now. This was the original one. Each is based on a true story, though names were changed…

You don’t notice it at first when you visit Rick and Emmy’s house, but after a minute or two you are somehow conscious of it: The house is totally wired; totally high-tech.

Rick’s ability in electronics includes a specialty in the interconnecting of various devices, a specialty that pre-dates the modern computer age. One of my personal favorites is subtle: It’s a reading lamp next to a big chair near the television. It’s wired into a master system that controls all the household lighting, making changes while the family is on holidays; but it’s also sensitive to someone walking into the room; it’s also voice activated; and just to make it interesting Rick added a fourth parameter, you can clap it on or off. He admits that one is a bit over-the-top.

You’d notice more if you went to his large workshop on the north end of the house. All kinds of things in process, some for himself, some things he puts together for friends. Leaving church the other day, he dialed a code on his cell phone that warmed up the food in the stove for lunch. That’s rather commonplace today, but Rick’s device was installed in 1995, when he had to use a land line to activate the thing.

By day, Rick works at something similar. Though he’s hoping to take an early retirement in about six years, he’s kept up with all the latest technology and is one of the top guys at his office. Mostly, he goes out on assignment to other companies; of the three portfolios he currently carries, the one that takes the majority of his days is with the State Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

In every casino, there’s an office somewhere staffed with people keeping minute-by-minute tabs on what each and every slot machine is up to. Constant updates are linked to video cameras. Some can open an audio channel and listen to conversations taking place at the machines. Rick is the guy who makes all that inter-connectivity possible.

Twice, they’ve offered Rick the same job working directly for them. Right now his company keeps a very fat portion of the consulting fee. Rick’s take home pay — already nicer than most peoples’ — would instantly double, but Rick’s not sure about the idea of a Christian working for the Lottery Corporation; this way he feels he’s at least one-step removed, and he can always ask to be assigned to another project.

But for Rick’s church, the decision has already been made. He’s been pigeon-holed, typecast and labeled. His association with the casino — which by implication is an association with gambling — simply makes him, in their view, a risk for any ministry role in the church, and because, as I said, his work for them pre-dates computer technology, that means he’s been doing projects for the lottery people on and off for most of the 23 years he’s attended Forest Ridge Church.

In practical terms this means he’s:

  • never been asked to be on the leadership board, even though he’d normally be prime candidate and make a major contribution
  • never been asked to lead a small group, even though he’s both knowledgeable and conversant about various Bible subjects
  • never been called on to read a scripture, open in prayer, or even make an announcement

Rick is one of the lost voices in the church; marginalized for what the leadership at Forest Ridge considers good reasons, but set aside nonetheless.

Rick and Emmy are faithful in attendance, though there are times in the summer when they opt to go for a drive in the country instead of attending a service; their aching to be involved more deeply is hard to bear. And Rick is using his gifts; he’s on the board of two small parachurch ministries in the city, and at least once every six months writes a letter to the editor of the local paper that truly speaks to an issue on behalf of the Christian community.

But somewhere along the line, Rick’s name was crossed off the list of the board nominating committee, he was passed over for consideration for small group leadership, and mostly Rick does not have a ministry role or leadership role in the church because he’s never had a ministry role or leadership role in the church.

Too much time has passed, and a new generation of leaders have written Rick off. Rick is one of the lost voices in the modern church, and it’s a shame, because he has so much to contribute.

February 17, 2020

Lost Voice 2: Lynn

Yes, I know, I’m re-publishing them out of numerical sequence…

When this blog was an e-newsletter, I announced something I was working on called The Lost Voice Project. Here is another sample chapter. As I said the first time, why have one unpublished book when you can have two?

Philip arrived at his new church after nearly a decade of serving as music director in another state. He and his wife weren’t sure if this was the right move since he would have to supplement it with a few hours of part-time work, but after ten years, they felt it was time for a change.

Most days consisted of scheduling rehearsals, working with soloists, fixing the sound system, choosing hymns for the traditional service and choruses for the modern service, and, at the very bottom of Philip’s list, ninety minutes weekly with the church’s Junior Band, a group of children who gave new meaning to the word cacophony.

And then Lynn called.

She was the parent of one of the kids in the aforementioned brass group, and had a question about a particular verse in the New Testament, and Philip was, after all, part of the pastoral staff, and the pastor was on vacation.

It turned out to be one of those verses. One of the challenging, difficult and perplexing verses in the NT which can be interpreted a few different ways. So Philip hauled out all his commentaries from Bible College, and proceeded to offer Lynn some classical insights into both the verse and its context.

“How did you do that?” Lynn asked. She had no history with Bible reference books and was immediately hooked. She bought some commentaries of her own, and suddenly was enrolled in a seminary-level course offered to mature students by another denomination.

One course led to another and soon she was on an eight-year track of part-time studies leading toward a Master’s degree in Theological Studies. In fact, Philip, who continued serving the same church for the entire duration of Lynn’s foray into doctrinal studies and church history once remarked to his wife, “She’s gone completely beyond anything I ever studied; she can talk circles around me when it comes to a variety of subjects.”

But ultimately, Lynn also, figuratively speaking, ‘priced herself out of the market’ when it came to serving in that church. Whereas before she might be asked to read a scripture or lead a prayer-time, she became a slight problem because,

  • first of all she was a woman who aspired to fulfill a pastoral role in a denomination that hasn’t, to this point, allowed such to take place; and
  • her credentials come from a particular school that is outside her home church’s comfort zone, even though nobody had ever challenged any of her beliefs, her textbooks, or her professors; and
  • her entire journey on this quest for theological understanding made her a bit of a mystic in the eyes of her home church; she was present every Sunday but to them increasingly theologically and spiritually distant, even if nobody could explain why.

So Lynn kept showing up for church, but eventually realized she no longer belonged and gave up any hope of using her new-found gifts there.

The denomination that trained her found her the occasional pulpit supply role and she was paid as a teaching assistant for a few of their undergrad courses, but serving that particular denomination had not been her particular goal.

Eventually, leadership batons were passed to people who never knew the earlier role Lynn had played in the formation of the church. She was regarded as a total outsider, not because of spiritual decay, or sin, or apathy, but because of her desire to grow deep in the knowledge of God, and her desire to use that knowledge to serve others.

Lynn is one of the lost voices in the modern church, and it’s a shame, because she has so much to contribute.

November 2, 2019

Unpacking the Meaning of Brokenness

Later today, Christianity 201 will publish its 3,500th post. It’s based on a scripture medley I found on Twitter on the subject of humility, and as we often do when a post comes in under 500 words, I often link to previous articles we’ve done on the same subject.

I came across this from 2010. It was posted by Daniel Jepsen, who many of you know from Internet Monk. It’s a summary of previous work by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. I’ll let him introduce this:

A year or two ago my friend Gina loaned me a book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss titled, Brokenness. I found the whole book helpful, but especially the description of what brokenness is. I printed this out last week to distribute to the class I am teaching on the holiness of God, and thought I would reprint it here. Warning: it is very convicting.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Proud people focus on the failures of others.
Broken people
are overwhelmed with a sense of their own spiritual need.

Proud people have a critical, fault-finding spirit; they look at everyone else’s faults with a microscope but their own with a telescope.
Broken people
are compassionate; they can forgive much because they know how much they have been forgiven.

Proud people are self-righteous; they look down on others.
Broken people
esteem all others better than themselves.

Proud people have an independent, self-sufficient spirit.
Broken people
have a dependent spirit; they recognize their need for others.

Proud people have to prove that they are right.
Broken people
are willing to yield the right to be right.

Proud people claim rights; they have a demanding spirit.
Broken people
yield their rights; they have a meek spirit.

Proud people are self-protective of their time, their rights, and their reputation.
Broken people
are self-denying.

Proud people desire to be served.
Broken people
are motivated to serve others.

Proud people desire to be a success.
Broken people
are motivated to be faithful and to make others a success.

Proud people desire self-advancement.
Broken people
desire to promote others.

Proud people have a drive to be recognized and appreciated.
Broken people
have a sense of their own unworthiness; they are thrilled that God would use them at all.

Proud people are wounded when others are promoted and they are overlooked.
Broken people
are eager for others to get the credit; they rejoice when others are lifted up.

Proud people have a subconscious feeling, “This ministry/church is privileged to have me and my gifts”; they think of what they can do for God.
Broken people
’s heart attitude is, “I don’t deserve to have a part in any ministry”; they know that they have nothing to offer God except the life of Jesus flowing through their broken lives.

Proud people feel confident in how much they know.
Broken people
are humbled by how very much they have to learn.

Proud people are self-conscious.
Broken people
are not concerned with self at all.

Proud people keep others at arms’ length.
Broken people
are willing to risk getting close to others and to take risks of loving intimately.

Proud people are quick to blame others.
Broken people accept personal responsibility and can see where they are wrong in a situation.

Proud people are unapproachable or defensive when criticized.
Broken people
receive criticism with a humble, open spirit.

Proud people are concerned with being respectable, with what others think; they work to protect their own image and reputation.
Broken people
are concerned with being real; what matters to them is not what others think but what God knows; they are willing to die to their own reputation.

Proud people find it difficult to share their spiritual need with others.
Broken people
are willing to be open and transparent with others as God directs.

Proud people want to be sure that no one finds out when they have sinned; their instinct is to cover up.
Broken people
, once broken, don’t care who knows or who finds out; they are willing to be exposed because they have nothing to lose.

Proud people have a hard time saying, “I was wrong; will you please forgive me?”
Broken people
are quick to admit failure and to seek forgiveness when necessary.

Proud people tend to deal in generalities when confessing sin.
Broken people
are able to acknowledge specifics when confessing their sin.

Proud people are concerned about the consequences of their sin.
Broken people
are grieved over the cause, the root of their sin.

Proud people are remorseful over their sin, sorry that they got found out or caught.
Broken people
are truly, genuinely repentant over their sin, evidenced in the fact that they forsake that sin.

Proud people wait for the other to come and ask forgiveness when there is a misunderstanding or conflict in a relationship.
Broken people
take the initiative to be reconciled when there is misunderstanding or conflict in relationships; they race to the cross; they see if they can get there first, no matter how wrong the other may have been.

Proud people compare themselves with others and feel worthy of honor.
Broken people
compare themselves to the holiness of God and feel a desperate need for His mercy.

Proud people are blind to their true heart condition.
Broken people
walk in the light.

Proud people don’t think they have anything to repent of.
Broken people
realize they have need of a continual heart attitude of repentance.

Proud people don’t think they need revival, but they are sure that everyone else does.
Broken people
continually sense their need for a fresh encounter with God and for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit.

~Nancy Leigh Demoss via Daniel Jepsen

 

 

September 5, 2019

When Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy Collide

Filed under: Christianity, culture, doctrine, ethics — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:54 am

Orthodoxy = Right belief.
Orthopraxy = Right practice.

I mentioned on Twitter that I would love to write an article with this title. I’m not sure this is the one. It seems to me that this is a topic that deserves a much fuller treatment.

Today, I simply want to document the observation that sometimes, even though we are dogmatic about what the Bible says on particular issues, and we’ve got our doctrine absolutely certain, advancing that is not always the best approach where real people are involved.

I think the popular phrase is, “Welcoming but not affirming.”

When you know real people, especially in your family, workplace, church community, or neighborhood, it’s hard to trumpet the judgment of God when the person involved is sitting right there in front of you.

Our approach is going to vary. Jesus didn’t always minister to people in similar situations in exactly the same way.

One of my regular C201 contributors shared this:

I like to think of God as Heavenly Father. My experience of fatherhood is that what is best can vary according to situation and the maturity of the children etc. I also have an expression: What is right is not always what is best.

I used the illustration in a sermon that it was completely fair how my brother and I took turns on the Atari 2600 depending on how long your guy lasted. It seemed that my brother played for hours while I played for minutes.

What is right is not always what is best.

It would be difficult for some Christians to wrap their minds around that. We’re supposed to be champions for truth, right? 

Some of you will sense that I had something else in mind when I first considered this, but Paul’s message in Romans 14 is certainly applicable:

13 In light of this, we must resolve never to judge others and never to place an obstacle or impediment in their paths that could cause them to trip and fall. 14 Personally I have been completely convinced that in Jesus, our Lord, no object in and of itself is unclean; but if my fellow believers are convinced that something is unclean, then it is unclean to them. (The Voice Bible)

Choosing a graphic image for these articles often adds an extra dimension. Today’s image (from MGM Ministries) reminds us that our words and actions can point people in one of two very different directions. 

The graphic below (from Christian Paradoxes) is a reminder that there is actually a trio of factors, but to delve deeper, I encourage you to use a search engine, as this topic is well covered online.

February 16, 2019

When Serving in Ministry is an Afterthought

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:15 am

It was 1989. The big city Christian bookstore closed at 6:00 PM on Saturday nights. At 5:30 he walked in and we got into a conversation where he let it be known that his reason for shopping was that he needed to buy an accompaniment tape as he was booked to be the “special music” at church the following morning. He wanted to listen to a few songs and “get some ideas.”

This wasn’t a small country church. This was a church that would have about 1,500 people in each of two services. The next day. In 15 hours.

img 021316He had left it to the very last minute.

I was reminded of this on Thursday when something similar happened at another Christian bookstore about an hour from where I live. The people needed six copies of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala.

They needed them for Saturday. The owner of the store wondered if I had any ideas.

Yes, I do! Plan ahead!

It amazes me how people can show up for work on time, pay their bills before the due dates, and never miss an oil change on the minivan, yet seem totally ill-equipped to do anything related to the church until it’s the last minute.

Historically, the typical stereotype was the Sunday School teacher who pulled out the lesson plan after supper on Saturday and spent ten minutes “going over it.” Is it too idealistic of me to imagine that somewhere there were Sunday School volunteers who began the process mid-week and actually allowed their minds to consider the lesson and fresh ways to present it? I certainly want to think that.

There’s a law in economics that states that everyone’s property is no-one’s property. What that means in this context is that many in the local church have simply never taken ownership of the life and ministry efforts of their local congregation.

img 021316aOne of the worst musical habits I picked up involved a group of instrumentalists who would be tuning their guitars or bass guitars and then, at a certain point, stop and exclaim, “Well… Good enough for gospel.”

Good enough for gospel? Is that what we’re aiming for? Simply good enough? Close enough? Whatever happened to “Do everything as unto the Lord?”

I was in church the next morning when the guy sang his solo. He did good, but not great. And I couldn’t enjoy it because I knew the story; the half-hearted, last-minute approach that had gone into preparing to minister in music that day.

February 4, 2019

People in Your Church — Not Just the Staff — Have Gifts

This concerns a topic that is recurring around our supper table. It was many years in the making, and something that both of us had been thinking and talking about for a long, long time before she wrote it all out. Not the first time presenting it here, but I believe it’s still relevant, if not more so than when all this happened.


• • • by Ruth Wilkinson

A number of years ago, a terrible thing happened.

Our local Christian school had just celebrated their Grade 8 graduation. Excited 14-year-olds, proud parents and grandparents, a ceremony, a party.

That was Friday evening.

One of the students, a girl, went home that evening, full of life and fun and hope, said good night to her parents, went to sleep, fell into a diabetic coma and died in the night.

The next day, phone lines burned up as the word spread and the Christian community prayed together for this family and for the girl’s friends.

Sunday morning during the service, the then pastor of #thechurchiusedtogoto mentioned the terrible thing in his ‘pastoral prayer’ before the sermon and the congregation prayed together for the comfort and healing of us all.

Over the next week, it started to sink in as these things will do, and a lot of people, solid believers who love Jesus, began asking hard questions. People deeply wounded by the fact that God could allow this to happen.

We own the local Christian bookstore, and some of these folks came in looking for answers. The best we could do was share their questions and their pain. Because there are no answers, besides the trite ones that don’t work.

The next Sunday, I was scheduled to lead worship. I chose songs that were familiar and simple, songs that spoke only of who God is and always had been and avoided “I will worship you” and “Thank you” types of lyrics.

On the platform, in my allotted one minute of speech, I said that a terrible thing had happened last week. That a lot of us were still hurting and questioning and angry. That it can be difficult to sing praises at a time like this, out of our woundedness. But that God was still God and though we don’t understand, we can trust him.

And we sang.

The next day, I got an email. From the (P)astor. Telling me off.

Apparently I had crossed a line. I’d been “too pastoral”. He said that I had no right to address the need in the congregation that week because he had “mentioned it” in his prayer the week before. And that was his job, not mine.

This was in the days before I was liberated enough to allow myself to ask, “What the hell?” so I went with the sanctified version of same, “What on earth?”. How could I possibly have been wrong to acknowledge what we were all thinking, and to act accordingly?

But, knowing from long experience that there was no point in arguing, I acquiesced and he was mollified.

However.

That episode stuck with me. Like a piece of shrapnel the surgeons couldn’t quite get.

“Too pastoral”.

Ephesians 4:11 speaks about gifts given to “each one of us”. The writer lists 5. Widely accepted interpretation of this verse sees each of the 5 as a broad category of Spirit-borne inclination and ability, with every one of us falling into one or another.

Apostles – those whose role it is to be sent. To go beyond the comfort zone and get things started that others would find too intimidating or difficult. Trailblazers.

Prophets – those whose role it is to speak God’s heart. To remind us all why we do what we do, and, whether it’s comfortable or not, to set apart truth from expediency. Truth-speakers.

Evangelists – those whose role it is to tell others about Jesus. To naturally find the paths of conversation that lead non-believers to consider who Christ is. Challengers.

Pastors – those whose role it is to come alongside people, to meet them where they are and to guide them in a good direction. To protect, to direct, to listen and love. Shepherds.

Teachers – those whose role it is to study and understand the written word of God, and to unfold it to the rest of us so we can put it into practice. Instructors.

I’ll be the first to point out that “worship leader” isn’t included in the list. Which means that those of us who take that place in ecclesial gatherings must fall into the “each one of us” who have been given these gifts.

Every time a worship leader (or song leader or whatever) stands on the platform of your church and picks up the mic, you are looking at a person to whom has been given one of the 5-fold gifts.

But can you tell?

Don’t know about you, sunshine, but I want to.

I think that, after a week or two, you should be able to tell. From their song choices, from the short spoken word they’re given 60 seconds for on the spreadsheet, from what makes them cry, smile, jump up and down – you should be able to tell that:

  • This woman has the gift of an evangelist. She challenges us to speak about Jesus to the world because he died for us.
  • That guy has the gift of a teacher. He chooses songs with substance and depth of lyric. He doesn’t just read 6 verses from the Psalms, he explains things.
  • That kid is totally a prophet. He reminds us of what’s important and what’s not.
  • This dude is an apostle. He comes back to us from where he’s been all week and tells us what’s going on out there.
  • This woman is a pastor. Her heart bleeds when yours does. She comes alongside and walks with you through the good and the bad and encourages you to keep going.

A worship leader who is free to express their giftedness in the congregation is, himself, a gift to the congregation.

A worship leader who is bound by rules and by “what we do” is a time filler.

Church “leadership” who restrict the use of Christ-given gifts are, in my humble opinion, sinning against the Spirit and the congregation.

Those gifts are there for a reason.

Let us use them.


September 15, 2018

Weekend Archives: Best of the Early Years

Three posts, with some updating, from our very first year…

My Paraphrase of II Tim 3:16 – The Purpose of the Bible:


Today’s New International Version (TNIV)

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for

  • teaching
  • rebuking
  • correcting…
  • training in righteousness

The Message

Every part of scripture is God-breathed and is useful one way or another —

  • showing us truth
  • exposing our rebellion
  • correcting our mistakes
  • training us to live God’s way

New Living Translation (NLT)

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to

  • teach us what is true…
  • make us realize what is wrong in our lives…
  • correct us when we are wrong…
  • teach us to do what is right

My very loose paraphrase

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

What Your Library Says About You:

Several years ago we were asked to stop in at the home of man who was well known in the Christian music community here in the 1980s. He passed away on the last day of August, and because he had some books and Bibles, and because we’re in the book and Bible business, we were asked to help find a home for some things.

We were only there an hour, but it got me thinking about the stuff we own, the stuff we collect, the stuff we purchase, the stuff we save and the stuff we leave behind. Someday, everyone reading this will be gone and perhaps someone else will be going through their stuff trying to decide was is valuable and what is not; what is worth keeping, what is worth selling and what is worth giving away; what ought to go where and to whom.

I have always believed that a man consists of more than the abundance of his possessions. But the things we hold on to, the things we value, say a lot about the people we are. It tells those who follow after us what our priorities were. I remember visiting an artist once who had a vast collection of what artists and printers refer to as paper stock samples. He then — somewhat tongue in cheek, because he was a Christian — said, “These are my gods.” Others would not say this as humorously.

The man whose library we went through today was different. He didn’t really own much in the sense of having stuff that was marked for long-term ownership. His name wasn’t written in the front of a lot of books. Instead, he had temporary ownership of things he wanted to give away. Books, booklets, Bibles, sermon audio discs, sermon DVD discs. It’s a nice legacy to leave.

His ‘giving away’ ministry was much a big part of who he was, though. I said to a visiting missionary yesterday, that in our local area, after years of meeting with the broadest assortment of the Christian community, I have only met about six people who are truly passionately committed to evangelism. This man was one of them. Finding someone to fill his shoes was quite a challenge, but as I write this, years later, 90% of his materials found a home.

The Mystery Man and His Gift of Encouragement:

For over twenty years now, I’ve carried a secret that is only known to my wife and two kids. The secret concerns the identity of a guy who was used in our lives to be an encouragement to us at a time when no one else filled that role.

We had been several months into our retail store in a market where three previous stores had failed over the past six years. In fact, we were the fourth Christian bookstore and the sixth location in six years. The first and last of these were “second” stores for established retailers, the middle one was a family with a strong retail history. We figured we didn’t stand a chance. Heck, we didn’t even bother installing a telephone. I figured three to six months and it would be over; but the pre-existing business would at least have a chance to blow out some inventory in the process.

And then Mr. ___ walked in. Carrying about six bags of groceries. Interesting groceries, too; stuff we didn’t know what to do with. Lots of pork. And cabbage. And those little cubes you put in water to make beef broth. But it was all so very encouraging. A week later Mr. ___ showed up again, with more cabbage and more broth cubes. And the next week, too. And so on for about six months, and then later it switched to a weekly thing with a little bit of cash here and there to buy similar amounts of groceries.

When we finally realized why the other three Christian retailers had failed in this particular small town, we decided to wrap it up. The problem? How to tell Mr. ___ that it wasn’t working. I did not want to break his heart or make him feel like he’d been used, or that he’d contributed to something that wasn’t going to last. So we deferred the decision another week. And kept deferring it.

Not many years later, we were a chain of three stores in three cities. All because we didn’t quit. Or more accurately, because we were so surrounded by encouragement, so pumped by someone cheering us on in the stands, that we just kept running the race.

His weekly visits lasted over a year. I learned later that he could ill afford to be buying us groceries. He said that God would tell him when it was time to quit, and once we rounded the corner financially, his visits stopped. I only ever saw him two or three times after that.

This guy did not want to be known. This was our secret. He was quite clear on that. It reminded me of Jesus performing a miracle and then telling the recipient to say nothing about it. (But wait; it was a miracle!) The man in our story and his wife may have been the last people on earth that you would guess would play a pivotal role in a ministry that would bless the entire Christian community in three towns. But my wife and kids know differently. God used this couple to get us to keep going when everything around said it was time to pack it in.

The world needs a lot more people like Mr. ___ .

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