Thinking Out Loud

May 3, 2012

Focusing Outward

Ever been to a sod turning?

A sod turning ceremony is what happens when members of a church that is about to move to new property go en masse to the new site where someone with a shiny shovel digs into the ground to symbolically represent the machinery which will then soon come to start moving earth to begin construction of the new facility.

Usually the members gather in a circle — perhaps even joining hands — to watch and then a prayer of dedication for the land. (The building dedication happens when the place is complete.)

Anyway, I heard a story recently about a church where, as it came to the gathering in a circle part, when it was time to pray, instead of facing inward, they formed the circle with everyone facing out, in recognition of the larger community they intend to serve.  Personally, I think they got it, and that’s the kind of faith family I would want to join.

I thought of that this morning when Zach at Vitamin Z reposted this piece from Thom Rainer.  (Yeah, the LifeWay guy… see, we can be open minded.) Click the link on the title to read the full introduction.

The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church

  1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.
  2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.
  3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.
  4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.
  5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.
  6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.
  7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.
  8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.
  9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.
  10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.

~Thom Rainer

What Thom doesn’t list here of course is the opposite, the ten signs of an outwardly obsessed church.  That, of course, would be a description of the whole Missional Church movement, and its characteristics wouldn’t be the opposite of these ten, but would instead would be indicators of apostolic, incarnational ministry.

Here’s a piece from Rev. Dr. Ronald Carlson with six characteristics of a Missional church. It’s a lengthy 2007 American Baptist Churches document that was only available as a .pdf file, so I’ve greatly edited and freely paraphrased it here.  But in the interest of equal time:

Six characteristics of a Missional Church

  1. Considers its context to be a changing mission field.  The church allows itself to enter into situations where the beliefs, culture, language and social needs are greatly different from its own.
  2. Is active in, and supportive of missions. The church frees up its members to be involved in longer term projects, according to individuals gifts and abilities.
  3. Gives recognition to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.  In other words, the mandate to make disciples and the mandate to go out and be ‘love in action’ are not mutually exclusive but are one and the same.  You can’t have one without the other, and if you over-emphasize one you are under-emphasizing the other.
  4. Recognizes that all people are both the subject and object of mission. We exist not to be served but to serve, but also need to be reminded that Jesus received the service of others offered to him. Again, there is a balance.
  5. Engages in transforming persons, systems, cultures, and communities.  This includes transforming the church itself by creating new structures but know when to discontinue others.  This is best accomplished through a partial assimilation into the broader culture; something we often tend to want to avoid.
  6. Multiplies churches, disciples, mission. This is done not through cloning the original, but by constantly creating new teams and projects which spring from the original and its purpose but may take different forms to accomplish different purposes.

Michael Frost’s Five Characteristics of a Missional Community is also worth remembering:

  1. Bless. We will bless at least one other member of our community every day.
  2. Eat. We will east with other members of our community at least three times a week.
  3. Listen. We will commit ourselves weekly to listening to the promptings of God in our lives.
  4. Learn. We will read from the Gospels each week and remain diligent in learning more about Jesus.
  5. Sent. We will see our daily life as an expression of our sent-ness by God into this world.

Okay, my sod turning picture turned out to be for a sports club.  I was going to change it — and did once already —  but it best captured what I was going for, though I doubt they closed in prayer. Of course because I tagged it “church sod turning,”  now it will turn up in image searches perpetuating the error; another reason why you can’t believe anything you see on the internet.


I also meant to say here that articles like Rainer’s as good as they are, a dime a dozen in the Christian blogosphere.  It’s so easy — and I fall into this trap, also — to simply offer criticism and point out errors and negative traits present in many of our churches. That’s why I made this piece rather lengthy by finding a couple of examples of the opposite in order to give balance; but it is also why the missional church model is somewhat foreign to many people, perhaps even some of you reading this.  I encourage you to look into Michael Frost’s books if you want to uncover more.

July 20, 2011

Wednesday Link List

John McPherson of Close to Home fame kicks off and ends this week’s link list.  Click the images to view more.  I wonder if Rob Bell bought the print or t-shirt of the one above?

  • Is the term ‘Evangelical’ losing its meaning or become too broad a term?  Randy Alcorn digs deep into that question.
  • A year too late, as it turned out, I discovered Lance, who made some of the best fan videos for Christian music songs I’ve ever seen.  Check out God of this City.  Anybody know if he’s making these under another user name?
  • And speaking of music, Dan Kimball returns — I think he’s covered this before — to question the whole notion of “worship equals music” which can cloud our thinking about true worship.
  • How could I not link to an article titled, “Oral Tradition of the Gospels and Justin Bieber”? Actually, Dan Rodger makes a good point about the reliability of scripture.
  • Can I still use the word “missional” without sounding dated?  Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi has a great video embed titled Church Without a Wall.
  • You’d be forgiven for not knowing this, but the Roman Catholic Church has done some serious thinking about the use of worship music in its services.  Read about this at Internet Monk.
  • Anyone who has ever dealt with foreign language issues knows the absurdity of some of our Bible translation debates, as Dana illustrates with a couple of Spanish examples.
  • As her book Not Afraid of Life is published, Bristol Palin talks about abstinence with Christianity Today.
  • Brad Lomenick gets Jon Acuff to say funny things.  BTW, Jon guested at Cross Point Church at all the weekend services; audio/video is at iTunes.
  • As promised we end with another John McPherson.  If I’m remembering correctly, back in the day John had a book or two of his religious-flavored panels published by Zondervan.

March 5, 2011

Hell? – Depends What you Mean by That

This extremely timely item first appeared here three years ago and actually originates with Dan Kimball back in January, 2008:

The Importance of Definitions

This week the Doctor of Ministry co-hort I am part of…has had some on-line discussion on definitions. This morning I had a breakfast meeting with two friends… and the same topic came up about defining the terms we use.

It seems that sometimes different people have different definitions of those words. Or the original definition of a term may have changed through time and one person is still are using it in the original way, while others are using it a different way. So you are having a conversation and assuming the other person believes the same thing you do about whatever term is being used, but you are actually talking about different things when asked to specifically define it.

This comes up a lot with such things like the word “evangelical”. Originally it had one meaning, but through time it has become more equated with a certain brand of political conservative right-wing Christians. The word “fundamentalist” in its beginning also had a much different meaning than it has today.

There is often the confusion of what the definition of “the emerging church” is.  I can say at least for how I was originally using it, it has changed to a much broader definition. There is the whole “emerging church” and “emergent church” definitions and comparisons which only confusing things. But the definitions of certain words and terms can change.

…We were talking about theological and biblical terms and their definitions…how someone can say “I believe…” about something. But when asked to define what they believe or mean by a word specifically, it may differ from what the other person would define it as.

For example (and these all come from real discussions) – someone may say they believe in….

“the church“ – but is their definition of church is more of a building and a place. People who say they “go to church” theologically really can’t do that since we are the church. It normally means a building when you say you go to church. So you may hear someone say “church” but they are more defining it by the worship gathering that happens in a building vs. the people wherever they may be.

“the Gospel” –  someone may say they believe in the Gospel, but what is their specific definition of the Gospel? There may be very significant differences in how one defines that.

“missional” – someone may say they are missional, but to them it means focusing most of their time on serving the poor and needy or getting involved in service projects in their community. To another it may mean putting on a large evangelistic event with Christian pop bands and lights and having an altar call where you raise your hand and pray. (In this case, I guess it sort of could be both, but I wouldn’t necessarily think these are holistic ways of defining missional or emerging-missional).

“Virgin Birth of Jesus” – someone may say they believe in the Virgin Birth. But is the Virgin Birth they believe in a parable or allegorical understanding of it, or a literal, it really happened understanding of it?

“hell” – someone may say they believe in hell, but it is an eternal punishment/separation hell or is it referring to more of the hell on earth people may go to in this life?

“inspired Scriptures“ – someone may say they believe in the inspired Scriptures, but it is the inspiration as in the Holy Spirit guiding the human authors so that exactly what God wanted in the Scriptures are there – or is it more of inspiration as in human beings writing out their own best thoughts and efforts to write about God, more like a person is “inspired” to write a song today or write a novel?

“Jesus” – someone may say they believe in “Jesus”, but as I know fully well from writing the They Like Jesus but not the Church book – someone can believe in the Jesus who is more like a Buddha or a Gandhi and follow their teachings, but it is a different Jesus than the Jesus who is the Son of God, died, came back to life,  divine, Judge, Savior, coming back bodily one day etc.

…It is so easy to assume we are saying the same thing, when we may have drastically different definitions of the words. I try now to actually ask for specific definitions from people. It really helps me understand what others mean by certain terms where I am have assumed we had the same definition until I asked.

I am trying my best as I teach in our church to be defining words as I am using the word, in particular with terms like the ones above.

~Dan Kimball


Lost posts:  Do you have a classic blog post that you once read on someone’s blog that you find to be even more relevant today than the day it was posted? We’re looking for the lost blog posts from more than 2 years ago that we can revive here or at Christianity 201.  Add the URL as a comment to this one.

Comments: I’ll be mostly offline over the weekend if moderation is needed it might take longer than normal.


February 2, 2011

Wednesday Link List

We read blogs so you don’t have to!  Or something.

  • Brent Mosley is president of Bluefish TV, the company that makes — among other things — those little two-minute video clips that start your weekly worship service.  He blogs, too.  Check out Is The Church Telling The Complete Story?
  • Speaking of video, it’s been three years since it was filmed and two years since it was released on DVD, but now you can watch Joe Manafo’s detailed 42-minute documentary study of alternative churches in Canada in its entirety at the website for One Size Fits All.
  • A list with ten things is actually easier to produce than when you decide to narrow it down to five.  And these five are well-chosen.  Trevin Wax posts Five Trends to Watch for in Evangelical Christianity.
  • And speaking of Trevin, here’s a video of a church promotion that he (and Zach at Vitamin Z) think is one of the best church advertisements ever.  “Before we tell you who we are, we want to tell you who we were.”
  • Contemporary Christian book author Skye Jethani tells why he doesn’t read many books by contemporary Christian book authors, in a piece at Out of Ur provocatively titled, I Read Dead People.
  • Dan Horwedel whisks you on a link-list journey of his own in a fascinating examination of the Christian worship song, God of This City.  Both the major-key version and the minor-key version.
  • I don’t read — let alone link — to Ann Welch’s blog very often because it’s more of a women’s blog and a parenting blog, but she’s been in the link-list here since day one because she is a blogger who has my utmost respect. Here’s a shorter piece even the guys can take a minute to read at her blog Resolved 2 Worship, titled Dart Throwing.  (Turn your speakers up, too; she’s got a great blog playlist.)
  • Chuck Colson believes that while most Christian children’s books contain a Bible narrative followed by “the moral of the story,” we need to teach kids to recognize the worldview being promoted in everything they read.  And he’s introducing a product that will help them do just that.
  • Pete Wilson raises the oft-discussed issue of swearing, or things that some people consider swearing.   200 comments so far about words like darn, dang, heck, geez, and shoot.  (And then, Daniel Jepson raises the same topic, too.)
  • A woman in a senior’s home invites John Shore into her room, and then dies holding on to John’s hand.  Yikes!  Obviously, readers are wondering why the story is just surfacing now.
  • Albert Mohler thinks that Piers Morgan’s interview with Joel Osteen identifies one topic where we either stand for Biblical truth or we try to dance around its politically incorrect implications.  Mohler says that sooner or later we’ll have to deal with our own Osteen Moment.
  • A Tennessee pastor refused to baptize a couple’s baby because the couple wasn’t married. He wants to make a statement about teen pregnancy.
  • Time for a quick hymn sing.  Here’s a couple of versions of a classic hymn that is well-known in England but not at all in North America.  One version is more modern, the other is most formal, but both of them work.  Check out Tell Out My Soul.
  • This week we should pay Trevin a commission.  If you’ve read the bestselling book Radical by David Platt (Waterbrook), you know all about “Secret Church.”  Well, this year, the event is available as a simulcast for any church that wants in. (Posted even though the event is a Lifeway thing. Look guys; no hard feelings!)
  • Here’s a return of a Link List favorite; Mike Morgan’s weekly comic, For Heaven’s Sake.

January 31, 2011

Jerusalem, Judea and the Uttermost Parts

I had an interesting conversation after church yesterday.

The pastor had quoted the verse we commonly refer to as “The Great Commission;” the verse which reads,

Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The person who spoke to me has a huge compassion for Israel and is willing to share this passion with any who want to know more about the various facets of how modern Israel fits into Old Testament history, New Testament studies, evangelism and missions, eschatology, etc.  We’ve had some great interactions, and I’ve learned much about The Holy Land from our conversations and various items she’s given me to read.

She suggested to me that perhaps the passage in Acts 1:8 might actually be taken most literally.  That we should be evangelists in Jerusalem.

I told her that neither those we call the “church fathers” nor modern commentators have interpreted this passage that way.  I mean, it’s an interesting take on the passage, and certainly in first century context it is correct; but we tend to read their commission into our commission and when we do so, we tend to think of Jerusalem as the place where we’re standing or sitting right now.  The place we call home.  My Jerusalem is the close family, co-workers, immediate neighbors, etc. who in a sense, only I can reach.

But people do read scripture differently, and many passages that seem straight-forward are subject to different understandings; just as I thought my wife was getting take-out today, and she thought I was going to meet her at the fast food place.  (We ended up eating at home.)

So in Acts and Paul’s epistles, my friend at church sees Paul’s consuming drive to bring the Gospel to the Jews; whereas I read Acts and am struck by how Paul was compelled to go to Rome against all odds.  (To be fair, both elements are present; “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”)

Driving home, my wife pointed out that a most-literal reading of the passage would be difficult since Samaria no longer exists and the “end of the earth” (ESV and NKJV) or the even more archaic “ends of the earth” (HCSB and strangely, NLT, above) no longer applies to an earth we know is round and has no ends.  (I like the NASB here, “the remotest parts of the earth.”  Good translation and very missional.)

I’m not sure I agreed with the pastor’s take on Samaria, however.  He chose Toronto, a city about an hour west of where we live, as our “modern Samaria” because of its cosmopolitan nature; because it’s a gateway to so many cultures impacting the rest of the world.  Truly when Jesus met the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, it was a clash of cultures in several ways at once.

But Samaria would not be seen that way by those receiving the great commission.  In Judea they will like me and receive but in Samaria we have a mutual distrust and dislike for each other. Samaria is the place you don’t want to go to.  Your Samaria may be geographically intertwined in your Jerusalem or your Judea.  Your Samaria may be at the remotest part the earth and it’s your Samaria because it’s at the ends of the earth.

Your Samaria may be the guy in the next cubicle that you just don’t want to talk to about your faith, but feel a strong conviction both that you need to and he needs you to.  Your Samaria may be the next door neighbor whose dogs run all over your lawn doing things that dogs do.  Your Samaria may be the family that runs the convenience store where you rent DVDs who are of a faith background that you associate with hatred and violence.   Your Samaria may be atheists, abortionists, gays, or just simply people who are on the opposite side of the fence politically.   Your Samaritan might just be someone who was sitting across the aisle in Church this weekend.

And perhaps, with its heat, humidity and propensity toward violence, perhaps your Samaria is modern-day Jerusalem.

October 20, 2010

Wednesday Link List

  • Making the Same Mistake Twice? Department:  Nobody felt the original reached its true potential so there’s going to be a remake of the Left Behind movie.   Guess who’s doing it?  Cloud Ten Pictures, the exact same company that made the first one.   Huh?
  • Truth is Stranger than Fiction Department:  The American who pastor who threatened to burn the Qu’ran and then didn’t is getting a free car just for being a good boy.  “Okay, Terry; you’ve been a good boy and remembered not to play with matches; so here’s the present we promised you…”
  • Personal Inventory Department:  Trey Morgan on the various things people use to gauge their self-worth.  What’s your’s based on?
  • Indie Christian Artist Department:   If you like dance music with bass that thumps while at the same time enjoying strongly Bible-based lyrics, check out the song “Life” by artist Beckah Shae.   Or go here for the YouTube now closing in on 200,000 views.   (Is that someone blowing a shofar in the background?)  Here’s another one:  Here in this Moment is closing in on 300,000 views.
  • Iniquities, Transgressions and Sins, Oh My! Department:  Washington, DC pastor Mark Batterson introduces the Jewish understanding of the three dimensions of sin.
  • Ecclesiology For Fun and Profit Department:  David Paul Door says when you plant a church, you have to think less like a pastor and more like a missionary.
  • You Really Should Read This Department:  A Christianity Today interview with Joni Earekson Tada on suffering, chronic pain, and breast cancer.
  • “I’m a Full Gospel Preacher” Department:   Challies posted this link this week to Erik Raymond, the Irish Calvinist, answering the musical question: Why are some pastors so fat? Except he didn’t bother with the word “some.”
  • Gettin’ Ready to Party Department:  If tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1611 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the KJV, the author of Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible figures we’d better know a little about James Stuart.  Here’s the video trailer for the book which officially released yesterday.
  • Why Can’t We All Just Sing Along? Department:  CNN gets church choirs across North America to join together on a verse and chorus of Andrae Crouch’s classic, “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power;” and then attempts to blend them all as one.
  • Amish Fiction Overload Department:  If you can’t get enough of the Amish through the fiction section of your Christian bookstore, you can learn more about them in the popular blog Amish America.
  • For our cartoon today, we return to the most prolific of the Baptist Press artists, Joe McKeever:

September 25, 2010

Post-War Missional Christians

So let’s pretend that you go to a megachurch in a large urban area.   Oh wait, that’s not a ‘pretend’ for many of you.   Now let’s pretend that your church is one of the really “hot” churches in town; you’ve got a great children’s, youth and college and career program, and nobody would consider missing a Sunday service if at all possible.

But let’s pretend that if you were to take a drive and head about an hour — at least an hour — out of town,  where there were people in a small town or village who simply didn’t have the same exposure to an urban church like yours.   And let’s pretend that you took some other people with you, and also took some of the passion and excitement you had about your faith.

Maybe your end product would look different than the kind of “road show” that the man pictured at left was part of.   Russell Wilkinson lived in a different era to be sure, but his weekly trips to the little town of Mount Albert were no small adventure.  It was a long, long drive northeast from the city of Toronto; especially on the rare occasions where they picked up children and teens there, drove them to a special service in Toronto, drove them home to Mount Albert and then drove back again.   In a post-war time before freeways or even good roads.

I like that they (a) identified a group of people who were unable to connect with the church ministry programs going on in the city, and (b) did something about it.   The term “missional” may not have existed back then, but this was classic “missional” thinking.    I am sure that their willingness to do this also had some measurable impact on the parents of the youth they got to know.

They didn’t just absorb all the great music and teaching that went on at their big-city church, but they shared the gospel of Jesus Christ out of the overflow of all they had received.

I still have the trumpet in the picture.   Until today, I’ve always thought of it as a musical instrument, but it was an instrument of ministry, too.

What are you doing this fall to connect people with Jesus?

August 12, 2010

Steven Furtick: Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me

I’ve just finished reading an advance copy of Sun Stand Still: What Happens When You Dare to Ask God For the Impossible by Steven Furtick, the pastor of the rapidly growing Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC.   The title, releasing another “sun significant” day, September 21st from Multnomah Books,  is based on Joshua’s prayer in Joshua chapter 10.  “There has never been a day like it before…” (vs 13 NIV)

This is a book about prayer, and it’s a book about faith, and mostly, it’s a book about praying prayers of faith, or what he calls audacious prayers.   As such it’s a title that will inspire next-generation Christ-followers to stretch their faith in prayer; a book that might be given to a teen or twenty-something and/or someone who is new to the family of faith.

The author quotes Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire early on and in many ways this book stands in that tradition of — and I hate to use this word because it can diminish the impact — books on prayer that are truly inspiring.

But beyond the reading process which I began several days ago, I decided to dig a little deeper to, if you’ll forgive the nameplay, see what makes Steven Furtick tick.

The book begins with the story of Elevation Church filling the Time Warner Arena in Charlotte the year on Easter Sunday; a dream planted in Steven Furtick’s heart just four years earlier.     Reports ranged from attendance figures of 10,000 to the figure on the Elevation Worship Blog, 11,600.   (It also lists the worship pieces that morning; of the eleven, six were from Hillsongs.)

I decided to watch the service online, but presented with a range of sermons, decided to jump into something else, only to find myself watching a guest speaker, North Point’s Andy Stanley.   In the process of trying to ascertain where Furtick and Elevation fit into the larger map of American Christianity, Andy Stanley came as a bit of a surprise.

That’s because — as my reading of the book and eventual viewing of the Easter sermon and two other sermons convinced me — Furtick’s message and style seems to fit into a long line of Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition.  For the Time Warner Arena occasion, he donned a suit which, combined with the dynamics of the arena, couldn’t help remind me of Joel Osteen.

But I’m not sure that Furtick would welcome the comparison.   I decided to dig into his blog; not just current entries, but ones from its beginnings in the fall of 2006.    He considers Craig Groeschel and Perry Noble mentors, and there’s nothing in his church’s core beliefs that hints of Pentecostalism.

Maybe it was just the Easter suit thing.   Or the traditional invitation at the end of the messages.  Or having the congregation stand for scripture readings. Or the “Amen Corner” on the website.

…Or maybe it’s part of our fallen nature that anytime someone has a faith-stretching, big-believing message we want to categorize or pigeon-hole that person with a “Charismatic” label, instead of recognizing that this is what it means to follow Christ as the early disciples understood it, and as we’re reminded in a story early in the book, Christians in the third world or persecuted church understand it today.   In fact, in some places Furtick would challenge the prosperity or claim-it message of hardcore Charismatics.

In the end, I have to conclude that Steven Furtick is a hybrid.   His next-generation appeal might earn him the label Emergent Charismatic.   Neither adjective is fully accurate here — how about Missional Pentecostalbut it’s the best I got because Sun Stand Still is a Spirit-filled message of classical Biblical faith, but it’s a 30-year-old’s fresh take on a classic Old Testament passage that any young person should enjoy reading.

The book will energize your prayer life no matter where you are on your journey with Christ.   If you want to dig in to more of Elevation online, you’ll find some powerful and passionate preaching with a wisdom beyond Steven Furtick’s years.

Reviewer’s Notes:

  1. Thanks to Norm at Augsburg Canada (Multnomah’s up-North distributor) for the advance copy.
  2. Elevation’s online sermon server gets you a full-screen, high-def video sermon every time, that downloads quickly provided you’ve got the bandwidth. Clearly among the best I’ve seen.   I don’t see an audio option.
  3. Given the aforementioned appeal to younger readers, I gotta seriously question Multnomah’s decision to release this in hardcover at $20 U.S. ($23 CDN)   I hope initial sales don’t discourage those involved, because this is a natural title for paperback first edition. UPDATE:  This will release in paperback at $14.99 US/$16.99 CDN.  They must have been reading this blog!!
  4. If you click on the “comments” section for this post (below) you can watch the promotional video for the book featuring Steven’s ever-changing hairstyles!

February 18, 2010

Christian Radio in Crisis

The names and faces are familiar as are the names of the various radio programs:

  • Insight for Living – Chuck Swindoll
  • Turning Point – David Jeremiah
  • Thru The Bible – J. Vernon McGee
  • Back to the Bible – Woodrow Kroll
  • In Touch – Charles Stanley
  • Grace to You – John MacArthur
  • Love Worth Finding – Adrian Rogers
  • Haven Today – Charles Morris
  • Let My People Think – Ravi Zacharias
  • Bible Answer Man – Hank Hanegraaff

Notice anything?   No, I mean besides the fact they’re all male.   (And all American.)  This is in every sense of the word, an “old boys network.”   Chip Ingram may still look young in his publicity shots, and James MacDonald may open with a cool David Crowder theme song, but exceptions aside, Christian radio is playing host to an older generation of radio preachers, which isn’t the generation they need to attract if the medium is to survive.

You may wish to suggest that maybe it’s just time for the medium to die off.   After all, look what YouTube has done to the hours people formerly spent watching broadcast, cable and satellite television.   The 42″ screen has unexpectedly lost ground to the 17″ monitor.    The plasma screen may be high definition, but the next generation would rather program their own visual channels, even if the images are jumpy, grainy or pixelating.

But is there an opportunity being lost?   Last time I checked, cars still come with FM radios.   It’s still the medium of choice if you’re caught in a traffic tie-up looking for an alternative route.   It’s still what you’ve got if the iPod battery fails or one of the earbuds isn’t working.   And it’s weather forecasts are still reasonably up-to-date and free-of-charge.

No, the problem isn’t with radio itself.  The problem is that a new generation of pastors doesn’t want to fuss with purchasing airtime and building that kind of media ministry.   Keeping the multi-site satellite link working weekly is enough technical challenge for one week.   The demographic they see on Sunday morning grew up with time shifting anyway.   They can PVR their favorite program and view it anytime; so they don’t need some guy on radio telling them, “Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow at 6:00 PM…”

I’ve never understood why an audio cassette version of the VCR never happened, but then I’ve never understood why for years, push-buttons allowed people to find AM and FM stations with pinpoint accuracy in their cars, while at home they had to slide a “dial” back and forth.   Even today, some digital tuners still offer frustrations unknown to driving with preset stations.

Furthermore, today’s younger pastors don’t want to start a branch of their ministry that might start bleeding red ink, which might lead to the type of on-air begging that has tainted the Christian radio medium.

No, radio just isn’t at the forefront for a new generation of Christians.   They know more about Francis Chan than Francis Shaeffer; they prefer Andy Stanley to Charles Stanley.    They download Rob Bell, discuss Greg Boyd’s take on the Gospel of Luke,  and work out to the latest Craig Groeschel sermon from Lifechurch.   They discuss the latest interview available at Drew Marshall’s website, debate the latest pronouncement from Mark Driscoll, and tell their friends about Pete Wilson’s sermon download page.

None of this is lost on Christian radio ministries.   Weekly podcasts from Focus on the Family, Greg Laurie and even John Piper rank among the top ten each week.   They’ve taken their content and propelled it forward into the new media.

Which brings us to the point of all this.   The proprietors of the new media need to make their content backward compatible.   All of this great, next-generation communication of the Good News, and so very little of it being heard over traditional broadcast frequencies.

Some visionary person needs to create a radio outlet for the vast number of sermon podcasts being created each week by younger leaders in a new era of multi-site, emerging, missional, or just plain newly-planted churches.   It’s time the computer-less, broadband-less, or those simply out-of-the-loop got to hear what some of us are already enjoying.    And personally, I think an older generation of Christ-followers would appreciate having some fresh new voices at the table.

The content is already recorded.    The radio stations already exist.   Let’s introduce the two to each other.   Before it’s too late for Christian radio.

Related post on this blog — A fictional story about Pastor Boone, who gets offered some free radio time and instead of just putting his church service on the radio…

Related post on this blog — My proposal to make Worship Network’s Sunday Setlists into a weekly Christian radio show.

Related post on this blog — This  links to a USAToday Religion story on how Christian radio is dealing with the new economic realities, attracting younger listeners, and keeping donations coming.

Related post at The Church Report — James Dobson and son Ryan Dobson are teaming up to launch a new radio ministry.

Appendix — Arbitron Podcast demographics worth knowing — and these go back to 2006! —





February 3, 2010

The Missing Links

As you can see above, we’ve been busy at our keyboard to bring you the finest links from the last seven days and beyond…

  • I wanted to take a bit longer this week to introduce a program that aired on Frontline on PBS in our area last night that I think you should watch, although the entire piece runs about 86 minutes.  Each one of us reading this has one thing in common:  We’re online.  The first two-thirds of program deal with what it means for children who are growing up in a digital culture to live in a world of multi-tasking.   I think every parent should watch this, at least through to the end of the second section that deals with online video gaming.   The piece is titled Digital Nation.
  • Two YouTube links this week.  The first is pastor Pete Wilson with a preview of the promotional video for his forthcoming book, Plan “B” releasing later this spring with Thomas Nelson.   (Hint to publisher:  We’d love to do a major review on this one!)
  • The second YouTube link is Jeff Maguire with a bunch of cutouts explaining once and for all the nature of the Missional Church.
  • Speaking of church, Dan Horwedel at the blog Fully Clothed Pastor — which must be a response to David Hayward’s Naked Pastor — kicks around some ideas for different types of gatherings.
  • Meanwhile James Waugh in Nashville suggests that “The Church doesn’t have a mission, the mission has a church.”
  • Meanwhile, forthcoming Baker author Brent McCracken takes a rather different view of Church life in general, and goes searching for the ten top cities in the US to find — wait for it — Christian hipsters.
  • On the other extreme end of the spectrum, Keith Drury writes an essay on why we — and this we includes you, too — are bringing our boomer pastor back.   So to speak.   Sort of.
  • Moving on — finally — from church-related topics, Les Lanphere from the blog Killer Robot Ninja takes his best Calvinist shot at the classic questions Reformers get asked, “If God Chooses Who He Will Save, Then Why Evangelize.”
  • Ron Dreher at Beliefnet notes a federal study that suggests that abstinence-only education may have been written off too quickly; while others still insist abstinence education has little impact.
  • At the other end of that spectrum, John Shore wonders if all of us — Christians included — aren’t just sexual animals.    It’s the comments to this blog post you especially don’t want to miss.  (John’s blog is livin’ on the edge with this one!)
  • Although he doesn’t say so outright, theologian Ben Witherington III must figure if Christians are going to drink so much coffee, they might as well know a little bit about it.
  • On the other hand, Russell Moore, whose blog also tends to lean a little more to spiritual writing,  has decided to quit caffeine cold turkey.
  • Here’s some information about the picture at the right:   The structure you’re seeing is the Treasury at Petra officially kwown as Al Khazneh.  It’s considered “the eighth wonder of the ancient world,”  or “one of the seven wonders of the modern world;” depending on who you ask.   You won’t find Petra mentioned by that name in most Bibles unless you are using The Amplified Bible in which case it appears nine times in the Old Testament as an alternate reading for Sela, or “you who dwell in the clefts of the rock.”
  • One of the creative forces behind all things Willow Creek has been busy blogging at a new location for nearly a year now.  Check out Nancy Beach’s blog.
  • Not enough blog links for ya this week?  Here’s a web portal that lists over 4,000 Christian blogs.   I’d add this one, but in a field that big, really, what’s the point?  Check out Christian Blog Catalog.
  • Today’s comic is our first animated one from Dan Lietha at the Launch Pad.

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