Thinking Out Loud

February 24, 2018

Blogging Daily for Ten Years: Does it Make Any Difference?

Yesterday we began our 10th birthday celebration. Did those ten years worth of articles make a difference? I don’t know if the answer to our title question yesterday is a ‘Yes!’ for anyone reading this, but it’s definitely a big ‘Yes!’ for me. Maybe this media is something that God has used to keep me focused; to keep my attention.

As to the broader readership, I think we have raised some issues here that are important, and seeing what other writers are now accomplishing — Julie at Spiritual Sounding Board, Warren Throckmorton at Patheos, Dee and Deb at Warburg Watch, Michael Newnham at Phoenix Preacher — in raising awareness of situations, people and issues; all this serves as a reminder that alternative media has become vital in the Christian community and that it is often on the blogs and Twitter feeds that major stories break first.

On this date in 2013, I posted an anniversary piece called Five Years of Thinking Out Loud. It’s actually the only one we didn’t really quote from yesterday, and I want to use it as springboard for today’s thoughts. These are mostly the same points, but a completely fresh rewrite.

In no particular order…

First, God has a very large, very diverse family here. That’s good and bad. On the plus side, the body of Christ has many parts. But as many writers noticed this week with the passing of Rev. Billy Graham, Evangelicalism has become greatly fragmented of late. The capital ‘C’ Church rarely speaks as a unified voice anymore.

Second, in any part of the Christian community, it only takes one person to go rogue — to go ‘off road’ if you prefer — to attract much attention and inure the reputation of that community. Most individuals quietly living out their faith don’t make headlines. Rather it’s people working out what it means to be kingdom people “you in your small corner, and I in mine.”

Third, we are constantly under threat both from the larger culture and from the religious culture. The broader culture wants to bring us down to their level of depravity, the religious culture wants to take our simple faith and add to it layers and layers of complexity. History bears out what happens in either case.

Fourth, to our shame, the Christian Church in North American, Australasia, and Western Europe is totally corrupted by materialism and success. This of course is a reflection of the imbalance of wealth and resources in the world at large. Even the poorest of the poor in developed countries enjoys a level of comfort unknown in the two-thirds world. There are people who say that fixing this imbalance is within our reach and are working toward this. Because of this improper success mindset, basically all our church metrics are misplaced priorities.

Fifth, when I see people who I find disgusting or reprehensible, I always go back to the idea that even the most vile and uncharitable people love their children. There are some elements that are just part of the human experience we have in common, because we are created in God’s image. God sees the redemptive potential in even the worst person, and so also should we. It’s hard, but try to find the good.

Sixth, for the Christian, text matters. The daily hunting and gathering for C201 reminds me each day how few bloggers actually begin with text or write material which is rooted in text. We have a crisis here and the technology is hurting not helping the situation. Scripture memory is generally on the decline, and many — men especially — aren’t reading Christian literature at all.

Seventh, while only a few will be vocational theologians or Biblical scholars, we all need to be doing much better at being able to articulate our faith. How many of us ever get to discuss our beliefs with someone from another religion? Or describe the essence of Christianity to someone who grew up without any spiritual frame of reference? On a personal level, we should be forming a “God-picture” which comes from getting to know the nature and ways of God and how that reflects in particular doctrines; and how those doctrines fit together to form a systematic theology.

Eighth, we need to travel lightly. We are weighted down by having too much stuff. But people who can fit everything that matters to them in a single suitcase are free to follow God’s leading. This may seem to lend itself more to single people, but often hear of families who followed God’s leading to simply pack up and go; for a year, or for an indefinite time commitment.

Ninth, we need to stop the polarization of groups and the knee-jerk reaction which characterizes every issue as black and white. In truth, the issues are complicated, and there are people in every group who don’t fit the stereotypes.

Tenth, to borrow a term from missiology, we need to constantly be looking for creative ways to contextualize the Christian message and present an analogy of redemption. I really enjoy playing with the Short Stories series we run here, because I get to attempt to say something vital or something familiar in a fresh way. There’s a sense in which we all should aim to do something similar.

Eleventh, we need to remind ourselves that it’s okay to have opinions. It’s alright to express what we think and why we think it to others and not to find ourselves in a situation of spiritual intimidation. I look back at earlier days in my Christian life and realize I was going out of my way to fit in. I should have instead spoken up. Of course, if you do this, and you’re proven wrong, you need to be willing to recant a previously held position and humbly reform that opinion.

Lastly, we need to celebrate and join hands with people and organizations who are spreading the kingdom by traditional means or by reinventing the wheel. To paraphrase Phil. 4.8, we need to focus on what and who we admire, the people and institutions that are excellent and praiseworthy. We need a window into the wider world of Christianity and be inspired by people who are bringing energy, creativity and paradigm-shattering vision to fulfilling the love commandment and the go commission. That’s part of the purpose of Thinking Out Loud.


February 8, 2018

Times of Contraction

I checked through the archives here, and thought I had shared this before, but right now it’s eluding me.

I have a friend whose career resumé consists of working in these industries:

  • the post office
  • greeting cards
  • Christian publishing

The first was impacted greatly by the introduction of email. The second one equally so, along with generational attitudes toward sending cards, and increasing postal costs. The third — and reading in general — has been under attack from various factors which we’ve listed here before.

When I first met him, over a dozen years ago, he shared the challenge of working in industries going through periods of contraction. It’s counter-intuitive — I would argue especially for males — to not have the thing you’re giving your energies to be growing.

Yesterday morning, while shoveling snow, it occurred to me that this is true for the Church at large, as well as for local churches. The lament of many local church pastors is that attendance simply isn’t what it once was; that the church’s days of glory seem to be in the distant past; its best days are not ahead of it.

Contraction. It’s no fun.

For the Jewish people, it wasn’t about numbers; it was about exile. (Read more in this book review.) The minority status they experienced was partly numeric (though their numbers continued to grow, see Exodus 1:9) but partly due to living in a land that was not their own.

We are experiencing both situations.

Christianity in Western Europe has lost great numbers and influence. England followed suit. Then Canada. The United States is next, the trend continuing. One projection I saw had Islam as the largest religion in the U.S. in the year 2040. Really? In addition to being somewhat unbelievable when we currently see Evangelical megachurches everywhere there’s a convergence of major freeways, that’s only 22 years from now. One generation!

Are individual Christians strong enough to hang on to their faith in the middle of that?

Am I?

Are you? 

My friend who works in publishing soldiers on in the middle of many frustrating developments. His resilience — I would say his courage — in this is remarkable and encouraging. I look to him as an example of fighting on in the face of contracting numbers and influence. 

It was never about that in the first place.


November 28, 2017

Short Takes (3): Sports References in Worship Services

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:46 am

When my youngest son posted this on Facebook on Sunday night, I knew this needed to be a topic here.

The most important difference between Protestant sermons and Roman Catholic homilies is the differing regularity of sports analogies.

Sports metaphors in church sermons are one thing. Announcing the scores from Saturday games is a rather bizarre form of liturgy.

When the whole “seeker sensitive” thing started, the premise was that you would have sermons that connected with various aspects of family, business, school and neighborhood living. You would show how the Bible was already there with applicable teaching; how Biblical characters had already wrestled with these same issues.

Instead of making the Gospel relevant, we communicate the relevance the Gospel already has.

Today, we connect with our audience through sports references; particularly in the United States, where Americans are all about brand loyalty and identity.

Watch any week of North Point Community Church (Atlanta) and see how long it takes for a reference to a local or state team. Usually its 60 seconds. In liturgical churches, your opening statement or invocation is of prime importance. In the modern church, it’s a bit of a throwaway. You can talk about the game before or after the service. From the opening words, the worship service should be wholly different because we serve a God who is wholly other. If all else fails, it’s a time to shut up, stop talking and just let a holy hush fall over the auditorium. Chances are the so-called seekers are expecting something awe inspiring.

I am about to say something radical: We go to church to worship God. Our thoughts should immediately, from the opening statement be directed toward Him and Him alone.

You have one hour to help people make that God connection. Not talking about the weather. Not reviewing how bad the traffic was getting to church.

God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit.

Remember them?


November 27, 2017

Short Takes (2): Sin-Shaped Doctrine

All this week — except for Wednesday — we’re doing a series of shorter subjects.

Throughout Christian history debates have raged on controversial doctrinal subjects. We see in part and understand in part. We see through a glass darkly.

Different people read the same scriptures and come to very difficult conclusions as to their meaning. Each is convinced theirs is the correct one.

In preparing for this week’s articles here — I was originally going a very different direction — I started wondering if theologians or church leaders over the centuries were ever influenced by something else: Personal sin.

Too far fetched? Most of us can think of at least one entire denomination that was founded on one individual’s personal desire or preference. Concerning King Henry VIII, a BBC article notes that he

…was anxious to ensure a male heir after his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, had borne him only a daughter. He wanted his marriage annulled in order to remarry. In 1534 after several attempts to persuade the Pope to grant an annulment, Henry passed the Act of Succession and then the Act of Supremacy. These recognized that the King was “the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglicana Ecclesia“.

But how many others, even in our time, have looked at a particular doctrine and said, ‘God would never punish that, he is a God of grace and mercy.’ So with a few published articles in theological journals we’re offered a different take on a familiar doctrine, and if other writers converge on any given viewpoint, a theological trend emerges.

Their desire is to place God in a more lax position concerning things that the church previously believed he had addressed rather clearly.

If we occupy a position of leadership or influence and our personal lifestyle requires us to characterize God as less stringent on particular issues, then through our speaking or writing we can potential introduce new ideas which become part of the contemporary religious literature.

But the root of it just might be personal sin.




October 16, 2017

Skye Jethani’s State of the Modern Church Address

Those of have heard Skye Jethani speak, be it a sermon, conference message, or podcast conversation, know him to both extremely forthright and wonderfully articulate on matters related to church and culture. He brings this gift to a new book, Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc. released last week by Moody Press.

The book is a series of 24 short essays on various aspects of church and ministry leadership; interconnected, but presented such they can be studied in any order. While I have heard him touch on many of these before, as assembled here, much of this material was new to me.

Skye Jethani’s forté is analysis, and a major part of his analytical toolkit is a knowledge of the broader sweep of modern church history, some of this no doubt afforded by his years serving in various departments of Christianity Today, Inc. and as a local church pastor. While much ink has been spilled over the last 20 years lamenting the state of the modern church in North America, Australia/New Zealand and Western Europe, the words here are more prescriptive; a look at where the church may have lost its way presented alongside healthy doses of routes we might take to get back on track. Each essay ends with two or three “next step” questions or applications.

Some standout chapters for me — many of which were brought to life through some clever analogies — included:

1. Ambition (and motivation; always a good place to start)
3. Wastefulness (versus efficiency which can enslave us)
6. Dramas (there are three playing out in church leadership)
8. Simplicity (versus the complexity we see everywhere else, discussed in chapter 9)
9. Complexity (the longest chapter in the book; Jethani at his best)
10. Redundancy (an interesting approach to the matter of pastoral succession)
12. Illumination (another longer chapter; on sermon expectation and who might preach)
15. Platform (this chapter is gold; a look at how we confer authority in the local church)
16. Celebrity (analysis of the rise of the “Evangelical Industrial Complex”)
18. Consumers (again, I preferred the longer chapters; this one is about church choices; some of the other chapters not listed I would like to have seen fleshed out in greater detail.)

And then there was chapter 24, an even more autobiographical essay which strikes at the heart of ministry from the author’s early experiences as a hospital chaplain. A fitting ending in so many respects.

On a personal level, if I’ve learned nothing else in the last 20 years, I’ve learned that while ecclesiology is by definition the domain of pastors, books about ecclesiology are widely read by a variety of lay-people who who feel a sense of ownership in the local churches in their community. With so much reconstruction taking place in the look, feel and purpose of weekend gatherings; many want to champion these changes while others are fearful of going too far and thereby losing the plot. So while the book is being marketed more as an academic title for Bible college or classroom discussion, I think the finished product is something I would encourage many of my friends to read.


Read a short sample from Immeasurable at this link

Related: Skye Jethani on news and media

Related: A review of the 2012 title, With.

Photo: Skye Jethani on the weekly Phil Vischer podcast.

Thanks to Martin Smith at Parasource Distribution & Marketing for a review copy of Immeasurable.

September 10, 2017

Charts: Ten Largest Churches in America

In Matthew 18:20, Jesus is quoted as saying, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
But you’d never know that by the American obsession with church size.
Image: Journey Online, Australia (click to link)

The Outreach Magazine list is always considered the most authoritative, but only includes participating churches. Nonetheless, here’s how it looked in 2016:

  1. North Point (Atlanta) 39,056 (Andy Stanley)
  2. Church of the Highlands (Birmingham) 38,346 (Chris Hodges)
  3. NewSpring (Anderson) 33,761 (vacant)
  4. Gateway (South Lake) 28,399 (Robert Morris)
  5. Saddleback (Orange County) 25,612 (Rick Warren)
  6. Willow Creek (NW Chicago) 25,371 (Bill Hybels/Steve Carter)
  7. Christ’s Church of the Valley (Peoria, AZ) 24,108 (Donald J. Wilson)
  8. Christ Fellowship (Palm Beach) 23,845 (Todd Mullins)
  9. Southeast Christian (Louisville) 23,799 (Dave Stone/Kyle Idleman)
  10. Crossroads (Cincinnati) 22,458 (Brian Tome)

So right away many of you noticed that Lakewood (Joel Osteen) and LifeChurch (Craig Groeschel) are missing. That’s the problem with this list. It only lists churches that completed Outreach’s full survey. They charge money for their reports, and that’s disturbing because almost by definition, the lists are incomplete.

Go to The Christian Post and you’ll find what might be a better list, but it doesn’t have the data:

  1. Lakewood
  2. Willow Creek
  3. LifeChurch (North Oklahama City; Craig Groeschel)
  4. North Point
  5. Saddleback
  6. Gateway
  7. Shadow Mountain (San Diego; David Jeremiah)
  8. New Season (Sacramento; Samuel Rodriguez)
  9. Prestonwood Baptist (Plano, TX; Jack Graham)
  10. The Rock (San Diego; Miles McPherson)

Regular readers here will notice that there are many churches I would consider to be presently more influential that don’t make these attendance-based lists.

Some readers here would be able to rattle off a list like this off the top of their heads. What I thought would be really interesting would be to list the Top Ten Catholic Churches in the US by attendance. Such a list proved elusive. At least one branch of Christianity isn’t focused on numbers.  Other churches on similar lists include Woodlands (Kerry Shook),  Potter’s House (T.D. Jakes) and Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale (Bob Coy).

If you want to sort by denomination, or state, this list at the Hartford Institute is a good one to know about. They also have an alphabetical Canadian list, but I’m not sure when it was last updated.

Image: Christianity Today (click to link)


August 31, 2017

Could Your Worship Leader(s) Pass a Basic Theology Test?

What just happened? I was trying to make the connection between two elements of a single spoken section between two worship songs, but I figured I had just missed something. Someone came to me after the service and asked what I thought. I said I didn’t think it made any sense. They said they thought it was heretical.

Last night my wife and I continued the discussion.

A pastor was once expected to spend an hour in study for every minute in the pulpit. 30 hours preparing the sermon. I don’t know what the expectation was if they also had to do a different sermon in the evening service (back when churches had them) but I’ve known pastors who if they don’t hit 30 hours come respectably close. One I know these days always has books and commentaries spread out on his desk throughout the week; and the payoff is evident with each new message.

So if a worship leader is going to have five minutes worth of patter between songs, should they not spend five hours preparing that? I know worship leaders that have spent a long time, in addition to selecting the songs, in preparation for what they’re going to say at the beginning and little comments interspersed throughout the worship set.


Could your worship team leader(s) pass an elementary test of basic theology?

Could your worship team leader(s) provide helpful counsel to someone who seeks them out after the service?

Could your worship team leader(s) deliver a homily; a message; a sermon if asked to speak in a format longer than the short song introductions they give at weekend services?

I wonder how much thought is given to this when interviewing prospects for paid positions in the modern Evangelical church?

Have you ever experienced really bad theology during a worship set?

Does your church let the worship leader say much or is their mandate to simply play music?

If the modern Evangelical expectation is that pastors have a Masters level education, should there be a lesser but similar educational requirement for worship team leaders?

April 25, 2017

The Modern Church Dilemma: People Belonging Before They Believe

Filed under: Faith, family, media, reviews — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

Movie Review: The Resurrection of Gavin Stone

It’s become a recurring theme: Someone wants to help out at church but their spiritual status is not-yet-arrived, ambiguous, or hard to authenticate. Parking lot duty? Not a big issue; but many seeking an avenue of service are looking at the platform; so many of these requests involve music ministry or something related.

That’s what’s at the heart of the movie The Resurrection of Gavin Stone which after a brief theatrical run is now releasing on DVD. In this case, the protagonist is looking to be involved with the church’s annual drama production. His theology is sketchy, to put it kindly. But in addition to being very good at acting, he’s also a former child star still possessing considerable name recognition.

The director isn’t really torn. She sees this as not conforming to the requirement that platform participants share a testimony of life change through Jesus Christ. But the senior pastor, who also happens to be her father, is more open to the possibility that God is offering the church a rare opportunity to do something which will both bless the actor and bless the church.

So for the first premise-introducing one-third of the film it’s a simple matter of laying out the plot. During the next third, my attitude was, “This isn’t that bad.” But by the final third of the movie they had won me over. Even my wife who is usually a tough critic when it comes to Christian cinema was very positive toward the film.

It wasn’t the authenticity of the portrayal of the various characters, though that was extremely good. It wasn’t the realism of the sets and location shots, though they were well done. Rather, it was the genuine nature of the problem; namely that churches we know are wrestling with this issue all the time now and someone has finally fleshed this out in a screenplay.

Fans of The Middle on ABC-TV will recognize Neil Flynn who plays Gavin Stone’s father. Tangential perhaps, but interesting that Middle co-star Patricia Heaton has been a force behind Affirm Films. Not so tangential was my wife’s comparison between The Resurrection of Gavin Stone and Heaton’s Moms Night Out. Worldwide rights for this picture however were purchased by WWE Studios, and wrestler Shawn Michaels has a significant role in this picture as well.

In the first few minutes, we recognized a hallway from Harvest Bible Chapel’s Elgin, Illinois campus where much of the filming took place. Again, it’s entirely plausible that a church like Harvest would face a dilemma such as what to do with Gavin Stone.

At the end of the day, this is a romantic comedy. While ecclesiastic nerds like myself might get lost in the doctrinal quandaries of qualifications for service, you don’t have to be a regular church attender or even a Christian at all to get the tension in the plot.

Which is, come to think of it, exactly what the movie is all about.


April 7, 2017

Ten Biggest Mistakes Made by Church Sound Technicians

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:51 am

Another lifetime ago, I worked extensively with both live auditorium sound and mixing in a recording studio or television studio environment. I wrote articles to try to make that world a better place, and there’s one — this one — that I always wanted to repeat here but couldn’t find the original copy. Today that changes. These aren’t written for the sound tech guy who is employed full time in a megachurch and oversees dozens of volunteers. Rather, this is for the guy in the small to medium church who does this on weekends and has to endure the “neck crane” stares of parishioners when something goes wrong.

Mistake #1: Failing to set the monitor level first.

If the platform or stage monitors are working at all, they can be heard from the console with the main speakers turned off. While musicians and speakers will ask for these be more finely adjusted, they can be set to a respectable level and the entire system tested through the monitors before the main speakers are brought into play. A two-person team is a better minimum crew, but you can get more done from the back than you realize.

Mistake #2: Failing to use ‘middle balance’ on equipment.

Microphone and media inputs need to be calibrated with the main output level so that equipment is operating best in the middle of the range available. Levels for multiple singers should be “matched” through proper attenuation even before the monitors and main speakers are turned on. If the whole system is running too hot, levels may appear to be low. Sometimes it’s necessary to go beyond the sound board and reconsider the main amplifiers levels, which are often at the level when the system was installed. If the system is too cool, individual channels have to be turned up higher. Professional operators like to keep things around “7” (not “5”) for better fade-ins and fade-outs.

Mistake #3: Channel clipping

This was often heard back in the days soloists would sing with soundtracks. The song would have a wonderful, professionally-produced sustained chord at the end, and the soloist would replace her microphone on the stand and the pastor would get up, and the sound person, in a total panic, would just cut the track. Not even a fade. Of course sometimes, you’d get the opposite, the person whose turn was next would feel they couldn’t move until the track played out and they’d stand there like a deer caught in the headlights. The point is that channel clipping still happens, especially with increased use of video clips.

Mistake #4: Misreading the house

This error falls into one of two categories: Either the sound person is placed in a part of the auditorium that doesn’t represent the acoustics the average audience member is experiencing; or the sound levels were set in an empty room and a now full house is simply absorbing a measurable portion of the sound. (In northern states and Canadian provinces, this actually increases if people bring winter coats to their seats.)

Mistake #5: Mixing by fader only

Anyone can turn up the volume. To do the job well, one has to listen to the tonal balance and set equalization positions on each individual channel. This is where a philosophy degree is helpful. For example, let’s say the soprano singer’s voice borders on shrill. Do you try to suppress that, or do you allow the tonal filters to let through what the music director must have liked when he auditioned her? You can’t just turn down her high end so she sounds like an alto. Some people were taught you don’t touch the EQ on the channels once the program begins. I disagree. Can’t hear the words? Try turning up the high end to enhance to consonants and make word-definition clearer. Use the mid-range to bring out the vowels. Turn up the bass to add richness and rhythm. Don’t make major changes in the middle of a song or sermon, but feel free to make small adjustments. Just make sure your speakers are handling this without distortion — especially with bass — and make sure fader levels are brought down when tonal filters are opened up. Also, have the overall EQ of the room checked every 3-4 months using whichever method you prefer, a white noise generator or a spectrum analyzer.

Mistake #6: Not explaining equipment to users.

Even a well-seasoned audio guy needs to be told as if he’s never seen the equipment before. When it comes to platform participants, this doubly applies.  It’s also good to go over basic care of the board and microphones, and reminding soloists not to point mics toward monitors, cup hands over mics, and not leaving mics on the floor. Do your mics have switches? Make sure they remember this. Does the pastor need to switch on his cordless mic? This often saves batteries, but so many times speakers are intent about their sermon content and forget this important step.

Mistake #7: Playing the wrong media.

Anything that needs to be inserted into a machine during the course of the program needs to be well labelled. Back in the day, tape machines had a zero-reset that could be used to cue things to the start point and avoid “dead air.” Digital media solves many of these problems, but introduces new ones. If the video isn’t going to be used until 24:00 into the service, the machine may shut down after 20:00. Furthermore, some media requires greatly different EQ-ing and balancing than other line inputs. The more video you have, unless you have a discrete channel and playback source for each, many things can mess up. I would argue you can’t do video clips in the modern church without an audio production assistant.

Mistake #8: Not balancing between singers and accompaniment.

We’re in the communication business. People need to hear what is being said, both through spoken word and through music. So you need to decide: Is the singer too quiet or is the band too loud? This is complicated often by the age and musical taste of the person doing the mix. Different generations have different ideas about what sounds right. Also, the modern church will often post the words on the screen, even for a solo. That doesn’t preclude getting the mix right.

Mistake #9: Failing to bring out the melody.

This combines with the mistake above especially if there is more than one singer. The melody (the tune if you prefer) must dominate over the harmony. In a higher class of music, sometimes the melody is passed from the soprano to the the tenor. You may need more detailed cue sheets for this type of song. Or better yet, have a musician sitting next to you at the console providing visual cues. Or best, attend a rehearsal.

Mistake #10: Not paying attention.

Details, details, details! (Some would say, Coffee, coffee, coffee!) You need to be on top of your game making sure channels are opened at the right time (and also closed when they’re not needed) and to do this you need be eying the platform like a hawk. If there’s a cue you need to see and you can’t because of lighting or distance, I wouldn’t eliminate having a pair of binoculars at the console.

…Years and years later, I was amazed that these ten rules still apply. True, I took out references to tapes, but overall the problems and challenges remain consistent. I also had an additional bonus ten, but surprisingly they didn’t apply. (The piece about misuse of Dolby was fun to read; and it did remove a lot of crispness from many singers’ soundtracks.)  There were however two things in that list I felt worth mentioning:

Concern #1: Keep sound consistent from week to week.

The only way to ensure this is with a decibel meter. Decide what your peak levels are going to be for music — you also don’t want it really quiet one week either — as well as the sermon. With sermons, there is a level at which the preacher is shouting and people don’t absorb what’s being said. Equally problematic however, is when the audience is straining to get the words because the level is too low. Don’t forget item #5 above as well with speakers. The high end (treble) will bring out the consonants and make the words clearer.

Concern #2: Don’t violate copyrights.

With every media source (video clips, etc.) ask, “Did we buy this?” Or, “Are we authorized to show this?” This applies with everything from short 2-minute illustrations to church movie nights. (No, you can’t always simply go to the Christian bookstore and buy the movie the day before and show it the next night.)

Concern #3: Keep the beast on a leash: The wonderful world of MIDI

Increasingly, the many pieces of your tech puzzle can interact with each other. The cardinal rule that applies here is: Everything you can control you must control.

Remember, the original document was written nearly 25 years ago. I’d love to hear from those of you who do this either as a volunteer in your church or professionally.

February 3, 2017

Review: The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks

Zac Hicks should write a novel. In his book The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams (Zondervan) he proves himself as a master of analogy. Not one or two, but more than a dozen comparisons between the person you might see on the stage at weekend services leading us sung and spoken worship, and other ministry and non-ministry occupations with which you are familiar.

the-worship-pastorThe need for these comparisons is simple: Worship leaders wear many hats. Those who are paid full-time to do this vocationally at larger churches are definitely multi-tasking, but even in smaller congregations, the task of directing us, as well as leading the worship team itself, is multi-faceted.

For that reason, I would argue that for those who perform this function, this is a book that will be referred to on a constant, ongoing basis. The Worship Pastor is basically an encyclopedia of everything related to the responsibility of planning and executing what is, in many of our churches, up to if not more than half of the total service time.

The author has been writing at his blog, since May of 2009. His bio notes that he “grew up in Hawaii, studied music in Los Angeles, trained in Philosophy and Biblical Studies at Denver Seminary, and his current doctoral work is in the theology and worship of the English Reformation. Zac’s passions include exploring the intersection of old and new in worship and thinking through the pastoral dimensions of worship leading.”

Indeed, the brilliance of the book is his ability to speak to two vastly different audiences: Those leading in a traditional, liturgical setting, and those serving in a modern, free worship environment. In both cases those leading have more in common in than they realize, and face many of the same challenges.

Back to the analogies. At the book’s website, these are spelled out and it helps you understand the book best to restate them here:

Chapter 1: The Worship Pastor as Church Lover
Chapter 2: The Worship Pastor as Corporate Mystic
Chapter 3: The Worship Pastor as Doxological Philosopher
Chapter 4: The Worship Pastor as Disciple Maker
Chapter 5: The Worship Pastor as Prayer Leader
Chapter 6: The Worship Pastor as Theological Dietician
Chapter 7: The Worship Pastor as War General
Chapter 8: The Worship Pastor as Watchful Prophet
Chapter 9: The Worship Pastor as Missionary
Chapter 10: The Worship Pastor as Artist Chaplain
Chapter 11: The Worship Pastor as Caregiver
Chapter 12: The Worship Pastor as Mortician
Chapter 13: The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd
Chapter 14: The Worship Pastor as Liturgical Architect
Chapter 15: The Worship Pastor as Curator
Chapter 16: The Worship Pastor as Tour Guide

The title of the book (reiterated in each chapter) also deserves a second look. Hicks clearly sees the job as pastoral and would have those who serve in this capacity see it as nothing less. For those of us who have been criticized by pastors who felt their toes were being stepped on by a music director wanting to express this type of role in the statements, readings, and off-the-cuff remarks on a Sunday morning, this book grants them the authority to pursue their calling as a pastoral role. 

I couldn’t help but note that for a book written by a musician, this one definitely builds to a crescendo in its later sections. 

Wondering about that 12th chapter? “Death is the unspoken anxiety of North American culture…Our people bring all those fears right into the services we plan and lead. Each week, death is the biggest elephant in the sanctuary.” That one was fun reading. (Full disclosure, the chapter also deals with worship directors called upon to assist with funerals.)

Chapter 14 is actually a high point in the book and one that is anticipated throughout earlier sections. We’re presented with a worship flow (my word, not his) which then maps onto various liturgical and contemporary church service models, from Vineyard to Anglican.

But what about choosing some songs? Hicks doesn’t get around to anything as pedestrian as song selection until Chapter 15, and he does it in a rather unique way: By calling on the various ‘people’ in the previous models he is basically asking us to consider what songs ‘they’ would choose. (As a practitioner, I once commented that a longtime worship leader has heard about 5,000 compositions, but song selection isn’t about the five songs you choose, but the 4,995 you have to leave out.) He applies this also to choosing prayers (and how they are worded) and considering transitional segments.

Through the use of illustrations from the author’s experience, this book is accessible to all, however having said that, I believe it is also written at a somewhat academic level, thus I would expect The Worship Pastor to appear in textbook lists for worship courses. For those who want to go deeper, the footnotes represent a vast array of literature which sadly ended up on the cutting room floor. I would love to see Hicks explore those writers in greater detail. (The Worship Pastor: Director’s Cut, perhaps?)

My recommendation? This should be required reading for both worship leaders, singers, musicians, and senior pastors.

zac-hicksThanks to Miranda at HarperCollins Christian Publishing Canada for an opportunity to read The Worship Pastor. Any physical resemblance between Zac Hicks (pictured here) and Steven Curtis Chapman is purely coincidental.

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