Thinking Out Loud

August 17, 2015

The Perils of Being the Guest Speaker

guest speakingI was coming to my third point when I noticed my mouth was getting dry from all the talking. Sometimes at work, I just push past this, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the glass of water that had been placed there.

I paused, picked up the glass, hesitated, and took a small sip. You guessed it. It was water that had been sitting there from the previous Sunday. Were some in the audience aware of what had just happened? Should I acknowledge the distraction? With the adrenaline rush that you get when you’re speaking before a group of people, I simply continued on in my message.

I did not get sick that day. I’ve often wondered if in this denomination, it’s the pastor’s responsibility to refresh the water glass himself. As a guest speaker, it’s certainly an occupational hazard.

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Over the course of a couple of years, I had become the default speaker when the pastor, who had ministry interests both in Europe and Central America, needed to be away.

The first Sunday I arrived wearing a dress shirt and dress pants, but no jacket or tie. I was fairly certain this wasn’t normal for that church, but I wanted to make a statement.

The second time I spoke there I also went business casual, but this time, in my introduction, I explained how my work and my writing put me in contact with dynamic churches and pastors across North America and how the church is changing, being very careful to emphasize changes in church architecture, ministry philosophy, music and dress. I think I even acknowledge my own lack of a tie as example of this.

The third time — or just before the third time via email — one of the members told me that a few of them had been part of a discussion resulting in the decision that they would chip in and buy me a suit. “Where else would I wear it?” I asked. Even at the last wedding and funeral I attended, a sports jacket had been sufficient. “I think I do indeed own a suit;” I told them, “But that’s not the direction the North American church is moving.”

The fourth time I simply donned the sports jacket as I was leaving the house. When I arrived at the church, I noticed a few smiles.

…We got to hear John Wimber a couple of times in Southern California in 1989. They were both Sunday evening services, and he was wearing a track suit. Actually, he played with the worship band and then got up to preach, and if someone had said to you, ‘One of the people in the band is the pastor and tonight’s speaker; now guess who it is;” unless you’d seen his picture on his books, I guarantee you would have gotten it wrong.

Andy Stanley wears jeans for the most part, though not yesterday. In the south, it’s all very natural. Rick Warren has his trademark Hawaiian shirts. Bill Hybels is always very corporate, but I’ve never seen him in a suit, and not sure if I’ve seen him in a jacket and tie. (A quick scan of Yahoo Images bears this out, but for the one shot that I’m sure was taken at a banquet.)

The church in question now has a new minister so my guest-speaking and clothing-paradigm-smashing days there appear to be over. What I hope they remember is that the messages were good, but if my name is mentioned, what I think they may remember will have nothing to do with the Bible expositions I brought.

May 29, 2015

Your Favorite Praise Song May Not Be For Congregational Use

The blue Pacific on a summer’s day
Rushing in to meet the yellow sand
The view’s terrific I see Monterrey
Lookin’ mighty fine from where I stand
The water dances in the sun’s reflection
A thousand silver birds fly in my direction
Now isn’t it beauty, isn’t it sweet perfection?

If someone were to ask me my favorite worship song, I suppose I could easily think of songs like “Shout to the Lord,” “Majesty,” “How Great Is Our God,” “Revelation Song,” and a number of hymns including “Our Great Savior,” which you may or may not know.

But not every praise song is meant to be sung congregationally, and we do ourselves a disservice when we try to take every great worship chorus and force congregations to sing songs that perhaps don’t match up with their personal expression of adoration to God. Sometimes we’re just meant to listen to someone else’s thoughts.

The song embedded below is an example of that. The late Tom Howard wrote “One More Reason” with a first verse that expresses the beauty of God in creation that he is familiar with growing up in California, with its references to the Pacific Ocean and Monterrey; the spirit of which was captured by the person who made the tribute video. To sing this in our church, the first thing I would want to do is make that verse more generic, but I’ve never got around to writing different lyrics because I rather enjoy the song just the way he wrote it.

The sky is singing, the earth proclaims
Always one more reason to praise Your name.

December 5, 2014

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November 13, 2014

When Church Gets Too Informal

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 am

What’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

I had noticed her for many weeks. A very animated conversationalist. Frizzy hair that swung back and forth as she made various points to her conversational companion. I spotted this taking place for several weeks in a row. Talking up a storm. In church. During the service.

I never understood why the ushers didn’t address the problem. This was a very conservative church and there was no missing her hair and head bobbing back and forth. Surely the leadership here would DO something.

Then came the week that we ended up sitting directly behind her. She talked through the call to worship. She talked through the opening prayer. She talked through the first half of the opening scripture reading. Okay, this was scripture, the Word, right? It was then that with a voice that was reined in so it wouldn’t travel too far, but with a voice that was distinct, clear and firm, I said, “W-i-l-l  y-o-u  p-l-e-a-s-e  b-e  q-u-i-e-t.”

She got the message. I hoped she would think about whatever might have motivated me to do that. (Gee, I dunno know; maybe wanting to hear the service? Maybe something about having respect for the reading of the Word of God?) Instead, the service ended, and her son-in-law, who was sitting two seats over, stood up, turned around slowly towards me in all his massive 260 lb. frame, and informed me that if I ever did something like that again he would take care of me out in the parking lot. Or something like that.

We left that church shortly after. Not because of her, or him, but because the ushers, deacons and other leaders were gutless to deal with her. It took me to do it.

text_message_girlFlash forward several years. My youngest son returned home from church — a different church — with the news that a girl whom he named in the youth group who was sitting a row behind him was text messaging throughout the entire sermon. I happen to know this girl’s family and they are infected with the same germ as the woman with the bobbing hair. I’ve seen them conversing in a manner so animated that it was distracting to me on the farthest part of the other side of a very wide auditorium. Texting uses no audio, but in a church service, it’s amazing how the little taps can carry.

Interesting how you can be in a room with 300 other people but it only takes one person to spoil the experience. If the person was making a lot of noise, it would be dealt with, but sometimes these things sit on the borderline between requiring action or determining that confronting the situation might make a greater (and more memorable) distraction.

I like that we can dress casually for church. I like that we sing contemporary songs. I like that we show cuts from popular movies. I like that we laugh and are transparent about our lives. But…

I miss reverence. I miss solemnity. I miss the awe with which should approach that part of our week where we enter into the transcendency of bringing our worship before a holy God. I miss the holy hush I experienced in some meetings I attended in my early twenties.  I miss people treating that part of the week as something special.

If I had been sitting anywhere near this girl, I don’t know exactly what I might have done, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant. I might have gone for “P-u-t  t-h-a-t  t-h-i-n-g  a-w-a-y  n-o-w.” But remember, he was sitting in front of in this case and would have had to turn around to do this.

Then again, I might have simply stepped out of the service for a few minutes.

To make a whip out of cords. 

So… what’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

May 18, 2014

Modern Worship Movement Dead-Ended

Filed under: ministry, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm

worship_tshirt

As of today, I have seen the future of the modern worship movement, and even now, I am convinced that we are not being well-served.  Today I got to observe the height of performance-oriented worship formatting; songs that were completely unfamiliar pitched in keys that rendered them completely un-singable. I also saw the approach toward casual dress of platform/stage personnel at its worst. I also observed song lyrics that simply cannot be supported theologically. Throughout it all, I was expected to remain standing.

Oddly enough, part of the reason we decided to take our free Sunday at this church was because of its history and reputation for outstanding worship. I really don’t want to be a curmudgeon, but I honestly feel that worship leaders to need to rethink some basics before assembling a worship set.

  • At least one hymn (yes, mostly for demographic reasons, but also for theological ones)
  • At least one modern hymn (as in Townend, Kendrick, Gettys, Sovereign Grace)
  • At least one modern worship composition that proved itself in the ’80s, ’90s or early ’00s.
  • For another two songs, you can have your recent modern worship songs, but try to go with something of substance. (Doerksen or Baloche for at least one would be nice)

There’s a five song worship song list I could live with.

In the meantime, if I were in leadership at the church we attending this morning, I would be convening an emergency meeting early in the week.

Just because your church has achieved success numerically is no reason to assume you’re doing everything right.

October 27, 2013

Church Life: Pleasing Everyone is Hard to Do

I’ve never actually been in a church where the color of the carpet was an issue, but the topic stands in for a host of other topics when people are discussing superficial things they don’t like about a particular place of worship.

Still, there are some superficials which impact how effective ministry can be. For example, why is sometimes the pastor seems to really connect with people during the sermon, and other weeks when people are less responsive. It may have to do with things you don’t think about.

Sound

  • If the sound is turned up too high, people feel like they are being shouted at. It’s the live equivalent of me typing a sentence in CAPITAL LETTERS, back when people actually interacted in groups. Of course, there are some Pentecostal and Charismatic churches where the preacher’s words are amplified at rock concert volumes, but I think we have natural defenses that want to shut off any message bombarding us at high decibels.
  • If the sound is turned down too low, I believe that even if you’re hearing every single word, you’re using some mental processing capacity to strain to catch those phrases and sentences,  at the expense of being able to use that capacity to process the actual content of the words, and their applicability to your situation.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle, and find a way to keep it consistent week-to-week.

Temperature

  • If the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is turned up too high, people feel sticky in the summer and sleepy in the winter. If the temperature makes you feel comfy and cozy like you’re lying under a couple of blankets, you will indeed nod off.
  • If the thermostat is turned down too low, people are squirming or perhaps even needing to use the restrooms. Preservation instinct takes over, and the message processing capacity diminishes.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle. Sometimes, if you’re not sure, you need to take 15 seconds to survey the audience on this one.

Lighting

  • The modern church spends a fortune on stage lighting, which includes something called “backlighting” which helps give definition to people on the platform. However, depending on where you are sitting, these lights can be shining directly into the audience seating. After the first five minutes it gets annoying and after as little as fifteen minutes you have a headache.
  • On the other hand, some churches are so dark it’s creepy. (We covered this topic in the list link a few days ago here.) Combine the absence of light with a high temperature and you have a perfect recipe for slumber once the sermon starts.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle. One church I know turns up the lights for the sermon so people can follow along in their Bibles and make notes. Trouble is, in other auditorium contexts, when the lights come up it means the show is over!

So what superficials have affected worship in your past experience?

October 23, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Life is Like a Moving Sidewalk

Not many weird religious news stories this week; try to do something stupid over the next few days, okay?  This is a link list without links. To see them click over to Out of Ur. As for the above graphic, you need to listen to Phil Vischer Podcast

  • According to a CNN story, the head of Christian Copyright Licensing Inc. claims that Chris Tomlin is the most prolific songwriter in the United States right now.
  • Personally, I thought my alternative ending to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference would have been an interesting touch…
  • …but of course, truth is always stranger than fiction.  While I first read about Mark Driscoll crashing the party, I’d not heard James MacDonald’s name mentioned until this.
  • Two pieces on the subject of porn: Eric Simmons at Desiring God with I Hate Porn, and Tim Challies offering some preventative measures with The Porn-Free Family.
  • Did you see marathon swimmer Diana Nyad talking to Oprah? Is it possible to be an atheist and still be “in awe?”
  • Short Essay of the Week: What if modern technology permitted Biblical education to take place individually, and the place we gather weekly was for interaction, coaching, personal support and prayer? Be sure to read David Morrow’s The Flipped Church.
  • Medium Essay of the Week: Dancing as “keeping in step with the Spirit;” a metaphor for a life of faith, unless of course you believe that, “the praying knee can’t belong to a dancing leg.”
  • A Minnesota Pastor takes 20% of the revenue from a land deal and creates entrepreneurial opportunities for young people. Read the original CT article and this response (with video).
  • Most Provocative Title: From Catholic writer Tony Agnesi, are you Living Your Resumé or Your Eulogy?
  • Starting Over: For Jon Acuff, this particular blog represents Day Zero.
  • Academic Article of the Week: We all know what the gospel is, but if you’re studying alternative texts, what exactly is a gospel?
  • …and aggregate the Tweets of some well-known Christian academics, and you might find yourself reading Bible Gateway Bible Profs News.
  • Kid Min Corner: Unlike many children’s DVD series, Phil Vischer didn’t stop at the end of Acts. So what themes from Paul’s letters did he feel were worthy of inclusion in a kids video?
  • Youth Ministry Corner: Apparently some parents would rather just write a check to pay for missions trips, and the kids don’t want to do fundraising, either.
  • Know any Aspies? That’s a term for people with Asperger’s Syndrome; people for whom the church can feel like an alien place.
  • The blog Sliced Soup found this 18-month old guide to Hebrew pronunciation of YHWH, but as it turns out the video channel it’s from is a goldmine of instruction in Ancient Hebrew.
  • What should worship leaders do when the keyboardist who wants to join the team is a classically-trained pianist.
  • Pastors: If that illustration you’re using is actually debunked on Snopes.com, look out! Turns out Millennials like to fact-check sermons.
  • Video(s) of the Week: Two beautiful acapella song covers on YouTube by David Wesley — One Thing Remains and the more recently posted (last week) How Deep the Father’s Love.
  • People You Should Know: Another edition of the Young Influencers List.
  • Charlotte Church is now 27, but she knows the pressure put on young music stars to be hyper-sexualized.
  • Questions about the film’s ending has caused tension for the March, 2014 movie based on the life of Noah.
  • Music Flashback: From our Lost Songs collection, the worship of Calvary Chapel Downey, with the hauntingly beautiful song To be Like You.
  • Denominational stereotypes? Christianity Today answers the question, ‘Why are Google searches so much fun?’
  • Finally, if you’re going to steal stuff from a church, don’t try to flog it at a yard sale only a few streets away.

Link list curator Paul Wilkinson blogs at Christianity 201 and Thinking Out Loud, the latter of which still sports its original look and theme, an actual functioning blogroll that is updated regularly, and a merry-go-round that still operates. (Not that last thing…)

Main branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

Main branch of the Kansas City Public Library.

September 14, 2013

The Making of the Wednesday Link List

Wednesday Link List SignPeople sometimes ask me how the Wednesday list of links to Christian news stories and articles comes together, so, in the spirit of Andy Stanley’s new book Deep and Wide, I’d like to share what’s in the secret sauce.

The fishing expedition begins late Saturday, as I generally need to wrap up everything by Monday night, since Tuesday finds me in an environment without any internet for most of the day. Now that the column has to be sent to Christianity Today on Tuesday morning, I really need everything done and the links all checked by around 10 PM Monday.

I don’t use Google Alerts. Instead, I have at least 1200 bookmarks in my computer of which most are related to blogging somehow.  In order of their importance here’s are rocks I turn over looking for interesting news events or opinion pieces:

  • Aggregators — These are websites like Alltop Church and Alltop Christian which list the five most recent pieces appearing on top Christian blogs; or lists of the Top Christian blogs, which are randomly scanned looking for writers that haven’t been featured recently.
  • Past Link Lists — Each month I give myself permission to go back one year, and see what writers who were featured that month are up to now.
  • Religious/Christian News Sources — I have about 35 of these including Religion News Service, Real Clear Religion, and the Gleanings page on Christianity Today. There are also news sites that specialize in certain types of stories, i.e. religious persecution, Canadian stories, etc.
  • Other Reliable Link Lists — Too many to list here, but since it’s Saturday, today includes checking out the Saturday Ramblings at Internet Monk, the Saturday Links for pastors at Dashhouse.com, and tomorrow, the Sunday Superlatives at Rachel Held Evans.  However, I assume many of my readers are reading those as well. Todd Rhodes also has good stories, and although I’m tempted to use this one every single week, I love Stuff Fundies Like.
  • Twitter — Since finally joining in February, my Twitter account has opened up a new world of possible sources, even though I am very much limiting the number of people I follow. (A situation being obviously reciprocated by my anemic number of followers.  Hint.)
  • Reader Submissions — I get two or three a week from readers — including two regular contributors — that wind up in the final edition.
  • Christian Bloggers — Last, but definitely not least, is the hundreds and hundreds of blogs bookmarked in my computer, which are scanned randomly.

In a part two to this, I’ll talk about why I think some of the news stories, as crazy as they are, actually matter.  In the meantime, enjoy the last ten lists at their new home at Out of Ur.

Disclaimer: A decent writer wouldn’t mix metaphors: “rocks I turn over,” versus “fishing expedition…” nor would he or she say a list appears “in order of importance” but then list the final one as “last but not least.”

August 24, 2013

The Commodification of Christianity

Many times here I’ve referred to Illinois pastor and speaker Skye Jethani who also works for Leadership Journal and is responsible for this blog’s Wednesday Link List becoming part of the Out of Ur website over the course of the summer.  You can follow his blog at Skyebox.

Skye has a forthcoming book, Futureville and his most current book is With… Re-imagining the Way You Relate To God which I reviewed here. However, his first book, The Divine Commodity kept beckoning to me at the local Christian bookstore, and with a lighter summer reading schedule, I decided this would be a good time.

The Divine CommoditySkye’s passion — and if you hear him co-hosting on the Phil Vischer podcast you already know this — is that we in North America and Western Europe live in so saturated a consumer culture that it is tainting our view of what it means to follow Jesus and distorting our expectations from local churches. While untangling ourselves from this mindset isn’t easy, it has to begin with an awareness of the mess we’re in, and that’s where The Divine Commodity shines.

But as the salesman on TV says, ‘But wait… there’s more!’ The Divine Commodity also has a running metaphor running throughout each chapter pertaining to the life and work of artist Vincent Van Gogh. There are also a few color pages of pieces referred to in the book. Typically, this isn’t the type of writing that attracts me, but the art appreciation lesson truly fits here. Van Gogh also recognized that in the church of his day, something was missing; something was off course but as the salesman on TV says, ‘Your mileage may vary,’ in other words how each of responds to the consumerism prevalent in the modern church will be different.

Unfortunately, with many published writings, the theme of lament leads to books which radiate a certain negativity, but Skye Jethani doesn’t leave room for that here. While it’s true that we’ve adopted the ways of major corporations — including corporate branding — Jethani offers an argument that is criss-crossed with references to early Church history as well as contemporary authors that makes this very positive, encouraging reading. Having turned the last page of the book just hours ago, I plan to immediately start back into chapter one in order to be able to articulate his passion and concern on this with others.

My personal belief is that Skye Jethani is a bit of a diamond in the rough, and that as God continues to use his ministry, this 2009 book will get rediscovered and its somewhat prophetic message will be more fully appreciated. To watch a 30 minute sermon of Skye speaking on the closing day of the CRU (formerly Campus Crusade) staff conference, click here.

August 7, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Darwin - Cats

Is it Wednesday already? Time for another list of links of interest to people like you from blogs and websites great and small. But wait! None of the links below actually work; you need to click through to the Wednesday Link List’s new home at Out of Ur, the blog of Leadership Journal.

  • How about a 19-second video to kick things off? (Apologies to those who clicked!)
  • Frank Viola offers a completely different take on the spiritual life of John Lennon.
  • What did the Pope really say in that in-flight news conference? One writer thinks it’s not exactly what was reported.
  • You thought there were fewer this year and you were right. Stats on why not as many churches are doing VBS.
  • Got the standard 2.3 kids? John Wesley would not approve. I suppose you could call this an article about being procreative.
  • A UK church organist, 68, was walking to a midnight Christmas Eve service as he had done for 40 years when two men, both 22, beat him to death in a motiveless attack. Now, his widow offers a message of forgiveness.
  • Essay of the Month for June (but you may not like it): The atheist daughter of a noted Christian apologist shares her story so far.
  • Related: An Atheism, Theism, Agnosticism, Gnosticism infographic.
  • Essay of the Week: Ten things church worship leaders want the rest of us to understand.
  • Related: What if we looked at our church’s corporate worship time as a spiritual discipline?
  • The year isn’t even over and already we have a winner for the worst reporting of a religious story in 2013.
  • I’ll let Michael Frost Tweet this intro: “The conservative journal Christianity Today makes the case for welcoming same-sex couples to church.”
  • A blog to know about: Jesus I Will Follow You is a tumblr that answers questions from young readers on tough subjects.
  • From my own blog this week: A blog summary on the Presbyterian Church USA’s “In Christ Alone” hymnbook controversy and a look at same sex marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada.
  • It’s easy to deal with what’s appropriate beachwear for women when you’re on a Christian radio show. It’s harder when it’s your own 13-year old daughter.
  • Rob Bell is offering two more of his 2-day conferences in September and October that are already renowned for their lunch break to go surfing.
  • Music to brighten your day: Shine Bright Baby’s song from their new album Dreamers; enjoy Beautiful Love.
  • A link that takes you to more links: An Arizona pastors offers a 6-part blog series on the sins pastors commit including letting their wives manage everything on the homefront.
  • Here’s a March post which is a link to ten articles at the blog “Canon Fodder” by the author of The Question of Canon on — wait for it — ten things you should know about the New Testament canon.
  • In searching through blogs I had bookmarked months earlier, I landed on this very succinct post which I offer for your prayer consideration.
  • Before you hit the FWD button next time, here’s four reasons that Christians need to stop forwarding hoax emails.
  • A historic Roman Catholic Church that is already a shrine to a saint whose legacy is devotion to animals plans to set aside a memorial space for Fido and Fluffy.
  • Your assignment: Write a modern worship chorus utilizing the titles of television soap operas. [Warning: Consumes 4.5 valuable minutes]
  • Finally, a reminder for the end of the week, end of the month, end of the summer, or anytime you need a reminder.

I have no idea where the first graphic — the premise of which I’m not sure I agree with — originated; but the comic books below are purported to be real.  For additional wit and wisdom, follow me (please!) on Twitter. And one last time, here’s the link to today’s Wednesday Link List without the Linkectomy.

the-pat-robertson-and-friends-coloring-book-9781891053955Christian Conservative Coloring Book

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