Thinking Out Loud

November 20, 2016

Wherever Two Or Three…

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:41 pm

church-service

Every once in awhile, someone whose blog or Twitter I follow, or whose books I review will leak a bit of information as to where they hang out on Sunday mornings.

I know it makes no sense, but because of the vast influence these people have online or in the world of Christian publishing, I often picture them attending a church that in my human way of thinking is influential in terms of church metrics. I say that fully aware that some of these people go on Sundays to receive and not to give and after a week of much speaking, writing or teaching are happy to just kick back, yet still, in my mind’s imaginary stereotype, they’re part of a larger enterprise; sitting in some megachurch somewhere, even if on the back rows.

And then I see a picture like the one above posted today — who it is isn’t consequential — and I’m reminded that the reality of church life is that many assemblies are quite small; some teetering on the borders of financial subsistence. Many of these have an effective, Spirit-led, fruit-bearing ministry even though they are not necessarily known. Furthermore, many of these are closer to the model I believe Jesus intended, and that the book of Acts describes as “fellowshipping from house to house.”

A few years ago a picture like the one above would not impress me at all, but today, I find it appealing. I’d like to get to know these people. I’d be willing to call them family. I would embrace their community.

I hope the church service you attended this weekend made you feel that way.

November 12, 2016

When the Meaning of Evangelical Changes

About two miles down the road from me is a church whose denomination has the word “Evangelical” in its name. Therefore the church had the word very prominently displayed in very large letters on the side of the building.

About two years back, some very wise people at that church deemed that the word was losing the value it had once held and those large letters were removed. (Actually, along with another word in the church name; the sign was shortened from four words to two.)  We call this pejoration.1

pejoration-definition

Over the last 15 months in the United States, the word has become politicized to the point where any implicit sense of sharing the euangelion [εὐαγγέλιον] from which the word derives (meaning good news; gospel) has been lost.2

So while others have bid goodbye to the term (not necessarily the movement) I wasn’t surprised this week when Skye Jethani joined those who wish to abandon association with the label3:

Skye JethaniTo the label “Evangelical”:

There is so much to admire about you, your history, and the theology you represent. You mean “good news,” and came to identify a movement birthed by a commitment to the gospel, the euangelion, of Jesus Christ. Seventy years ago, those called “evangelicals” rejected the angry, condemning rhetoric of the fundamentalists, and they saw the error of theological liberalism that abandoned orthodoxy. They sought a third way that was culturally engaged and biblically faithful. I love that heritage.

But look at what you have become—little more than a political identity with a pinch of impotent cultural Christianity. You’ve become a category for pollsters rather than pastors, a word of exclusion rather than embrace. Yes, there are still godly, admirable leaders under your banner, but many are fleeing your camp to find a more Christ-honoring tribe. When more people associate you with a politics of hate than a gospel of love something is terribly wrong. I take no joy in saying it, but like Esau you have sold your birthright for a bowl of soup. You have exchanged the eternal riches of Christ to satisfy a carnal appetite for power.

In the past I willingly accepted your name as my own. I even worked for your flagship magazine. More recently I have avoided you because of your political and cultural baggage, but I’ve not objected when others identified me with you because your heritage was worth retaining. That passive acceptance is over now. What was admirable about your name has been buried, crushed under the weight of 60 million votes. I am no less committed to Christ, his gospel, and his church, but I can no longer be called an evangelical. Farewell, evangelicalism.

With regret,

Skye

What do you think? Can you blame him? Is “Christ-follower” going to be the next identifier?


1 We looked at pejoration 3 years ago here in reference to possible overuse of the term radical in light of the more recent term radicalization.

2 I’ve always wanted to include some Greek text here. Though I’ve not formally studied the language, I’m a huge fan of feta cheese.

3 This was actually one of four open letters (see the link above) with the others being, “To my children,” “To my Muslim neighbors,” and “To Christians who did not vote for Trump.”

October 30, 2016

Where’s My Casserole?

For that very small percentage of my readers who live in my local area, please know that as we often do at Thinking Out Loud, the purpose of today’s piece is to provoke thought and is not intended as criticism of any church or churches.

As readers here know, my mom died on October 10th. Because I have my feet planted in two local churches and am known to people in other churches as well, I felt very blessed to be surrounded by the prayers and support of a loving Christian community. The emails, cards and a couple of phone calls were deeply appreciated.

One of the two churches follows the larger church model that is probably familiar to many in Thinking Out Loud’s mostly American readership. There isn’t what’s called the “pastoral prayer” in weekend services, so hospitalizations and bereavements are therefore not always made known to the broader congregation. There is an email that goes out however, though I believe this is a different list than those who receive the weekly announcements email.

casseroleIt was many days after the funeral that in jest, I said, “Where’s our casserole?” It wasn’t that I wanted one, truthfully I don’t even like casserole, especially one that my wife didn’t make, as she is an excellent cook. But after we laughed — and laughter is something that was rather absent in the weeks before my mother’s passing — she noted that it might have been nice to come home the day of the funeral and simply stick something in the microwave…1

We showed up at North Point’s Buckhead Church on a rather quiet day in 2008 and got what I believe was a rather unique behind-the-scenes tour. There were things I didn’t know about Andy Stanley’s church; things you don’t see or don’t think about when you’re streaming the Sunday services. I wasn’t surprised that Andy doesn’t do weddings. A lot of megachurch pastors don’t. But even the army of campus pastoral staff doesn’t do them at any of their locations. There isn’t a chapel. The couple-to-be must source a location on their own, and then a North Point pastor will officiate. I suspect the funeral protocol is somewhat similar. A few years back, I do remember seeing this discussed on an FAQ page, but this week I couldn’t locate it…

I understand that things must change. In another time and place the local radio stations would broadcast funeral announcements at noon each day. They also interrupted programming if the police were trying to contact someone on an urgent family matter. (“Mr. Roger Millberry of Jefferson Heights, believed to be vacationing in the area is asked to contact police…”) Even the more progressive rock and roll stations persisted in this and more, including afternoon announcements of which horse took the win, place and show at the local track, well into the 1970s. (“Pinocchio, by a nose.”) Well, at least on AM. FM was too cool for such things.

Our church services have become performance-oriented and we certainly wouldn’t expect announcements of this type at the movies or sporting events, would we? But church is supposed to be different. It’s supposed to be about the family of God gathered together. This is what I believe Millennials are longing for and what will draw them into the Christian communities they will form. (That in turn begs the question we posed in February, what will happen to the abandoned megachurches?)

So you have to ask: Did God ever intended for church to look like today’s megachurch that now sets the agenda in even medium sized churches as well? Would members of the early church even recognize the form our weekend worship takes?2 And, Dude! Where’s my casserole?


For some strange reason, every time we discussed doing this article — and whether my wife or I would write it — I kept thinking of that other poignant question: It’s the ’80s, Where’s my Rocket Pack?3


1 It occurred to us later that there may be younger readers here unfamiliar with the tradition of church people bringing a casserole over to the house when there has been a bereavement or serious illness. (For the record, my wife’s friend brought us a half-gallon of pumpkin spice ice cream.)
2 One book I read recently suggested something along the lines that a First Century Christian would find a service at the megachurch similar to the shows the Romans staged in the arena. Hard to argue that one.
3 ADD does that to you.

July 17, 2016

Worrisome Worship Words

Filed under: Christianity, music, worship — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:58 am

Worship BandWe are the sons
We are the daughters of God

I get the sentiment, which is appropriate to the times we live in. But as someone recently pointed out, in Bible times a son had an inheritance, which a daughter did not. Perhaps it would better, even if female, to be able to say you are a son, having full rights and privileges. However, I will defer to those just trying to be politically correct.

Yahweh, Yahweh,
We love to shout your name, O Lord

This one really grates on me because the Lord’s name in this form was generally not pronounced, let alone shouted. A Wikipedia article (on YWYH, the Tetragrammaton) mentions Philo’s teaching that “…it is lawful for those only whose ears and tongues are purified by wisdom to hear and utter it in a holy place…” and “He who pronounces the Name with its own letters has no part in the world to come!” Such is the prohibition of pronouncing the Name as written that it is sometimes called the ‘Ineffable’, ‘Unutterable’, or ‘Distinctive Name.'”

Our God is greater
Our God is stronger

There’s nothing wrong with the lyric per se, the issue is where the emphasis (accent) falls musically: OUR God is greater, OUR God is stronger. It sounds like a moment in an apologetics debate where the discussion got reduced to a schoolyard level. ‘Oh yeah? My God is bigger than your God.’

Oh, I feel like dancing
It’s foolishness I know

A song bridge best left out, in my opinion. I can never say that anytime in the last two decades where I’ve sung this song that I felt like dancing. But I sometimes sung the words anyway. (Which is foolishness, I know.)

I want to touch you
I want to feel you more

I always wonder what visitors think when hearing this song for the first time. I’ve heard the expression, ‘prayers that touch the heart of God,’ but this one is a little less clear even in context of the rest of the lyrics.

My sin, oh the bliss
Of this glorious thought

I just wanted to be fair; it’s not just modern worship that has awkward lyrics. I would place the offending line in parenthesis, or use em-dashes, just to be clear.

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

So much has already been written on the “sloppy wet kiss” line that I hesitate to mention it at all. The goal in leading worship should be to minimize distractions, yet this one has distraction built in. But the opening line begs you to stop and say, “I want to see where this going before I continue singing.” Yes, God is described as a jealous God. But if these are the opening lines, I want to read it over before I sign the contract, so to speak. And I can say that because I am a tree.


After writing most of this, I came across these articles:

 

July 2, 2016

Weekend Link List

Manners without Borders from This Is Indexed dotcom

Wednesday List Lynx - The lynx is considered a national animal in Macedonia where it is featured on the five denar coin

Weekend List Lynx – The lynx is considered a national animal in Macedonia where it is featured on the five denar coin

I wanted to call this “Long Weekend Link List” but there was a built-in ambiguity. Is it referring to the long weekend, or the production of a long list? Covering both meanings would be ideal, but that would involve actually providing a long list… 

…Our image above is titled “Manners Without Borders” and is from This Is Indexed. Click to read at source.

  • Always remember the Prime Directive; and the presumed values and ethics behind it. NASA certainly did, and in 2014 awarded $1.1 million to The Center for Theological Inquiry, an organization “rooted in Christian theology. So why is an atheist organization just noticing?
  • Essay of the Month: When we started making changes to worship, we didn’t stop at one or two, the revisions have been sweeping, to the point where nobody sings anymore.
  • The New York Times looks at the very unique situation with Canada’s warm welcome of Syrian refugees.
  • Church Websites (1): A look at why they are so very important.
  • Church Websites (2): A look at where the process often breaks down.
  • In a somewhat downsized event, member stores and suppliers in the Christian Bookseller’s Association met for their annual convention a few days ago in Cincinnati.
  • The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a previous ruling by the law society in that province, denying accreditation of the law school at Trinity Western University.
  • Tim Challies is doing a major reading challenge that would see him finishing 104 books by year-end. The year is now half over. You can join in for the last six months of 2016 as well, in reader categories labeled light, avid, committed and obsessed.  (He also receives hundreds of review books a year, but I happen to know book shelves aren’t a problem since he lives near an IKEA.)
  • The headline congratulates Matt Maher on winning BMI’s Songwriter of the Year award (presumably in a Christian/Gospel category) and goes on to discuss his career. But in a couple of places, there are brief mentions that Maher’s award was a tie with Chris Tomlin
  • …Video of the Weekend: ♫ Ryan Stevenson’s In The Eye of the Storm has been out a few months, but is tracking high at Praise Charts. (Reminds me of Josh Garrels.)
  • Putting something in “scare quotes” (see what I did there?) can change the meaning. Be sure to also check out the parable at the end.
  • We’re ending with a double link to the same site and reproducing the second link in full here, meaning this might be a “long” weekend link list after all, since it’s a long list. What got our attention first, was Rob Jacob’s idea of Purpose Driven as a platform. (I might have used the word network, since “church network” is a thing, but I know some are already rebelling against that phrase.) …
  • …But then a few days later Rob presented some insights he gained from the conference, and since we didn’t get to be there, we decided to steal some (or all) of them. But you can still send him some link love by clicking through for the full article.

25 Leadership Thoughts from the Purpose Driven Conference

  1. Three things build trust in a leader. Compassion, Competency, and Consistency
  2. If you depend on Man you get what Man can give. If you depend on God, you get what God can give.
  3. The creators of culture are entertainment, sports, and business. It should be the church
  4. Never confuse prominence with significance
  5. Nobody likes big churches except pastors
  6. Don’t ask God to use you greatly if you are not willing to be hurt greatly.
  7. If you don’t take risks, you don’t need faith.
  8. What is it in your ministry and life that cannot be explained other than for the supernatural power of God?
  9. We should imitate the faith of others, not their style
  10. To be a leader, you must have a message worth remembering, a lifestyle worth living, and a faith worth imitating
  11. Bigger churches are not better. Small churches are not better. Better is better.
  12. The greatest barrier to God’s work in me and through me is myself
  13. It’s not what you achieve but who you become–who you become like
  14. Spiritual growth is habitual. We grow by developing good habits
  15. After asking IF your church should change, ask if you’re the right leader who should be leading the change
  16. He has not called us to be original. He has called us to be effective. Sometimes imitation beats innovation
  17. It’s easier to slow down a race horse than speed up a turtle. I hire race horses on my staff.
  18. Never fight a battle that you won’t gain anything by winning
  19. Leader…when you define the vision you are choosing in effect who will leave the church.
  20. My goal in coming into a new leadership was not to be efficient but to be transformative
  21. Pastor, when bringing renewal to the church, start with your dreams and not your problems
  22. One of the secrets to success is to outlast your critics!
  23. It takes unselfish people to grow a large church—love compels us to grow.
  24. You have to build trust to earn the credibility to share the truth.
  25. If you don’t measure it you can’t manage it.

Religious PostcardsWell, we don’t want to shortchange those of you who read to the bottom for the weird and humorous — like the postcard at right — so…

If you see an advertisement below this space, we didn’t put it there, and don’t know who it’s for (but feel free to tell us).

June 19, 2016

What’s going on with modern worship?

This weekend on the blog we’re introducing Australia’s Luke Goddard who along with his wife Peta, writes at From Frightened to Father (he explained the title to me). The article here appeared on his blog in April, but as a bonus, in addition for permission to reproduce the one below, he wrote an article just for us which appeared yesterday at Christianity 201.

This is a fairly lengthy piece for some of you, so as an alternative, some of the same material is covered on Luke’s podcast, Filtered Radio. (15 minutes) To leave a comment direct on Luke’s blog, click this link.

Ever since the 1970’s, Christian rock has had a large audience through praise bands in front of churches and in record stores (yes, physical record shops with actual music in them) through Maranatha! Music in California. Here is their history from their own website:

“Maranatha! Music was founded in 1971 by Chuck Smith Sr. of Calvary Chapel, to promote the “Jesus Music” his young hippie followers were writing and singing up and down the California coast. In the early years, Maranatha! Music started signing artists because of their passionate profession of faith through music. These songs became the influential calling card of the worship music genre of that time; they belong to the Maranatha! song catalogue today. Back then, the songs considered unsuitable for the ‘traditional church’ were still being sung by millions of young people around the world.  Pastor Chuck Smith, Chuck Fromm and Tommy Coomes were among the leaders of Maranatha! who were serving the church at that time.  The mission these faithful men began continues today: It is still the song of faith that leads people into the presence of God.” (Maranatha! Music, 2016).

baptism

May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony.

With this movement of musicians filling churches with hippie hair, ripped jeans, big beards and hip, melodic, catchy rootsy tunes (much like todays scene…) it gave Christianity something “alternative” to hang its hat on with music. Something wholly original, organic, birthed out of revival and centred on Jesus Christ. However, as this movement progressed, praise bands became more “mainstream” in churches, replacing hymn books and congregational singing led by a conductor to a band-led church experience with worship leaders being born out of this movement.

The 1980’s – Some good, some not so good…

In the 1980’s when the “self-esteem” reformation hit (which I touch on here), the music became part of a much larger “engineered” sound that was “planned” to be a part of moving an atmosphere into a particular direction. Since churches became larger, and the people attending became more broad in age, musical taste and preferences, the service had to accommodate this if it wanted to keep them in their seats. So they polled the world, and guess what? The world hates hymns! In fact, the world loves rock music! So soft rock became the weapon of choice for megachurches around the globe, and these growing churches appeared healthy (aesthetically), so smaller churches across America and Europe and Australia began mimicking every successful large churches’ praise band style, making it infiltrate even the most resistive traditional church. The tidal wave approaching was too big to hide from, so rock-music-infused praise bands got their way. They became very, very common. The problem is, this was a fad. Not the praise band, but the style. It had to change. So ever since the Calvary Chapel Jesus People praise music has maintained its rock roots, but simply undergone various degrees of changes in sound to catch up to the world. Right now (like, today in fact) Electronic Dance Music is the norm. Blending electronic drums with heavy synth, washy guitar, minimalistic dance beats and even programmed loops that contain sound effects, hits, pops of music or samples are all the norm amongst 13 year old and over-directed youth bands, and arena style churches. This style has gained traction existentially through the Hillsong Young and Free. This band catapulted the use of straight out trance synth, pulsing beats and using stabby samples into music, forming a catchy, melodic, dance-infused power trance feel, whilst somehow pretending to maintain that their music is Christian in theology and truth. Anything could be further from the truth. Here is a sample of one of their more recent efforts that has a huge following on radio:

I lived
Heart on a wire
Hand in the fire for so long
But You’ve shown me better
A new kind of love
It’s ever the one I want

I’m lifting you higher, higher
There’s nothing that I’d rather do
A sweet elevation of praises
There’s no one I love more than You

I never knew a love like this before
The kind of life that I cannot find on my own
I’ve seen the world but I have never been so sure
That I want Your heart
God, I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are

Your love, like nothing I’ve seen
My wildest of dreams don’t come close
Life never no better than living like this
I cannot resist You Lord

I’m lifting you higher, higher
There’s nothing that I’d rather do
A sweet elevation of praises
There’s no one I love more than You

I never knew a love like this before
The kind of life that I cannot find on my own
I’ve seen the world but I have never been so sure
That I want Your heart
God, I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are

And after all this time with You by my side
I can’t imagine what it’d be like on my own
I’ve made up my heart, this love is all I’ve got
And You’re the only one I know worth living for

A sweet elevation of praises
There’s no one I love more than You

I never knew a love like this before
The kind of life that I cannot find on my own
I’ve seen the world but I have never been so sure
That I want Your heart
God I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are
Where You are
I just want to be where You are

Peeling back the layers is all it takes to have a good hard look at the overall theology of a movement or band, and like with Jesus Culture’s fixation on super sentimental love songs to God that are purely based on experiences, feelings and romanticized lyrics about our Holy God, Y&F manages to do the same thing but with a different musical style altogether. It’s the same infiltrating heresy of sappy love songs to God, but wrapped in different beats for clothing. The truth remains the same – the bands that have sprung from churches that preach complete heresy most of the time end up singing heresy in almost all of their songs, bar the odd one or two that remain orthodox. It’s hooking youth, young adults and parents into a wider, bigger, vaster movement called the “New Apostolic Reformation,” as well as mega-church purpose-driven philosophy which is absolutely contrary to God’s written word. And it has to stop!

So, back to rock as a sound… The rock scene took over praise music for the praise songs at the beginning of the praise band era in the early 1980’s, and songs were categorized quickly into “fast” and “slow” songs, which led to the traditional “2 fast songs/2 slow” etc. technique we now have today. Rock riffs began to make up the base recognition of a Christian song, instead o the lyrical content, and the way the song made the congregation “feel” began to swamp the use of songs. Instead of songs that were well written and musically beautiful, songs were written to create a particular mood for the service. So, loud punchy songs were used for the introduction to church, then music slowed down on cue for “worship” time after this. The music shift from singing a numbered hymn in a book of 4 or so verses, interconnected with a strong chorus sung in unison disappeared once “singing in the spirit” became a real thing. This technique was largely developed in Vineyard church through the Toronto Airport Vineyard Fellowship, that was the catalyst for the Toronto Blessing, which I speak of at large in my podcast. The sound developed from the “soaking” practices there, where one loses themselves in God’s presence and empties their minds, only to bathe in the music and feel washes of God’s love. This is an eastern meditation-linked musical technique, achievable with anyone anywhere with the right instrument, though, and has been proven to be a mind control technique in many studies. The simple fact is that with emotional and musical manipulation you can get people to believe anything, even wrong doctrine, if you sound sincere and emotional enough at that time. The fixation on modern bands to a persistent latch onto heavy synth drones, invoking emotions during preaching using music, and tactics that lead to using music as a prop in part of a larger production – the church service – has led to a cardboard cut out style of music that every modern worship band ended up trying to emulate. It affected preaching, teaching, service length, evangelism and even discernment in the church. Its all linked to watering the gospel down, and a ploy to destroy the overall power of the gospel. Instead of focusing on Christ, the gospel, the cross, God’s nature and what He’s done for us as sinners, songs are now written to show our devotion, make us feel happy (Planetshaker’s This Is Our Time highlights this tenfold) and steer our attention to how much we can do for God in our face-crunching work to please God with our dedication. This discusses how it got to that point.

What happened to theology?

Early church songs used to be God-honoring colorful palettes of sound biblical doctrine that exalted the cross, Christ, God’s holiness and other characteristics, focused on salvation of the sinner, and were easy to sing in a group. Since the early 1990’s contemporary Christian music in church has been rock focused (in music style). Guitar was introduced – even the worship leader used it to lead from (as I have done). Electric riffs became a high point in a song. Worship leaders were wearing what most rock acts were for that era. Congregations singing certain catchy lines together became the norm. In the late 1990’s Hillsong’s sound developed into a standard, setting the stage for what was to come for a good 9 years. I followed their music and played every major song from their albums from 2002 onward in many churches and ministry trips to other congregations. Their worship style became mainstream. The building riffs, the drums leaping into staggered fills to build to a chorus, the delayed, layered guitar with massive reverb. It all became “church music,” and it was good. It was seemingly harmless to have different instruments introduced over time. Entire YouTube tutorials are out there on how to achieve a “worship guitar sound” (and I have a pedal-board that achieves this if I want it). For a while it became an effortless success. But something happened right after Hillsong’s worship director changed. When Darlene Zschech left the ministry of Hillsong as senior worship director in 2010, the theology, sound and direction of Hillsong took a turn when it was handed to Joel Houston, son of Hillsong Sydney’s senior pastor Brian Houston. The theology disappeared from their music. It was subtle, in that there were always a few doctrinally sound songs on each album that followed, but by and large some theologically rich songs such as “God He Reigns,” “Mighty To Save,” At The Cross,” and “Worthy Is The Lamb.” These songs, that now sound quite dated, did contain some great theology and truths about God that are indeed found in scripture. But along the way somewhere the great writing & composition of Darlene got lost and each worship leader from Hillsong got the chance to flex their creative muscle and, well, a significant portion of Hillsong’s tracks became void of deep scripture-rooted theology. For example, “Children of the Light” from 2012’s Cornerstone album has a chorus of:

Set alight to follow
In the shadow of Your Name
The world is Yours and I know
Everything will find its place
Under Your Name

and the bridge is rather bizarre and jumbled in thought:

Children of the light
Blazing through the night
Taking back what the devil had stolen

Calling on Your Name
Breaking every chain
Jesus everlasting freedom

Running through the wild
Dancing in the fire
Taking back what the devil had stolen

Calling on Your Name
Breaking every chain
Jesus everlasting freedom

This kind of messy theology that’s vague, romantic and “cool” sounds great in a modern song structure… but doesn’t work well as a God-honoring song that will turn people to a resurrected Saviour: Jesus Christ. It certainly whips up a storm, but the heart of it is shallow and empty, like a foil wrapper that looks like a chocolate that is found to be nothing but a prank.

DSCN8793

This kind of writing by and large continues to plague modern music, from Hillsong’s extension band “Young and Free” to United’s youth albums, to Planetshakers and many younger generation bands. Everything seems very well engineered and edgy-sounding, yet somehow the reverence, awe and wonder of the God of the universe and His redeeming Holy Son appear absent. Large mega-church bands seem to have a penchant for selling large volumes of music, yet a deep neglect for the true heart of worship – pointing people to their risen King with deeply scriptural words that point people to Him in song as they sing together. The entire premise is to make music so exciting sounding, so emotional, so irresistible that there is no escape – some kind of emotion is evoked, but the truth is that a deeply satisfying, truly awe inspiring experience of worship can be found in a tiny church in a country town that only has two musicians, an old building and some committed Christians who fear God attending. The phrase that everything traditional is the “frozen chosen,” is a lie, and I have discovered this since leaving the Pentecostal scene and opening up my eyes to what God is truly doing in the hearts of men and women and children in other denominations that hold to Christ as their Saviour. The division that insulting traditional or creedal churches has produced is easily spotted when a team from a Pentecostal youth ministry comes invited to a traditional church to preach, and the young person gets up and rants on about how little their congregation is doing, how old everything is and how they have to change everything they do otherwise they’ll die a slow death. This is simply not the case! Good theology in song, even if it’s played in a modern context – is still a rock of a foundation for the church, and boosts the spirits of the congregation because it solidifies their belief that the scriptures are inerrant, that God is sovereign, that salvation is of the Lord, and that there is only One God and One Holy Trinity. This cannot be done with washy, romantic lyrics that flatter God and elevate man – this actually stunts true worship and a true understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ and His relationship to us.

Atmosphere. A god?

There’s a well documented story on how Elevation Churches’ staff told a disabled boy that he could not continue to worship with the congregation because he was “a distraction.” It highlighted, publicly, a major flaw in the modern evangelical belief of a worship service, and that is that it is about “feeling good” when a certain atmosphere is present. That atmosphere is one of fun, laughter, carefree, jubilation, reflection, silence, listening and quiet contemplation. This is all achievable in a controlled environment, but not in a random one. If I brought my 4 children to Elevation’s worship service they’d make noise. Not much, but enough to grab my attention if they wanted it. I would look at them, open my eyes, attend to their needs, tell them off, take them to the loo, look around, ponder, then shut my eyes again. At Elevation. That is because their worship style is modern – and by that I mean studio recording, arena stage, concert quality modern. It leaves no room for congregational singing. It’s a show. It’s filled with loud guitar, loud drums, loud PA, loud voices, loud leaders, loud devotion. But what about those who cannot sing in the key they’re in? They just stand by and watch the show. What about those who make noise and cannot focus on the songs? Well, they miss out on the atmosphere too. What about those who are disabled and maybe have a degenerative muscle condition that has forced them to drool and wear a bib and groan during speaking? Well, they’re part of the “atmosphere ruining crowd.” These people aren’t young, hip, with it, focused and driven… so they cannot be part of the service. Not in the same room as the band that’s for sure. Is this separatist? Yes. Is it wrong? Yes! Many people have attended church for millennia who have all kinds of issues with their bodies or minds, only to stay and hear the preaching and be saved, prayed for, ministered to, sung next to and encouraged. This is Christian welcoming and hospitality. This is what heaven is like – non-favoritist. Christians are to seek the good of their brothers and sisters, and build each other up in their Holy Faith, which has been delivered once for all the saints! When making noises during a service has become a reason to be booted out, then something’s wrong with the high view of corporate modern worship over the dignity of individuals made in God’s image who have come with their parents to listen to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, lets get real here. I’m a worship leader & musician myself. I have been since I was 20. I started in youth group in Adelaide before I even had a girlfriend, and most certainly didn’t take in the brevity of what I was meant to be doing – pointing people to a crucified, risen Saviour who died for all mankind’s sins. Whilst learning how to worship lead in the Charismatic church, I had to learn from other worship leaders who would visit church how to do this well. I simply went by how they viewed the worship leader role, and what they concluded was a successful worship style/set/show for that congregation. It was usually information from the largest churches at the time e.g. Hillsong, Saddleback and Willow Creek, and the Contemporary Christian Music scene sound being translated into church as rocking as it could be without being irreverent. I only had charismatic, mega church worship leaders to learn from. Not accompanying musicians that served to back a congregation singing together, but rock stars who had their own albums who played electric guitar, drums, sang or played piano and led worship from any of these instruments. I only knew this model. So I learned about raising my hands. I learned about smiling politely the entire time so that the congregation were also smiling with me, mirroring my emotion. I learned about hearing from the Holy Spirit during a particularly quiet moment, or a moment building up to a crescendo from nothing, and riding it out. I learned how to play between songs and make them “flow” together well so that there were no “dead spots” in between the music (because that would kill the “atmosphere.”) I even learned how to lead a team like a business man leads a company using similar tactics and applying them to Christian men and women under me. The problem was that everything was a tactic to manipulate the congregation. Literally lead them into feeling certain ways at certain times, using certain sounds. Pad-esque sounds on guitar for quiet moments, overdrive and reverb for building choruses, yelling things into the mic that are positive when a moment builds & quietening down when things seemed to peter off. These are “leading” tactics I used to get what mood I wanted whenever possible. And they’re repeatable. And can be used anywhere to create a sense of expectancy, even if the preacher/teacher/speaker being introduced for the evening is heretical or downright blasé with handling God’s word. There is a real sense that a worship leader can create an environment that’s harmful to the people he’s meant to be leading in song, if he’s not careful at all. And this has happened many times. How many of us cringe when a band starts playing a hard rock line when a youth ministry leader hops up on stage to preach? It’s like introducing a WWF wrestler, only worse because it’s Christ’s holy church… and the preacher is meant to be above reproach, humble, able to teach etc….

worship1

Church only looks like this… apparently

It’s a matter of telling the congregation to, “raise your hands… let go of your thoughts and drift off into mysticism…. don’t worry about anyone else around you… just go crazy… sit… stand… do whatever you want right now to worship the Lord…” And this could be used to get the reaction because the music matches that atmosphere. However, when you have 4 children, a wife, a job, a family, a car loan, a study assignment due… a schedule to keep… that “drifty” atmosphere can be snapped out of at any moment because of someone needing the toilet, a baby nappy change required or simply having to discipline someone for being too loud. This tactic only works in the right situation. It rarely works when responsibility, wandering thoughts and seeing through the light show occurs. There is only one audience that this works for – people who are on their own or a couple…

I’m saying all of this because there are better ways to do things than “what everyone else that’s a big church is doing.” Most modern churches have a formula and strategy for lighting, sound design, sets, props, target audience and feelings & comfort of the seeker. This is only valid if the point is to glorify Christ in it. There is no room in the church for excessively expensive sound design if it’s purely to entertain the sinner so that he feels more comfortable, because unless that church also couples it with preaching repentance from sin and forgiveness in Jesus Christ through His shed blood, then it’s absolutely money wasted, week after week, item after item. That’s simply an engineered attempt at pleasing the masses so that they’ll think Christianity is “relevant” for the sake of being relevant. No other. I’ve seen good examples of this, and bad, and everything in between as a Christian. Many pastors would balk at the idea of simply having a modern building and style of service purely for the comfort of sinners… the goal has to be that once people are there that they ultimately hear about our resurrected King who was crucified and rose again on the third day according to the scriptures. That’s always the goal of a pastor and a church – to preach Christ and Him crucified. This modern style of atmospheric worship can almost be pinned down to a few movements and people, but by and large it has been pop culture and charismatics that changed the landscape of worship for this last 4 decades. This quote from Matthew Sigler of Seedbed sums up how these are linked:

    “Many forget (or don’t know) that “contemporary” worship was inextricably linked to the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. This connection forged a musical style that was rooted in a particular understanding of the Spirit in worship. Specifically, the singing of praise and worship songs was understood sacramentally. God was uniquely encountered, by the Spirit, in congregational singing.

Several important aspects of this theology of congregational song are worth highlighting. First, a premium was placed on intimacy with Jesus in congregational singing. This emphasis was largely due to the influence of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Though he was not the first to say so, Wimber emphasized that the Church needed to sing songs “to God” and not “about God.” Lyrically, this was manifest in the frequent use of the personal pronoun, “I.” Just scan through the catalogue of songs published by Vineyard Music during the 1980’s and see how many of them emphasize the importance of the individual engaging the second Person of the Trinity in the lyrics. While the intimacy motif wasn’t new in the Church, it was an important development in what would become known as “contemporary worship.”

So what’s the alternative? Well, it’s simply to cut out the excessive stuff that’s been plaguing the modern worship scene for so long. The lack of use of well thought out theology in songs, the lack of real depth to lyrics, the absence of Christ and Him crucified being the focal point of worship, and to utilize a wide variety of sounds instead of electronic dance music alone, followed by slow synth ridden layered Coldplay knock-offs. Hopping onto Bandcamp and searching for bands that contain “worship” as their tag quickly reveals a wonderfully colorful texture of a variety of peculiar, interesting, unique and barrier breaking music that will satisfy that longing for another way out of the same sounding stuff. Granted, there’s some weird stuff too… but some gems are hidden there for our eyes and ears. The sound of modern worship has begun to copy the world, and that alone is a poor footing to begin a movement from. We need solid writing again, reverence for the scriptures in song, attributes of God brought into our singing, and more songs that congregations can wholly sing together. Instead of 20 people standing around watching three people play their favorite songs each week in their comfortable keys, lets have that many people singing every line together of a modern hymn and bring back thoughtful, prayerful and decisively Christian music again. The church is begging for it!

May 21, 2016

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:57 am

Today we’re featuring a re-post of an article which first appeared in April at the website I Already Am. To read this at source, click this link.

img 052116

Blockbuster Churches in a Netflix World

By Nathan Lorick

Fifteen years ago, we were living in a less technological society than we are now. Blockbuster, the video rental market leader, was booming with thousands of retail stores scattered across the nation. Millions of customers poured in week after week to rent the newest action thriller or comedy. Blockbuster was simply at the top of their game, or so they thought.

Beyond the glare of the blue and yellow lights, something was happening that went largely unnoticed. A new company had formed with a new creative form of video rental that would push the limits of the norm. This company, known today as Netflix, had the right idea at the right time. However, for various reasons, the CEO of the new company wanted to partner with Blockbuster to create a new dynasty that was sure to take the video rental world to levels not seen before.

In 2000, the CEO of Netflix approached the CEO of Blockbuster and offered to sell the newly formed Netflix for a mere $50 million. While that number sounds large to us, this is a small investment for a major retail business. It wasn’t the money that caused the CEO of Blockbuster to decline the offer; instead it was because he missed the opportunity to see beyond the present market. Hindsight is 20/20. Today, Blockbuster is out of business, and Netflix is the largest video rental company—worth more than $30 billion.

This is a modern picture of what many churches are going through. At one time they were thriving and growing at rapid rates. Their ministries were effective in every way measurable. Things were as good as they could be. However, somewhere along the way, attendance began to drift off, giving became less dependable, and the influence of their ministries became unknown to those outside of the church. Simply put, churches were so focused on the present, they stopped dreaming about the future. They essentially became a Blockbuster church in a Netflix culture.

So what can be done about this if your church is in this stage? What is the key element to moving forward into a new season of growth and vitality? While there can be many answers, I want to narrow it down to one key element: re-launching evangelism in your church’s strategy. Evangelism is the axis on which our church must turn in order to see it revitalized to life and growth. Nothing brings new life to a church more than seeing people experience new life in Christ.

So how do you bridge the desire for church revitalization and evangelism? I believe this is found in three simple answers:

  1. You must create a culture of evangelism in your church. Church members must sense the need and urgency to reach people for Christ and recognize their responsibility in God’s kingdom work to share the good news of Christ. Your church has to create strategies that are focused on reaching the lost with the gospel. When this happens, people begin to expect God to transform lives each and every week. Creating a culture of evangelism in a church will simultaneously create a culture of newfound enthusiasm in a church.
  2. You must create opportunities to train people on how to share their faith and to engage in personal evangelism. People are eager to see God use them for His purposes. They genuinely want to see people come to faith in Jesus; many just haven’t been discipled in how to do it. When your church equips people with the necessary tools to share the gospel, God uses them to expand his kingdom. Once someone leads another to Christ, they develop a new excitement because they know they have been used by God!
  3. You must consistently dream about the future and try new tools for evangelism. In our day, we have more tools and gadgets to share the gospel than ever before. Churches should always evaluate what is out there to utilize as well as continue to be innovative in how they engage those without Christ.

The tragedy of Blockbuster is that they settled for being good in the present and missed the opportunity to be great in the future. Likewise, God has given us an incredible opportunity to shine his light brighter than ever before. I encourage you as a church to be forward thinking in how to engage your community with the gospel. After all, we’re not a part of a video retail business; we are a part of a worldwide gospel revolution.

used by permission | see more at the blog I Already Am

April 23, 2016

Three Decades In, Steven Curtis Chapman Declares “We Believe”

Filed under: Christianity, music, reviews, worship — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:52 am

Next year will mark 30 years since the Kentucky-born guitarist released his debut, First Hand. He’s taken home more hardware from the Dove Awards than any other artist: 58 to date. Hard to believe then, that his 23rd album, Worship and Believe (Essential Worship/Reunion Records) is his first worship-themed CD. From the first note, it’s definitely a SCC album, but the new genre fits like a glove.

There are 15 tracks on the physical CD, but only 11 songs. The last four cuts are live versions — recorded at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas — of studio tracks heard earlier. (The deluxe digital version tosses in two more live versions.) Having said that, there are a few of the studio tracks that have the immediacy of a live concert. There’s a freshness to this album, rare in a market that is often over-saturated with worship releases.

Chapman’s joined by Matt Maher, Rend Collective and Chris Tomlin, with an overall sound reminiscent of many of Tomlin’s recent releases. The compositions are songs of bold, confident declaration in the greatness of God, such as “We Sing for You,” “We Believe” and “Amen” and sung with a conviction that matches the lyrics. He describes the latter:

The ‘Believe’ part of the album’s title is a reference to Zondervan’s BELIEVE, a 30-week church curriculum series from Randy Frazee; a partnering which came about after Chapman traveled with Frazee for The Story tour.

These are many songs here that I think your church will be singing in the future. Enjoy!


with files from YourMusicZone.com, Wikipedia, iTunes, Charisma Magazine and the artist’s website

No review copy was supplied because, “Nobody does record reviews anymore.”

April 1, 2016

A Radio Music Programmer Responds to Modern Worship

After my wife opened up a worship music can of worms yesterday, our good friend, veteran Canadian Christian broadcaster, and satellite music channel programmer Lorne Anderson wrote to weigh in with an article previously composed for MoreRadio, a radio trade journal. You can read more of his writing each and every day at Random Thoughts from Lorne.

Lorne Anderson headshotMORE OR LESS WORSHIP MUSIC?

The first Christian song I played on the radio, in 1979, was a worship tune. I didn’t think of it as a worship song, it just laid out what I wanted to do with this new radio show. The performer was Steve Camp, the song a cover version of Larry Norman’s “If I Were A Singer.”

The last song I announced when I left CHRI-FM in 2006 was also a worship song – Steve Taylor, “I Just Wanna Know.”

By strict definition both those songs could be classified as worship, in that they are prayers directed towards God. However they aren’t suited for congregational singing. They are worship, but from a personal perspective.

When MoreRadio Magazine asked Canadian radio programmers if we were still in the worship music trend, I got to thinking about worship music and radio. I had just finished leading an 18 week seminar on worship at my church, so the topic has been somewhat on my mind lately. I asked the publisher if there was room for more than the usual couple of lines, and he suggested I share these thoughts.

I am a fan of worship music. It can life up the spirits when you’re feeling down, it draws you closer to God and to his people when you group together to sing His praises.

But I’m not a big fan of worship music on the radio, even though I play a lot of it myself. These days we all do. It has been the trend in recent years. Take a look at a recent radio chart, whether it is CCRC, Billboard or whatever, worship artists and worship songs are a much larger percentage than even five years ago – up to 50% depending on the week. Some of it is very good. Some is quite mediocre (though we don’t like to admit that). But does any of it belong on the radio?

What is the purpose of Christian radio, especially in Canada? Back in the 1970s there were no Christian radio stations here (history lesson another time maybe). The very few contemporary Christian music programs were in hard fought for slots (usually Sunday mornings) on secular stations, which is how I started. The CRTC [our equivalent of the FCC] held hearings into religious broadcasting in 1982 and kept the status quo. It was another decade before they changed their policy, and it took longer for stations to appear.

Worship music on Christian radioThose of us who were around before the policy change were excited about Christian musicians who were expressing their faith in an accessible, contemporary form. As a radio disc jockey, my all-time favourite listener call came from someone looking for some Led Zeppelin to spice up his Sunday morning. I explained I couldn’t play them because they didn’t fit the format, I was only playing Christian music. The response (edited for obvious reasons): “Holy bleep, you mean this bleeping bleep is bleeping Jesus music? It’s bleeping fantastic.” You don’t get phone calls like that when you’re playing worship music. You just don’t reach that audience.

Christian music programming in Canada in the 1970s and 1980s, and when Christian stations first began being licensed, was aimed at much at non-believers as believers. When Bob Du Broy started CHRI-FM in Ottawa in 1997 he wanted at least one song an hour to be something recognizable, accessible to the non-Christian that would draw them in. (That was a nice idea in theory, in practice it meant a lot of bad cover songs and the practice was discontinued.)

The shift in musical emphasis to programming worship music says to me that we have abandoned our early desire to reach our communities with the gospel in musical form and instead are opting to feed the sheep. Admittedly the sheep do need to be fed, but are they the ones with the greatest need? What happened to our original calling?

And I won’t even go into the quality issue. In an interview with me more than 35 years ago, Bruce Cockburn, talking about what he liked and disliked about Christian music, said “most Christian music is crap, and crap for Christ’s sake is still crap.” Sadly little has changed.

To the non-Christian who accidentally finds a Christian radio station, worship music is a stumbling block. It’s not something they can relate to, not yet anyway. It’s a reason to change the channel, it just sounds too different. When radio programmers play a lot of worship music we’re narrowcasting. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what we’ve decided to do. But I don’t think we made a conscious decision to narrow our focus, it happened slowly, almost imperceptibly and many of us haven’t realized that we have abandoned our original vision to take Christ into our communities through radio.

So who do we want to reach, and how do we best reach them? What is the purpose and the vision for Christian radio in Canada (and the USA)? Is it worship music for the Church, or accessible artistic expressions of Christian faith and life?


Lorne Anderson is a veteran broadcaster and musicologist who programs “The Light” for Stingray Music. The channel is heard on cable television systems and satellite broadcast in Canada and the US.

 

March 31, 2016

When the Music Fades

worship-leaderAbout a decade ago, Ruth and I were part of a small group that met monthly in a city about 40 minutes away, which was chosen as a central location for a number of people who came from several different directions. We were all involved in some type of church planting or community building and I believe all of us had been influenced greatly by Michael Frost.

The group itself was part of a national network of similar groups that was (in theory at least) sponsored by the church planting initiatives department of a major denomination; though I don’t recall much in the way of networking with those other groups, aside from a few meeting reports that were shared.

Yes…this is an article about music…be patient, okay?

We still keep in touch with a few of those people — ain’t social media great? — including Rick who posed an interesting question about modern worship in the middle of one of the meetings. Have you ever had that feeling where the songs sung in church just don’t do it for you as they once did? Ruth emailed some answers to Rick’s question to our group members, but in the intervening decade, it’s never been shared online…

•••by Ruth Wilkinson

At our last meeting, Rick asked a question that I've been thinking 
about, namely, "Why don't these songs work for us?"

Here's what I've come up with so far...

1.  We're not spiritual enough.  (Ok, that one's dumb, but it had to be 
said.)

2.  We're producers, not re-producers.  We know what creativity looks 
like and, boyhowdy, that ain't it.

3.  We're human.  We're connected to the world we live in, as God made 
us to be, and these songs have nothing to do with life and the world.  
Except for the occasional ocean or mountain, which don't figure largely 
in our everyday lives.

4.   We're artists or performers and we know what good execution looks 
like.  We get distracted by inexplicable chords, inept tech support, 
spelling mistakes and missing lyrics projected over overwrought nature 
shots.

5.  We have enough experience of God already to have some idea that he 
is more complex and incomprehensible than what these songs express.  
We've had enough of simplistic theology.

6.  We work hard all week and standing for 20 minutes interests us not 
at all.

7.  We're individuals and don't want to be told how to 'worship' or what 
music to like.

8.  We've spent too much time listening to Santana to be impressed by 
strum-a strum-a strum-a, or a drummer who only knows one rhythm.  Bumpa 
chicka Bumpa chicka Bumpa chicka Bumpa chicka.

9.  We can't quite get past the woman playing percussion in 4/4 when 
everybody else is in 3/4 (yes, really).

10.  We just don't live in a singing culture.  People don't sing.  
Except in church.  Which we tend to treat as some kind of wonderful 
distinctive, but is probably just an anachronism.  (My church is an 
exception to that, one, however.  These guys sing and sing and sing, but 
they choose the songs as we go, so it's a bit different.)

11.  That said, we don't get to choose the songs.  We are told, in 
effect, what to feel regardless of where we're at.  I think karaoke 
church would be awesome.

All that without considering the 'worship industry' that we are 
bombarded with on what passes for Christian radio.
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