Thinking Out Loud

June 13, 2020

Christian ‘Cancel’ Culture: The New ‘Farewell’

Invoking names like Amy Grant, Sandy Patti, Rob Bell, etc., the discussion was quite lively over the past 24 hours when Christian journalist Sarah Pulliam Bailey posted,

This morning, before my feet had touched the floor, I had read each and every one of the nearly 200 comments which were in the thread at that point.

If you’ve been aware of the modern culture term, “cancelled”

  • To dismiss something/somebody. To reject an individual or an idea (Urban Dictionary)
  • Canceling, today, is used like a massive, informal boycott when someone or something in the public eye offends … or when we’re just over them. The exact origin of this usage is unknown, but as is similar with most word trends, one clever quip sparks a cascade of copycat usage, and suddenly things we never imagined uttering are part of our vernacular. (Dictionary.com)
  • To cancel someone (usually a celebrity or other well-known figure) means to stop giving support to that person. The act of canceling could entail boycotting an actor’s movies or no longer reading or promoting a writer’s works. The reason for cancellation can vary, but it usually is due to the person in question having expressed an objectionable opinion, or having conducted themselves in a way that is unacceptable, so that continuing to patronize that person’s work leaves a bitter taste. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

Christians are good at boycotting institutions (Disney), supporting other things (Chick-Fil-A) and wavering somewhere in the middle (Hobby Lobby). It’s something we — especially American Christians — do extremely well. Living blissfully as in a world of black and white before there was color. Or even greyscale.

►► You don’t need to be using the Twitter app to follow the link to Sarah’s post, but be sure to read through as much of the tread as you can. Just click this link.

Here’s two I especially liked; though the sub-themed posts about Rob Bell were especially interesting:

(Love that last term; border maintenance.)

What do you think? Is cancelling a more final-sounding word than farewell-ing? How does grace fit in?

 

May 27, 2020

Drawing a Crowd Needn’t Be Seen as Problematic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and then immediately makes a statement about false teachers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there are exceptions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oswald Smith wrote the hymn which begins:

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

I really hope that’s your experience as well.

 

May 25, 2020

My Problem with Zoom Bible Studies and Church Services

As more people become familiar with the pattern of house-to-house worship in the early Church, there has been increasing push-back against the idea of sitting in rows, basically fellowshipping with the backs of other peoples’ heads.

True, there are the times before and after the service that we socialize, and perhaps your church shares a friendship moment or a passing of the peace which is an interactive reminder that we gather with one another as a family.

But for the most part, the critics are right. Sitting in this linear form is not natural, other than in an academic setting; a major point made by Frank Viola and George Barna in their book Pagan Christianity.

It’s also a point often repeated by Andy Stanley when, promoting small groups, notes that “It’s easier to fall out of a row than to fall out of a circle.”

Which brings me to Zoom.

I’ve done several meetings in the last few months on Zoom and a similar service, Go To Meeting. It’s been quite helpful, though I miss the coffee and snacks when we’re together in person!

But I’ve also done two Bible studies.

Unlike the meetings, some people are using their phones, others are less familiar with the press-to-talk concept more embellished by those of us who were part of the CB radio craze a few decades past. It’s a bit of a cacophony.

But that’s not the thing.

When both of the Bible studies ended, I realized that in the Q&A format by which it was conducted, I only spoke to the moderator. I said absolutely nothing to the other people in the group, beyond very short quips added to my answer to the question on the table.

Furthermore, those were all public interactions. There wasn’t the smaller gathering subset which would normally take place in person where two or three people might be in a corner and interact without the involvement of the whole group.

I wanted to speak with those people individually (which I’ve done via email) and talk to them, not just the person moderating the Bible study. It reminded me of parliamentary procedure where everyone addresses, ‘Mr. Speaker.’

There wasn’t any opportunity to make tangential remarks, or just engage in some banter. I felt that we’d gained a Bible study, but lost the heart of what makes them special.

Maybe that’s an issue with our group, but if you’re leading one of these things, don’t be too formal. Don’t lose the chance the loosen the format and allow for greater interactivity.

 

May 18, 2020

‘Worship Leader’ Should Never Have Been Made a Paid Position

Today we have a guest post in which I agreed to allow the author to remain anonymous. Agree or disagree? Comments are invited. (Where the author responds, it might appear in the comments as a forwarded email under my name.)

The other day, a Facebook user on a worship music user group (there are several out there) posted a rather long-winded, tritely worded and somewhat repetitive rant on how modern worship music songs are getting longer and longer. The writer had, with quite deliberate irony, was illustrating (cleverly, some thought) how it may be a problem. In the rant, they had cited some worship song on YouTube from a prominent ‘song-mill’ that was about 15 minutes in length.

The irony was apparently quite lost on most, as I couldn’t help notice that it wasn’t long after the post that the majority of the post’s readers came at the writer with knives, daggers and claws out! I watched as the comments began to mount, one atop the other, calling him/her out as a ‘Karen’ (slang for a privileged white woman in her middle age who also happens to possess a cheesy bobbed haircut) and slagging him/her for such a negative post.

I think the writer had had enough of the responsive negativity, because when I went to comment, the post had been pulled.

I feel for this person, as I too am a worship leader who has been watching popular Christian worship music shift toward longer and leaner (light on originality and variation) songs, seemingly in attempts to foster a true ‘worship experience’ for attendees, esp. in the larger churches and gatherings. (If you’re reading this in the COVID-19 era ca. 2020, it’s even further irony that none of the above-noted protracted worship services can even be considered or thought of as reasonable for online church services as most social gatherings are suspended or restricted.)

Because ‘the times, they are a changing’ (showing my age much?) my team and I were ‘passed over’ for worship leadership in our former church when the pastor decided to go with this new model, figuring it would attract the younger generation. Hymns and songs older than 10 years? Out. Long ‘basking sessions’ of post-rock style worship with choruses that repeat over and over again til eye-rolling commences in even some of the young in attendance?  In.

But the post questioning the present state of Christian worship music and the visceral reactions from several worship leaders forced me to remember something.

Being a worship leader (particularly in the U.S.) for very many, especially in the very large mega-churches, is a paying gig.

Now I’m well aware that in the New Testament the itinerant or local preacher was paid for his pastoring (and ancient documents like the Didache back that up) but are we supposed to continue in this present millennia with the Jewish traditions of the Levite tribe for that which should really be volunteer work? Didn’t the apostle Paul – a roaming preacher of the Gospel – also have a regular job to cover his expenses to set an example and to never give the church a reason to say, ‘Well, if he weren’t getting paid, he’d not be teaching this newfangled doctrine!’ Yet, he affirmed that the ‘ox shouldn’t be muzzled while treading out the grain’ as well. But worship leaders? Where does it affirm in Scripture that worship leaders are to be paid for their singing/playing songs in a church?

I strongly feel that because many worship leaders are being paid (sometimes ridiculous amounts – I have a chart someone made somewhere that shows their average salaries), they are beholding to their craft, their worth and probably feel impelled to stretch out their song-playing – make the worship ‘experience’ a huge thing in order to justify or validate their salaries or church’s budget.

And maybe this is why Christian music now is so redundant, repetitive and long-winded in character. It was quite interesting to see how some of the folks who blasted the Facebook writer for questioning song-lengths and incessant stanza repetitions ran to Psalm 136, because it clearly shows the repeated phrase ‘His love endures forever’ and which, of course, justifies their 10-20 minute song audience-winder-uppers. The thing is, I can read/recite that particular Psalm in about 2 minutes flat reading aloud at an easy pace!

Another defense tossed about was, “You gotta go with the Spirit. If the Spirit moves, you gotta keep on going.” I am looking for a reference that occurred in the later days of the early church that shows that song-worship went for extended lengths of time. Nope – found nothing. The disciples prayed while awaiting Pentecost. I’m sure they sang songs too, but prayer was the big thing going on and that was BEFORE the Spirit moved on them in a special anointing. Afterward? I see a lot of ministry and amazing signs and wonders at their hands, but no protracted singing sessions, except maybe for Paul and Silas in their jail cell. |(I guess if your hands and legs are bound and you can’t serve the Lord in any other way, you’d be apt to sing a lot too to both praise God in your difficult circumstances and to keep yourself from going mad from the isolation. But it’s worth noting that their songs we’re being heard by their fellow prisoners who were not saved Christians.)

Another justification many Facebook Worship leader group members came up with for their hyper-extended worship songs and praise sessions was, “Well, buddy, you won’t like heaven then – cause you’ll be worshipping God all the time there!”

“Well, okay then”, I would have retorted had I the chance, “let’s work toward not spending more time in service to the suffering and poor or attending to the needs of our families while living on this often demanding earthly plain and just dance before the throne 24/7 right now.” Nope nope… that’s not what worship is. Romans 12:1-2 tells us what real worship is. Songs, hymns and spiritual songs are to be integral to our lives in Christ, but the whole worship scene … tainted by cash-in-hand paid-for-performance worship leaders who have too much invested in their own net worth.

Lastly, with paid worship leaders, another serious issue can arise: the salaried worship leader will oft be inclined to do whatever he or she can to protect his or her gig. When this factor is in play it affords little opportunity for incoming talent from within the local church (or from churches elsewhere) to be utilized in the church for worship leading. The salaried individual holds all the cards, can get possessive or even jealous and feels threatened by abilities that rival his own. And what’s worse, the rival doesn’t want to be a burden to the church by getting paid for their musical offerings. What a racket!

Maybe Luther (if it was him who said it) was right when he said, “The devil fell from heaven and ended up in the choir loft.”


Image sourced uncredited at Worship War Weariness in 2014; the artist may be Dan Nuckols.


Related article: Becky Goes to Church (June 2018)

April 20, 2020

Author’s ‘All Inclusive’ Church Actually Favors One Approach Above the Others

For the past twelve years, most of the books I’ve reviewed here have either been popular titles or books which went on to become bestsellers. I generally don’t consider anything that isn’t going to end up on my personal bookshelf, which is currently quite crowded.

About a year ago I realized that I needed to go a little deeper in my personal reading and kept eyeing titles which all had one thing in common: InterVarsity Press (IVP). Book reviewers get their copies for free and no amount of pestering people at IVP would produce results, so just before the lockdown, I decided to bite the bullet and for the first time pay for copies of books to read and review and chose four titles.

This in turn freed me up from the restriction of having to focus on recently-published titles, so I reached back to 2017 for Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three by Gordon T. Smith (IVP Academic). I tend to select books I know ahead of time I am going to review positively and this one had three things going for it:

  1. The writer is Canadian. Gotta support the home team, right?
  2. It was published by IVP, where I was once a warehouse manager for their Canadian operation.
  3. The writer is from my denomination: The Christian and Missionary Alliance.

In other words, this can’t miss. Or so I thought.

However, as I progressed through the book’s scant 133 pages of actual text (at a $18.00 US list, or a whopping $23.99 Canadian) I found the premise of the book wearing increasingly thin.

On a personal level I’ve admired churches which can not only blend worship with ancient and modern, but can blend the somewhat relaxed form of contemporary Evangelicalism with some more deliberate acknowledgements of liturgical forms such as more than one scripture reading, or call and response readings, etc. That my wife does this each week in an otherwise Evangelical church just confirms my bias.

Right there I had a problem. I was reading the title of the book as though it said, ‘Evangelical, Liturgical, Pentecostal…’ whereas the author is contending for a hardcore sacramental inclusion even though Evangelicals and Charismatics no more teach a sacramental approach than they confer sainthood on pillars of the church. (Tangentially: I think there’s a case to be made for Evangelicals having a sacrament of preaching, but that’s outside the scope of this article.) As I got deeper and deeper, it appeared that Gordon Smith not only sees a local church being influenced by all three ecclesiastic streams, but importing bulk-sized elements of each into their worship routine. (To fully do this justice, I believe you’re looking at a 2-hour worship service.)

I am confident there are churches out there who have successfully followed this model though the book offered absolutely nothing in the way of case studies or positive anecdotal accounts. However, the Apostle Paul’s words notwithstanding, I think that in trying to be “all things to all people” a church might miss out on their unique calling, especially in an urban situation which already offers a broad selection of churches.

The book is arranged in six, easy-to-follow chapters. In the first three shorter chapters, Smith looks at the themes of abiding in Christ, the grace of God, and the significance of the ascension; as they are found in John’s Gospel, the Luke-Acts narratives, and the writings of two key figures, Calvin and Wesley.

Chapters four through six are the meat of the book, looking at the principles of Evangelicalism, Sacramental liturgy, and Pentecostal/Charismatic movement.

In examining what it means to be Evangelical, there is already an emphasis on the importance of Baptism and the Eucharist (Communion). In the Sacramental section, I saw this bias more clearly and when he declared that The Lord’s Supper is something that can only be practiced under the “authority” and “administration” of the church — and remember I’m reading this during the Covid-19 lockdown where we’ve all had to exercise all manner of grace on this matter — I wrote in the margin, “He just lost me.” (p 80)

Not at all fearing that Communion could run the risk of being a postscript to a worship service, Smith insists that it must occur after the sermon and feeling he needs to state this despite widespread agreement, that the words of institution must be read each time. (Personal Rant: Pastors, please do the more seasoned believers in your church a favor and at least vary the Bible translations used in the I Cor. 11 reading.) He also appears somewhat opposed to including any type of teaching on the meaning of the sacrament with the terse dismissal, “We certainly do not need a second sermon and we do not need an extended explanation of the meaning of these symbols.” (p 91) As in, never? He also seems to confuse the liturgical approach of more liberal churches with those who are truly Christ-focused, suggesting, but not overtly stating, that the passages in the Lectionary are simply pretext for the pastor to express a personal opinion. It’s a rather sweeping generalization.

The final chapter on the Pentecostal principle is where Smith shows himself to be least comfortable. At least nine times he begins a paragraph or a sentence with “And yet…” his personal equivalent to ‘On the other hand…’ not unlike a politician writhing on the stage in an attempt to satisfy all his constituents.

He suggests there might be Pentecostal churches where no preaching or communion are present. (p 105) and while I concede such events occasionally occur, they are clearly the exception, not the rule. He believes in an experience of the Spirit that is felt and acknowledges the possibility of God’s Spirit moving in our services spontaneously, and in the prayer for healing of the sick — this is consistent with Christian and Missionary Alliance history and doctrine — but is clearly unwilling to give this section of the book the wholehearted endorsement he gives to Evangelical and Sacramental emphasis, even going so far as to state, “We are not truly pentecostal, in other words, unless we are sacramental.” (p 116)

In a short concluding chapter the book loses all academic pretense and moves to the ranting of a grumpy old uncle.

Even the lectern has been replaced by the bistro table and bar stool, while the equivalent of the sermon has become a more casual chat, downplaying the authority of the Scriptures in an attempt to make the Word more accessible. As often as not, the communion table which for my upbringing was always viewed an important item of furniture even when not being used, has been removed. And now what is front and center — with the pulpit and the communion table gone — is, I say this without any exaggeration, the drum set. (p 127-128)

In the margin of my copy, I have written, “Yikes!” …

…So perhaps I misspoke earlier. There is an example in the book of a church doing all three — being Evangelical, Liturgical and Charismatic — and it exists in the author’s mind. He pictures it vividly complete with a “baptismal pool” at the back of the church and not the front, and banners hanging from the walls. This is the author’s personal Walden and it might have been better served if the title reflected this — or more truthfully using must instead of should in the existing subtitle — instead of suggesting something being more widely and gently advocated.

 

 

 

 

February 28, 2020

The Thing Which Sets the North American Church Apart

Filed under: Christianity, Church, missions — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:08 am

On Monday, my wife Ruth shared here on the blog about the pastor and the church we connected with in Cuba. Overall, the trip had several factors which are all tied for first place in my reflections on the week:

  1. That we traveled by air to a foreign country with our adult sons. Admittedly, the flight was shorter than one to Denver or Sacramento, but considering the four of us now live in three different cities and that our cash position never allowed anything like this previously, it was a major accomplishment.
  2. The weather was absolutely perfect. 30­­°C each day.
  3. Our connection with the pastor and the church; the subject to which I want to return.

Really, many things were similar.

  • They begin with worship, we begin with worship.
  • They have a sermon, we have a sermon.
  • They take up an offering, we take up an offering.
  • They have announcements, we have announcements.
  • They sit in rows, we sit in rows.
  • They meet on Sunday morning, we meet on Sunday morning.

Sure, the tone of the service — the raw energy present — was quite different, and the singing was so loud and so passionate. And it’s true that when asked to bring greetings, I said I wanted to take the spirit of the service and put it in a box and take it home (something which apparently doesn’t translate well) because I was so pumped to be experiencing this, especially after never having had any direct foreign missions exposure to that point. (It was the one gap in my personal ministry history.)

But in the end the difference was huge, and it affects so many other things:

  • They walk to church, we arrive, for the most part, by automobile.

There was no parking lot. When we arrived by taxi, the driver tried to get closer to the church building, but was driving on a surface so uneven, I rather insisted that he stop.

I’m told that the woman who comes the farthest walks 2 km down a mountain to get to services and mid-week meetings, but then presumably must walk 2 km up the mountain.

I tried to consider the various impacts of this.

This is a community of about 40 believers which has far more context in which to interact during the week. In my church, there are people I don’t see except on Sundays. At a recent trip to Wal-Mart, I actually ran into three people representing two other churches, but the odds are fewer that I run into anyone from the church we’re presently attending. For them, it means they are living their lives — doing life together is the overworked phrase here — with each other, and in every aspect of life.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop people in the village from also attending events throughout the week, though we wondered if, in winter when sunset is earlier, a women’s prayer gathering that was scheduled for Thursday night was more likely to end by 7:00 PM instead of starting at 7:00 as it would here.

It also means the opportunities to “church hop” are fewer. The pastor’s father is also a pastor, and his church is just 4 km down the road. (I thought of proposing a ‘pulpit exchange’ as is done here at times, but not sure they would see any benefits.) It also means the two single girls in the church might be challenged in trying to find two single guys, although there are some yearly regional youth events to which they somehow travel.

It also means the pace of life is much slower. We run to the grocery store, realize we’ve forgotten something, and drive right back. In this type of rural, vehicle-less society, you would take more time to plan; more time to count the cost of the limited travel you are able to do.

It doesn’t mean they don’t know there’s a wider world out there. Until making the decision at the end of Grade Twelve — what Americans call senior year — to go into ministry instead of university, our Pastor host would still have learned much about the world in which Cuba is a small part. Maybe not so much about the benefits of capitalism; but still he did meet us twice at the resort, and the resorts are usually joint ventures between the state and more capitalist partners. In fact there is certain element of entrepreneurship in moving 4 km down the road from your father’s church and starting your own in a different village.

Even so, I thought of raising the subject of coronavirus, which was the primary topic on CNN back at the hotel, but realized the possibility of his people being aware of the potential pandemic might be rather small, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be the bearer of that news. Their world is…well…their world.

I’m not a sociologist, even though I play one on television. Okay, let’s try that again. I’m not a sociologist though that was my major in university. It left me, at the very least, with a better knowledge of what I don’t know, and in this case, I know that the implications of a church without a parking lot run far deeper than I’ve listed here.

What I do know for sure, is that back home, the cars, vans, SUVs and pickups all made one thing possible: The megachurch. Most readers here drive past 6-10 other churches to get to their weekend service destination. Remove personal automotive transport from the equation, and the megachurch ceases to exist. Partially restrict travel to public transport — as in Europe — and you don’t see as many of the sprawling suburban church campuses located at the intersection of major freeways.

So they could look at our situation and marvel at the space taken up by the parking area and then put their analytical skills to work to see what it costs us to worship in these modern cathedrals. While we might love the children’s program facilities, the professional-sounding worship band, and the oratory of Bible teachers trained to communicate in large auditoriums; I’m not sure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

Back home, I enjoyed the service the following week; but partly because the church we’re attending is small and I know 85-90% of the people by name. But another part of me wondered what the little church in Cuba would be like if were attending for a second week.

 

 

March 8, 2019

What’s Missing in the Modern Church Experience?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:15 am

This is about half of an article by guest writer Mike Glenn at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed. You really need to click through — click the header below — to read it all, and the follow through to his conclusion. (I’m not including the spoiler.)

Church Attendance is Down, But Why?

…Fewer people are going to church.

Yes, there are reasons. For one thing, streaming services have impacted church attendance. If the weather is bad (meaning it has rained, might rain or … well, you get the picture), I’m sure to get several screen shots of people watching the services on line while wearing their pajamas. Not long after, a lot of these people will discover they can stream the service regardless of the weather.

Organizations that used to respect Sunday morning no longer do. Children have field trips and sporting events on Sunday morning most every weekend. Travel teams take up family weekends as the entire family follows the dreams of one of their children to play hockey, football, baseball, debate or gymnastics. Stores that used to be closed on Sunday start opening at 1pm. Now, they’re open all day.

Entertainment has discovered Sunday morning. The NFL kicks off at noon, but if you’re going to go the game, you have to go early for the tailgate. Concerts in the park, music festivals, food festivals, book festivals, and classic car rallies now consider Sunday morning to be prime time for their events.

I guess this is to be expected. Churches should not expect any culture to support the practices of their faith. Yet, there’s more.

For one thing, everyone is in a time crunch. Families are facing multiple demands from careers, schools and social obligations. The work/life balance has been compromised to the point many Americans can’t tell you when their work day actually ends and their home life begins. Most people are working longer hours than before, and social media demands more and more of our attention. Because of these growing demands on our time, most of us aren’t getting enough sleep.

When the weekend gets here, if we can catch up on some sleep we do.

All of this means when a person or family decides how they are going to spend their time, every investment of time has to be worth the time required. That is, more and more people are spending their time like they spend their money.

Every investment has to have a significant ROI – return on investment – or they won’t do it.

This brings me to a very hard question for those of us in church leadership. Is going to church worth it?

Why would anyone go to church?  …

February 3, 2019

Hymnophobia

hymnophobia \ hɪm-noʊ-‘foʊb- \ – (adj) – having or possessing the fear of hymns or (n) the fear of hymns

I think many contemporary churches suffer from Hymnophobia.

By hymns, I don’t mean the classic hymns that have been adapted by contemporary songwriters, sometimes with the addition of a bridge. That works sometimes.

By hymns, I don’t mean some of the ‘gospel’ hymns that came in the period of around 1940 and following. That’s the period that the present period is a reaction to, and it’s okay to set those aside. It’s many of those pieces which drove us to a more modern church in the first place.

I’m talking about the real, absolute classic hymns: All Hail the Power and A Might Fortress and other songs of that ilk.

Hymnophobia is really a fear of doing something that’s outside the only homogeneous, modern style that’s the trademark of today’s churches, especially megachurches.

There’s no variety.

I’d have no problem with a church doing a classic like Our Great Savior if they did it in the style in which it was originally presented.

In other words, not with “an organ” but with a high-church pipe organ sound, played in the manner that an organist would have played a pipe organ. Something that mentally transports you to one of the great 19th century cathedrals.

And let’s not forget that today’s modern keyboards have that sound built in.

Or for that matter:

  • a song sung in an authentic bluegrass style by people who really know that style of music
  • a song presented in a barber shop quartet style by people who really understand that genre
  • a song performed in a genuine operatic style by someone trained in that form

Not every Sunday, not every month, just not being afraid to try something different every once in awhile.

With the condition that it’s done so well, nobody considers it a caricature or a mockery of those forms, but actually finds the form works to communicate a particular set of lyrics.

Honestly, what are we afraid of?

Furthermore, why do we exclude people whose rest-of-the-week involves participation in a musical forms that are so removed from what we do at church on the weekend?

Why does every church service now have to 100% resemble what we hear on the local Christian radio station?

I rest my case.

 

January 21, 2019

Eyeing the Competition

While 99% of the people in Pastor Reynold’s congregation met with him at the church or in a coffee shop, Olivia was good friends with his wife which gave her somewhat unfettered access to the pastor at his home.

Dropping in one day while Mrs. Reynolds was out, they stood at the front door and talked for five minutes, and as usual, Olivia was going on and on about the latest podcast she’d heard from some U.S. preacher. “You should check him out sometime; it was absolutely awesome!”

It wasn’t just her; there were a bunch of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings in the church who seemed to trade teaching links the way his generation traded baseball cards. It was as though everyone is looking for the next big thing.

Finally he decided to state the obvious, “So did you like my sermon this week?”

“It was okay.” She seemed to be reluctantly volunteering that assessment.

“Would it be better if I got some skinny jeans?” he asked her, but she just laughed.

So he tried it another way, “Would it be different if I had a podcast?”

“You do have a sermon podcast; the tech team posts your message every Monday.”

“Oh right…” at which point he had to admit to himself that he’d forgotten that; in fact, he’d never even been to the page where the sermons were posted.

Olivia got a text back from Mrs. Reynolds saying she wouldn’t be home for an hour, so Olivia texted back that they’d meet the next day instead.

Pastor Reynolds went back to his computer and tried to find an email he’d received several weeks ago from Jordan, Olivia’s husband. Jordan had recommended that the pastor watch and listen to a particular speaker but the email had sat ignored.

“Where did he say that guy was from?” the pastor asked himself. “Bismark? Boise? Bakersfield?” He found the email, clicked the link and started listening. He’d set the expectation bar quite low and wasn’t prepared for what he saw and heard.

After about four minutes, out loud to no one besides the cat, he said, “Oh my goodness… this ain’t the kind of preaching I was raised on.”

It was actually two hours before Mrs. Reynolds came home, and by then Pastor Reynolds had heard three sermons by three different next generation preachers, and had scrawled two pages of handwritten notes…


…Every healthy church has people of different ages who are being influenced by speakers and teachers online from their generation.  Someone who loves Charles Stanley is unlikely to develop an affection for John Mark Comer and vice versa. A fan of David Jeremiah is unlikely to convert to a steady diet of Judah Smith. A daily listener to Chuck Swindoll is unlikely to abandon him for Levi Lusko.

The point of today’s story however is that pastors would do well to invest some time listening to those teachers who are influencing the people in their congregation. People like Olivia can’t get to John Mark’s or Judah’s or Levi’s church. If they live more than an hour from a major city, they might not even be able to get to one like it. Pastor, they worship at your church and they’re part of your congregation.

But they have these other influences, just as certainly as the older people take in In Touch, Turning Point and Insight for Living. Furthermore, the older members of the church often listen to these radio and television preachers on a daily basis, whereas they only come to church once a week. Media preaching has a greater impact on many churchgoers than what takes place at weekend services.

Shouldn’t pastors take some time every once in awhile to check out what it is people are hearing? In the story, Pastor Reynolds announces to an empty house not that the message is ‘Heresy!’ but rather that the communication style is exceptionally different; greatly engaging. The pacing is different; there’s less shouting; the messages are longer but the times seems to fly by. He makes notes.

I think the practice of listening to the group of rising pastors and authors should be part of a pastor’s occasional routine. I know people in vocational ministry are busy and groan under the weight of all the books people in the church tell them they should read, and podcasts they should watch or listen to, but if someone in your congregation is overflowing with excitement about a spiritual influence in their lives, wouldn’t one would want to know what it is?


Advertising appearing on the blog does not originate with us. We don’t get to see it and we don’t receive income from it.

January 17, 2019

Our Summer Church-Visit Holidays: The Pattern

We wanted to hear Rob Bell in person. The first time we travelled to Grand Rapids he was away, but we went back again to have the complete experience. Not long after, Rob was gone from Mars Hill Bible Church over his view of hell, among other things.

I had some history visiting Willow Creek to hear Bill Hybels, but my wife had not. We went several times to South Barrington to hear him. Last year, in the wake of #MeToo, Hybels was no longer at Willow nor were the people he had chosen as successors.

I had been captivated listening to James MacDonald’s preaching on radio while driving to work every morning. The first time we drove there we didn’t know that Elgin was just a new Harvest Bible Chapel campus so James wasn’t there. The second time we drove to Rolling Meadows and he was at Elgin. So technically, I’ve never heard him in person. This week he took — or was placed on — an indefinite leave of absence over issues involving money and control.

The moral of the story is we need to stop visiting churches…

…Actually, the moral of the story is something my father taught me several decades ago: Don’t invest your confidence or admiration in an individual preacher; they will invariably let you down at some point. The megachurches are always the biggest blips on our radar and many of them got there due to the charisma of a key personality.

Many of these Bible teachers are great communicators with a style that local church pastors may try to emulate though not always successfully. Often however, the character strength by which they are able to get up and speak to thousands of people each weekend also masks a character weakness in terms of how they handle that power and responsibility…

…There are a couple of churches I would still like to visit to hear the lead pastors speak in person, instead of on a small window of my computer screen. In the wake of all that’s transpired, I’m thinking it might be best not to. 


Sidebar: Both Hybels and MacDonald ministered in the area of greater Chicagoland called the ‘Northwest Suburbs.’ I wonder what the impact is there on both Christians and non-Christians alike in the wake of watching the fallout from leadership crises at two of the largest churches in the area. I can imagine doubters and skeptics saying, ‘See; I told you it was all a sham.’

While these two churches will continue to serve their congregations, no doubt some disillusioned people will take a step away from church, at least for a season. It may also be the case the smaller, local churches are left to pick up former members at Harvest and Willow who want to escape the megachurch environment.

The people — and pastors — in this part of Chicago really need our prayers.

Older Posts »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.