Thinking Out Loud

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?


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August 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewer’s Notes:

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

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