Thinking Out Loud

October 7, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Life on Mars


  1. For those of you really into links, note that the blog aggregator Alltop has been reformatted. You can read the intro or a summary (depending on the source) to each article now by simply waving your mouse over the links at their site. Check out Alltop Church and Alltop Christianity. (So grateful to be in such great company at this site!)
  2. If you missed it, this past Saturday there was a shorter Weekend Link List
  3. The #IamAChristian graphic below is sized-ready for your Facebook profile pic and ties in with the UCC shooting last week, a rather sobering thought as you post it.

I Am a ChristianNow, on to this week’s catch…

We end with a personal favorite from the new Christmas Worship Volume Two by Paul Baloche. In this song Rita Baloche combines beautiful lyrics with a classic tune:

September 30, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Bruxy Tattoo - Leviticus 19 28

Bruxy Cavey, pastor of Canada’s fastest growing church movement, The Meeting House family of churches, got a tattoo over the summer. Click the image to see the verse reference.

…And now, I hereby declare these links officially open. 

UPDATE: 8 AM, Wednesday: Of all the various things I could link to this morning concerning the execution earlier today of Kelly Gissendaner, the one I bring you is simply the brief Twitter thoughts of one of the three media people called to witness the lethal injection, Jeff Hullinger of WXIA-TV.

Got a link suggestion? Try to get it to us by 7:00 PM EST Tuesday.

Sporting Events

September 23, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Annual Christmas PageantIf the thought of planning another church Christmas pageant leaves you nauseous, you might want to pick up a copy of the above book. Details at the aptly named Church Marketing Sucks

Anyway, last week on Twitter when we did that week’s “most clicked” list, I noted that we seem to have kept many readers from the PARSE days, based on the links you find most interesting, so this week we have an extra dose of church leadership articles.

...We're going to assume by this that North Point Community Church topped the Outreach Magazine list again this year.

…We’re going to assume by this that North Point Community Church topped the Outreach Magazine list again this year. (Yes, they did.)

We apologize. A link appeared here earlier in the day from a blogger who has specifically asked us not to use his material.

September 16, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Children Texting

Would you like to know how one regular Wednesday Link List reader, just by submitting news and opinion link ideas could win $500? So would a lot of people. We don’t have that contest. But we do love those of you who submit suggestions.

Kim Davis Billboard

Which then led us to this one:

Don't Let Beliefs Interfere With Your Job

September 10, 2015

Am I Ever, Inadvertently, Part of My Pastor’s Problem?

That books like these ever existed is proof that the challenges faced by pastors and ministry workers are nothing new.

That books like these ever existed is proof that the challenges faced by pastors and ministry workers are nothing new.

I discovered a link leftover from yesterday’s news roundup that I decided was worthy of greater attention. It was a piece at the website Foundations – Life Coaching which in turn linked to a piece by Thom Rainer, The Twelve Biggest Challenges Pastors and Church Staff Face:

In my latest non-scientific Twitter survey, I asked the following question of pastors and church staff: What is your biggest challenge in ministry? Here are the top twelve responses with representative quotes. I’ve taken the liberty to expand most of the quotes from their abbreviated form in Twitter.

  1. Apathy and internal focus.  “I have been in ministry for over twenty years, and I’ve never seen church members more apathetic and internally focused.”
  2. Staff issues. “I inherited staff from the previous pastor. It’s not a good match, but I don’t have the credibility to do anything about it.”
  3. Leading and keeping volunteers. “It’s a full-time job itself.”
  4. General time constraints. “I end every week wondering why I got so little done.”
  5. Getting buy-in from members. “I spend half my time developing a consensus from members about decisions from the mundane to the critical.”
  6. Generational challenges. “It seems like the older generation is determined to nix any new ideas or excitement from the younger generation.”
  7. Finances. “You can sum up our challenge in four simple words: We need more money.”
  8. Holding on to traditions. “I wish our members would put as much effort into reaching people for Christ as they do holding on to their traditions.”
  9. Criticism. “Some leaders in the church have appointed themselves to be my weekly critics.”
  10. Leadership development. “We miss too many opportunities in ministry because we don’t have enough leaders ready.”
  11. Majoring on minors. “We spent an hour in our last business conference discussing the fonts in our bulletins.”
  12. Lack of true friends. “One of the toughest realities for me as pastor was the awareness that I have no true friends in the church.”

What is fascinating, if not discouraging, about this survey is that virtually all of the challenges noted by these pastors and staff were internal challenges. It appears that many of our churches in America are not effective conduits of the gospel because the members spend so much energy concerned about their own needs and preferences.

So let’s look at Rainer’s list and look at our role in the life of the pastor and church staff at our local church:

  1. Am I as passionate about my church as I once was? As passionate as I could be?
  2. In striving for continuity, was our church too insistent on locking-in the existing staff positions?
  3. Am I doing as much volunteer work as I could? Have I quit doing something in our church’s ministry that I should have stuck with?
  4. Have I ever created situations or projects which are a distraction to the church staff? Or even stayed too long at a mid-week drop-by and prevented some work from getting done?
  5. Am I ever skeptical about new church initiatives or slow to get on board?
  6. Do I truly recognize the multi-generational character of the Body of Christ? Or do I tend to focus on people in my own age bracket or socioeconomic situation?
  7. Am I practicing systematic, intentional, regular percentage giving?
  8. Do I let my love of the familiar in the life of our church prevent us from trying some fresh approaches and new initiatives.
  9. Have I ever vocally criticized the pastor or church staff? Have I ever by my silence seemed unsupportive, even something so slight as a rolling of the eyes in a conversation?
  10. Is our church mentoring the next tier of lay leadership? Are we creating situations where people can step up and have more ministry responsibility?
  11. Do I allow myself to get mired in minutiae; caught up in non-issues?
  12. Have I put myself in a position where I’m willing to just be a friend to people our pastoral staff and not just have a connection that is task-related only?

It may be that these questions just scratch the surface, or perhaps don’t do the original article justice. (#2 Was a tough one to individualize because it’s beyond the scope of most parishioners, and sometimes a complete change of staff can be deadly.)

But I hope these give you something to think about as you engage in conversations at your church. I hope it serves as a type of ‘checks-and-balances’ set of questions.


September 9, 2015

Wednesday Link List

bae ain't bae if bae don't pray



Here’s what some people wrote about since we last linked:

Lego Vatican

September 2, 2015

Wednesday Link List

Bluegrass Baptist Church

Last week’s link list was really, really long. I promise that won’t happen again. [Sits at computer and starts writing not knowing if he can fulfill the promise.]

Post Christian Cereal

August 26, 2015

Wednesday Link List

As we often are, today we’re indebted again to the multimedia team at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, aka Twenty-One-Hundred Productions for a list of recommended “life verses” depending on your Myers-Briggs personality type. Click the image to source.

Myers-Briggs Life Verses

Portions of today’s link list were pre-recorded for later broadcast.

ORU Prayer Tower

August 17, 2015

The Perils of Being the Guest Speaker

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

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

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

0 0 0 0 0 0 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 7, 2015

Life at the Church is Kinda Laid Back: How our Preaching Sounds to Newcomers

Two years ago we went on a farm tour. I think the purists among the farming community call this ‘agritourism’ or even ‘agritainment.’ The owner guided us around her property consisting entirely of one ‘crop’ a somewhat obscure herb that some reading this might never have had contact with.

As we stood in one place in the hot sun for nearly 30 minutes, and in the field for about 60 minutes overall, our guide was oblivious to any potential discomfort. She speaks well and clearly. She is obviously intelligent.

More important are two qualities: She has a passion for what she is doing. It constantly leaks from the overflow of her heart. And she knows her subject down the last detail. I can’t imagine a question she couldn’t answer.

In the church, we generally give high place to those two criteria among the people who act as our guides, particularly those who teach us at weekend services. The formula looks like this:

genuine passion + extensive knowledge = audience engagement

In most cases, the sermons you remember because you’d like to forget them (there’s a phrase!) either lacked passion (a dry monotonous delivery) or lacked substance (the speaker hadn’t studied or had no depth).

The problem was, the farm owner had both, yet in our little group of six, I’m not sure how engaged we were. One person out of the six asked several questions however; this would represent the 15% of people in our local churches that some estimate are really into what is going on and are committed to lifestyle Christianity.

Bible teaching and preaching(I should also add that both my wife and I picked up the parallel between what we were experiencing and its application to church life. As soon as we were out of earshot of the rest of the group, it’s the first thing we mentioned.)

Now, we knew going in what the subject matter was going to be. We just didn’t know how that would be presented. For nearly an hour in the hot sun, we were presented with answers to questions we weren’t asking, details only a solid aficionado of the subject would want to know.

Now I know how preaching sounds to an atheist. We weren’t dragged to this event against our will; in fact we paid an admission to be there. So there was some interest, but not in the type of things that were presented. My wife noted a couple of things that were absent in the presentation; I’ll let her explain.

If the medium is the message, is the storyteller the story? Our credibility is born out of who we are, and our storyteller told us a story that communicated nothing of herself, or any other people. She shared an expert stream of hows, of dos and don’ts, of whens and wheres and hows, of so many centimetres apart and deep and high, of percentages and techniques, of days and weeks and months and years – but no who. We were told that the plant was native to the Mediterranean area. So who brought it over here and why? We were told that there are 57 varieties of the plant, examples of each to be found in a separate plot of soil. Who created the variants? One little nugget that dropped was that her family had, until a few years ago, been market gardeners (implying a varied and multi-seasonal crop). She never explained how they’d made the leap from something so practical and communal to something so esoteric and exclusive. Where did this passion come from? There was no history, no personality. No identity.

So basically, all of our passion and all of our knowledge does not guarantee that our presentation will become infectious, or frankly, that anyone is listening at all.

I know that some people read blogs who are very distrustful of churches that try to make the gospel relevant. I like what someone once said on this: We need to communicate the relevance the gospel already has. I know in my own life there have been times when I was passionate and detailed about things that my hearers may have had a mild interest in, but I wasn’t addressing their felt needs.

Spiritual passion + Biblical knowledge does not necessarily result in audience receptivity, even if you’re the best orator in the world.

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