Thinking Out Loud

June 10, 2011

Ya Want Deep Preaching? I’ll Give Ya Deep…

This piece appeared originally earlier in the week at Christianity 201.

There are presently two strains of evangelical preaching emerging. Some preachers, like Andy Stanley prefer the “one thing” approach; providing a rhythm and cadence to their preaching which leaves their listeners remembering a clear message and a clear application. The classic, “It’s Friday Night… But Sunday’s A-Comin'” is a message you’ve probably heard, or at least heard alluded to, that is based on this type of teaching.

The other style is the kind of message that gives you much information about context and history as well as cross-references to at least a dozen related scriptures. There are multiple points and various information sidebars.  While both styles can do verse-by-verse, or exegetical teaching; this exegetical style or expository preaching is considered by some a hallmark as to what constitutes real depth in preaching ministry.

The problem is that sometimes the people in the second camp, feel that the people in the first camp are not giving their people enough “depth.” This came up in the Elephant Room Conference where Steven Furtick used hyperbole to indicate the degree to which he did not want to aim for going deep on Sunday mornings.*

And it comes up here in this exchange between John Piper and Rick Warren. You might prefer to go direct to the YouTube page and click on some of the other subjects covered in this interview series. Some of the clips will also run in playlist form, allowing you to just sit back as the videos play in succession.

“Simple does not mean shallow.” “Simple does not mean simplistic.” What is deep? Warren says he taught series on sanctification and incarnation without actually using the words; do you think that is possible?

*For your interest, here is the discussion between Steven Furtick and Matt Chandler, moderated by James MacDonald. It gives you some insight into how pastors wrestle with the “deep” question.

What’s your definition of deep preaching?

June 3, 2011

Elephant Room Conference: The DVD

If you missed the Woodstock music festival in 1969, you had to wait a full year for the movie; but just weeks after James MacDonald convened the Elephant Room one day seminar which was simulcast to two dozen cities, the DVD is already available for purchase, so we decided to jump in and bought one for ourselves and a couple of extras.

The phrase, “the elephant in the room” is used to denote the thing that is hovering over a discussion, but is never mentioned.   The idea here is that pastors have things they wrestle with that are discussed backstage when they meet up at major events, but are never shared with a larger audience.  The goal was to bring those subjects into open discussion.

The seven pastors were MacDonald, Mark Driscoll, Greg Laurie, Perry Noble, David Platt, Mark Chandler and Steven Furtick who was cast as a bit of a newcomer to this “big league” group.  Actually, Furtick came across very well, presenting some very timely insights into the subjects, and the very nature of the debates themselves.  Topics included:

  • Building numerically versus building depth
  • Responding to culture
  • Compassion and social justice
  • Unity and discernment
  • The multi-site church trend
  • Money issues
  • Loving the doctrine of the gospel but not sharing the gospel

An eighth session dealt with questions that had been texted in during the conference and was actually the most interesting in many ways. 

Over the past few years we’ve seen a growing interest in ecclesiology — the study of what constitutes ‘church’ —  among what would have been traditionally called “the laity.”  Books that would have formerly been written for the exclusive reading of pastors and church staff are now being purchased and discussed by the widest range of Evangelicals, many of whom are forging ahead with startups of home churches or alternative churches.  In a sense, the things the pastors discuss quietly backstage at conferences are being discussed in church lobbies, living rooms and over kitchen tables back home. This DVD set, and the topics it discusses are thereby of interest to everyone.

But it’s not the major takeaway from watching the seminar.

What is most striking is the camaraderie that exists between the pastors themselves.  While they do disagree on some minor points, there is a genuine agreement on the things that matter; what Driscoll well-defines as the difference between national borders (which wars are fought over) and state borders (for which wars are not fought.) 

There were some highlights and lowlights in the video.  One highlight was the overall production quality.  Another was the way they kept the discussion moving, with a moderator and two rotating key opponents followed by a more open forum that allowed the other four pastors to contribute.   Another highlight was seeing that with issues such as multi-site — so much on the minds of people as changes take place quickly — the pastors themselves do not undertake moves lightly, but truly agonize over the ramifications of growth.   A lowlight — and it really has to be said — is the way James MacDonald dominates every discussion, rolling over everyone else like a freight train at times.  I guess it was his party, so he got to call the tune.

I do love the concept, however.  This was a great series of conversations and I would hope that either MacDonald’s crew, or somebody else, would put something like this together this time next year, perhaps with a different mix of pastors and church leaders.  Rather than attempting to describe it further, you can watch a few sample clips here and here

What we call church really matters, and you don’t have to be among the ‘professional’ clergy to care.


Read another review of the conference here.

Link here to an index Trevin Wax provided of participants who live-blogged the event.

May 16, 2011

James MacDonald on the Royal Wedding

Yes, I know it was ten days ago and it’s now old news, but this intense April 29th post at James MacDonald’s blog is somewhat buried among some unrelated video clips posted the same day…

A Royal Wedding?

I got up early with my wife to watch the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. I did this because such things are important to my wife and I love her dearly. We have fond memories of Charles/Dianna’s wedding and like good Canadians by birth remember where we were back in 1981 for that memorable event. Some reflections:  

1) I pray for the new royal couple and ask that the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ would alter their natural course and that through faith they would come alive in a personal way to the forgiveness of sin, and the word of God and the hope of eternal life; simply that they would be saved.

2) I am thankful for the impact of regenerate Anglicans like John Stott and J.I. Packer whose ministries have impacted my life and faith for 3 decades.

3) I am grieved by the religious pomp, contrived ceremony and minimal passing gospel references in the service we and in the end, two billion others witnessed. The mumbling singing and distant glare of the couple themselves during the minister’s obligatory rambling grieved my heart deeply, knowing that this is the only church experience most watching will have this year. And will it do anything other than remind the masses why they do not church?

4) The Anglican community, deeply divided around the world over the authority of God’s word and an orthodox gospel was on display in this wedding seen by as many as 2 billion people. The service was only marginally different than a catholic mass. Reminding us that Anglicanism traces its history not to the heart cries of the reformation: Soli Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, but to the convenience of an earthly King who wanted to remain religious while indulging himself in disobedience and unbelief.

5) I was grieved further by the seeming inability of genuine Christians to be offended at what we witnessed. Is the gospel adorned by an openly fornicating couple, forced into church by obligation, led in prayer by resurrection denying-Green Peace-ministers who care more about carbon footprints and unity at the expense of truth than fidelity to the revealed word of God and the gospel? (if you doubt it, Google Arch Bishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London)

I wish the ‘royal couple’ well and pray that they will find in their impossible task and the fleeting favor of humanity an occasion to search out the One whom to know by faith, is life eternal and who rules over a kingdom that will never end.

Thankful for King Jesus!

May 5, 2011

Living on Borrowed Vision

I want to raise a discussion topic here, and to do so, I’m going to appear to come out hittin’ fairly hard.  However, at no point in this am I trying to be presumptuous or judgmental.  I’m just bringing a topic to the forefront so that we can kick it around and see where it takes us.  I’m not suggesting for a minute that the story described here is necessarily a bad idea; in fact, time may prove otherwise…

…Over two years ago, when the movie Fireproof was releasing, I was really impressed not so much with the film’s quality, but with the idea that the movie — and others — were birthed out of a local church.  (The credits were a high point for just that reason.)

On 1/30/09 I wrote:

The movie Fireproof, for the most part, never played in theaters in Canada, so this week’s video release was our first look at the film.   Once again, the people at Sherwood Church delivered an amazing production.   This is the work of one local church. Where were these people when I was forced to view tacky Christian flicks as a kid?

…and a few weeks later on 2/15/09, I wrote

Watching the movies Facing the Giants and Fireproof have convinced me that even little churches can do big things.   Can you imagine the first time someone there said, “Why don’t we make a movie?”   Not everyone can make movies like Sherwood Church, but it costs nothing to dream big dreams, to brainstorm, to introduce possibilities; to empower individual church members with input into the local church’s ‘big picture;’  or input into choosing its destination.  Then comes the harder, next step: To designate one as its radical agenda for the balance of the year.

A few months later, USAToday did this profile of Sherwood Baptist Church, which noted:

Sherwood Baptist Church… is so successful in its movie making ministry that it now coaches others.

“Movies are the stained-glass windows of the 21st century, the place to tell the Gospel story to people who may not read a Bible,” says Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood in Albany, Ga.

The idea is simple.  Sherwood is saying to other churches, ‘If we can do this as a local church, you can do this.’  Or words to that effect.

There’s nothing wrong with catching someone else’s vision.  Hundreds of pastors noted what Bill Hybels was doing at Willow Creek and saw the wisdom of incorporating many of his ideas into their local church situation.  The result is the Willow Creek Association, a sort of non-denomination networking pastors with similar vision, hosting conferences and connecting churches with resources.

Larry Norman once said, “Christianity is in an imitative mode.”  I think he was speaking from the idea of wanting to create music that was different from anything the world had to offer.  But many singers picked up guitars and imitated Larry Norman resulting in the contemporary Christian music or CCM movement, which later birthed today’s modern worship movement.  While we all long for fresh vision, “the sincerest form of flattery” is one way of recognizing that God is using someone else’s vision in ways we can learn from and adapt.

So why did the story that follows grate on me a little bit?

Elgin mega-church hires Hollywood director

ELGIN — In 2002, members of a megachurch in Albany, Ga., felt that God was calling them to make a movie.

With a budget of just $20,000 — less than what big-name Hollywood flicks spend for lunches — Sherwood Baptist Church made a film about a crooked used-car salesman undergoing a moral crisis.

Named “Flywheel,” it was directed, starred in and co-written by Alex Kendrick, one of the church’s pastors. Unpaid members of the church did most of the other acting and crew work. The film was released in 2003, played in only a few theaters, and made just $37,000 at the box office, though it later would go on to sell 300,000 DVDs.

In 2006, Sherwood Baptist again released a movie, this time about a high school football coach facing a midlife crisis. Riding on the popularity a year before of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” it was distributed by a major studio, played in 441 theaters and took in $10 million, or about 1,000 times what the church spent making it.

In 2008, the Georgia church made a film about a firefighter with a failing marriage. Named “Fireproof,” it became the top-grossing independent movie of any type that year, grossing $33 million. Church officials claim that the movie’s message about strengthening one’s relationships “has saved a million marriages.” Sherwood will release its fourth film, a police/family drama named “Courageous,” in theaters all over the country on Sept. 30.

Feeling God’s call to move in the same direction, the Elgin-based megachurch Harvest Bible Chapel has hired a Hollywood director, Dallas Jenkins, as its media director, bought a TV studio/sound stage in Aurora and given Jenkins the assignment of making a series of “faith-based movies” for theatrical and DVD release over the coming years.

Jenkins said he expects Harvest’s leaders to decide on a topic and a budget for the first film within the next two months and start filming by late 2011 or early 2012…

…When Harvest’s pastor, Rev. James McDonald, got the idea of following Sherwood Baptist into the movie ministry, McDonald thought of Dallas Jenkins.

“James and my dad are friends,” Jenkins explains. “He came out to Los Angeles to have dinner with me and explained what he had in mind. I thought maybe I would come back to Illinois a couple times a year to work on these projects. But he asked me to go to work for Harvest full time. I had never expected to come back to the Midwest.”…

continue reading here

I don’t know why I have conflicting and contradictory thoughts about this.  But here are some possibilities.

  1. The Sherwood Baptist story seems so organic.  The films sprang up from within, so to speak.  To hire a director and purchase a suburban Chicago sound stage seems contrary to the spirit of the Sherwood story.
  2. God is already doing great things through Harvest Bible Chapel, Harvest Bible Fellowship and Walk in the Word.  I know that in the heart of every man — and every great Christian leader — there is desire to “enlarge their territory,” but I hope HBC doesn’t spread themselves out too thin.
  3. I keep wondering if the Sherwood story — despite their willingness to pass on their expertise — is something special that God did through a particular congregation which, unlike the Willow Creek example used earlier, isn’t particularly meant to be copied or perhaps isn’t really particularly copyable.

So don’t try to answer the question as to whether Harvest Bible Chapel should do this, because apparently — and hopefully through prayer and Godly advice — they’re already off and running.  I guess the discussion question is: When is a ministry vision transferable to other churches and locations, and when do we simply come alongside to support those to whom God gave the original vision without feeling the need to directly imitate the success that God gave to someone else? 

Today’s bonus item: A preview of the forthcoming Sherwood movie Courageous…

January 5, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Here’s a new list to kick off a new year…

  • While some “Christian” pastors — one anyway — want to burn the Qu’ran, Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee has “a more welcoming approach.” ” Steve Stone and his congregants put out a sign welcoming incoming neighbors at the Memphis Islamic Center. The church then allowed these Muslim neighbors to use their sanctuary as a makeshift mosque throughout Ramadan while the Islamic Center was under construction.”  Read more at Christianity Today.
  • As strange as that story may be, it’s also the basis for a Canadian situation comedy now in its 5th season.  The new season of Little Mosque on the Prairie kicked off on Monday night with an episode that makes the Imam look a lot more appealing — i.e. “nicer” — than the Anglican minister who is renting the Islamic congregation its space.   Watch past episodes at CBC-TV.
  • The girl who recorded “Wait for Me” in 2000 is done waiting.  News yesterday that Christian singer Rebecca St. James is engaged to marry Jacob Fink who has a background in missions, television production and music. Proposal: Christmas Day. Wedding date: TBA.
  • The number of abusive priest lawsuits in a Milwaukee diocese has forced it to declare bankruptcy.  But a victims’ lawyer says it’s only being done to protect identities, and will merely delay the process.
  • This item was the runner up on Perry Noble’s top 2010 posts:  Ten Questions That Unchurched People Are Not Asking (Sample: #8 – “Does your pastor teach exegetically through the Scriptures?” Hey, it’s a dealbreaker, right?)
  • Tucked away in a little corner of James MacDonald’s (Walk in the Word) website is this tidbit of news:  “And this is amazing…We received a donation of a 20-million-dollar television production facility. The studio and the technology it provides will enable Walk in the Word to produce greater resources to reach more people.”  Not the first time something like this (i.e. Harvest Bible Chapel’s land in Elgin, Illinois) has dropped into their laps!
  • Does God withhold blessings from me because of my sins (even sins that have been forgiven)?  That’s the question Dana asked at Upwrite.  “…it is about the possibility of freedom from beating myself up over the things I might have missed out on because of my sins.”  Anyone care to leave her an answer?
  • And then, this testimony: “My backstory isn’t a pretty one. In fact, I didn’t even begin life as an sweet little planned bundle of joy. My mom was raped and I was the result. I was adopted by two wonderful parents who loved me and raised me as their own. But from the age of 3 until about the age of 12 my concept of love became skewed and shattered as I was repeatedly molested and raped by two different people in my family.I was pregnant at 17.”  That’s Stephanie Shott’s story.  Read the rest at her guest post at Jenni Catron’s blog.
  • This week I checked out the website affiliated with a book that released in November:  Besides The Bible – 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture.  The publisher blurb promises, “Covering a wide array of subjects and authors, from Christian bookstore best sellers to classics of Christian history and more, you’ll find yourself agreeing with some titles, shaking your head at others, and even shocked by a few.”  Here’s the WordPress blog for Besides the Bible.
  • 265 Journal pages containing 214 entries later,  John Piper is back from his leave of absence, and condenses his report in a much, much shorter summary at Desiring God.
  • Bored during church or that expensive ministry conference?  Jim Lehmer is back with an entirely updated version of Christian Buzzwords Bingo.   Each refresh of the page gets you a new bingo card!
  • Want to send a shout out to long-time friend Al Clarkson for keeping me posted on things I might have missed.   (Like this and the next two entries.)  Here’s Alpha Course founder Nicky Gumbel speaking at the Lausanne Conference.
  • Canada’s popular Christian musician, Steve Bell — who we linked to last week — scored some major press here this week in the prestigious business insert to a national newspaper.  You can catch both items at once at this bookstore industry blog.
  • And at the same blog, at age 102, George Beverley Shea is to receive a Lifetime Achieve Award in conjunction with The Grammy Awards.
  • Last week we linked to Derek Webb’s piece at Huffington Post, and this week you can read Frank Turk’s very firm response, and the 250 comments it generated.
  • And at the blog, On The Fence (tagline: A Skeptical Screenwriter and a Christian Pastor Talk About Faith) Travis comments on reading Greg Boyd’s Myth of a Christian Nation over the holidays. Not sure if Frank Turk would approve of Boyd.
  • Our photo below is a flashback to a 2009 post at the now defunct blog, Cool Things in Random Places. It’s a picture of The Door to Hell. Really. The link gets you many more pictures and videos.

The Door to Hell, is situated near the small town of Darvaz in Turkmenistan.  Thirty-five years ago, geologists were drilling for gas when then encountered a very large cavern underground filled with a poisonous gas.  They ignited the gas expecting it to burn off in a few hours.  The gas is still burning to this day. Its 60 meters in diameter and 20 meters depth have not been caused by volcanic activity or a meteorite impact.This crater was created sometime in the 50’s when the Soviets were prospecting for natural gas in this area and it’s been burning since then.

September 29, 2010

Wednesday Link List


Another mid-week pause to look at some reading I did this week.

  • Our upper and lower comic selections this week are some Christian themes found at the daily newspaper comic, Pardon My Planet.  (Click the individual images…)
  • Here’s a controversial youth ministry concept:  Killing off the youth group as a separate entity within the larger church.   Links to video.
  • In the wake of the whole Glenn Beck thing, Parchment and Pen dusts off the classic question, Are Mormons Christians?
  • Even back in Augustine’s day, the church wrestled with the issue of celebrity conversions, and you may be surprised by his conclusion.
  • Here’s a trade review (for bookstore people) of a little 300-word title for kids and parents titled Our Home is Like a Little Church, a local-church publishing project that got picked up for national distribution.
  • If you found late-night TV Bible teacher Gene Scott quirky, you’re gonna see a similarity in these video clips from corporal punishment advocate Mike Pearl.
  • Another HT to Zach at Vitamin Z:  What constitutes “regular” church attendance?   This is a real issue both for families and for church leaders.    Here’s a comment from a pastor at one of Mark Driscoll’s satellite campuses.
  • Speaking of Mr. D., here’s a sometimes heated 12-minute discussion between him, Mark Dever and James MacDonald on the whole wisdom of multi-site churches.
  • Zac Hicks looks at the lack of spiritual warfare themes in modern worship in a piece on Why the Devil Hates “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
  • Pete Wilson introduces Stephanie, who is willing to step out and share her story in a five-minute video, highlighting how so many of us have a need for approval.
  • On the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of RZIM, Ravi Zacharias appoints Rick Pease as the new president of the apologetics ministry organization.   Link opens direct to an mp3 file of their radio broadcast.
  • Yes, as a matter of fact some people have updated Bishop Eddie Long’s Wikipedia page.
  • Was it atheists and agnostics or Evangelicals who scored the highest on the ABC News response to the Pew Forum religious knowledge test?  Watch the video or read the story.

May 6, 2010

When Excellence Gives Way to Expediency

For several months now I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing on a subject that has distressed me personally, but I’ve hesitated knowing that I’ve already touched on the issues of (a) radio and television preachers asking for money, and (b) the difficulty of getting off mailing lists once you’re on them.

The current frustration revolves around the fact that over the Christmas period, I made some donations to some organizations, but the value of my donation has been reduced to nil in light of the subsequent solicitations they have sent me to try to get more donations.   I know what mailing pieces like this cost to produce (and mail) and any “ministry credit” that was in my “account” has reset back to zero, or even gone into a negative balance.

Let me pause at this point, and add that, following Biblical instruction, I have gone to them directly on this, and at least one agreed to work with me to solve the problem.   The others did not write back.

There’s one list I’d like to remain on, albeit more minimally.   They produce a devotional booklet that we’ve been using with our family for several years now.  (We read two days at a time, and do other readings on other days.)

The book is produced by a popular radio ministry organization,  but it is multi-authored; that is to say, it is shared around by a number of other organizations with contributions from their key spokespeople.   That said, the producing organization makes sure that it’s man always has:

  • The first word; the lead devotional of each month
  • The last word; the closing devotional of each month
  • The word on any special holidays or other significant days

So yes, it’s a little biased towards the one organization, that happens to be the one from whom I obtain monthly copies.

So I’m at a crossroads, because they’re telling me that if I don’t make a donation soon, I’m going to be cut off from receiving future issues; and many of the devotional commentaries are working well with our family.

But now I have new issue.

We’ve noticed in the last three or four copies a number of glaring typographical errors.   Little things.   Little foxes spoiling the vines, so to speak.   Stupid, trifling, trivial errors that should have been spotted in simple proofreading.

Tonight’s was the worst.   The devotional was based on Psalm 8 with the key verse:

O Lord , our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.  Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.  (vs. 1-2, ESV)

So far, so good.   But the devotional title is, “Stinkers Minding God’s Store.”   Huh?

I waited through all six paragraphs for the title to kick in, but it never did.  I checked ahead a few pages to see if the header had been transposed from another article.   I even considered the possibility that the reference to “babes and infants” somehow lined up with the word “stinkers.”  (C’mon now, you would have made the same conclusion.)

I get the feeling that this whole thing is being rather haphazardly thrown together.   I haven’t red-lined the other errors, but now I wish I had been keeping score.  (Actually, if you approach your devotional time with a red pen in your hand, that’s not exactly a good thing…)    I’d like to do a mark-up on the text and send it back to them.

While this sentiment might be true, we're talking here about something a little more serious than a compulsive need to make corrections.

We’re all going to make mistakes.   Me.  You.  All of us.   But we need to strive for excellence.   And the more public the forum, the higher the standard we need to aim toward.

I’m just not sure I should be contributing to — and thereby encouraging — something that isn’t more carefully considered before it goes to press.   However, like I said, the nightly readings are registering with my sons, and when you have something that’s connecting with a couple of teenagers, you don’t want to be too dismissive.


« Newer Posts

Blog at WordPress.com.