Thinking Out Loud

March 20, 2016

Why Go To Church?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:26 pm

 

Going to church

As I was driving to a worship service this morning, I heard a voice in my head asking, “Why are you going to church?”

I should explain that the voice wasn’t coming from someone with horns wearing a red suit and holding a pitchfork, but rather it was the voice of a repeated self-examination that I often do while making the ten minute drive.

I know there are various stock-in-trade answers to that question. To engage in corporate worship our creator and sustainer. To take time apart from the world and work. To honor God’s day. To fellowship with other believers. To partake of Communion. To give. To pray for those in need. To be prayed for.

Those are all good answers.

Ultimately the answer I find myself coming up with lately is:

Because it’s better than not going.

Let me say that (a) I know some will think that sounds lame, and (b) some will think that is simply an answer that is incorporating the collective aspects of the other usual answers, or the absence of experiencing those benefits. But I have to say that in my Christian life, I’ve seen the effect on people of choosing not to attend weekend services, and I’ve known in my own life the emptiness I feel during a week that didn’t start out with a gathered assembly of believers.

As you face the options of various Good Friday and Easter Sunday services in the week ahead, and consider factors like having to attend at a different hour, or facing parking congestion, or maybe just having visitors sit in your seat (!) let me suggest that the other option — staying home — is just not your best choice.

Go. Go expectantly. Ask God to meet you there. Ask what he has for you to hear. Ask him to show you someone to speak to that you can encourage.

And don’t just attend. Be all there; be all in.

February 1, 2016

Know Where You Believe

 

Tic-Tac-Blinders-Church-Stage-DesignYesterday I got to visit a church in our community which offers a contemporary and a traditional service which run concurrently, with the contemporary service getting a video feed of the sermon when it begins. It was my second visit.

Opinions on music in the local church can often divide people, but this church found a way to satisfy both groups at once. Yes, the one auditorium demographic skews much younger and the other much older, but there is considerable overlap. I spoke to many people after the service; one was a couple (she’s turning 80) who much prefer the more modern service. The other was a guy half their age who much prefers the hymns and the organ.

hymnboardThere is a value to inter-generational worship, and much has been and is being written about this elsewhere on the internet. But both of these worship settings provide that accomplish this, even the demographics are more pronounced in each one.

The thing that got me however was one comment that certain people in the traditional service hold to an opinion that you aren’t truly able to worship God in the modern service, and look down on the younger worshipers condescendingly.

No, it’s not about the music.

The contemporary service meets in a gym.

Therein lies the problem. There are still a number of people who feel that you can’t truly worship God in a civic center, a community hall or a gymnasium; you need a sanctuary that has been set apart for this purpose.

(Given the choice I had when I walked into their building, I chose the gym because I felt I could make a better connection there; that the overall tenor of that service would resonate with me much, much more. I don’t mind the hymns so much, but to listen to the organ would have proved counter-productive and even a bit of a distraction.)

The story of the woman at Jacob’s well in John 4 is more than simply Jesus encountering a woman with a bad reputation; it raises theological issues as well.

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

She was raising one of the Samaritan distinctives: Where should one worship? She’s really choosing to enter into a debate on the thing that separates Jews and Samaritans instead of focusing on the things with which they agree. She’s not looking for a basis of agreement, but looking to argue doctrine. (She’d love the internet!)

But Jesus sidesteps the question entirely.

Stephen, in his one and only recorded sermon, reiterates this:

48  “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

49 “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
50 Has not my hand made all these things?

I just couldn’t believe that the person described in my conversation yesterday seriously believed you can’t worship in a gym, but this mentality still exists in 2016.

If you agree with me that it doesn’t matter, take a moment to prove it. Turn away from your computer or mobile device, or close your eyes, and take a moment to worship God right where you are.

December 21, 2015

Church Policies: What to do in the Middle of a Service When…

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:35 am

disruption in church service

Last week blogger Jayson D. Bradley asked the question Does Your Church Have a Shooter Policy? (Stop reading here, and click the picture above if you think this is something your church needs to consider.)

While potential gun violence is definitely a concern in the United States right now, it raises the question of whether or not churches, which are open to the public, have contingency plans in the event of various scenarios. Such as:

Does your church have a lock-down policy if a child is missing? We experienced something similar to this first-hand when we returned to pick up our oldest in the church we were visiting and were told, “We never had a child that looked like that here.” We found him wandering the building on his own, though he could have easily wandered outside into a busy street. (We only returned to that church for another visit when the kids were much, much older.) Churches should be just as proactive on this as schools and daycare centers.

Do people leading the service know what to do if someone starts speaking in tongues? So here I’m assuming your congregation is not Charismatic or Pentecostal, because if they are, this isn’t a problem. But in a mainline Protestant church, or mainstream Evangelical churches, this is a potential issue. Fortunately, when I served as a worship leader under various pastors, those churches were in the “open, but cautious” or “seek not, forbid not” category on tongues and prophecies, so we were prepared to roll with it. But sometimes someone may offer a prophetic word that isn’t necessarily from God, and you need a back up plan. (Also, this already-classic sermon interruption comes to mind.)

What if during the music someone starts dancing? This actually happened in one very conservative church I grew up. The woman moved into the aisle and started doing a simple two-step. That was too much. At that point, my mind blurs trying to think of what happened next, but refocuses for the memory of her being carried out sideways as rigid as a board. As Dave Barry would say, ‘I am not making this up.’ There was one man at one end, and one at the other, and she was like a piece of lumber. Just yesterday, Bill Hybels told the story of a Christmas service where people were asked to “show some love” to someone they came with, and a couple started making out.

What do you do if a baby is fussing/crying really loudly? I’ve seen this handled well, but one memory is seared into my brain of it handled badly. The family — which we learned later had never been to church before — sat on the front row of a packed inter-denominational service, and the little girl was quite animated. Finally the guest speaker stopped talking and said, “I’m not going to continue until this problem is fixed.” I’m not even sure that the mom, who wouldn’t know what’s normal in church, even realized the remark was directed at her. The ushers did nothing. (Who’s really in charge when it’s an inter-church service anyway?) And so he went on to say, “It’s still not fixed.” (To make matters worse, I was one of about 40 people on the platform and witnessed this train wreck all too closely.)  Jesus no doubt had kids running all over the place when he spoke informally, and even told the disciples not to stop them from coming. On the other hand, many of our services today are recorded for podcast and video distribution and a kid can make it really hard to hear.

What if it’s noticed that someone has quietly scooped some cash from the offering? I also witnessed this first-hand as a teenager, and have been mostly donating by check (that’s cheque for my British and Canadian readers) ever since. As someone who has worked in retail, I know that even there confronting someone who is shoplifting is difficult enough, and in that situation you actually have to wait until they leave. I think some confrontation is necessary; regardless of the resolution you seek, they need to know that you saw it and God saw it. Are they facing some need where the church could help more directly? The two guys — yes it happened more than once — in my story were looking for cash to buy cigarettes. One was the son of a prominent church leader. I was too young at the time to stand up to them, though years later I asked the sister of the second one if her brother had ever paid all that money he took back to the church. She just looked at me quizzically, and I decided to leave it there.

 

You be the writer: What other types of situations do you think your church should have a contingency plan for, when it comes to weekend services?

June 16, 2015

Finding Blog Topics in the Middle of Sunday Worship

Filed under: Christianity, Church, worship — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:37 am

Applegate Christian Fellowship

On Sunday our church had its annual “Church In The Park” service. Since we normally meet at two different service times, it’s nice to have everyone altogether.

During the worship time, I couldn’t help but look around and see families and individuals in the unique out-of-doors context. There was one family that I’ve known for years, but their one child seemed troubled during the singing time. Another family that I’ve known a long time is new to this church and it was great to see them entering in wholeheartedly as we we worshiped. I saw a number of people who were by themselves and as this particular service especially caters to families with kids, I made a point to speak to one of them.

I also wondered how the four of us looked to others.

Every picture tells a story; each person is an unfolding story.

“Paul;” some will be thinking, “It was the worship time, and you should have been focused on the attributes of God, his love and majesty, and expressing your thanksgiving and praise to him.”

I guess I allowed myself this different track because of something my wife said to my youngest son earlier in the week about how she is experiencing that time in our weekend services. I asked her to explain:

As an introvert with eclectic music tastes, I find the ‘modern worship’ pool at the churches we attend growing increasingly shallow and, to be honest, uninteresting.  As we stand and sit and stand again during the ‘worship time’, I am less and less engaged in the singing, so I look around. 

I see a man who I remember going through a dark time several years ago and recall how God brought him through.  I see a woman still healing from her surgery, hands raised, eyes closed and a smile on her face.  I see a family, faithful attenders, working to stay close to each other despite disappointments and pain.  I see a woman trusting God for an answer in the middle of her weakness and anxiety.   And the weight, the power, the joy of what God has done in their lives, of what he is continuing to do, hook themselves into my heart. 

In looking into those lives I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness, love, healing and hope deeply and irresistibly.  In that, and in silence, I worship. 

This all got me thinking as well about how some of my fellow-bloggers say they have a tough time coming up with topics; that they never know what to write about.

Look around you.

There are many, many stories. If they are ‘too close to home’ then change up the names, locations and situations, but keep the essence of what you see. If you’re not a good storyteller, then generalize what you feel are the important themes that come to mind. (‘I’ve been thinking lately about…’) 

Summing this up, I think the making of a good writer involves (a) being out and about in the real world, and (b) being observant; having one’s eyes open. Even in the middle of worship when everyone else’s eyes are closed.


Photo: Applegate Christian Fellowship in Oregon. They don’t have to go to the park, they have this on their property.

March 16, 2015

The Sound of Keys: Modern Worship Instrumentation

The new Nord Lead A1 analog modeling synthesizer joins brands such as Moog, Korg, Novation, Studio Logic, Akai, Access, Yamaha and Roland.

The new Nord Lead A1 analog modeling synthesizer joins brands such as Moog, Korg, Novation, Studio Logic, Akai, Access, Yamaha and Roland.

If you track the worship sections of church service podcasts, you can’t help but notice a couple of subtle shifts taking place in what instruments are on stage. Some churches are manifesting one of these, others have both:

  1. The influence of Roots music or even Appalachian music, in particular the use of banjos, ukeleles and mandolins and compositions by bands such as All Sons and Daughters, Rend Collective and I Am They.
  2. The re-introduction of more keyboards, not just the use of what is called pads or textures, nor synthesizers which are being used for their digital samples of existing instruments or variants; but rather, the more raw synthesizer sound itself being used to drive the melody or create linear counter melodies or lines between verses.

For this writer, the second situation can’t happen soon enough. After three or four decades of having both Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) and modern worship dominated by Nashville — most of the major record and publishing companies are physically based there as well — it’s time to refresh things by changing it up a bit, and allowing the UK or European sound to influence the sound of weekend church services. To date, both CCM and church worship in North America has had Tennessee’s country music looking over its shoulders.

That doesn’t mean the guitarist is done. Watching services this weekend at North Point Community Church as well as the ‘release party’ church service at City Church for Judah Smith’s new book Life Is _____, it was apparent that even though the sound was revised in several songs and very much keyboard-driven, the guitar player is still front and center providing leadership.

Where Christianity meets culture and worship meets the arts, there are always going to be opinions and counter-opinions, but trying new things is not harmful. If anything, keyboard players who were excluded from the team roster now have an extra instrument — a second digital keyboard of synthesizer — which can be included.

The resultant sound is bright, crisp and certainly inspiring.

February 26, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Chocolate Pope - NBC News Photo

The link list knows no borders, so you won’t find any gloating about Canada’s Olympic hockey wins here. Click anything below and you’ll be redirected to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, a ministry of Christianity Today; then click each link there.

If you’re not busy this week snapping up Son of God movie tickets, you can check out Paul Wilkinson’s other writing at Thinking Out Loud.

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

“Jonah Leaving the Whale” by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600

July 7, 2013

How to Play Church

Have you ever watched a group of children playing “school,” or do you remember playing the game yourself? Kids may say they hate school, but interest in this game usually intensifies in mid-July, and the same kids who were chanting, ‘No more teachers, no more books…’ just a few weeks previously find themselves engrossed in a complete reconstruction of the educational process.

The teacher plays the role perfectly. There’s instruction, discipline and a test to see if the students are learning. The students also turn in a flawless performance. But wait! Now somebody else wants to play the part of the teacher. The roles have been exchanged and the new ‘teacher’ is even better than the last. These kids have never been to teachers’ college; where did they learn the teacher’s role so well?

It has been said that of all the occupations available to young people, the job of schoolteacher is the most self-perpetuating. This means that the teacher’s activities receive constant exposure and we gain a full understanding of what teaching entails without being formally trained to take on the role. We are what Hollywood would call understudies for the part, even though only a handful of children ultimately choose teaching as their life’s work.

[Sidenote: Some will argue that motherhood is actually the most self-perpetuating role. No problem here; have you ever watched the same group of children play “house?” It’s the same principle: Monkey see. Monkey do.]

Having grown up in a Christian home and having shared that heritage with many of my friends, I’ve learned that it is equally possible to play “church.” It is actually a game that affords a greater variety of roles. One can be the worship leader while another is the preacher. A cardboard box becomes the offering plate. A battery-operated toy piano is transformed into a four-manual cathedral organ. For Baptist children, a nearby wading pool offers the opportunity for the sacrament of baptism; for Anglican children a glass of water serves the same purpose. Those who don’t sing, preach, or serve communion become the congregation.

The problem is that the game never ends. As we progress through our teens, twenties and thirties, we continue to perpetuate the game the way we’ve always played it. When someone tries to play the game differently — maybe they didn’t play church when they were young — we encourage them to play it our way because we’ve been playing it longer and we know the rules.

Think about this one: Its 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. The kids have had their ritual weekend bath and gone to bed. Time now to read the paper, play with the TV’s remote control for a half-hour, and then review your Children’s Church lesson for the next morning.

The phone rings. It’s the pastor, and he doesn’t sound too good. He’s come down with Somethingitis and can’t get anyone to take over the worship service, because everyone has gone to the cabin for the long weekend. He needs you to run the entire service; there’s been no order of service written. Choose a few choruses that the kids from the youth group can play on guitar or piano. Be sure to read a scripture. Don’t forget the offering. “Look;” he says, “I need you. You have one hour together to worship God, and you can do anything you want to with that hour.”

You hang up the phone. Nobody would ever believe this one. You grab a copy of the church’s old hymnbook; the one you should not have taken home with you. You flip the pages back and forth, and set it down and pick up a CD copy of Wow Worship and start reading the list of worship songs on the two discs. All this time the pastor’s words are echoing in your brain, “do anything you want to with that hour.”

Your creative juices start to flow. You begin to think of all the things you wish would happen at a Sunday morning at your church. Testimonies. Praying together in small groups. Interactive discussion. All those concepts that have been locked away in your head for all those years.

On the other hand, you realize that a very sacred responsibility has been entrusted to you. Everyone will be watching to see what you do.

Why rock the boat? Why make waves? Why get everyone mad? Because you were on the sound and lighting team, you have a copy of the order of service from the week before; so you change the music selections, adjust the scripture reading, and enlarge that Children’s Church lesson so that it becomes an sermon for adults.

The next day your service is a perfect imitation of everything the pastor normally does. When it ends, people come up to you and say how much they enjoyed the service. What they mean is that they weren’t challenged, weren’t made to think, weren’t robbed of any program elements that make them feel comfortable. You were a hit!

After 20 years of playing church, you finally got to play in the big leagues, and you let everybody know that you know how the game is played.

Congratulations. Your religion is now completely devoid of any real meaning.

~ Chapter 8 from For Members Only, an unpublished manuscript I began working on many, many years ago.  Previously posted one year ago at Thinking Out Loud

July 28, 2012

Playing Church

Have you ever watched a group of children playing “school,” or do you remember playing the game yourself? Kids may say they hate school, but interest in this game usually intensifies in mid-July, and the same kids who were chanting, ‘No more teachers, no more books…’ just a few weeks previously find themselves engrossed in a complete reconstruction of the educational process.

The teacher plays the role perfectly. There’s instruction, discipline and a test to see if the students are learning. The students also turn in a flawless performance. But wait! Now somebody else wants to play the part of the teacher. The roles have been exchanged and the new ‘teacher’ is even better than the last. These kids have never been to teachers’ college; where did they learn the teacher’s role so well?

It has been said that of all the occupations available to young people, the job of schoolteacher is the most self-perpetuating. This means that the teacher’s activities receive constant exposure and we gain a full understanding of what teaching entails without being formally trained to take on the role. We are what Hollywood would call understudies for the part, even though only a handful of children ultimately choose teaching as their life’s work.

[Sidenote: Some will argue that motherhood is actually the most self-perpetuating role. No problem here; have you ever watched the same group of children play “house?” It’s the same principle: Monkey see. Monkey do.]

Having grown up in a Christian home and having shared that heritage with many of my friends, I’ve learned that it is equally possible to play “church.” It is actually a game that affords a greater variety of roles. One can be the worship leader while another is the preacher. A cardboard box becomes the offering plate. A battery-operated toy piano is transformed into a four-manual cathedral organ. For Baptist children, a nearby wading pool offers the opportunity for the sacrament of baptism; for Anglican children a glass of water serves the same purpose. Those who don’t sing, preach, or serve communion become the congregation.

The problem is that the game never ends. As we progress through our teens, twenties and thirties, we continue to perpetuate the game the way we’ve always played it. When someone tries to play the game differently — maybe they didn’t play church when they were young — we encourage them to play it our way because we’ve been playing it longer and we know the rules.

Think about this one: Its 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. The kids have had their ritual weekend bath and gone to bed. Time now to read the paper, play with the TV’s remote control for a half-hour, and then review your Children’s Church lesson for the next morning.

The phone rings. It’s the pastor, and he doesn’t sound too good. He’s come down with Somethingitis and can’t get anyone to take over the worship service, because everyone has gone to the cabin for the long weekend. He needs you to run the entire service; there’s been no order of service written. Choose a few choruses that the kids from the youth group can play on guitar or piano. Be sure to read a scripture. Don’t forget the offering. “Look;” he says, “I need you. You have one hour together to worship God, and you can do anything you want to with that hour.”

You hang up the phone. Nobody would ever believe this one. You grab a copy of the church’s old hymnbook; the one you should not have taken home with you. You flip the pages back and forth, and set it down and pick up a CD copy of Wow Worship and start reading the list of worship songs on the two discs. All this time the pastor’s words are echoing in your brain, “do anything you want to with that hour.”

Your creative juices start to flow. You begin to think of all the things you wish would happen at a Sunday morning at your church. Testimonies. Praying together in small groups. Interactive discussion. All those concepts that have been locked away in your head for all those years.

On the other hand, you realize that a very sacred responsibility has been entrusted to you. Everyone will be watching to see what you do.

Why rock the boat? Why make waves? Why get everyone mad? Because you were on the sound and lighting team, you have a copy of the order of service from the week before; so you change the music selections, adjust the scripture reading, and enlarge that Children’s Church lesson so that it becomes an sermon for adults.

The next day your service is a perfect imitation of everything the pastor normally does. When it ends, people come up to you and say how much they enjoyed the service. What they mean is that they weren’t challenged, weren’t made to think, weren’t robbed of any program elements that make them feel comfortable. You were a hit!

After 20 years of playing church, you finally got to play in the big leagues, and you let everybody know that you know how the game is played.

Congratulations. Your religion is now completely devoid of any real meaning.

~ Chapter 8 from For Members Only, an unpublished manuscript I began working on many, many years ago.

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