Thinking Out Loud

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 ‘Nortwest 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.

August 13, 2018

Willow Creek: From Bad to Worse, but with Some Hope

Filed under: Christianity, Church, current events, leadership — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:07 am

Steve Gillen, interim lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL addresses the church’s weekend services.

Just six days ago I reported on the resignation of teaching co-lead pastor Steve Carter, incorrectly assuming perhaps that the worst was over. Instead, just days later co-lead Heather Larson resigned along with the entire Willow Board of Directors (in graduated steps to ensure some continuity in the very short term.)

I was greatly impacted by Willow in the 1980s, so for me, this is personal. While I’ve only attended 4 or 5 actual services — my wife attended an Arts conference as well — I’ve been a part of an extended Willow culture which preferred lost people over simply doing church for the benefit of the membership. Willow was a model for many of us attempting “seeker sensitive” churches, and when the needs of spiritual seekers was seen to have changed over a decade ago, Willow had the courage to change the model appropriately.

So for me it’s been a time of grieving the damage that has been done to one of the most significant movements of the last century, the loss of reputation for Bill Hybels, and the demise of the succession plan for Willow he worked for years to put into place.

I considered updating that story from last Tuesday but decided to revisit this again today.

Watching the Saturday night service live, new lead pastor Steve Gillen — previously at Willow Creek North Shore — was honest in his reluctance to accept the interim position at the main, South Barrington Campus. (You can read that here, or watch the service yourself.) But at the same time, as a seasoned preacher, he spoke with authority, while at the same time cautioning that the church is not out of the woods yet; more difficulties could follow.

Should they have chosen someone with a 20-year history in the organization or brought in someone completely fresh, from outside, to fill the position? Regrettably, time was not on their side, so they acted decisively and swiftly.

I tweeted that “I feel a small measure of optimism returning.”

I really do. I don’t think that all the families who have kids in Promiseland and youth programs are going to sever those relationships just yet, especially with a new school year commencing. I don’t think the people who are fixing cars and distributing food are going to just walk away from those they serve. Even in the middle of their own sorrow as a church, they rose to the occasion last week and welcomed a deluge of pastors and leaders to the annual Global Leadership Summit.

Willow isn’t the type of church where people stay away when it’s the pastor’s week off. Guest speakers have been common. That, at least, is something they built into their culture which other churches could emulate; especially those congregations in which attendance drops by 25% or more when the teaching pastor is on vacation.

Yet another investigation will commence, with Scot McKnight part of the team, though for many, what’s missing at present is an apology and confession from Bill Hybels.

Screen shot of capacity crowd at last week’s Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church. Despite their internal challenges, church volunteers stepped up to serve pastors and leaders from around the world, and those watching by satellite in over 600 locations.

 

May 17, 2018

Thursday Link List

It’s a great weather day where I live, so for some of you, these are the only links that matter.

A few things seen the day after I would like to have included yesterday. Some of the items below are perhaps of greater interest to people in vocational ministry, but I chose things that I think all of us can connect with. If you missed the bigger list yesterday, click here.

  • Canada’s John Stackhouse guests at Lorna Dueck’s website and looks at the composition of the Willow Creek church board and how the choosing of board members can influence outcomes in situations like the one the church just faced. “From what I could read … the website indicates that the Board of Elders of this large, globally influential church features eight impressive people who are long-time members of Willow Creek and who bring a range of gifts and experiences to the Elder Board. All well and good. Collectively, however, they list not a single year of theological education. Nor do any of them have experience in pastoral ministry.”
  • Egalitarian in theory, but not in practice: Canada’s Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada — the country’s direct equivalent of the Assemblies of God — has been at the forefront of ordaining women and even having women as senior pastors. But it doesn’t always translate into actual positions being granted with what the denom would like to see. So, at this year’s annual conference in Victoria, BC, they affirmed their stance: “Two decades later, we recognize that although our accepted, official position is one of equality between men and women, that position has not translated to reality. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented both as vocational pastors and in governing roles at District and National levels, despite female students consistently attending our Bible Colleges in significant numbers. There is a gap between our official position and our lived reality.”
  • Following up on a link from yesterday, we listened to the most recent John Mark Comer sermon online. If nothing else, listen to the first 5-10 minutes. We also linked yesterday to a piece about “data dumping” where pastors simply unload a great volume of information in a non-academic, church environment. With that in mind, check out how this is done in Comer’s sermon. It’s a friendly, unthreatening approach with an admitted theology “nerd” sharing what he learned and recognizing some people may temporarily tune out. I think however, it’s also the degree of sermon prep which attracts people to his church.
  • Andy Stanley has been the most recent target of the label Marcionite, because of a sermon in the “Aftermath” series wherein he spoke of the first generation church ‘unhitching’ itself from the Old Testament way of doing things. Peter Enns addressed this a few months back, noting that God’s so-called “split personality” isn’t just apparent along the OT/NT divide: “Different portrayals of the one God are self-evident, not simply between the two Testaments but within each Testament. Israel’s Scripture does not present God in one way, but various ways—depending on who is writing, when, and for what reason. Same with the New. This is what keeps theologians so busy, trying to make that diversity fit into a system of some sort.”
  • Staying with the OT for a minute, what is the last book of the Old Testament? Did you say Malachi (the Italian prophet)? “The Bible that Jesus was familiar with, what we now refer to as the Old Testament, did not end with Malachi. In fact, it wasn’t even a single volume book. Rather, it was a collection of separate scrolls that were made to be read as a unified collection, and the book designed as the concluding crown jewel was 1st and 2nd Chronicles! Your favorite book of the Bible, I’m sure.” We don’t know how the change happened but we do know the “The general picture we get from the book is that the long years of Israel’s exile did not fundamentally change the hearts of the people. They’re still in rebellion against God, the temple is corrupted, and it leaves the reader waiting for some kind of resolution.”
  • An Arminian website offers “Five Biblical Texts that Calvinists Can’t Wiggle Out Of.” The outline parallels TULIP, and at the end, they admit their strongest case is made with “L” — an argument against limited atonement.
  • Still continuing with the number ‘5’ an article by a lawyer at Christianity Today offers five things your church should purchase before adding a coffee bar, or making another such purge. (This article may be pay-walled soon.)
  • Got an hour to think about comedy? We listened to this over two nights. Christian stand-up Jon Crist was the guest on The Wally Show (WAY-FM) and they left a camera running in the studio as they recorded the segments.

April 17, 2017

Willow Creek Continues to Rewrite the Playbook for Weekend Services

Two weeks ago Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago’s Northwest suburbs had an “Authors Weekend.” Teaching pastor Steve Carter interviewed Anne Lamott and then went into an another exchange with Lee Strobel, the latter having been a former Willow staff member. (Later in the week Josh McDowell visited on Wednesday night.) You can watch those interviews at this link.

Doing an interview in a church service can be a hit or miss proposition. Especially if it is replacing a traditional teaching segment aka sermon. Furthermore, the reaction to any particular guest is going to be subjective. Just a week or two earlier, Willow hosted Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas. That one didn’t resonate with me so much.

But watching Carter talk with Lamott and later Strobel, I realized what they are doing has some broader implications.

First, I have for a long time questioned how much time sermon has left.  With all due respect to those of you currently honing your homiletic craft at either the undergraduate or graduate level, I really think that this particular form is destined to go the way of the CD or the land line phone. I’m not saying there aren’t some great preachers out there; I spend my evening hours listening to sermon after sermon online. But that’s me. For others there are a host of reasons why sermon doesn’t work. ADD or ADHD comes to mind. Some sermons are simply too long. Some say it’s just not how they learn. Some claim that high profile Christian pastors have simply set the bar too high and average pastors can’t achieve the quality that is now widely available online. Others would argue that we’ve become accustomed to media bursts, sound bites, and increased concision.

Second, I have for a long time advocated teaching modules rather than a single focus half hour. A few of us are old enough to remember when NBC introduced the show Real People. Hailed as the first magazine format program — though I’m not sure it predated 60 Minutes — this variety-meets-information type of programming is now widely used. I always thought that the ideal solution in church would be to break up the 30 minutes into three 10 minute segments, separated by music, announcements, or scripture readings. One module might be topical. One might be exegetical. Or if you prefer, one might be light while one might go deeper. One might deal with family life. One might delve into an obscure Old Testament character. (If that last one sounds boring, remember, we’re talking ten minutes here. You don’t have time to lose people!)

What Willow and Carter did that Sunday met these objectives in the ways that follow, but I also want to add one extra point.

The interview was a nice alternative to a sermon. Key here was the fact that the two authors really had something to say. The aforementioned sports star was a good testimony, and she’s probably a role model for a lot of young girls — and they did have a sermon that week as well — but Strobel and Lamott brought a lot of substance to the table. There was also spontaneity, including an opportunity to text in questions. (I wasn’t there in person, but watching the Saturday night service live, I could have easily participated in this.)

The interviews would appeal to different people. Strobel’s was also a testimony, but also tied into an upcoming movie. A number key points in Christian apologetics were covered. Another aspect to this story is what happens in a marriage when one partner has crossed the line of faith and the other is hostile toward Christianity. I hadn’t read anything by Lamott but her personal, unaffected demeanor probably connected with people early in their Christian journey, with seniors, and also with women. In other words, a wide swath demographically.

The interviewer had done his homework. This was the thing that really impressed me. Steve Carter wasn’t just ‘winging it.’ He had spent some time studying both the literature and the biographies of his two guests. Willow had a point to all this, they were doing it for well considered reasons; otherwise they wouldn’t have done it at all. But if they were going to do it, they were going to do it well. (Their commitment to excellence shone through their Good Friday and Easter services this past weekend, also available online.)

Finally, a confession.

I’m a sermon guy. Yes, I just said it’s a dying art form, but I enjoy them. So it would be quite easy for me to feel disappointed I wasn’t going to get one from Willow that week. Truth is, I tuned in especially to see what Strobel would say, and because his connection as a former Willow Creek staffer made it especially interesting. Plus I’ve seen Carter and Bill Hybels do this sort of thing many times before and they aren’t exactly novices.

Can your church snag top name guests? You probably don’t have the budget, nor do they have a lot of availability. But there are probably some stories that Christian people in your community can tell better on a two-chair set than can be related from behind a podium. There are probably topics that can be presented with two members of the pastoral staff taking a tag team approach. There is probably preaching content that can be modified to suit a Q & A format, even if it’s not as spontaneous as you would like it to be. Finally, there’s possibly someone in your church who might, on a one-off Sunday, have something vital to share but would need the help of a more seasoned speaker to rein them in when they go off topic or off focus, or to simply keep the message moving.

I’m not advocating this for everyone; I’m just saying it deserves consideration.


 

 

August 20, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Christian Coke

Time for your midweek break and some news and opinion pieces you may have missed:

Paul Wilkinson is available to speak or sing on any dates you had previously booked with Mark Driscoll, Vicky Beeching or Gungor and may be contacted through his blogs, Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.

August 19, 2014

Video Moments Worth Sharing

Love Well - Jamie GeorgeThis weekend I watched a number of things that I thought were worth sharing. The first is embedded below for your convenience, the others are linked. This video is from the Canadian daily Christian talk show, 100 Huntley Street and features author and “spiritual navigator” Jamie George discussing his new book Love Well (David C. Cook Publishing). I’m about 95 pages in right now and am impressed with his transparency and candor.

The first of the Willow links was John Ortberg’s annual visit there. He was on staff at Willow Creek for many years, and on this summer’s visit, was sharing some of the content from his book Soul Keeping which we’ve reviewed here. The message runs 42 minutes; click this link and then choose audio or video.

The second Willow link is the man himself, Bill Hybels doing what Bill Hybels does best and preaching like no one else. The message which led into a Baptism service runs 37 minutes; click this link and then choose audio or video.

I do have one more for you as well, this is Bruxy Cavey teaching through basic Bible doctrines as part of a systematic theology course for beginners.  You’ll see all the messages at the link, but the one I especially wanted to recommend today is the one from Week 9 – Eschatology. Click this link, and then choose audio or video.

Some of these may be reiterated on the link list tomorrow as well.

March 19, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Abandoned Church

This long de-commissioned church photo appeared back in October at the Twitter feed of AbandonedPics.

There’s something here for people at every age and every stage, including links to stories of interest to lay people and clergy, liturgists and charismatics. Or at least that’s the theory. 

The link list is now owned and operated by PARSE the blog of Leadership Journal, a division of Christianity Today.  Anything you click below will take you first to them, then you can click the item again.

All I know about this comic below is that I found it on the floor of my office, apparently photocopied from a 2002 book of Christian cartoons by Doug Hall. (Does anyone know the book title?) The sentiment expressed here is still alive and well a dozen years later.

Criticize the Pastor

March 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Random screenshot from this week's Phil Vischer Podcast because, honestly, we didn't have a picture this week. Left to right: Phil, Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani

Random screenshot from this week’s Phil Vischer Podcast even though there’s no reference to it in the link list, because, honestly, we didn’t have a picture this week. Left to right: Phil, Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani (Click image to watch)

Each installment of the link list takes on a different flavor, and this one is no exception. No, that’s not right, it is an exception, that’s what makes it different. (Maybe I should have gone with the “no two snowflakes are the same” intro.) 

Clicking anything below will take to PARSE, who own the link list, then click the items there you wish to view.

Like I said, no time for picture shopping this week, so Mrs. W. suggested we mine the vault for classics:

Purpose Driven Parodies

October 30, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Pumpkin Theology

I couldn’t decide whether my intro should tie in with Halloween or All Saints Day, so I decided to play it safe and just get to this week’s links…These links don’t actually link to anything other than today’s Out of Ur version of the list!

  • The UK has become Biblically illiterate to the point where while watching the Monty Python movie, Life of Brian, viewers no longer get the humor.
  • The Liberty Convocation videos on YouTube are a Who’s Who of Christians thinkers and leaders. Last week they welcomed National Community Church pastor Mark Batterson.
  • Essay of the Week: This one will leave you speechless. A writer shares her heart in the middle of a marriage that seems like a giant mistake.
  • Analogy Avenue: One more response to John MacArthur’s conference, this one invoking transportation (trains and the lunar rover) from author Mark Rutland.
  • So here is possibly the last word on that kid who was given the name Messiah, and the challenges that could create.
  • After Natalie Grant and Wow 2014, the number 3 position on the Billboard Christian music chart goes to Bryan and Katie Torwalt. “Who,” you ask? They’re part of Jesus Culture, and sound like this.
  • Randy Alcorn engages the subject of pro-life organizations that use explicit photographs to reinforce their anti-abortion message.
  • The authors of the non-Canonical gospel texts hoped that they would be taken seriously. It’s our job, however, to eliminate the late stories and isolate the early eyewitness accounts, even though we’re tempted to do otherwise.
  • The only thing noteworthy about an article that advocates for Christians to enjoy dancing, is when you find it at the website of Associated Baptist Press.
  • When your kids have a question, do they ask you, or do they automatically take all their questions to a search engine?
  • If you get struck by lightning twice in the same day, you may be correct in assuming that God is trying to get your attention.
  • When you read the Bible, do you follow the Flyover Route, the Direct Route, or the Scenic Route? David Kenney reviews a new NLT edition I’ve had my eye on for awhile: The Wayfinding Bible. (Tyndale Publishing, you have my address!)
  • Resource of the Week: You’ll want to bookmark (or share) Sam Storms’ eleven factors that can destroy objectivity in Bible hermeneutics, along with his basic rules for Bible interpretation.
  • Passionate Teaching: I always love it when Wheaton College’s Dr. Gary Burge drops in for a midweek service at Willow.
  • In Detroit a female Bishop in a Baptist denomination informed her congregation that for more than six months she has been married to another woman. And then she resigned.
  • After a week of focus on Steven Furtick’s house and John MacArthur’s conference, who would guess our attention on the weekend would be on Mark Driscoll, as evidenced here, here and here?
  • Meanwhile, Furtick debriefed his church on all the attention they’ve been getting.
  • Here’s another article suggesting you take an Internet hiatus. What makes this different is that it spells out exactly how to keep important messages coming. (Don’t all of you do this however, or nobody will be here next week!)
  • Here’s a link that gets you eight more links…to eight short newsletter articles the National Association of Evangelicals published on the subject of Holy Humor. (Includes some writers you know well.)
  • …And speaking of links to other links, here’s what an Academic edition of the Wednesday Link List might look like. (Brian LePort publishes one of these each week.)
  • 48% of teenagers have received a sexually explicit message on their smartphones. A mobile monitoring system offers some advice applicable to youth workers.
  • Get Religion is a media analysis site which last week looked at the coverage of the baptism of England’s Prince George from two different perspectives on what wasn’t mentioned.
  • Got 3 minutes? Turns out Eric Niequist, the brother of Willow Creek’s Aaron Niequist has a film company which recently completed this very short film.
  • That wraps up this week’s list. If we could end with a cartoon, it would be this one.

The Wednesday Link List is produced in our studios just east of Toronto, Canada where, for the record, we don’t have snow yet. Any rebroadcast, retransmission, or account of this link list, without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, is prohibited.

Today’s graphics were located at Matthew Paul Turner’s blog.

Amazing Grace Baptist Church Book Burning

July 22, 2013

Fresh Insights into Jesus’ Encounters

Encounters With JesusThrough the Willow Creek “Midweek Experience” teaching videos, I’ve gotten to hear a number of messages by Wheaton College professor Gary M. Burge. So I was due to read one of his books, especially when I stumbled over a sale-priced copy of Encounters with Jesus: Uncover the Ancient Culture, Discover Hidden Meanings; published in 2010 by Zondervan. Clocking in at only 128 pages — and filled with pictures — finishing this book on Sunday afternoon was no major feat.

Before I continue, two observations. First, I’ve noticed a pattern developing lately in the people I’ve been watching/listening-to/reading online and all I can say is that if I were a high school student considering a Christian college, Wheaton College would be at the top of my list. Be sure to check into this school, okay?  (Oh, to be young again, and know what I know now about the direction my life is headed.) Second, I’ve noticed a pattern where despite my access to the latest review books, some of the best finds lately have been among the backlist titles picked up from a variety of odd sources, including scratch-and-dent titles, remainders and items on sale.

With Gary Burge’s voice audibly sounding in my head as I read the book — an advantage to having watched him teach on video — I thoroughly enjoyed his take on five specific encounters Jesus has with:

  1. The woman who was hemorrhaging
  2. Zacchaeus the tax collector
  3. The centurion with a slave who is ill
  4. The thirsty woman at the Samaritan well
  5. The Gentile woman with a sick daughter

…though I have to say that since the historian in me and the anthropologist in me are both entirely non-existent, I did not look at a single one of the color photographs. I was too engrossed in the text.

In the case of Zacchaeus, I once again found myself in the position of having to potentially un-learn something I had been taught from infancy in Sunday School. Surely anyone who has an encounter is immediately changed, right? Maybe not so much in this case. If the interpretation here is to be considered, then Zacchaeus doesn’t have so much of a before-and-after transformation; rather, Jesus is affirming the person who Zacchaeus has always been, and the “salvation” that has come to “this house” refers more to the saving of Zacchaeus’ reputation in the wider community.

I always thought that Zacchaeus’ speech is a pledge or promise of something he is about to do to make things right, however…

…This is not what Zacchaeus says. His comment to Jesus is in the present tense. “Look! I give half of my possessions, Lord to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I repay them fourfold.” Greek has what we call the “future use” of the present tense and interpreters sometimes apply it here. But this is not demanded. Generally these uses imply some immediacy or certainty…

…But many scholars refuse to use it here in Luke 19. We have no suggestion that Zacchaeus needs to repent, nor does the story imply any conversion on his part. He even refers to Jesus as “Lord,” a mark of high honor and discipleship in Luke. As Joel Green remarks, “On this reading Zacchaeus does not resolve to undertake new practices but presents for Jesus’ evaluation his current behaviors regarding money.”

This would be a great revelation to the electrified audience standing on the street in Jericho. Zacchaeus is not what everyone has assumed. He has been honest; he is collecting what is demanded without corruption and abuse, and he is generously giving away large portions of his wealth. The law required that if there was financial fraud, the original amount had to be returned plus 20 percent. (Lev. 6:5)  Here Zacchaeus practices fourfold reimbursement…

When word of this emerges outside, the crowd that thought it had seen one shocking scene for the day now witnesses another. Their notorious tax farmer, who has colluded with Romans, is a man of principle. Rumors of his corruption are evaporating like a mist… (pp. 67-68)

This approach is entirely new to me. And the above excerpt is just a small portion of the insights into this story.

Got you wanting more?


Other books in this series include: The Bible and the Land, Finding the Lost Images of the Desert, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, Jesus the Middle Eastern Storyteller, and Finding the Lost Images of God. If anyone at Zondervan is reading this, you have my address, right?

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