Thinking Out Loud

April 19, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Click the image for the story behind today’s lead picture. Welcome to today’s WLL, which a Tuesday night internet outage and the season finale of Trial and Error couldn’t stop.

Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta didn’t care for these kids acting out the crucifixion, calling it “Jesus Torture Cosplay.” Click the image to read his comments.

Silly Songs With Larry? This is the lower left quadrant of a larger March Madness parody called March Gladness, but then the blog writer simply stopped posting. (Click the image to see it all.) Turns out Matthew Pierce had one of these going as well and that one went the distance.

April 12, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Welcome to the very last pop-up-free blog on the internet. Or so it seems some days. #obnoxious …Got link suggestions? Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks.

Below image: The church sign prompted a comment on Reddit: “Even I think this is in poor taste! And I’m an atheist.” Another comment, “that pastor must’ve been ‘hammered.'” (So is it real or a sign generator?)

April 5, 2017

Wednesday Link List

We’re back with a whole new set of diversions and rabbit trails. As to the above picture: My wife found this “Armor of God” plush bear in a thrift shop yesterday. Fortunately, it stayed there.  By the way, she is a great help in so many ways to producing the content you enjoy here on the blog and today’s her special day. Join me in wishing her a Happy ■■th Birthday.

  • Okay, we start with a leftover from April Fool’s Day. When January went by, we thought Englewood Review of Books had forgotten the annual book cover awards — which they had, sort of — but we were wrong, sort of. Instead, they issued The Very Worst Christian Book Covers Hall of Fame.
  • You’re alone. The restaurant is full. No tables. But you can order lunch at the bar. Do you abstain from the very appearance of evil? The Bible doesn’t actually demand that.
  • A Jewish perspective on Christians holding Passover Seders: “It’s a lot like people doing a sweat lodge or sun dance that are not Native American. To me, you haven’t walked that path with that people. You’re taking the benefits without having suffered…”
  • Worth considering: 3 reasons to ban mobile devices from your small group meeting and 4 reasons to allow them
  • Britain’s National Health Service funds hospital chaplains to the tune of an estimated £25m annually, with 916 full and part time posts in 2015. With hospital budgets squeezed some are questioning their value.
  • Despite close ties to the Graham family, a Vancouver pastor was among those who could not support Franklin Graham’s Festival of Hope in that city.
  • Essay of the Week: On the Church and video games. “I’ve felt an oversight in the U.S. evangelical church—regarding video games, we have largely dismissed (as harmful) or ignored (as meaningless) one of the largest cultural phenomena of the past 40 years… The pulpit, the blogosphere, and informal discussion seems to provide regular thought regarding other pervasive media types, such as movies, or fiction books, or sports, or social media. But sadly, I see a disproportionate amount of careful, nuanced thought on an industry so extensive…”
  • A fresh idea: From what we always call “the other Thinking Out Loud,” Jim Thornber asks the musical question, what if it wasn’t the pastor who baptized new converts, but the people most influential in that conversion?
  • From the Archives at Mental Floss: With Passion Week approaching, here’s 15 things you need to know about DaVinci’s Last Supper
  • Problems trying to apply “The Billy Graham Rule” in 2017 where things have changed.
  • Jory Micah is a strong advocate for women in ministry. She announced this week she and her husband Luke are starting a church. Well a sort of church. Having been down this road with my wife (we planted two) I think she knows what she’s doing. Until…
  • along comes this blogger who is… like… “Ms. Micah doesn’t have time for repentance and the traditional marks of the church in her headlong rush to fashion the church into the likeness of herself.” (Ouch! That wasn’t encouraging at all.)
  • Skye Jethani finds an increasing number among the disillusioned. “I think about how often I have seen godly, well-meaning people restrained by policies, bureaucracies, budgets, or attorneys. I think about Christian ministries making decisions driven by the shadow mission of survival rather than the kingdom mission of God. And about how desperately we need leaders and institutions that will empower a new generation of Christians, but how difficult that is when the funding comes primarily from a generation with different values. I know I am not alone. I meet more like me every week.”
  • An early review of Bruxy Cavey’s new book. I’m a fan so I’ll be mentioning this often between now and May…
  • …Here’s a text sample of what Bruxy’s parishioners experience each week at The Meeting House.
  • Parenting Place: This isn’t a Christian website or writer, but I loved this account of author Reif Larsen taking his son to the airport.
  • Sometimes we’re not able to get you the ideal link to a story. Like this time. Stephen Baldwin produced a stage show: “Heaven, How I Got Here: A Night with the Thief on the Cross,” which based on a book by Colin Smith. That one says the DVD is ‘coming soon’ but a press release about the film version of the stage show indicates it’s available at ChristianCinema.com. But a search there yielded nothing. Anyone love a mystery?
  • Rachel Held Evans guests on the Bible for Normal People podcast where she and Peter Enns talk about sword drills and violence in the book of Judges. 51 minutes.
  • An English teacher in New York who has been assigned to 20 religious schools since 1991 was fired from a Muslim school for saying the story of Adam and Eve is a myth and showing the Muslim children a painting depicting the couple naked…
  • …Meanwhile in Australia, another clash of cultures: “A refugee who raped a ten-year-old boy has claimed he did not know sexually assaulting the child was wrong as it was ‘culturally acceptable’ in his homeland.”
  • The Environment: It’s a mall in Sweden devoted entirely to repaired or recycled items. “Products are then sorted into 14 specialty shops that include furniture, computers, audio equipment, clothes, toys, bikes, and gardening and building materials; all garnered from second-hand products.”
  • YMin: The $5 mission trip to the mall. The kids couldn’t spend the money on themselves.
  • Video Flashback of the Week: 2012, Candi Stanton’s Hallelujah Anyway.  Why? …
  • …Because it’s the title of Anne Lamott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy
  • …An interview with Anne this past weekend at Willow Creek.
  • A year later, Trevin Wax and Brandon Smith are still producing Word Matters, a podcast devoted to troublesome Bible passages.
  • Bible translation is tough going on the best of days, but chapters 3-41 in the book of Job can be somewhat tedious
  • This one is from last October, but if you’re new to the liturgical calendar, this week is a great time to jump in.
  • ♫ The Ultimate Christian Rock Quiz: I was doing fine on the first ten questions, but not so well on the last ten. See how well you know CCM.
  • Scripture make you uncomfortable? You could always try the Happy News Translation.
  • Bee of the Week: It’s not what the Hebrew letters mean, but how cool they look.
  • So…about today’s closing image: I don’t foresee this Christian products retailer opening branches in Europe or North America anytime soon, at least not under that name. (If you don’t get it, don’t worry; ignorance is bliss.) Here’s the story: “CUM Books has become a much-loved and popular name in South African homes for many years. This chain of Christian family bookshops began when six NG Kerk-boekhandel shops were bought. In 1993 CUM Books began to enter major shopping malls. The first shops were opened in Westgate and Greenacres. Since then… there are now over 40 branches countrywide and an online store.”

 

Digging a Little Deeper

From the creator of Thinking Out Loud, check out Christianity 201. Guaranteed distraction-free faith blogging with fresh posts every day. www.Christianity201.wordpress.com

March 29, 2017

Wednesday Link List

What to do with nine year’s worth of T-shirts collected in student ministry? You could make a quilt. Full story at Baptist Press; click image to link.

 

Satellite campus churches are cool, but what if one time you could get everybody together in one place? That’s what Andy Stanley and North Point Community Church did on Sunday night. Six churches. One service. First time in 21 years.

 

Time Magazine cloned one of its own iconic covers causing Sam Allberry to Tweet, “You can’t have one without the other. The more the first is denied, the more the second will disappear.” Click the image for Time’s coverage of its cover.

Welcome to another Wednesday. Not all stories included this week come with endorsement, but they’re things I felt were worth a look.

Thanks for tuning in this week. As always, no animals were injured in the preparation of this week’s link list. Your mileage may vary. Professional driver; closed course. Do not take if you are allergic to Wednesday Links.

The picture is titled, “Destiny.” The artist is unknown. Click the image for a devotional inspired by the painting.

 

Your library as fashion statement: The orange look is in. Absent for photo: The End of Me by Kyle Idleman. Any others you can think of?

March 28, 2017

When You’re Unfit to Serve at Your Church

Today’s post is a continuation of my wife’s guest post yesterday. I promised I would return to some of the issues raised to look at them objectively. So this post is a continuation of that; you really need to read it first.

1. How long does a person attend your church before they are considered for service?

Many years ago, Andy Stanley hired a Fortune 500 survey company to interview people at their church and found that in the first five weeks at NorthPoint, newcomers are already trying to “discern next steps,” and possible areas of active involvement. On the other hand, when 60’s rocker Barry McGuire came to Christ, his pastor suggested the famed composer/singer should take a seat in the back row to grow and nurture his faith — for a full year! Some say that in a small town church, “Once a visitor, always a visitor.” Where’s the balance? Of course, in my wife’s case, she wasn’t exactly a newcomer, which brings us to…

2. When someone who was a former member of your church returns, does their past experience count for anything?

Clearly, some churches expect you to jump through all the hoops as though you’d never been there before. One woman who wrote us off-the-blog put it this way, “It’s when your motives are questioned and you had thought you had enough ‘capital ‘ in years of service to be trusted…” Churches will have “Celebration Sundays” to revel in their glorious past history, but if someone who is part of that history should return, that experience, even if it involved some tough pioneering, isn’t always respected. For my wife to be classed as a “visitor” was simply equestrian feces. Which brings us to…

3. Is someone who has only been part of a church for ten years truly fit to reprimand, discipline or judge someone whose history with that church goes back twenty years?

Part of the problem in the body of Christ is that we really don’t know each other. But it gets even more complicated when people who have given years of service are being judged — or spiritually abused — by people who, despite their convictions otherwise, don’t know all there is to know. (Or worse, have been given short ‘debriefs’ by a departing pastor about individuals in the church, not unlike those student files kept in the school office.) Sometimes, this problem manifests itself where a church member finds themselves being rebuked by someone half their age. There may be Biblical precedent for that, but it’s still unnatural, and can be avoided by appointing a different mediator. Which brings us to…

4. Are the elders in your church really “elder,” or were they chosen by some other standard?

Typically, in many churches today board members are people who are successful at their vocation. Is your insurance business or car dealership doing well? Expect to be asked. Ditto teachers. But some churches really need to bring back the concept of elders and deacons. (See the story in Acts 7 on the choosing of Stephen for the nuances.) Some elders are on the church board for the wrong reasons, like, for example, their wives talked them into it. Some elders truly “represent” the congregation in a democratic sense, while others see themselves as a sub-priestly class of elite members. Again, another comment received in response to the first article; “…as I think you sense, the leadership there is like a team of soldiers walking through enemy territory with the rank and file members and adherents being ‘the enemy!’ It feels as if there are the leaders and then there are the rest of us — the leaders being a select group of others who think alike and run the show.” Which brings us to…

5. What about Church leaders who will look you right in the eye and lie through their teeth? Is that ever justified?

The conversation my wife had seven years ago revealed a number of statements which, at the very least, were absolute non sequiturs. (I’m being polite.) They told her that she was unfit to lead because people in the congregation didn’t know her, yet just three weeks before that, I had to ask four different people to find out the name of the woman who had led worship that week. (See also the footnote to yesterday’s article; turns out they brought in a guest less than a month later.) My wife was baptized there. Our children were dedicated there. Her husband served on paid staff there for four years. And nobody would know her? Maybe what this is all about is really…

6. Is the elders’ board of a church really where the heart of ministry is taking place? Or even in touch with the real ministry happening?

I doubt that. In fact, if you really want to see corporate life change (aka spiritual formation) take place and they ask you to serve on an administrative board, run as fast you can in the other direction. “Run, Forrest, run!” Just wanting to serve on one of these boards is like wanting to run for public office. And being involved in service is just as political, where you do everything you can to keep your reputation ahead of actual service. And just as in politics, these people will do everything they can to keep people off the stage who might, through raw authenticity and transparency, challenge the carefully developed status quo. People like that are, simply put, a threat. This is not where powerful, fruitful, organic ministry is taking place. Which bring us to…

7. Do people in your church get hurt or wounded or abused?

My wife was told that placing herself in profile ministry meant she was leaving herself open to hurt. Was this an admission on their part that this is a church that hurts people? The church leadership should bear ultimate responsibility for any hurting, wounding or abusing that takes place within their jurisdiction. Furthermore they should be strive to make their church a place of healing; a place of grace. Decisions taken at the board level which are simply leading to further hurt should be considered a worst-case scenario. But this is likely to happen because…

8. Can a church leader be doing “the Lord’s work” and at the same time be about “the Devil’s business?”

Absolutely. People are flawed. They are going to get caught up in what “may seem right,” but actually take perverse delight in stabbing someone and then twisting the knife. Any high school student who has studied Shakespeare knows enough about human nature to know that these personality types are out there. (As Mark Antony says, “These are honorable men.”) It’s all about building their kingdom and especially their desire for power and control. What my wife was subjected to in that hour was simply not of God. So the obvious question is…

9. Why do we keep coming back?

Small(er) towns simply don’t offer people the advantage of packing up and moving to another church. The mix of evangelism, teaching, worship, doctrinal slant, demographic composition; combined with an individual’s history in a place; plus a blind optimism that someday things will improve; all these things sometimes mean that there is literally nowhere else to go. (And trust us, we’ve done the church plant thing, too; it was a great experience; but the plants died or got put on hiatus for other reasons.) Besides, this church is our HOME. Figuratively, those are our kids’ height marks on the back of the door; that’s our kids’ artwork on the refrigerator; not so figuratively, that’s the corner where I prayed with that woman for a dramatic healing; that’s the song my wife taught the congregation just a few years ago; that’s the weekly group that we started.

10. Is it possible that it’s just time to step aside and let another generation have their turn?

If that’s the case, the people working so hard to evict us from active ministry really have only four or five years left themselves. And they are perpetuating a system which will truly come back to haunt them. (‘What goes around…’) But then again, many of the people doing worship service leadership in Canada are much older than their U.S. counterparts. So while a part of me is lamenting my wife’s loss of opportunity to do the thing she loves, and the thing she’s most gifted to do, I’m watching the horizon for that young, unshaven guy with a guitar over his shoulder who is going to bounce this crowd off the stage and, with his peers, bounce this particular collection of elders out of the church boardroom.

I guess that sounds a bit mean spirited, but honestly, things can only get better. Things can only improve. Of course I’ve said that before…

Related post: April 4, 2008 – Growing Deep RootsSometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name… and they’re always glad you came.

Related post: May 1, 2008 – Choosing a Church – This post is where I came up with the phrase, “a place where you can be comfortable being broken.” and the footnote, “When you have true spiritual family in various places, they don’t mind it when you crash!”


March 27, 2017

Loss of Church Leadership Position is Like a Death

It’s now been seven years. Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family. My wife and I have been through this with respect to one particular church both individually and collectively, but because of our long history with the place, seven years ago she went back for another final run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.

Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th, 2010 at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend in response to a request to have her volunteer position reinstated. Nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog. The day after she allowed me to run this at Thinking Out Loud, I came back the next day with what I felt was an objective discussion of some of the other larger issues her meeting raised. That will appear here tomorrow.


By Ruth Wilkinson

I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.

It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.

It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.

Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.

I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.

But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.

So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself.

They said they wanted to have a meeting and “discuss this.” Which is never good.

But I said “OK,” and one evening the three of us sat down to “discuss this.”

I wasn’t optimistic. I’ve known enough people who’ve been alienated from churches to know that you just don’t try to go back. You just don’t. Because it hurts.

One time a few years ago, I got a call from a woman who’s the wife of a former pastor of another church in town. Their time there had ended very stressfully and he’d been fired. But she had founded the local chapter of a national prayer group and they were having their annual shindig. Guess where. She couldn’t bring herself to walk into that building alone after what they’d been through and just wanted somebody to go with her. I said sure. She met me in the parking lot and we went in together. Those kinds of forays are tremendously difficult for the wounded.

Lately I’ve heard a couple of preachers say that “You don’t have to forgive a church that hurt you. You have to forgive the particular individuals in the church who hurt you.”

They’re wrong. Completely wrong.

Anyway, my meeting at the churchIusedtogoto was cordial. The answer was no. Or rather, “Maybe someday.”

Maybe someday. These are obviously people who’ve never read Proverbs 13:12.

The condition they set on the “maybe” was this: That there are people at the churchIusedtogoto who don’t know who I am. People who would wonder, if they saw me at the piano, “Who is that?” And their policy is that “We don’t have guest worship leaders.”

That’s it. That’s the reason. Not that I’ve failed morally. Not that I’m a bad example. Not that I’m incompetent or dangerous. Not that I’m a communist, or a heretic, or I dress funny. Just that somebody might not know who I am.

And their solution to this “problem” was that I should attend the church regularly, spend time after the services talking to people, shaking hands, chatting, getting to know folks and to be known.

Then, once I’d built these “relationships”, then “maybe someday.”

As I said, I’m an introvert. I think about things. I use my brain to ask myself questions. People say things and I actually listen, and then give them thought.

I thought about this. And decided it was bumph.

After a few days, I wrote them back. In part:

I respect your answer, and won’t pursue the question anymore, in spite of the fact that I really don’t believe I was asking for much. Just one Sunday.

But your reason for saying no was so absurd. There are people there who don’t know me. You don’t have guest worship leaders.

All through school, children show up in the morning, occasionally to discover that they have a substitute teacher. People turn on the Tonight Show to find that the host is away and there is a guest host. The evening news anchor goes away for a few days and his seat is filled by a guest anchor. Just the other week, you had a guest speaker as churches do all the time.

And you’d ask me to believe that your congregation is so simple minded that they wouldn’t be able to cope with a guest worship leader. It’s almost funny, if it weren’t pathetic.

I don’t know what you think you’re protecting them from, but if you treat your congregation like simpletons, don’t expect them to challenge themselves.

Not my most diplomatic, but I figured, hell, the bridge is on fire. What have I got to lose?

(Yes, I know I said hell. See above.)

There might be a few things at play in their response.

First, this is a church that had a burst of progressiveness in the 80’s and then just stopped. Since then the leadership has become dominated by policy wonks who seem to be always looking for one more loose end to tie down.

Second, we ‘worship leaders’ have been done a grave disservice over the last couple of decades by being given an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We’re told that we’re ‘leading people into God’s presence’, that we’re ‘temple musicians’ and stuff like that. Rather than that we are just one part of the body of Christ, whose diverse giftings are all of equal value and sacredness.

Which is all another post for another blog.

But reading McHugh’s book has given me the language to better define the vehemence of part of my antipathy to their reasoning.

McHugh points out that, since we introverts usually struggle with social interaction, we find our ways into community by different paths than extroverts and normal people do.

He makes me smile when he describes the hellishness of “unstructured social events”, and writes of a man who leaves church a few minutes before the service ends to avoid “the agony of the fellowship hour”. I love that phrase. It warms the cockles of my contemplative heart.

Those of us who can’t function in the schmooze and chat world of North American evangelicalism connect with their churches through the roles they find to fill. Having a place to step into when you get there is a tremendously valuable thing. It’s a piece of ground from which to meet just one or two people at a time, to find like minded friends and to, yes, build real relationships, not ersatz hi-how-are-you-fine ones.

To insist that one of us has to run the gauntlet of coffee time in order to reach that place, is cruel and unusual punishment. Like telling you that you have to park your car a mile downhill from your house. If you want to go home at the end of the day, you have to sweat for it.

Screw that. Guess I’ll have to make do with one less finger.

Which might be just as well.


To this day, I still get comments from people as to how much they appreciated Ruth’s worship ministry in that church. I may be biased, but it was awesome. Vast song selection. Custom made video clips. Dramatic readings. Times of bold proclamation and times of deep introspection.

Some even go so far to ask if she might consider a reprise of that role. Without going into detail, I tell them to contact the church with that suggestion.

Since the article appeared, the wounds simply have not healed. At the center of this was one particular individual who is otherwise greatly admired and respected by the people of that church. In hindsight — and we’ll get to this tomorrow — what he did at that meeting at night constituted spiritual abuse, not to mention certain aspects where we now know he was lying through his teeth. He continues in a leadership role that leaves me totally mystified.

There was another change of pastoral leadership after this was written and on hearing the full story the new pastor basically said, “He would never do anything like that.” In addition to what we’ve already had to deal with, I’ve now had to suffer the loss of credibility for attempting to defend my wife’s version of the events. 

Finally… saving the best (or worst) for last… Not more than three weeks later they had a guest worship leader. A recording artist who was also doing a worship workshop with them that weekend.  

It had to have already been booked at the time she was told they don’t bring in guests.

March 22, 2017

Wednesday Link List

The Original Wednesday List Lynx

Welcome to this week’s list and thanks to the usual suspects for your suggestions.

This week we caught up with David Hayward aka Naked Pastor… this really speaks for itself:

Finally, when it comes to Christian music tours, what’s in a name? Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction:

March 15, 2017

Wednesday Link List

For those of you who celebrate round numbers, this is Wednesday Link List #350. Our upper image and lower image today are just two of five. Fred Clark at the Patheos blog Slacktivist imagines the five points of TULIP Calvinism as a pulp noir mystery series. Click here to see all five

Also, I can’t remember if I shared this last week, but wearing my other, non-writer hat, I was interviewed for this Christianity Today news story about the bookstore biz. (My second time and with the same reporter as did the first, which was about my writing…my writing the very weekly column you’re lookin’ at!)

March 8, 2017

Wednesday Link List

Germany’s Bernhard Lang took to aerial photography to capture this image of the slums of Manila. Up close the image of the church would look pristine and serene, but pull back and the surrounding neighborhood paints a different picture. Click the image to read the tragic story of what happened on February 7th.

Miss it here? You can always catch it at Internet Monk’s Saturday Brunch on the weekend. (It’s okay…it works both ways! Hi, Mike and Daniel.)

“…At the most basic level, this is a classic example of a false equivalence, which itself is the basis for so many internet memes that try to equate two unrelated issues based on a shared trait. Despite being a logical fallacy, the seemingly straightforward checkmate power of the false equivalence has made it the crack cocaine of many a political debate – especially on the internet… Had even the slightest bit of effort been put into this pseudo-exegesis, its proponents would have noticed a rather inconvenient truth: according to the book of Revelation itself, the gates of heaven are never closed…” Click the image to read at source.

March 1, 2017

Wednesday Link List

tweet-othersWelcome to WLL#348. It’s also Ash Wednesday. We have an unusual number of mid-month pieces here today even though the list was prepared the day before. So not fresh off the press, but we thought worth including. Don’t forget to try to get your suggestions to me by 6:00 PM EST on Monday; but later ones do get considered.

Our extro image is from the Twitter feed Unvirtuous Abbey:

batman-dark-night

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