Thinking Out Loud

January 7, 2013

What If? – The Ultimate Revelation Song

The idea expressed here is not something that I believe to be the case, but rather is simply a possibility I want to consider in the hope of enlarging your vision of what it means to speak of someday standing in God’s presence.

Urbana 2012

So I’ve been cruising the interwebs for the last couple of days hoping to run into some video footage of InterVarsity’s latest missions conference, Urbana 2012, which was held between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

I finally encountered this homemade video compilation at YouTube, though I could see evidence in it that a professional camera crew was probably documenting the event for something more formal to be released later.

The person who posted the video was obviously more interested in the music than the speakers, though there was an interesting excerpt of what appeared to be the opening of the event where someone was talking about the millions of kids who have passed through the Urbana events since their inception some 60 years ago. (Full disclosure, as a one-time InterVarsity Press employee, I am very biased towards anything InterVarsity does!)

Based on the scant bit of data I could gather from the video (and a second part posted by the same individual) the future of modern worship has a distinctively Latin flavor. But then, this was a conference with a world missions emphasis.  (Another aside: If your church doesn’t occasionally sing a familiar worship chorus in another language, you’re missing out. There is nothing more worshipful than to realize that we are part of a larger body doing what we do on weekends; and to free ourselves from the confines of our local church buildings.)

There’s a point in the video where the audience is singing Revelation Song (Worthy is the / Lamb who was slain / Holy, holy is He) in what I believe to be Spanish. (The video quality is good but not great.) I believe the words to the chorus are something like “Santo, santo, santo…”  (Corrections welcomed.)

But then there is a point — possibly due to the poor audio — where it appears there are several languages going on at once. At least, that’s what it sounded like on my bargain-basement speakers.

And it got me thinking.

What if?

What if the song sung by angels and resurrected followers of Jesus Christ is a song that had already been heard on earth. (Again, it’s probably something far greater; “…ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man…:” etc.). But what if?

What if the “Holy, Holy, Holy” of those falling on their faces before God in the book of Revelation had been already previewed for us. And what if, in the grandest of ironies, the song is known in English as “Revelation Song.”  (Rev. 4:8 attributes this to the Living Creatures, but the text doesn’t preclude others joining in the song.)

Again, this is pure conjecture. And I don’t want to embarrass the writer of the song by attaching a significance to it that exceeds all commonly held parameters.

But what if some of the songs we sing in heavenly places are songs that we now know, with each one singing in their own language? Think about it, we’ve increasingly seen some of today’s worship choruses transcend the broadest denominational spectrum. And the internet takes songs around the world instantly.

But what of the people who didn’t live in the 21st century?

What if the saints who have gone before us live out their role as a “great cloud of witnesses” are eavesdropping on our weekend services and learning our songs? Do they sing along on some (not all) of them? What if their greatest delight is to hear sincere praise emanating from our lips as we sing the songs which advance the purposes and power of God in our generation?

What if those people who said after a good worship time, “I believe we’ll be singing those songs in heaven” were partly right?  What if those who offered, “I believe that was a taste of heaven” weren’t completely off the mark?

What if there’s a way that people singing in different languages can be united by a melody, by harmonies, by chords; and that some day we will hear what it sounds like when an assembled multitude from across the spectra of time and locations join with a company of angels to produce a sound to honor God that is literally out of this world? 

What if we turn out thoughts toward dreaming of heaven?

March 29, 2011

When Youth Ministry is Priced Out of Reach

Youth Pastor: …So guys, thanks for coming out tonight, I think we all had a great night, and don’t forget to bring five dollars with you next week. I can’t tell you what it’s for, but don’t forget… five dollars. Goodnight.


[30 Minutes later]

Student Youth Intern: So can you tell me what the five dollars is for?

Youth Pastor: Actually, I haven’t decided yet. But these kids all come from wealthy families and we’ll do something off-budget that we wouldn’t have done. Maybe we’ll just order pizza.

Youth ministry is pricey.

Or maybe it’s just that ministry is pricey.

A piece at this blog a few weeks ago about camp ministry ended up generating some comments about the costs of sending kids to summer camp, comments which were heartfelt, but a little bit of an aside to the intended main topic of that article.

Then last week, my review of the Passion 2011 Conference music CD resulted in some off-blog discussion urging me to tackle the subject of the cost of youth ministry.

There are three ways to look at this, the first of which I’ve hinted at in the introductory ‘skit’ for this blog post, which is to consider all the “extras” parents are expected to dig deep into their pockets for, both at church and school.

In the state province where I live, the Governor Premier has just ordered the Department Ministry of Education to follow a new set of guidelines with respect to what parents can be asked to shell out for their children’s education.

There are various articles online about this, like this one, which notes:

Fifty-three per cent of Ontario high schools charge fees for art classes, 41 per cent charge fees for physical education and 26 per cent impose extra costs for music courses…

This results in the new directive:

Ontario’s Ministry of Education has released new guidelines clarifying when a school can ask students for extra cash.

Under the guidelines, released Friday, schools cannot charge for textbooks, science lab materials, art supplies or musical instruments.

Schools cannot apply a fee to anything that is mandatory, essential for classroom learning, or the completion of a course, including a student registration fee.

“There should be absolutely no fee associated with any requirement for course completion for graduation,” Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said.

It is in this type of environment that youth pastors have felt no hesitation in asking the kids — most of whom turn around and ask their parents — to bring money for this, that, and the other thing.

But there’s a second concern here: On budget, youth ministry can be staff intensive.  In a somewhat smaller church we attended a few years back, there were five staff positions.  Two were the senior pastor and the secretary.  The other three were for a children’s ministry director, a youth ministry director, and a youth intern.  In a town where many college-aged kids left town eight months of the year, it was not lost on the older people in the church that 60% of the church staff were ministering to the needs of people under age 18.

The third area where youth ministry gets expensive has to do with the costs of print materials and curriculum.   As someone who is employed in a business that sells youth ministry materials, you’d expect me not to bite the hand that feeds.  In truth however, the cynic in me sees a few hungry publishers simply trying to carve out their piece of the pie.  Sorry, but someone needs to say that.

Everyone is tripping over everyone else trying to be first in line for a piece of the action.  After all, the churches have the money, right?

The pastor’s wife had rarely not been at his side in their nearly 40 years of ministry, but bedridden with the flu, he trudged the walkway from the manse to the church alone that Sunday night.

When he returned two hours later, she asked him, “Did you give an invitation?”

He smiled and replied, “Yes, and I had two-and-a-half people come forward.”

She stared at him for a few seconds, and then said, “You mean two adults and a child?”

He winked at her and responded, “Nope.  Two kids and an adult.”

The above story is meant to convey that, with their whole lives stretched out before them, the faith steps of a child or teen are vitally important.  And many people who espouse this will say that you can’t put a price on reaching a young person with the saving message of Jesus Christ.

But somewhere along the line, that evolved into a thinking that ministry can take place on a fee-for-service basis. And it’s further complicated when the fees have to be paid “up front” before a child or teen can attend or participate in the event in question.  And it’s even further complicated when the group is a mix of “have” and “have not” families; wealthier families mixing with people who have had to deal with foreclosures or evictions.

So it’s not surprising that some people are concerned about the effect of all this on the poorer kids on the fringes.

I’m concerned about the message that it sends to all the kids.

…Last time I checked, the gospel was supposed to be free.

(NLT) III John 1:7 For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers.

March 26, 2011

Passion’s Passion Evident on New Worship CD

Music Review

If someone asked you if you’ve heard the new Chris Tomlin album, you would be forgiven for saying, “Which one?”  While And If Our God is For Us is topping the Christian music charts, six of the twelve songs on Here for You were either written or co-written by Tomlin.

His music defines the sound of modern worship in U.S. churches, so that’s why I’ve begun this review of the new Passion album with a reference to the man who was arguably its weightiest contributor.  Additional songs were written by other recognizable names including Rueben Morgan, Martin Smith, Matt Redman, Louis Giglio, Matt Maher and David Crowder.

In terms of performance, five of the twelve songs are performed by Tomlin, with an additional one co-credited to Matt Redman with additional songs featuring David Crowder Band, Kristian Stanfill, Kristy Nockels and LeCrae (this being, after all, a youth-oriented project.)

With the exception of LeCrae — for me anyway, not being a rapper — these are very accessible, ready-to-sing worship songs.  The inclusion of Rueben Morgan is a good place to suggest that Here for You is very similar, on several levels, to the youth oriented worship of Hillsong United.

The live album was recorded mere weeks ago, at the Passion 2011 conference with more than 20,000 university-aged students in Atlanta, Georgia on January 1st-4th, 2011.

One of my favorite songs is Symphony, which will probably turn out to become better known as “Stand in Awe.”

The deepest oceans, rising mountains
How they sing your symphony
Let the earth fear the Lord
And all the people of the world
Stand in awe, Stand in awe.

…After listening to the album again yesterday, I considered continuing the usual song-by-song commentary, but I want to talk about the event itself.

In my day, the big youth events were summer festivals, but with the growth, rightly or wrongly, of the conference ‘industry,’ more opportunities are available for youth to connect with youth from other parts of the continent for corporate worship, contemporary concerts and some of the best youth communicators.

If you’re in the target demographic for these things, you need to find a way to get to a couple, at least, before you outgrow the opportunity.  If your church doesn’t send a group, start your own group, or latch on to another church’s group that’s going.  The events are expensive, but just skip a couple of video games.

If you’re outside the target demographic, but live near an event taking place, find out if they need adult volunteers.  Personally, I’d be thrilled just to be standing outside in the hallway when a thing like this is happening.

Finally, if you’re not only outside the target demographic, but are fairly certain you’d find the music far too loud, you can still be involved in something that is huge in the spiritual formation of a young person.  Consider sponsoring some teens in your church, or, better yet, setting up a subsidy fund that brings the price further below the advertised group rates.  No kid should be denied an opportunity for spiritual growth simply because they can’t afford it, and even in the most affluent churches, there are kids who can’t afford it.

I say all that because with a live conference recording like this, there’s a tendency to end the review with a trite, “You had to be there.” But in truth, “You need to be there.”  Don’t miss the next one.

…I tried to find some good YouTube clips from the conference so you could get the general idea, but they just don’t exist, so for now, I’m going to use this unofficial overview, which had only had about 90 views as of last night:

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