August 30, 2006
One of the reoccurring debates on this blog has been whether cultural forms used in ministry are neutral, or do forms possess inherent value that may or may not be compatible with God's kingdom. For example, Andy Stanley shared his conviction that all leadership principles are created by God, and are therefore available for use in the church. I disagreed, arguing that some popular leadership models contradict biblical values. And Shane Hipps has written about the way technology and video preaching impacts the message we are seeking to convey.
Invariably, when the debate over the neutrality of cultural forms arises many people quote 1 Corinthians 9:22 ("I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some"). Well, a video game producer is poised to test your utilitarian philosophy of ministry.
The game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, is set for release in October, and its already coming under fire from both conservative and liberal Christians. Set in present-day New York City, the game pits the army of the Antichrist against born again Christians. Players are rewarded for winning converts or killing those who ally with the Antichrist.
Continue reading Praise the Lord, Pass the Ammo: A new video game uses violence and murder to spread the love of Christ...
August 28, 2006
David Fitch was recently invited by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to speak on a panel during their new student orientation. Each of the five panel members was to present a response to the question: "Where is the church now and where should it go?" Fitch, who is a pastor, professor, and regular contributor to Out of Ur, shares his response with us in this post.
Where is the church now and where should it go? When I say church here, I speak about the evangelical church, the church where I have been born, become a pastor and an ordained servant of Christ. I believe we as a church in America are in trouble. I believe we've lost our way. I believe we have a.) accommodated ourselves to American culture in such a way that we have become another example of the mistake of protestant liberalism. And in the process, I believe we have b.) lost our calling that is given to all "the saved," that is the calling to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ amidst society and the nations.
Continue reading Church GPS: Where are we and where should we go?...
August 24, 2006
Many churches are struggling to reach young adults. The conversation on Out of Ur for the last two weeks has wrestled with this problem. Brian McLaren believes we need to be asking different questions of those who've grown up in the church and left. Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, sees a clash between the values of the Boomers and today's young adults.
In part two of his post, Sares describes how his church tries to accommodate the styles and values of young adults. He believes the same strategies used in the 1980s to reach teens need to be employed today - rather than putting up cultural barriers we need to be as winsome as possible and connect with the young adult crowd.
At times we at Scum of the Earth Church are criticized for having church on Sunday nights as opposed to Sunday mornings. The fear is that we are turning a blind eye to the things that happen in clubs and bars on Saturday nights, thus enabling lifestyles which may be contrary to the gospel. That is not our intent. We just want to make it as easy as possible for people to come to church. Boomer churches understood this concept when they chose to dress casually for church on Sundays compared to the formal attire of their parents' churches.
We've taken that a step further. Eric Bain, my co-pastor, got some flak from a Christian-college-educated young man when Eric wore an MTV t-shirt while he was preaching and used an illustration taken from "Punk'd," one of the network's popular shows. According to the young man, Eric was silently promoting a television network that would be injurious to people's spirituality.
Continue reading Scum of the Church 2: What churches should learn from ‘80s youth ministry...
August 21, 2006
Recently, Brian McLaren challenged us to ask new questions about the absence of young adults in most churches. Mike Sares, pastor of Scum of the Earth Church in Denver, continues the topic by discussing the divergent values he has encountered between older and younger generations of Christians.
You may recall Sares told the story last year of the poet who dropped the f-bomb during their Christmas Eve service - with his permission. That triggered one of the most vigorous conversations Out of Ur has ever hosted. While likely less controversial, I trust Sares will challenge your thinking once again.
Every generation is quick to point out the hypocrisy of the one that preceded it. The generation born just after WWII began rejecting the values of their parents during the '60s. Now it's their kids' turn.
Today's young adults see a generation of baby-boomer Christians that has striven for "excellence" in every part of church life. Boomers proclaimed in the 1980s that image is everything, and their churches have reflected that cultural trend. The nurseries have got to be sparkling clean, the church buildings are marvelously functional as opposed to artistic, the music is as close to FM radio quality as possible (even if they must hire a band), the Sunday services are seamless with perfect transitions (just like television), the preaching is entertaining and informative (but not so deep as to offend visitors), and the plants on stage are beautiful (but artificial).
As a result, according to Dieter Zander, the next generation has concluded that "everything is image," and therefore nothing can be trusted. Church is too slick, too good, too polished to be real. And the twenty-something hunger for raw authenticity just doesn't fit in.
Continue reading Scum of the Church: How the drive for “excellence” is driving young adults from the church...
August 18, 2006
All pastors are crazy; I've known that since seminary. Some pastors, however, have fewer cards in their decks than others. Nick Overduin, pastor of Toronto First Christian Reformed Church, began to question his own sanity after an experience that was beyond explanation.
Overduin now believes God was in this encounter. You may believe otherwise. In either case, reading Nick's account has made me wonder - as more church leaders are rethinking the nature of ministry in a post-Christian culture, is it also time to rethink our assumptions about the supernatural, and its place in our communities?
Who wants to be known as a crazy nut-case preacher that hears voices? I don't advocate hearing voices; I just happen to have heard one.
I did not hear any strange "voices" in my first church. Nor did I feel distracted by the supernatural during my second charge, a University Chaplaincy. In my third posting I was perhaps too busy to hear any divine whisperings. My congregation had 800 members. My fourth church is conceivably the most implausible setting for a semi-mystical deviation. Many of its 120 members are certified experts, executives, or independent entrepreneurs. My wife Nandy and I have been married 25 years, and at first I didn't tell even her. I am writing the episode now partly because I believe it could be sinful to keep it to myself.
About three years ago I woke up one night very suddenly. It was as if I had been jerked from deep sleep into alert wakefulness in less than a second.
Continue reading Old Men Will Dream Dreams: This pastor doesn’t advocate hearing voices, but he happened to hear one...
August 16, 2006
Many churches struggle to reach the ever-elusive young adult demographic. Are 20-somethings simply disinterested in church? Not according to Brian McLaren. He believes we are failing to listen to the questions young adults are asking.
This post is a preview of McLaren's commentary in the upcoming Fall issue of Leadership. Here the Emergent leader encourages churches and parents to begin investigating why young adults are leaving the church - not to argue them back into the fold, but simply to understand their perspective. NOTE: Some of the more thoughtful comments to this post will be reprinted in the Fall 2006 print issue of Leadership, available in mid-October.
There was irony in the title of the old TV game show Family Feud. The irony was that the feuding between families was much less intense than the cheering within families as members tried to answer the same trivia questions.
In our churches, family feuds of another sort arise when members of the same family are asking different questions. For example:
In the third row, left side, mom and dad are asking how they can raise their 14-year-old daughter so she will never rebel and never get in trouble. Meanwhile, their daughter, seated with her friends in the last pew, is asking how she can get out from under their control.
Continue reading Family Faith Feud: Why are young adults not finding their places in their parents’ church?...
August 10, 2006
Sorry for the long delay between posts. Url has been away in the only patch of North America without internet access. I recently listened to a speaker praise the state of the church in America. He lauded the efforts of politically active conservatives, affirmed the family-friendly movies being released, said the sale of pornographic magazines has taken a dive for 10 years, and was excited that churches are growing bigger than ever - all because Christians in America are living holy lives.
Apparently he hasn't read Ron Sider's book The Scandel of the Evangelical Conscience where surveys reveal American evangelicals aren't living any holier than their secular neighbors. Nor has he studied the report by Outreach Magazine, "The American Church in Crisis" that found church attendance in the U.S. isn't keeping up with the population growth. And does anyone really believe pornography use is declining because fewer magazines are being sold?
His positive, if ill-informed, message reminded me of something sent to us by Steve Addison, the Australian Director of Church Resource Ministries. Steve is passionate about church planting and has written a tongue-in-cheek list of suggestions for the church in America (or anywhere else the church is losing ground).
We've had some good input lately on why we're not seeing church planting movements in the developed world to the same degree we're seeing in the global south. If that's the case, we need to find something to do while nothing's happening. Here are 20 suggestions for what to do while we're not multiplying churches.
1. Call yourself an apostle. Have some business cards printed. Hand them around.
2. Throw lots of money at subsidizing unhealthy, declining churches.
3. Throw money at "experimental missional initiatives" and never evaluate their effectiveness.
Continue reading Fallow Fields: 20 ways to waste time while not planting churches...
August 4, 2006
When my wife and I interviewed at my present church she asked what expectations the congregation had of staff spouses. She was told, "We just expect spouses to be church members like everyone else - serving, attending worship, and living uprightly. You know, no smoking pot in the back of the church." That's a pretty low bar, my wife thought, but one she could reach.
Of course, things have not always been so easy for clergy wives. Opinion Journal recently posted an article by Lauren Winner (author of "Girl Meets God" and "Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity") about the changing expectations placed on spouses of ministers. Below are a few excerpts. Read Winner's entire article here.
Until fairly recently, hiring a minister or rabbi was a two-for-one deal: Into the bargain, churches and synagogues got A Wife, who would host teas, teach religious-education classes, sing in the choir. All this, of course, without a salary.
Continue reading Married to the Ministry: has the pastor’s wife’s role changed for better or worse?...
August 1, 2006
The New York Times ran the story last week of a high-profile pastor busted for plagiarizing sermons, and his congregation's willingness to forgive him. Trying to explain what led to his behavior, Rev. Jackson says:
"It's a pattern you get into," he said, explaining he was struggling at the time with issues of self-esteem. "It happens bit by bit. You end up using more and more. You're using a little material maybe initially, and then using more. It's really not rational."
In recent years I've been alarmed by how frequently I'm hearing reports of pastors plagiarizing sermons. Clearly, the internet has contributed to the problem. Sermons in both written and audio form are quickly accessible, and the temptation to plagiarize is easier than ever before to indulge. In this regard the sin differs little from the epidemic of internet pornography.
But accessibility alone cannot account for the problem. Just as many believe porn is an unhealthy way of coping with a lack of intimacy, there must be some underlying issue that drives pastors to plagiarize. Rev. Jackson's comments above are revealing. Is a lack of self-esteem among pastors on the rise? And if it is, what is the cause?
Continue reading Word for Word: what is driving pastors to plagiarize?...