July 31, 2007
What are your captions for this cartoon by Rob Portlock? We know Out of Ur and Leadership readers will have some great ones on this theme.
Winning entries will be published in the Fall 2007 edition of Leadership. Please include your name, your church’s name, city, and state.
July 26, 2007
And he wrestles with the advantages and disadvantages of mainline and nondenominational churches.
How does a former pastor choose a church? That is the question Andy Rowell and his wife are facing after their relocation to a new community. The process has opened their eyes to the differences and blessings of denominational and nondenominational churches. Although they've still not made a decision, Andy shares his reflections on the process so far.
"Occupational hazard," that is what my wife and I call it. We cannot help but thoroughly analyze churches we visit. My wife and I both have M.Div. degrees and have served as pastors. So when we need to pick a new church, overanalyzing churches is almost inevitable - an occupational hazard.
A month ago we moved to Durham, North Carolina so I could begin the 4-5 year Doctor of Theology (Th.D.) program at Duke Divinity School. We have visited seven churches in the last six weeks here and have not yet made a decision on where we will attend.
Our backgrounds are mostly in churches and institutions that were nondenominational or interdenominational - where denominational affiliation was played down. But around Durham, many of the churches that have been recommended to us are mainline churches. They are led by pastors that are theologically orthodox, yet the style of these mainline churches is different from what we are accustomed to.
Continue reading A Former Pastor Goes Church Shopping...
July 23, 2007
Two non-Christians paid to visit churches are impressed with charity not facilities.
It's been done before. A non-Christian is paid to attend church and provide their honest feedback about the experience. The latest rendition of this experiment is occurring north of the border in Canada. Christian talk show host Drew Marshall has paid two college students, one male and one female, to attend five different churches in the Toronto area. Their observations can be read on Marshall's website, but below are a few highlights from their excursion into Christendom.
The two students visited one of the fastest growing mega-churches in Toronto. Like many megas it has positioned itself as "the church for people who aren't into church." On this Sunday the pastor spoke about wealth and possessions. What did Drew Marshall's guinea pigs think?
Why is it that I should not seek out possessions and money, but the church is permitted to do just that? Does taking 10% of every congregant's income not count as seeking out money? Why should the institution be rich, and the congregation not? If you really believe you should be living the aesthetic life led by Christ and his apostles, why aren't you doing it? If money and possessions aren't important, why aren't you meeting to discuss the meaning of Christ's ideas and life in the local park? Notwithstanding the need to broadcast to your rather large congregation, and obviously you'd have to come up with a solution during the winter months, but really: why the son et lumiere? I found the medium more than a bit out of whack with the message.
Continue reading Razzmatazz or Ragamuffins?...
July 18, 2007
"This disparity between economics and justice is an issue of worship. According to the narrative of Scripture, the very heart of how we show and distinguish true worship from false worship is apparent in how we respond to the poor, the oppressed, the neglected and the forgotten."
-Mark Labberton serves as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of The Dangerous Act of Worship - Living God's Call to Justice (IVP, 2007). Taken from the Summer 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.
July 13, 2007
What the growing gap in our culture means for churches, leaders, and volunteers.
Leaders should be concerned about the disappearing middle, according to Chad Hall. That bulge in the middle of a bell-shaped curve that represents the great mass of consumers and citizens and churchgoers and volunteers is getting squeezed. The result is the shrinking of the middle and the swelling of the ends, and it's this growth of the extremes in all aspects of our society that has church planter and leader coach Hall intrigued. Here he offers some thoughts on its effects on money and manpower, faith and ministry.
A while back I heard Len Sweet say that our society is moving away from the "bell curve" and toward something called the "well curve." His comment got me doing some research on the topic and thinking about what all of this means for church leaders. Who knew that bells and wells were such important topics for church leaders to consider?
Since high school we've known all about the bell curve: that fundamental law of natural science and statistics that defines normal distribution as being massed near the middle while being low on the extremities. Represented on a graph, the distribution looks like a bell-shaped curve. The bell curve implies that most people gravitate toward the middle or average and avoid the extremes. For example, most people are of average height, have moderately sized families, and earn a "C" in statistics; few people are really tall or really short, few have very large or very small families, and few earn A's or F's.
But within the turbulent days we live, a new phenomenon is being recognized. The distribution for some of our choices is an inverted bell curve, or a well curve. In these cases, the population gravitates toward the ends or extremes and is lowest in the middle. The well curve describes many economic and social phenomena. For instance, television screens are simultaneously getting both larger (60" plasma!) and tinier (watch the latest episode of 24 on your i-pod!); stores are getting larger (Wal-Mart) and smaller (specialty boutique stores); people are eating more healthful foods (organic) and more fast foods (McDonald's).
Perhaps more significant than the rise in the extremes is the decline of the middle: consider the disappearance of the middle-class, the demise of mid-sized companies, the loss of status for anything considered average and the polarization of politics in America. Our tastes and choices are shifting away from the middle and toward the extremes. The well curve helps describe a number of interesting church trends going on these days...
Continue reading The Disappearing Middle...
July 10, 2007
The unintended consequences of using visual media in ministry.
As you read this post the summer issue of Leadership is arriving in mailboxes. The issue tackles the impact of living, and ministering, in an increasingly visual culture. Many churches are eager to employ video and other new digital tools, but is this tread helpful, harmful, or completely neutral to our mission? To preview the theme of the summer issue here is an interview with Shane Hipps on the hidden power of visual media from our partners at Faith Visuals.
How can we be better about perceiving the power of media in both our churches and our lives?
Probably the best orientation that I've discovered to help me understand the real power of media was when I read a quote by Marshall McLuhan where he says, "The content of any medium is the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind." What he's saying is that the medium itself has a power, a bias, and a meaning regardless of what message you put through it. He's challenging the metaphor that we often assume: Media are simply pipelines, a neutral conduit through which information can be put through. I think it's crucial for Christians to begin to perceive the media forms themselves, rather than just looking at - and understanding - the content. We're too easily distracted by the content, and we miss the power of the medium.
Continue reading Is Video Technology in Church Manipulative?...
July 7, 2007
Win a copy of Skye Jethani's new book.
Continue reading The Divine Commodity Contest...
July 6, 2007
Everyone knows church attendance slides in the summer, but should we care?
This week Americans are celebrating their independence by watching parades, enjoying backyard barbeques, and by not going to church. If your congregation is anything like mine you know that during the summer worship attendance slips noticeably, and the week of July 4th is typically the low point. Family vacations and parties draw people away for some valuable R and R. I'm not pointing a self-righteous finger at church slackers. Last Sunday my family and I were not seen in church either, we were away camping.
But the "summer slide" raises a question. Why is Sunday morning attendance the one measurement we cannot escape? Why is Sunday morning attendance the make-or-break number; the figure we proudly display or secretly despair? Like a corporation's stock price, worship attendance seems to encapsulate a church's entire mission and health in one simple, if volatile, number. A number we watch carefully week to week praying for its increase.
At my church I am aware of a number of families and individuals who won't be attending Sunday worship very frequently this summer, and I'm thrilled about it. These people won't be in worship because they'll be overseas helping missionaries, or taking inner city kids to a camp in rural Michigan, or they'll be making meaningful connections as families on vacations- something valuable in a culture where families are struggling. Don't misread me, I think gathering regularly as a community for corporate worship, confession, and learning is both good and important. I just don't think it's so important that it should be the singular measure of missional impact, or even the primary one.
Continue reading The Measure of a Ministry...
July 3, 2007
"I believe certain technologies preclude incarnational ministry. And the reason I believe that is because God became embodied in Jesus. And embodiment means human physical touch; presence. And there are certain technologies that disembody us, like video."
-Shane Hipps serves as the Lead Pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and the author of The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, The Gospel, And Church (Zondervan, 2006). Taken from the Summer 2007 issue of Leadership journal. To see the quote IN context, you'll need to see the print version of Leadership. To subscribe, click on the cover of Leadership on this page.