Why every worship service shouldn't be a "celebration."
by Bob Hyatt
I once attended a Good Friday service where the pastor encouraged us to look at Good Friday positively, to see the crucifixion through “Easter eyes.” To be honest, the bright lights and the upbeat music and mood felt to me like a missed opportunity. His intentions were good. He wanted to protect us from feeling defeated as we meditated on the death of Christ. But in doing so, he robbed us of exactly the feeling and experience that Good Friday is meant to give us.
Those of us who inhabit the sphere of “American Christianity” live in a world that doesn’t know when, how, or even why to grieve. For us, Christianity is about victory, it’s about feeling better about ourselves. It’s upbeat, inspiring, short, and peppy. I know one pastor of a large church who once asked his worship leaders not to play any songs written in a minor key. Too much of a downer.
Like all of us, I was hit hard by the events of September 2001. I was up early on the morning of the 11th for a meeting and was actually watching TV when the second plane smashed through the tower. I walked around the rest of the day numb and in shock. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.
Walter Wangerin on the art of storytelling and why doctrine still matters.
by Brandon O'Brien
Last weekend I attended Spark, a children's ministry conference near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The theme of the conference was "The Art of Storytelling." I think you'd be hard pressed to find a keynote speaker better suited to speak on that topic than Walter Wangerin. Pastor for 16 years in inner-city Chicago, father of four, grandfather of eight or so, and author of more than 40 books, Wangerin has lots of experience telling stories. And he's good at it—really good. In his two plenary sessions, he touched on a good many things that concern me—the role of the teacher, the power of stories, and the nature of the relationship between art and truth. What I appreciated most was his sense of balance.
You might expect (as I did) that when speaking to a room full of ministers, a person who makes his living telling stories would emphasize how story telling is superior to other forms of teaching, such as catechism or object lessons or memorizing facts. In fact, I've come to expect that perspective at ministry conferences in general. It's become very popular to claim that narrative is more important that systematic theology; after all (the argument goes) Jesus spoke in parables not doctrines, and the Gospels are narratives not bullet points. Fair enough. But Wangerin wanted to emphasize the relationship between story and doctrine, between the imagination and the intellect.
The value of story, for Wangerin, is that it allows people to experience the truth. You can tell someone, "Jesus loves you." That's a doctrine. But if you can tell a story that shows that Jesus loves me—maybe a parable like the Good Shepherd—in which I am invited to associate with a character that is receiving the love of Jesus, then I will experience the love of Jesus.
Some months ago I sat down for breakfast with Ed Stetzer while we were both in Phoenix for a conference. Afterwards Ed “tweeted” about our meal together and commented that for some inexplicable reason “Skye isn’t on Twitter.” He gave me some playful grief about it on our drive to the conference, and since then others have asked why I don’t Tweet as well. So I decided it was time to finally show my cards.
First of all, I don’t believe Twitter is evil, wrong, or in any way immoral. And I’m not condemning my many friends who love to Tweet. But it’s not for me. Here are the top 10 reasons why I don’t use Twitter (not that there’s anything wrong with it).
ONE My life really isn’t that interesting (and in most cases, neither is yours). Unless you are “The Most Interesting Man in the World” from the Dos Equis commercials, I really don’t care what you’re doing at any particular moment. Let’s be honest, most of life is mundane, ordinary, and routine. I’d rather keep the veil of mystery over my life so that outsiders can construct a far more fascinating picture of my existence with their imaginations.
TWO I don’t like the taste of my own foot. Twitter enables otherwise intelligent people to communicate really foolish things to far too many people much too rapidly. In other words, it’s very easy to Tweet and regret. The first thought that comes to my mind is rarely the thought I want others to see. What can I say? I’m still a Christian under construction.
It may cost us a bit more, but our nation has taken a compassionate step in the right direction.
by Gordon MacDonald, Leadership editor at large
This morning—the day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the health-care measure—I feel a sense of gladness. I am glad that millions of Americans, many of them children, will have access to health insurance. I am glad that people with pre-existing medical conditions can no longer be denied coverage by insurance companies. And I am also glad that some effort is being made to curtail rising medical expenses, and that certain special interest and business groups will be held to a greater accountability, and that the growing gap between the rich and the poor might be slowed.
I am glad not because I am a Democrat or a Republican but because I think that Jesus, who seemed to take great interest in health issues, is glad. Looking back on his life among people like us, he often acted as a healer. He seemed to delight in curing diseases, restoring disabled people to wholeness, and rewiring damaged minds. You cannot divorce these encounters from the rest of his public ministry. Health-care was in his frame of reference.
My favorite of the Jesus-healing stories is the one where a group of men rip open a roof and lower a friend into the presence of Jesus. I love how the Lord flexed with the moment and used the healing to offer people a vision of holistic health: physical and spiritual. I try to imagine the freshly healed man rolling up his mat and heading out the front door, walking unassisted for the first time in who knows how long.
Then, too, I wonder about all the people (apparently including religious leaders) who had crowded into that house and who’d made it impossible for the man in his original condition of paralysis to get to Jesus in a more conventional way—through the front door. How does it happen that people rationalized, that since they got there first, the suffering guy outside should be left to his own devices?
Is Twitter worthy of a pastor's limited time? Here are 3 reasons for and against the medium.
by Jonathan Acuff
I'm really excited to introduce you to a new Urthling. Jonathan Acuff is the author of the recent book from Zondervan, Stuff Christians Like and the founder of www.stuffchristianslike.net His humorous exploration of the church subculture is a perfect fit for Out of Ur. We're thrilled to welcome him as a regular contributor. His first post is intended to help those of you still debating whether or not Twitter is worth your time.
The other day I told a pastor friend of mine that it was weird that one of the few people he was following on Twitter had a photo of their bikini top for a profile picture.
There are a million different people to follow with a million different profile photos, so to have a bikini bust greet you every time you went to his profile on Twitter was bizarre. I’m not opposed to bikinis, I don’t live and die by its more tasteful cousin, the tankini, but it seemed like a Twitter fumble. He didn’t really know the bikini girl. He didn’t know how he had started following her and he quickly remedied the situation.
But not every Twitter donnybrook is that easy. Not every fiasco gets such a fast resolution when it comes to pastors and this toddler of a medium. (If you’ve never used Twitter, it’s a simple service that lets you write 140 character updates that people who follow you can read and respond to. Think of it as a nano blog.) The question becomes then, “How do you as a leader know if Twitter the right place for you to be?”
I’ve been thinking about that question ever since I started using Twitter to grow the blog I write, stuffchristianslike.net. And I’ve come up with three reasons pastors should be on Twitter and three reasons they shouldn’t.
Has McLaren answered his critics or simply given them more ammunition?
Scot McKnight, a regular contributor to Ur, has written a review of Brian McLaren's latest book for Christianity Today. McLaren and his ideas have been the subject of much debate in recent years. Does A New Kind of Christianity pacify his critics or add more fuel to their fire? McKnight has a breakdown of the book's strengths and weaknesses, but in the end finds McLaren's perspective a rehash of established liberal theology.
A New Kind of Christianity shows us that Brian, though he is now thinking more systemically, has fallen for an old school of thought. I read this book carefully, and I found nothing new. It may be new for Brian, but it's a rehash of ideas that grew into fruition with Adolf von Harnack and now find iterations in folks like Harvey Cox and Marcus Borg. For me, Brian's new kind of Christianity is quite old. And the problem is that it's not old enough.
Some are leaving the church because they've received a false gospel. Others are leaving because they've found the real one.
by Skye Jethani
In days gone by, missional efforts were focused on presenting and demonstrating the love of Christ to non-Christians. But in the 1980s a new term was coined to describe the growing number of North Americans without any significant church background. They were called the unchurched. Untold numbers of books were written about them. Ministry conferences discussed them. Church leaders orchestrated worship services to attract them.
The shift from “evangelizing non-Christians” to “reaching the unchurched” was perceived as benign at the time, but it represented an important shift in our understanding of mission. The church was no longer just a means by which Christ’s mission would advance in the world, it was also the end of that mission. The goal wasn’t simply to introduce the unchurched to Christ, but—as the term reveals—to engage them in a relationship with the institutional church. This paved the way for the ubiquitous (but flawed) belief today that “mission” is synonymous with “church growth.” (Another post for another day.)
Well, another new term is on the rise and gaining attention among evangelicals in North America. Those without a past relationship to the church are called unchurched, but there are many with significant past church involvement who are exiting. They are the de-churched.
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church near Dallas, explains the de-churched phenomenon in this short video:
Bob Roberts calls for more interfaith dialogue without minimizing our Christian beliefs.
The pastor who coined the word “glocal” to describe his church’s approach to missions has led his Texas congregation to visit new territories: the synagogue and mosque down the street. In January, NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas, worshipped with Temple Shalom of Dallas and the Islamic Center of Irving in three services that highlighted the differences and similarities among the religions.
“The basis of coming together is not to minimize our beliefs but to hold onto our beliefs and make clear our beliefs,” Pastor Bob Roberts said. “But also it’s to say that the best of our beliefs calls us to get along with one another.”
If you hear "social justice" at your church, Glenn Beck says "Run!" There is another option.
by Skye Jethani
Back in January I wrote a post on “The Battle Lines Over Justice.” As more evangelicals are rediscovering the sections of the Bible that highlight God’s compassion for the broken and abused in this world, there is a fearful response by some that we will slide down the “slippery slope” of liberalism into a social gospel and evangelicals (particularly the younger breed) will abandon the cross of Christ. To prevent this repeat of history, some have their ear to the rail prepared to warn the faithful at the first hints of a justice train coming down the line.
I concluded that earlier post with this caution:
Is the stage being set for another church rift in the 21st century paralleling what happen 100 years ago? Are you feeling the tremors in your church of a conflict over the scope of the gospel and the proper role of social justice? And where are you turning for informed theological reflection on this subject? How we address this controversy, and not simply which side we land on, may impact the evangelical world for decades.
I’ve been trying to faithfully inform the members of my congregation about church history, the scope of the gospel (as it relates to their lives and all of creation), and what Scripture says about justice. I’ve been trying to offer informed theological reflection and create room for dialogue and understanding. In other words, I’ve been trying to avoid the name calling, paranoia, and finger-wagging rhetoric that too often accompanies the social justice issue in evangelical circles.
And then today I read that Glenn Beck, the conservative talk radio host and chalkboard wielding Fox New Channel star, begged Christians to “run as fast as you can” from their church if they encounter the words “social justice.”
Can we know who is, and who is not, going to hell?
Our dive into damnation continues with Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church. After explaining our human tendency toward poor self-assessment, and our need to be in a right relationship with God, Boyd says, "I don't know who's going to heaven and who's going to hell. It's not for me to judge.... I can't say, and I don't think anyone can say, that so-and-so, and so-and-so, and so-and-so, are or are not saved."
Forget video preaching, holographic technology is coming to the church sooner than you think.
by Url Scaramanga
Clark, a media technology company that supplies churches, is pioneering holographic technology that can create a life-size, three dimensional projection of a preacher on a platform. Blogger Tony Morgan was given a preview at Clark’s offices near Atlanta. He writes, “Pricing is coming down quickly to the point that I won’t be surprised if we see this technology implemented in churches within the next 12 months.”
Morgan took a photo of himself standing beside the holographic preacher.
What do you think? Like Morgan do you “love these days we live in,” or bemoan the loss of incarnate ministry? If the technology was affordable, would you consider it for your ministry?
This week film critic Roger Ebert, who has been unable to speak since cancer surgery removed his throat in 2006, debuted his "new voice" on the Oprah show. The technology uses past recordings of Ebert's voice to construct a digital replication. Whatever he types is read aloud by the computer in a voice remarkably like his own.
The technology is still under development, but if combined with the holographic images being developed by Clark, this could be the solution to the succession dilemma facing many megachurches. Andy Stanley may well be the teaching pastor at North Point well into the 22nd century.
Is James Cameron's blockbuster film something the church should be fighting?
Move over Rob Bell--Mark Driscoll has a new nemesis: Avatar. The blockbuster movie has been condemned by the pugnacious preacher as "demonic paganism" for it's portrayal of a "false Jesus" and a "false heaven." Driscoll said, "That any Christian could watch that without seeing the overt demonism is beyond me." He also blasts Christianity Today's (Out of Ur's parent company) review of Avatar.
Our colleague at CT Movies, Mark Moring, has reported on Driscoll's rant against the film, and he's summarized responses from thoughtful Christian bloggers. You should check out his post.
Do you think Driscoll's characterization of the film is accurate, or is he guilty of poor cultural exegesis? Should we be warning Christians about the demonic power behind the blue animists on the fictional planet of Pandora, or is this just another example of Christians fighting the wrong battles?