I’m not sure this can really be called “news.” Churches have been providing alternative worship times for as long as I can remember, and I’m certainly not against that. I’ve spoken with many church leaders, including at my own congregation, about alternative worship times. But what bothers me is the lack of biblical or theological understanding around this topic. Most evangelicals seem to believe Sunday morning worship is merely historical tradition, and therefore carries no great importance. They conclude that we can or should abandon Sunday if a more convenient or missionally effective time can be found.
Occasionally I may hear someone make the connection between Christ’s resurrection and Sunday morning worship. As Keith Green sang many years ago, on Sunday “Jesus rose from the grave and you, you can't even get out of bed.” You may hear about the resurrection as the reason Christians now observe the Sabbath on Sunday rather than the Old Testament’s command to rest on Saturday, but that’s usually as far as the theology of Sunday worship goes. In the end, most church leaders are so thrilled if anyone comes to church, they’re not about to fight about which day people come.
Still, we need to remember that there is a deeper reason why the church has worshiped on Sunday mornings--one that is still relevant today.
How brain science might help us major on the majors.
By Brandon O'Brien
I thought the worship wars were over. The church I grew up in put our traditional Southern gospel-style music out to pasture in favor of a more generic contemporary style in the mid 90s. We weren’t exactly in the most progressive region of the country. Surely we were among the last band of skirmishers in a war winding down.
But it seems the war is raging still. I interact with a lot of pastors, and I hear from them time and again that their number one problem is helping the old-timers turn loose of the hymnals and welcome such innovations as overhead projection, electric guitars, and a backbeat. At stake for these pastors is the future of their church. How can they reach younger generations with outdated forms of worship?
I’ve often marveled at how visceral these discussions can get. Older Christians can imply that if you add one praise song to the bulletin, you might as well just harvest their remaining healthy organs and send them out in the woods to die alone. Younger Christians can give you the impression that when Jesus ascended, he ordained the drum set as the primary vehicle of the Holy Spirit.
A recent article in the The Wall Street Journal shed some interesting light on this subject for me. Reporting on the mass hysteria set afire by celebrities like Elvis and the Beatles and, more recently, Justin Bieber, Melinda Beck suggests victims of “Bieber Fever” suffer from a legitimate malady.
New Welcome Baptist Church in Grand Bay, Alabama, was the scene of a violent church conflict on August 7. Details are still coming out, but it seems to involved the pastor, worship leader, a few deacons, knives, and at least one taser gun. Check out the video report:
So many of our church gatherings are amusing, but are they arresting?
"To 'muse' means to reflect and ponder; put an 'a' in front of it and you have the absence of reflection. Amusement is a way of boredom-avoidance through external stimulation that fails to exercise our minds. It's mere diversion. It is a kind of performance-enhancing drug for an attention-deficit society. 'Amusement' is appealing because we don't have to think; it spares us the fear and anxiety that might otherwise prey on our thoughts.
"In the context of worship, amusement is a waste of time and a waste of life, and therefore a form of sin.
"To arrest someone's attention, on the other hand, is to cause them to sit up and take notice."
Excerpted from "What Does God Think of Entertainment?" in the Spring 2011 issue of Leadership Journal. To read the full quote IN context be sure to subscribe to Leadership today by clicking on the LJ cover in the left column.
John Ortberg is pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California.
A 9-year-old's observations from a liturgical and a contemporary service.
by Skye Jethani
Back in college my professor of American religion gave us an interesting assignment. We had to visit a number of local churches, sit in their sanctuaries, and write down our observations of the spaces. Based on these observations, we were to deduce the theological beliefs of each congregation. How were the seats arranged? What was the visual focus of the space? Why did the Presbyterian church have a soaring pulpit? Why did the Episcopal church have a baptismal font at the entrance? (The most intriguing churches were ones where their explicit theology did not conform to the implicit theology communicated by their space.)
Because of this assignment I was intrigued (and rather proud) when I discovered my 9-year-old daughter conducting a similar exercise. Zoe has joined me at a number of different churches this past year, and during one of the services I noticed her writing in her journal. She later showed me a list of things she had observed in the service that were different from our home church.
The fact that she did this on her own, with no knowledge of each church’s theology, ecclesiology, or philosophy of ministry means her observations are the simple insights of a 9-year-old. But I was fascinated by what she noticed, what she didn’t notice, and what left an impact on her.
Based on Zoe’s notes, I think I can conclude that the non-verbal elements of each service impacted her most. Symbols were very effective. What might we learn by viewing our worship gatherings through the eyes of a child? What values are we implicitly communicating by our spaces, music, and liturgy? What do we hope people leave with?
Here are Zoe’s observations from two churches. I’ve copied them here in their raw, unedited form:
People engage electronic media an average of 8 hours a day. Do they really need more at church?
Read Mercer Schuchardt
The band is rockin', arms are swayin', and you're about to come on screen in high definition with such stunning visual clarity that even people in the nosebleed seats can see your perfect smile.
Is this a rock concert? A beer commercial? Or just a typical Sunday morning?
These days, it could be any of the above.
Whether you're a questioning congregant, a concerned pastor, or a perplexed professor studying the effects of media on religious practice (like me), the use of technology in the worship setting is worth considering.
Media are not neutral. Like ideas, they have consequences, especially in the church. And some of these consequences should give us pause. In Technopoly media theorist Neil Postman writes, "A preacher who confines himself to considering how a medium can increase his audience will miss the significant question: In what sense do new media alter what is meant by religion, by church, even by God?"
Given the impact of new media, we should carefully consider the medium of Christ's message.
Can the values of entertainment and hospitality coexist?
by Skye Jethani
Many churches focus on providing a compelling worship experience. The desire is to attract people to an excellent production where they can sing, learn, and leave feeling renewed. For decades we've called this approach "seeker-sensitive." But does that sensitivity have limits?
News reports broke last week about a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy being removed from Elevation Church for being a "distraction" during the Easter service. The boy's mother said, “Easter Sunday he got all dressed up, got ready to go, no small feat with a kiddo like him." But, according to the report, after the opening prayer inside the sanctuary the boy voiced his own kind of “Amen.”
“We were very abruptly escorted out," the mother said.
Following the incident, the boy's mother contacted church leaders with an offer to start a ministry for special needs children. She told reporters that the idea was "rejected."
After the story was broadcast on the local news (you can watch the video here), Elevation Church issued a statement in which they clarified that "...this young man and his family were not removed from our church. They were escorted to a nearby section of our church where they watched the service in its entirety."
The church also said, “It is our goal at Elevation to offer a distraction free environment for all our guests. We look forward to resolving any misunderstanding that has occurred.”
Innovation in worship is good, as long as we use wisdom.
In part 1 of Skye Jethani's interview with Chuck Swindoll, he spoke about the insecurity that leads some pastors to seek a crowd and to pander to cultural trends. Some of you felt Swindoll was just being old-fashioned and grumpy. (I hear Grandpa Simpson saying, "Back in my day we walked five miles to church on Sunday. Twice! And we liked it.") In part 2 he expresses his appreciation for innovation in worship, but is concerned that we employ more wisdom in what trends we adopt.
Jethani:We can look back before modern technology entered the sanctuary and see the same values at work. The crusades of Billy Graham, the revivals of the Great Awakening, even all the way back to the Reformation, you see that Martin Luther used music and forms of worship that were relevant to his German culture. So what's wrong with taking relevant cultural expressions in the 21st century and using them in our worship?
Swindoll: Nothing, if they square with Scripture and if they honor the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with using something new. We are called to sing new songs. I love them. Nobody sings louder in our church than I do—both the old and new songs.
But everything must square with Scripture. We must make sure that new things actually help people grow in the truth, that they edify the saints and build them up. Will it equip them to handle the world around them? Will it form them into the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world?
In many cases we use new things because they are novel, not because they are helpful.
So the issue is not innovation or tradition, but why we're using a particular method or technology.
Exactly. I have been to church services, and you have too, where the only people who knew the songs were the band. I'm not edified. I'm just watching a show.
Why are business and entertainment values dominant in the church?
The Latest issue of Leadership Journal features an interview with Chuck Swindoll about the challenges and problems he sees in the American church. High on Swindoll's list is the infusion of entertainment values into our worship. Here's an excerpt from the interview by Skye Jethani. To read the full interview, visit LeadershipJournal.net.
Early in your book you say that when the church becomes an entertainment center, biblical literacy is the first casualty. So why do you think the church has become so enamored with entertainment?
We live in a time with a lot of technology and media. We can create things virtually that look real. We have high-tech gadgets that were not available to previous generations. And we learned that we could attract a lot of people to church if we used those things. I began to see that happening about 20 years ago. It troubled me then, and it's enormously troubling to me now because the result is an entertainment mentality that leads to biblical ignorance.
And alongside that is a corporate mentality. We're tempted to think of the church as a business with a cross stuck on top (if it has a cross at all). "We really shouldn't look like a church." I've heard that so much I want to vomit. "Why?" I ask. "Do you want your bank to look like a bank? Do you want your doctor's office to look like a doctor's office, or would you prefer your doctor to dress like a clown? Would you be comfortable if your attorney dressed like a surfer and showed movies in his office? Then why do you want your church's worship center to look like a talk show set?"
The new issue of our free digizine, Catalyst Leadership, is now online. This time we're covering how technology and entertainment values are changing the way we worship. The issue includes articles and videos by Andy Stanley, Britt Merrick, Louie Giglio, Chuck Swindoll, Dan Kimball, Keith & Kristyn Getty, and more. Check it out at www.catalystleadershipdigital.com.
In line with our recent discussion about the overlap in Christian and Muslim theology about God, let's talk about t he chaos that has erupted in response to the burning of a Quran by a pastor in Florida. There is a lot of rhetoric on the airwaves about the incident and speculation about what motivated Pastor Terry Jones. In this video CNN's Fareed Zakaria offers a sober and insightful understanding of the incident noting that the violence in Afghanistan is about politics just as much as religion.
Many, including Secretary of Defense Gates, asked Jones to refrain from burning the Quran because the action would put innocent lives in danger. He obviously did not listen and instead exercised his First Amendment right to burn the book while others paid the price.
What's your take on the pastor's actions? Here's mine: It's relatively easy to burn a Quran in rural Florida, Pastor Jones. Next time you feel the need to "stand up for the truth" consider traveling to the Middle East first. Then you can own the consequences rather than expect someone else to.
The latest issues of Christianity Today includes an interview with Yale professor Miroslav Volf about his new book Allah: A Christan Response. Volf grew up in Yugoslavia where Christian and Muslim communities have cooperated and clashed. The dedication page of his book says,
To my father, a Pentecostal minister who admired Muslims, and taught me as a boy that they worship the same God as we do.
In the book and CT interview, Volf says there are very clear differences between the Christian and Muslim understandings of God--the Trinity being chief among them. But this alone shouldn't cause us to ignore that which we share in common. And his interest isn't merely theological. He recognizes that living in peace depends on the outcome of this conversation. Volf writes:
“Muslims and Christians will be able to live in peace with one another only if (1) the identities of each religious group are respected and given free room for expression and (2) if there are significant overlaps in the ultimate values that orient the lives of people in these communities. These two conditions will be met only if the God of the Bible and the God of the Qu’ran turn out to embody overlapping ultimate values, that is, if Muslims and Christians, both monotheists, turn out to have a ‘common God’” (pages 8-9).
What do you think? Is this an important conversation to have, or is it a non-starter? And is there a difference between saying the Christian and Muslim understandings of God share some important aspects, and Volf's assertion that we have a "common God"?
Carlos Whittaker asks, What does it really mean to "lead" worship?
by Url Scaramanga
Friend of Ur, Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit), has sparked a helpful conversation on his blog Raggamuffin Soul. Should worship leaders talk between songs, contribute to the teaching within the gathering, and tell stories to draw the congregation toward God? Or, should they stay out of the way and simply sing? Whittaker, a worship leader himself, has some thoughtful remarks on the question. Read his post here.
The comments have been particularly interesting with folks on both sides.
More than happy for the Worship leader to talk between songs as long as its connected to the songs/service/message/theme of the service. Everything that’s said should point people towards God and not distract them from entering into His presence.
On the other side, Katie Ristow says:
So there’s gotta be some speaking instruction, but I’ll you my biggest pet peeve: when a worship leader talks before and after each song. Worship isn’t about the leader and what he or she is feeling, but about the worshiper and Jesus. When the worship leader talks too much, it can feel like they’re interrupting the conversation I’m having with Jesus.
Is age-segmentation the same as racial segregation?
Last month Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale ended its model of offering multiple worship services designed to appeal to different ages, likes, and styles. Tullian Tchividjian, senior pastor and a contributing editor to Leadership Journal, said "The best way a church can demonstrate unifying power of the Gospel before our very segregated world is to maintain a community that transcends cultural barriers," Tchividjian said in a sermon last month. "The church should be the one institution, the one community – this countercultural community – in our world that breaks barriers down."
An article at The Christian Post reports:
[Tchividjian] listed some of the drawbacks of segregated worship. In a traditional worship service, the church inadvertently communicates that God was more active in the past that He is in the present, he said. In a contemporary service, the church communicates that God is more active in the present than He was in the past. But a church must communicate God's "timeless activity," he indicated. The megachurch pastor also said he doesn't view separate worship services by style or age as any different from racial segregation, except that it's more subtle.
Is national patriotism inconsistent with Christianity?
by Bob Hyatt
I’ve been a part of numerous churches that celebrated American Independence Day with abandon: 80-foot flags hanging from the ceilings, singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and “I’m Proud to Be an American” and even— most disturbing to me as I reflect back—saying the Pledge of Allegiance during our corporate worship.
If some visitor had asked us on those Sunday just what we were worshiping, I think that might have been a very perceptive question.
For many, the Fourth is about gratitude for the blessings of freedom. And as far as that goes, I’m in complete agreement—though to see only the “blessings” of freedom and not also repent of all the many varied and creative ways we’ve abused it might be a bit short-sighted. Still, yes to gratitude.
For others, these celebrations go beyond merely the gratitude and obedience that Scripture commands, into something else, something entirely absent from the God’s Word: Patriotism.
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.”
Video preaching is popular and effective, but is there a better alternative?
A Leadership interview
He once planted a church by teaching through Leviticus. He can use a rabbit carved from a bar of soap to illustrate the nature of suffering. Google his name and the term "Sex God" will appear among the top entries.
Rob Bell is the most interesting preacher in the world.
The winter issue of Leadership features a wide-ranging interview with Rob Bell on the art and impact of preaching. His candid answers and down to earth advice for pastors may surprise you. Check out the entire interview at LeadershipJournal.net. Below is an excerpt where Bell discusses the unknown dangers of video preaching.
Your NOOMA video series has been popular. What do you think about the increasing number of preachers and churches using video technology to expand their reach?
It's powerful but there's also a dark side. Video is not church. You put images and music on a screen, and people will listen. But it's also dangerous. You're playing with fire. I think video technology deserves to be scrutinized heavily.
Go a little deeper. What makes video dangerous?
I don't think we know yet what the long-term impact will be on disciple-making. In 10 years we may discover what particular kind of Christ follower is formed by video preaching. I see warning lights on my dashboard. It's unclear what video may do to the ways we conceive of life together.
In the New Testament, there are 43 "one another" passages, and during a Sunday morning service you might be able to practice three or four of them. And as the service gets large, you can probably do fewer. A massive group setting is also dangerous. You can come, sit, listen, and go home and think, I've been to church, even if you haven't practiced any "one anothers." And with video that only gets more intense. I'm not sure that's the direction we want to be heading.
May I vent for a moment? If I stumble onto another blog, article, or conference advertisement for anything having to do with video venues or multi-site models of church growth, I just might lose it. Everywhere I look within our odd little subculture these days I’m barraged by debates and diatribes about the glorious merits or awful shortcomings of venues and sites. On one side are proponents who seem to believe that only really good sliced bread can compete with their innovative ministry models for the title of “greatest thing ever.” Opposing these trendsetters are Marshall McLuhan’s disciples, those who fear the Good News message has been distorted by an unholy medium.
To be clear, I understand the nuanced distinctions between multiple sites and multiple video screens. I get that there are theological concerns embedded within this conversation that bring out the passionate sides of characteristically composed people. To be honest, I’ve followed this debate with some interest and could earnestly argue my own position about these ministry models. But I don’t want to. In fact, at this point I’d rather talk about almost anything else. Here’s why:
Are church leaders critical of the multi-site movement just insecure?
The validity of video-based preaching has been a matter of debate on this blog. Some, like Bob Hyatt, are critical of the trend believing it puts even greater distance between the teacher and the taught. In addition, projecting one preacher to many locations may hinder the development of other Bible teachers.
Others believe video is a powerful and useful tool as we seek to carry the gospel into every corner of our culture. It allows for churches to grow more rapidly by removing a common bottleneck in the church planting process--finding a gifted expositor.
In this video, Perry Noble jumps into the fray with his own opinion as to why some church leaders are critical of video-based multi-stie churches. Forget about theological considerations, the development of spiritual gifts, or congregational health--Nobel goes for the jugular. Do you think he's right?
Everyone knows that John Piper believes in the supremacy of preaching, but what about augmenting the spoken word with video clips or dramas? In this short video Piper answers that question. Here's an excerpt:
"I think the use of video and drama largely is a token of unbelief in the power of preaching. And I think that, to the degree that pastors begin to supplement their preaching with this entertaining spice to help people stay with them and be moved and get helped, it's going to backfire.... It's going to communicate that preaching is weak, preaching doesn't save, preaching doesn't hold, but entertainment does."
Piper concludes as only he can--by making light of the issue with laughter while still invoking the possibility of eternal damnation. He says:
"Nobody is going to go to hell because of this...in the short run."
Are we really in love with Jesus, or with the experience of loving Jesus?
by Scot McKnight
A peculiar development occurred in the medieval age regarding love. Behind closed doors and in the rush of brief encounters, there developed what has been called "courtly love" or "romantic love." Married men found themselves emotionally carried away with either another married woman or a single woman. This courtly love, so we are told, remained at the emotional and non-physical level.
The interpretation of many is that the Lover, because of the emotion it generated, preferred the nearly intolerable absence of the Beloved over the presence of the Beloved. The Lover preferred the titillation of fantasy over the toughness of fidelity. The essence of courtly love was to become intoxicated with love, to fall in love with love. It was to prefer the fire of love over the Beloved and delight in the experience of love over the presence of the Beloved. Think Tristan and Isolde. Perhaps even Romeo and Juliet.
Friends of mine today worry about consumerization or commoditization in the church. I offer a slightly different analysis of what might be the same thing: for many, Sunday services have become the experience of courtly love. Some folks love church, and what they mean by "loving church" is that they love the experience they get when they go to church. They prefer to attend churches that foster the titillation of courtly-love worship and courtly-love fellowship and courtly-love feelings.
They say they love worship, and by this they mean they love the courtly-love-like songs that extol the experience of loving Jesus or the experience of adoring God or the experience of a concert-like praise team that can generate the sound of worship intensely enough to vibrate the very soul of the worshiper.
Worship trends among the young are more complicated than you realize.
by Dan Kimball
For years I served on the staff of a megachurch with a very contemporary style of worship. We had a state-of-the-art sound system, large video projection screens, pop-rock music, and a sophisticated lighting system. The worship services were programmed to the minute: predetermined transitions, upbeat intro songs, announcements backed with PowerPoint slides, sermons crafted with felt-need application points, and abundant video clips.
The church was growing as several thousand people connected with the presentations each week. But at the same time the church was thriving with one generation, I began to notice that younger adults were not engaging as well as their parents. So I began listening to these young people to discover why they were not resonating with this way of doing church.
I repeatedly heard that they were longing for something less "programmed." At the same time, I began hearing questions about "liturgy," a word I'd never heard before. I was not raised in the church, and my only church experiences at the time had been at an organ-led Baptist church and the megachurch where I was on staff. Even in seminary, I had never been taught about liturgy (literally, the "work of the people") or ancient forms of worship. And ministry conferences I attended only seemed concerned with the newest, cutting-edge trends.
Dan Kimball: The churches I know that are winning new believers and drawing people who did not grow up in the church are not using too many liturgical elements. I think we might be seeing people who were raised within the church and who are tired of the contemporary approach being drawn to the ancient practices. But, at least on the West coast, I'm not seeing young people from outside the church being drawn to liturgy. Every person I know - and obviously I don't know everybody - who has moved into a liturgical context has come out of a very large, contemporary church and they just got burned out on the machine. They now find refreshment in a smaller setting with liturgy.
At the same time, our church is using some liturgical elements like responsive readings and the Doxology, but we're not following a formal liturgy. Either way, I think it's great that some people are engaging liturgy again. It's good for young people to know that Christianity was not born in 1980, but it has ancient roots. Are new people coming to faith? Whether our church is liturgical or contemporary we need to ask that question.
Can mystery shoppers help your church retain visitors?
by Brandon O'Brien
The Friday (Oct 10) edition of the Wall Street Journal contained an article whose title and deck pretty much say it all: "The Mystery Worshipper: To try to keep their flocks, churches are turning to undercover inspectors, who note water stains, dull sermons and poor hospitality."
The numbers aren't staggering. Alexandra Alter, the article's author, references "at least half a dozen" consulting firms that have sent covert church-goers to between 20 and 50 churches each. So we're talking about somewhere between 120 and 300 documented instances. Not a trend; not yet. But this is just the sort of thing evangelical church staffs seem to love - it's an opportunity to quantify, qualify, and create an action plan for maximizing ministry impact.
And I understand a church's wanting to know a first-timer's impressions upon visiting its services. Just as you don't recognize how weird your own family is until you bring a girlfriend or college buddy home for a holiday, churches can easily become so introspective and insular that they forget how other congregations operate or how they are viewed by "outsiders." For that reason, I see value in outside consultation, if the consultant is helping an otherwise myopic group of folks recognize its own dysfunction. It would be great, for example, for a visitor to tell you that women seemed underrepresented in the service, that the children appeared marginalized in worship, or that the congregation communicated a tangible sense of dissatisfaction.
But what concerns me about the professional mystery worshipers in Alter's article are the types of observations they are making. In one church, consultant Thomas Harrison noted "a water stain on the ceiling, a ?stuffy odor' in the children's area, a stray plastic bucket under the bathroom sink and a sullen greeter who failed to say good morning before the worship service" among that church's chief infractions. One pastor praises Harrison's attention to detail in this way: "Thomas hits you with the faded stripes in the parking lot?If you've got cobwebs, if you've got ceiling panels that leak, he's going to find it."
This morning kicked off with a time of singing led by the worship band from Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas - one of the churches being highlighted at the conference for their strong REVEAL survey results.
One of the often repeated findings from REVEAL is that frequent engagement with church activities does not predict one's spiritual growth. That being the case, I was curious to see how they redefined the purpose of the Sunday/weekend worship gathering. Many churches, especially the seeker-driven variety, have seen the worship event as the center of the church's missional solar system. Would that still be true in a post-REVEAL era?
The answer seems to be, Yes. Robert Morris and David Smith, both pastors from Gateway Church, were interviewed about their worship services. Morris said, "Worship is not about observing God, it's about experiencing God." Both Morris and Smith talked about the importance of giving people the opportunity to respond through a "ministry time" when people can come forward for prayer.
Gateway's church members expressed a high level of satisfaction with their church's worship services in the REVEAL study. REVEAL also showed that people in most churches want to be more challenged and given practical applications.
Is it acceptable for the church to use secular songs in a worship service?
"The fact is that secular music speaks to people--seekers, unchurched, and churched alike ... because many secular songs articulate universal human needs. The reason so many songs are written about love is because it's a universal desire, and one that the Bible affirms when it tells us that God's very nature is love. A secular song in church is so attractive, then, because every attendee is likely to be familiar with it and comfortable listening to its truth ... Most people expect a teacher to use non-biblical stories to illustrate a biblical truth ... At Saddleback [we use] secular songs as illustrations pointing people to biblical truth."
-Rick Muchowis worship pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Taken from "Making the Secular Sacred" in the Summer 2008 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.
Is having an ethnically diverse church a biblical mandate?
Brandon J. O'Brien
I recently returned to my native Arkansas - a world much less ablaze with all the conversations about emergent, missional, monastic, anti-institutional, and ancient-future Christianity. As much as I appreciate those dialogues, a heavy dose of them can obscure the fact that there are many local congregations nationwide that are not clinging to a sinking institution, are not confronted with a thoroughly postmodern youth culture, and are not terribly concerned with relevance (as such). They are, nevertheless, participating in great advances for the kingdom of God.
Take Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, for example. Located in the University District of Little Rock's south midtown, the church enjoys a prime location - for burglary, murder, and carjacking. It's in that part of town you wouldn't loiter in on Saturday night (I suppose all the evildoers sleep late on Sunday morning). But its location is strategic. In neither inner city nor suburb, and just across the street from the Little Rock campus of the University of Arkansas(UALR), the church's neighbors represent a diversity of ethnic and economic backgrounds. More importantly, the church's membership faithfully reflects the district's demographics.
As a lifelong Arkansan, I can testify that the joyful multi-ethnic and economically diverse fellowship that takes place at Mosaic is a monumental accomplishment.
"The modern, essentially atheistic mentality despises mystery and considers enchantment and befuddlement an affront to its democratic right to know--and then use--everything for purposes of individual fulfillment. This flattened mind loves lists, labels, solutions, sweeping propositions, and practical principles. The vast, cosmic claims of the gospel get reduced to an answer to a question that consumes contemporary North Americans, though it's hardly ever treated in Scripture: What's in it for me?"
-Will H. Willimon is bishop of the United Methodist Church, Birmingham (Alabama) Area. Taken from "Power Pointless: The way we distill the gospel for presentation can take the life out of it" in 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.
"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.
Theologian, scholar, and worship guru Robert Webber died Saturday, April 27. He was 73.
Webber will be remembered (and appreciated, mostly) as the man who gave a name to the quest to recover both philosophy and experience of worship that were endangered by contemporary evangelical practices in the late 20th century: He was the father of "ancient-future worship." His book by that title was followed by Ancient-Future Faith, Ancient-Future Time, Ancient-Future Evangelism. Webber wrote more than 40 books on worship. His most recent works are The Younger Evangelicals and, soon to be released,The Divine Embrace.
Remarkable about Webber is his spiritual journey, and how, a generation ahead of the emerging leaders he later chronicled, he created a new cutting edge in evangelicalism by leaving its "contemporary" expressions in search of older and more mainline ways of doing and being Church.
The National Pastors Convention in San Diego is over and I've returned to the frozen north. But I still have one last reflection from the conference. Mark Labberton, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, California, spoke on Thursday night about the intersection of worship and justice.
Drawing mainly from the Old Testament prophets Daniel and Isaiah, Labberton built a case for thinking differently about worship. "Worship reorders reality to help us see what is true," he said. It should reorder our priorities and help us see the world differently. But quite often worship is simply a baptized version of our culture. In our worship we simply mirror what is all around us - worship of self. This, he says, is "illegitimate worship."
"Fear of God is what matters most," says Labberton. "The failure of our people to live this way is a failure of our worship." The solution is not making our worship louder, faster, or more spectacular as many are in the habit of doing. Rather, we need to reevaluate what our worship is forming within our people. "Does our worship impact our view of our neighbor?"
Reconcile verbal communication with visual communication.
My childhood church had a silver cross suspended in the sanctuary. It was the visual focus of our worship. I recently returned to the church and the cross was still there, but few people notice it anymore. A large screen now hangs in front of it.
We live in an image-oriented culture, and that reality has impacted the way we worship, the way we design our churches, and even the way we preach. But how do we reconcile the discipline of preaching - a traditionally verbal form of communication - with our culture's captivity to images - a visual form of communication?
Next week thousands of church leaders will descend upon San Diego for the annual National Pastors Convention. Marshall Shelley and I will be there to facilitate an open dialogue with three church leaders on this subject. We'll be talking mainly about the use of visuals and technology in preaching - both the dangers and the opportunities. Each of the participants reflects a different ministry setting, but all are committed to faithfully communicating the gospel.
Sunday morning should be the most entertaining time of the week.
Last December, David Fitch challenged the popular trend known as "Experiential Worship." Fitch said, "?we can no longer be naive that a ?religious experience,' like the one sought in a rock concert worship service, provides immediate access to God." And Shane Hipps has asked us to think more critically about using technology in worship. This week, we welcome a new contributor to Out of Ur. Perry Noble is the Senior Pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. He not only endorses the use of technology to create experiential worship services, Noble believes Sunday morning should be the most entertaining experience people have all week.
From time to time we will have a church leader call NewSpring wanting to know what in the world we are doing to reach so many people. I have had this conversation with many people, and I have seen many walk away either discouraged or disappointed because I did not give them a magic formula. The bottom line is that if a church wants to impact a community it takes work.
For far too long the church has been lazy?that's right?LAZY. We have sat back on our butt and done nothing, asking God to "do it all" while claiming to be "led by the Spirit." And then people walk into our boring, lifeless, and predictable services and we give "God all the glory," or all the blame!
One of the things I have realized from reading Scripture is that Jesus was far from boring. He created experiences for His followers - experiences that they never forgot, and the church should be doing the same.
Where worshippers place their posteriors also shapes their interiors
Some things in life are certain - death, taxes, and cramped seats in economy class. But Cathay Pacific, one of Asia's leading airlines, has announced a breakthrough. They've designed an economy class seat that reclines without intruding on the person seated behind. For centuries church meant fixed seating in uncomfortable wood pews, but breakthroughs have been occurring in church seating as well. We now have theater seats with cup holders. But should comfort be the driving motivation? In this post, Dan Kimball from Vintage Faith Church explores the odd nature of pews, their history, and how church seats reflect our theology.
We were in the middle of moving our church offices and worship gathering location from a very new contemporary building built about 6 years ago to a very beautiful brick church built in 1938. In preparation for moving we had been redecorating and remodeling of the children's rooms, the offices, and turning the fellowship hall into a coffeehouse/art gallery. However, one thing was tormenting me - the pews in the sanctuary. I have never been part of a church that has pews, so these things were very confusing to me.
As I sat in the pews I realized how odd they are. These things are so small. You have to squeeze to get into them. They are very uncomfortable and creaky. Wooden seats with a little red cushion. Once other people sit next to you, you are stuck. Kind of like being in the window seat of an airplane and needing to step over two other people to get out.
Most people spend a significant part of the week looking at screens; television screens, movie screens, computer screens - in fact, you're looking at one right now. But traditionally Sunday morning was not a screen-time. Then came PowerPoint. First the hymnal was replaced and now many churches are substituting 3-D preachers with 2-D digital projections. Shane Hipps, Lead Pastor of Trinity Mennonite Church in Phoenix, Arizona, has written a new book that asks us to explore the implications of new technology on our ministries. Below is an excerpt from The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church (Zondervan, 2006). To get more background on Hipps' understanding of how mediums impact our message be sure to read his previous post.
One of the increasingly popular initiatives in the North American evangelical church is the use of multi-site, video-venue worship services. This is a model where multiple congregations are sprinkled throughout a city or campus, but one preacher is piped in to each gathering via video. Its proponents argue such a method offers the best of both worlds - you don't have to commute, you get to worship your way, and you don't have to sacrifice great preaching.
I was visiting a church recently on the day they were launching their multi-site service. I watched the sermon live, while two other gatherings in other parts of the city watched via a large projection screen. It was a stellar sermon by an extraordinarily gifted preacher well-known in the Christian subculture. But the most striking feature of the sermon was that his message was being directly contradicted by his medium - the video venue.
For decades churches have been experimenting with forms of communication, and one of the hallmarks of seeker churches has been the use of dramas in worship gatherings. It should come as no surprise that a church named Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community has chosen to push this experimentation to its logical end. The church has chosen to communicate biblical truths and narratives entirely through dramas - the sermon is no more.
Hot Metal Bridge has been getting a lot of press for its unusual worship format. Both The Wall Street Journal and the Today Show have run stories. Here is what some other media sources are reporting:
No one preaches at Hot Metal Bridge. Plays are its liturgy. Mr. Walker, a soon-to-be ordained United Methodist minister, leads the church with his friend Jeff Eddings, a Presbyterian seminarian. "Instead of coming to our church and listening to a sermon, you can be part of the sermon," Mr. Walker says.
Last month I attended a "worship experience" that included smoke machines, lasers, digital graphic projections, and more flat panel screens than I could count. Technology is changing the way we worship, but what are we losing as a result? David Fitch, pastor of Life on the Vine Christian Community in Long Grove, Illinois, and author of The Great Giveaway (Baker, 2006), encourages us to use greater discernment when employing technology in worship.
I read a nice story recently about football player Jerome Bettis (aka "the Bus") returning home to Detroit for the Super Bowl. They described his whole journey and how he bought a house for his parents on a golf course in suburban Detroit. But he didn't stop there. Johnie Bettis, the running back's mother, recalls: "When Jerome found out we were going to the laundromat, he said that wasn't acceptable and told us to go get a new washer and dryer. But I kind of liked the laundromat because you get to meet so many interesting people."
Mrs. Bettis' comments reminded me how technology can change the inherent "good" of the basic practices of our lives. Technology, in this case a washer and dryer, means no longer needing to go to the laundromat. As a result, we lose the "good" of meeting and engaging interesting people in our lives. We must therefore discern whether more technology (buying a washer and a dryer, a cell phone, or Tivo) is a good idea by considering more than just the capitalist reasons: "it's more efficient," "it saves time," or "it just looks and feels so good."
In February last year, my best friend flew down from the Midwest for a delightful, week-long visit. While she was here in the Carolinas, I introduced her to one of my most favorite experiences in the world: a Division I college basketball game. The home team shall remain nameless, except to say that its arena now features a 2005 NCAA Championship banner.
Anyway, I was thrilled to have my friend join me and share my passion for an evening. It was her first major college game, so I made sure I explained as much as I could beforehand about what she could expect from the experience.
Pastor, author, and professor David Fitch has responded to the discussion he began about the pitfalls of experiential worship. To read more about worship and ministry in a postmodern culture we recommend Fitch's provocative new book The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies.
Hey all, thanks for this lively conversation. I'd like to take the opportunity to repond to some of your comments concerning the validity or lecture hall and rock concert style worship.
Some have said that what we need is "line by line" preaching. If by the "line by line" study of the Word of God you mean expository preaching, I do not wish to deny the importance of preaching, perhaps even expository preaching. However, if the peaching becomes simply truth propositions inductively sliced and distributed to autonomous isolated minds sitting in the pews taking notes on how to improve their lives (even their Christian lives), then to me this is not worship.
Churches pour enormous resources into creating meaningful worship experiences. But what if those experiences don't carry the meaning we intend? Pastor and theologian David Fitch believes a worship experience by itself is not enough in our postmodern culture. Instead he calls us to think beyond sermons and music to create a new framework for understanding worship that may not be new at all.
At our theology pub last month we sat around and conversed on the issue of worship. I put forward the typology of "lecture hall" versus "rock concert" as the primary modes of worship for evangelicals, and I suggested that both were inadequate for forming truthful minds and faithful experience in Christians.
The people at our pub ranged in age from 16 to early 50's. Most seemed to agree that a worship service geared entirely towards a 55 minute sermon seeking to dispense information to Cartesian minds is inadequate for spiritual formative. Less obvious and hotly debated was rock concert-style worship's ability to form us into Christlikeness.