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The Problem with the “Hot New Thing” in the Church

February 14th, 2013 3 comments

best-practices-social-media-business-human-resources

Here is a fascinating interview with a person who has not one single possible bias or axe to grind or any emotional investment in any Lutheran squabbles about the liturgy. Check out what he has to say about the historic liturgy. It is always both amusing and quite pathetic to see that just when some Lutherans are breathlessly trying everything they can to out do each other coming up with new “best pratices” for conducting their ministry, the very thing we think of as irrelevant, out of touch, old, useless, only good enough for the old folks whom are shunted off to a “classical praise” service at some inconvenient hour on Sunday, the Evangelicals and others are slowly, but surely, discovering the riches of the Church’s great traditions and heritage: the ancient liturgical forms of worship being one of them! Oh, yea, and that whole “sin and grace” thing? The whole “I’m a poor miserable sinner” thing? Yup, that too. Lutheran congregations ditching their confession/absolution are doing so just while a lot of Evangelicals are viewing it now as a “best practice.” Go figure. HT: Stetzer

Daniel is the founder and lead pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and founder of Sojourn Network. Mike is one of the founding pastors of Sojourn where he serves as the pastor of worship and arts. He is also founder of Sojourn Music and has helped us with elements of The Gospel Project.

I’ve seen Sojourn Church grow from a dream that Daniel and Mandy shared with Donna and me in our living room, to an amazing church and growing network. I am so thrilled with to see that vision come into reality– and very glad they have shared about it in Faithmapping.


“Faithmapping” is a very interesting word. What does it mean?

Faithmapping is our attempt to clarify the relationship between the gospel, the church, and the world. Each of these concepts is a big, broad idea, and in the Christian life, they can become quite confusing. So in Faithmapping, we are attempting to plot out each idea on the map, showing the various routes by which they connect and depend upon one another.

Why is there so much confusion among churches today about what the gospel actually is?

There are many reasons for this. One is our addiction to sound bites. Another is the perpetual fads that surround the church – the newest book, conference, or blogger that is the Hot New Thing.

But ultimately, the gospel itself is a message – an announcement really – that is simultaneously simple and complex, easily summarized and worthy of lifelong reflection and meditation. In the face of complexity, we’re often tempted to be reductionistic. Faithmapping aims to resist that temptation, painting a broad, multi-dimensional picture of the gospel.

Why is grace such a stumbling block for Christians?

Because most of us would love to believe that we can be good enough, smart enough, and righteous enough to earn God’s favor. The gospel demands that we encounter and acknowledge our sinfulness, and only then can we understand grace in its fullness. That’s an unattractive message to many.

Some have narrowly defined the gospel as kingdom, cross, or grace–but rarely connect all three. What are the dangers of over-emphasizing one facet of the gospel against the others?

We miss out on the life-shaping impact of the scriptures. The Bible has no problem with revealing a gospel that is multi-dimensional (referencing it as the gospel of the Kingdom, the cross, and grace, as well as many other modifiers), and that depth enriches our understanding of Jesus’ work. If we emphasize the cross without grace, we can end up being nothing but miserable sinners. If we emphasize grace without the cross, we get a sentimentalism that doesn’t understand sin. On the other hand, when we understand the whole thing as complex, and interdependent, it’s a much richer picture. At times, we particularly need to hear on or the other aspects.

Only by holding them aspects in tension and dialogue with one another can we fully understand the message of the gospel.

Why can it be dangerous to measure one’s spiritual health by their quiet time or prayer performance?

Because our standing before God isn’t defined by our performance. It’s defined by Jesus’ finished work! Our prayer and Bible reading is an absurdly insufficient effort to please a God who can only be satisfied by perfect, unblemished sacrifice. By a miracle of grace, our messy, flawed, insufficient lives are wrapped up in Jesus and offered to God as a “living sacrifice,” which he joyfully receives on our behalf! It all has very little to do with our actions.

If we see that God’s acceptance of us is primary, and prior to any of our spiritual disciplines, then we can understand these disciplines as invitations to the good life – to life with God in a world he’s at work redeeming.

How does viewing your life (even in the mundane, ordinary, or secular areas of life) as worship revolutionize the way you work? Parent? Do ministry?

It’s crucial that we see these mundane and “secular” areas of life as worship. Worship isn’t just a gathering of people, or a set of actions; it’s a way of life. It’s a life lived for the glory of God, and it’s rooted first and foremost in trusting Jesus’ finished work on our behalf.

If we know that Jesus is our brother and God is our father, and that our lives are lived before his gaze, the ordinary moments of life are transformed. Every moment – at work, at home, or in a drive-thru – is a call to worship, an opportunity to live in a way that says, “yes” and “amen” to God’s work in the world.

How do you fight for unity in your church? Or deal with conflict in your church?

Rather than call people to a vision statement, or a particular leader, we call them again and again to the gospel. It really is the key to all of life and ministry: it’s the rallying cry for the church, the point at which unity is possible, where sinners gather before God. Practically speaking, if you call all of your ministries to be centered on the gospel, then it unifies their language and opens doors for a lot of commonality. In other words, you don’t learn one vision and set of language for mercy ministry, and another for music ministry; both are calling people to serve others for the sake of the gospel.

In dealing with conflict, Paul’s words to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry have become more and more important to me as a leader. Most of the time, when conflict emerges, one or both parties just needs to be heard. Great leaders listen, and work hard to acknowledge that the other person has been heard and understood. That’s where conflict resolution will always begin.

How do you cultivate an authenticity among staff and leaders at your church?

You have to fight for an atmosphere where sin is expected. You have to act as though it isn’t surprising when a staff full of sinners demonstrates sinfulness. If people feel safe confessing sin, weakness, sadness, and frustration, then you can have real authenticity.

That said, you have to fight for joy as well. Sometimes, the church can spiral down a well of sin-hunting misery, and you have to guard from that too; it’s as inauthentic as plastic-faced joy. So laugh with those who laugh and weep with those who weep; allow for highs and lows in the life of the church culture.

With “gospel-centered” as a current buzzword, how can we keep the familiarity of the gospel message from becoming something that no longer stirs and moves us?

This is a great question. I think there are some great answers from church history. The old Liturgy of the church was a dialogue between the congregation and the word of God, rehearsing the basics of the gospel story: God is holy, I’m a sinner, Jesus saves me from my sins and sends me into the world. In many ways, historic worship never got past that basic story.

While I don’t think everyone needs to resurrect a historic liturgy in their congregation, I think they definitely need to consider ways in which their gatherings – whether they’re a house church or a church of 10,000 – rehearse the gospel story beyond just preaching. We absolutely need good, Christ-centered preaching too, don’t get me wrong! But the gospel is a story we live in as well.

The richness of the Bible and the depths of the gospel are such that I believe a determined pastor, looking The story itself is the story of our lives, and it’s the challenge of pastors to make sure that the story is connecting – that people are seeing themselves inside the story.

Your chapter on being a servant contains a striking sentence: “We might fly across the world to feed children in a ghetto, but ignore our neighbors who need help carrying in their groceries.” Why do you think it’s sometimes seems easier to serve in high-profile ways? How can we learn to love and serve those in our everyday lives, especially when there is no chance of being recognized for doing so?

This is a tremendous challenge for our culture. In our day, even carrying a neighbor’s groceries is something that can become high-profile; we can broadcast it on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, and Google Plus in seconds. We have trained ourselves – and to a much larger degree, we’re training our children – to tell the world every time they do a good deed (or eat a good cheeseburger). Marketers have caught on to this. They know we want to do good and get credit. The whole phenomenon of Tom’s shoes (a company that gives away a pair of shoes for every pair sold) is simultaneously a good, generous thing, and a brilliant bit of marketing. People who wear Tom’s are not only making a fashion statement, they’re making a values statement, and that has made them a huge-selling phenomenon.

The cure for this is a spiritual discipline that church fathers before us called “secrecy,” which was a practice of doing good and keeping your mouth shut. Choose some opportunities to do good – to serve neighbors or family members – and not tell anyone about it. It’s small disciplines like this that help to shape our hearts, transforming us into the kind of people who are serving others in small ways, with no recognition, but with great joy.

The Three Types of Churches

February 8th, 2013 4 comments

How to Write a Worship Song in Five Minutes or Less

February 6th, 2013 8 comments

I’m taking up the ukelele again after a lot of years away, and one of the delightful aspects of it is that there are about a bazillion songs you can play and sing that are only three or four chords. I may add worship song composition to my ukelele playing, and if so, I expect CPH to publish my Praise Songs for Ukelele volume. Lots of great hints and tips on this video for all budding praise song composers (and, hey, who isn’t these days?).

 

 

Mission Trips — Something to Consider

March 16th, 2012 13 comments

Which One is Your Church?

January 14th, 2012 8 comments

Congregation Struggles to Learn New Mission Statement

December 2nd, 2011 7 comments

 “First Covenant Church exists for the passion and purpose of inspiring, discipling, equipping and sending out Christ followers with the destiny of transforming the world to the glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and fostering a graceful yet convicting church environment in which people of all faith experiences and backgrounds are molded into the image and reflection of Christ, together creating a God-honoring community of authentic worshipers deliberately focused on reaching their community, the nation, the next generation of believers and the world through missions works, innovative programs and prayer.”

VISALIA, Calif. — First Covenant Church unveiled a new mission statement last week, hoping to launch the church into an era of greater unity and spiritual effectiveness.

But response to the two-page statement has been decidedly mixed among church members who despair of memorizing it as the church has requested.

“It’s a verbal tangle of quasi-eloquent nothingness,” grumbles one man. “I can’t even say it right when it’s projected on the screen. I end up with a mouthful of blah.”

The church has gone into a full-court press to get members to memorize the statement. The full text is posted on every door in the church, in bathroom stalls, in the bulletin and on all church correspondence and emails. The church is running a half-page ad featuring the statement in the local newspaper for two weeks. They were unable to fit it into their usual quarter-page space.

Services now begin with everyone holding up their Bibles and reading the statement off the screens together with the pastor. All church-sanctioned events, from small groups to softball games, must now begin with participants reciting it together.

“It takes longer to get through than the national anthem,” says one softball team captain. “The other teams laugh at us.”

Pastor Jack Lewine says he felt obligated to promote the statement mainly because his associate pastor Glen Pamplin had labored over it for six months before presenting it to the church. But even Lewine admits he had to delay the unveiling for two weeks so he could “get my own head around it.” He can now recite it in less than 90 seconds, of which he is proud.

Pamplin is reportedly irritated by people’s “reluctance to get on board with what God is doing at First Covenant.” He says the statement’s length simply reflects that God has a lot in store for the church in the future. Bristling at the criticism, Pamplin recently floated the idea of throwing a contest with a cash prize to see if anyone in the congregation can come up with a better statement “that still fully encompasses, embodies and encourages our fundamental mission as an outpost of grace, joy and love for Christ in the city to which he has called us at this time in history,” he says.

Suggestions are already rolling in.

“How about, ‘Jesus rules,’” says one seventh grader. “They should pay me by how many words I didn’t use.” •

Source: Lark News

File under: Humor with a point.

Archeologists Discover Letter Written to St. Paul

March 25th, 2011 31 comments

Word is now coming out that a letter has been discovered that was written to St. Paul, in response to his letter to the churches in Galatia. Here is an English translation.

Parodios, a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ, to our brother Paulos.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our church recently received a copy of the letter that you sent to the church of Galatia. We hope you will not mind hearing our humble concerns. In the past we have noticed you are more interested in confronting people rather than conversing with them, but we hope you will receive this letter as an invitation to further dialogue.

First of all, we are uncomfortable with your tone throughout the correspondence. We know it is difficult sometimes to discern tone of voice from written communication, but you should keep this in mind as well. One could gather from your careless use of words that you are losing your temper. You certainly sound angry. This is unbecoming a spokesperson for the faith. As you say yourself, one of the manifest fruit of God’s Spirit is gentleness.

Aren’t you being a hypocrite to preach grace but not show it to our Judaizer brothers? They may not worship as you do or emphasize the same teachings you do, but our Lord has “sheep not of this fold,” and there is certainly room within the broader Way for these brothers. Their methodology may differ from yours, but certainly their hearts are in the right place.

You yourself know that our Lord required personal contact when we have a grievance against another. Have you personally contacted any of these men? Have you sat down to reason with them personally? Have you issued a personal invitation? Some of them may even reconsider their viewpoints if you had taken a different tack. We know that your position is likely that public teaching is open to public criticism, but we can do better than what is expected, can’t we?

In one portion of your letter, you indicate you don’t even know these persons! “Whoever he is,” you write. Our dear Paulos, how can you rightly criticize them when you don’t know them? It’s clear you haven’t even read their material, because you never quote them. We implore you to see that they are plainly within the tradition of Moses and of the Prophets. They understand the context of the covenant in ways you appear deaf to.

Similarly, we find your tone and resorting to harsh language not in keeping with the love of Christ. “Foolish Galatians.” “Let him be accursed.” “Emasculate themselves.” Really? Can you not hear yourself? You think this is Christlike? Does this sound like something our Lord would say? Do you think this flippant, outrageous, personal, vindictive manner of speech speaks well of God’s love or the church? It is clear you are taking this way too personally. Indeed, you ask the Galatians if you are now their enemy. Does everything have to be so black and white to you?

Paulos, what will unbelievers think when they read this letter? Do you think this will commend the gospel to them? This kind of harsh language just makes us look like a bunch of angry people. They see we can’t even love each other, and over what? Circumcision? This is a terrible advertisement for God’s love to an unbelieving world. You have given plenty of people permission now to disregard Jesus, if this is what his mouthpieces sound like.

We hope you will reconsider your approach. We know that you catch much more flies with honey than with vinegar. We are concerned that your ill-worded letter signals a divisiveness that threatens to fracture the church. We beg you to reconsider how important these minor issues are, and how in the future you may speak in ways that better reflect God’s love.

The grace—and the love!—of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brother.

HT: Justin Taylor

How the Sixties Changed the Church Forever

September 10th, 2010 8 comments

This is a thoughtful piece, written specifically about the influences of thinking in the sixties on the Roman Catholic Church, but as an interesting exercise, replace “Catholic” with “Lutheran” throughout this piece and it is remarkably applicable. Do you agree? Why? Why not?

The American Catholic Revolution: How the Sixties Changed the Church Forever, by Mark S. Massa, S. J., is no exception. Dean of the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College, Fr. Massa hangs his history on the old caricatures that have dominated liberal interpretations of modern Catholic history for decades.

The thesis is simplistic in the extreme. On one side are those who believe in timeless truths, on the other side those who embrace “historical consciousness.” By this reading, the history of Catholicism in the decade of and after the Council is best understood as the clash between a-historical martinets who wanted to keep the Church frozen in the past and historically sensitive intellectuals who were comfortable with pluralism, change, and the “messiness of history.”

Massa’s superficial reading of the documents of the Second Vatican Council offers an illustration. He points out that in one of the key Vatican II texts, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the bishops adopted a range of biblical terms rather than a single, settled scholastic definition of the Church.

This variety led, he suggests, to a deeper understanding of the Church, one that brought to the fore images of the church suppressed by rigid forms of modern Catholic scholasticism. For example, the central biblical notion of “People of God” became a rallying cry for those who wanted to make the church less hierarchical and more egalitarian.

That’s accurate as a description of the way progressives saw things in the aftermath of Vatican II. But the facts of the matter cut against Massa’s thesis, for those crusading for an egalitarian church were the a-historical theologians, not those who resisted them.

When the New Testament refers to the church as the “People of God,” it is drawing on the Old Testament notion of Israel as a nation in covenant with the Lord. And, of course, the Old Testament account of Israel is profoundly hierarchical, with a hereditary priesthood and a divinely ordained monarchy. The reality of history, however, was beside the point for the “historically conscious” progressives storming the bastions. They were living in the Now, and the “People of God” came to be fused with 1960’s sentiments such as “Power to the People.”

Massa’s account of the transformation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters, a women’s religious order in Los Angeles, in the 1960s provides another illustration of the inadequacy of his thesis. Reading Massa, one can see that the dramatic changes in the rules governing the order were based on a dreamy, a-historical idealism that drank deeply from the wells of an emergent feminism, not genuine historical knowledge of its founder. Result: three quarters of the women were laicized by the end of the 1960s. So much for renewal.

Throughout The American Catholic Revolution the simple-minded dichotomy between an old-fashioned belief in timeless truths and a new, fluid historical consciousness exerts too much control over Massa’s mind. He writes that historical consciousness has “won the day in so many parts of culture—in science, technology, historical and social scientific scholarship.” How can he assert something so obviously false?

Historical consciousness certainly plays an important role in modern intellectual life, giving us a vivid sense of the contingency of our own way of life. Yet it has by no means “won the day.” After all, contemporary brain science and socio-biology cut against historical consciousness, arguing that our behavior and beliefs are functions of timeless scientific laws, not historical circumstances. The trend away from history also characterizes game theory in political science and economic theory. Both claim to provide timeless models for social behavior, not historically conditioned ones.

Moreover, historical consciousness hasn’t won the day for Massa himself. He devotes a chapter to the Berrigan brothers, anti-war protesters who, in 1968, along with others dubbed the Catonsville Nine, burned draft cards. Massa fails to notice that Daniel Berrigan was a moral fundamentalist: War is evil; Christ calls us to resist evil; Therefore, Christians must burn draft cards. Q.E.D. That’s good ‘ol scholastic reasoning at work, not historical consciousness.

The incoherence of Fr. Massa’s approach to modern Catholic history is all too typical. It reflects that basic strategy of progressive rhetoric, which defines the good guys and the bad guys with concepts that transcend theology and morality – thus exempting the progressive view from theological and moral debate. For Massa, “historical consciousness” and what he calls the “messiness of history” simply means having a liberal sensibility, not real knowledge of history.

In the end “history” is just a slogan, along with “pluralism,” and “change.” These buzzwords have been used by two generations of post-Vatican II teachers to catechize their students. If one doesn’t agree with the agenda of liberal Catholicism—relaxed sexual morality, the ordination of women, and so forth—then one is dismissed as “denying history” or “afraid of change.” So we have been told again and again.

Today we need genuine historical work rather than the agenda of liberal Catholicism dressed up in academic gowns. By my reckoning, the most fascinating and remarkable aspect of recent American Catholic history was both the sudden and powerful emergence of a progressive Catholic vision after Vatican II, and its equally sudden (and largely unexpected) collapse only a decade or two later. Who, for example, reads David Tracy anymore? Or even Karl Rahner?

A serious account of the emergence—the topic of Massa’s book—must take into the account the collapse, something Massa seems unable to contemplate.

R.R. Reno is a senior editor of First Things.

Recipe for Fake Christians: Keep Feeding Them Pablum!

September 9th, 2010 Comments off

Others practice a “gospel of niceness,” where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says. “If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation,” wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. More teens may be drifting away from conventional Christianity. But their desire to help others has not diminished, another author says.

These words are part of a story I read today, and while it applies to teens, I’m convinced it applies to many Christians today. When we feed people pablum, they remain infants. When all they hear in their Christian congregation is a form of the “Precious Moments” Gospel that is more about feeling all warm and cozy about themselves, than the full-blooded, or should I say, “shed bloodedness” that is the Christian truth, then what results is what this article is talking all about.

Here is the story:

(CNN) — If you’re the parent of a Christian teenager, Kenda Creasy Dean has this warning:

Your child is following a “mutant” form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.

Dean is a minister, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of “Almost Christian,” a new book that argues that many parents and pastors are unwittingly passing on this self-serving strain of Christianity.

She says this “imposter” faith is one reason teenagers abandon churches.

“If this is the God they’re seeing in church, they are right to leave us in the dust,” Dean says. “Churches don’t give them enough to be passionate about.”

What traits passionate teens share

Dean drew her conclusions from what she calls one of the most depressing summers of her life. She interviewed teens about their faith after helping conduct research for a controversial study called the National Study of Youth and Religion.

The study, which included in-depth interviews with at least 3,300 American teenagers between 13 and 17, found that most American teens who called themselves Christian were indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.

The study included Christians of all stripes — from Catholics to Protestants of both conservative and liberal denominations. Though three out of four American teenagers claim to be Christian, fewer than half practice their faith, only half deem it important, and most can’t talk coherently about their beliefs, the study found.

Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good — what the study’s researchers called “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

Some critics told Dean that most teenagers can’t talk coherently about any deep subject, but Dean says abundant research shows that’s not true.

“They have a lot to say,” Dean says. “They can talk about money, sex and their family relationships with nuance. Most people who work with teenagers know that they are not naturally inarticulate.”

In “Almost Christian,” Dean talks to the teens who are articulate about their faith. Most come from Mormon and evangelical churches, which tend to do a better job of instilling religious passion in teens, she says.

No matter their background, Dean says committed Christian teens share four traits: They have a personal story about God they can share, a deep connection to a faith community, a sense of purpose and a sense of hope about their future.

“There are countless studies that show that religious teenagers do better in school, have better relationships with their parents and engage in less high-risk behavior,” she says. “They do a lot of things that parents pray for.”

Dean, a United Methodist Church minister who says parents are the most important influence on their children’s faith, places the ultimate blame for teens’ religious apathy on adults.

Some adults don’t expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex.

Others practice a “gospel of niceness,” where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says.

“If teenagers lack an articulate faith, it may be because the faith we show them is too spineless to merit much in the way of conversation,” wrote Dean, a professor of youth and church culture at Princeton Theological Seminary.

More teens may be drifting away from conventional Christianity. But their desire to help others has not diminished, another author says.

Barbara A. Lewis, author of “The Teen Guide to Global Action,” says Dean is right — more teens are embracing a nebulous belief in God.

Yet there’s been an “explosion” in youth service since 1995 that Lewis attributes to more schools emphasizing community service.

Teens that are less religious aren’t automatically less compassionate, she says.

“I see an increase in youth passion to make the world a better place,” she says. “I see young people reaching out to solve problems. They’re not waiting for adults.”

What religious teens say about their peers

Elizabeth Corrie meets some of these idealistic teens every summer. She has taken on the book’s central challenge: instilling religious passion in teens.

Corrie, who once taught high school religion, now directs a program called YTI — the Youth Theological Initiative at Emory University in Georgia.

YTI operates like a theological boot camp for teens. At least 36 rising high school juniors and seniors from across the country gather for three weeks of Christian training. They worship together, take pilgrimages to varying religious communities and participate in community projects.

Corrie says she sees no shortage of teenagers who want to be inspired and make the world better. But the Christianity some are taught doesn’t inspire them “to change anything that’s broken in the world.”

Teens want to be challenged; they want their tough questions taken on, she says.

“We think that they want cake, but they actually want steak and potatoes, and we keep giving them cake,” Corrie says.

David Wheaton, an Atlanta high school senior, says many of his peers aren’t excited about Christianity because they don’t see the payoff.

“If they can’t see benefits immediately, they stay away from it,” Wheaton says. “They don’t want to make sacrifices.”

How ‘radical’ parents instill religious passion in their children

Churches, not just parents, share some of the blame for teens’ religious apathy as well, says Corrie, the Emory professor.

She says pastors often preach a safe message that can bring in the largest number of congregants. The result: more people and yawning in the pews.

“If your church can’t survive without a certain number of members pledging, you might not want to preach a message that might make people mad,” Corrie says. “We can all agree that we should all be good and that God rewards those who are nice.”

Corrie, echoing the author of “Almost Christian,” says the gospel of niceness can’t teach teens how to confront tragedy.

“It can’t bear the weight of deeper questions: Why are my parents getting a divorce? Why did my best friend commit suicide? Why, in this economy, can’t I get the good job I was promised if I was a good kid?”

What can a parent do then?

Get “radical,” Dean says.

She says parents who perform one act of radical faith in front of their children convey more than a multitude of sermons and mission trips.

A parent’s radical act of faith could involve something as simple as spending a summer in Bolivia working on an agricultural renewal project or turning down a more lucrative job offer to stay at a struggling church, Dean says.

But it’s not enough to be radical — parents must explain “this is how Christians live,” she says.

“If you don’t say you’re doing it because of your faith, kids are going to say my parents are really nice people,” Dean says. “It doesn’t register that faith is supposed to make you live differently unless parents help their kids connect the dots.”

‘They called when all the cards stopped’

Anne Havard, an Atlanta teenager, might be considered radical. She’s a teen whose faith appears to be on fire.

Havard, who participated in the Emory program, bubbles over with energy when she talks about possibly teaching theology in the future and quotes heavy-duty scholars such as theologian Karl Barth.

She’s so fired up about her faith that after one question, Havard goes on a five-minute tear before stopping and chuckling: “Sorry, I just talked a long time.”

Havard says her faith has been nurtured by what Dean, the “Almost Christian” author, would call a significant faith community.

In 2006, Havard lost her father to a rare form of cancer. Then she lost one of her best friends — a young woman in the prime of life — to cancer as well. Her church and her pastor stepped in, she says.

“They called when all the cards stopped,” she says.

When asked how her faith held up after losing her father and friend, Havard didn’t fumble for words like some of the teens in “Almost Christian.”

She says God spoke the most to her when she felt alone — as Jesus must have felt on the cross.

“When Jesus was on the cross crying out, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus was part of God,” she says. “Then God knows what it means to doubt.

“It’s OK to be in a storm, to be in a doubt,” she says, “because God was there, too.”

Find this article at:

http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/08/27/almost.christian/index.html?hpt=C1

Christianity Going to the Dogs: No, I’m Not Making This Up

August 31st, 2010 11 comments

I know some people do not like the style of these videos, but I think they are really quite powerful, for a certain demographic that most older folks simply “don’t get.” Check this latest video from the Wretched Network. Yes, the man singing the song was serious.

The Perils of Wanna-Be-Cool Christianity

August 14th, 2010 4 comments

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, here’s a snippet.

As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.

Recent statistics have shown an increasing exodus of young people from churches, especially after they leave home and live on their own. In a 2007 study, Lifeway Research determined that 70% of young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly.

Statistics like these have created something of a mania in recent years, as baby-boomer evangelical leaders frantically assess what they have done wrong (why didn’t megachurches work to attract youth in the long term?) and scramble to figure out a plan to keep young members engaged in the life of the church.

Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called “the emerging church”—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too “let’s rethink everything” radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity’s image and make it “cool”—remains.

Contemporvant Worship for Grotivation

May 8th, 2010 8 comments

Lutherans and Evangelism: Have We Lost our Voice?

April 19th, 2010 13 comments

A thought-provoking article by Pastor Peters, for your consideration and reflection.

On another on-line forum is the question “Why Lutherans Can’t Evangelize.” It is a striking question born of a time when Lutherans have borrowed the evangelism methods of others and found themselves without a voice of their own to speak the Gospel to their neighbor. I cannot always have been true because there was a point in the 1950s when Lutherans were growing at astounding rates. TIME magazine noted this in April of 1958 with the prediction that if things continue everyone in America will be Lutheran by 2000. We know how that turned out. Perhaps TIME jinxed our forward momentum since the last year we saw substantial growth in the LCMS was 1963.

I think we lost our voice. The boats stopped coming from Europe, America changed and suburbia brought with it additional cultural changes, our own shift from a largely rural to mostly urban and suburban church body made us turn inward to figure out what this meant for us, and we found ourselves without a voice to speak to those around us.

So we did what Lutherans are wont to do. We went shopping in the religious marketplace. We looked at the denominations that were growing (Southern Baptist) and began shaping our approach in their terminology and from their perspective. But it was a little like those who speak another language from a phrase book. It was not our native tongue.

Then came Evangelism Explosion and D. James Kennedy. We Lutheranized it into Dialog Evangelism (ala BZ) and suddenly there were people showing up on the front porches of America asking “What would happen to you if you died tonight?” Again, with all our tweaking, it was a foreign language to us and the decision theology part of it all left a taste in our mouth that diluted our enthusiasm.

In the end what this did is transfer the responsibility to an Evangelism Committee. Remember that before this Luthern congregational structures did not even have an evangelism group or committee or deacon. Don Abdon came along to help us with this restructuring need and with a list of those who were “evangelists” and we decided that evangelism was best done by those with its gift. All of this distanced the average Lutheran Christian from the task and purpose of sharing the faith.

Advance a few years and we were shopping at Willow Creek or Saddle Creek or CCM radio stations in the hopes that if we looked different and sounded different people would be attracted to us. Never mind the fact that our sanctuaries were architecturally unsuited for this style and our heart was not fully convinced (hence the traditional services that kept us Lutheran in identity at least at 7 am on Sunday morning).

Our mission execs began shopping for those churches that were growing and they shifted our paradigms and made us more missional and insisted that everything we were or did had to be negotiable if we were really to grow. Their hearts were in the right place — they daily faced statistics that most people in the pew choose to ignore… but the result has been a great division between those congregations that are LINO (Lutheran in name only), those who have abandoned even the name but exist within the denomination, AND those who turn to page 151 on LSB on Sunday morning and the worship wars past and pressent.

Now our Lutheran evangelistic zeal is part of the angst of who we are and what we are. If we did bring people to worship, would they feel at home? Would they like it? Would they find us friendly? Would they come back? Can we do this? Will it (giving up who we are) be worth it all in the end? Instead we should have been thinking Isaiah 55 — My Word will not return to me empty handed… Instead we should have been confident that where the Word and Sacraments are and the baptized people gathered around them and their Pastor, there is the Church with the fullness of the Spirit who IS the one who grows the Church.

Our parish grows because the people invite people to come with them. Our outreach is through the people in the pew who daily witness and share their faith and not through an evangelism committee. People hear about our work in the community or find out about us through our highly regarded preschool or come to one of our Music at Grace concerts or are brought by those who have confidence in the Word and Sacraments, the means of grace. We do try to be deliberately welcoming, we have a welcome desk at the door and people stationed to identify and welcome visitors. We have signs and lots of parking. We have a well maintained building. But we sing the liturgy on Sunday morning and use the full resources of the hymnal for the Divine Service. We have good teaching for all ages and good Biblical preaching that keeps the Law and Gospel distinct but together. We do everything wrong in this regard and next week we will receive nearly 40 new members (through baptism, instruction, adult confirmation, affirmation of faith, and transfer). What happens on Sunday morning and who we are during the week is the same. The result is that people know who they are in the pews and feel confident about bringing people with them, sharing the faith with their neighbors and co-workers, and they know what people will experience on Sunday morning. Even kids do this.

We must know who we are before we know our voice in evangelism and outreach. It must be authentic and real, positive and genuine… Identity is what helps us welcome… confidence in that identity gives us confidence to invite and welcome… it really does work.

The New Pietism Will Lead to The Same Old Results

April 18th, 2010 17 comments

“We do not have to look very far to see that today there is a new spirit of pietism abroad, a pietism that sees the essence of Christianity in the small, informal group, rather than in the total community of faith at worship within a recognized and formal liturgical order. It is a pietism that measures its success by the number of people it touches, rather than by the truth of the message it proclaims. It is a pietism that is preoccupied with “simple hymns” and informal structures of worship. It is a pietism that is impatient with the German Reformation of the sixteenth century, a pietism that asserts that we need new forms and less of the old. It is a new spirit of pietism that looks in many respects like the old pietism, the Pietism in the technical sense which we have considered here.

“The leading question, of course, is this: Where did the old Pietism lead? By the end of the eighteenth century German Lutheranism had almost disappeared.

“Liturgical forms had been eliminated, the highly developed church music of Bach and his contemporaries was no longer heard in the churches, and the content of the Christian faith had been watered down to little more than Unitarianism, with an invertebrate spirituality lacking the backbone of confessional theology. Instead of leading to a period of growth of the church, Pietism precipitated an era of decline of the church, a situation which was not reversed until, around the middle of the nineteenth century, there was a recovery of Lutheran confessional theology, Lutheran liturgical practice, and Lutheran church music, that is, a recovery of those things with which Bach was so intimately concerned.”

Bach and Pietism: Similarities Today, by Robin A. Leaver, Concordia
Theological Quarterly, 55:1 (Jan. 1991), pp. 5-22.

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Gospel

March 26th, 2010 8 comments