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Hymnals? We don’t need no stinkin’ hymnals!

A couple days ago I read a blog post from Tim Challies called, “What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals.” Mr. Challies is quick to point out that he is not advocating a return to hymnals, but wants us to consider what happens when we switch media in the church. With no malice or animosity, I wanted to take a brief moment to respond to his article. He writes:

We lost an established body of songs. Hymnals communicated that a church had an established collection of songs. This, in turn, communicated that its songs were vetted carefully and added to its repertoire only after careful consideration. After all, great songs are not written every day and their worth is proven only over time.

True, a book of songs is quite restrictive on a congregation’s musical repertoire.  The idea that all of the songs in a given hymnal were vetted carefully and after careful consideration is not quite true. Have you ever gone through a hymnal? I have. I have a copy of the hymnal my church used when I was growing up. And lemme tell ya, THEY AREN’T ALL GEMS!

Sure, there are the greats that we all know and love. But my 50 year old hymnal has 504 songs! That means that, within our musical canon, there was a functional canon of songs we always did and songs that we NEVER did. Many of those we never did are not great music. they aren’t memorable nor are they especially inspired. I’m not even going to mention the patriotic songs that wound up in many hymnals. 😦

Finally, the Bible never calls us to an “established” body of songs. Psalm 96 encourages us:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!

SOMEONE’S gotta write the new songs. And when the Apostle encourages us to singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, there’s no mention of the old standards which were appropriate for use. Since God is a Living God who is actively involved in the lives of believers, it seems perfectly normal that our worship can reflect what God is doing here and now. Hymns of old? Great! Songs extolling the ongoing work of God in the world? Wonderful!

Mr. Challies continues:

We lost a deep knowledge of our songs. When we removed the hymnal, we gained the ability to add new songs to our repertoire whenever we encounter one we deem worthy. This reduces our familiarity with our songs so that today we have far fewer of them fixed in our minds and hearts.

Sure, we don’t remember the songs of old any more. But they aren’t Scripture – there’s nothing sacred about one generation’s worship music. There are powerful songs written today that are rich with good theology and musicality. They aren’t any less wonderful just because they were written 150 years too late. This kind of ageism says that “older is better” when it isn’t. Older is older. We venerate the songs that were powerful when we had a tremendous religious experience and we look down on songs from other people’s experience. But radio, Spotify, YouTube, and iTunes has give people a wide variety of options to fix wonderful music in our minds and hearts.

We lost the ability to do harmonies. Hymnody grew up at a time when instrumentation took a back seat to the voice. Hymns were most often written so they could be sung a cappella or with minimal instrumentation. For that reason, hymnals almost invariably included the music for both melody and harmonies and congregations learned to sing the parts. The loss of the hymnal and the associated rise of the worship band has reduced our ability to harmonize and, in that way, to sing to the fullest of our abilities.

Okay, this is just bunk. I’ve been part of hymnal-using churches, and some of them were simply awful with no ability to harmonize. Since most people cannot read music, having notated music means nothing. Churches that utilized hymnals would have a couple people who could harmonize, and others would follow the examples of others to learn voice parts.

This can STILL happen with worship bands. Many modern worship bands have 2-3 part harmonies. People in the church simply have to follow the vocalist that fits their range. But please continue, Mr. Challies.

We lost the ability to sing skillfully. As congregations have lost their knowledge of their songs, they have lost the ability to sing them well. We tend to compensate for our poorly-sung songs by cranking up the volume of the musical accompaniment.

Again, just because a church uses a hymnal does not mean anything about the skill and ability of the church. I know of many worship bands that spend a lot of time practicing so that they can be skillful and lead people skillfully. Perhaps Mr. Challies hasn’t spent enough time with the hymnal-using churches that sound like dying cats, but trust me – they’re out there!

We lost the ability to have the songs in our homes. Hymnals usually lived at the church, resting from Monday to Saturday in the little pockets on the back of the pews. But people also bought their own and took them home so the family could have that established body of songs there as well. Families would often sing together as part of their family worship. It is easy to imagine a family singing “It Is Well With My Soul” after eating dinner together, but almost impossible to imagine them singing, “Oceans.”

oceansAh, there it is – the crack against “Oceans.” It seems to be a common theme among Reformed believers. This comes across and being petty and merely personal opinion. I know for a fact that families can sing “Oceans” together because I have witnessed my wife doing it with our children. We utilize Spotify and YouTube to bring worship music into the house. Our kids are growing up around it, and the music they hear at the church is reflected in the home. The issues is not so much about hymnals versus modern media as it is about Christian parenting, and it’s less than honest to blame media for parenting failure.

Mr. Challies finishes his article with this line:

That little change from book to screen changed nearly everything.

overhead-projectorI really don’t think it did. Before the PowerPoint revolution, churches decades ago made the switch from hymnal to using overhead projectors and transparency pages.

The hymns of old and the “new” choruses of the 70s-80s were printed on the overhead transparencies and one poor soul was designated to change the overheads, making sure to slide the page up or down so that the words were never cut off! HAHA – good times! And people complained then. I heard one octogenarian refer to the choruses from the 80s as “ding-dong-ditties.” HE HATED THEM! But people have always been complaining against new songs and media in worship.

But isn’t God bigger than a hymnal? Isn’t God bigger than your favorite 150 year old song (that used to be one of them new-fangled worship songs all those kids are singing)? Instead of lamenting the loss of old forms of worship, let’s embrace new ways to worship an unchanging God.


How about you? What’s your favorite hymn? What’s your favorite non-hymn worship song?

Andy Stanley Thinks His Church is a Better Parent Than You Are

Some churches are big.

stadium-1082235_1920REALLY big.

Like, “fill a soccer stadium on a Sunday” big.

Still, most churches are not.

And, like it or not, there is often a rift between the small churches and the mega-churches. The big churches have more money and more ability to reach the masses. Smaller churches promote the idea that they are more able to impact lives on an individual level, helping mature people in genuine Christian discipleship.

So you can imagine the hubbub in church circles when mega-church pastor Andy Stanley said in a sermon:

When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.

There was a large outcry from ministers and ministry workers across the country. To his credit, Stanley apologized and said:

“The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

But he went on to explain that he was so proud of his church’s youth ministry reaching 4,600 teens. Just imagine if every teen could experience that kind of connection!

Sure, reaching teens is great. And I appreciate Stanley’s attempt to pacify the little guys, those of us who minister to groups of fewer than 100 people, but his apology doesn’t realy do much for me. It’s an “apology but….” He’s sorry to offend, but if you really understood his heart then you would see why he said it.

I call shenanigans.

In a nutshell, Stanley believes that his church and their teen outreach can do a better job of parenting than Christian parents can. He said:

You drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church.

Did you catch that? If we can’t give kids an incredible, big-church experience then they’ll grow up hating the church. You owe it to your children to attend a mega-church with the mega-church resources so that they don’t hate the little church that can’t provide as much.

Barf.

baby-17342_1920I don’t believe parents ought to relegate the spiritual development of their children to the church (mega 0r small). Parents ought to be the PRIMARY source of spiritual development for children. And when children are raised seeing their parents engage in authentic Christian community, they will grow up belonging TO that community. What Stanley is really saying is that his church is full of parents who have abdicated their responsibility to spiritually lead and direct their children.

But what about the Bible? What does the Bible say?

Actually, it doesn’t say anything about church size. There are no directives, just examples. The example set in the Bible is that outreach and evangelism events have HUGE reach (in the thousands) but that the local church was small enough to fit in homes and local synagogues (the early church was made up of Jewish converts, so the synagogue was the natural place to meet).

The church is about Christian community. Acts tells us that they got together daily in homes to eat, worship, and listen to the apostles teach about Jesus. I get the sense that kids would have been part of this early community.

No youth ministry.

No separate area where parents allowed others to do their jobs for them. The family was involved in worship together.

Since the Bible doesn’t say anything about church size I won’t condemn mega-churches. They do a lot of good work. but Stanley is WAY off-base in his beliefs and comments. Stop worrying about the church raising kids. How’s about the church worries about making authentic disciples of the entire family unit? How can we raise mature parents in the faith so that they in turn can rear godly children?

And this is something that any sized church can do.

————————————————-

How about you? What size church do you attend? What are the merits of the small church? Of the large church?

Searching For Sunday: A Review of Rachel Held Evans’s Book

Rachel Held Evans I’ll admit it; I’ve got a love/hate relationship with Rachel Held Evans. Not that she knows it – we’ve never met. But I read her blog and her stuff on social media.

Some of the questions she has for and about how the church behaves are right on. I’ve wrestled with some of the same issues myself. At the same time, she gets a lot of it wrong, goes too far on some issues, and completely misses it on other issues. She has a tendency to get tunnel vision – she’s got her couple core issues that get played on repeat over, and over, and over, and…well, you get it.

Searching for Sunday
So when I heard she had a new book out about “loving, leaving, and finding the church,” I thought I’d give it a read. Before even reading it I’d seen liberals praising it and conservative lambasting it. So I read it for myself.

Ms. Evans divides her book into a prologue and 7 sections, following the sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. Since she wrote in this order, my review will take one section at a time in the same order. Here’s my take on it.

Prologue:

Ms. Evans begins laying the groundwork for the rest of the book, setting the stage for her own journey away from the evangelical church. As I expected, she starts right in by bringing up her pet peeves with evangelical faith: biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality (feminism and LGBTQ issues), racial reconciliation, and social justice. These issues come as no surprise, for they are the resounding gong of all of her work.

The problem for me comes a few pages into the prologue where she writes:

The truth is, I don’t even bother getting out of bed many Sunday mornings, especially on days when I’m not sure I believe in God or when there’s an interesting guest on Meet the Press.

She finishes the prologue with similar words:

It’s about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk of Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun. Just in case.

This is the problem. The entire rest of the book isn’t coming from a place of faith. It’s coming from a place of un-faith (yes, I know that’s not a real word). I’m not against asking God questions – even difficult questions. I firmly believe that God is big enough to handle any questions we may have. But we’re not talking about mere questions here. We’re talking about lack of faith.

People like Ms. Evans like to use the example from the Gospels when a Jesus has a conversation with a man (see Mark 9):

Jesus: All things are possible to him who believes.
Man: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”

But this case is different. The man comes from a place of belief and is asking help to get the rest of the way. Ms. Evans admittedly approaches much of her life beginning with unbelief.

If you spend much time doubting the resurrection actually happened can you really consider yourself a Christian? Ms. Evans seems to like the IDEA of church when it works to serve people and the issues she cares about, but she doesn’t seem to like the faith that is the FOUNDATION of that church. While some of her criticisms may have validity, it is difficult for me to receive criticisms from someone who doubts in the resurrection or the existence of God.

I don’t judge her for her lack of faith. I don’t judge anyone who is a non-believer. But I think Ms. Evans is fooling herself to say she doubts the existence of God and the resurrection yet still makes a claim to be Christian. She seems to fit better in the category (I know she hates labels, but they help us make sense of the world) of agnostic.

My other problem with the prologue is that Ms. Evans claims:

My aim in employing these seven sacraments is not theological or ecclesiological, but rather literary.

Yet the book IS theological and ecclesiological. My problem is not that she claims not to but then does write on theology and ecclesiology (theology as applied to the nature and structure of the Christian Church) but that I think she gets some of the theology wrong. So here we go…

Baptism: Baptism

From the get-go I don’t think Ms. Evans has the right view of baptism. As she tells her own story she lists various baptism traditions that could have been had she not been born to an evangelical family. But among the list of baptismal traditions she mentions the Mormon tradition. It’s mixed right in there with evangelicals, Orthodox, Catholic, and Presbyterian.

But Mormonism is NOT a branch of Christianity. The fact that she includes Mormonism is another indicator that she falls under the agnostic column more than the Christian.

Mormonism notwithstanding, Ms. Evans and I disagree with the nature and significance of baptism. She writes:

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare then powerless against love.

While I agree that baptism is about identity, her language about love doesn’t sit right with me. Baptism ISN’T about declaring evil and death powerless against love. Baptism is about sin, repentance, death, and resurrection. John the Baptist was baptizing people before Jesus even came on the scene, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (see Mark 1:4). In our baptism we are putting to death our old identity and emerging from the water with a new identity. Love beating evil and death is too generic, too “new age-y.”

Baptism says, “I have a new life as a follower of the risen Christ.”

Of course, nothing from Ms. Evans would be complete without vocal support of the LGBTQ community, so she includes a chapter dedicated to the baptism story of a gay young man. She concludes the section with the statement:

…baptism is done at the beginning of your faith journey, not the middle or the end. You don’t have to have everything together to be baptized.

She is absolutely right on this point. You DON’T have to have it together to be baptized. The problem with many who fall in the liberal camp is that they have no expectation of spiritual growth and development post-baptism. God accepts us the way we are. That doesn’t mean God is content we STAY the way we are.

Finally, Ms. Evans uses this section to blast evangelicals on a couple points. She presents her criticisms as though they are universally representative of evangelical churches, but they are not. I was raised in the Assemblies of God my entire life (though I am now non-denominational). Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) was never banned in my church or home. The King James Version was not the only allowed Bible. I was allowed to watch movies and television. I never once heard women’s breasts referred to as “stumbling blocks” (an expression Ms. Evans uses a couple of times). My church tradition ordains women (my own mother is ordained) and recognizes their place in ministry.

Since my evangelical story is vastly different from hers, I suggest Ms. Evans refine her definitions and terminology and stop leveling generic accusations that don’t hold water across the evangelical spectrum.

Confession: Confession

In the section on confession, Ms. Evans seems to be confessing her own story – why she really started turning away from the Christian Church. Part of her split is due to the role of women in the church. Her background is in a church where she felt relegated to baby showers and ladies’ teas when she wanted to be leading a Bible study or theological discussion. Not to beat a dead horse, but she levels accusations at evangelicalism that aren’t true across the board. My wife has led Bible studies and has NEVER constructed a diaper cake. But these peripheral issues seem to be simply excuses for the real issue – a loss of faith. She writes:

I couldn’t pretend to believe things I didn’t believe anymore.

So she talks about singing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” with an unraveled faith (even though the “shadow of turning” line in the song isn’t about OUR faith but about GOD’S faithfulness through it all). Still, she gets it right when she talks about the practice of confession.

The practice of confession gives us the chance to admit to one another that we’re not okay, and then to seek healing and reconciliation together, in community.

The contemporary American evangelical church does NOT do a good job with confession. We’re too busy pretending we’ve got it all together. Heaven forbid we admit to each other that we’re struggling with something. Heave forbid our pastors show flaws or weaknesses! Ms. Evans is right when she notes that our churches feel more like country clubs than Alcoholics Anonymous. Church ought to be the place where we are free to be broken with one another.

But then she devolves from a good conversation about confession into a litany of historical grievances against Christians, beginning with the Crusades and including Western empire building (although that was political behavior behind a veneer of religion, not religious behavior). I don’t agree with the liberal re-interpretation of the history, and I won’t spend time arguing about that here. It just seems out of place in this book and wasn’t tied into the larger story being developed.

She ends the section with the liberal call to stop judging people and to love them instead. Not surprising. I happen to think the Bible calls us to love people AND to judge them. We can point out sin without being unloving. And just because we wrestle with our own sin doesn’t mean we must shut up about talking about other sins.

Holy Orders: Holy Orders

Ms. Evans uses the sacrament of holy orders to talk about her experience being part of a church plant. Most of the section is personal narrative of her experience with planting a church. It’s tough to be part of a church plant, which she and her husband experienced first-hand. Ministry is difficult in ANY setting.

She is right that all Christians share the same calling. We are kingdom of priests and should be serving and ministering to one another. What amazes me is that she would even attempt to be part of a ministry team and a faith leader when she admittedly lacks faith.

Communion: Communion

Ms. Evans is big on doing as opposed to believing. The mainstay of evangelical churches is belief. She believes we miss the mark because we prefer to believe rather than do. When it comes to communion writes:

‘Do this,’ he said–not believe this but do this–in remembrance of me.

But what she misses is that the doing was a result OF the believing. Jesus said DO this to remember me. Without the believing communion is simply shared meal time. Even in the early church gatherings, the communal meal wasn’t the totality of the gathering. They gathered for the apostles’ teaching (doctrine and belief) and to prayer (elements of faith and belief). It was BECAUSE of their belief that they continued to meet together. You cannot separate believing and doing. Indeed, believing must precede the doing, or else we’re just Boy Scouts looking to do good deeds for others.

Ms. Evans seems to relegate communion to the act of feeding one another and table fellowship. She writes:

Certainly nonbelievers can care for one another and make one another food. But it is Christians who recognize this act as sacrament, as holy.

NO! Communion isn’t about caring for one another and making food for each other. It’s about the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, giving up his body and blood to pay a price we couldn’t afford to pay. She de-theologizes communion when she makes it about food rather than the work of Christ on the cross. Because she makes it about table fellowship rather than Christ’s substitutionary work, she can talk about welcoming all to the table.

“Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.

While we will never be worthy (which is why we couldn’t pay the price for our sins ourselves), communion is about Jesus paying the price for us. When we come to faith we begin a shift, though, and cannot remain the same. The Church that should be welcoming to all still needs to be the Church that quotes God, “Be holy as I am holy.”

Confirmation: Confirmation

Now addressing the issue of denominations within Protestantism, Ms. Evans notes:

…our various traditions seem a sweet and necessary grace.

Well…not ALL of them. Not the denominations that go against what she holds near and dear to her heart, namely women’s ordination and exclusion of the LGBTQ community from communion. But other than those groups, a sweet and necessary grace.

And so Ms. Evans clings to the Apostles’ Creed as the end-all of Christianity. To an extent, I agree. I think that there are more things that unite Christians than divide us. We like to get bogged down in the differences, but the basic elements of faith are identical from group to group.

But there is more to faith than the ancient creeds – things like sin lists and virtue lists (both in the Bible in multiple places). Christianity is more than reciting a creed. It’s about a faith that leads us to be more Christ-like. But what happens when you don’t have that faith? As she puts it, when you’re

swallowing down the bread and wine, not believing a word of it.

Not a word.

Then all you have is a creed. Dead words that mean nothing in the grand scheme of eternity.

Anointing of the Sick: Anointing of the Sick

This is another point where I think Ms. Evans gets it completely wrong. She makes a distinction between healing and curing. We’re called to heal, not to cure. She says:

The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relationship. It takes time.

I don’t know where she’s coming up with this stuff, but it isn’t biblical. When Jesus sends his disciples out with his authority to preach and heal, the disciples HEALED THE SICK and cast out demons. It wasn’t relationship. It was about the power of God breaking through to our reality. It was a sign that the kingdom of God is HERE! In the New Testament we see other examples of the church laying on hands and praying for healing – for people to be cured of what ailed them. It is dishonest to the Bible to pretend that there is a difference between healing and curing.

While God doesn’t always answer prayer the way we’d like, we cannot pretend that biblical healing is anything other than God changing and repairing physical bodies. Can healing take place emotionally and relationally? Yes. But don’t downplay the power of God and what the Bible says about healing. Otherwise you turn God’s healing power into one big Kumbaya sing-along where we end up crying and hugging each other.

Marriage: Marriage

Here again I find myself agreeing with Ms. Evans. Following Jesus is a group activity and wasn’t ever intended to be a solo event. But it goes beyond that. The Church is called the Bride of Christ. Turning from Jesus is infidelity. There is no other way to the Father. The Church is His, and those who believe are called to be a part of it.

She gets it right when she says:

And the church universal is sacramental when it knows no geographic boundaries, no political parties, no single language or culture, and when it advances not through power and might, but through acts of love, joy, and peace and missions of mercy, kindness, humility.

So, yes.

THIS is what the church is supposed to look like in the world.

All said and done, the book can give you a good insight into what a lot of young people go through when they realize that the faith of their parents is not their own. The book will help you see Christianity from a liberal vantage point. In the end, I think the vantage point is hollow, substituting social action for genuine faith.

The local church will always be flawed because humans are flawed. That doesn’t mean the institution is flawed or that faith is lost. The Church belongs to Jesus, and we should do our best to be faithful to him and His Church.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
It has not been my intention to misrepresent the views or writings of Rachel Held Evans in any way. This has simply been my interpretation and response to what I read.

I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

What Christians Can Learn from the Seattle Seahawks

Super Bowl 49

Like millions of other people around the world, I was watching the Super Bowl Sunday night as the Seattle Seahawks took on the New England Patriots.

Of course the entire world is talking about the final Seahawks play of the game. With mere feet to the endzone and a renowned running back, the Seahawks opted to throw the ball rather than run it. What looked like a sure score and Super Bowl victory turned out, well, disappointing for the Seahawks.

For the last couple of days I’ve heard lots of criticism and jokes made at the expense of the Seahawks coaching staff. But it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback – to criticize things from the outside looking in – even though we have never (and will never) spend a second playing in the big game.

There are others who point to the fact that the play call was NOT, actually, a bad call. The New York Times posted an article looking at the Super Bowl through Game Theory and posited that the call was actually the smart move.

Fox Sports said something very similar:

So what’s the lesson Christians can learn from this whole debacle? Cross-apply the principle of armchair quarterbacks to armchair church members and the lesson is this:

We shouldn’t be so quick to criticize play calls made by Christian leaders.

It’s easy to be removed from the situation and criticize the play calls and the ones making the calls. I see this kind of behavior on social media and in real life. People are quick to criticize the decisions made by pastors, elders, or ministry leaders. It’s easy to stand back and, in hindsight, say, “That was a terrible decision! You should’ve done it differently!”

But in the middle of living life we don’t get to make decisions with the luxury of hindsight. Sometimes a play can be a perfectly viable play and still go horribly wrong. If the Seahawks had made the play and scored, Pete Carroll would have been a hero instead of a goat and the brunt of internet jokes:

Pete Carroll

Yes, I know that the coach, pastor, leader (whatever) takes the heat for bad calls. It’s the reason why the project manager of the losing team usually gets fired by Donald Trump in The Apprentice. But Christians can act with grace, knowing that sometimes people can make viable decisions that have poor results. It doesn’t make the leader a bad leader. Sometimes it just means that the other team’s defense stepped up and made a better play.

Instead of blaming church leaders every time we perceive a bad call, let’s act with love and grace.

‘Cause that’s kind of how the Bible calls us to act.

When the Pastor is a Glory Hog

I’m sure there are pastors who really are glory hogs. A lot of guys want to be “THE guy” – the one the church depends on and looks to as the supreme religious leader. The church becomes a personality cult around this kind of pastor.

Glory Hog

On the flip side there are churches that actually expect and demand that the pastor be the go-to guy for all things religious and spiritual. Some church members find it unacceptable to be visited or called on by anyone other than the senior pastor.

I remember one time as a pastor I tried to create a pastoral care & visitation team, The idea was to help others who had a gifting and calling for this kind of ministry assist the clergy. I was accused of trying to pass the buck and shirk pastoral responsibility. One person even told me,

“It’s fine to be visited by others, but people really want the big dog.”

But this idea of a clergy-based ministry isn’t biblical. In fact, the Bible shows us that healthy ministry is carried out be everyone. When there was a need that wasn’t being met, the 12 Apostles (the first church leaders and preachers), said, “We can’t be distracted from our God-calling. Let’s find other godly people to assist.” Thus the early church appointed its first deacon team. We read about in Acts 6:1-7 ~

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The Apostle Paul talks about the Church being like a body. It’s made up of many parts, but each part needs to function well for the whole body to be healthy.

If you have never taken a spiritual gifts inventory, it is a good place to start asking how God might have gifted you to serve and minister (it’s not the end-all, just a starting place). Try this one

As Christians we’re all in this together. We are co-ministers for Jesus. Though we all have different roles to play, everyone should play a part. So step up to the gift God has given you and begin serving!

Dear Pastor, Why Do You Hate Church?!

angry man

Actually, I don’t.

In fact, I love the church. But ever since I started out on a new ministry idea I’ve been asked that question by other Christians.

This new ministry idea? It’s a digital ministry. The concept is fairly simple: provide a church community to people who are not able or are not willing to step into a traditional church building. Feel free to check out the description and vision.

But some people are uncomfortable with the idea.

Some have asked: How do you respond to the Bible’s exhortation to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:25)?

But the Bible doesn’t say what that meeting has to look like. The early church ever had any inkling that people would be connecting and meeting globally thanks to technology. Businesses do it. Friends and family do it. Now it’s time for the church to do it.

We have the ability to connect with people like never before.

Some have asked: How can you be a real church without giving the sacraments of baptism and communion?

Put simply, it doesn’t take a church building to do baptisms and communion. I was baptized in a hot tub at a church member’s home. And if we take the Bible seriously when it calls us a kingdom of priests, then we understand that it doesn’t take ordained clergy to administer baptism and communion. It’s something all Christians can participate in WHEREVER they are.

Additionally, we need to be honest about baptism and communion not being a prerequisite for entrance to heaven.

WHAT?!?

Simmer down, now! Think about the crucifixion story. The thief beside Jesus asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into his kingdom. Jesus answered:

“I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

No baptism. No communion. Just a promise of eternity in the presence of God because of his faith.

At The Church Plant our desire is to bring the message of Jesus to all of the God-friendly but un-churched people online.

Recent stats say that 80% of un-churched people would consider going to church if invited by a friend. Unfortunately, only 2% of Christians EVER invite someone to church. We’re missing a HUGE opportunity to reach people who are open to the idea of God.

So here I am. It’s new. It’s a little terrifying. I’m not sure how God is going to use this ministry or where it will go. It’s kind of a work in progress. 🙂

But I’ll follow the path God has laid out, and we’d love for you to walk with us.

You know people who have been burned by a church and never want to return. You know people who are open to the idea of God but don’t want to step foot in church. You know people who are house-bound and CAN’T make it to a church.

Tell them about The Church Plant – there’s a community waiting to welcome them and share the love of Jesus in a digital way.


Prayer, Praise, and News – September 15

Check out what’s happening at The Church Plant!

Prayer, Praise, and News – September 15.

Wait – You Want to Plant What???

planting

I want to plant a new kind of church – a digital church.

FIRST, A LITTLE STORY

I was packing up the office of the church where I had been a pastor for the last 3+ years. The church and I were heading in different directions. The problem was that I wasn’t sure of the direction God was leading me. Then I had a visit from an absolute joy. She was 78 years old and a member of the church. One of her primary functions in life was to be my surrogate grandmother and to be one of my personal cheerleaders in ministry.

She took me by the hand and said, “Walk with me.” You don’t argue when grandma tells you to walk, so I walked with her.

She took me down the hallway to where our church had a display of our history set up; a picture of the first men’s bible study class in 1918 that later developed into the church, the first church building, and pictures of the groundbreaking when the new facility was built in the 60’s.

Central Community 02

She asked me, “What do you see here?”

I answered, “The church’s history.”

With a sparkle in her eye she responded, “Yes! The history of church. But not the future.”

This dear lady walked me back to the office and told me God had given her a picture of the direction He was calling me to walk – to plant an online church community. As my wife and I prayed about it I began to get excited. And scared. At the same time. I was excited because I believe God has given me the dream to do such an endeavor. I was scared because I’ve never done anything like this before. But there I was – faced with the idea that I follow God’s leading or I keep venturing off on my own. Thus was born The Church Plant, A DIGITAL MISSIONARY ENDEAVOR.

Many churches have artificial plants that merely gather dust. The Church is supposed to be living and vibrant – not fake and dusty!

Church Plant

The next church movement will live not in bricks and stone but online.

One social media user noted:

While many churches across America seem to be experiencing decline, more and more people are plugging in to the world through phones, tablets, and computers. We’ve seen that people are still just as hungry for spirituality as they ever were. It’s not that people are done with God. It’s simply that many are done with the traditional way of participating in religion.

It’s time for a shift.

It’s time for the church to catch up to where the people are. With every revolution in media technology, preachers have been there to utilize media for the sake of the message of Jesus Christ and God’s love.

In an age when the literacy rate was relatively low, the Apostle Paul wrote letters to instruct churches when he could not be physically present. The first book printed on the printing press was the Bible. When radio hit the scene, God’s people took to broadcasting the Gospel over the airwaves. Radio missionaries even pump out the Gospel into closed countries when they aren’t allowed to physically preach about Jesus. With the dawning of the television age, televangelists hit the scene, pumping out an enormous amount of television ministry. While many televangelists get a bad rap, there are some preachers on t.v. who have viable ministries and do good things in the name of Jesus.

So here we are in the internet era. If we are going to be about people and reaching people for God then we must be intentional about being where they are. I’m not just talking about churches having a web presence and websites that have church information and recording of the Sunday service.

The contemporary church is not just about websites or music style – it’s about a revolution in the way we connect with people.

With more than 2 billion people plugged in online we must be intentional about creating a church community that hits people where they are, where they can come as they are, whenever they want.

The Church Plant is a place where everyone is safe to engage Christ as they are – no strings attached. We desire to be a lifeline to the discouraged, the disillusioned, and the disenfranchised.

Above all – it’s about Jesus…

With so many “unchurched” people in the world we are dropping the ball in reaching people with the message of Jesus. The sad fact is that many churches simply don’t embrace the idea of evangelism. Sometimes people are too nervous, afraid, or a million other reasons for not wanting to talk to someone about Jesus. But every day we see people – millions upon millions of people – clicking “share” or “retweet” when they want their friends to see something.

An online church community like The Church Plant has EXPLOSIVE potential for reaching people who would otherwise be unreached. An online church also has the ability to mobilize believers worldwide in order to support missions and Christian work around the globe.

We have the tools at our disposal to do more for the Kingdom of God than ever before. Now is the time for a completely online church, helping people hear the message of Jesus, connect to God, grow in spiritual maturity, and turn around and change the world for the better.

WHAT DOES THE CHURCH PLANT DO?

– Bible-Based messages in video and blog format
– Directed personal worship in video format
– Confidential Pastoral Counseling (personal issues, pre-marital/marital counseling, etc.)
– Real-Time Bible Studies with video and written prompts and group discussions
– Pastoral Care and Prayer via email, text message, or phone
– Support Worldwide Missions (we have missionary families in Africa and Southeast Asia we want to support at the outset)

It’s about a revolution in the way we connect with people. The revolution is here.

Every week on social media I’m asked questions about faith, spirituality, the Bible, and for pastoral counsel. As Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9: 37-38)

The Church Plant wants to reach the plugged-in harvest in a way that hasn’t been done before.

Will you join us?

We need your prayer! Outside-the-box ministry ideas can draw criticism from people who like the box. We need you to be praying that God will use this ministry to reach a plugged in culture that is otherwise unreached.

We also need funding. Our initial goal is to raise funds to create the legal entity The Church Plant, a legitimate non-profit church. We want everything to be above-board legally, so attorney and filing fees will be the bulk of our start up costs. We also need funds for the website. You can see us at www.thechurchplant.net.

Thanks to the generosity of Christian sponsors, we’re already one-fourth of the way to our goal! You can find our GoFundMe fundraising site here.

We need you to partner with us in this ministry to extend the love of Jesus to the plugged in culture around the world who would never think about setting foot inside a traditional church.

Will you join us?


When They Won’t Let the Pastor Play Church-League Softball

church softball

I enjoy sports. Really, I do.

I played little league baseball as a kid, a little football in high school, and ran cross-country one year in college. Additionally, I enjoy playing basketball, soccer, and a wide variety of other sports.

But I had never before played church league softball until I moved here. Now I’m in my second season and I enjoy it very much.

I wasn’t too sure they’d let me stick around after my first season, though! It was pretty rough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a bad at 1st base. But my hitting – goodness. I would get up to bat and hack away, trying to muscle out a hit. I don’t even want to think about what I looked like to everyone watching. 🙂

But this season something changed.

I received some good coaching regarding hitting form and style and made some changes.

I also came to a major realization that changed my whole approach to the game – I realized that I am not a power hitter. I will never be a Miguel Cabrera or a Mike Trout. So why was I trying to crush the ball?

So instead of trying to crush the ball at 100% power, I started trying to hit around 80% power and focus instead on hitting well. This season has been incredible for me. My hitting is dramatically better and my on-base percentage is higher than ever. I stopped trying to be something I wasn’t and embraced who I was as a ball-player. Now I can be more consistent and a better help to my teammates.

This is a lot like the Christian world.

I recently re-read a post from a famous Christian blogger lamenting the fact that the blogger’s church didn’t utilize her the way she wanted to be utilized. While I don’t know the specifics of her circumstances, I do know that it is common for people (myself included) to want to fill certain roles and to avoid others. But what we want isn’t necessarily the best place for us to be.

Sometimes we need to step back and say, “I’ve been trying to be this but God has really called me to be that.”

The Apostle Paul writes:

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:15-20)

There is a place for everyone in the church. God has given us all talent, skills, and abilities to do many things. Don’t think that you have nothing to offer. At the same time, don’t think that what you have to offer is what God actually wants you to be doing. Rather than forcing yourself into a role that’s not right for you, ask God and yourself where you actually fit best.

Then you can stop trying to be something you aren’t, embrace who I God has created you to be, and then can be more consistent and a better help to your church teammates.

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