Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

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What Needs to Arise from the Ashes of the Emerging Church

March 4, 2014

RipIn 2006, I wrote six articles on why I was not a part of the Emerging Church. Here is the final one, and all you have to do is read backward to find the rest. At that time, I predicted that the Emerging Church movement would fall apart and cease to exist in the years to come. I didn’t say that out of animosity or a desire to curse them. Unfortunately, the Emerging church movement was decontructionist in nature, and thus subject to the same inertia of all deconstructionist movements: They fall down with their own tendency to self-criticize.

In other words, once you start throwing stones as a group, you inevitably start throwing stones at each other. Decontructionist movements always devolve into bickering.

A few years ago Dan Kimball–who wrote the book “The Emerging Church“– wrote an article where he admitted the movement had splintered and was no longer a viable entity. Others such as Scot McKnight and Andrew Jones (a.k.a The Tall Skinny Kiwi) also have lamented and written about the fragmentation of the movement.

But all three men have one thing in common: They still believe in the principles of the Emerging Church even if they no longer believe the movement is viable. The problem is, every one of them recognizes a significantly different set of principles that embody their view of the Emerging church. Perhaps this is another reason it has come to an end.

But since I was a bellringer for this movement’s demise, perhaps it is time to admit some of the things I learned from reading, meditating and participating with some of the leaders of this movement. This is not an homage to something I didn’t believe in–I’m not Cassius Brutus or his kin–but rather this springs from my desire to acknowledge the good things the Emerging church was trying to do.

1. The Evangelical Church Has Become Shallow: As with any retrospective, my analysis of all things related to churches will be painting with a broad brush. Not all evangelical churches are shallow. But there is a pattern which goes back over twenty years in prominent Evangelical churches of emphasizing style over content. Let me just give a few examples:

  • Dominance of bass boosters, fog machines, expensive lighting systems, electronic keypads etc. in large megachurches.
  • Pastors buying the sermon series of other preachers instead of digging into the Word on their own (thank you Rick Warren for that egregious error).
  • Christian bestsellers are all penned by superstar pastors since these pastors can guarantee that their congregations will buy the first 50,000 copies. Therefore, most Christian books are ghost-written and designed for marketing instead of teaching..
  • Worship services are designed to sound like concerts instead of providing a place for the congregation to have communion with the Holy Spirit.
  • Tendency to mirror conservative political buzz instead of being a prophetic voice.

The Emerging Church desired to have more intimate gatherings of people instead of the consumerist approach we buy into. In this, they are correct. As I wrote in this series on the Walmartization of the church, this trend will not stop as long as people desire little commitment to a local church. I am sorry the Emerging Church was not able to make more of an impact on these practices.

2. Social Justice: If you look back ten years to the messages preached from Evangelical pulpits, you didn’t hear much talk about climate change, recycling, feeding the poor, sex trafficking, backyard gardens, gender equity, GMO proliferation etc. The Emerging Church dedicated themselves to social justice and their voices convinced many in the Evangelical world that this was true and undefiled religion. Now you can hear them being preached everywhere. I am concerned that as the Emerging Church loses its soapbox, we may forget these critical emphases.

3. Narrative Theology has one great result: Narrative preaching seeks to understand where each book of the Bible can be found in the larger  story of God. That is to say, all Scripture was penned as a partnership between God, the writer and the culture to whom he was writing. Evangelical preachers have sought to understand what God was saying in each passage, keeping in mind the human elements of the writers while not really paying much credence to their personality. For instance, we recognize the difference between the Gospel written by Doctor Luke and the one that comes from the mouth of the peasant John. Their language is different as is their focus. But that’s as far as we go. We rarely, if ever, parse the cultures to whom books were written. This is a serious error and I thank the Emerging church and their emphasis on reading the original culture as well as reading the original language. It helps to know that culture’s views on poverty, slavery, sex, women, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, church leadership etc. before we finish up our study. Evangelicals are too inclined to only look what God might be saying and not enough to the ideas of the author and the contextual culture. I suspect that as the Emerging Church disappears, we may go back to only one side of the Scriptural partnership. Hopefully writers like Tom Wright and Roger Olson can help us stay on a good interpretive track.

4. People Are Leaving Church Because We Are too Institutional: This past year, well-known writers such as Rachel Held Evans and Donald Miller have admitted they rarely go to church. CNN ran a series of articles three months ago suggesting that children who grew up in Evangelical churches are leaving those same churches when they hit their twenties. Everyone has proposed a different reason for this, but I think the Emerging Church identified the reason better than all the rest: The Millennial Generation doesn’t perceive real community in their home church and this is what they yearn for more than anything else.

Recently, our church decided we need to buy a building so our current ministries don’t die off. We are meeting in 7 different locations around the city doing the work we are called to do. As I met with various members of the church to discuss a move, I asked them one question: What do you value about our church? The answer was consistent and overwhelming: People join our church because of its sense of genuine community. We actually know each other. We are involved in each other’s lives. The biggest fear that people expressed about owning a building is that we would get too big and lose that sense of belonging to one another. This response has made our leadership team sit up and ask tough questions. Primarily, we want to know if we can do this and stay close to each other. If at any point we decide that is not possible, we will give up trying to have a building.

Today’s Evangelical church  must come to grips with the movement of young people away from the “Show” and the “Celebrity Pastor”. If we are not intimate, genuine, relational and humble, our churches will die just as surely as the Emerging church.

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Things Charismatic/Pentecostal/Renewal Preachers Do

February 25, 2014

This begins with true confession time. Hi; my name is Mike, and I’m a charismatic (“Hi Mike”). That is, I believe in the existence of and proper practice of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. I speak in tongues occasionally. I have prophesied. I get down with Jesus, I have danced, laughed and laid prostrate in the Spirit, and I know what it is like to be preaching one sermon and have to stop to preach a totally different one.

I say all of that to say this: all of what I will say next applies to my tribe. This is an insider’s view, not a sniper’s shot from on top of the hill.

Unfortunately, I have come to my upper limit on being able to listen to podcasts by Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wavers, Renewal speakers and Holy Ghost Here-We-Go Anointed individuals.

It is not the content per se. It is not the ministry time at the end (well, maybe a little bit of that, but we’ll let that slide). It is the gimmicks that the preachers use in our circles that have got to stop. Guys and gals of the Holy Spirit persuasion: don’t you know they’re making fun of us, and not for the good reasons?

For the sake of bringing this whole shabang back to sanity, I propose we call for a permanent moratorium on some of the things charismatic preachers do. I have done three of these and I repent in dust and ashes. And no, I’m not admitting which three I have used. My friends know.

So, here are the most egregious practices of our tribe:

1. Simon Says.  This is where the preacher likes the point they’re making and tells the audience to “Say ____________”. Then the whole group repeats whatever the key phrase is. Let’s say the sermon is on Jesus raising Lazarus and the preacher wants to get across the point that Lazarus smelled bad after three days of putrification. The preacher might order the congregation, “Say, ‘smell bad‘” and then “Say, ‘Lazarus come out‘”.  And then it’s “Say ‘Take those stinky clothes off'” … and on and on. Some teachers do it so much that it is a constant litany of Simon Says repeat-after-me’s that you end up losing the point of the preacher. I suppose that Aimee Semple McPherson probably started this and since she was anointed, it became the acceptable way of hammering home the point. But to me, after 50 of these in a message, I actually get belligerent and say to myself, “I’m not saying that”. And then I have to deal with a spirit of rebellion.

2. FYI Moments.  If you listen to any charismatic preachers lately, you’ve heard this one. It all starts with the preacher saying “How many know…” and then it divulges some charismatic buzz concept that is making the conference rounds. As in “how many know the enemy only has a short time left” or “how many know that these are the Days of Elijah” etc. The problem here is that anyone who doesn’t know this meme feels like an idiot and most people will just agree even if this is a new teaching to them. Who wants to feel left out? In addition, I suspect a lot of teachers do this to let the congregation know that they are part of the latest instruction and listening to the Spirit. Let your congregation off the hook. They don’t need to get hooked on novel theories that will not be spoken of ever again. Fortunately, no one asks any more “How many know there’s a Jezebel spirit around these days?”

3. This Just In From Holy Spirit. You know the big gimmick that Fox News and CNN practice several times an hour. They know that everyone has been watching for a couple of hours and they need to make it interesting. So they pop up the words “Special News Alert“. It isn’t just the news. Preachers are now doing it all the time. They’ll be in a teaching message and they have to stop and tell us that Holy Spirit has just moved them to say something important. What I struggle with is not that Holy Spirit breaks in on their message or that they share it. But do they have to announce what they’re doing? Just do it. I can’t imagine Jesus stopping on his way to heal the Centurion’s son and then looking at the crowd and saying, “Wait, Holy Spirit just showed me someone may have touched me. And oh yeah….power just went out from me. How many know that power goes out from you sometime? Say “power goes out” people.” No, Jesus just turned around and said “Who touched me?” The mechanics behind his ministry in the Spirit stayed with him.

4. Hit Like on My Good Point. This next habit has been around for a long, long time. I can tell you as a conference speaker and preacher that we are some of the most insecure people on the planet. And small wonder: We are constantly putting out ideas for others to critique and comment upon. That would reduce a macho man to jello. The problem comes in when the preacher is fishing for “likes”. It sounds like, “can I have an amen at that point?” and then goes on from there. The preacher who always needs the crowd to agree with them lives in the same camp with the Facebook person who checks every ten minutes to see how many likes his latest observation has scored. Preachers even have their own particular phrases designed to garner these likes. “Can I have a witness?” “Am I alone in here?”, “Is anyone with me?”, “Amen all by myself?” etc. ad nauseum. You know, most of the prophets preached with an expectation that stones could start flying at any moment. The crowd in that day was saying “I’ll give you an amen brother…right between the eyes.” Man up and stop asking every twenty seconds for affirmation. It’s a little weak.

5. Lucky Lexicon. I am all for a teacher doing good background work. Get into the Greek, Hebrew, the lexicon, the bible dictionary and so on. That’s not this problem. I am pained lately at the preponderance of charismatic preachers who are discovering the original languages and when they find an unusual option for the interpretation, grab a hold of it. If your interpretation can’t be found in any of the translations, you are not ‘probably wrong’ you are ‘most definitely wrong’. This mistake is made because there is a mad dash these days to be an original voice in the wilderness. That is just not possible: There are too many teachers around to be the only one saying anything.

6. Where Was I?  Any teacher doing most of the above is going to run into this problem. They’ve taken so many side-excursions to play Simon Says and FYI and “This Just In” that they can’t remember the point they were trying to make. Believe me teachers, if you can’t remember where you are, the congregation got lost a long time ago. There is no virtue in starting in one direction and having no idea where you went only to have you arrive at a strange conclusion. Call it the “leading of the Holy Spirit” all you want, it is just bad teaching. And the only ones who will remember it are the ones who “fake it until they make it”, ashamed they don’t recall all your finer points.

7. Ritalin Aids. Let’s assume in this information age that the average person gets distracted so often we have a national crisis of ADHD. None of us can pay attention for that long. This may explain why so many charismatic leaders are constantly telling us that the good part is coming. “You’re going to love this” they promise. “Listen carefully, this is where it gets good” they predict. “You don’t want to fall asleep and miss this” they warn. Recently, I heard a guy everyone is calling today’s Prophet preach on 1 Corinthians 12. It is a difficult passage and one needs care in going through it. I actually thought he did a decent job of teaching, but then I had to stop listening. I counted 27 times where he told the listener about something coming that was critical. I finally just lost all credible ability to keep focusing. If everything is important, then nothing is.

That’s the danger of all of these. They pollute and dilute the truth of God. Nothing is worth doing if that is the result.

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Christian House Bands and Smoke Machines

March 13, 2013

We’re counting down the ten top posts on this blog over the past ten years. This was from three years ago. It is my favorite rant.

smoke machineI was in a church recently and asked my wife why we couldn’t see the worship leader at the front. We both realized simultaneously that the “house band” was using a smoke machine! I half expected David Lee Roth or Jon Bon Jovi to come flying out through the haze to the center spot. And yes, there were several spotlights.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine was showing me through their newly renovated “worship facility” and he humbly told me they just spent $50,000 on stage lighting for the band. I choked on my bile…I did.

Then, I attended a local “worship” event two weeks ago where they had strobe lights, changing colors, sound effects and 12 speakers in the small church auditorium. The bass booster rivaled all the gang-banger cars in my neighborhood.

The final straw was an article in the local  newspaper quoting someone leaving an Easter Worship service at the local mega-church who said, “It was awesome. The band was really kickin”. I am trying to imagine God leaning back, listening to their songs and saying “Angel-dudes, come here…that band is really kickin’”

I am frustrated and feeling alone in this. My thoughts are all over the place these days with annoyance about church and music. I have wondered when the worship service got hijacked by CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). That was the actual thought that went through my mind. That is the same day I heard Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) had passed away. In honor of this great writer and Christian, I went through some of his blog archives. I found this from 2002:

CCM is a commercial enterprise, owned largely by secular corporate interests, and certainly driven by the values of the entertainment industry more than those of the church. It is part of the entertainment culture, and only partially related to the culture of classic, orthodox Christian tradition. CCM has virtually no accountability to the larger Christian tradition, or even the Christian musical tradition. (A list of the “One Hundred Greatest Songs in Christian Music” shows no awareness of traditional gospel, country, Black gospel, Southern gospel or classical music. Odd, ignorant and sad.) As an industry, it has no accountability to the larger church and only rarely any accountability to the local church (with some refreshing exceptions.) It has no standards of doctrinal orthodox, and resists any notion that its lyrics may at times promote error and even heresy.

He is saying that what most churches call “worship” now is simply the decisive invasion of the Christian Music Industry into our church services. It is to the point now where so many new Christians have been taught this is the only way worship is done, to change it would cause a riot. When this is the only way “worship” is practiced in church, can you blame people for equating worship with CCM?

Worship is not about us. It is not about music.  It is not about feeling better when it’s over. It is telling God how much we think he is worth. (That’s what the word “worship” means….worth-ship) Now we don’t bother…instead, we tell the band how much they’re worth. Apparently, several hundred thousand dollars in equipment and technology. I often wonder who many people are clapping for at the end of “worship songs”.

This is what makes me mad. Worship is not a concert! Hear those words again: Worship is not a concert.

It is not even music. You can use music. You can do it at a concert. But you can do it on an airplane, in a tunnel, when all your children and possessions have been taken from you (remember Job) and you don’t have to have ANY MUSIC AT ALL!

You are going to hate me for saying this, but many, many churches don’t have worship services, they have well-constructed, highly entertaining concerts. That’s why they’re spending $18,000 on a projection system, $12,000 on a drum enclosure, $80,000 for a floor that looks and sounds like Starbucks, and Mackie mixers that make P Diddy drool (or whatever his name currently is). The churches that can’t afford this, or who would rather have a children’s pastor, are left behind as the crowds go to hear the next great concert church  that appeared overnight in a School gymnatorium.

They don’t have worship leaders, they have cheerleaders who lead us to believe it is a sin not to clap, to have a bad day, to not know the words to the 200th new song we’ve learned this year and who can make the last syllable of every ballad contain 18 modulated  notes. I am one of those who test pastors for their theological knowledge and so many “worship pastors” haven’t much of a clue about theology.

It is time to eliminate the professional musicians and American Idol audition cast from the front of our churches and let a few people who have mad and deep love for God be up there. People who appreciate that silence is worship too. That bringing an offering or submitting attitudes of greed to our Father is worship. It is time for a few songs we sang 20 years ago to be sung again: Perhaps for two Sundays in a row. Perhaps have a time where people talk to God and listen for his voice…oh, it would have to be quiet enough for that.

I yearn for the day when no one says “that was an awesome time of worship” after the ringing in the ears stops – and people say nothing because they are speechless and repentant in the presence of a Holy God.

And those who do have a love for technology: Get over it. Technology is certainly a valid tool, but when it becomes an end in itself, it is a curse and a distraction. I have ADD…I can’t watch the screen where new lyrics are flashing and concentrate when the stage has already changed colors five times while I’m doing it. Just as preachers and teachers need to learn not to use PowerPoint/EasyWorship so strangely (really? Do we need a Dancing Jesus in the corner of the screen?), so we need to say “less is more” when technology meets worship.

I think it is time to return to the simplicity of the Psalms, where there were both songs of praise and songs of lament. There are songs of triumph and songs of repentance. There are songs of adoration and songs where we deal with the reality of enemies.

And please, please, please, can we not sing a song 11 times through. In fact, can we stop singing occasionally and just be in awe in his presence.

I wrote all of the above and here is my pedigree: I love rock music. I listen to CCM. I go to concerts. I was one of the first pastors anywhere to bring drums into church. But leave the concert in the concert hall. And you can have all your new songs. Give me Jesus…and one or two new songs. And silence.

And anyone who says this is a discussion about hymns vs. choruses is going to be shut in the drum enclosure down the street.

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Why Men Should Not be Ordained

November 21, 2012

Asbury Professor, Ben Witherington nails this truth in a recent blog entry on why men should not be ordained.

This is how we often approach the logic behind excluding women from certain ministry positions. Well written.

Top 10 Reasons Why Men Shouldn’t Be Ordained

10. A man’s place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.
8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.
7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.
6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.
5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.
4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.
3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.
2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, change the oil in the church vans, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.
1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

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Old Mega-Churches Vs. New Mega-Churches

November 20, 2012

There is a difference between the church that grew slowly over 60 years from a handful of followers of Christ, through various stages of rise and fall, and the group that became a phenomenon overnight.

1. Older Mega-Churches (MC) have diverse age groups. I attended an MC last weekend and noticed this 50 year old church had many people in every demographic. Attending an MC a month ago that is 10 years old, everyone was in the under 40 crowd.

2. Older MCs have more defined outreach programs. Older groups look at more diverse ways to reach their community through feeding and clothing programs, reading and educational outreaches and service-oriented approaches. Newer MCs do not have the visibility to achieve this yet./

3. The preaching in an older MC is usually more exegetical and leans less toward contemporary issues.

4. The worship/singing time in  older MCs combines many different musical and age-related tastes. Last weekend, in the same service, we sang songs as new as today (10,000 reasons) and as old as Christianity (Holy, Holy, Holy) with Refiner’s Fire thrown in for good measure.

5. The staff of an older MC always includes children of the leadership team . Why? Because the older an MC, the more chance that children have grown up in the culture of that church and can articulate the values without having to think about them.. Who would you rather have leading your church than someone with that pedigree. It is like having a professional sports star coaching a team he used to play for.

6. The older MC has weathered many days of crisis and personal conflict and therefore is not easily thrown off path by the vagaries of personal failure. You aren’t going to see an older MC crash and burn easily.

7. The older MC has an influence in local politics, education, media, community arts, homeless programs, law enforcement etc. that the newer church is only at the beginning of trying to create. Because of this, the older MC has resources for those in need and in trouble that the newer MC can only dream of having.

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Here is a Real Treat

July 24, 2012

In 1981, I sat in meetings taught by Dr. J. Edwin Orr. He was probably the greatest scholar and expert on the subject of Christian Revival. I was mesmerized. I am fairly hard on public speakers, but I could have listened to Dr. Orr for hours and hours.

I just found an archive of old messages by Dr. Orr. If you have any heart for the work of God in our world, then you will be blessed beyond measure to listen to his teaching.

Here is the link to his sermons: http://bit.ly/LLh4Vw.

Here are the ones I would listen to:

Wales Revival

Movements in Latin America

The Resurgence of 1882 onward

Movements between World Wars.

In fact, you can’t go wrong if you listen to all of these.

 

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How The Church Will Die

February 18, 2012

Mike Breen (from this article) has an interesting take on his examination of today’s American brand of Church. He often does an exercise with people he is discipling and asks “If the Enemy could bring you down and destroy you, how is he most likely to accomplish it?”

He then asks that question of the American Church. He sees three things that are going to bring us down:

And so this is how, if our enemy gets his way, the American church could be taken out:

A culture of CELEBRITY (affirmation)

A culture of CONSUMERISM (appetite)

A culture of COMPETITION (ambition)

I resonate especially with the competition factor. It is almost impossible these days to meet with a group of pastors and not see significant evidence of the “strutting Rooster” syndrome.

What do you think could destroy the American Church?

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