August 22nd, 2013 | 8 Comments »

Legalism is the worst feeling in the world. I know from experience.

A Quick(ish) Story:

Even a 5-year-old who's right about everything can still mix up his shoes.

Even a 5-year-old who’s right about everything can still mix up his shoes.

One of the great oddities of my life is that I can’t remember anything before I turned five. I’m pretty sure that means I need therapy. My memories start at five. I have memories from church when I was five. I started playing Jr. Tee-ball when I was five. I remember going to my best friend, Kendrick’s, birthday party when I was five; but I don’t remember anything before then.

What I remember most about five was my kindergarten. I remember arriving early each day. My dad would drop me off on his way to work. I was usually the 1st student there. Everyday, I’d hop out of his 1974 yellow Ford Pinto (that car was ballin’!), and I would sit in the corner of the large playroom. As other kids arrived they would get out toys and play together, but I just sat in the corner, wedged between a large, worn, brown, particle board bookshelf and an even larger counter.

I would sit there and sing songs to myself. Most songs I had learned in church: “Softly and Tenderly,” “Oh, Why Not Tonight,” “Just as I Am”, etc….I suppose I had a thing for “invitation songs”. But I never really engaged the other kids at school. I kept to myself and hardly ever played with anybody. Why? The kindergarten I went to was a “Baptist” kindergarten.

I had been taught – by the time I was five – that only the people who went to my church were real Christians. I knew at five that those “evil Baptists,” with their instrumental music, choir robes, and “pastors” – not preachers – weren’t the kind of people I was supposed to be around.

In fact, before my parents enrolled me in school, I overheard them “discussing” it, so I knew I ought to be concerned and prepared to not let the Baptists co-opt the purity of my faith. That Christmas as the kindergarten was preparing for the Christmas pageant, I was vehemently opposed – I said that too: “I’m vehemently opposed” (I had an advanced vocabulary for five). I didn’t want to participate in this unbiblical, man-made tradition. It was something “the denominations” did.

My parents forced me into it – obviously because they were not as devoted as I.

By the time I was five, I had become a hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool sectarian. At five, I was a Jr. theologian. I had figured out how it all should work. As a child, there was no way for me to know how childish that was.

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Posted in Bible, church
August 20th, 2013 | 35 Comments »

This summer we’re revisiting some of the most popular posts from the first half of this year. This one was surprisingly talked about.

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There’s a reason your church isn’t more creative.

It’s not just that your pastor and worship arts director aren’t creative or visionary or forward-thinking. I’m sure that’s true in some cases, but most churches are boring because of The Olive Garden Problem.

But First a Story

A friend of mine who preaches for a fairly traditional Church of Christ recently ran headlong into a problem he hadn’t anticipated. For the uninitiated, Church of Christ worship services are typically a cappella and tend to adhere to a fairly predictable form. There’s not a lot appreciation for difference or, quite frankly, room, to explore, change, or interject creative elements into the worship service – even if those elements are historically Christian. For some, worship elements need to be historically Church of Christ (my Baptist friends tell me they have the same issue).

Anyway, my friend’s congregation went through an expensive and lengthy evaluation process and, long story short, “Inspiring Worship” ranked the lowest of all the areas evaluated. He wasn’t devastated, but he was upset. I get that.

The problem is that he’s hamstrung. Locked-in. Cornered.

Due to his particular church’s practices (some borne of belief, others borne of tradition, and still others borne out of a nonsensical allegiance to things that don’t matter), there’s nothing he could change to make his church’s worship better. There is no element of worship his church could add or take away without causing a firestorm. And as you know, upsetting people is the unforgivable sin (sarcasm mine).

That’s the Olive Garden Problem.

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Posted in church, leadership, ministry
August 15th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

This summer I’m re-posting some of the most read and shared posts from 2013. This one, on tension and women and ministry, generated much conversation. A friend even shared with my his mother’s concern for my eternal soul. I don’t say that in jest or mockery. Women in spiritual leadership is an important leadership to nearly everyone I know. We should treat the matter thoughtfully, with sensitivity, and with a view towards God’s eternally purposes.

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I think tension is good.

It’s not fun. Or easy. Or even comfortable, but it’s good.

Think of your thumb – to use the most commonly used metaphor. The reason your hand works so effectively is because of your opposable thumbs. Your thumb allows you to grip, grab, and strangle – should you be so inclined…and homicidal. Your life would be much more of a struggle, and much less productive, without the tension your thumb creates.

The same is true when it comes to church, change, holding onto necessary and important traditions, and moving forward in other important ways. We (the church) would ultimately be less productive and useful without tension.

Why do I bring this up?

Because from time to time, the church – on the local, denominational, or universal level – has to hash things out. We have unresolved issues – women, sexuality, Neo-Calvinism, the role of leadership, politics, evangelism, etc… that we need to come to terms and deal with. And while there are many folks who would prefer the church to paper over discordant topics, if we don’t deal with them publicly and passionately, the church will never become what God intends. This is why we need tension.

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July 25th, 2013 | 8 Comments »

During the crazy, busy month of July, I’m reposting some of the most popular blog post from the first half of this year. Most of these deal with spiritual formation and today’s post is no different. The only difference is that today we are dealing with a corporate discipline, worship. Enjoy.

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There’s nothing the church does so wonderfully and terribly as singing.

If you’ve spent more than 10-minutes inside an American worship service, you already know how important singing is. Regardless of the worship style of your congregation, the music is important, and usually done well. Music has power. It transforms moments and has the power to embed memories and stir emotions. We are moved by the singing and music in ways little else can or does. For most of us, the music and singing of our congregation is one of the major reasons we picked it.

And that’s the problem.

In the mid-20th century, some traveling and nationally know preachers decided that a “personal Savior” was the carrot-and-stick that would motivate non-believers to come to faith. It worked. For the last 50 years, the sales pitch for faith in Jesus has been a personal one. “If YOU were to die today, where would you spend eternity? If YOU ask Jesus into YOUR heart….If YOU accept Jesus as your personal Savior” and all of that. A measure of individualistic focus is right and good. After all, I live in a world where I cannot make faith decisions for other people. And as a good Anabaptist I would choose not to even if I could. Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to imagine that such a singular focus could result in much other than a self-centered faith. After all, we got into this for personal reasons.

And that’s where singing comes in.

congregational-singing1

 

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Posted in church
July 18th, 2013 | 5 Comments »
I’m taking a few days for rest and reflection with my family. This week I’ll be reposting some of my favorite guest posts dealing with spiritual formation. You cannot read these and reflect on them too many times.

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I find myself very unlike Jesus. You probably are too. The church I knew as a kid was wonderful. I loved it, and love it still. But I have come to believe that a failure to sufficiently understand what it means to make disciples existed in that church, and that correcting this failure could help many people take hold of blessings that God wants us to enjoy. The following story, a strong memory of mine about church one Sunday, might help explain what I mean.

I was about ten or twelve years old, attending the A&M Church of Christ, and we worshipped one particular Sunday in the large high school gym. Before the event, we invited other area churches and took out an ad in the local paper. We wanted lots of people to know that we were going to have worship in the gym on that particular Sunday. It was very well attended, and lots of people “went forward” following the sermon. I don’t remember the name of the preacher who was brought in for this event, but he made an impression on me. I remember one moment when he was discussing how terrible it would be to look across that great divide between heaven and hell and meet the eye of a hell-tormented friend I had known from life and realize that I never took the time to tell them about Jesus. The preacher was trying to impress upon us the importance of making disciples. One of the reasons my church scheduled this event was, no doubt, to make disciples.

I agree that it is important to make disciples, but I worry that my tradition never properly informed me about what a disciple is, nor how to go about making one. I knew that a disciple was a follower or student of Jesus, but I never reflected on what it really meant to be Jesus’ student. I can be a student in Mrs. Evan’s math class without ever caring a lick about math and without ever trying to be like Mrs. Evans. As a result, it took a long time for me to grasp a mature picture of what it means to be a student of Jesus. Unlike being a student of Mrs. Evans, one cannot be a student of Jesus without coming to care a great deal about what Jesus taught and who he is, nor can one be a student of Jesus without making progress in becoming like him.

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