What Would Change About Our Sundays If . . .

I'm stepping out of the normal Sunday morning routine this week by showing a video sermon by Mark Dever that I feel challenges the way we approach our time of worship on Sunday. Mark presents thirteen propositions about worship. Though some require explanation, most of them are pretty clear. What would change about our Sundays if we realized that:

1. God cares about how he is worshipped?
2. Worship if fundamentally about God?
3. Worship involves our whole lives?
4. Worship is fundamentally hearing and responding to God's Word?
5. Worship involves our wills and emotions?
6. Public worship should be distinguished from private worship?
7. Public worship is the business of the church assembled?
8. Public worship should edify the congregation?
9. Public worship is not based on a certain musical style?
10. Passivity is always inappropriate in worship?
11. Corporate worship is worth preparing for?
12. True Christian worship services will attract non-believers.
13. If you are a true Christian, corporate worship is your future?

I especially appreciated Mark's 1st, 10th and 11th points as it relates to the way we approach our gathering on the Lord's Day. How do these things change the way you approach Sunday?

Back . . . again

I had great hopes of being able to do a real, honest-to-goodness series of articles on the priority of meeting together as a body of believers, but an unusually busy summer waylaid that intent. But we're back with some tips and resources:

A great article on how to retain and benefit from your reading.

We've been looking at a very good video series this summer from Ligonier Ministries entitled 5 Keys to Spiritual Growth. The highlights - to me - were Ligon Duncan's message on the reason for praying to a God who is sovereign and Mark Dever's excellent discussion of what should go on when we gather as a church (Worship in Spirit & in Truth). We've found a good video series to be a nice change of pace in our adult Sunday School.

Can you top this trivialization of the cross? I saw this on a church sign in our area: "Avoid burning - use Son Block"

Church: Organization or Organism - Part 1

A friend emailed me this week and told me of a conversation he and his wife had with a friend of theirs who is getting married. The bride-to-be said this of her future husband: "He's not really into organized religion, but he's a Christian." It reminded me of a familiar mantra from the late sixties and early seventies: "The church is not an organization, it's an organism."

I'm observing that such thinking is not all that uncommon today. It is not so much that people are choosing to fly solo in their pursuit of Christ. What is happening is that people are jettisoning the church - for various reasons, but including the fact that that Christians don't need an institution. But is that true? And if the church is an institution or organization, is that bad?

As I was scanning some blogs the other week, I noticed that those who have misgivings about the place of the modern local church often point back to Acts 2:42-47 as a model for church life. And there is a lot to be admired in that passage. It describes a group of believers in Jesus Christ in an almost Eden-like environment. But as much as there is much to learn and emulate from that passage, two things need to be remembered. First, this is a description of the church in it's infancy, and second, this is not the "last word" on what the church does.

Last night I was watching the Detroit Tigers roar (pun intended) past my beloved Phillies. As the game got more and more out of hand, I began channel surfing and came across a documentary on the History Channel about the Hippie movement in the late sixties. At first, hippies were gathered primarily in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. They numbered a few thousand, took drugs (LSD was, for a time, legal), had free sex, and tried to enjoy what they felt was an attempt at utopia. Things turned ugly - and quite fast - when thousands more teens and young adults headed west during the Summer of Love. The Haight-Ashbury district turned into a cesspool of sickness, crime and poverty. So the True Believers began to migrate elsewhere. Some moved to other cities, but some moved into the country to continue their quest for utopia. There they lived communally, contributing their possessions, working together, etc., until the inevitable happened: they realized that they could not sustain themselves just by "existing" and enjoying each other's company. So back into society they went, took jobs, had families, and bought houses.

One of the people interviewed was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. As a participant in that culture, he stated that many of those living in the communes felt that they were living as the early Christians did (apparently following the model of Acts 2:42-47, though Vonnegut did not refer to that particular passage). That brought me back to my own experience as a young adult during that time – though I was part of the institutional church. Many young Christians – inside and outside the structured church – wanted that kind of community, that kind of authenticity, and that kind of heaven-on-earth that so many tried to accomplish (in wrong ways, of course). The church was big, our parent’s religion felt stale. There had to be a better way.

And we were right. There had to be a better way. But it wasn’t going to be by staying in Acts 2 mode.

(More to follow)

Church - Part 1

Last week I shared a concern that Christians are - for a variety of reasons - increasingly dismisssing participation in a specific local church as something that is important to their faith. This is happening for a variety of reasons. Some people have bad experiences in church. Others have expectations about church that are not met. Others have more philosophical objections to the church. Some are simply anti-institution. Others genuinely seem to feel that participation in a church has had a negative (or at least inhibiting) impact on their own spiritual life.

Over the next few weeks I'd like to share what I believe about the church. This is going to be an argument that is developed, so those of you in my decidedly un-challies-esque readership (translation - not thousands in number) need to cut me some slack. You're free to comment on what I post, but bear in mind that this isn't over until it's over, so some of your objections/points may be answered down the road a bit. For that reason, I'm going to wait to engage critics or questions until I've finished the series. Hey! It's my blog (grin).

I had hoped to begin this "series" earlier, but have not been able to. I am going to try 2-4 posts per week on the subject. I hope that those of you who stop by will check back often. I'll have the first main entry up on Wednesday, if not before. Thanks for reading!


One of the greatest burdens that a pastor has is when he sees people treat Sunday worship as incidental to their lives. I've taken the last two weeks to speak about the importance of Sunday worship. I must admit that I have a hard time conceiving that there are Christians who can dismiss this so quickly.

Having grown up in the 60's and 70's, I can remember a day when stores were closed, neighborhoods were quiet, and it was pretty easy for Christians to devote the day to corporate worship. Those days are long gone, and we find ourselves in competition with expanding work schedules, household projects, kids' sports programs, and just staying home to rest because it's been a busy week.

Part of the problem - from my point of view anyway - is that we've dumbed down the entire Christian experience. There was nothing sacred about Sunday School followed by a morning worship service followed by an evening worship service followed by Wednesday prayer meeting. That traditional schedule has gone the way of the horse-drawn carriage in our church, and instead we emphasize Sunday morning, Sunday school and small groups. I do wish I had the opportunity to reclaim Sunday nights - at least on occasion - but people have been out of the habit of Sunday night attendance for years now, so I am not optimisitic about the prospects of recovering it, but it would be nice . . .

I was reading some blog entries from people who are "disillusioned with the institutional church" and have stopped going altogether. I think they are wrong, but at least they are thinking about it. So many of our people aren't thinking.

I have blogged infrequently for the last several months, so the only person reading this may be the person who is writing it. But that's ok. I feel strongly about the need to recover this commitment, and I'm going to post some thoughts and ideas about this over the next few days and weeks. I've taken two weeks to teach our people about the importance of Sunday worship, and I have developed an even greater commitment to it than before I started. I hope you'll stop by and read why.


Time flies. My last post was on January 12th. To those of you who stop in and read (and my weekly report says that a couple of dozen do - hardly the same level as Tim Challies, but hey) it has been a very busy 2007. Yet I have a desire to contribute to the pastoral discussion that takes place in cyberspace.

Those of you who preach - do you find it harder to prepare Easter and Christmas sermons? I do. I think that the greatest challenge is finding an appropriate text. Let's face it - there are lots of them. But it is easier to know "where to go" when I am in a regular series. I'm choosing to preach a topical/expository sermon this Sunday on how the NT writers interpret the meaning of the resurrection.

One of the things that I have been thinking about is the development of a system of study for our church - I hate to use the term "discipleship program" that focuses on thinking rather than doing. A lot of the very good training programs (such as the Navigators' 2:7 series) are helpful for establishing positive spiritual habits. But I'd like to develop something for our church that focuses more on ways of thinking. One of the things that I think our modern church lacks is a sense of understanding of the future. Our church used to have a prophecy conference every-other year in conjuction with 7 other churches in our area. That fell by the wayside some time ago, and probably at that time for the best, because much of it tended toward the speculative . But I think a negative has been that we are more "now" focused and as a result we don't live in anticipation of Christ's return and in the awareness of the judgment seat of Christ.

In that vein, I have been scanning a new book by Stephen J. Nichols entitled Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards's Vision of Living In Between. I'd post a link to it but Blogger doesn't work right with Safari - the default Mac browser. (I made the switch about a month ago and am entirely pleased with the transition).

To those of you who read - Happy Easter to you. May you be filled with joy at the new life we have in Christ!

A Few Resources

I've used several books and videos over the years on the subject of raising children. I have to say that the best that I have used is called Effective Parenting in a Defective World by Chip Ingram. Available from Walk Through the Bible Ministries for only $99 for 9 3o-minute sessions, there is a noticeable lack of psychobabble and a good deal of practical application of what the Bible tells us about parenting.

Ingram recently completed a book by the same title, available via Amazon, and would be a good book to give new parents. Well-worth using in an adult Sunday School class, small group setting, or just having it available to in the church library. We were impressed enough to buy a copy for our daughter and son-in-law.

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Hardly a ministry resource, but Stephen Lawhead's most recent book, Hood: Part 1 of the Raven Trilogy, is fun reading. I wouldn't put it among Lawhead's best work, but it was, well, fun. It is the beginning of the story of Robin Hood, though told from a very nontraditional perspective. Blogger of Bloggers Tim Challies posted a review on a pre-release of the book some months ago. I generally use audio books as my non-ministry reading, but this was a Christmas gift and one I would recommend.

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John Piper's book on depression When the Darkness Will Not Lift, is online. Justin Taylor has some things to say about the book. It can be printed (it is in PDF format) and given to people who may be struggling with this problem.

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My next read is The Devoted Life, by Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason. Subtitled, An Invitation to the Puritan Classics, this looks like a good intro into Puritan authors and their writings.

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SO GLAD to have the Far Side back, and in a on-page-per-day tear off format. What a great sense of humor. You either "get" Gary Larson or you don't but, fans will enjoy the daily look at one of his classics.

Evangelicals and Innovation

In his new book Why Should I Believe You? Rediscovering Clergy Credibility (Abingdon), Thomas Bandy notes that the church is one of the last organizations in our culture that discourages (I think this is a typo, it should be “encourages”) innovation. He writes, "The church must learn the hard lessons that organizations in other public sectors have learned. In a world of mass migration, technological change, rapid communication, and spiritual searching, core values for maintenance, stability and predictability are no longer practical. The church is one of the last holdouts in organizational America that rewards employees and volunteers for their lack of experimentation.

"Such behavior is quite contrary to the New Testament, in which Jesus uses the parable of the talents to urge an entrepreneurial spirit in the disciples. It is also contrary to the tradition of first-millennium Christianity, in which leaders of the Christian movement tried everything from funeral societies to house churches to table talk in the agora in order to share the gospel. It is the dominance of the diocesan church of the second millennium, and the need of the diocesan leaders to control, that changed everything. Now we have to change back again."

The above two paragraphs were lifted out of the latest issue of Preaching Now, a newsletter that I generally find very helpful. For some reason these few sentences really stuck in my craw. I don’t know Thomas Bandy, and don’t plan to read his book, but I want to respond to what he said with one short word: baloney.

There are a couple of straw men that the church growth writers have set up, and one of them is that the church has failed to innovate. I’m not sure where these writers have been, but after thirty years of ministry, statements like that make me scratch my head. In point of fact Evangelicalism has been extremely good at innovation. We have ministries to college students, servicemen and servicewomen, ministries aimed at specific professions. We’ve creatively designed all kinds of ministries to kids and teens. I had lunch today with a friend whose church has a ministry to deaf people. I could go on and on. The church has discouraged innovation?

I look at my own congregation. I’ve served here for 26 years and I want to tell you that this is not the same church it was in 1980 when I came. Our people dress more casually. We’re not stuck singing gospel songs from the 1930’s. We do both older and newer Christ-centered music. Discussion has replaced lecture in many areas of our teaching ministries. Our kids programs and youth groups are not age-specific replicas of a worship service. We’ve moved from the King James Version. Many of our adults attend home Bible studies during the week, something made possible by eliminating our Sunday evening and midweek services. We use more than just an organ and a piano on Sunday morning. Our efforts to reach out to our community have been focused on having them receive something from us rather than inviting them to join us in our "thing." And I could go on.

Some might say that these changes are not that significant? Really? You should have been here while they were taking place. Some people had a hard time with some of these "minor" changes. And my congretation is not the only one of which this would be true. None of this would have happened – here or elsewhere – without innovation. So exactly what is it, Mr. Church Growth Expert (and I am not directing this at Mr. Bandy) that needs to change?

Let me share a lesson I learned years ago. For the first decade of my ministry at Faith I worked broadly in the Christian Education program. One of my responsibilities involved the evaluation of children's curriculum. The early 1980’s happened to be a time when innovation and creativity were big ticket items in the world of curriculum publishing. Borrowing from the educational methodology that was in vogue at the time, publishers traded in plain-looking, content-driven teaching quarterlies for more colorful, activity-centered programs. Some of the really creative leading-lights even included props for the teachers to use to move the kids from one whiz-bang thing to another.

The problem was that as the methods became more creative, and the activities became more prominent, it became evident that the content had to be cut back. Initially this was viewed as acceptable, because after all, the average kid’s attention span was regressing at a record pace. So we had them act out stories, make things, etc., etc., with the understanding that they would grasp more if they were active learners. But fifteen years later, kids weaned on those kinds of programs don’t know the Bible.

I am not advocating a return to fill-in-the-blank quarterlies. I'm not saying we should go back to rote learning. But I am pointing out an example of what happens when methods become the focus. I could cite other instances of methods overshadowing message, but in order to keep this on the shorter side, I won’t do that.

I bristle when I read statements like those that begin this entry. I’m sure that the author knows of some stick-in-the mud groups who live as if this was 1957 and not 2007. But I don’t suspect that is true of as many churches as some of the experts seem to think.

Here are some things that I know. God honors his Word. There is power in it, because the Spirit of God uses it to change people’s lives. The Gospel has a specific content. It can’t be reduced too far without removing its essence. Christ’s call is to discipleship, not a fulfilled life, and people are more interested in fulfillment than they are in following. That’s why thousands of people gathered to listen to him teach and get a free lunch in the bargain, but why when he rose from the dead he only had about 120 people to gather around him.

Our call is to be faithful. I want to be creative, and I want to be innovative, but not at the expense of the spiritual well-being of my people and not at the expense of the clarity of the Gospel. I would contend that some of the weakness in our churches and in our people has come about because of some of the very innovations that the gurus’ applaud. Christian people know less of the Bible, are less distinctive in their lifestyle, and think less and less from an eternal perspective than previous generations. That’s what I'm observing, and I am not alone, at least based on the conversations I have with friends in ministry. I want to recover some of that, not find more ways to let it happen.

Thomas Bandy has written other books that show that he is apparently interested in these things too. It may be that Preaching Now excerpted something that represents just a small part of what he says. But I still say it’s baloney. Evangelicalism has changed, it has innovated, and some of the change and innovation has weakened us. Let’s fix what we can, let’s change where we need to change, but let’s be sure we are not being unfaithful to the message or to the God who gave it to us.