November 30, 2009

Expecting the Expected--Luke 17:11-19

Expecting the Expected from First Hattiesburg on Vimeo.

My latest sermon preached at First Hattiesburg.

October 16, 2009

Most Powerful Moment

Catalyst 2009 Compassion Moment from Catalyst on Vimeo.

Last week I attended the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, and I've got to say that I've experienced few moments that were this powerful. This is a man who was sponsored by Compassion International as a child meeting his sponsor for the first time.

For time's sake, wait until the video loads and start it at the 3:45 mark. Then grab some Kleenex.

August 11, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 7

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Concluding today, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

Final Argument, #7--We don't need all of that extra stuff that goes on and around the stage. We just need to worship and preach the Word.

What I think is really being said: "I have a high view of Scripture. I like to hear it taught in a serious and reverent way. I don't mind music as long as it is serious and reverent and prepares me to hear what the pastor has to say. Other than that, I don't think there should be much else in a worship service. These churches that have all the added extras--lights, dramas, props, sirens, smoke, video, dogs, acrobats, etc.--all they are doing is creating a pep rally that is heavy on style and light on substance. I don't think any of those extra things glorify God. They diminish the serious nature of what is happening and are little more than entertainment. All we need to do is just preach them the Word and God will draw people to Himself."

The appropriate response: I, too, have a high view of Scripture. A very high view. I've devoted my life to its study and teachings. I put food on my family's table by teaching God's Word and helping people live it out. I have no problem saying that I have a passion for God's Word and revealing it to others.

The problem in this thinking comes in with use of the phrase, "all we need to do is preach God's Word." Now, they don't mean, "we don't need to have any music," even though that's what it sounds like. What they really mean is that they don't like a lot of other elements added to the service other than reverent music and serious preaching.

Once again, though, this is an opinion and not a Biblical mandate.

From the earliest times of temple worship in the Old Testament period, music was a part of worship. So you can't use the argument that we don't need music.

There is a vein of people who would like church to consist of reverent and theologically rich music, then hearing an extended sermon that is taught verse-by-verse complete with cultural history, quotes from well-respected theologians and language exegesis. There is nothing wrong with this.

There is another vein of people who enjoy an expressive worship experience that is enhanced with other elements such as video, drama, props and illustrations. These settings usually precede a sermon that is meant to help the main point or topic stick in your mind in an effort to move you to take actionable steps. There is nothing wrong with this either.

The problem comes in when you begin thinking, "this is the only way to do this." Jesus never preached an exegetical sermon. Of course, he was the Word become flesh, so technically his life was an exegetical sermon...

Very few apostles preached exegetical sermons as seen in Scripture. None of them preached the kind that you see today in the sense that they took the Old Testament and expounded on the meaning of the Hebrew words. None of them taught a systematic theology. All of these things came later in church history.

Disclaimer: I love all of these things. I actually prefer all of these things.

Jesus used illustrations and props in his sermons. Look at the birds in the fields... There was a lot of intentional symbolism used in Jewish worship to point back to the truths of Scripture. In Acts 17, Paul quoted two pagan poets to illustrate something about God to the Athenians who had no concept of a monotheistic religion. Sounds a bit like using an example from pagan culture to prove something about God... Ezekiel, Elijah and some of the other prophets used some crazy theater to deliver God's message to the Jewish people. I don't remember ever seeing a pastor cook food with poop to point out the sins of his people (Ezekiel 4:12-15). So saying, "all we need is God's Word preached" misses out on a lot of what happened in the Bible.

I believe that God's Word is powerful enough to pierce the hearts of men without our help. But, if we shouldn't offer anything around it, then why don't we just tell people to go sit down and read it and let the Holy Spirit do His work? Why preach at all? Why offer commentary at all?

What matters is the heart behind the people who are preaching the truth of God's Word and leading worship in spirit and truth and how effective they are in moving people to love God more, or for the first time. What matters is whether or not people are being conformed to the image and character of Christ. Not the methods they use to accomplish this purpose.

If you are unhappy with the environment of your church's worship service, yet you can clearly see lives being changed and the effect of God's presence on the people who attend, then where do you think the problem is?

August 10, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 6

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Argument #6--What's happening on stage is more of a "performance" than TRUE worship.

What I think is really being said:
"I don't care for the music that our church uses. Because I don't like it, I don't want to sing along with it. Since I don't sing along with the music, what's happening on stage comes across as a concert. Worship music should be easy to sing along with, or else it becomes a performance. The truth is that if they were doing music I liked, I would be happy to be on stage singing with them. It's different when I'm up there helping to lead the music. When I'm up there, I know my heart and I'm truly worshipping. I'm not so sure about the people up there, though. It seems like they're more in it for the performance. The attention should be on God and not on them."

The appropriate response: I've always found it interesting when people make the argument that "what's going on stage seems more like a performance." I've heard people who prefer a choir-driven service and a band-driven service both make this argument. The interesting part is that much more often than not, the people who make this argument wish that they were "on stage" helping to lead the kind of music they prefer.

When "they" do it, it's a performance. When "I" do it, it's worship. Huh?

I think there is danger in judging the intent of someone's heart. The point of worship is to bring your best offering to God. If you are a great singer, then you should sing your best for God. If you are a great guitar player, then you should play your best for God. This goes for anyone who is on the stage during a worship service. The should use their gifts to the best of their abilities to turn the attention to who God is and what He has done.

There is a line that can be crossed where someone's worship draws attention away from God and towards themselves. But where is that line? And who draws it? What if my genuine expressive worship isn't pleasing to your tastes? What if I believe that worship should be reverent, so smiling and clapping is distracting to me? Does that make it wrong?

If we draw the line in refusing to use anything that qualifies as a "peformance," then that's going to knock out a lot of what we do in worship. People who have no problem sitting and listening to a huge choir perform seem to be the ones who take issues with a band leading in songs they do not know, and therefore can't sing along. This gets back into the argument that some styles of music are more godly than others...and that's a dead end road.

Basically, if you are accusing the people on stage of "peforming" while at the same time wishing that you could be up their "leading in worship" with the music you prefer, I'd take a step back and think about how that comes across.

In the meantime, assume that the people on stage really do want to lead you in worship. If it's all about them in their own mind, then people will eventually figure it out. You won't have to tell them, first.

August 07, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 5

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

Argument #5: The kind of clothes that people wear when they're on the stage leading a church service affects TRUE worship.

What I really think is being said:
"I like the people who lead me in worship to look respectable/like me/put-together/laid-back/professional/like rockstars/like the last music minister. If they don't, then it's hard for me to take them seriously. If I can't trust them to take what they're doing seriously, then how I can trust them to lead me in TRUE worship. Plus, their slicked-back/helmet/metrosexual/messy/televangelist/comb-over hair looks ridiculous. They need to dress like I want them to dress."

Appropriate response: I once had a family friend who didn't like the music minister in the church where I grew up. Her reason: "He has a beard. What's he hiding under that thing? Ministers shouldn't have facial hair."

At my current church, our bass player wore a "Good Morning Vietnam" graphic t-shirt a few weeks ago. I tweeted that this "isn't your grandma's church anymore."

A friend told me he had a conversation with a senior adult about his church's worship leader. "I don't like his hair and I don't like his clothes," the man said. Of course, while saying this, he was wearing black calf-length socks with shorts...and he has a toupee. You can't make stuff like that up!

With the exception of modesty issues (and who defines "modesty"?...the culture*), clothes are morally neutral. Everyone knows that certain clothes are more appropriate than others for differing situations. You don't wear cut-off jeans and a tank-top to a funeral (well, some people do...) and you don't wear a three-piece suit to the beach (unless you're a fundamentalist pastor). The idea that a person wearing a suit is more godly than someone wearing a t-shirt is absurd.

Of course, there's the old argument, "We should always wear our best for God to church." I heard this a lot growing up. My question is, "says who?" James 2:1-4 seems to be OK with poorly dressed (again, who decides what "poor" is?) and finely dressed people both being in church together. I say what's more detrimental to worship is a casual attitude...not casual clothes.

The same goes for wearing hats in church. There is nothing Biblically wrong with this, but it can be offensive depending on the culture. People like to point to 1 Corinthians 11:4: "A man shouldn't pray or prophesy (preach) with his head covered." Fair enough. But that passage also says that women shouldn't pray or prophesy (um...preach?) with their heads uncovered. So, if your church holds to a strict "no hats in the sanctuary" policy, they should pass out head coverings for the women if they want to be Biblically correct. That's the danger in failing to distinguish cultural practices from timeless Biblical truths.

The clothes of the people who are leading in worship should probably reflect two things: the culture of the church and community, and the style of music being played. Have you ever been in a service where the coat-and-tie-clad music minister tried to lead the congregation in the latest worship song...using the organ...and an orchestra...and a choir? I have. It's not pretty, and no one is buying it. All that does is cause the people who like the song to cringe, and the people who like the instruments being used mad.

If the style of clothing of the people on stage offend you, then I think it says more about you than it does them. On the other hand, if the people on stage are wearing clothes that they know are intentionally divisive, or to prove a point, then that says a lot about their character, too.

*C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianityon modesty: "A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally `modest,' proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or equally unchaste). Some of the language which chaste women used in Shakespeare's time would have been used in the nineteenth century only by a woman completely abandoned. When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable."

August 06, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 4

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Argument #4: The music that I prefer is TRUE worship, and if I can't worship to it, then it's not TRUE worship.

What I really think is being said:
"My music is better. It is more appropriate/god-honoring/edgy/worshipful/expressive/reserved/harmonious/relevant/reverent/modern/ancient/in-your-face/anthematic/organic than that other stuff we do. It is too loud/boring/churchy/simple/complicated/edgy/expressive/reserved/modern/ancient/silly/serious/wrong for church. I can't sing along with it, so I can't worship. If I can't worship, then I don't feel like I've been to church. TRUE worship is the music that I can get on board with. If everyone were as spiritually mature as me, then they would like this music too. The problem is we're trying to reach the lowest common denominator/the churched crowd with this music."

Appropriate response: There's no way around it...this is an arrogant statement. Unfortunately, I have heard it said numerous times in the worship war arguments (or some variation of it). In churches who have made or are making the transition from traditional to modern worship music, it often comes in the form of people longing for the days when "their music" filled the worship services.

I remember the first time as a youth minister, I took our student ministry to a Christian music festival. When they wanted to see some of the heavier bands that played some hard metal rock, I remember thinking, "THAT'S not worship." I then remember suddenly feeling very old. Now, some of it probably wasn't very "worshipful". But some of it probably was for thousands of those kids.

Today, a friend told me that he worked a T. D. Jakes crusade over the weekend. When he told me about some of the craziness that ensued, I thought, "THAT'S not worship." The odd part is that my friend said the sound man running the event was playing pre-service worship music that would be much more popular in Caucasian circles. Since this was a predominantly African-American event, a gentleman finally came over and offered the sound man some different music. My friend said as soon as the new music started playing, the crowd rose to its feet and started singing and dancing. Apparently for them, the first kind of music wasn't "worshipful." For me, the second kind probably wouldn't have been very "worshipful."

I think what we sometimes mean by "worshipful" is actually "pleasing to my ear." It's easy for us to become music snobs, thinking that our music is somehow better than everyone elses. We become like those real music snobs who don't like anything played on the radio, or any music that anyone else likes. They say things like, "I only listen to Norwegian folk rock that hasn't been ruined by corporate America." And we don't like them.

Jesus was having a conversation with a woman once, and they began talking about worship in the context of "where" it could happen. Jesus told her that it wasn't about "where," but about "how." Jesus said that true worshippers worship in two ways: spirit and truth. That should be our criteria for what "good" worship music is. Does it help me connect with God through the presence of the Holy Spirit? Is it theologically truthful? The type of music is secondary, and only as important as it helps connect people of that culture to the words being sung.

I won't belabor the point, but in recent days, I've pointed out (as does the Bible) that worship goes beyond singing. As many times as I have been a worship music snob, I've also found myself worshiping at times with music I don't like and even at times without music. I've stood in Nicaragua and found myself worshiping to music when I couldn't understand the lyrics nor did I like the instruments (how many accordions and trumpets does a band need?). I once remember God coming through in an unbelievable way for me after I graduated college, and the only response I had was to dance...with no music...awkwardly. It was a moment of sheer worship.

I understand not liking some types of music. I understand it being hard to sing along, and that being a hindrance to what you want to express to God. If you find yourself in one of those positions, it may help you to stop and observe the people around you who are connecting with God. Maybe the joy they are experiencing will make it a little easier to worship the God who has changed their lives, and hopefully yours, too.

Plus, if your church isn't using music you like, there are CD's, iTunes, and other ways you can hear your music. You might even want to get some like-minded friends together and have your own time of worship.

I don't think God will mind that you're not in a "where," like a sanctuary.

August 05, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 3

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1, and Part 2.

Which has the better theology?
Argument #3--Hymns contain richer and better theology than modern praise songs.

What I think is being said:
"When I was younger, we always sang hymns. I love the old ones like Amazing Grace (who doesn't like that one), Standing on the Promises, Onward Christian Soldiers, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, Victory and Jesus...oh, I could go on and on. The truth is that I knew which hymn we were going to sing as soon as the Minister of Music would call out the hymn number. As long as we only sang the first, second and fourth verses I rarely had to even look down at the words or notes. I knew the Baptist Hymnal better than I knew where to find many familiar Scripture passages...oops, I shouldn't have said that out loud. There were so many ancient sounding words, and words that I didn't fully understand...but those songs were so familiar. The songs we sing now are not familiar at all, I don't like the music, and the words just seem so...common. There are no "thee's," "thou's," or "thy's" anywhere to be found. I mean, I never really understood what "here I raise my Ebeneezer" meant, or what a "fetter" was...but at least I knew the songs. And don't get me started on singing songs with out having the sheet music..."

Appropriate Response: I think we all like familiarity...especially when it comes to music. We love songs we can sing along with whether we understand them or not. How many of us in the 1980's sang along with Men Without Hats song, Safety Dance? Did you know that it was a song about nuclear weapons? Of course you didn't. Me neither--but that's true. But, hey...if your friends don't dance, and if they don't dance then they're--no friends of mine.

I digress. This is an argument people use to try and marginalize the use of modern worship choruses when they would prefer to stick with hymns. Usually when worship bands take old hymns and reintroduce them in new ways, this still does not satisfy those who love them. That is why I don't think this argument really is about the theology of each type of songs. If the same words are used with a different tune, this argument goes away...or becomes a different one entirely. It's also helpful to remember that the same people making this argument were some of the same people who got upset when a new edition of the Baptist Hymnal came out and the church decided to get the new one instead of sticking with the old one. When "Holy, Holy, Holy" was moved to Hymn #1 to Hymn #2 and replaced by a Responsive Reading, I guarantee you that Music Ministers fainted and churches split.

But is this statement true? Do the older hymns which contain more rich theological language lay claim to being better theology?

Yes and no. There are hymns with great theology. Amazing Grace, Grace That Is Greater Than All Our Sins, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Be Thou My Vision, To God Be the Glory ("who yielded his life an atonement for sin"...amazing line) and others come to mind.

There are hymns with questionable theology. Blessed Assurance (the second verse and the chorus...perfect submission? Really?), Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart (popular wording among evangelicals, but is this really the Biblical picture of salvation being described here?), Softly and Tenderly (when did Jesus ever call people like this?), and The Savior Is Waiting aren't exactly lock-solid Biblical.

There are modern choruses with great theology. In Christ Alone, Sing to the King, Welcome to the Cross, How Great Is Our God, All Creatures of Our God and King, and others teach good theology.

There are modern choruses with, bad theology. Above All ("he thought of me above all" he didn't, he thought of obeying God), I Stand in Awe of You ("Jesus, I am so in love with you"...I love Jesus, but I'm not in love with him), Trading My Sorrows (I didn't think sorrow and joy were mutually exclusive), among others don't exactly hit the nail on the head.

We should examine every song we sing to make sure that the theology lines up with Scripture. If it doesn't, we should discard it, no matter how much we like the tune and words. Singing bad theology teaches bad theology. Singing good theology teaches good theology.

I remember when the song "I've Found Jesus" first came out, and I was leading our college praise band in learning it. After we rocked it out a couple of times in practice, I remember one of the pastors on the church staff saying to me, "That's a catchy song. We don't believe it, but it's catchy." Point taken. I guess Jesus wasn't hiding in the first place.

By the way, take your Baptist Hymnal and see if #475 isn't Victory in Jesus and #187 isn't Pass It On.

August 04, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 2

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument. Click here to read Part 1.

Choir vs. Worship Band
Argument #2--Our church is on the wrong path because they either don't use a choir anymore, or when they do, it's not "real choir" but just a bunch of people up there singing.

What I think is really being said:
"The church I grew up in had a great choir, and I always enjoyed hearing them sing, or singing in the choir myself. It sounded so good to hear a four-part harmony singing in unison a great anthem or classic piece of Christian music. I especially loved those big Christmas musicals and Easter cantatas. It's hard to express the feeling I get from singing together with my friends in front of the church each week. Now I don't have that same opportunity week in and week out and I miss being a part of leading in worship for our church. Now they do music that I don't really care for because it's hard for me to sing along, much less sing harmony. I wouldn't even call what that band is playing "real music." Real music doesn't repeat the same things over and over, or need so much electric guitar. Sometimes they even "re-do" hymns in a different way that I don't recognize...or like. Why should there only be a few people up there playing instruments and singing when we could have a lot more people on stage. I miss my choir."

Appropriate response: For years, the choir was as guaranteed in the church as the cross and stained glass, but lately it seems that more and more churches are moving away from them, or at the very least to using occasional choirs that don't require any musical training or much musical knowledge. I realize that this is a rub for people who are musically trained. It's like being an orchestra conductor forced to sit through a Green Day concert. The problem comes, though, when people say that one type of music or one type of musical presentation is better (or more correct, or more godly, etc.) than others. If you think having an edgy worship band is better than having a choir, you're wrong. If you think having a choir is better than having a band, then you're wrong too. This kind of thinking is at best silly, and at worst is elitist.

Music reflects a culture. Most churches have their own culture. Many churches are experiencing a change in culture, and therefore, and change in music. This is not right or wrong, it's just a change. Sometimes people want to hold onto a culture in the midst of this change, but this usually proves to be impossible. Culture is always changing. If your music reflects a culture that is different than the people coming to your church, then you will quickly see those people disappear...whether their cultural preference is choir or band-driven. Southern churches found a way of doing church in the 1940's and 1950's that worked well, and many of them have had a hard time giving up those methods and practices. It was effective at reaching the culture at the time. Our culture has drastically changed since then.

Most churches I know who want to reach unchurched people are moving away from using choir music. Not all of them. But, most.

This may continue to push people who love 1950's church culture (not just senior adults, by the way) to move towards churches who still provide that kind of worship experience. In the meantime, churches who are engaging an unchurched culture will work hard to find people who are experienced in the Christian faith to serve as "spiritual parents" to new and growing believers.

This is a debate that will continue. Those who are getting the music style they want like to tout its effectiveness and how much they love it. Those who aren't getting the music style they want will usually criticize the current style as somehow "less than" their own preferences.

Here's the bottom line: 1) Are the words to the songs acceptable to God, or theologically correct? If yes, then the music doesn't matter. There is no such thing as "Christian music"...only "Christian lyrics". Guitars, choirs, drums, organs, piccolos, or even turntables and synthesizers are all morally neutral. The intent behind their usage and the lyrics sung with that music determines their place as "worship."

2) Does the music reflect the culture, and is it allowing people to connect with God? If yes, good. If not, then rethink what you're doing. If mature believers need their kind of music to connect with God through worship for 30 minutes on a Sunday, then I would question how mature they are. Worship is more than just a short burst of music once a week (Romans 12:1-2). If the current music is helping new and growing believers connect with God (choir or band), then that's a good thing.

Remember that music reflects a culture. Worship music usually reflects the music of that culture. Your best bet as a church is to use music that reflects the culture of the people your are either reaching or wanting to reach.

A friend recently told me a story about a lady who attends a church that does very traditional music with a large choir. This lady left her former church which had made the switch to band-driven modern music that was successfully reaching the younger generation. The lady said, "I love my church. I just wish we could reach more young families."

Are you kidding me? Translation: I want them to like what I like. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

August 03, 2009

Worship War Arguments Deconstructed--Part 1

Charles Spurgeon, the pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle Baptist Church in London in the mid-1800's famously called his music ministry The War Department. Many churches today understand this, as battles over traditional and modern worship styles are popping up in large and small congregations. It amazes me how much attention, passion and fervor is given to what amounts to about 25 minutes of music per week.

I've personally been involved in three churches who have made or made the transition from traditional to more modern and from what I've experienced there are several arguments made on both the traditional and modern sides that are similar, no matter where you go. Over the next several days, I'm going to provide one of the arguments, state what I think is really being said, then state what the appropriate response should be. Feel free to comment, agree, or disagree...or throw in your own argument.

Argument #1--"Those old people are just going to have to get over it and understand that this is the music that's bringing people into our church."

What I think is really being said:
"I grew up in a church that used worship music that I really didn't care for that much. Now, I've finally found a church that uses the kind of music I like that helps me connect with God and it frustrates me when people look down on that music, and in turn look down on me. I wish that they could either like what I like, or at least tolerate it since I'm seeing so many new people come to our church because they, too, connect with this music. I'd like to spend more time with older people because I'm sure they could teach me some things about life, but unfortunately they seem angry and upset at the church all the time. I'm happy about our church, and I d0n't like the negativity."

The appropriate response: It's a shame that so many senior adults leave churches where the music no longer meets their tastes. It's especially unfortunate when those churches are reaching a younger generation that is becoming increasingly disconnected from the church. Churches that are reaching this younger generation need spiritually maturing adults with kind hearts and patient spirits to help grow them in the faith. I understand the desire to use music that I like to worship, but if I value evangelism and passing on the faith to a younger generation, then I hope I can set aside my wants for what is effectively leading people to Christ. The response is not to demonize people who don't like what I like, though. It's to encourage them. Sure, many of them won't go along, but maybe some will. Besides, its not just senior adults who don't always like modern music. There are people my age (early 30's) who can't stand it, either. Instead of making church about the kind of music that's used, I'd encourage anyone who doesn't like what your church currently does musically (traditional or modern) to examine it up against what else is the church is doing. If that's the main thing you can find that you don't like, then perhaps it's best to focus on the things that God is blessing in that church. It's not about right and wrong, it's about different.

I once knew of a man in his 80's who was a concert violinist. He played with the worship band at a church that used extremely modern and edgy music. A friend of mine asked him why he enjoyed that style of music so much. He replied, "oh, I can't stand this music." Turns out he had played with the Chicago Symphony and other major symphonies across the country. "But," he said, "I love seeing what this music does in the lives of the young people here."

That guy gets it.

July 23, 2009

Break(dance)ing Tradition

Watch this video. It will be the most enjoyable five minutes you spend today. I know it's five minutes long, but trust it:

I'll risk my man-card by saying this, but the first time I watched it, I teared up. I'm not exactly sure why, (it's just a simple YouTube video called "JK Wedding Entrance Dance") but all I know is that watching this connected me to this wedding full of people that I don't know and made me root for what they are doing.

At my wedding, we wanted to do something a little different to break "tradition". It was a huge wedding (8 attendants each) in a historic sanctuary (First Baptist Church Tuscaloosa) with somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 people in attendance. It was very formal and pretty regal, but in the middle of it, I asked two of my friends to lead us in worship using three songs. One of those songs was "I'd Rather Have Jesus" which seems like an odd thing to sing at a wedding! But, I wanted people to see Christ in our lives and his priority in our marriage. We thought we were being very different.

Compared to this processional...we were wrong! (Disclaimer: I wouldn't change anything about my wedding. It was great.)

What we did was slap a new element into a traditional wedding service. What this wedding does is take convention and blow it out of the water.

Everyone is expecting Canon in D or Jesu, Joy of Man's Desire or the Bridal March. And instead they get Chris Brown's Forever.

Everyone is expecting the slow, awkwardly-escorted walk down the aisle of height-comparable couples. Instead they get a mixture of good and bad dancing along with cheesy sunglasses.

Everyone is expecting the groom to come from the side and await the bride. Instead, he front-rolls out of the crowd of dancing attendants, then dances back down the aisle to get her.

Everyone is expecting the bride to parade down the aisle. Instead, she dances. By the time she gets there, you can almost sense a longing to see what she's going to do when she appears.

Did you see anyone in the crowd who was disappointed? Did you see anyone who was frowning? NO! They're clapping and they actually erupt in cheering when the bride appears. When was the last time you saw that kind of celebration at a wedding?

People will be talking about this wedding ceremony for the rest of their lives. Nothing else they ever see at a wedding will ever compare to this. Ever.

You can also get ready to start seeing a slew of imitators who will try to recapture this same moment at their weddings, graduations and other events. And it will all come across for what it is: a copycat...and a bad one at that.

In a weird way, I think this is a perfect picture of what my church is trying to do right now. We're trying to provide people with an experience that is unforgettable, yet still accomplishes the purpose of connecting people with God. After all, this wedding's purpose was still accomplished...they were married.

This involves refusing to defer to tradition. It's also risky, because there are people who want to see the expected week in and week out. But we're trying to reach people who are not reached by the expected. Instead of Canon in D (which is much more high brow, familiar and classical) we're more like Forever (more accessible, electronic and you can tap your feet to it involves some sketchy characters).

Why not do something different? Why not give people an experience that they won't soon forget, especially when the only other weddings they go to all do the same (or only slightly different) things? Why not give them a celebration that makes them long for the star of the show (read: Jesus) to appear and culminate what's happening?

Do the unexpected, and do it with a purpose.

July 20, 2009

You Probably Know Enough

I'm currently writing a paper that explores postmodernism's effects on a particular author's theology on salvation. He has written a book
that centers (more or less) around a central question: What if Jesus had actually concealed his deepest message, not trying to make it overt and obvious but intentionally hiding it as a treasure one must seek in order to find?

A lot of people are vying today to present the real Jesus. It seems that we are all content to make Jesus into our own image instead of trying to conform to his. Whether it's hippie Jesus, Republican Jesus, homeless Jesus, angry Jesus, loving and permissive Jesus, etc., a lot of us think we have him figured out.

In recent years, even Christians have become enamored with alternative views of Jesus that diverge (slightly and strongly) from the historic evangelical understanding of him. From The Da Vinci Code
to Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, the biblical presentation of Jesus seems...well, less interesting.

The author I'm studying says that Jesus is more interesting than we think, but we just have missed his secret message. I disagree. This is treading dangerously close to a heresy that the apostle John and other early church leaders condemned called gnosticism.

I think part of the reason that Jesus is not that interesting to a lot of Christians is not because of what they don't know about him. I think it's because of what they don't do with what they know about him. I know a lot of people who know a lot about Jesus, but their lives don't seem to match up with what he teaches. I find myself in that category more often than I'd like to admit, too.

Some of the more adventuresome times of my life are when I am following Jesus' call to a radically different life. It has taken me amazing places and has often required courage that I didn't have at the time.

If you find Jesus as a less-than-interesting character, then try actually doing what he says. Then let me know what happens.

July 15, 2009

Best of Humanivy

After a long hiatus, I've tried to kick the ol' blog back into motion, which has brought me some new traffic. I haven't done this yet, so I figured I'd post a "most read" list from the past year and a half. Enjoy:

10. World Beard and Mustache Championship. I haven't seen the results, but I'm sure it was a scream.

9. Life in Mississippi--Satan is Dead. A funeral for the dark lord, himself.

8. CNN Asks a Great Question. How will theological conservatives respond to the possibility of Sarah Palin as their vice-president when those churches have historically limited the role of women in their congregations?

7. Why Humanivy? I explain the name of this blog.

6. The Proper Use of the Pulpit. A look at Jeremiah Wright's controversial comments.

5. Caution--Name Drop Approaching. This was written before Mac Powell from Third Day led worship at First Hattiesburg in March 2009. It details how we know each other.

4. The Cartman Prophecies. All it takes to turn a non-Christian pop song into a Christian song is to replace "baby" with "Jesus".

3. Barack Obama: The Quintessential Postmodern Candidate. Written before Obama had locked up the Democratic Nomination for President.

2. President Obama. Written on the eve of the November 2008 election.

1. Come On Down to the Barn. This one, you've just got to watch and read.

July 14, 2009

Fix it Yourself...

Yesterday, I told you about a guy selling VHS tapes at a flea market I recently visited. Besides being a peddler of old movies, he had an antique buffet table for sale for $75. The only catch was that it was missing one of the handles.

When we inquired about it, he told us the price and said that it was a good piece of furniture. "Oh, and by the way," he said, "the missing handle is in the drawer. You just have to put it on yourself."

How many people do you think would figure this out just by walking by and looking? And is the flea market so busy that he doesn't have five minutes to put the handle on? Is this a pride issue? If you want it, you've got to do it yourself?"

How about putting the handle on yourself, sir, and charging $100 for the buffet. I guarantee some will pay the extra $25.

Sometimes it only takes a little extra effort to turn something average into something desirable. The problem comes when we expect those we're trying to reach to make the effort before we do.

July 13, 2009

A Dying Medium

A couple of weekends ago I was invited to check out the Mobile, AL flea market with some friends. It's your typical hodgepodge of "if it's junk you can find it here" stores and booths.

At one particular booth, the man running it was in the process of setting out somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 movies on VHS tapes. My first thought was "how sad."

You can buy a DVD player for about $20 now. Are there really that many people left that will buy these tapes?

My feelings went from sad to worse, though, when I realized something else. Not only was this man trying to offload a dying (nay, dead) medium...but four stalls down, he had competition. Another man was also selling scores of movies on VHS.

I don't know what's worse: trying to sell something that almost no one is buying, or trying to sell something that almost no one is buying and realizing that you have competition.

How many churches are still clinging to practices that are engaging fewer and fewer people, all while looking around and realizing that the churches around them are doing the exact same thing? If you want to succeed in your mission, then sometimes you've got to offer people what they need in a way that works for them...not for you.

The guy selling fresh vegetables for a few cents cheaper than the supermarket had a line waiting to talk with him.

July 10, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 8)

I'm finishing up posting parts of a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 and Part 7.


Though it is used widely in churches and revivals still today, it is clear that the history of the public invitation has not been rooted in proper theology or even ancient church practice. It is also clear from history that many preachers changed their theology to reflect what was happening in their meetings, services, and revivals. Ministers and revivalists used pragmatism, ego, and even greed as a reason to persuade people to give a public profession of their faith. Problems arose from those who have confused “coming-forward” with genuine conversion leading to countless false conversions. These practices rely on the methods of the invitation rather than on God’s sovereignty and mercy. Some of these methods are even dishonest in the way the invitation is given, and any such practice should be avoided entirely.[1] Churches that adopt this form of evangelism should be aware of the history of the altar call, and be prepared to avoid any similarities of those who have used it improperly. When seen as only a tool for evangelism and used in a clear and proper manner, then there is no doubt that the Lord can use public appeals for salvation and for His glory, so long as the methodology follows the correct theology.

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.

[1] See Whitesell, 65 Ways, 52, for a suggested practice that borders on deception.

July 09, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 7)

I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.

The Twentieth Century

With the “new measures” firmly engrained in the profession of revivalism, a new generation of evangelists were ready to follow in the footsteps of Finney and Moody. During the twentieth century, few new methods were developed. Instead, this new group of revivalists would modify and refine the methods that were already systematized in the previous century. At the time of Moody’s death, Samuel P. Jones, a Methodist circuit-riding preacher, was the most popular evangelist in America. Know as the “Moody of the South”, his campaigns were said to average two thousand converts.[1] While he occasionally used the inquiry room, Jones preferred holding “after-meeting” services for mourners concerned about their salvation. Often, he would shake hands with those coming forward and say, “God bless you” to them, give the crowd a brief exhortation, only, and turn them over to clergy and counselors who urged them to sign decision cards.

R. A. Torrey, successor to Moody, saw over one hundred thousand converts from 1901-1905. His practices included the use of several rows of empty seats where people could come forward for prayer and counsel from trained workers. During this time, other trained workers would work the crowd for five minutes pleading with those who had resisted the first altar call to give themselves to Christ.[3] A.C. Dixon took over the pulpit at Metropolitan Tabernacle in London filling the pulpit once held by Charles Spurgeon. He implemented a “come-forward” invitation that was foreign to Britain, and thus, received much criticism.

In the second decade of the twentieth century, Billy Sunday, the “baseball evangelist”, led revivalism to its climax. His 1915 campaign in Philadelphia was said to have seen over forty thousand converted. Early in his career, he first made appeals for anyone under conviction to come forward. Workers were then sent into the audience to urge others to come. Finally, he would have the choir begin to sing as others would begin to flood the front.[5] In later years, his public invitations generally consisted of inviting those who wanted forgiveness, and to have the personal “peace with Christ” that comes from “accepting Christ” to “hit the sawdust trail”.[6] This phrase originated from a campaign he led in Washington State, where lumberjacks would leave trails of sawdust behind them as they went into the deep forests, in order that they might find their way home.[7] Sunday made the same concept apply to his revival meetings. In his services, this amounted to coming forward, shaking Sunday’s hand, and then signing a decision card. The person coming forward was then handed a booklet assuring them that they had been converted. Sunday’s invitations were often pleas of reason to those resisting coming forward, and were often devoid of “any real religious content.” He believed that humans were not such bad people at heart. His semi-Pelagian views led his invitations to mainly focus on those who were interested in decency, against alcohol, or felt like Christianity was the “manly” thing to do. His main intention was to make the average citizen “give up his bad habits, profess his belief in the fundamentals, and pledge himself to join a church.”[8] Sunday’s career declined in his later years for numerous reasons, mainly including criticism of his commercialism and an erroneous prediction of the end of the world in 1935.

Billy Graham is considered to be the greatest evangelist of the twentieth century, and continued leading crusades across the globe until his recent retirement. He gave his first public invitation early in his career at a small Baptist church in Florida where three or four people came forward at the end of his sermon. In 1945, he preached to over three thousand at a Youth For Christ Rally in Chicago where more than forty people responded to a public invitation. As his crusade ministry began, he developed his own style of invitation that is still in use at crusades and churches today. According to Streett, this Graham-style invitation consists of preparing hearts for the invitation through his sermon, transitioning into the invitation, answering the question of how to be saved, calling for public commitment, and then having those who would respond move forward to be met by counselors who usually take them into a separate tent or meeting area.[10] While none of these practices are new, Graham has been able to refine them into a style that is uniquely his. Streett does, however, make clear that Graham “does not believe that merely making a public profession is a guarantee of personal salvation. Without the inner working of the Holy Sprit, an outward profession is meaningless.”[11]

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.

[1] Streett, Effective Invitation, 101.

[2] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 304-05.

[3] Streett, Effective Invitation, 101-02.

[4] Murray, Revival, 410, 410n, claims that not one public appeal was made at Metropolitan Tabernacle in Spurgeon’s lifetime, and that “he was against any regular use of inquiry meetings.” He notes that Lewis Drummond, Prince of Preachers, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1992, 657, advances this theory. Murray refutes this claim on the basis that when the Tabernacle was being built in 1860, the public invitation was not in use in Britain. Streett, Effective Invitation, 97, notes the different types of public invitations Spurgeon was said to use, and mentions the architecture of the Tabernacle as a hindrance for a “come-forward” invitation.

[5] Streett, Effective Invitation, 103-04.

[6] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 410.

[7] Street, Effective Invitation, 104.

[8] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 434.

[9] Ibid., 446-448.

[10] Streett, Effective Invitation, 110-21.

[11] Ibid., 110.

July 08, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 6)

I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

Dwight L. Moody

Dwight Moody was the first to organize citywide campaigns for evangelistic purposes by using several denominations, holding services for thousands in large venues, and using some form of public invitation.[1] If Charles Finney created a profession out of revivalism, then Moody made it a “big business.”[2] Known as the “great evangelist of love”, Moody’s practice of ministry was shaped early in his career in 1871. That night, he preached on “what shall I do with Jesus?” and sent the crowd home to think about it and come back the next week. Within twelve hours, the Great Chicago fire had erupted, killing over three hundred, leaving tens of thousands homeless, and destroying Moody’s church. He vowed never again to delay an invitation for the audience to respond. Under the influence of teachers and leaders of the Brethren denomination, Moody began to develop his use of the public invitation.

Earlier in his career, Moody’s methods were more aggressive. In the 1860’s, Moody was know to roam around his congregation in order to publicly confront individuals in order to inquire about their salvation. Those who hesitated or responded negatively were often asked to kneel so that Moody might pray for Christ to save them.[4] Moody then moved to the use of the inquiry room in 1873, followed in 1875 by having those in the audience who desired salvation to stand.[5] In 1887 at Cambridge, Moody and his traveling companion, Ira Sankey preached to a crowd of university students who wanted to upset the services. After three nights, Moody made a public appeal for anyone wanting to know Christ to meet him and Sankey in a group of unused seats. He repeated the appeal three to four times before people began to move towards the gallery.

Moody was not tied to one form of public invitation, but rather used what he deemed to be the best method for the circumstances. One author claims that Moody never used the anxious seat, but the evidence proves contrary.[7] Once at Oxford, he asked those seated in the front to leave their seats so that those concerned for their souls could come forward and sit in them. This occasion is rare, though, and it appears that Moody mostly preferred the inquiry room. He can be credited, however, for the introduction of two new facets to the public invitation. The first was the use of a singer working with the preacher as a supplement to the invitation. This role was often played by Sankey, who sang the gospel as Moody made the appeal. A second innovation was the introduction of organized counseling led by lay people. Due to the size of Moody’s campaigns, there were often too few pastors to counsel with the numbers who were making decisions. Moody recruited lay people to assist in counseling, and eventually set up the Chicago Evangelization Society to train them for evangelism. This Society was the beginnings of the Chicago (Moody) Bible Institute in Chicago.[8]

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.

[1] Bennett, Altar Call, 139.

[2] McLoughlin, 166.

[3] Moody was particularly influenced by the Brethren preacher, Henry Moorehouse, who focused more on the acceptance of rational facts about Christ. He did, however, use the inquiry room, and on occasion had congregants stand in order to accept Christ.

[4]Bennett, Altar Call, 140.

[5] McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism, 261, refers to Moody’s conversations in the inquiry room as “little more than ad hominem, a sort of spiritual brow beating.”

[6] Ibid., 142, quoting G.E. Morgan, R.C. Morgan, 210-11. The author of this book was an undergraduate at Cambridge at this time and attended the revival meetings.

[7] Cawardine, Transatlantic, 17.

[8] Ibid., 144-45.

July 07, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 5)

I'm taking the next few days to post in several parts a paper I once wrote on the history of the practice of using an "Altar Call" in church worship services. Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Charles Finney and New Measures

While the emotional appeals of the frontier camp meetings were taking place in the early nineteenth century, such measures were virtually unheard of in the eastern United States. Church leaders occasionally used the “inquiry room”, but only to counsel with people from Scripture—and, not because of spiritual distress.[1] In 1828 in Virginia, Asahel Nettleton would not hold inquiry meetings unless the number of those needing further help was greater than private meetings could accommodate.[2] This would soon change with the advent of the ministry of Charles G. Finney and the introduction of “new measures”. Exactly how “new” these measures were is up for debate. Most of his methods, especially the anxious seat, were adopted from practices that the Methodists had been using for three decades. Finney’s major contribution was popularizing the use of these public invitations. Early in his ministry, Finney experimented occasionally with different types of public invitations, but never settled on one consistent practice, nor did he always offer the appeal. In those years, Streett says that Finney would ask “anyone anxious about their souls to stand at their seats as a sign of a repentant heart.”[4] During his first ministry position at Evan’s Mill in New York, Finney modified his form of public invitation. After a series of sermons that produced no visible response, he gave an unusual and confusing invitation. He admonished those in the crowd who wanted to accept Christ to stand, and those who were willing to publicly reject Christ to remain seated. This left no proper response to anyone in the audience who was already a Christian, leading the crowd to storm out. The next night, he made no appeal, yet many sought him out later that night seeking counseling. In 1826, he began the practice of calling forward those who had already been converted to receive extra counseling. Then, in 1830 at a revival in Rochester, Finney began consistently using the anxious seat.

As Finney continued the use of the anxious seat in his services, he began to develop a new theology of conversion. Beginning in the 1830’s, Finney delivered a series of lectures on revival where he stated his belief that unregenerate men could change their own will to follow Christ, and thus be converted.[5] Critics attacked this “new theology” that was being used to defend these “new measures”, along with its use of emotional ploys. John Nevin said, “no conversions are more precarious and insecure than those of the Anxious Bench.”[6] Finney defended the use of the anxious seat saying that it, in fact, “prevents a great many spurious conversion,” and that dating back to the apostles, “the church has always felt it necessary to have something of the kind” to publicly demonstrate someone’s faith.[7] Finney argued that these methods were necessary to convert men and “to bring them to submission.”[8] He claimed that the use of the anxious seat always led to the multiplication of converts, which must be the work of God’s divine power.[9] These ideas led to the development of his belief that revival was always available if Christians would agree in prayer and in faith. Thus, the altar call, through Finney’s theology and practice, became a tool to induce revival, and anyone opposed to it became an enemy of that revival.

Finney’s popularization of the altar call led to a new generation of evangelists using similar practices. In 1832, the same year that Finney’s ministry began in New York City, a magazine inspired by the local revivals ran a series of articles on how to conduct these “revivals”, including instructions on the use of the “anxious seat.”[11] His lectures on revival also encouraged the use of the public invitation, and his practices were adopted throughout America and Britain. One commentator said that Finney tamed “the exuberant camp meeting and tailor[ed] it to fit the local church.”[12] Bennett also notes, “the modern practice of evangelism…built, as so much of it is upon the altar call, owes probably more to him than anyone else.”[13] Murray states, “before the 1820’s the altar call…was little known in most churches.”[14] In contrast, William McLoughlin wrote that, “after 1835 it was an indispensable figure of modern revivals.”[15] By the 1840’s, Finney began preaching a doctrine of sanctification that stressed perfection. His altar calls became, according to McLoughlin, “spur-of-the-moment decisions lacking in depth or meaning,” leaving the anxious seat a “stereotyped and forced ritual.”[16]

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.

[1] Ibid., 216.

[2] Ibid., 232-3, 233n. Autrey, Basic Evangelism, 131, claims that Nettleton began using the inquiry room in 1817. His source is Whitesell, Sixty-five Evangelistic Invitations, 16. Whitesell offers no source for his claim. This appears to be erroneous, since Nettleton opposed the use of such “new measures” (see Murray, Revival, 230-37), and was only known to use them as stated.

[3] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, eds., 131 Christians Everyone Should Know, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2000), 69.

[4] Streett, Effective Invitation, 95, citing Henry B. McClendon, “The Mourner’s Bench” (Th.D. diss, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1902), 16.

[5] For a full treatment of Finney’s theology of conversion, see Murray, Revival, 244-50, and Bennett, Altar Call, 108-13.

[6] John W. Nevin, The Anxious Bench, (Chambersburg, PA: German Reformed Church, 1844), 83.

[7] Charles Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion, (New York: Leavitt, Lord & Co., 1836) in Robert R. Mathisen, ed., Critical Issues in American Religious History: A Reader, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2001), 159.

[8] Murray, Revival, 246, citing Charles Finney, Lectures on Revivals of Religion, (New York and London, 1910), with introduction and original notes by W.H. Harding, 116-17.

[9] Ibid., 283.

[10] Ibid., 249.

[11] Bennett, Altar Call, 112.

[12] Ibid., 112, quoting Leon McBeth, Women in Baptist Life (Nashville: Broadman).

[13] Ibid., 112.

[14] Murray, Revival, 277.

[15]William McLoughlin, Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham, (New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1959), 97.

[16] Ibid., 148.