Thursday, April 17, 2008

Music is not Worship

Hello fellow worshippers...
On February 17, I blogged some thoughts about corporate worship and have been thinking a lot about it, and having conversations about it, ever since. Click here to read the thoughts I shared.

Well, there must have been a rethinking worship vibe floating around that week, because I stumbled across an article on SimpleChurch Journal from the very next day, February 18, in which some other very interesting thoughts about worship were shared. Click here to read the blog entry on the SimpleChurch Journal page. (Be sure to scroll down and read some of the comments as well...very interesting.)

I say, let's rethink it all. Shouldn't we? Doesn't something as important as how we express our worship communally deserve rethinking? Share your thoughts...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


There was a quote at the end of Eugene Peterson's book, "Under the Unpredictable Plant" that I've been thinking about a lot lately. It's too good to keep to myself. Hopefully, it will resonate in you...challenge you to become who you know God wants you to become. Here you go:

"Sometimes I need a teacher, someone to explain the scriptures, to clarify the Christian belief in some circumstance or relationship. But mostly I do not: I need to become what I already know." (Peterson, Eugene. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Call to Commitment

My copy of the book Call to Commitment finally arrived in the mail and I've been reading it in every spare minute. The book was written in 1963 and tells the story of Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. This is a church who has said, as Jesus did, "Count the cost before you follow me. Take up your cross. Die to yourself and don't look back." Their story and their influence continues to this day. And while they most certainly do things differently today than they did back in the 50's and 60's, the wisdom they've collected in this book is just as relevant to the church today as it was back then. Allow me to share a few quotes with you:

"The current easy access to membership is disturbing to many thoughtful Christians, some of whom are ministers of 'successful' churches, where plans are made, programs projected and projects adopted, which though in themselves worthy, do not serve the reconciling purpose. They become ends in themselves. Then people must be won to make possible the continuance of these programs rather than to enter a new life."

"It is easy for one generation to overthrow the structures of another and to think itself bold and adventurous. But the test comes in whether we can part with the structures we ourselves have created, for new forms, like the old, can come to represent safeness and security. The young have not proved more pioneering than those who have gone before them until they have been tested."

"We can discover the twentieth-century structures, learn modern techniques, and originate challenging programs, but these in themselves are not enough. They may win people to our organizations, but not to the living Christ. For this we need men and women abandoned to God, contagiously radiant because in their inner lives a conversation goes on with Him who is Lord."

"Although it is not adequately descriptive, in our congregation we speak of the professional minister and the nonprofessional minister. The value of this lies in the eventual acceptance of each member of his status as a minister, usually with the primary thrust of his ministry being in the world. The acceptance of this responsibility often takes time, because old patterns of thinkingar strong. But it is thrilling when it comes." (O'Connor, Elizabeth. Call To Commitment, New York, NY: Harper & Row. 1963.)

So, those are the most outstanding quotes (to me) from the first half of the book. I'll include some more from the second half, which I anticipate is going to be just as good.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Eugene Peterson (and me) on the North American church

Those of you who really know me, are aware that God has been leading me on a wonderful and frustrating journey over the last two years. It’s wonderful because I’ve learned so much and it’s frustrating because my learning has made me increasingly aware of how far I have to go to represent Jesus well. I’ve also not been shy about expressing my consternation over the many ways I feel the church in America is missing the point.

Initially, I observed this myself. There are many things about the way the American church operates that don’t make much sense to me, nor do they line up with what the New Testament writers regarded as a healthy and vibrant church. Then, I began to pick up books and articles where others were expressing the same thing. These were works by people who might be categorized as pop Christianity authors (even if they, themselves, would despise being labeled as such). Some of those authors include: Brian McLaren, Neil Cole, Shane Claiborne, Donald Miller, Rob Bell and Erwin McManus. Statistician and author, George Barna, has joined with these voices, taking the results of his research and showing the church that its current methods are NOT producing kingdom fruit, but instead are leading the church in a devastating direction. I’m indebted to these guys for making their ideas accessible to me and keeping me moving where I believe God is leading.

But, as I’ve gone deeper in my study—moving beyond pop literature to more “scholarly” works—I’ve learned that some of the brightest Christian minds of our day are really the ones creating the prophetic spark and fueling the flames of much-needed rebuke for the American church. Additionally, they are offering alternatives, if only we’ll listen. Lesslie Newbigin, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Eddie Gibbs, Charles Van Engen, G.K. Chesterton and so many other brilliant scholars and pastors are calling the church out on the idolatry of consumerism and cultural conformity. Sadly, few are listening.

Why am I bringing all of this up? It’s always on my heart, but from time to time I read something that reminds me just how misaligned the trajectory of the American church is. Eugene Peterson (the accomplished scholar who wrote The Message) has a book called, Under the Unpredictable Plant. I can’t put it down. Here’s a quote:

“North American religion is basically a consumer religion. Americans see God as a product that will help them to live well, or to live better. Having seen that, they do what consumers do, shop for the best deal. Pastors, hardly realizing what we are doing, start making deals, packaging the God-product so that people will be attracted to it and then presenting it in ways that will beat out the competition. Religion has never been so taken up with public relations, image building, salesmanship, marketing techniques, and the competitive spirit. Pastors who grow up in this atmosphere have no awareness that there is anything out of the way in such practices. It is the good old free enterprise system that works so well for everyone except the poor and a few minorities.

Far from being radical and dynamic, most religion is a lethargic rubber stamp on worldly wisdom, leading us not to freedom but, in Chesterton’s words, to ‘the degrading slavery of being a child of [this] age.’

It is interesting to listen to the comments that outsiders, particularly those from Third World countries, make on the religion they observe in North America. What they notice mostly is the greed, the silliness, the narcissism. They appreciate the size and prosperity of our churches, the energy and the technology, but they wonder at the conspicuous absence of the cross, the phobic avoidance of suffering, the puzzling indifference to community and relationships of intimacy." (Peterson, Eugene H. Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992.)

In conclusion, I’ll ask the questions so many of these brilliant scholars continue to ask the American church: how long will you continue to play the church game? When will you become the humble, serving, Calvary-like love representations of Jesus to your communities? When will you count the cost and call your disciples to “obey everything that I [Jesus] have commanded”? God has given us the tools we need. Lord, help us also find the courage.