Category Archives: Worship

The Drifters

two in pewIn his letter in the Summer 2017 Concordia Seminary magazine, Seminary president Dale A. Meyer makes an interesting observation. He says, “Some people come to worship rain or shine; almost nothing keeps them away. Others, sadly, have walked away from worship and don’t readily return. In the middle, between the always-come and never-come, are those who come but could drift away” (“From the President,” Concordia Seminary magazine, Summer 2017, p. 5).

Let’s call this group the drifters. What causes someone to become a worship drifter? I know for me, the rub comes on Sunday morning when you are cozy in bed and just want to sleep some more. So you drift off to sleep and skip church. For others it is other commitments and activities on Sunday morning that have taken precedence over worship. Sports practices, Sunday brunches, or shopping that needs to get done all can conspire to draw people away from worship. It does not take much for the drift to happen. Even a change in worship time can cause people to bolt.

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Backchannels

backchannelsAnother new reality of communication that Pastor Matt Peeples reveals is: Backchannels are always open. What are backchannels, you ask? They are the conversations behind the conversations that are always going on in our digital age.

I have seen this in play at conferences and other meetings where they even encourage backchannel engagement in real time by announcing a hashtag with the conference name or meeting locale for people to use to converse on Twitter about what is happening at various sessions.

I also see this at play within the comments sections below a post or a video link. People’s reactions, good or bad, are exchanged and discussed, and we as the viewer become privy to these interchanges, if we like it or not.

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Embracing Informality

emojisAnother new reality of communication outlined by Pastor Matt Peeples is that communication is becoming increasingly informal. The formal memos are gone, the business letters on crisp parchment paper are no longer needed. Important business matters are now commonly related through mass emails often containing emoticons. Instant messages are used to call meetings and gather information. We can get texts from our bosses any time of day or night. The rules of grammar and spelling and complete sentences are no longer seen as too necessary. Many words are shortened.

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The Church in Action

church in actionAnd they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. —Acts 2:42-47

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Motivations

shining crossI found it interesting that both Publishers Weekly and Christianity Today mentioned the Ennegram system in their most recent issues. “Most simply, the Ennegram is a system of categorizing people with a number—one through nine—that represents a core motivation or orientation to others and the world,” the Christianity Today article reported (Christianity Today, November 2016, 56). (See also “What It Means to Be Christian,” Publishers Weekly, October 24, 2016, 21.)

At some point in our lives we have all taken a personality or spiritual gifts survey to indicate what our strongest traits are. What is making the Ennegram system different and so appealing to churches nationwide is that it gets to the heart of why people do what they do. The nine categories are as follows:

  1. I want to be good.
  2. I want to be needed.
  3. I want to achieve.
  4. I want to be unique.
  5. I want to think things through.
  6. I want to be safe.
  7. I want to have fun.
  8. I want to be in charge.
  9. I want to be a peace.

As I type each of these categories, my mind instantly goes to certain people I know and to myself. “That is so him.” “That is so her.” “That is so me.” The designers of the system grant that each one of us is a mixture of several numbers, but suggest that if you are a certain number you often become blind to the motivations of those are are another number.

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House Churches

house churchAs we gather in our homes this Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the concept of “house churches,” which has had somewhat of a resurgence in our world as of late, mostly in China and in other places where Christians are being persecuted. House churches are defined groups of Christians who regularly gather for worship in private homes. The group may be part of a larger Christian body, such as a parish, but some have been independent groups that see the house church as the primary form of Christian community.

I recently talked with Jim Buckman, a missionary-at-large and a church planter in the New Jersey area, who explained that his approach to building churches was to start in the home. People feel more comfortable in their homes, they are surrounded by loved ones, and they are not caught up the structure of the organized church.

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Is Worship Too Safe?

padded pewIn The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton contends that most churches like worship services that are safe. He argues that  we have created false dangers about worship that have limited what worship can be, causing us not to worship as fully as we could. Here are the false dangers he sees at work:

False Danger #1: Worship That Is Not Under Control

Worship services are very orderly these days, lasting almost exactly one hour and usually following a very regular routine. I for one like the order and routine of worship, but when that is what becomes more important than the the Gospel message that is said or sung in worship, then there is a problem.

False Danger #2: Worship That Doesn’t Seem Relevant

The desire to be relevant to today’s culture has led to the use of screens, IPads and contemporary music in worship, which in and of themselves are not bad. But when our goal is to be relevant rather than true to the Gospel, then the essential role of worship has been lost. Continue reading →

The Community Connection

An article in the March/April 2016 Outreach talked a program called Aspire! Conservatory of Fine and Performing Arts at Ashland First United Methodist Church in Ashland, Kentucky. It is a resource made available by and at the church in which children attend piano classes and private lessons for band instruments. While there is a cost for the lessons, donations from members keep the program running.

What is remarkable is that In the process, the community comes in contact with the church and becomes more aware of the worship and devotional life of the congregation. Many children in the classes even play their instruments in worship and become involved in the life of the church. In many ways, the program is raising uo the next generation of worship leaders and often helping their parents recognize the value of a Christian environment.

“Using the church building five evenings a week, our church comes alive in the eyes of the community, ” said DeNiel Hartley, the administrator of Aspire!

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The Rise of the Nones

none of the aboveThe recent book The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated by James Emery White brings to light a phenomenon that has been bubbling under the surface in Christian circles for several years now.

The number of people who check the box for NONE when asked for their denominational affiliation has risen exponentially in the last decade, and has led to a decline in membership in almost all mainline Protestant denominations in America today. The reality of that fact has left many in the institutional church in a quandary because trying to bring the “nones” back into the fold only makes them want to run further away, but changing the message of your particular denomination to placate or soothe the “nones” undermines why the various denominations exist in the first place.

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Keeping the Sabbath

people in churchIt seems like it is getting hard and harder these days to “keep the Sabbath,” unfortunately. There are so many competing activities on any given Sunday morning with soccer games conflicting and sporting events starting at noon and homework and family obligations that have to be taken care of before the end of the weekend.

The wife of a friend of mine recently said, “The devil is really hard at work on Sunday morning.” It’s a fact, especially in households with teenagers, where it is more difficult than ever to get them to wake up and go to church with so many other things to do.

But that is exactly why we must keep the Sabbath, to keep all the competing events in perspective. If we don’t have time for God on Sunday morning, what does that say about having time for God during the other days of the week?

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