Category: Worship (page 2 of 2)

Two Rivers Rising

In my Sunday morning message this past weekend, I used the illustration of two rivers to describe my beliefs about the end times. One river is the natural world in which we live and the other river is the kingdom of God. Both rivers are approaching flood stage and they are side by side but flowing in opposite directions. Soon, it will be impossible to stand in both because the current in each river will be too strong.

Those that choose to stay in the world’s river will be swept away by worry and fear and will eventually need a rescue. Those of us longing for the coming kingdom will be swept away into a life of wonder and risk. I believe the world will become more and more broken while the church, the body of Christ, will rise up as a spotless bride, a witness to a world needing answers and truth.

During the Colorado summers, we get to enjoy world class rafting on the Arkansas River. At the height of the snow melt and subsequent runoff, the strongest rapids are stage 4 or 5, which are the fastest two categories. To survive, you need an experienced guide and even then it is always dangerous and sometimes fatal.

I see danger ahead in the world’s river. The global financial mess has no easy answers and I suspect there will be riots on the streets of most countries when entitlements can no longer be funded by bankrupt governments. Wars in the Middle East will not subside anytime soon and natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis will continue to wreck humanity.  All of this could cause us to tremble with fear, especially if you are in the wrong river, on the wrong boat, with the wrong guide.

But I am hopeful – hope filled today. The kingdom of God is breaking in all around us, if we could just look with spiritual eyes and listen carefully with spiritual ears. Notice how often in scripture, Jesus told his followers and the crowds that those with eyes to see would see and those with ears to hear would hear. The changing of the spiritual seasons should be as easy to spot as the changing of the natural seasons.

I want to lean in right now and listen. I want to focus my eyes on the things God is doing and not let my heart be troubled. I want both feet planted in the right river, in the right boat, headed in the right direction, with the Holy Spirit as my guide. This may be too mystical for some who are reading, but sometimes prophetic pictures a like a kaleidoscope, creating multiple colors and shapes that can be seen differently by each person.

The two rivers are rising, the kingdom of God is arriving and the church is becoming pure through testing and trials.  We are blessed to be here on earth in this season as a witness to it all. May we be constantly alert, ever courageous and always prayerful.

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Fast Food Marketing and the Local Church

Have we, as American pastors, given up our calling as shepherds and unknowingly become fast food entrepreneurs who are building a religious business and not a church? Before I dive into this, let me first confess. I am the pastor of a church with several big buildings, one of them with a cafe and a bookstore that sells products. Our stage is backed by a huge high definition screen and surrounded by lights of every color.

In many ways, we are not unlike any other mega church in America because, we too, have used marketing techniques to attract a crowd on Sundays.  But, the internal conversations among our leaders are shifting. We want to be what Eugene Peterson calls “a company of pastors” and not a company of shopkeepers. Church is not a product to be consumed like a gym membership, but rather a holy gathering of sinners who are becoming saints because of grace.

This is a blog, not a doctoral thesis, so I am not trying to give complete answers to the three questions below. Instead, I am hoping to start some conversations and maybe some helpful debate. I will ask some questions here and give some of my thoughts. I hope to create a symphony of discussion that may be helpful to leaders who are brave enough and secure enough in their calling to honestly evaluate the way we are leading our churches. Also, this is not a slam on the fast food industry, of which, I am a big fan. In fact, I might starve to death if my driver side window ever broke.

Read the three questions and consider my thoughts and then give me your thoughts.

Question #1 – Is it wrong to use marketing for our church?

I don’t think marketing is evil or carnal, as long as we are not solely leaning on worldly principles while forgetting the primary disciplines that truly build the church. Prayer is the engine of church growth, followed closely by our personal witness to others. Praying people who know they are called to a local fellowship will bring others with them to the gatherings. Slick, four-color door hangers are fine, but passionate people who love their neighbors are the real church builders.

At New Life we have banners on the outside of our church to tell people what times we meet and, from time to time, we use local media to promote events. However, we are also convinced, it’s the unseen work of the Holy Spirit birthed in prayer that really gathers the lost, the hurting and the disenfranchised.

Question #2 – What do we REALLY want?

I emphasized REALLY, because I know what most church leaders would tell me if asked this question. They would say they want to make disciples, reach the lost, and help the hurting. And they probably do. But what I hear leaders talk about most are attendance numbers and because our mouth always betrays our hearts, I suspect we have focused too much on how many are attending rather than how many are growing.

We stopped emphasizing overall weekend attendance numbers about 18 months ago. We do not talk about it in meetings or in the hallways, but we do know how many were baptized, how many went on missions trips, how many joined small groups and how many became a part of the Dream Team, which is our group of servant leaders who lead inside and outside the church.

The result has been a liberating release from the temptation to compare ourselves to other churches and a freedom from the impulse to perform solely for numbers sake.

Question #3 – Do we really know the stories of our people?

Instead of telling me attendance numbers, I would like to hear about stories. In the sea of faces, there is a surplus of stories waiting to be told. Tell me about current accounts of redemption, healing, restoration and rescue. How many that arrived is a lot less compelling to me than how many are thriving.

In a neighborhood restaurant, there are lingering unhurried conversations about stories. In a fast food restaurant, there is a hurry to get to the next customer with short blurbs of discussions about a numbered meal on a well organized wall menu. Everything in a fast food restaurant is about efficiency and excellence. Time is the master and we are the slaves.

Church for the past 2000 years has been centered around the story of our Christ, pausing to remember him in the Sacraments and interludes to celebrate the stories of a persecuted but joyful people. It has always been about the gathering of the called out ones, not the gathering of potential customers who we hope will have a great consumer experience.

I do believe in excellence and efficiency, but not at the expense of relationships and stories. We can do both – tell stories and build relationships in a environment that is warm and inviting.

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Take Us Back to Wonder

The mysteries of God are not meant to frustrate us. Instead, what we don’t know about Him should call us back to a place of wonder and worship. We must continue to seek Him, to pursue Him and to discover new things about the character and nature of a God who loves us more than we can ever imagine.

If we ever believe we have God figured out, we will simply worship our theology or ideology. We will worship our image of God and slowly, over time, we will lose our enchantment of Him. Our dogmas would become our idols and we would immediately reject anyone who does not agree with our authoritative opinion.

Not long ago, someone complained to me that we are writing too many new songs and that we should just stick with the familiar tunes. That would be disastrous! We must write new songs and keep exploring and explaining to ourselves and to others what it means to know our fascinating Father. To be content with only the old songs would cause us to lose our wonder.

Journey with me and let’s keep pressing into His nature, His character and His love. Let’s turn our questions and disappointments into fuel for the furious pursuit of a God who thinks better than us and has plans far better than we have imagined or supposed. Worship is best when our wonder has not waned.

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The future of the local church

In the past ten years, I have witnessed remarkable changes in the local church and the coming decade will usher in even more transformations. While the ancient Sacraments will remain, everything else is up for debate. How we worship, when we gather, what is said, who is leading and where the gatherings happen will all undergo scrutiny and debate.

I have four predictions for the next decade of local church.

1. The places where we gather will become smaller

Every social and cultural trend is leaning toward the smaller, more intimate gatherings and away from the stadium worship experience. Mega churches that purposely create numerous worship settings that promote intimacy and community will see the most significant growth. There will always be a group of church people who will come to the big building, but if we want to see significant growth among skeptics and seekers, we must create less threatening venues for them to explore the issues of faith.

2. The church will be launched into real mission.

The local church is hungry to embrace the mission of the New Testament and this will only increase in the next decade. This next generation is tired of the hype of events and is eager to give their lives to something that requires sacrifice and results in biblical justice. They want to get their hands in the dirt of humanity and see real change in the communities where they live. They will come to the church building for some of the attractional events, but will get disillusioned quickly if these events do not result in real opportunities to serve their world.

3. The church will return to its ancient roots

If it’s new, it’s probably not truth. If its truth, it’s probably not new. I believe the ancient, yet simple recipe of local church will return. We will gather often, read the Scriptures, worship intently, pray fervently, be led by servants, live authentically, and honor the Sacraments. For sure, we will continue to be creative and inventive, but not at the expense of the ancient structure which has transcended all generations for over 2000 years.

4. The church will return to wonder and awe

The churches that embrace the supernatural nature of God will see the most growth and have the most influence in the coming decade. Good preaching, trendy stage sets, and clever videos will not be enough in the next ten years because people want to see God intervene more and more in the affairs of the earth with miracles and healings. Sound theology must prevail and we must not return to our sloppy Charismatic tendencies, but we must also embrace the mysterious and risky nature of God and not be afraid of wonder and awe. While the Holy Spirit may be unpredictable, the results are always predictable – people will find God, people will be healed and people will discover real freedom.

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