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The Greatest Gift People Give a Pastor

The Gift


       I remember the evening, a number of years ago, when this lady gave me just about the greatest gift I ever received as a minister. I was, and remain, overwhelmed by it.  I felt embarrassed to receive it.  I had done nothing to warrant a gift of that magnitude.  I knew that other members of my church would never be given a gift like that.  In fact, I was sure it was something I'd have never been given if I were not a pastor.
       And, interestingly, the whole episode started with some promises I made to a lady I did not know.  Here's the thing.  I don't exactly remember making those promises.  I didn't even know her name when I made them.  But, I'm sure I made them. 

Are Worship Ministers Real Ministers? It Depends....

Everybody is not Always as Involved in Worship as We Think
     Like Youth Ministers of previous decades, many Worship Ministers (or Worship Pastors) feel that not everyone sees them as "real" ministers.  Some have told me they feel the only time some people even talk to them is to complain about something that happened in worship.  Considering the amount of work, not to even mention years of education, that many of you put in every week, this sense of frustration is entirely understandable.
     But, as is also sometimes true of Youth (or Student) Pastors, the blame for this chasm of understanding about your role is not entirely their fault.  

How to Have the Greatest Worship Ever

For 25 years, I have researched a key question: What makes something the greatest worship experience ever?  

The Survey

Year after year, semester after semester, I have asked students the same thing: Tell me about the greatest worship experience of your life.

What the...?

So, I'm excited to report that I've discovered,  in order to church the unchurched, what we need are churches designed and staffed and marketed for people who don't like church.

Yep, a church for people who don't like church.  What kind of church do get you when get a church of people who don't like church?  Think outside the box.  

Modern Medieval Worship

Sometimes, 
good advice comes 
from unexpected places.

      The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were an era of tremendous achievements in art throughout Europe.  Nowhere was this more evident than in Italy.  Paintings, frescoes, and sculptures from that time still stand today as unsurpassed examples of beauty formed by the hand of man.  People of that time grew up in a world where visual art, including complex symbolism and representations, were widely understood.  A carving of a torch on the wall of the church was the Garden of Gethsemane.  The stylized lily of the fleur-de-lis was as much in honor of the Holy Trinity as it was the French monarchy.
       In Sunday worship, also, there was a great deal of emphasis on the beauty of the visual arts.  Church buildings were adorned in so many obvious and subtle depictions, in both painting and stonework, that a modern observer needs a very knowledgeable guide to see the rich complexity.  As Kieckhefer points out, it is literally a "theology in stone."
       Knowing this may help us understand one of the great oddities of Christian worship in that era.  Ordinary laypeople did not seem to do much of anything at all during worship.  

The Church without Christ


Adapted from a very short story...

     There was once a church without Christ.
      It was not a particularly wicked church.  It was not a church of militant agnostics raising angry hands against God.  It was not a church that had abandoned Christian truth for distorted heresies.  It was not even an unhappy church.  Indeed, it was a happy church filled with people who knew that there was a God in heaven and that Jesus was His one and only Son.  But, as I already noted, it was a church without Christ.

Nobody Does My Traditional

Missionary Baptist Church, Rawhide, Virginia
       "Why don't you play some worship music I like?"
       This normally should be translated to mean, "Why don't you play some worship music I grew up with."
       That's understandable.  Most people will always have a special affection for the worship music of their childhood.  A melody, even a style of music, can transport anyone to different places in the story of their own faith journey.  This is what Randy Garris has called our musical heart language. 
       So, everybody likes music from their childhood.  So, what will be it?  The 1970s?  Hey, let's do something by the Gaithers.  Or, maybe the 1950s?  Let's see, maybe something by George Beverly Shea.  The 1930s?  Wow, that's really getting back there, grandpa.  
       But, what if your "traditional" is a style and sound you're pretty sure no one in the church but him had ever heard?  

Sorry Church Music

       I really would like to hear some sorry church music this coming Sunday.  Honestly.  But, chances are, since I'm going to be in the worship service of an Bible-believing Evangelical church, I won't.  What a shame.

Meeting Needs


Meeting Needs
A Poem of Lament

In the empty darkness of a soul's great fall
When the siren song of ending whispers her seductive lies
When unseen angry voices press the mind to desperate silence
And from some small last bit of strength 
You find you are holding a phone

Patriotic Worship



     It is a question being asked repeatedly in church after church in this second decade of the twenty-first century.  Should the church be political? And, behind that, an even more controversial question: Should the church embrace American patriotism at all?
     In case you haven't noticed, take a look around you this Sunday when you go to worship.  If you see an American flag proudly displayed in the front of the sanctuary somewhere, chances are your church is more than thirty years old.  If you look around and see no American flag anywhere, chances are your church is less than twenty years old.  Now, this is far from a hard and fast rule.  There are many exceptions.  But, it is true enough to indicate a seismic shift in the assumptions churches have regarding their role in relation to the United States of America is underway.

If We Sang Reality in Church


       The music we hear and sing in church.
       This music often reflects the highest ideals of our faith.  From the church's repertoire of music emerge some of the greatest achievements of art and beauty in history.  In these lofty realms of glorious music Handel joyfully sings the songs of Issac Watts, while Graham Kendrick quietly plays the ancient plainsong chant on his guitar.
       In the church's songs of worship the people of God embrace the highest ideals of what the Christ-centered life is to be on earth, as it is in heaven.
       But, in a moment of wild abandoned, I found myself thinking, what if we changed the rules one Sunday. 

Worship: Party or Funeral? Let's do Funeral

       "It's Sunday morning," I happily announce to my wife, "What will it be today?  You want to go to a funeral or to a party?"
       "What do you think?"
       "Right.  Funeral it is then."

Can a Gay-Marriage be a Legal Marriage?

       The short answer to the question raised by the title is, "Yes."
        Now, I know that answer is provocative.  Bear with me in this rather long post.  I want to explain to you why, as a biblically conservative Christian, I believe the answer yes to the question in the title is true.  But, I also want to explain why this answer does not make gay-marriage morally acceptable.  Finally, I want to offer a surprising appeal:  the church should get out of the wedding business.    

The Pause Button

       Sabbath is rooted in a Hebrew word that can be translated, among other things, pause.
       As Eugene Peterson points out in one of my favorites of his many books, "Working the Angles," sometimes we need to stop our working so that we can begin to see His.
       I was recently visiting the small central Kansas of Greensburg, where my oldest son serves as a pastor.  The town was made famous by its nearly total destruction by a EF5 tornado and the later reality TV series, "Greensburg." (TJ and Julie are featured in a number of the episodes, by the way)  It is the kind of small town you can find all over the Great Plains of the central US.
       One unusual feature is the town has been a focal point of a number of new techniques in building for residents and small business that make maximum use of new building materials, geothermal heating/cooling, passive and active solar, and the like.  It is an odd mixture of an classic cowboy culture with high-tech green technology.
       Then there's the issue of the town's emergency siren.

Randy Garris: Music Means More than Just the Words

Randy Garris (College Heights Christian Church, Joplin, MO) offers an insightful and thought provoking article in the Christian Standard online edition on how each of us has our own collection of worship music through which we connect to our own faith's story and out of which we share a sense of belonging.


What Do You Say About Church Music?

Blue Moon, You Saw Me Standing Alone...


When I consider your heavens, 
the work of your fingers, 
the moon and the stars, 
which you have set in place, 
what is man that you are mindful of him, 
the son of man that you care for him? 
(Psalm 8:3-4)


August 1, 2012
written from Greensburg in Kiowa County, Kansas

This morning, as the eastern sky is slowly brightening with the early dawn, a bright golden full moon is slowly setting in the west.  The summer sky is already brightened enough that only the brightest stars (or are they planets?) can be seen.  But the bright full moon, giving the illusion of being larger and larger as it nears the distant flat horizon, draws my eyes and the wonder of my heart.

August 2012 is somewhat a rarity in months.  It will have two full moons.

Praying about the Role of Women in Worship

Although truth may exist objectively, we all are left to perceive it from within the envelope of our own subjective place.  Like looking through a very old glass window, there are ripples of distortion that shift if we make even the slightest movement to the left or right.  The transcript below of the conversational prayer of two leading members of the First Church of Relevance last Sunday morning reveals a few ripples.