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Posts from June 2010

Leading Boys Into Manhood at a Local Junior High

I've been leading men's ministry for years at our church and believe that every pastor must be active in this ministry of leading men into authentic manhood.

One of our church members, John Green, has been leading boys into the early stages of authentic manhood at a local school.  This club is legal in that it is not required and meets before school begins. It is just like any other club such as FCA, Student Venture, Chess Club, etc. What he is doing is incredible.  It lines up with all that we are teaching our men and since receiving an email from him last week, I know it is time for our men to partner with John and the "Gentlemen Gators" in this process.

Here's a portion of the email sent to me and one hundred other local pastors (with only three responding to him. . . interesting):

Dear Sirs:

My name is John Green and I am the vice principal at Lakeside Junior High here in Clay County. I wanted to share with you a very special program that God has blessed and to ask for your support and prayers as this group continues to do His work and spread the Good News. Three years ago a small group of men started a club called the Gentlemen Gators to teach young men, especially those without the guidance of an earthly father, how to be authentic men-not one of the world. Little did we know at the time that God was going to bless us and use this group in more ways than we could imagine. What started as a club turned into a mission field. We now understand that when the world says, "They've taken God out of our schools," we know, "He never left!" We now have a
Christ-based curriculum where we teach everything from compassion to forgiveness to humility to salvation and everything in between. Last year our young men served at SeaMark Ranch and Quigley House in addition to "adopting" a local widow and her young children by building a shed and playground for their needs. At our end-of-the-year ceremony at Club Continental, 24 young men-each year the number has grown-were "knighted" in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit right near the banks of the St. Johns River. They also each received a copy of Every Man's Bible engraved with their names. At our celebratory dinner, one young man stated, "I'll remember this night for the rest of my life," and then proudly patting the Bible in his lap stated, "And I'll keep this with me wherever I go." This is a young man who does not attend church and prior to joining our club did not know Christ. While our numbers are not huge, we believe even if one young man comes to know Him because of our group then it was worth all of our time and resources.

I am hereby asking that you present this to your church and missions group and to pray for us. While we meet before school on Friday mornings to avoid any conflicts the Enemy I am sure would love to shut us down.

John Green
We also are praying for Godly men to mentor these young men. If you know of anyone willing and able to meet with a young man every Friday morning, please have them contact me. And finally we are praying for the resources to continue our service in the community and to continue with our knighting. I want to thank you for "fighting the good fight" and know that you have Brothers here that support His will. Having been in schools now for 15 years, I am thoroughly convinced this is where the battle begins and we pledge to reach as many young men-and women, we have a sister group called the Lakeside Ladies--as possible. Thank you and God bless.

Men, are you willing to be REAL MEN for these boys?  Perhaps others?  I believe God is giving us this opportunity to move the teachings from Church for Men and Battle Ready into our community.  Let me know if you are ready for this adventure.

The Safest Place to Be Is In the Center of God's Will?

Well, I made the statement this morning that this Christian cliche' is wrong.  I'm sure that ruffled some feathers, but let me break it down a little more.

The quote that has made it's rounds in Christian circles for decades has it's origin with Corrie and Betsie ten Boom while they were held in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.  I had heard the statement before, but while reading Erwin McManus' book The Barbarian Way, I came across this . . .

"Jesus understood that His purpose was to save us not from pain and suffering, but from meaninglessness."

Erwin writes about the ten Boom's circumstances that evoked the statement.

Here's what Erwin says,: "Clearly neither of them concluded that this expression conveyed a belief that God would keep them from suffering hardship and even death. Betsie’s statement was a declaration that to walk in the character of Christ is always the right choice, regardless of outcome or consequence. We have somehow perverted this more primal understanding to a far more civilized one. Instead of finding confidence to live as we should regardless of our circumstances, we have used it as justification to choose the path of least resistance, least difficulty, least sacrifice. Instead of concluding it is best to be wherever God wants us to be, we have decided that wherever it is best for us to be is where God wants us. Actually, God’s will for us is less about our comfort that it is about our contributionGod would never choose for us safety at the cost of significance. God created you so that your life would count, not so that you could count the days of your life."

I agree with Erwin.  The statement has become perverted.  God has called us to dangerous, not reckless, faith.

OK, this morning I mentioned one of our church member's story of dangerous faith.  Eva Blann served with her husband John as missionaries in Africa years ago.  Her daughter Lois Crissinger has a blog where she shares about the her mother's life and I asked if I could share this little story about Mrs. Blann' and their life in Africa. This comes from Lois' blog:

Mom and Dad married after college and Dad left two weeks later for Africa without her. He traveled by freighter across the ocean in a zigzag pattern to avoid enemy subs. About two years later, Mom joined Dad in Liberia, flying over there alone to meet him. I asked her once, as only I can, to please try to tell me what it was like meeting your husband again after being apart for so long and having only been married for two weeks. No matter how hard I prodded to get her to give me details of stress, adjustment, etc., all she would say is, “you just do what you have to do”.

While in Liberia she became pregnant with their first child, my sister, Rosie. Here she is, young and alone – away from her mother, no cell phones, no email – and with a doctor who was really a veterinarian and had to look everything up in books. The only other woman available to her was the wife of the headmaster of the school where Dad was employed. Mom has often commented about the fact that God just took care of them because there were no doctors or hospitals available like there were when my own children were born.

They came home from Liberia and then returned to Northern Rhodesia. Here, my older brother was born…breech. My daughter has had two breech babies who were delivered by c-section. My daughter-in-law also had to have her breech baby delivered by c-section. My mother delivered Paul while he was in the breech position. Because they lived so far away from the hospital, she couldn’t wait until she went into labor but had to be taken there to wait to go into labor. When she arrived before Paul was born, the doctor fussed at her and asked why she hadn’t come in before for her appointments. She had…he was a different doctor and hadn’t seen her at any of the other visits to the hospital in Lusaka. He was scared about her condition and therefore the gruffness to her regarding the situation. She survived…obviously and thankfully!

Mom was very active in many of the aspects of the mission work. She helped in the school, teaching the women life skills, she helped in the hospital and learned medical skills that would give many of us pause!  She learned to give injections, bandage wounds and once assisted in sawing a woman’s arm off to save her life following a crocodile bite.

The following is an excerpt of a letter from a fellow missionary at the time.

ohn and Eva Blann pioneered the Gwembe Valley work in what was then Northern Rhodesia. They were there during the late 1940’s and the early 1950's for their first term. They were the first missionaries to take a motor vehicle down to the Zambezi River in the Gwembe Valley and then they built a Mission Station on the banks of the River and ministered to the Gwembe Valley people through schools and a hospital. They were the first white people to spend the rainey season in the Gwembe Valley and I could go on and on... 

It was while they were serving in the Valley that Dad built the grass hut they lived in while they were preparing to build a block house with thatch roof. This was the place where Mom was bitten on her finger by a puff adder snake. They were 200 miles from Lusaka (and the nearest hospital). The nurse that was serving with them in the Valley gave Mom all the anti-venom serum she had and they all piled into the Landrover (jeep)…Mom, Dad, Rosie, Paul and the nurse…and headed for Lusaka over dirt roads. Upon arriving at the hospital, the doctor declared that if she wasn’t already dead, she was probably going to make it. Many times on the trip there, Mom was sure that she wasn’t going to live. Miraculously, she lived, but her once beautiful hands were no longer intact. She lost the finger that the snake bit due to gangrene but that didn’t keep her hands idle. She learned to compensate and continued to type, play the piano and organ and all of the other normal tasks that she was called upon to execute.

Later, a snake got into the chicken house and swallowed a chicken and couldn’t get out because of the chicken inside of him. After the African boys killed the snake, Mom held it up in her bare hands for a picture. Dad wouldn’t go near it but we have a picture to prove her gumption.

They came back to the states in 1952 for a furlough. I was born during this time. At 33 years of age, she bravely returned to Africa with three children, one of them an infant of two months. She may have been brave but her mother wasn’t so thrilled that my parents were venturing out on an ocean liner with their infant granddaughter back to the land of scorpions and malaria.

Speaking of malaria, these hands of which I speak helped pour quinine down our throats to try to protect us from that disease. I remember my dad holding me in his arms and holding my nose as Mom waited for the open mouth, gasping for breath, to pour the dreaded medicine in. And when we did get sick, as all of us did, those same hands comforted and soothed us through our fevers. Her hands tucked our mosquito nets in at night to protect us from the mosquitoes that carried that disease.

Those precious hands drew outlines of our feet and sent them back to my grandmother in the states so that she could get us new shoes and send them back to Africa for us. (I just found one of those outlines in a file drawer today.) Often, by the time the shoes reached us, we may have already outgrown them.

Mom tells a story of a time when I was a baby and on the floor of the living room in our house in a make shift playpen. (Dining room chairs turned on their sides). She glanced across the room and to her horror she saw a snake not far from where I was playing. She grabbed me up and removed me to safety but I have often wondered why she didn’t just then and there, demand to remove her precious children to a safer environment!!! That is what “normal” parents would do, right? Would I have had that stamina to take those things in stride? Scorpions, snakes, malaria, etc.?

Another story I love to recall is how she protected my dad’s life. It may not have been in peril but I supposed it could have been. Dad was working with the African men to dig a well. There was some problem and someone needed to go down in the well to check things out. No one else would, so Dad did. The African men lowered Dad in a bucket. At some point they lost control of the rope and dropped Dad down into the well. They all panicked and ran because they thought they had killed the missionary. Mom became aware of what was going on and took control of the situation. She demanded they return and she instructed them on what to do to get him out. He was hurt, not seriously, but her quick thinking and commanding spirit was definitely helpful to Dad that day!

Mom worked on the business side of the mission station doing much of the necessary bookwork. She worked with the clothing that was sent out from the states to help distribute it among the natives. This was a regular occurrence and part of the mission responsibility.

I love these stories and there are many more.  Mrs. Blann attends worship every Sunday and lives in an assisted living facility on Kingsley Avenue.  She is such a great woman and life is still an adventure for her.

When "Worship" Keeps You From Worshiping

I saw this coming.  Maybe I'm a prophet.

Last Wednesday we held the first mid-week service for teenagers and adults.  It's called "The Well" and the intent is to offer a mid-week worship experience and Bible study that will challenge, encourage and equip us as believers to be God's ambassadors in the world.

Our teenager's have a strange weekly schedule this summer with camps, mission trips, and other activities occurring on Wednesdays, so that led us to offer this summer mid-week worship experience for all.  

It's a challenge, but while I know there are special programs and events that should cater to certain age groups (i.e. senior adult trips, parenting classes, youth DiscipleNow Weekends, etc.) stressing over worship can cause division within the body unlike any other thing.  The style and volume become the issue.

For those who came Wednesday night (of all ages) thank you for coming.  It is exciting to see senior adults, median age, young and college age adults as well as our teenagers together for study and worship.  Of course we're going to have to get you folks to sit closer to the center.  This was a shift from what normally is offered on Wednesdays, but knowing our attendance trends in the summer, we felt the need for something new for the next three months.

After the introductory service, our worship leader, Brandon Phillips and I sat down to discuss the first service and where we will be heading.  Brandon made some really incredible observations.  He truly is gifted as a worship leader and teacher and he brought up things I had not considered.  While the music may have been too loud for some in attendance (yes, I've heard from you :-)), and not loud enough for others (yes, I've heard that too), the lyrics to the songs were right on.  These weren't just trite little ditties put to music.  There is a depth to the lyrics that caused me to think deeply about Christ and my relationship to him.

Then Brandon shared this with me.  He stated that though he picked the songs and loves them, they can lead to more of a performance than a worship experience for many.  Our band was prayed up and practiced up and I am confident they were not just performing.  The challenging question is "Was the congregation led to worship?"  Some were.  Others were not.  The mid-week evening service is different than Sunday mornings or other weekend services in that many people are coming off a stressful, busy day.  The invitation from God is "Enter In" and that's what we echo.  We want the peace and joy of God to permeate our lives and the building we're meeting in.  We desire people to encounter Him - that is worship.  Music isn't worship.  It often is called that, but that's not what it is.  Music is music.  It's the heart that worships.  Our desire is not to set up any blocks that would keep folks from worshiping.  Always a challenge.  That's why this service is more than a service.

While a person can be led to a worship experience, they still must individually choose to worship.  

So, as we journey through this experience this summer, I ask first that you pray for our leadership team.  Our heart's desire is to lead people into a fresh experience with Holy God.  

Regarding this issue of worship style, I felt that I should share with you up front the particulars.  We will not allow the Enemy to use worship music preferences to cause any division within the Body.  There's too much at stake.  It's up to each of us to live lives of worship to the Lord and when we do come together, to seek to bless God through our worship.

Recently, Ed Stetzer, Director of LifeWay Research and Mike Harland, Director of LifeWay Worship, held an online dialog called "Worship: Reverence v. Relevance."  I've included it here, but it may be a slow video feed, so be patient.  I think what these guys have to say is key to understanding worship in the 21st century church.

Reverence vs Relevance from LifeWay Productions on Vimeo.

Here are Ed's statements from his blog regarding the "Worship Wars". I must agree with what Ed says except that I like country music and I was raised in the church, so I personally love the hymns.  I am not anti-traditional worship nor anti-contemporary worship. I can worship in both venues, but Ed's descriptions of worship and attitude are right on.

The reason worship wars exist is because the church thinks it is fighting for something permanent when it is actually temporary. Musical styles and service preferences are like a jacket that can be taken on or off depending upon the temperature. It is used only when needed. Worship as a theological reality is not fit for such pedestrian arguments. It is to exist in the heart of all people-- and it does. When we think we're debating styles and techniques and forms, we are really defending our own affections and deeply felt preferences. Most often we defend what is nostalgic rather than what is helpful. It's no wonder then that even attempts at ceasefires result in more fuel for the blaze.

I will lay my cards on the table: I was not raised in the church or in the subculture of the Bible Belt. I came to Christ at a later age and when I began my ministry it was with the urban poor in Buffalo, New York. I have been called by some "a son of the contemporary church movement." I don't know if that's necessarily true, but I know what it means. I do not have the traditional church DNA in me like so many others I've known, pastored, and appreciated.

So, it could be that it is hard for me to get inside the shoes of the traditional worship advocate. (Though ancient church music has now become a favorite on my iPod.) Or it could be that having come from an irreligious home in addition to my travels observing the worship practices of global Christians that I have a different perspective.

I won't deny I have personal preferences. For instance, it is clear that country and western music is not of God. (That's another joke; don't tell my friend Ricky Skaggs I said that.) Nevertheless, what I try to do is what we all should do in matters of preference and praise-- commit to the reality that worship is not ultimately about us.

And because worship is not about us, I don't think we end the worship wars in our local congregations merely by compromise. Compromise is noble; consensus is better. A truce just gets 100% of our church worshiping at 50%. It is not compromise we want, but unity. So how do we get to that ever-elusive goal, that aim Jesus laid out for us in His High Priestly Prayer in John 17? Here are five ideas.

1. Rally around Truth, Not a Truce

In the same prayer Jesus prayed that His church would be one (John 17:21-22), He prayed that they would be sanctified by the truth of God's word (John 17:17).

When we come at the worship discussion we have to back up a bit and adopt a good theological framework for our conversations, because the church too often leaps to the assumption that "music = worship." Or perhaps we frame it a bit more broadly and think in terms of a "worship service." But the truth is that worship occurs in the whole of life. We are never not worshiping; our affections are always oriented somewhere or to someone. Minimizing worship to a one hour experience on Sunday monrings, or further down to merely the time of music in that experience, means many of us only dedicate thirty minutes of each week to worship of Christ. When we practice this minimization, it means that the rest of the time we're worshiping someone else (usually ourselves).

It is a harsh accusation to make, but as our music and production skills have increased, our worship has suffered because we have engaged in them as the outpouring of self-worship. So we must remember that worship is for every hour of every day of every week. Our lives are to be oriented to the worship of God. And the chances are, if we thought of worship that way, we would not put so much personal stake in hearing our favorite style of music on Sunday mornings. The entirety of our worship would not be loaded into that slice of time.

Holding personal preferences loosely allows for greater unity in the body and advancement of God's mission. The truth God seeks is that we rally to the cause of His glory among the nations rather than deciding is we will have two hymns and three choruses or three hymns and two choruses this Sunday.

2. Acknowledge that Preferences are Personal

I have witnessed the angst around worship music firsthand. I think that in some churches, a pastor could get away with preaching heresy so long as he's cool, funny, and has a good video clip. But if a pastor tries to alter the worship style, it is time to start looking for a new job.

This works both ways, for the favorers of so-called "contemporary praise" and the adherents to more traditional worship music. Neither appears willing to give up ground, and they have planted their flags in either Relevance (for the contemporary folks) or Reverence (for the traditionalists). (Hence, the name of the dialog in the video at the top of this post.)

In many churches where a worship war is brewing or is in outright conflict, one group perceives themselves to be pushing forward toward the next generation (relevance) while another is trying to pull back to a once-honored method (reverence). One group thinks contemporary music or a more casual style will suit the modern generation and appeal more to the lost. Meanwhile the other group thinks all of that is just worldly compromise and, furthermore, arrogant to casually dismiss the styles that have served the church well, in some cases, for hundreds of years.

When either of these scenarios occurs it is usually because we have elevated our preferences to the level of principles. We are "taking a stand" for something important: our own comfort, convenience, and concerns. And all the while we're trying to give God his due or the lost people in the pew it turns out we're really just making worship about us.

3. Realize that Relevance and Reverence Are Not at War with Each Other

What those who push forward should realize is that relevance is not a goal; it is a tool. It is not the end, but one (of many) means to the end. Relevance for relevance's sake never helped anybody. Playing a shocking song at the front of your Easter service may get headlines and upset religious people, but that's about all it does. Having rock music fans think you're a cool church is not the "win" you're really looking for. A smart church will be culturally discerning, but always biblically-driven first.

On the other hand, the traditionalists' placement of reverence on external styles is also wrongheaded. Reverence is not first and foremost an outward expression. It is a quality of the heart. Of course, it results in outward expressions, but take the story of David dancing before the Ark, for example. His free mode of worship was a scandal to Saul's daughter Michal, who was watching from afar. David's heart was turned reverently to the Lord, and this provoked a physical celebration from him. It sure looked irreverent to another. Many times today shouting, clapping, and dancing are seen as disorderly or irreverent or self-indulgent, but all three of those modes of worship are seen in Scripture though curiously absent from "reverent" worship services.

At the heart of many of our worship wars is, sad to say, idolatry. Our worship of things other than God drives the way we contend for ways to worship God. When reverence is equated with austerity, it can reveal an idolization of familiarity and comfort and control. When relevance is equated with a production carte blanche or "freedom of expression," it can reveal an idolization of trendiness and self and showmanship. Both relevance and reverence can cloak idolatry of cultural forms and expressions.

In both cases, what is revealed is an idolatry of music. And music is just... well, music. As my colleague Mike Harland, president of LifeWay Worship has said, "You will never achieve spiritual goals with a musical means." We see music as important in Scripture but never a particular form or function as necessary for discipleship. And never does God dictate a particular style, rhyme pattern, or lyrical format.

4. Embrace Humility

The evangelical church needs a ceasefire on fighting over cultural forms. A focus on biblical meanings will add a healthy dose of humility to our churches.

When I was young in the ministry, I was charged with ministry to both youth and seniors (go figure). One day I was going to lead worship at a nursing home. So, I took my guitar. I'll never forget this 92 year old woman, Miss Langley, who put her hand on my arm and said "Don't worry about the guitar, young man, we're just gonna sing and you can sing with us." I was bringing a relevance they didn't need, and I had to be mature enough to see the hindrance I was about to become.

Imagine what would happen if worship warriors actually took on the attitude of Jesus (per Phillipians 2) and did not regard their agendas as something to be grasped but instead took on the posture of servanthood. What if we (per Romans 12:10) actually tried to outdo one another showing honor? Humility is a "win" for every worshiper.

5. Cultivate Consensus, Not Compromise

We have to be mature enough to worship in different ways, even in someone else's ways. The so-called "blended service" has a typical formula of two songs for me and two songs for you and one song for that other guy. I think it is a sign of carnality and a lack of community in worship. Many times the blended worship service doesn't please anybody but maybe the pastor who has given up trying to cultivate consensus. The blended service is an equal opportunity to anger everyone. It can be a sad compromise.

I also believe we need to be careful about multiple services with specialized genres. What is the motivation? Is the division a compromise? We need to be cautious about pandering to the consumeristic side of Western Christianity. We need to ask ourselves what our motivation is, and be honest with our answer. If we're being mission-focused, that's a good and worthy goal. But if we're market-focused (and Christians are the market), we are off track.

If you go the blended or alternative service route, please do so not because you made a truce, but because you stuffed your egos and decided to glorify God for the sake of reaching your community in a language they understand; Spanish, biker, redneck, liturgical, or whatever.

Do the traditionalists appreciate the contemporary songs? Do the relevantists appreciate the hymns? Do they love each other? Do they see these differing forms as acceptable forms of worship?

Pastored well, a healthy congregation will seek consensus on the positives of God's glory and mission rather than settle for compromise on the negatives of personal preferences and styles. A church in consensus would rather have Jesus than the hymn "I'd Rather Have Jesus." A church in consensus will sing of God's greatness rather than need "How Great is Our God" as their anthem. Music will not bring unity in of itself. Worship brings unity. So long as it is the worship of Jesus.

You can read more by Ed at