All posts written by Sean

Your Worship Service is B-O-R-I-N-G!

This summer we’re revisiting some of the most popular posts from the first half of this year. This one was surprisingly talked about.

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There’s a reason your church isn’t more creative.

It’s not just that your pastor and worship arts director aren’t creative or visionary or forward-thinking. I’m sure that’s true in some cases, but most churches are boring because of The Olive Garden Problem.

But First a Story

A friend of mine who preaches for a fairly traditional Church of Christ recently ran headlong into a problem he hadn’t anticipated. For the uninitiated, Church of Christ worship services are typically a cappella and tend to adhere to a fairly predictable form. There’s not a lot appreciation for difference or, quite frankly, room, to explore, change, or interject creative elements into the worship service – even if those elements are historically Christian. For some, worship elements need to be historically Church of Christ (my Baptist friends tell me they have the same issue).

Anyway, my friend’s congregation went through an expensive and lengthy evaluation process and, long story short, “Inspiring Worship” ranked the lowest of all the areas evaluated. He wasn’t devastated, but he was upset. I get that.

The problem is that he’s hamstrung. Locked-in. Cornered.

Due to his particular church’s practices (some borne of belief, others borne of tradition, and still others borne out of a nonsensical allegiance to things that don’t matter), there’s nothing he could change to make his church’s worship better. There is no element of worship his church could add or take away without causing a firestorm. And as you know, upsetting people is the unforgivable sin (sarcasm mine).

That’s the Olive Garden Problem.

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Creative Tension, Women Preachers, and What It Takes To Change Anything

This summer I’m re-posting some of the most read and shared posts from 2013. This one, on tension and women and ministry, generated much conversation. A friend even shared with my his mother’s concern for my eternal soul. I don’t say that in jest or mockery. Women in spiritual leadership is an important leadership to nearly everyone I know. We should treat the matter thoughtfully, with sensitivity, and with a view towards God’s eternally purposes.

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I think tension is good.

It’s not fun. Or easy. Or even comfortable, but it’s good.

Think of your thumb – to use the most commonly used metaphor. The reason your hand works so effectively is because of your opposable thumbs. Your thumb allows you to grip, grab, and strangle – should you be so inclined…and homicidal. Your life would be much more of a struggle, and much less productive, without the tension your thumb creates.

The same is true when it comes to church, change, holding onto necessary and important traditions, and moving forward in other important ways. We (the church) would ultimately be less productive and useful without tension.

Why do I bring this up?

Because from time to time, the church – on the local, denominational, or universal level – has to hash things out. We have unresolved issues – women, sexuality, Neo-Calvinism, the role of leadership, politics, evangelism, etc… that we need to come to terms and deal with. And while there are many folks who would prefer the church to paper over discordant topics, if we don’t deal with them publicly and passionately, the church will never become what God intends. This is why we need tension.

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On Speech, Silence, and Things That Matter

This summer, as I plan for the fall and spend time with family, I’m re-posting some of the more popular blog posts from the first half of the year. I’ve been blown away by the response as new readers find the blog and long-term friends revisit the conversation. Please read, enjoy, and share widely.

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Your mouth is a big problem. So is mine.

One of the more difficult disciplines humans have to master is practicing the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. We are taught, “there is…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak (2:7b).” We can all attest to moments when we should have done one, but instead choose the other to our own detriment.

Over the last few days, many people have spoken publicly about a tweet sent out by John Piper. A week before that, Pat Robertson sounded off about infidelity and a week before that, Mark Driscoll had some interesting thoughts on driving an SUV. Each set the Christian blogosphere and cable news.

I’m not concerned with Piper, Robertson, or Driscoll’s words here, but rather the question of why so many responded to them publicly. For many people, highlighting Piper’s quickly deleted quotation from Job, and Robertson’s and Driscoll’s words, was unnecessary and divisive. It gave them more publicity, which accentuated the negative.

Likewise, many believe that whenever a publicly known celebrity pastor or Christian group, like Westboro Baptists, spouts unhelpful words, we should ignore it. Rather we do better to focus on our own theology and the good so many Christians are faithfully saying and doing around the world.

I get that. I understand the impulse to disregard, to sweep it under the rug, and let the our brighter lights shine. There is a place for that. My difficulty with this approach, though, is that in doing so allows the most dangerous, hurtful, and damaging words and ideas to implant themselves as the norms for Christianity. My desire here is not to convince anyone to take a particular approach to dealing with these upheavals, but to articulate some of the reasoning why those who publicly voice their concerns feel compelled to do so.

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Making Disciples: The Problem & Promise of Spiritual Formation

I’m taking a few days for rest and reflection with my family. This week I’ll be reposting some of my favorite guest posts dealing with spiritual formation. You cannot read these and reflect on them too many times.

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I find myself very unlike Jesus. You probably are too. The church I knew as a kid was wonderful. I loved it, and love it still. But I have come to believe that a failure to sufficiently understand what it means to make disciples existed in that church, and that correcting this failure could help many people take hold of blessings that God wants us to enjoy. The following story, a strong memory of mine about church one Sunday, might help explain what I mean.

I was about ten or twelve years old, attending the A&M Church of Christ, and we worshipped one particular Sunday in the large high school gym. Before the event, we invited other area churches and took out an ad in the local paper. We wanted lots of people to know that we were going to have worship in the gym on that particular Sunday. It was very well attended, and lots of people “went forward” following the sermon. I don’t remember the name of the preacher who was brought in for this event, but he made an impression on me. I remember one moment when he was discussing how terrible it would be to look across that great divide between heaven and hell and meet the eye of a hell-tormented friend I had known from life and realize that I never took the time to tell them about Jesus. The preacher was trying to impress upon us the importance of making disciples. One of the reasons my church scheduled this event was, no doubt, to make disciples.

I agree that it is important to make disciples, but I worry that my tradition never properly informed me about what a disciple is, nor how to go about making one. I knew that a disciple was a follower or student of Jesus, but I never reflected on what it really meant to be Jesus’ student. I can be a student in Mrs. Evan’s math class without ever caring a lick about math and without ever trying to be like Mrs. Evans. As a result, it took a long time for me to grasp a mature picture of what it means to be a student of Jesus. Unlike being a student of Mrs. Evans, one cannot be a student of Jesus without coming to care a great deal about what Jesus taught and who he is, nor can one be a student of Jesus without making progress in becoming like him.

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“Shhh” is the Prevailing Wisdom & You Should Question It

“Shhh…” might be the most powerful word in the English language.

“Shhh…don’t rock the boat.”

Shhh…hold your tongue.”

“Shhh…people aren’t ready for that.”

Shhh…some people don’t like what you’re saying.”

“Shhh…you don’t want to cause people trouble.”

Don’t Upset Anyone

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