“Shout to the Lord” on American Idol

Now, I have to admit I am long since tired of the song "Shout to the Lord" but it was a pleasant suprise to hear it as a featured song on last night's "Idol Gives Back" show and as the lead performance of the result show tonight.  What struck me the most about the song was hearing performed in the "Idol" setting.  It was the perfect example of how the lines between the sacred and secular are blurring.  Sure, there were probably some that were offended at the blatant use of Jesus' name in a popular television show, but I think for most it probably seemed quite natural.  People are open to Jesus and open to spirituality but are becoming more and more skeptical of the church as we know it.

I try very hard to observe culture deeply and I am working hard at learning to ask better questions.  So as I was observing this collision between church and pop culture and the question that I can't help but ask is, what can we learn about being the Church from something like "Idol Gives Back?"  I'm not talking about musical styles or light shows or over the top personalities.  I'm talking about things like where the Church should be spending our time and resources beyond the worship gathering.  We don't have a platform the size of American Idol, but how might we through the efforts of our local church communities impact the world, using our blessings to be a blessing to others?

Any thoughts?

Living Out-Carnationally – Journal Reflection

By living incarnationally we not only model the pattern of humanity set up in the Incarnation but we also create space for mission to take place in organic ways.In this way mission becomes something that ‘fits’ seamlessly into the ordinary rhythms of life, friendships, and community and is thus thoroughly contextualized. Thus these ‘practices’ form a working basis for genuine incarnational mission. But they also provide us with an entry point into an authentic experience of Jesus and His mission.

This quote is from a blog entry by Alan Hirsch from earlier this month. At first glance, the title might imply that Hirsch is simply trying to create a new word (I'm tired of new words that are simply playing on other buzz words), but the article is really about living out incarnational ministry. Incarnational ministry, according to Hirsch, "essentially means taking the church to the people rather than bringing people to the church." Last spring while I was on internship I had a conversation with a neighbor who was not connected to any church. We were talking about the church in general and how the church I was serving was struggling to grow and he said that he doesn't understand why the church is so set on trying to get people to come to them. He said, "There are a whole lot more people not in church than in. Why doesn't the church just spend their time going where those people are instead of expecting everyone to show up on Sunday morning?" He, of course, did not recognize the importance of the gathering to equip and send God's people, but his point is well taken. We have long considered the Sunday morning worship gathering as the primary evangelistic entry point. We have made it in many settings "seeker friendly" and we have challenged our people to invite their "unchurched" friends to these gatherings. I'm not saying this bad or wrong necessarily, but I think we need to consider how we spend the rest of our time. In the post, Hirsch describes the missional efforts of a few communities. He says,

In the Seattle/Tacoma region, two churches (Soma and Zoë) have chosen to collaborate in reaching students and musicians by actively moving into the social rhythms of these groups and ‘de-churchifying’ their previous expressions of ministry. In order to do this they have rented and purchased buildings and developed them as night clubs, coffee shops, and have established recording studios with direct links to the various musicians in the area. Zoë in particular has taken drastic measures to limit the attractional appeal of the ministry in order to wean members off the consumptive attendance at a ‘service’ and to get them all involved in local expressions of mission. Whilst passive attendance at services is down, the community is now highly engaged in various expressions of local community and the missional reach has been significantly increased through incarnational practices. They all feel that they are now much closer to what it means to be disciples in community.

For so long the measuring stick has been "worship attendance", which if we are being honest can have as much to do with the offering generated as anything else. Are we willing to develop different ways of keeping score? How do we better measure ministry "success" without attaching it to the bottom line?

Technology and the Church

I am very interested in the use of electronic media and technology in the church. Yesterday I came across this short bog post that sparked a few thoughts.

Click Here for the full post.

Mark Batterson is the Sr. Pastor at National Community Church in Washington DC. They are a large multi-site church that meets in movie theaters along metro stops around DC. The only permanent meeting space they have is a coffee shop called "Ebenezer's" on Capitol Hill. Last year I spoke to one of their pastors who shared that their primary evangelism efforts are done via internet. He called it "e-vangelism". They are very intentionally going into the "virtual" world where people spend ridiculous amounts of time and trying to connect with them through the internet. They webcast their service as part of that outreach.

I don't believe that watching a webcast of a worship service is anywhere near the same experience as physically gathering in worship, but I also think that we might learn something from those folks who are using this powerful medium of the internet to plant the seeds of relationships. In the blog post Batterson says,

"For what it's worth, 54% of our attenders visited theaterchurch.com before coming to a service. This is old news but a healthy reminder: your website is the front door to your church! It's your first impression. Especially with our demographic–about 66% of NCCers are single twenty-somethings."

Those stats are particularly striking to me considering the results of the recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Our natural tendency as human beings, I think, is to look at technology and immediately (and sometimes only) consider what it is going to make obsolete because it often threatens our comfort zone. Email is going to make snail mail obsolete…electronic books are going to make "real" books obsolete… chat rooms are going to make face-to-face conversations obsolete…PowerPoint is going to make hymnals obsolete…etc. There are certainly cases where this is true. The new medium is simply more effective or more efficient than the old and the old becomes obsolete. Cassette certainly made 8-track tapes and Vinyl (although some would argue vinyl has never adequately been replaced) obsolete and then CDs have done the same to cassettes. The question of what a particular technology or medium will obsolesce, however, is only one question to ask of our media and technology. Marshall McLuhan (google him if you don't know who he is) identified four things to consider when evaluating the use of any technology:

  1. Determine what the technology enhances.
  2. Find out what, if anything, the technology makes obsolete.
  3. Figure out what the technology retrieves.
  4. Determine what the technology reverts into when pushed to the limit.

I think all of these are important to consider when we think of using technology in the church or in any frame of life. Looking again at the internet, you would be hard pressed to find any church leader that would say the preferred way to be the church is on the internet. Even LifeChurch.TV who has an "internet campus" ultimately views the internet as a means to make connections with people that will hopefully lead to face-to-face meetups. Going back to the question of "what does this technology obsolesce?" If this is the only thing we consider in our use of technology, then we may miss the possibility of what that same technology might enhance or retrieve that was lost with the use of any prior technology.

This is turning into a book. Sorry. If you want to read a book on the subject, I highly recommend The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture: How Media Shapes Faith, the Gospel, and Church by Shane Hipps.

Defining Missional and Organic

This was a helpful article from Alan Hirsch

He offers some good clarification of over-used (yet often misunderstood) terms. IE:

What does the term missional mean to you?

Well, that's one of those very difficult terms because it's so widely used. But for me, it primarily refers to a church that organizes itself around the mission of God, or the misseo dei, which refers to God's involvement in the world—his redeeming it to himself. In The Forgotten Ways, I say that it's not so much that the church has a mission, but that the mission has a church. So when I think of the term "missional church," it's in that order—that a church has somehow bonded itself or identified itself as a primary agent of the mission of God in the world.

What about the term organic?

Of course that one has been made famous by Neil Cole, but organic for me is the idea that human organizations—just like living systems—are made up of very complex structures, and they have a life of their own. It's a term that's in contrast to a more mechanistic view of organization. So when I refer to organic systems, I'm thinking of a type of leadership and organization that is closer to the rhythms and structures of life itself.

An organic church goes with the natural flow of things. It doesn't try to perpetuate its life beyond what it's meant to be, which is different than most organizations. Most organizations tend to assume that once they've been started, they need to be perpetuated continually.

I found these definitions useful.  As I continue to study the "missional church" I am amazed at how many fundamentally different definitions there are floating out there.  This quote, "it's not so much that the church has a mission, but that the mission has a church" I believe identifies a very real issue for many churches.  Church leaders will spend countless hours and meetings hashing out the details of a mission statement for the church when truly the mission has already been given to us by God.  Maybe we should spend those hours trying to figure out how we can best partner with God in God's mission instead.