Archive for June 2012

Where the connection happens

June 30th, 2012 — 9:56am

Any church that has ever wrestled with the issue of what it takes to grow (there are, incidentally, churches that don’t wrestle with this: they think growth is 100% the Holy Spirit’s business, thus planning for growth is a waste of time, which could explain why they don’t grow, but that’s not what this blog post is about) has confronted the question whether its worship is “accessible” or “relevant” to the unchurched and/or the underchurched. Ought a Christian worship service to be “contextualized” so those who don’t know Jesus (and may know almost nothing about the Bible, Christianity, or this thing called “the church”) can feel like they “connect” to it?

To be clear, if the answer to this question is yes, it’s going to be very hard to justify any sort of traditional, much less liturgical, form of worship. Very, very few unchurched or underchurched people in the modern world, especially if they’re under the age of 35, are going to walk into a traditional or liturgical service and say, “Yeah, I get what’s going on here.” Most such people have never in their lives heard a psalm or hymn; they’ve never sat and listened to anyone other than a college professor talk at them for 30–40 minutes (and it totally put them to sleep); they haven’t the foggiest notion what atonement, grace, propitiation, justification, sanctification, theology, depravity, holiness, or even salvation mean; and they don’t see the point in a bit of bread and wine that are supposed to be about a crucified Jewish woodworker named Jesus. It doesn’t work for them. It doesn’t connect. And since I happen to be a church planter in a church that practices liturgical worship, this matters to me. Admittedly, I’m biased. But hear me out.

I don’t think worship is where an unchurched or underchurched person is initially supposed to “connect” to the church. It may indeed happen that way. It’s even likely to happen if you have a rock band play the worship music, all the songs sound like popular radio, your preacher talks for ten minutes about movies, and you serve iced cappuccinos in the lobby. Admittedly, this brings its own complications: not least, that you’ll have to keep changing your worship track to keep up with the radio; and at some point it might be important to explain to your new friend that meeting with the Almighty God isn’t supposed to feel quite like a U2 concert; but be that as it may. If you practice traditional or liturgical worship, by contrast, I’d say it’s unusual if a non-churched person walks in and immediately “connects.” I’m also saying that’s okay.

The reason it’s okay is that hard-core Christian worship should have the “feel” of a called-out covenant people meeting with their sovereign covenant God; reenacting the great story of His saving grace in the world; and being called, cleansed, equipped, and commissioned to carry out His mission in the world. If this feels immediately “relevant” to an outsider, I would wonder if it’s being done properly. But that doesn’t mean the outsider shouldn’t connect to the church at all; what I’m proposing is that the connection will usually start elsewhere.

Where? In the everyday life of God’s covenant people. Worship isn’t normally what convinces outsiders of the “relevance” of the church; worshipful lives are what convince them of this. One missional writer has said that people often belong to the church before they believe in Jesus. That makes complete sense: if outsiders don’t feel like they have a connection to God’s people, how on earth are they going to feel a connection to the worship these people offer to their God? I’m not (again) saying that it can’t happen (we need, for example, to work out the implications of 1 Corinthians 14:24–25), only that the normal order of things is to be impressed with God’s people before one is impressed with Him. “You are My witnesses,” and so forth.

You, dear saints, are the relevance of the church to the world. Not first your pastor’s sermons, not first the worship music and anthems of Zion, not first the Table of the Lord (though these things should be tasteful and attractive, and pastors in particular must preach as men convicted that the gospel is the most relevant thing on the planet, because it is). You are the epistle known and read by all men, even if they never darken the door of a place of worship. And if they don’t discover the relevance of the church in knowing you – in your loving service, in your gracious friendship – the lights aren’t likely to go on just because you haul them to a worship service.

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Our daily taste

June 28th, 2012 — 4:43pm

“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men – to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve thee as thou hast blessed us – with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.” (Capon, Supper of the Lamb, pp. 27– 28)

Comment » | Hearth and Home

Met for themselves

June 28th, 2012 — 4:36pm

“Things must be met for themselves. To take them only for their meaning is to convert them into gods – to make them too important, and therefore to make them unimportant altogether. Idolatry has two faults. It is not only a slur on the true God; it is also an insult to true things.” (Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, p. 20)

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

Music and the romantic self

June 28th, 2012 — 12:25pm

“The caricature of the ‘creative artist,’ estranged, unconventional, professionally eccentric, anxious about listening too closely to the voices of others in case it deafens him or her to his or her own inner creative urges and surges, is, of course, a caricature, but sadly not without its contemporary representatives. And, as we have seen, the ‘postmodern self,’ a descendant of the romantic self, is perhaps most clearly seen in the contemporary consumer of music, for whom music (in fleeting and ever-new forms) becomes, above all, a means to satisfy the desire for immediate sensual stimulation and, through the very act of consumption, a means to establishing at least a minimal sense of identity.” (Jeremy S. Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, pp. 268–69)

Comment » | Poets, Painters, and Playwrights

One and many

June 27th, 2012 — 11:05am


A basic problem of human society is how to move from singularity (single instrument) to diversity (multiple instruments) without creating disharmony, and how harmony can be sustained without compromising diversity (resolving to a mere unison).


Comment » | Life Together

Unfit for love

June 20th, 2012 — 11:24am

Those who cannot embrace deep disappointments without bitterness are unfit for love.

Comment » | Life Together


June 14th, 2012 — 8:48am

Following Jesus means:

– Hungering so others may eat
– Being empty so others may be fulfilled
– Hurting so others may heal
– Being weakened so others may be strengthened
– Weeping so others may laugh
– Being made low so others may be raised up
– Laboring so others may rest
– Being humbled so others may be honored
– Dying so others may live

If this isn’t a road you’re willing to walk, you’re looking for a messiah other than Jesus.

Comment » | Gospel and Kingdom

Ingratitude hiding behind

June 13th, 2012 — 10:12am

“A true desire for growth in oneself or others, or in the effectiveness of our ministries, can be misshapen by a combination of restlessness, lack of fidelity, and ingratitude hiding behind a ‘prophetic’ posture. We surely want congregations to grow in faithfulness and maturity, but they can suffer profoundly under people who misunderstand the ways to challenge a community toward deeper vision or fuller commitment.” (Christine Pohl, Living into Community, p. 21)

Comment » | Life Together

Gratitude and community

June 12th, 2012 — 3:46pm

“Gratitude is . . . vital to sustaining communities that are holy and good. Part of the recent emphasis on gratitude or giving thanks is surely a response to the epidemic of complaint, envy, presumption, and dissatisfaction that undermines human relationships and plagues many communities. These forms of ingratitude are deadly: they kill community by chipping away at it until participants long to be just about anywhere else. While gratitude gives life to communities, ingratitude that has become established sucks out everything good, until life itself shrivels and discouragement and discontent take over.” (Christine D. Pohl, Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, p. 18)

Comment » | Life Together

Colossians and R2K

June 7th, 2012 — 1:57pm

Huge kudos to Justin Borgor for this post. An excerpt to whet the appetite:

“Paul’s ‘totalizing rhetoric’ in Colossians with regard to bearing fruit in every good work provides the biblical basis for a strong critique of those who would seek to reduce the mission of church to just a few ‘spiritual’ activities (e.g., preaching the word and observing the sacraments), as does Jesus’ command to teach his disciples to observe literally ‘all’ (Matthew 28:20) his commandments in the Great Commission. Indeed, taking the sweeping significance of what it means to observe ‘all’ that Jesus has commanded seriously will require that we return to a much more integrated view of life and discipleship in which the physical, moral, financial, spiritual, aesthetic, political, sexual, rational, ecological, psychological and other orders of our creaturely existence fully interpenetrate one another, in contrast to the modern myth that these can be treated as separate categories.”

Comment » | Of Worship and Work

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