worship Posts

Millennials, Worship, and the Church

Recently, Relevant Magazine posted an excellent article by Sarah Held Evans, entitled, The Church Needs to Stop Pandering to Trends . As usual Sarah brings her gracious and thoughtful perspective, representing many millennials’ views of the church. She points out what I’ve observed for years; “Millennials are not looking for a hipper Christianity. They’re looking for a truer Christianity”. Surely Jesus surrounded Himself with mostly uncool people, in the eyes of the world. They were more like misfits, outcasts, the under-resourced, and the marginalized. God has always chosen people like that. It’s possible for young people in some churches today to believe that being “cool” is a prerequisite to being “Christian”. Jesus taught nothing like this.

My specific love and concern is for the congregation that I’ve been called and am privileged to shepherd, the Park Cities Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas I hope my thoughts here will be helpful for other pastors and leaders who are seeking to guide their congregations toward God-honoring worship as well. Many pastors I talk with believe that our attention has turned to non-core issues and way too much time is spent talking about secondary matters. Of course this is nothing new to the church. But a hyper-focused return to the Gospel is our only solution. This is why I constantly seek to keep the attention on what matters most: Christ, the Good News of His rescuing grace, and the attempt to join Him in the renewal of all things. Even still, conversations around forms, styles, music, space and such, though non-core, can be helpful.

Please read the above link to Sarah Evan’s post and particularly the Barna Research that prompted her article. I read over this research in November of last year (it was first released 10/2013). It was Luke Sammons, our High School Minister, who pointed me/our team to it. It very much confirmed our direction, and what we knew: Praise God for the amazing worship space that He has given us at PCBC! For those unfamiliar, we worship in our Sanctuary , built about 60 years ago, our gym , constructed about 50 years ago (and remodeled about 4 years ago), and in our Great Hall completed about 10 years ago. Our own local community survey conducted by Auxano confirms the information found in the Barna Research. The survey of our local context also focused on sermon content, driving values, programs and ministry preferences. It also revealed that corporate worship that includes classic/more formal elements, such as a choir, and worship that is led by a band/praise team, are both desired by people in our demographic. Our local survey revealed what the Barna survey shows on a national level: Millennials are drawn to a mix of “casual”, “classic”, “quiet”,”down to earth”, “modern” elements, and participatory/experiential worship. Our study confirms much of what we’re doing at PCBC and also points to what we wrestle with each week: Our Great Hall, though excellent space, is a wonderful speaking room but not the best worship/singing room (it’s challenging acoustically). Our team has been aware of this and is working to improve the congregational singing in the room. As a result, we’re singing better in the Great Hall than we ever have. Our Sanctuary, on the other hand, is an amazing singing room, but I sometimes hear from members who have trouble hearing the spoken word. We are constantly seeking to improve that as well, and progress has been made. Praise God for our wonderful tech team.

The trend Sarah Evans is referencing is one of millennials moving toward a more classic (in her case, Episcopalian) liturgy and a desire for a broader, historical connection to the Church. She says,”I think our reasons for leaving church are more complicated, more related to social changes and deep questions of faith than worship style or image.” “We need to creatively re-articulate the significance of the traditional teachings and sacraments of the church in a modern context.” I agree with her. We must continue to be creative with each new generation to re-articulate, to help them re-discover, the ancient and timeless truths of the Gospel through all we do.

Sarah left the evangelical church because of a growing need for things, “like space for silence and reflection, a focus on Christ’s presence at the Communion table as the climax and center of every worship service, opportunities for women in leadership and the inclusion of LGBT people.” I love her openness and desire for grace to all people, but I think we would disagree with her on several points. I like to remind millennials and church planters that “we didn’t just show up yesterday”; that we are part of a powerful heritage, and this critical connection helps us know who we really are in Christ and where we fall in His ongoing mission in our world. We see locally what Sarah is referencing (and what the survey points out) in churches like the The Church of the Incarnation near Uptown, in Dallas, reaching lots of millennials through historical liturgy (the Apostles Creed, Common Prayer, weekly communion), and a more open, generous orthodoxy. In terms of style or form, in the end it’s a blend of ancient liturgy, sacred space, modern instrumentation (primarily acoustic), and a more casual dress, perceived as more “authentic”, raw, down-to-earth in its expression. Like us, and other churches reaching across the generations, the Church of the Incarnation offers multiple service options. We’re also seeing churches like Watermark Community Church that are reaching millennials by the thousands through very modern expressions. Not surprisingly, in our own context at PCBC, we see that our more contemporary forms are reaching a younger crowd as well. We also see some younger couples drawn to our traditional forms. Most of our preferences in worship are tied to our past experiences. What we’re seeing in our day is that fewer and fewer worshippers have had an experience in churches like the one I grew up in (with traditional Baptist worship). We’re seeing the results of that as the number of such worshippers is declining annually.

The key is authenticity among the leaders and worshippers whose whole lives are focused on Christ alone. People show up where God is active and alive in the hearts of the people. Millennials (indeed, all of us) are seeking real, honest, even raw, broken people, like us all. I also appreciate the desire toward more quiet moments, more “God time” as I call it, space for us to be silent before Him. We’ve been talking a lot about this lately in our worship planning. I love the multiple expressions we have at PCBC – Great Hall, Sanctuary, gym, all reaching different kinds of people. Though these articles are helpful, I always want to move our conversations away from music, buildings, forms, and on to worship. That’s where they need to stay. Deeper thought regarding the essence of worship, the Object and Subject of our worship, acceptable and unacceptable worship, etc. will point us to proper expressions of worship. I will continue to teach and guide us toward these things. Stephen Carrell, Justin Hornsby (Associate Pastors of Worship), and Ronny and Denny Robinson (who lead in our Hispanic service) will do the same. That’s what I LOVE about our church- we have the unique opportunity and resource (praise God) to reach a broader number of people in our ever-growing, and ever-more diverse population. What unites us is not music, but it is the Gospel; Jesus is the One who unites us. I love that we seek to do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ in our context.

Every church has its own unique collective potential (the people and resources that God Himself has assembled), in our own unique local context, guided by a specific group of leaders (lay and clergy) whom God has called out to lead. These factors all guide us and inform each church as they worship. Indeed all programs, forms, structures, etc., are informed by His mission for us. His Person and His mission drive everything. Clearly at PCBC, a more traditional/formal expression of worship helps so many people connect with God in corporate worship and a more contemporary form does as well (as does our Hispanic expression). Of course, this creates a real challenge for a pastor/leaders – and the members – as we must all learn to celebrate various forms and rejoice in them as they are pointing so many to Jesus, which is all we want to do. And we must guide our people not to discredit one person’s expression of worship over another that we might prefer. That’s my constant prayer for us in regard to worship – that we honor all types, extending grace and celebrating one another as we celebrate Jesus. Strange as it sounds, you know you’ve shifted to “worship” music and not Jesus when you feel you must fight for your personal preference over others. We’ve lost the focus at that point. We all have preferences – though I’m one of those who loves all kinds of worship forms and styles equally (which I’m sure is one of the many reasons why God brought me to PCBC to be the pastor). I think it’s hard in a church like ours to honor, love and respect one another when we don’t see each other in the other venues. We’ve learned what other churches have seen as well – that some prefer their personal preference of music (be it “traditional” or “contemporary” or something else) over the desire to be together as a church family. I understand that reality in churches which have determined to offer multiple expressions of worship in an effort to reach a diverse cultural setting. It is difficult but a necessary reality that brings about a complex leadership structure. One solution, or help, is to come together periodically and worship Jesus together, blending styles and forms, which many churches do weekly.

The pastor’s goal, and the worship leader’s goal, is to always exalt Jesus alone. We must keep the conversation on Jesus, the Gospel, and the essence of worship, not forms and personal preferences. Each of us must simply respond to Jesus, His Gospel of rescuing grace, and His unending love for us. Then you will “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20

The Diverse Excellencies Of Christ

rsz_jesus_on_the_cross_john_3-16_

One of the greatest sermons every written and preached, was delivered by Jonathan Edwards, in 1738. The sermon was entitled, “The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus“. In it Edwards expounds upon, what he called, Christ’s “diverse excellencies”. His imagination was captured by the prophetic vision in Revelation 5:5-6:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.”

Edwards realizes that John was looking for a Lion, but instead he saw a Lamb. Edwards notes that the lion excels in strength and in majesty of his appearance and voice. The lamb excels in meekness and patience and is sacrificed for food. But Christ is compared to both in the text. In Him is infinite majesty yet utter humility, perfect justice and boundless grace, absolute sovereignty yet complete submission, all sufficiency in Himself, yet entire trust and dependence on the Father.

Spend time meditating along with Edwards on the beauty of Christ in His diverse excellencies. Consider the paradoxical excellencies of Christ. Consider these qualities of Christ and how they might manifest themselves in your life, as you are conformed into His image by His grace.

There, in Jesus Christ, meet:

1. Infinite highness and infinite condescension.

2. Infinite justice and infinite grace.

3. Infinite glory and lowest humility.

4. Infinite majesty and transcendent meekness.

5. Deepest reverence towards God and equality with God.

6. Infinite worthiness of good, and the greatest patience under sufferings of evil.

7. An exceeding spirit of obedience, with supreme dominion over heaven and earth.

8. Absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation.

9. Self-sufficiency, and an entire trust and reliance on God.

On the cross:

1. Christ was in the greatest degree of His humiliation, and yet by that, above all other things, his divine glory appears.

2. He never in any act gave so great a manifestation of love to God, and yet never so manifested His love to those that were enemies to God, as in that act.

3. He never so eminently appeared for divine justice, and yet never suffered so much from divine Justice, as when He offered up Himself a sacrifice for our sins.

4. His holiness never so illustriously shone forth as it did in his last sufferings, and yet He never was to such a degree treated as guilty.

5. He never was so dealt with, as unworthy, as in His last sufferings, and yet it is chiefly on account of them that He is accounted worthy.

6. In His last sufferings suffered most extremely from those towards whom He was then manifesting His greatest act of love.

7. Christ’s last sufferings, above all – that He was delivered up to the power of His enemies; and yet by these, above all, He obtained victory over His enemies.

No wonder Paul calls Him preeminent. No wonder we call Him Savior. No wonder we worship Him as the Servant King, the Suffering Servant, the High Priest, the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, the Righteous Judge, the Risen King, the coming victorious Lord of all.

Oh the glory of Jesus Christ!

Why Lent?

lent word-1Growing up I didn’t know much about Lent. To me, it was simply a strange “Catholic” practice. Through the years, I’ve gained a broader understanding of the Body of Christ through the study of Church history and I’ve experienced a deeper expression of prayer and worship through a broader Christian heritage. Most Protestants think of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season as a “Catholic thing” or even a “pagan” holiday of some sort. The season of Lent appeared after the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) though some have noted that our earliest known reference of the practice was Ireneus (an early church father who died in 202 A.D.). With so many biblical precedents, it seems that the church would have seized upon the idea of fasting for forty days prior to that. But the early history of Lent is interesting and complex. Even the etymology of the word takes different paths. Known as Tessarakosti in Greek and Quadragesima in Latin, for “the Forty,” it was later referred to as “Lenten” which comes from an Old English word “lencten” meaning “Springtime” or “Spring.” This was derived from a West Germanic word that means “long-days,” because of the approaching Spring, or vernal equinox – literally, “equal night” and equal day. All of this to say, what it’s called has a long, winding history and it has been a long-standing practice of the Church. Understandably, many equate the practice of Lent, or Ash Wednesday, with the debauchery of Mardi Gras and, therefore, want to run as far away from it as possible. But is there something redemptive about this ancient practice that could actually bring us into a deeper walk with Jesus all the way to Resurrection Sunday? Why Lent? And even more, why Lent among believers who have not had the practice as part of their spiritual history? As noted, it is a part of our history and I believe there’s something here to be restored.

What we’ve sought to do is strip the Lenten season of anything that is not biblical or does not bring our mind’s attention and heart’s affection to Jesus. Instead, maintain a simple and clear focus of prayer, repentance, and personal sacrifice. I’ve heard many sermons on Christ’s instructions to pray as He says, “When you pray…” pray like this.  But He also says, “When you fast…” fast like this (Matthew 6:16). He doesn’t say “if” you fast, but “when.” Jesus expected His followers to pray, and at times, fast as a regular part of our spiritual pattern of worship. Could it be that we (in the U.S. in particular) could learn a few things about restraint, about giving up so much of what we want and dying to our selfish need for more? I am certain that prayer and fasting is greatly needed among believers, particularly in the affluent West.

What many have written off as a strange practice (ashes on the forehead, giving up certain foods, etc.) we’ve sought to recapture in its purest biblical sense. It is true that “Ash Wednesday” or “Lent” are not in the Bible. (Of course, neither are Christmas Eve services, Good Friday services, Advent, and so much of what others of us would call “normal.”) You don’t see “Easter Sunday” in the Bible either, because every Sunday is Easter Sunday – or better, Resurrection Sunday for the believer.

“Lent” may not be in the Bible but focused seasons of sacrifice, confession, and repentance clearly are. In the church I grew up in we rushed to Easter Sunday without any preparation of the heart before God. I’ve learned much from the larger Body of Christ as it relates to the spiritual disciplines of solitude, prayer, and fasting. The Lenten or Easter Season should be a focused time of confession and repentance from “Ash Wednesday” to Easter Sunday. Forty Days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday – minus the Sundays leading up to Easter – because the early believers would not fast on Sundays. Later many would go from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (forty days later). Maundy comes from “mandatum” meaning “mandate” or “command.” Jesus said, “A new commandment (mandatum nuevum) I give to you” (John 13:34). So the Lenten season is a period of intentional prayer and fasting (with a focus on confession, restraint, sacrifice, and repentance). Why forty days? Forty days shows up throughout the Bible – the flood, the spies in Canaan, the Israelites in the wilderness, days before Samson’s deliverance, Goliath taunting Saul’s army, Elijah fleeing Jezebel, days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and on and on. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Luke 4:1-2) all fasted for forty days. Forty is not an arbitrary number.

Some practice the placing of ashes on foreheads or wrists signifying the start of a season of confession and repentance. The ashes remind the worshipper of his/her mortality, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) as well as the need to repent of sin in one’s life. It was common for Jews and early believers to mourn the loss of a loved one with “sackcloth and ashes.” Ashes were also a sign of brokenness and repentance of sin. Confession of sin, however, is a private thing between you and God and is not something to be paraded around and seen by everyone.

The practice of fasting is the act of the will through which the follower of Jesus puts forth spiritual control over the flesh (through sacrifice – i.e. not eating, or some other form of self-denial) with a view to a more personal and powerful experience with God in prayer. Fasting involves giving up but is much more about receiving.  You give up in order to receive. You die in order to live. The essence of fasting and renewed commitment to Jesus is summed up in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ and die is gain.” During this season of restraint, Christ is experienced as more than enough for us in every way. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). During a fast He becomes our “food.” The will of God becomes your sustenance.

Come walk to the cross with the Lord Jesus this Easter season as never before. Let the prayer of David be yours.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10 

Gospel Identity and Racial Harmony

ban-reconciliation

#blacklivesmatter

Following the grand jury’s decision in the Eric Garner case, I added the popular hashtag to a post. Knowing how some of my white friends would respond, I waited. Sure enough: “All lives matter!” was the response, missing the point altogether. Of course, all lives matter. What white people don’t understand (and cannot know experientially), is what it’s like to feel that your race does not matter to people of other races. Indeed this is what the response (to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown) is all about.

The varied responses in the aftermath of recent incidents have clearly exposed the racial divide we still have in our country. We are not as far along as we thought we were. As a pastor, I see something that may be even more disturbing: the lack of Gospel identity among God’s people has been deeply exposed as well. It may be more disturbing because the appropriation of the Gospel is the only way to racial reconciliation. It’s time for followers of Christ to let their identity in Christ to displace their racial identity. Or as Bryan Loritts stated, “My Jesusness must always trump my blackness.”

The most recent racial challenges have given believers across our country the opportunity to show what we really believe about the Gospel. As those transformed by the Gospel, our response should be markedly different from those who have never tasted the grace of God. It should be evident that Jesus has actually changed our lives. The appropriation of the Gospel means that we really do believe that grace triumphs over all things; that listening precedes talking, and that being “right” (winning an argument) is not as important as loving others without condition. We actually live like Jesus, “full of grace and full of truth” (John 1:14).

How would Jesus respond in the midst of recent happenings? Living in response to the Gospel means that we live in light of what He’s already done for us. Romans 5:10 says,  “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relationships and of peace, where previously there had been hostility and alienation. If possible, it also includes the removal of the offense that caused the disruption of peace and harmony. This is what Christ has done. We must do the same, whenever possible. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “that, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” “Us” is us, those who claim to have been transformed by the Gospel.

The 2nd chapter of Ephesians serves as a field guide for racial reconciliation. Ephesians 2:14 says, “For He Himself is our Peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility”. This “dividing wall” was as much a racial divide as it was a religious one. Paul says that Christ Himself is the Answer, “and might reconcile us both (Gentiles and Jews) to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” Ephesians 2:16. The power of the cross is still in effect today. He is mighty to save, to destroy hostility, and to reconcile all people to one another through His finished work on the cross.

For nearly 30 years, Jonathan Scott has been my best friend in ministry. Jonathan is African American and knows everything about me. Through the miles, we still connect monthly, talk about life, ministry, and how God is changing us. Race is not central to any of our conversations; the Gospel is. Jesus is. We love each other without condition and though we do not deny the color of our skin, the Gospel defines us and the friendship we share. Christ in us trumps all other identities.

The problem with many reading this post is that you agree with me in principle, but not in practice. Too many white people (and black people) would say they are not racists (who would admit that?), but they do not have close relationships with anyone of another race. Therefore, they never really get inside the mind and heart of someone of another race. If we do not know each other, how can we trust each other and how can we love each other? We could only do so theoretically and Jesus had much to say about those who claim to love, but can show no evidence of any love in action.

I believe one of the greatest opportunities for the Body of Christ in our day is to come together across racial boundaries for the common good of our cities and the world. Indeed, for the sake of the Gospel. If we go it alone, no one will believe us. If we come together – Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, etc. – then they will see that there is something greater that unites us, beyond the color of our skin. They will discover that it is Jesus.

I know of no other gathering in the metroplex that draws together the Body of Christ, across racial boundaries, like  Movement Day Greater Dallas. I hope you’ll join me, Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 at the Kay Bailey Convention Center in downtown Dallas, for a historic gathering. My friend, Bryan Carter, pastor of Concord Church, and I will be leading a session on the role of the Church and racial reconciliation. We’ll also discuss next steps toward racial harmony for all believers, that will result in a Gospel movement across greater Dallas. Register here.

This will be a great way to kick off the new year! See you there.

Happy New Year!

 

The Ten Traits of a Healthy Family

Family on floor in living-room

 

1.  They have an irrational commitment to each member of the family. They display an illogical love for one another, spread lavishly and without discretion.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” 1 John 3:1 Driven by 1 John 3:1, stunning amounts of love, kindness, and forgiveness are shared to family member.           

2.  They communicate with truth and grace. Mom and Dad model Ephesians 4:15 How we treat our spouse (and how we extend grace to our family members) will confirm or contradict what we believe about God.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”  Ephesians 4:15 Create an atmosphere where truth can be discussed, regardless of how difficult it may be to talk about.

3.  They affirm the value and uniqueness of each member of the family. Each person is loved for free and without judgment. His or her opinions and feelings are always honored.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7 Celebrate the uniqueness of each child in our family. “I wouldn’t change a thing about you.”   

4.  They vow never to abuse, shame, control, or intimidate one another. “Oh, children are resilient- they bounce back.” No children are fragile and understanding that children are fragile- no emotional, verbal, or physical abuse is tolerated in any way and is immediately confronted. Consider the power of words.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”  Philippians 4:5 Unkind words are not tolerated- “We do not talk to each other like that in our family.” Parents: You must model kind words and challenge this early on.

5.  They share a strong spiritual foundation. Parents recognize that a “mild dose” of God will never cultivate a life that has Christ at the very center, guiding every aspect of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). There is no abdication of spiritual formation- no outsourcing to the church. We create spiritual orphans, spiritual schizophrenics. Complete disconnect! What’s your goal parents? There’s a big difference between a young person who goes to church & one who is truly sold out to God.

 

6.  They teach respect for others. Racism, arrogant superiority, or disrespect for people who are different is never tolerated. Jesus added to the Shema that we should love each other as we love ourselves:

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’.” Matthew 22:39 When you see a child who is different than other kids ask, “What would it feel like to be that kid?” Teach your children to love and honor all people- adopt Martin Luther King Jr.s’ dream for our nation. Help your children dream of the day when every person- Hispanic, black, Asian, European and all people will know that they are loved with the unprejudiced, unbiased, and unrestrained love of Jesus.

7.  They instill a sense of responsibility in one another. Each member knows that they must take responsibility for their own actions and face the consequences of their poor choices. Self-esteem does not result from simply heaping large amounts of affirmation and praise. It happens when a child learns to be responsible.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.”  1 John 1:8-10

Let the consequences do the teaching.  It’s God’s way- and parents too often get in the way of what God wants to do, simply through the consequences of choices made or not made.  Parents: Do NOT rescue your child. This takes courageous parenting- it takes faith- to believe that God will work in your children’s life as He sees fit.  When you let the consequences do the teaching you place that child in the hands of God.

8.  They play together.  This is so important. Laughter and fun mark a family that builds strong relationships with one another.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22

9.  They celebrate rituals and traditions together. This gives the family a sense of constancy and permanence.  They know that the love and commitment of the family will never change- this year, next year, and the next…

“Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you?  Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?”  Job 8:8-10

10.  They seek help when they come to an impasse.  They understand that all families have issues that may need outside or professional help and they are not afraid to ask for help when needed.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  James 5:16

God is very clear about the kind of families He wants us to have.  Let us follow His principles and seek to honor Him in our families.