Experiencing Faith Part I: There Is Something Wrong With Our Worship

I want to get this out of the way before I say anything else.

Before I was a full time youth minister, I preached for a small congregation in the Pacific Northwest. I worked alongside one of the most thoughtful ministers, worship leaders, and Christian men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. On a weekly basis, we could be found meeting and discussing plans for worship services that were still far down the road. Discussion could last for hours about the order of worship, song choice, scripture reading(s), message, illustrations and a million other little details. We tried hard to make sure that every service was thoughtfully considered with the intention of creating a good experience. I think the work we did was important. I think all services should be prepared thoughtfully and with consideration for wether or not it allows the participants of the service to express their appreciation and love to God. Now that we’ve established that:

I read a lot of blogs about a wide topics. Theology and/or ministry is towards the top of that list. As a result, I run into the ongoing debate about the “worship experience”. Depending on the background of the writer a debate on worship experience can range from the lighting of the auditorium to the benefits of hymnals over projectors. I’ve read it all. The debater will usually suggest that 1) there is something wrong with worship services as they exist now 2) people are looking for x, y, or z in worship services 3) as long as the Church fails to change x, y, or z about their worship services, the Church will die. I believe this line of thinking is dangerous. I plan to do three posts on this topic over the next few days. Lets begin with point one.

There Is Something Wrong With Our Worship

You know how that one guy sings off key every time your Church does that one worship song? Remember how much better the preacher before this one’s sermon slides were? How about that spelling mistake in the scripture on the screen? Wasn’t last week’s service so much better because so-and-so didn’t lead a closing prayer that rivaled a congressional filibuster? Did the communion bread taste “off” to you this week?

We’ve all heard these comments before. All of us. If you are a part of the Church and you’re old enough to have even most of your adult teeth, you’ve heard these things. Most likely you’ve uttered words like them before. It’s a universal thing, we all notice when something goes wrong or is different. We all know when the person leading worship gets the lyrics to our favorite song wrong.

No matter how well thought out, intentional, and prepared a service may be, you can count on one thing: people will make mistakes. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the Church is comprised of people. People make mistakes. I can’t tell you how often I’ve planned a lesson for weeks only to get to the delivery and botch it because I skipped an important point. A point in my notes. A point I underlined. A point I knew I needed to make, but for one reason or other it just didn’t happen.

If you are looking for a worship service without flaws, a worship service in which everyone executes their duties with erudition, a worship service with perfectly seemless flow from one moment to the next, you will always be disappointed. Before we can venture any further into a discussion of worship, lets just cement this idea in our heads: if you are looking for a worship service that has the polish of a multi-million dollar production, and anything less will draw you out of your holy communion with the most high, you’re looking for a performance.

Worship will never be flawless. Worship services sometimes falter and stumble because of a bad projector bulb or someone getting larengitis. But God does some amazing things through and because of (not in-spite of) our stumblings.

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at point 2: People Are Looking For What We Don’t Have.

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My Hiatus and Future Plans

I took a very unintended (but very beneficial) break from blogging over the last half a year. It started with me not updating a post I’d planned to make on the day I planned to make it. I was feeling a little overwhelmed. I was coming up on camp season, revamping how I work with my youth ministry volunteers, and generally trying to do too much all at once. Which I’ve warned against before. Blogging had to take a back seat.

Ironically, while I haven’t been sharing anything here at Real Light, I’ve written more than I ever have before. I have a backlog of material that I plan to draw from on the coming months.

Today is not a hard reset of my blog. I’m still planning to write about my thoughts on life as a servant of Christ, faith from the perspective of someone in ministry, fatherhood, and how all of these things interrelate for me personally. I’m just planning on doing so more thoughtfully. With more intention.

We’re All Travelers

I wrote this over a week ago but thought I might share it tonight. It may be meaningless to others, but it was an eye opening moment for me.

Tonight, through a series of unfortunate events, I find myself waiting for a 6AM Greyhound bus out of Dallas.

I flew from Portland to Dallas to catch the final leg of my flight. It should have just been a quick up and down, probably no more than an hour and a half. But it didn’t happen. Instead I was told that my flight had been canceled (my second in five days), and I could wait up to two days on standby. Alternatively, I could make my own arrangements. So I looked into renting car or taking a bus. Even with the taxi fare, the bus came out quite a lot cheaper.

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Age of Wonders

Video

It’s remarkable to me that a video of this quality was shot with something that I carry around in my pocket every day. The tools for good media creation are easily accessible, and I think youth ministers can and should be using them more often than we are. Next week, I’ll be doing a new Tech in Ministry post that explores video production for someone who doesn’t have access to anything more than a smartphone and/or tablet.

My Mom, My Hero

My Mom has been one of the strongest and most inspiring people in my life.

Through all of my Dad’s health issues (which I’m sure we’ll talk about at some point), Mom always had a brave face on for my brother, James, and I. I learned a lot about faith, balancing family and work, and loving your spouse even through the hard times from her.

When my Dad passed away in 2002, it shook me very deeply. It was a pretty transitional time in my life anyway, as I’d just graduated from high school and was getting ready to go to college. It took several years for me to really understand how deeply I was affected, but Mom’s strength helped me through in ways that I’m still not sure she really knows about.

When she remarried, I knew immediately that she and my step-dad, Alex, had something very special. The way that they have challenged and encouraged one another has been very inspiring. In many ways, their marriage has been a testament to the concept of “beauty from ashes”.

In her 40s, she decided to go back to school and follow her dream of becoming a chef. Alex stood by her and encouraged her. So they uprooted; sold their house; moved to Portland. Alex got a job with the state to support Mom through school.

Not only did Mom go back to school, but she excelled! She was a 4.0 student, salutatorian, and asked to join the alumni advisory comity for Le Cordon Bleu.

At the time of her graduation, she had plenty of options for places to work all across the United States. Some of them were pretty swanky! Instead of choosing a high paying job in a traditional kitchen, she accepted an offer from Camp Yamhill to cook for church camps. She and Alex put in several years of 12 hour days and seven day weeks cooking for hundreds of people at a time. Along the way, Lorinda and I (along with many other members of our family and our friends) had the opportunity to work alongside them for a few camps. My days in the Yamhill kitchen were some of the most demanding days of work I can remember. Mom and Alex never failed to impress me with the stamina and work ethic they displayed.

A couple of years ago they started talking to our family about a calling they were feeling. They had it on their heart to go and work in China. Through the course of their dialogue with us, we saw their resolution firm up around the idea, and about a year and a half ago they announced that they would be going to China to work teaching English in a university.

For the second time since they had married, Mom and Alex uprooted and moved; this time to the other side of the world! They have excelled in their work there, and their love for their students becomes more and more obvious every time we get to visit with them.

I’ve learned so much from my Mom about following your calling wherever it leads and doing what you do out of love. I’m so blessed to have both her and Alex as an example of a life lived for service.

I’m truely grateful for what a blessing my mom has been.

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How To Completely Misuse The Bible In 5 Easy Steps

In the book of John, Jesus tells the religious leaders that although they know scripture cold, they’ve missed the most important aspect– that all scripture points to him! Also, early in his ministry he tells a parable of a wise and foolish man who are both building a house. The wise man, who is centered on the teachings of Jesus, is compared to a man who chose stone as a foundation while the foolish man (who neglected the teachings of Jesus) is compared to someone who built their house on sand. Finally, in the last hours of his life, Jesus reminded his disciples that he “was the way, the truth, and the life”. According to Jesus, this thing we’re doing– and the book we read– is all about him.

 

Some really great thoughts in here, and the quote above further drives the point I wanted to make when I wrote my post on Logos, Rhema, and Graphe. Reading the Bible should always point back to Jesus.

Teach Your Teens Theology

Sometimes we youth ministers spend too much time in the shallow end with our teens. We teach them morality (which is all well and good), but we don’t teach them the powerful truth of the Gospel. I read an article a while back on youthmin.org entitled Five Theological Words Your Students Should Know Before They Graduate.

After reading it, I put each word on my schedule of devotional topics for five weeks; fleshing them out to full individual lessons. I want to tell you how refreshing it was to sit with a group of teenagers and talk about deeply profound concepts that are core to our beliefs as Christians.

If you’re looking for material that will challenge your teens and will encourage you to push into deeper water, spend some time with these five words.