Scared as hell

If you’re a worship/liturgy leader, you probably know the name Stuart Townend.

If you’re not a worship/liturgy leader, let me explain…

From his bio at

Stuart is known and respected around the world as one of the leading worship songwriters of his generation. The depth of lyrical and theological content in songs such as In Christ alone, How deep the Father’s love, The power of the cross and Beautiful Saviour have caused some to draw comparisons with the greats of previous generations such as Watts and Wesley; while the marriage of great lyrics with wonderfully accessible melodies (largely through his successful writing partnership with Keith Getty) means his songs bridge different musical and cultural genres, and reach into every corner of the globe.

In other words, he’s a worship music stud. Two of those songs mentioned in the bio are in the top 50 songs of CCLI currently. He is obviously blessed with some wonderful gifts, and millions of people sing his songs across the world.

But I had a problem with one line of his, in one song, and I changed it, and I think its a better song now.

Now let me say that song writing is hard. I consider myself an amateur at best. Songs are rarely perfected. They often have to be revised repeatedly, and even the final product sometimes needs more work. I respect Stuart. My songs stink compared to his. I’m not trying to be overly critical. But I do care about the words that churches sing. I think it’s extremely important to give congregation’s the best texts possible (both theologically and artistically). What we sing in church is as important as what is preached in church, if not more important.

The song in question is called Immanuel (or as I call it, “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable”). It’s one of my favorite songs. I have put it into regular rotation every Advent for years. The lyric in question comes from stanza 4, the original quoted here:

Now He’s standing in the place of honor,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own beloved
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell,
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

Here is the part I changed:

Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds.
Heav’n joins earth where God will dwell,
And the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

Here are some reasons why I changed it:

  • Fear is never a good motivating factor. Just ask any person who has lived under a dictatorship throughout history.
  • I don’t feel like God ever intended for a fear of hell to be the driving factor in His relationship to humanity. I vaguely remember Jesus saying some stuff about love.
  • A more biblical picture of the consummation of history is the collision of heaven and earth and the establishment of a New Jerusalem where God is present with us forever.
  • It’s also interesting that this “fear of hell” seems to be contradicted in another lyric from a different song by Stuart – the 4th stanza from “In Christ Alone:”

No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;

Romans 8:1 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and the rest of the chapter is pretty good too.

"Wholesome" Christianity

What do you think about the word “wholesome?” Can a person be wholesome? What if someone mentioned that they wouldn’t go to a particular shopping establishment because the people who shop there aren’t exactly “wholesome.”

Now, let me say I’m pretty picky when it comes to deciding which store I shop at. My pickiness is more based on quality of products, competitive pricing, and having a wide variety of products to chose from.

But defining where you will and will not shop by the “type” of people who go there is troublesome – especially for anyone who claims to align with the teachings of Jesus. Just think of all the non-wholesome folks Jesus made it a point to associate with:

  • the woman at the well who had 5+ husbands, was a despised Samaritan, and drawing well water at noon probably to avoid the criticism/despise of other women (John 4)
  • Lepers, outcast and forced to live in seclusion, especially another Samaritan whom He healed (Luke 17)
  • Zacchaeus, a corrupt tax collector, seen as a traitor for working for the Roman Empire (Luke 19)

Not to mention the countless stories and parables featuring all the non-wholesome people who got it right compared to the “wholesome” people who missed the point:

  • the Good Samaritan, despised by Jews, but managed to out-do the priest and Levite (Luke 25)
  • the wedding banquet at which people, both good and bad, are pulled in off the street to attend when the invited refuse to show (Matthew 22)
  • the Pharisees, who were the upright, respectable, overtly religious people of the day that Jesus referred to as greedy, wicked, and neglectful of the love of God (Luke 11)

What’s even more troublesome is saying that the same non-wholesome people (whom God created and loves) are not worthy of a local church that will proclaim the Gospel and administer grace to any and all.

Reminds me of a recent tweet by @RickWarren:

“You don’t get to chose who you’ll love, forgive & show respect to if you claim to follow Jesus. It must be everybody.”

Downward Denominational Trends

An interesting article from The Christian Century regarding worship attendance trends in mainline denominations.

Entry into this emerging, postmodern world is going to be tough on mainline denoms. If there was one negative thing that resulted from the reformation, it was the disagreement between groups that led to an increasingly splintered Christian landscape. The postmodern reformation has a chance to reverse that as churches pull toward a center of creed-based faith.

But the denoms won’t go down without a fight. They are painfully aware of the situation, however I’m not sure they have a solution. Presiding ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson recently told leaders, “it is time for the church to move forward and get over being “timid” about mission and ministry.” C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, recently tweeted “fact: every major denomination is aging and losing members including #Episcopal Church and Diocese of Texas” and “fact: institutional efforts to reverse downward trends & to capture religious imagination of young adults is limited.”

I don’t think any of the mainline denoms are doomed to the point of extinction. Someone will always be there to keep the ship afloat. But a look at the landscape of Europe, particularly England, can give a glimpse of the future in the US. The Church of England still exists, but it’s just a relic. More foot traffic is generated for being a museum than being a place of worship and spirituality.

It’s similar to the Blockbuster – Redbox/Netflix situation. Blockbuster is bankrupt. Redbox and Netflix are the competition. The are a new breed in the movie rental game: innovative, creative, simple, flexible, user-friendly, and adaptable. New expressions of church are the Redbox/Netflix to the denominations Blockbuster.

The Multichannel Church

From The Lutheran by Tom Ehrich:

I think it’s time we saw that the world has changed and what we know how to do — Sunday liturgies, capable preaching, Sunday ministries of teaching and welcoming — stopped being enough many years ago.

In drifting away from church, you see, people aren’t saying no to God or to faith. They are saying no to Sunday church.

They do so for a variety of reasons. For some two-income families and hard-charging young adults, Sunday is the one day to get a slow start. Audience-style worship is too passive for a Web 2.0 world that is customer-centric and transactional.

The Multichannel Church will incorporate some or all of these avenues:

• Sunday on-site: Sunday worship, Sunday education, fellowship (e.g. coffee hour).

• Weekday on-site: Weekday suppers, education programs, mission work, volunteering.

• Regional gatherings: Neighborhood assemblies, workplace and other targeted interest groups. Larger congregations will have multiple sites for all that they do, including Sunday worship. Medium and small churches will have satellite centers for weekday community-building, but worship at the central site on Sunday.

• Home gatherings: Small groups, including informal devotion and prayer.

• Personal spirituality: 24/7 access, self-determining, using classic devotional tools, Web-delivered content and personal ingenuity.

• Virtual community: Blogs, discussion groups, chats, polls, social networking, Q&A venue.

• Special community events: One-time events that facilitate mass participation by the entire congregation, with a focus on forming identity.

• Published word: Possibilities include magazine, self-published books, shared journals and homegrown devotionals.

• E-mail marketing: Strong use of e-mail to market opportunities, to draw people to the Web site, to facilitate sharing with non-church friends, and to promote transactions such as registering for an event.

Worship as Evangelism

Here are the notes from a recent workshop I taught titled “Worship As Evangelism”:

Worship As Evangelism

Here is an overview:

  1. A working definition of worship
  2. The worship/evangelism cycle
  3. Should worship do the work of evangelism?
  4. Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture / Lutheran World Federation (1996)
  5. REVEAL Study / Willow Creek
  6. Sally Morgenthaler Rethinks Her Own Paradigm
  7. Practical Considerations
  8. Resources

Evangelism Doesn't Begin with a Program

Evangelism is being sent out into the world with good news for people.  The good news is God’s love for all people.  Love that is freely available and celebrated within Christian community.  We are sent out to invite others to come and see.  As such, evangelism doesn’t begin with a program, a plan or a budget – it begins as it did with the woman at the well, a burning inside after a confrontation with a man who knew her inside and out and accepted her anyway.  She didn’t have to be trained to run back to town and invite the whole community (that she used to avoid) to come and see.

Evangelism is what is happening when a busy fisherman like Peter receives an invitation from Jesus to follow and he leaves his nets behind.  Or like the jailer in Acts who is amazed at the courage of the disciples and he wants what they have.  He and his entire family is baptized that very night.

from Kerry Nelson