September 28, 2020

A Shocking Agenda for the Church

shocked.jpgJared Wilson’s post on 11 Innovations for Your Church. These shocking ideas (plus a couple I’d like to add) define the revolutionary vision of church I’m advocating. Prepare to be knocked off your feet with the sheer AWESOMENESSNESS of these ideas.

1. Sing hymns.

2. Preach through a book of the Bible.

3. Talk about sin.

4. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently.

5. Have a Scripture reading in the service.

6. Transition creative content from aping popular commercials and other media to creating your own, wholly original content.

7. Read, study, and teach theology.

8. Put as much effort and resources into men’s ministry as you do women’s. On the flipside, pair up younger women with wise, older women in mentoring relationships with the same conviction you have about men being in accountability and mentoring partnerships.

9. Hire from within.

10. In promotional material, use actual photos of actual people in your community.

11. Preach the Gospel.

I’ve got a few of my own.

12. Elders.

13. Use the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds in worship.

14. Have a book table.

15. Less music. Fewer instruments.

16. A couple of good mercy ministries.

17. Partner with a third world church, and instead of going over on a “mission trip,” send a small team to find out what they need that you can provide.

18. Pray the Psalms.

19. Train up some hymn-writers.

20. Defy labels.

21. A counseling/teaching ministry aimed at marriages and families.

22. Teach the classic disciplines of the devotional life.

23. Have lots of smart ass pomotivator posters hanging around.
The post-evangelical vision of this web site is to GO BACK, not to throw out. It is to go back to the sources and the substance of a healthy evangelicalism with a strong experience of the local church.


  1. Amen and Amen! All of these ideas are great, but I particularly like numbers 4, 7, 13, 18, 19 and 22.

    By all means “GO BACK” and don’t throw out!

    Thank you for this shot of hope!

  2. Good ones!

    Except I love worship music. 🙂

    I like #19 a lot, but you should see the look on some worship leaders’ faces when I suggest “raising up” future worship leaders. It is scary that they have no idea what this means.

    Do pastors have pastoral interns any more either? If so many churches are hiring from without these days, are gifted and called future pastors in congregations getting abandoned by their own churches?

    I know mentoring is alive and well, but it seems to exist more in the context of mentoring for church planting. I don’t see many churches training and developing their own future pastors.

  3. These are great. Thanks. How about adding? Equip and educate people to know how to better read and therefore hopefully better apply Scripture in their lives, the church and the world.

  4. Hi Michael,

    Might also suggest adding

    Scrap ‘Vision Sundays’ where the next hot whim of the pastor is imposed on the people and have the whole faith community embrace a Rule of Life 24-7/365.

    This is what the LORD says:
    “Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
    ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
    and you will find rest for your souls.
    Jeremiah 6:16 (NIV)

    Grace and peace!


  5. Good lists. Numbers 16 and 17 are ones I will be trying to think about further.

    A couple of “constructive in intention even if snarky in tone” points:

    #5: “Just the one, dear?” (Though my mind is reeling at the thought there are churches where *one* reading would be an improvement. Say it ain’t so!)

    Seriously, I think three readings – OT, NT and Gospel – is an excellent pattern.

    #18: Don’t you mean “sing”? 🙂

  6. The mind should reel then, because aside from the pastor’s sermon text read at the sermon, most Baptist, Charismatic churches, etc have no scripture readings.

  7. OK, thoughts on things that struck me in this list, my numbers correspond to yours:

    1. What type of hymns? How far back you going? I ask this because most 19th Century Baptist Hymns are worse theologically than the praise music you tend to critique… Let’s change this to, “Sing Theologically Thoughtful Hymns.”

    2. Eh. How about, “Preach through several books of the Bible that string the Biblical Story together?” Preaching one book out of canonical context isn’t very helpful.

    3. NP, as long as we’re talking about our sins, and not “all those sinful people in [suchandsuch group].

    4. Oh yah.

    5. Um, people don’t do this?

    6. Christians have been taking what we’d call “popular media” and using it for creative purposes for years (like, many of the tunes for these hymns we should sing) – but I understand what you mean. How about we take this a step further and say, “Stop looking for the next big thing from [bigmegachurch] to wake up your congregation and create something on your own to wake them up.”

    7. Yup.

    8. Part A – sure, NP. Part “B,” are you nuts? Placing younger women in partnerships with older women in all the Churches I’ve ever been in would be a disaster. This is because there’s always been a shortage of the “wise and faithful” variety and a surplus on the “manipulative ministry killer” variety. If you want to do part “B” you’d need to partner with three or four churches and create the relationships across congregational lines. Same goes for men (it might help kill a cycle of dysfunction).

    9. My goal is that the next pastor of this Church comes from this Church. Good idea.

    10. Ding! Of course you need some techno-saavy folks in the church to make the pics look good – find a middle schooler who like photoshop or the gimp.

    11. Sadly, you need to define “Gospel.” Fire-Insurance? AmericaIsTheNewIsraelism? Social-Gospel? Present-Kingdom? Eternal-Life? Liberation?

    12. Only if you’ve done 7 and 22 for years and have people who know how to challenge the systems of family and church politics (both of which too-often defend against passionately following Jesus). I’ve seen elders implemented really badly (like, the Church is now closed badly) because folks though elders were the “magic structure.”

    13. Oh yes, please do.

    14. Who’s choosing the books?

    15. Why?

    16. Yes.

    17. I don’t like how you wrote this as a “one-way” street. Partnerships like this only work in symbiosis. Can we re-phrase?

    18. Oh that’ll be fun. Do some lectio on the psalms too.

    19. Again, only after you do 7 and 22.

    20. I have no idea what you mean by this.

    21. That could be disastrous. “Counseling” implies some things that I’m not sure most pastors can/should be doing. How about couples/families discipleship relationships?

    22. What if you think Evangelicalism is incapable of actually going back?

  8. I guess I’m a little shocked too at the idea that any of these are shocking or at all out of the ordinary. My church hits nearly all of these (8 doesn’t quite count for us since we don’t have any bright lines between men’s vs. women’s ministry or education). We miss on 12 (unless you count vestry as elders) and 23.

    Most of them flow from just using the BCP for the service. But as I understand it, a service can’t be defined as real worship service in my church unless there is at a minimum a gospel reading and the Eucharist. Anything else is basically a prayer meeting.

    But outside the BCP order of service, the one I really want to endorse is #17. We have benefitted so greatly from our relationship with our sister parish in S. America and with another in Africa. But it has to be a *relationship*, not a mission. They are giving to us at least as much – if not more – as we are giving them. You can send material supplies and they certainly need that, but if that’s all you do you are missing out big time. We’ve sent groups there and brought some to visit here. One pastor from Kenya stayed with us while studying here. We correspond frequently and pray for one another specifically and personally. Seeing the world and our faith traditions thru different eyes and looking beyond our local and national churches to how we are truly part of the global Body of Christ has lifted us up immeasurably.

  9. I don’t suppose there is a way to use this or something like it as an aid to finding a church when one is in a new city. Put your 22 (or whatever) elements of worship in one column and a list of churches across the top. One would need to include the current set of cultural “norms” as well. Check the boxes where such and such an element is present. Yes, I know it can be abused and can lead to a “thank you, God, that we are not like those others” mentality. But it is quite a job to find a church after moving. The smaller ones are easy to overlook simply because they are small. Our former PCA church (well, we are still members) did pretty well, but there is quite a wide spectrum of practice within the PCA.


  10. My mind is boggling at this. Tell me again. Are you really saying that there are churches that regularly don’t include Bible readings in their services?

  11. Oh my! You are describing my ideal church! Sad to say, you would spend a lifetime just trying to get ONE of these “radical” changes made in today’s average Evangelical, mega-church.

    Though I admit ours is seeing signs of life in at least regards to #8. They are attempting to start a Men’s Fraternity this Fall. Stay tuned.

    What really jars me, though is point #10. I noticed a few years back that our church used “posters” relating to the current sermon series throughout the church. I then also noticed that these posters were professionally done, but were not of people in our congregation, or at least people I had ever met. So that meant that they were purchased from somewhere that had them in stock to sell!

    I then curiously saw the “same” sermon series, with the exact same title, appearing on church signs throughout the city. Then I hit the internet and often found these same “series” on churches throughout the country. The worst that implies is “canned sermons;” the best it implies is “canned topics.” In this, we lose the advantages of local church sermons for local church issues if we let national marketing determine what issues our local pastor will cover.

    So I agree. Revolt! Reject “canned” posters in order to reject “canned” sermons.

  12. Sounds kind of like the Church of Christ… 😉

  13. Check out the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It has #’s 1,3,4,5,7,11,12,13,15,18. But it could use more of #’s 16,17,21,22.

    I’ve been quite sheltered in my old-fashioned rural Lutheran Church. Awhile back I visited a modern big-city church and was appalled that there were no hymns sung and not even any hymnals in the pews! We were supposed to follow along with the guitar band by reading the words on a big screen. The songs reminded me of what we sang around the fire at church camp when I was a kid, which was OK maybe for that camp context, but not for a church worship service, in my opinion. On the way home, I just shook my head thinking of all the little kids in that congregation…..they will grow up never knowing any of the good old hymns of the faith. What a sad trend.

  14. As a major assignment for a Christian religion class, I was to visit three varieties of denominations. I chose Catholic, SBC, and Methodist. In my report, one characteristic I noted was the use of Scripture. The non-Catholic churches did not have separate readings whereas the Catholic had at least two.

    I emphasized, that while though the SBC and Methodist churches prided themselves on being Bible-based, I did not see the respect and time given to it as I did in the Catholic Mass. Got some kudos from the professor for the point. 🙂


  15. John H: I believe you can both sing and pray the Psalms. How often have we prayed, “The Lord is my Shepherd. . .?”

    And I agree with you as to 3 readings from Scripture. This post is such a blessing.

  16. On the actually site this list is pasted from, the header warns that these ideas are risky and controversial. That’s sarcasm right? I’m sure if you went into say, Joel Osteen’s church and tried preaching the goepel, you’d be run out on a rail. Most of the items on the list SHOULD already be a part of the mainstream church agenda. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of our mission, but my goodness, surely churches across the land aren’t gasping at these notions.

    Or am I that old fashioned?

  17. Great stuff!

    My local congregation uses very little other than Scripture and hymns in the worship service. They are chosen to emphasize a theme each week, organized around “We worship God because…” The worship leader’s responsibility is to transition and tie everything together.

    Thanks for the site. I’m afraid I may use your material too frequently, but I find myself agreeing a lot.

  18. Thousands of Baptist and other evangelical churches have NO SCRIPTURE in the service except for the sermon text.

  19. Yes, my original header was sarcastic.

    Well, only sorta, actually. I mean, I do think, given the sort of churches I am speaking from and to, these things would be real innovations. They are actually outside the box. The sarcasm comes in b/c the strategists of these sorts of churches like to champion “outside the box” thinking, but they’d never consider this stuff. I call that irony. And hypocrisy.

    I also didn’t write my list as a 10 Commandments for how to do church. They are individual suggestions for the sort of churches I am speaking to, ways to innovate and at the same time reform their approach to worship and ministry.

    If you already do all these, congratulations. You win the prize, whatever it is. Surely not my approval, which you don’t need anyway.
    For many of us, however, mostly due to theological convictions, becoming Lutheran or Church of Christ or whatever is not an option.
    I have appreciated the denominational feedback (okay, okay, Phil Wilson, CoC isn’t a denomination :-), but this list wasn’t really directed toward mainstream denoms or liturgical traditions.

    And if it shocks you that this stuff is absent in the sort of churches we’re writing for and to . . . welcome to my nightmare. You get to rubberneck; I get to talk to the cops. 🙂

  20. You people that always crow about your denominations are really going to get the iMonk smackdown at some future date. So gird up your loins and be prepared. 😉

  21. Bob Sacamento says

    The post-evangelical vision of this web site is to GO BACK, not to throw out. It is to go back to the sources and the substance of a healthy evangelicalism with a strong experience of the local church.

    YES!!!! If I’m not evangelical anymore, it’s not because I changed. It’s because evangelicalism changed and I couldn’t keep up.

    But by the way, why cross out #23. It’s the best one on the list!!!

  22. LOL

  23. He who sings prays twice….

  24. Thousands of Baptist and other evangelical churches have NO SCRIPTURE in the service except for the sermon text.
    Umm, wouldn’t that be a Scripture reading then?

  25. We’re not talking about a scripture selection for a sermon, but a scripture lesson that stands on its own.

  26. Excellent ideas Michael

    However even all the Old Hymns aren’t necessarily great. Some of them are very individualistic/self indulgent in their words…

    What do you mean by mentoring people? How did Jesus mentor people? Was it one to one or in a group of disciples?

  27. Michael, I don’t get it. Even in a “high” Church the lexicon readings are all tied into the same theme…what is a “scripture lesson that stands on its own?”

  28. Kris Greenleaf says

    Great suggestions – except that most of the PC(USA) churches I’ve been involved with are already doing all or most of these! Surprise, much?

  29. When are you going to lay that smackdown on the denominational boys, imonk? It’s kind of hard for me to believe that every church in a denomination is doing all these. Open up a can, big boy!

    I think all of these aspects of church life are great and edifying. But I would like to say that even if a church does all of these things it can still suck. When I moved to my present community in order to attend college, I was thinking the exact same things about the way churches could be “perfect.” On our first church quest we found one that, not joking, did all the things in the list. But after about 9 months, my wife looked at me and said that she had had enough. I concurred. There were several things that got us. First, there were a lot of artsy people that thought they were so profound that they could form cliques and pat each other on the back(bleh!). It was also hard to find anyone who wanted to have a relationship beyond church acquaintance. My wife and I are not recluses but we are not overbearing when it comes to making relationships. We had plenty of healthy relationships with people of various ages and just didnt’ understand why people were so reclusive. Also, they were so Reformed in their theology that they had no emphasis on evangelism besides supporting a couple of missionaries. I really appreciated not having to sit through an altar call but they pretty much acted like the frozen chosen. And above all, it just seemed that people didn’t care about you. A few visits is one thing but 9 months is another.

    Short point, all those things are good but it’s the people that count. I now attend a 1600 Methodist church and we love it. The three pastors don’t rule over the flock but serve them. It is probably the best church experience I have ever had. Those things are great(and they should be implemented; my church does the majority of those things) but people matter the most.

  30. I don’t get it. Even in a “high” Church the lexicon readings are all tied into the same theme…what is a “scripture lesson that stands on its own?”

    I’ll explain (again) what I meant. I meant someone reading a Scripture passage at a point in the service separate from the message.
    It should be connected to the theme of the message, preferably the key passage the message draws from.

    I’m a little surprised that this has been so confusing. :-/

    I would like to say that even if a church does all of these things it can still suck.

    No doubt. And many of them do.
    I think one influence on the rise of the non-denom megachurch has been the spiritual impotence of the mainline.

    My original intent with the list was not a checklist litmus test for how to “do church right.” It was a cheeky list of suggestions of innovations for the relevance-addicted church.

    Hope that makes sense.

  31. Jared,

    That’s I figured that was your context and main point. All the things stated were great(and good for the relevance junkies). I just wanted to add another dimension.

    Good job on the post!

  32. brandontmilan says

    You mentioned having an elder run church. Like someone else said, if the elders have little concern for the mission of the church, then this is no better than a committee-ran church or a deacon-ran church.

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I think that a lot of the problems in most church are caused by people in leadership positions who have little or no knowledge or concern of the gospel. The people in leadership at my church are far more concerned over paying off the new building rather than the salvation of and the physical well-being of the community around us. The church as a whole is somewhat concerned, but allows the leadership to determine their actions.

    If this church had an elder-run church, the men who are currently the leadership of the deacon board would probably be elders.

    I think a better thing to add would be to have high standard for those in leadership positions, and take church discipline seriously when those people don’t display integrity.

  33. Michael-

    excellent points…I regularly read your site but rarely comment…one question, if someone is in such a Baptist church where scripture is rarely (if ever) read…how do you recommend implementing that (I”m not the Sr. Pastor)…I have been doing announcements and I usually sneak a passage right before I start in on the weeks activities. I didn’t ask I just did it, because I figured no one would complain…they haven’t, yet.

  34. Ask to speak to the elders (or an elder) and make the case. Other than that, I know of no other appropriate response. Then pray that God will open eyes and change hearts.

  35. thanks, I will and continue to insert scripture where I can…unfortunately we dont have elders, we have deacons that, in a way, act as elders. But our pastor is the one who runs everything….ever run into that? Thanks!

  36. My wife and I moved to our current city in 2001 and have never found a church we’ve been entirely comfortable in, despite a couple of stints in churches for 2+ years — and I can tell you flat out that if we found a church that sincerely attempted to do even a quarter of the things in the list in the article, we’d be going there in a heartbeat and planning on staying. And I don’t think we’re alone in that.

    I think a lot of churches who care about growing their congregations have no idea how attractive “going back” really is to a large number of Christians. Ironically, the churches that are most interested in church growth seem to think that everybody wants to current evangelical megachurch model, when in fact I think a whole lot of evangelicals are just tired of it and would flock to a place that seriously tried to have more substance to it.

  37. #-1 PRAY

  38. brandon,

    Part of Michael’s thinking behind “12. Elders” may have to do with the fact that SBC churches (which Michael attends and which I attended for a great deal of my life) are a pure democracy — or to put it more bluntly, mob rule.

    I like Mark Driscoll’s comment on the subject:

    As I studied the Bible, I found more warrant for a church led by unicorns than by majority vote.

    You also said: I think a better thing to add would be to have high standard for those in leadership positions

    You and Paul both, bro. 😉

  39. Aiieeeee . . . . aaaaaiiiieeeee . . . creeds! Creeds! Creeds!

    Aaaaaaaaiiiiiiieeeee . . . CREEEEEEEEEEEDS!!!!!!!!!

    (otherwise, as Phil said, sounds like lots of Church of Christ or conservative Disciples congregations . . . stop snickering, there are still some conservative Disciples of Christ churches out there. But no creeds. Ever. That’s bad, not that we remember why.)

    Pax, Jeff

  40. “14. Have a book table.”

    Say what now?