October 25, 2020

Five Post-evangelical Answers for Today’s Evangelical Crisis

bill-nye.jpgUPDATE: A Bible translator in Africa takes issue with me. I’ll say more about his observations in a later post.

Answers. I don’t seem to have many. A lot of complaints. Not that many answers. Right?

I’m an analytical person, and if someone could be paid to diagnose problems, I could probably make a good living. If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ve already noticed that. One reader recently diagnosed me as an arrogant “whiner,” and I can completely understand what he’s talking about.

When I was in the pastorate, I was chomping at the bit to fix everything and everyone. It didn’t happen and God humbled me considerably in the process. But I’m a tough case to cure, and my analytical, over-diagnostic, obsessed with fixing things nature has survived and thrived on this blog. There’s been a lot of pointing out, and not enough building up.

Part of the problem is that I’m very reluctant to tell others what to do. I’m not reluctant to say “Here’s the problem,” but I’m very reluctant to be the man with the answers. That makes me annoying, and after a few years of putting up with me on this blog, some of you are probably justified in calling me a “whiner.”

So this post is for all of you. No complaints. No playing Dr. Diagnosis. No wagging my finger and shaking my head at your pathetic little church. Here it is: “Five Post-Evangelical Answers For Today’s Evangelical Crisis.” Just Five. I gotta start slow.

1) I’m convinced that the greatest answer evangelicals have within their power is the determination to start new churches. Renewal and revival of existing churches is a worthy cause, but I don’t think you are going to reverse the downward, deteriorating direction in most existing churches. The hope for evangelicalism lies in becoming a massive church planting movement, and in encouraging as many churches as possible to make the creation of networks of new churches a priority in their 5-25 year goals.

The resources evangelicals are pouring into facilities and staff for megachurches need to be directed towards new churches. It’s a decision for every church, but it may be the single most important decision a church can make. We don’t need bigger churches; we need more and more diverse churches.

2) One of the most interesting things in the past couple of decades has been the success of courses like “Experiencing God” and “The Purpose Driven Life.” There is a hunger for something that evangelicals don’t know how to provide in the normal course of things, and when they get close, there’s a strong reaction.

I believe every evangelical pastor and church needs to make specific plans to teach and mentor as many persons as possible in a one-on-one, spiritual direction relationship. What people are looking for is a combination of the classical spiritual disciplines and an ability to interpret their own spiritual experience in practical ways. If evangelicals can learn spiritual direction in the same way some of them practice “discipleship,” and if they can draw on the resources of the ancient and modern church in the process, there will be genuine renewal and deepening of Christian experience.

3) The help evangelicalism needs isn’t going to come from within its own ranks entirely. The sicknesses are too pervasive. We desperately need to be “re-evangelized” by Christians from the global south, Africa, Asia and among the poor. Every church needs to make specific plans not to just help Christians in those areas, but to bring Christians from other cultures to teach, preach, pray, minister and if possible, lead.

This a major solution to many problems. If the North American church can become more like the church in the global south- and I mean in as many ways as possible without compromise of theological essentials- the result can be nothing but good, especially in areas like justice, giving, prayer, pastoral ministry and so on.

4) No one will be surprised to hear me say this, but we need to find a way to simply have less music in evangelical worship. I don’t say that out of any distaste for art or from a lack of appreciation for the need to reach musicians and people with musical gifts. I mean exactly what I mean: in the typical evangelical church, there is simply too much music, too much attention to music, too much judged by music, and too much attributed to music.

Evangelicalism was always better in the days when any evangelical church had 12-15 minutes of music in a typical service, most of that congregational singing. In the new churches we start, elders need to have an intentional approach to the use of music in worship that is balanced and sane.

Outside of the worship service, we need to encourage music and every other kind of art far more than we do, but a ministry of a church and an necessary (and demanding) element of public worship are two very, very different things. I’d be happy to explore this in a later post, but just think of it this way: what a church strategizes to do as a ministry will seldom dominate that church’s public worship. We need music ministry, not musical dominance of worship.

5) Churches and associations of churches must commit to serious, college and seminary level training for laity, including all leaders and as many laypersons as possible.

The model here is the amazing success of the Bethlehem Institute in John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church. This is not just a project for mega-churches, but for networks and associations of churches. Training of leaders in significant theology, relevant apologetics and innovative missional thinking is crucial, and it cannot simply be provided for pastors and a couple of their buddies.

Church based education, using local resources, networked churches, technology and each church’s unique ministries can be truly revolutionary in evangelicalism’s rebirth.

There’s more, much of which I’ve mentioned before: the Christian year, frequent communion, mercy ministries, a fresh examination and application of the new covenant. But for now, consider how these five positive suggestions (no whining!) could impact our future.

Comments

  1. Wow! Great post!! I hope Rick Warren gets hold of this one way or another.

  2. I have a couple of comments:

    This is really a prophetic post in many ways, and shows a huge amount of insight. Just today I managed to get a copy of Robert Webber’s “The Majestic Tapestry” (1986), and although it’s 21 years old is still as relevant today. He talks about returning to the common threads that unite all Christians, found in the teaching and practice of the early church. We will see more interest in this kind of thinking as the megachurch movement begins to wane over the next generation. I don’t think they’ll ever go away, but we will find that diversity rather than homogeneity reaches our increasingly splintered culture. I am an active member of a 3,000-member megachurch that draws mainly suburban, white, upper-middle class families with kids. However, we also offer a Haitian service, a Hispanic service, and two satellite campuses. This kind of intentional strategy to reach others who are geographically and ethnically diverse is the wave of the future.

    Your comment about spiritual direction is insightful. I teach at a Christian college and I see a return to the wisdom of mentoring in higher education, rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach to leadership and ministry training. I am encouraged by this. All of our students are in small groups–it is part of our overall program to disciple both in and out of the classroom. More of this needs to take place in the local church, too. But pastors are too preoccupied with the all-important music-driven worship services to be able to give attention to matters like these. 🙂

    My area of teaching is worship and music, and although I agree with what you are saying, Michael, I need to point out that in church history, music has always been the dominant art form. Music is the one art form in which everyone can simultaneously participate. The Psalmist encourages us to “sing a new song,” not paint a new picture or build a new building. However (and this is a big however), there is a big difference between the performance-driven music we use in worship today and the biblical call for congregational participation in worship through singing. Worship leaders don’t understand this most of the time. Those of us teaching in this area do our best to impress this on our students.

    Your fifth observation about churches offering training is right on the money. In the future, and even now, colleges and seminaries are steadily decreasing in their overall influence. This influence is being replaced by megachurch pastors and other ministry practitioners. Churches once looked to their denominational educational institutions to set the vision and direction for the future, but this time is coming to an end. Churches are beginning to offer their own training programs tailor-made to their specific needs. Those of us higher ed. need to accept this reality and work more closely with local churches.

    One more thing. There is often a lot of disdain pointed in the direction of guys like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels as examples of everything that is wrong with Baby-Boomer driven evangelicalism. It’s easy to criticize them because they’re so visible, and some of the criticism is probably warranted. But before anyone pulls the trigger they should ask themselves if they have put forth even a fraction of the effort these guys have in serving and equipping local church pastors. They have chosen to spend their time investing into lives rather than lobbing grenades of criticism, as so many others do.

    Thanks Michael, for a very thoughtful and prophetic post.

  3. Excellent. Thanks. All five are helpful and insightful. The future may take a turn for the better if evangelicals start to take these suggestions seriously, and act on them in life giving and redemptive ways.

  4. Michael, I heartily agree with both you and with Kent about the music. Let me explain. It’s not the amount of music, it’s the way it’s done.

    I think the downfall of evangelical musical worship is that electronically amplified music divides the music experience between the performers and the congregation even more than elevated choir lofts and organs did in the past. Praise is not a corporate act when you can’t hear yourself think, let alone hear the voices next to you. Also, Pop/rock band music requires a particular set of skills that marginalizes the participation of otherwise musically gifted people and creates a sort of celebrity clique.

    You make a stellar point about supporting the arts and all forms of music outside of the corporate worship setting. That’s where performance based music belongs for the most part. We would do well to focus our body life and resources on a humbler, more unifying approach to praise, even if it’s not cool and attractional.

    It’s funny how we are so rabidly concerned about worldly cultural influences creeping into the church, but it doesn’t occur to us that we’ve allowed the idea that unless we have worldly cool and hip and trendy music, our members won’t worship and no one will be attracted to our church.

    I think the Spirit is more creative than that.

  5. I have visited this site off and on for a couple years now and appreciate your thoughts. I enjoy the, what I perceive to be, honest and sincerety in your posts. Thanks for the 5 Evangelical answers. I agree and think they are very insightful. One of my thoughts would be an addendum to number 5. It has always puzzled me why churches do not invest more time and money in the training, equiping, and funding of missionaries from within their own body. It seems to me the focus has always been more on sending money to some higher organization or outside source (not that it is a bad thing). I know this is a general statement and many details must be addressed, but have never quite understood it. Thanks again and cheers!

  6. As a former drummer in a church music group, i thoroughly agree with you on point 4. I stopped drumming for the church because it was taking way too much of my time in practices and on Sunday mornings. I’d rather be spending that time ministering to people and I found that the large (and i mean large) focus on music in my church was way out of balance. I’d rather be in the congregation singing and participating with everyone else than up front putting on a show.

  7. Pretty much in agreement with 1,2,3 and 5, but I think (with others above) the concern about music needs much more thought and nuance. When music is done right, it becomes an integral part of the entire act of worship, not just a bifurcated part of the service as in most evangelical (and Baptist) churches. Personally, I believe God gave us music so that we can express and experience the emotive part of our nature as persons made in His image. Music must be a part of God’s nature, and it is a language of our worship and communion with him that has, sadly, been turned into a performance rather than a conversation. In the same way, Scripture readings, creeds, and confession give verbal expression to our more cognitive side. And, of course, the Eucharist is a visual and physical expression of those truths.

    The real power in worship is not when any of the biblical elements are separated as discreet events that are somehow duties of the church, but when they are artistically joined and blended in a corporate expression of communion with God. Music, done right, is the glue that can hold all of those elements together. The body comes together each week for Worship (singing, reading, praying, confessing, taking) that leads us to the Word; and the Word (teaching, preaching) that leads us back to Worship. Music is not just a piece of the worship, but part of the whole of worship.

    I have been in an Anglican church where the “amount” of music was absolutely irrelevant to the service because it was a part of all aspects of worship. Music was behind and above the congregation, and all focus was on the altar, so there was never a need for the 35-40 minute “concert” common today that requires staging and performance. The music in this church was much more acoustic, with wonderful arrangements of instruments, percussion, and voices, but every bit as “professional” sounding as any contemporary rock worship (they were Nashville musicians). It’s just that the music was about the worship, not about the performance. Our 45 minutes of worship was a whole expression of communion with God–emotive, cognitive, physical–in which music was a running part of corporate conversation with the Creator.

    That’s not happening in any evangelicultural churches today. Probably won’t. But I long for that kind of worshipping community.

  8. I appreciate your input, but I stand by what I’ve seen in 30+ years in evangelicalism. We are seeing a takeover of worship by expensive, high-rehearsal demanding, ego-expanding CCM. We have to stop it, and the way to stop it is for elders to take control of church music from professional musicians and church growth types and put the “voice of the people in worship” first. Keep it simple. Make it meaningful, but music is the servant of the Word. That is reversed in most evangelical circles and the claims made for music in many churches (anointed, etc.) are nuts.

  9. Tom Huguenot says

    We desperately need to be “re-evangelized” by Christians from the global south, Africa, Asia and among the poor.

    I am sorry, but I do not see it working. I have worked extensively with African Christians living in Europe, and I do not see how they could effectively minister to the typical European (or, for that matter, American).The intellectual paradigm gap is way too big.

    BTW, Michael, I find very interesting you often talk about American evangelicalism, about the Global South churches, but never about European christianity. Why is that?

  10. What should I be talking about that won’t have me promoting Roman Catholicism or Charismatic evangelicalism with an accent?

    I guess you can blame Philip Jenkins and other missiologists for my imbalance.

  11. I hope I didn’t sound like I’m disagreeing with you. I agree that modern, CCM-driven evangelicalism has distorted the whole concept of biblical worship. It has turned worship into a performance, and convinced an entire generation that music is, if not the ONLY, then certainly the most preferable expression of corporate worship. We evangelicals invented the “Music Minister,” and now s/he essentially shares the pulpit with the pastor.

    When you say we “have to stop it,” though, I don’t see how that’s possible. Unless the Holy Spirit raises up a new kind of evangelical church (which is Answer #1), the current trends will probably just get worse. I’m afraid evangelical culture is so institutionalized now that it will take something like a new reformation, or else widespread persecution, to ever change it.

    For the record, I, too, am a 30+ year veteran of evangelical ministry (teacher, writer, musician, pastor, worship leader). I even tried to start such a church a few years ago, only to learn that 1) I lacked the necessary pastoral gifts, and 2) my ideals are not as strong as evangelical cultural conditioning. Now I just wait, and hope. And I read iMonk to remember that I’m not alone. Keep up the good thoughts!

  12. I can’t help but be a little cynical.

    The founding of new churches, the growth of Purpose Driven movement, the ubiquitous CCM rock-style music and even the Bethlehem institutes are all part of the same problem: evangelicalism is a brand that is bought, sold and marketed. I don’t think these will help the crisis, they’re symptoms of the crisis itself.

    Getting more in touch with the world communion of the saints and seeing that following God isn’t about buying something or shopping for something would be a good start, but the problems seem quite obviously ingrained.

  13. While i think the majority of this post is right on, I’d have to throw in a caveat to the part about the global south/Africa/Asia folks ministering, etc. I’ve worked, extensively, in all three areas, spending months at a time with local folks. I have certainly found some Godly folks in these people groups, but most of the churches there reflect the same terrible theology as the Church in America,ie health and wealth, blah blah blah….and i mean the vast majority of Christians in those places follow this teaching. BUT…there are some wonderful, humble, tender folks there who most certainly would be an excellent example to us. It’s so cool to see a Mexican brother unconcerned about material things, and in love with Jsus! Awesome fellowship there! Your blurb about ensuring we check their theology would be right on.
    tim P

  14. I agree with Q that the root of the problem is that Christians “buy” Christianity. It really is a brand of seminars, workshops, political ideaology, etc. However, I agree completely that one of the things we must do is begin educating the laity. I would add to your list a strong knowledge of the Bible, specifically they Old Testament (it seems in many evangelical churches that the Old Testament is pretty much forgotten). I’ve been saying for a while that the church needs to educate the laity, and not just the pastors and elders. I’m glad to see I’m not alone.

  15. I’m not quite understanding the criticism that a balance of pastoral spiritual direction and developing a homegrown or networked approach to higher level lay education is “buying evangelicalism” out of the box. Seems the opposite to me. BI is totally original from the ground up. It’s not in a box, it’s just a model; an idea.

  16. MS:

    I cannot speak to all your positions, but you are 100% correct on the issue of limiting the music, and the issue of more serious level training for laity.

    Here’s my experience. I had a desire to enter a Master’s program at a local university – specifically Gardner Webb University, a Baptist affiliated school – and made contact with the Chair of the Divinity school there, a man who frequently interims at local churches. I was heartily discouraged from applying because I wasn’t an individual seeking to become a full-time Pastor. When I responded that 1) I already HAD a Master’s and 2) it was FROM Gardner-Webb, I was told that GWU paid particular attention to the percentage of MDiv graduates who went on to FT pastoral status and that perhaps I should look into other avenues for my education…like classes at other churches, and self-study courses, and maybe some online work. I was livid, still am. So here was (is) an individual wishing to learn more about God, worship, church structure, etc. in order to further the cause of Christ, and despite having a 4.0 GPA from the SAME SCHOOL, was basically told “no” because I did not have an intention of becoming a full-time minister.

    Your point number 5 is right on target! Thanks for saying so.

  17. If I could add something to #1:

    Not only should we have a lot more church plants; we should also close a lot of churches. There are quite a few churches whose only reason for existence is because the pastor believes he is entitled to a lifetime job at that location and refuses to accept that the Holy Spirit has left the building; or because the congregants are happy with a formalized clique. The result is a lot of tiny, spiritually dead congregations that help to perpetuate the idea of the Church as uncaring, impotent, and uninteresting.

    Of course, for every closing church there should be twenty or more new churches; but far be it from me to assign a ratio to the rate Jesus grows His Kingdom.

  18. Bravo! I am with you on all points. Thanks for opening up the comments.

  19. The comments have been open for 7 years! So welcome! 🙂

  20. nicholas anton says

    I am one of those who has abandoned the plethora of music in the church thought necessary in order to worship. No! Music is not the gateway nor pathway to God, Truth and True Worship, but, like pornography, the pathway to feeding and fulfilling one’s own sensual desires in the church in the false pretext that they are the desire of God. My music is “me”, frequently “sinful me”, and usually not the image of God in me. I, like the aged Augustine who is said to have stated something like the following, have come full circle. (I, after a lapse of 45 years of having read and not memorized the following quote, will attempt to dig into my cranial archives of what I remember while at university from D. J. Grout’s, “A History of Western Music” [No! Not Country and Western], [I am not even sure as to the exact title of the book]). Let me try. Augustine said something like the following;
    “I recall how I was moved by the music of your church when I first believed, but now, when I find myself to be more moved by the music than by what is being sung, I believe myself to have sinned grievously.”
    I am not opposed to every form of music, not even in the church, but I am opposed to what music and the arts have become, and what they represent in society, in the life of the average so called believer and in the average church. Music and the arts are not amoral as Rick Warren suggests, but generally speaking, represent the “zeitgeist”, which in our generation by no means represents the Truths of God. The Glory of God has long departed from the altar of the average church, home and person, and all that remains is the “afterglow” of one’s emotional experience. The “Glory of God” is not the imagery, art and music in vogue in society, but Jesus Christ, who is described in the Bible conceptually and verbally, and not physically, musically, or in artistic imagery as in the Catholic, Orthodox, or even as in most evangelical churches. Bring the True Christ as revealed in His Word, back into the church and we will once again see the Truth of God as taught in the Word of God expressed, not only in the church in True Worship, but in the faith and life of the True believer in his/her personal life, and in the home.

  21. Michael,
    I truly agree with what you have written here. Also, the comment by Beyond Words hit the nail on the head. we definately do not need performance in our worship music…maybe one piece if you are into that but I have always felt like the ‘band’ performs rather than leads (at least at my church).

  22. Michael,
    Granted I go by qohelet, but there’s nothing new about BI. I’ve seen similar programs around the country for the last twenty years. What makes it new-ish is that it has Bethlehem Baptist Church and John Piper’s name on. Translation: it’s brand power.

    On a side note, I’d like to point out that the performance mentality of music in most churches isn’t new or even simply an evangelical issue. After all, what’s the “Anthem” done by the choir every week if not a piece of performance? I think what has become alarming in the last twenty years is that “worship” now means “music” not the whole service (announcements to altar call). And that is truly disturbing to me.

  23. Chris Stiles says


    We desperately need to be “re-evangelized” by Christians from the global south, Africa, Asia and among the poor. Every church needs to make specific plans not to just help Christians in those areas, but to bring Christians from other cultures to teach, preach, pray, minister and if possible, lead.

    The post by that missionary sums things up well – but just to reiterate, this is like saying you want to be saved by the Early Church – ignoring the messes at Thesselonica, Colossae, Ephesus etc. [Insularity of course is a different and slightly orthogonal problem].

    On another note, the Mark Noll lecture on the Global South is an interesting listen, and he sums things up very well when he says that the kinds of Christianity that are spreading rapidly in the South are – for the moment – the syncretic, the wildly charismatic, etc. Not to mention a good proportion of them – especially in Africa – tend to be heavily influenced by Prosperity Theology.

    I have probably mentioned this before, but my background is from the Global South. A while ago I recall chatting with a friend of my fathers, a vicar in the CSI (Church of South India). He leaned forward confidentially and told me they had just recently “had another ‘Legion’ case” in his diocese. Whilst I wouldn’t argue that demon possesion isn’t possible, I would still question the theology behind his interpretation of that particular case. I would be hard pressed to imagine having a similiar conversation with an CofE minister. I suspect that this isn’t the sort of liturgical anglicanism that you had in mind 🙂

  24. hmmm…I used to think that ccm was an abomination and I made fun of it endlessly…and then I walked into the sanctuary at my local Vineyard for the first time and started crying in response to what I’d previously thought to be stupid and cheesy…and then the message was inspired and kind of related to the song content. I think that we have thirty minutes of music which is followed by communion, a message, and an opportunity to recieve prayer during a single song at the end. I have come to love worshiping in this way.

    In contrast to this,I used to really get off on listening to myself sing in my high school choir. In performance, we sang Handel’s Messiah to ourselves and to our very proud parents, It felt pretty holy, but I now think that God had little to do with it. I don’t remember how long it took to sing it.

    So, I have come to believe that it isn’t really the type of music that matters, but how we put our hearts into it. If we are putting God first and seeking his kingdom, we are worshipping. We don’t have to be singing to do this, but I do think that music is an integral part of worship.

    I once went to a church that didn’t sing. It was all bible study, all the time. I truly believe that without music, the church left itself vulnerable to a solid strain of asceticism that pretty much infected the place. I didn’t buy into it, I just left the place after feeling rejected by all the young men who didn’t believe in dating. Not that I hadn’t dated, but the guys who had not given up dating, were the very ones who shouldn’t have been dating and I was feeling rather beat up by the whole experience. I didn’t go back to church for nearly twenty years.

  25. Chris

    how can one find mark nolls lecture?

  26. in no way do i claim that this is the solution for everyone grappling with answer #4, but in our youth ministry, we’ve moved our musicians BEHIND the crowd and found this to be a positive change.

    1. it reminds the musicians of the real reasons for worshiping god through music; it’s not about entertaining a crowd.

    2. it reminds the crowd that their focus should be on god, not a musician or vocalist or performance.

    just some food for thought.

  27. nicholas anton says

    For me, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman signifies the watershed between Old Testament and New Testament worship. While Old Testament post Sinai worship was physical, within space and time, expressed in prescribed rites and form, New Testament worship is Spirit (conceptual and personal) and Truth (rational), expressed in understandable language, resulting in a life of practical obedience to the precepts.

    In order to discuss contemporary worship, I will define what I believe to be a central extra Biblical problem to the issue, namely, the post first century concept of God instituted, institutional/ritual New Testament worship.
    I will define institutional worship as follows;
    “…an act of worship ordered by God which contains one or all of the following; to be performed as a prescribed rite, which takes place within a prescribed space within prescribed time, has prescribed form, and demands prescribed attitudes and actions. It sees worship as a prescribed physical rite for Grace rather than as a natural response to Grace. It sees worship, along with the sacraments, as a means of grace.”
    Ritual may have characterized Old Testament Worship, however, I can not find Biblical evidence that it should characterize New Testament Worship. Never are we instructed in the New Testament to assemble to worship, though worship does take place when the church is assembled. True Worship is/should be incidental to or in response to the Character, Truths and Commands of God as perceived by the believer. In consequence, I will Worship and Praise God because of Who He is and what He has done when these concepts are drawn to my attention, rather than that I will worship and praise God because I have been commanded by God to Worship and Praise Him in a particular place, at a particular time and in a particular manner so that He might bestow on me the benefits of His Grace. Institutional Worship places more emphasis on a conditioned/prescribed formal response rather than on a natural response to verbal, conceptual Truth. Therefore, from what I find in Scripture, New Testament Worship is/should be simply a response of the human heart to Who God is and What He has done when these concepts are brought to one’s attention, and this response is both indicated in what we think, say, and do.

    How I worship God will therefore be shaped by Who I believe God to be, by what I know He has done for humankind, by what I believe He has demanded of humankind, as well as by my recognition of who I am. If I believe Worship to simply be an act in response to a command to worship, and in obedience, I follow that command as I understand it (like going to church every Sunday and singing hymns or choruses), that may be commendable, but is that what God requires? If I see worship as a process and I seek to fulfill that process in the rituals prescribed for me by my religion, that may or may not have benefit, depending on whether the prescribed rituals are Biblical or not, and on the condition of my heart, but is that what God requires? If I see worship as a specified charismatic, passionate experience, and I use whatever means necessary to create and to carry that experience, to be praise and worship, and I revel in and induce others to revel in that experience, is the resultant pleasurable/painful action/experience what God requires (Note, both the concept of penance and charismatic worship revolve around feelings, except penance emphasizes pain while charismatic worship emphasizes pleasure)? If I believe Worship to be my recognition of and response to Who God is and what He has done for humankind, and not a commanded rite or ritual, I will respond naturally, normally and appropriately to the Truths and concepts about God when they are brought to my attention, according to my personality, within my culture, within the parameters of God instructed guidelines for Deo-carnal relationships, as well as to practice that which is decent and orderly within the framework of Biblical teaching, and in the eyes of society, including the Christian church. I will therefore also seek to edify others and not to offend in what I practice, as commanded in Scripture. Most contemporary praise and worship does not meet these conditions.

  28. I like 3 and 5, fundamentally disagree with 1, and can sympathize to some extent with 2 and 4.

  29. bookdragon says

    First let me say that you have never sounded like a ‘whiner’ to me. To paraphrase Paul, we all have different gifts – to some the gift of building up, to some the gift of diagnosing problems, to others the gift of seeing solutions to the problems diagnosed – and the church needs members with each of those different gifts, so none of them should be disparaged.

    Now, I’m not an evangelical, but I grew up surrounded by evangelicalism, so let me comment as an informed outsider. I think your suggestions are for the most part very astute, but I can’t help but echo Q’s comment that there’s a lot of danger in the evenagelical tendency to turn every well-intentioned reform into just another package to be bought. Creating a living community of faith just doesn’t lend itself well to any N-step program, and even helpful suggestions tend to devolve into such a program when instituted by big organizations (either denominational or megachurch).

    That said, there are some good paths toward turning toward more helathy worship. Particularly on #4, the writer that said there musicians were put at the back was right on. The other *big* part is putting Eucharist – rather than a performance either by the band or the preacher – at the center of worship. When the focus is on sharing Christ at table in the community (no matter your church’s particular theology of the Eucharist), the congragation is far less likely to lapse into being a passive audience.

    #2 and #5 can be answered with programs like Sewanee’s EFM (Education for ministry) – an really excellent program with college-level study of bible and Christian history conducted in a small group and focused on raising our awareness thru theological reflection of where and how God is acting in any situation, thereby leading us to examine where we are being called in our own lay ministry. The pastor may be the mentor for the first group, but after a few people have gone thru the program, those lay leaders can mentor subsequent ones. I’m sure there are other programs like it out there as well.

  30. Bob Sacamento says

    Wonderful suggestions, every one. #1 is especially near and dear to my heart. I have been griping about megachurches and the apparent end of mission congregations for years now.

    I like #2 especially, also. I have been thinking alot recently about how there are so many people sitting in evangelical pews — especially youngsters — who want so much to grow deeper and higher in the faith but just don’t know how. And they need more than just another book in the bookstores; they need examples and role models and individuals who know them and can speak to their specific situations. Our ministerial talent is wasting itself in a scattshot approach — sending out nuggets of wisdom that fall on deaf ears as often as not, when we should be focusing it on individuals who will thrive spiritually under the attention. Sad thing is, alot of these thirsting folks are in danger of becoming deaf themselves, hearing and reading the same old things over and over again.

  31. Just a few passing last thoughts on music (Answer #4), with a few more perspectives as I continue to ponder an interesting topic.

    Music is a good thing! Music is a part of our nature as created beings. It is a part of God’s nature as Creator. It is one of the good and perfect things of James 1:17. It is the language by which we will praise God both on earth and in heaven. It is part of the language of our worship as a body (Colossians 3:16). A book of the Bible is devoted to “songs” of worship. Music is consistently, thoughout Scripture, a core expression of the corporate worship of the community of faith, both OT and NT. The stars sang at creation, the heavenly host sang at Christ’s birth, and the church in heaven will sing praise to the exalted Savior. Let’s be careful not to minimalize what God has emphasized.

    CCM music is not all bad. Like it or not, much of CCM music is the “new song” of the body of Christ in this new generation. Millions of people (me, too) worship God daily with songs written by godly, passionate Christians in CCM. Yes, many (perhaps even most) of the CCM songs are trite, repetitive, and annoying, but many are deep, spiritual, and uplifting. The best hymns that we still sing as the church from previous generations emerged from a vast sea of vastly inferior music and trite verse. The same will happen with CCM. The best will be sung for generations. Much of today’s CCM-driven “Praise & Worship” music is undoubtedly better suited for personal listening and for youth conference worship-rallies than it is for weekly church worship. What the church needs is not just a reined-in CCM, but more mature, biblically-informed, and spiritually discerning worship leaders, and fewer professional musicians seeking church jobs and music careers.

    Good worship needs good music. Worship that does not thoughtfully employ the God-given language and power of music is anemic. Worship is more than just music, but it is less than biblical without it, or with it relegated only to sermon warm-up songs. Should music be less emphasized? In today’s culture, I would agree that “musicianship” has become overemphasized. Should music, though, be less important as an element of corporate worship. Absolutely not! It’s not an issue of “art” and “gifts,” but about God’s design for our worship. What needs to happen most is not just budget cuts and staff demotions, but rather a repentance from what has become a self-centered philosophy and paradigm for corporate worship (all-CCM-all-the-time performance and feel-good worship). Then, what’s needed even more is a renewal of a God- and cross-centered philosophy and paradigm for worship, in which music is part of the whole language and script of corporate worship, along with Scripture readings, public prayers, creeds, confession, and the eucharist.

    Probably few are reading this post anymore, but I do hope you will explore this topic in a future post, Michael (as you suggested you might). I would like to hear more of your thoughts about worship and music.

  32. chrisstiles says

    Hi oscar –

    The Noll lecture is at this link here, it ranges more widely than the particular subjects I mentioned

    http://www.roanoke.edu/crs/audio/Noll-3-24-06.mp3


    chris

  33. Bob Sacamento says

    Just an observation on the music. Most of the responses here disagreeing with Michael’s take on church music have sung the praises (no pun intended — well, yeah, I guess it is. sorry.) of the role of music in worship in general. And that’s OK as far as it goes, because music has indeed been part of the worship of God since David first learned to play his harp (and, obviously, long before that too). But the point is not how great music is in principle, but what is happening with music in the church in practice today. I’m on Michael’s side in this regard. Regardless of how great it is in principle, what we have in practice today is just too much.

    By analogy, I can’t think of too many activities more worthy than evangelism. But let’s say the typical church service was nothing but that — no hymns, no choruses, no prayers, no announcements, no baptisms, not even an offering — just the preacher up there evangelizing for an hour plus, week after week after week. The fact that evangelism is a wonderful and worthy thing to do would not distract us from the horrible imbalance in such “worship.”

  34. Michael:
    Your post hit me in the same spot that has been on my mind of late, particularly your 4th point about music. I hope you’ll take a look at my thoughts along along a similar line.

  35. Dear iMonk,

    May I add one more? (I realize you didn’t mean the list to be comprehensive.)

    How about this: “Critically reexamining our at times truncated understanding of the meaning of the good news of the kingdom of God, of salvation and of Jesus the Messiah by going back to the whole Bible?” Perhaps that way, we evangelicals will come to see (one more time) just how good the good news really is, and begin to live out the evangelion!

    Always enjoying your blog,

    – Sam

  36. Vance Clark says

    Michael,
    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    I write this with the noise of helicopters overhead. (I’m in Iraq) I have traveled much in the evangelical world and I have thought long and hard about many of the points that you bring up Michael and many that are related. My conclusion is this: Our worship “Service” has become an idol. The whole concept of a space and time that we must accomplish whatever it is that we think needs to be done for people to be fulfilled needs to be torn down in the sense that we need to quit being driven by the program, what was the servant has now become the master.
    A majority of current megachurches and church growth churches are movie theater experiences. People come, get “filled” and then leave. They rarely, if ever focus on the body of christ and limit ministry to the few on the stage. People in the pew are starving for genuine ministry and yet there are gobs of spiritual gifts lying (or sitting on the pews (or folding chairs) gathering dust! Oh sure, everything is hip and modern and people are friendly but there is a distance because true ministry (along with vulnerability and true christianity has been bred out of them) Hospitality as a gift is almost non-existent.
    When we cease to open our hearts and homes to folks, our Christianity all but dead. I grew up in a fundamental/evangelical church and they certainly had more than their share of things that hold them back (and still do which is why I left) BUT If I went anywhere else in the country in the course of my work, you could almost count on being invited to someones house to eat, fellowship etc. I was almost always ministered to by someone who opted to take up the basin and towel, Today, you get a smile and a handshake or a nod is more like it and that’s it. We have redefined ministry to those performers on the stage. The word might be good, the music excellent, but the fact remains, there remain spiritually immature people and unused spritual gifts rotting away sitting around while people conduct a “service” I am not against a service per se but today we are DRIVEN by it instead of true ministry by people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
    Recent example: My wife and I recently moved to NW Florida recently and were shopping for a church (No one told me it was SBC central! LOL) We visited alot of vibrant churches. The preaching was really good. The music the same and the people SEEMED friendly and happy. One even claimed to be a “Spiritual Hospital” but, not one person ever really engaged us. The service has risen to it’s prominence and people are giving homage without ever really understanding that their true ministry and what they should be investing is dying.
    Sorry for the length,and the repetition of what many have said. I don’t have time to edit. my time is up here at the internet cafe.

    God Bless,

    Vance Clark, USAF

  37. To say that Evangelicalism has a soundtrack problem is an understatement. “Shine Jesus Shine” almost single-handedly forced me into the Orthodox Church.

  38. Michael,
    Having been schooled in a small Bible school in the Kentucky Mountains, holding to the doctrines of grace, pastoring some of those churches rooted in tradions etc., worked in a Eastern Kentucky “Christian” boarding school for some years,over 15 years as a missionary to a country that borders the United States…has given me some insight to the content in your post. Could write lengthy but will not.
    Forget spending time trying to reverse the trend in the established churches…not denying the power of God but stating this from experience.
    Much of today’s “Christian music” is on the same plane as “Christian(insert your own words). Am very much in favor of proper music in a church service and proper time allowed…three to four songs.
    The example given in the N.T. of planting churches and installing leaders and practicing church discipline, music was not the center of worship and Church discipline was preventive and corrective..to prevent error and to correct error. alway with the thought to restore an erroring one to truth. Always to bring glory to God.
    Pastor/teachers have the responsibility of educating the congregation in truth.
    The thought here on the field, instilled in the young preachers by their seminary professors, is “get all you can from the Americans”…material things and money. N