December 16, 2014

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Recognizing the Dangers of Special Music in the Church Service

church-soloist560x350Is it possible that special music in a church service is actually a dangerous thing? Is it possible that special music in a church service can stand in the way of worship? Is it possible that special music in a church service presents more negative threats than positive benefits?

Everyone will answer those questions a little differently; but those questions do deserve more attention than they are normally given.

When thinking about whether or not to have special music as a part of a church service, church leaders and members alike should consider the following.

1—Special music is not commanded, nor exemplified, for the church in Scripture. In the context of the local church, special music (such as solos, trios, & quartets) is not commanded in Scripture, nor do we see it practiced. This is not to say in any way that it is sinful for churches to have special music, but that there is no real biblical foundation as it relates to the local church. As a result, we should not feel that it is a needed component in order to be a biblical church.

2—In the Puritan church (and throughout many periods in church history), the focus of music was on congregational singing. Leading up to the puritan era of church history the church was characterized by modernism, theological liberalism, and a lack of personal holiness (sound familiar?). The puritan response by such men as William Perkins, Richard Sibbes, John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, John Owen, and Thomas Watson was powerful. They promoted a high view of God, personal holiness, and a God-focused approach to corporate worship that did not include any kind of special music; all music in the church was congregational singing. This focus of piety in worship led, in part, to a great transformation of the church that God used to bring about revival. (From Worship of the American Puritans by Davies)

3—Special music has a tendency to draw our focus on to the performance. We can’t help it. No matter how hard we try, we naturally recognize the difference between those who sing well or better than others. We are naturally distracted by mistakes in the ‘performance.’ The better the ‘performance,’ the better it affects us. We begin to look forward to those who do the best job. It is natural for that to happen, but the results are dangerous. Our attention subtly shifts from the message of the song to the performance of the performer.

4—We live in an entertainment-driven society. Everything in our society is driven by the desire to be entertained. Unfortunately, the church has not escaped the effect of this. The default setting for the average person is one of a passive, ‘entertain-me-if-you-can’ mindset. Most people want special music in a church because they enjoy it. That’s not necessarily wrong, but in an entertainment-driven society, new and mature Christians alike struggle with the difference between the enjoyment of being entertained and true biblical worship.

5—Leaders can become tempted to use special music as a tool to manipulate emotions. Whether it’s the desire to add more life and energy to a service, or a way to calm people down before the sermon, using music to manipulate emotions is a dangerous gimmick that is used far too often.

6—We are naturally a pride-saturated people. I have heard of churches having the best singers sing on Sunday morning and having the second- or third-tier singers sing on Sunday evening. This leads nowhere good. The idea that any one person or group of people need to sing for the worship of God to take place is rooted in pride. People can easily become entitled — thinking they can only glorify God if they are using their talent in an individualized way as opposed to corporately. Again, this is rooted in pride.

7—Music is a divisive issue. It never fails that questions and debates over which styles of music should be utilized in special music arise. Certainly, music in general is divisive, but special music always compounds this. People want those who do the style they enjoy most to sing. They look forward to them and tolerate (or complain about) the others. This is simply unhealthy.

8—Music is a tool of teaching to be used by the church leadership. In the Bible, music is a tool of teaching, not just an avenue of worship. Church music should always teach Truth. Church leaders are responsible to God for what is taught, regardless of how it is taught. I don’t know how many times I have heard special music in a church with no real message, or worse, a message that is not completely biblical. This is ultimately detrimental to the goal of the worship service.

9—Congregational singing promotes unity. Very simply, unity is promoted when the congregation sings together. The more of this a church can do, the better.

10—Congregational singing promotes corporate worship. Corporate worship is not sitting and watching someone else sing. We can do that from our couch (American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, The Sing-Off, Etc.). Corporate worship is about collectively worshiping our God together. Congregational singing promotes this reality.

11—Congregational singing leads people to be involved rather than be spectators. The goal is to have all in attendance involved in the worship of our God. Congregational singing encourages this goal.

12—The absence of special music allows more time for those components that are clearly seen in Scripture. We should never be willing to sacrifice a commitment to those things that are clearly seen in Scripture so that we can hold on to those things that are not. Perhaps it is better to fill our services with those things we know God wants rather than those things we simply enjoy.

The goal of this post is to encourage church members and church leaders to think through the topic of special music in the church service, rather than just blindly doing it because we have always seen it done.

Are there dangers? Absolutely. Can those dangers be completely avoided by a church at all times? The jury is still out on that one.

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December 15, 2014

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Why a Focus on Growth May Not be Healthy

-Healthy-Church_focus[1]We live in a culture where growth determines success. If a company is not growing, it’s not successful. If profit is not up, there must be something wrong. If there are not plans for expansion, then maybe a change in leadership is needed.

Unfortunately, this mindset has not just crept into the church; it has taken the church hostage. The same thought process described above has permeated the church to the point that this is how the average church member thinks. If the church isn’t growing, something must be wrong. If giving isn’t up, there must be a problem somewhere. If there are not plans for a new building project or a satellite campus, a new pastor may be what is needed.

The effect this has on churches is devastating. Church leaders feel the pressure to focus all their attention on growth, failing to realize that an over-emphasis on growth actually hinders growth. Over-focusing on expansion can actually limit expansion.

The focus must be on the health of the church. Why? Healthy organisms naturally grow.

When both of my boys were babies I did not wake up every day worried about how much they were going to grow that day, or that month, or that year. My focus as a parent was on being sure they were being fed a healthy diet, that they were safe from dangers, and if they did happen to get sick, I gave them what was needed to get rid of the virus so they could be healthy. Why was this the focus? We instinctively know with children that if they are healthy, growth will naturally happen.

What if we took that same approach with churches? What if instead of worrying about how much the church is going to grow this week, or this month, or this year, we simply focused on being sure our churches were healthy — that they had a healthy diet — that they were protected from dangers, whether they be doctrinal, philosophical, or methodological — that they were given what they needed to fight of the viruses of disunity, strife, hypocrisy, and spiritual apathy? What if we simply made sure our churches were healthy?

In my opinion, growth would be the natural byproduct of such health. It wouldn’t be overnight, sudden, or explosive growth. Your church probably wouldn’t be listed as one of the fastest growing churches in America. But does that really matter? The truth is that any growth God would give would most likely be slow, steady, healthy growth — a lot like what you would see in any other healthy organism.

Church leaders must understand that focusing too much on church growth can actually hinder growth. Health on the other hand has no down side, regardless of what size the church may be. Focus on health and leave the rest up to God.

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December 9, 2014

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Books I’ve Read In 2014

old-books-436498_640Those who know me well know I love to read. This hasn’t always been the case. I avoided reading as much as possible in high school and even in college. It wasn’t until seminary that the value and importance of reading became clear. From then on reading has been a part of my everyday life. I don’t watch that much TV (especially when it’s not football season), so when the kids go to bed, I usually grab a book (or my Kindle). When you read for a couple of hours a day it is amazing how many books you can read in a year.

Last week someone at church asked me what I have read lately. So I decided to put together a list of some of what I have read or reread in 2014, broken down by category. Some of these have been read in preparation for a sermon or teaching series. Many of them, especially the biographies, are just books I saw and wanted to read. I do not necessarily agree with everything in every book, but they have all proven to be beneficial in one way or another.

Biographies

  • Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton
  • Churchill by Paul Johnson
  • The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson
  • The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther by Steven Lawson
  • The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon by Steven Lawson
  • The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards by Steven Lawson
  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (Currently Reading)

Church Ministry

  • Reverberation by Jonathan Leeman
  • Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century by John Stott
  • Anointed Expository Preaching by David Olford & Stephen Olford
  • What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile
  • Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer
  • The Deliberate Church by Mark Dever & Paul Alexander
  • Elders in the Life of the Church by Phil A. Newton and Matt Schmucker
  • The Millennials by Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer
  • Building a Church of Small Groups by Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson
  • Developing a Vision for Ministry by Aubrey Malphurs
  • Expository Preaching by David Helm

Theology

  • The Case for Traditional Protestantism by Terry Johnson
  • Whatever Happened to the Gospels of Grace by James Montgomery Boice
  • The Doctrines of Grace by James Montgomery Boice
  • Dispensationalism by Charles Ryrie
  • On Guard by William Lane Craig
  • A Defense of Calvinism by Charles Spurgeon
  • It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement by Dever and Lawrence
  • The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
  • Why I Am Not an Arminian by Peterson and Williams (Currently Reading)
  • Why I Am Not A Calvinist by Walls and Dongell (Currently Reading)

Personal Growth

  • The Heart of a Leader by Ken Blanchard
  • Be All You Can Be: A Challenge to Stretch Your God-Given Potential by John Maxwell
  • How to Speak at Special Events by David Cook
  • Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake by Gary Millar & Phil Campbell
  • Letters to a Young Pastor by Calvin Miller
  • Say What You Mean by Flesch, Rudolf Franz
  • The Conviction to Lead by Albert Mohler (Currently Reading)

Missions

  • Theology and Practice of Mission by Bruce Ashford
  • Missions on the Move in the Local Church by Collins and Blackburn
  • A People for His Name by Paul Beals
  • Breaking the Missional Code by Stetzer and Putman
  • Finish the Mission by Piper and Mathis
  • Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours by Roland Allen
  • Antioch Revisited by Tom Julien

Miscellaneous

  • The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity by Barnabas Piper
  • Culture Shift by Albert Mohler
  • The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller
  • Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen
  • Is God Anti-Gay by Sam Allberry
  • The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson (Currently Reading)

What books have you read that you would recommend?

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November 19, 2014

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When God is Silent

silentgodHave you ever been through a time in your life when it seemed that God was silent? You cried out to Him, but heard no response. You wanted to hear from God, but heard nothing. You waited on God, but He never seemed to show up. You felt forsaken, abandoned, alone, and confused.

How are we to respond when it seems that God is silent?

You can be encouraged by the fact that you are not the only person who has ever felt this way. Many people in the Bible expressed this same feeling. The good news is that much can be learned from how they responded.

One such person is David. In Psalm 22 we see a little of what David is facing in his life. In verses 1-2 David states,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

 So how did David respond when he felt that God was silent?

1- David confirmed God’s holiness

Vs. 3- Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

Think about the focus, understanding, and trust in God that David had. He understood that no matter what happens, God never changes. No matter what God allows me to go through, He remains unchanged. His character is always the same. Even when He doesn’t answer my cries, He is holy.

Your situation may be volatile, but who God is isn’t. Your emotions and feelings may be up and down, but God is steady. You can hold on to Him.

2- David remembered God’s past deliverance

 Vs. 4-5- In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

It’s like David stopped and reminded God of the fact that people in the past have cried out to Him and He heard them. “I know you are there. I know you hear me. I know you can deliver. You are a God of deliverance. You are a God of answers. You are a God of love. You are a God of compassion.”

Remember God’s past deliverance.  We can look back throughout our lives and see God’s deliverance. We can talk to other Christians and hear of God’s deliverance. We can look in the pages of Scripture and see God at work. This provides hope.

3- David was honest with God about his situation and his feelings

 Vs. 6-8- But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

David is telling God the seriousness of the situation. He is telling Him what is taking place, and that the mockery is not fun. We can be honest with God about our situation. Pour your heart out to God.

4- David remembered God’s faithfulness

 Vs. 9-10- Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

David is acknowledging the fact that God has been there all along. He recognizes that without God he would not have life. He says God has been his God from his mothers womb. God is faithful. No matter who around you is unfaithful, God is always faithful.

5- David continued to call out to God

Vs. 20-21- Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion!

Even after he cried out to God and did not hear anything back, he still turned to God. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t give up. Keep God as your focus. Still turn to God. Still cry out to Him. Be faithful and continue to call out to Him.

Two Wonderful Truths

Why would David continue to call out to God, even when God had not answered him? There are two things I believe David understood that we need to understand.

God’s silence does not indicate that He is not listening. Just because God is not speaking to you does not mean that He is not listening to you. God hears the prayers of His people.

God’s silence does not indicate inactivity. Just because God is not speaking it does not mean that He is not working. God is always at work. It might not be on your time table or on your schedule, but God is at work.

No matter how silent God is, you must understand that God is listening and that God is working. You can trust Him.

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October 6, 2014

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Young Pastors & Leaders: Why it Works

2.27.TipsYoungLeaders_576240389I enjoy reading about and studying leadership. I had to do a lot of it, as my DMin concentration was Pastoral Leadership. There are many principles that can be learned by looking at the great leaders in the Bible. Much can be gleaned from the plethora of books that have been published on the topic. There is also a lot that can be learned by simply sitting back and observing. As a younger pastor (currently 34), I am always intrigued by situations where young leaders have entered a position that many thought them too young for, but then thrived in that position.

There are plenty of examples of such leaders. In fact, there are an increasing number of examples. Many growing and thriving churches are pastored by younger pastors. Here are a few examples of either younger leaders who are thriving in a position when many may have thought them too young or leaders who started in their ministries when they were younger and have seen God bless. Some of these are well-known; others are not.

  • Albert Mohler- He became president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at the age of 33.
  • David Platt- He become President of the International Mission Board at age 34 after pastoring a church of thousands.
  • Mark Dever- He became the Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church at age 34.
  • Jason Meyer- He was in his 30s when he followed John Piper at Bethlehem Baptist Church.
  • Trevin Wax- He is Managing Editor of the Gospel Project and is in his low 30s.
  • Mike Frazier (My Former Pastor)- He took over the Canton Baptist Temple with a membership near 2,000 while in his 30s.
  • Steve Euler (Pastor Friend)- He serves at Grace Baptist Church, and has seen it grow from a handful of people to several hundred, including the establishment of a Christian school. He started while in his 30s.
  • Darwin Blandon (Pastor Friend)- Planted Iglesia Bautista de Chattanooga while in his 20s. It is perhaps the largest Baptist spanish ministry in Chattanooga, TN.
  • David Lemming (Pastor Friend)- Took over Lewis Memorial Baptist Church while in his 20s. They have since built new buildings and run around 1,000.

Certainly there are many others, but these are a few off the top of my head.

Let me pause and say what I am not saying.

  1. I am not saying that a younger pastor/leader has to be successful in a large ministry for his work to matter. God calls us to faithfulness wherever we are.
  2. I am not saying that small ministries are not important. That is certainly not the case.
  3. I am not saying that we should compare ourselves to others.
  4. I am not saying that God has gifted us all in the same way. We all have different talents and abilities.

What I am saying is that perhaps there is something that can be learned by looking at the examples of those who have thrived when many thought they were too young to do so. What did they all have in common? Why did they thrive when others have not? These 5 reasons are based solely on my observation, not on formal research.

1- They prepared themselves as much as possible.

Many of these individuals did all they could to see that they were trained both formally, through education, and/or casually, through mentorship.

2- They had developed a well-rounded group of wise advisors/friends.

Many of these people have other pastors, professors, counselors, business men, and missionaries whom they can call at any time for input and advice.

3- The ministry into which they were stepping provided much support and godly accountability.

Most of these people were not lone-rangers looking to run the show alone. They had a group of people around them inside their new ministry who encouraged them, promoted them, believed in them, supported them, helped them, prayed for them, and served as their counselors and partners in ministry.

4- They knew what needed to be done and were not deterred.

These people had a plan and they stuck to it. They were not sidetracked.

5- They did not let their age become a setback.

They stayed faithful and believed that if God had called them to their current place of ministry, then He would enable them to serve Him well there, regardless of their age.

These are just a few personal observations that I believe can benefit anyone, regardless of age or size of ministry. It is also a reminder that age is not the determining factor in whom God can use or where God can use them. Young or old, God has a plan and a purpose for our lives. Let’s stay faithful to Him wherever He has placed us, being sure to learn from the lessons mentioned above.

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