Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why Don't People Go To Church?

While driving around, I noticed a church sign because one word of the name was black and easy to read, but the word “church” was a shade of gray that nearly blended into the white background. When churches stop dropping words from their signs, it is usually because they don’t want people to think they are associated with another church that has the same word on their sign. This particular church sign used to have the words “Baptist Church” on it, but “Baptist” was dropped and now “church” is difficult to read. I looked at the group’s website and a statement along the lines of “we don’t need another church, we need another kind of church.” Of course, once I got past that statement, the way they described their church sounded very much like the description I’ve seen on many other church websites.

I think people have focused on the wrong things. Maybe if we drop Baptist from the name, people will come to church. Maybe if we don’t tell them it is a church people will come. Maybe if we change the style of music, people will come. And yet, those are things that the Bible says very little about. The early churches don’t appear to have had names. They kept them apart by location—the assembly at Jerusalem—the assembly at Antioch. And while we see places where the early churches sang, none of the New Testament writers spent much time on the subject.

There are two very simple reasons why people don’t come to church and neither has anything to do with the church sign, the style of music, or how the church is described on the website. People don’t come to church because they aren’t saved or because they haven’t been taught properly, but mostly because they aren’t saved. While we love to see lost people show up at church and like it even more when we see them come down the aisle and accept Christ, fashioning our church services on the ability to entertain the lost is not a good thing.

I challenge you to find something in the Bible that says we should design our church services to attract lost people. Our churches are far more open to lost people than any of the churches in the New Testament. When the church was praying for Peter’s release from prison, they had the doors locked and even Peter couldn’t get in. That’s not to say that it is wrong to have activities that involve lost people, but there is danger in putting all of our focus on attracting lost people and failing to do those things that are required to mature the saints.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

How I Passed the Personality Test

Most people have taken a personality test on more than one occasion. There’s always a few questions that you look at and wonder, “Should I answer this way or that way?” Recently, the iPersonic Personality Test has been going around. With just four questions, it can tell you something about your personality. But even with the small number of questions, I had one that caused me difficulty.

It was the first question.

  1. I often like to have a lot of people around me.
  2. I am easily distracted.
  3. I find it easy to approach other people and establish new contacts.
  4. I often make impulsive decisions.
  5. I prefer to be in the centre of things; I have lots of friends and love action and company.
  6. I like to organise my leisure time actively and together with others.
  7. I never leave others in any doubt about what I think and what my point of view is.
  8. My feelings are like me - lively and spontaneous.
  9. A club holiday or travelling with a group of good friends is just the right thing for me.
  10. I prefer to discuss problems with others.

  1. I need a lot of time alone.
  2. I can concentrate on the matter in hand.
  3. I am more the reserved type and approach new relationships carefully.
  4. I think things over intensively before I act.
  5. I am not one for large parties; I prefer a quiet evening with just a few good friends.
  6. I like to spend my spare time alone and to daydream.
  7. Very few know what I really think.
  8. I am not easily worked up.
  9. My idea of a dream holiday is more a solo trip; perhaps to a lonely island or a trekking trip in the mountains.
  10. If something weighs on my mind, I would sooner try to sort it out for myself.

In looking at these side by side, it is a mixed bag for me. On #1, I’d rather have a lot of people around than to spend a lot of time alone. On #2, I tend to be able to concentrate, maybe even a little too much. For #3, I suppose it depends on the setting. I would definitely classify myself as reserved, but I wouldn’t say I approach new relationships carefully. #9 seems very telling. My dream holiday is to go to a meeting with hundreds of people around. I don’t mind being alone, as long as I’m busy doing something, but I hate the thought of a “lonely island.” And #10 is a little strange for me. I prefer to discuss problems with others, but I spend a lot of time working out in my head how I want to discuss the problem with others.

When I answered the questions on the personality test, I first answered it one way and then the other. Along with may answers to the other questions—which I found to be clear cut—answering the question one way gave me the answer Reliable Realist while the other way gave me the answer Determined Realist. From there, I compared the two results to see which one seemed more like me.

Reliable Realists “have little need for social contacts; they therefore take great care when choosing partners and friends and limit themselves to a small but exclusive circle.” That isn’t me. I may forget to talk to people from time to time (quite frequently, actually), there’s nothing exclusive about my circle of friends.

Determined Realists, on the other hand, have a large circle of friends. For the most part, if I’ve met a person and they haven’t stabbed me in the back, I consider them my friend. It surprised me one time when I had lunch with a guy, so we could discuss something of a somewhat difficult nature. He looked at me and said, “we’ve known each other for quite a while, but I don’t know if you would consider me a friend.” Perhaps that is a shortcoming on my part, but I hadn’t realized that our friendship wasn’t as obvious to him as it was to me. Some people are closer than others, but I know very few people that I do not consider friends. And even those who aren’t, I’m working on.

But the thing that surprises so many of my friends, when I tell them my results from a personality test is one word, “Extroverted.” That is the very first adjective use to describe the Determined Realist. People don’t normally think of me as an extrovert. I think people confuse “extrovert” with “bubbly.” But when you consider that extroversion is “the state of obtaining gratification from what is outside the self,” it makes more sense. There are several ways that extroversion and introversion can manifest themselves. Even the person who is bubbly may be an introvert, if their bubbliness is what they use to protect themselves from interaction with people.

I suspect that I am fairly close to the middle of the introversion/extroversion spectrum, but I have slightly stronger leanings toward extroversion. Anytime you take one of these personality tests, you can’t assume you are one but not the other. Everyone falls somewhere in the middle. The extremes are a very bad place to be. So, if you don’t know how to answer, take a good guess, look at the results and then go back and change the answer if the results don’t match what you know yourself to be.

What results did you get from taking the personality test?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Changing Church Music

It seems like we spend a lot of time talking about what to do about the music in church. When I did my stint as music director at a small church, I’ll say that I thought it was hugely important. I aimed for newer songs and always put a slower song right before the sermon, so people would be ready to listen. I had this idea that we could change our music and our attendance would increase. Well, our attendance did increase during that time, but it had nothing to do with the music. If anything, the people who came would’ve liked different music than the stuff I was giving them.

Our thinking can get really messed up. We start saying things like, “If it will draw in more people, we can put up with music we don’t really care for.” It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with having newer music, or older music, or whatever kind of music. We run into a problem when we start making assumptions about what other people want. “If we want young people, we’ll have to have contemporary music,” we say. But is that true? I know of people younger than me that enjoy music that is older than me. And I know people older than me that like contemporary music.

But look at television shows like American Idol and The Voice. What is it that makes these shows popular? The music they use isn’t limited to the most popular time periods or genres. Instead, they have a wide variety of music styles from different time periods. The most important factor with these shows is the quality of the performances. If someone who doesn’t sing well gets on American Idol, they’ll get laughed at, but they don’t stay on the show very long. On The Voice, they don’t put anyone on who can’t sing.

Consider Psalm 33:3, “Sing unto Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.” There are a couple of things to notice here. One, God wants us to “play skillfully.” Good music for worship is music that the musicians have practiced. Another thing to notice is that God wants a new song. But don’t assume that means the contemporary style of music. If you read the rest of the Psalm, you see that the new song the psalmist sings is the oldest story of all, the story of creation. A new song comes from the creativity God has given the musician.

Look to the musicians. What is it that they know how to play? What is it that they enjoy enough to practice? What have they created in their hearts? I don’t know that we’ll ever find a style of music that draws people in. Most people are looking for something other than music, but music is important to put us in an attitude of worship. What we don’t want is for people to suffer through the music service. We especially don’t want the musicians to suffer through the music. If they don’t like the music they’re playing, they won’t practice, and if they don’t practice, everyone suffers.

While church musicians have a responsibility to follow the music director, they are also artists in their own right. Ask them to sing or play too much stuff that they don’t enjoy and they’ll quit. That makes me think that what we ought to be doing is looking at the musical talent God has placed in the church and using what we’ve got. If we’ve got a lot of singers, have a choir. If four or five, then a praise team might be the thing. If we’ve got people who can play strings, then an orchestra might be the way to go. Brass? How about a brass band? Guitars? Find a way to use them. The style of music and the tempo of the music may be driven by what the musicians can accomplish. But that’s okay. As long as it is skillfully done, people will like it.

I’ve Been un-Brothered

The other day, I posted a link to a Wikipedia page as a comment to a post that showed up on my news feed. The person who had shared the post saw the link as disagreeing with the post he’d shared. He sent me a message saying as much and “I’m removing you from my friends list.”

For the most part, I don’t care if someone removes me from their friends list or not. But this is a person that I see frequently. He isn’t someone I’ve spent a lot of time talking to, but our paths cross in Christian ministry. We exchanged several messages, with me saying I didn’t see why he thought it was such a big deal and him saying that he was concerned what his non-Christian friends would think. Personally, I think non-Christians seeing that Christians can disagree with each other and still get along has a greater impact than seeing them pat each other on the back and say, “Good job, brother.” But neither of us seemed to be persuading the other.

What really got me, when I thought about it, was the words in one message that said, “I don’t know you well enough to call you brother.” My first thought was that it is true that he doesn’t know me very well. I don’t suppose we’ve known each other for a year yet, and though we are involved in similar activities and see each other frequently, our circles are somewhat different. But then I started questioning, “How well do you have to know someone to call them brother?” and “What is a person saying if they decide not to call you brother?”

The words of the song Family of God come to mind. “You will notice we say brother and sister ‘round here. It’s because we’re a family and these folks are so near.” In the Bible also, we see the term “brother” used frequently when referring to fellow Christians. In some cases, it is used for people with whom we wouldn’t expect to be on the best of terms with. “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3) And that may be why God chose “brother” as the term for fellow Christians to use. You see, brothers aren’t bound together by how well they know each other or how much they like each other. Brothers are brothers because of blood. For Christians, the blood that makes us brothers is the blood of Jesus Christ.

For someone to say, “I don’t know you well enough to call you brother,” what they are saying is, “I don’t know you well enough to know if you are a Christian.” We don’t always know if someone is a Christian, even if they tell us they are, even if they are church members. But there are some things that give us a good indication. Are they bearing fruit? Are they serving the Lord? Are they telling others about Jesus? Do they love the brethren?

One of the problems with social media is that it is easy to upset someone by doing something that wouldn’t bother you at all, if the shoe were on the other foot. And when people are upset, they say some things that are not nice. They might even un-brother you. But it is our choice whether we take offense or not. I won’t say that I enjoy someone suggesting that I’m not a Christian, but I choose not to take offense. (At least, not for long.)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Is Sochi Heaven?

This week, the world watched as athletes gathered in in Sochi, Russia for the Olympics. There’s no question that the Olympics are flawed and there is always some political issue that comes up. Russia and the west have long been at odds with each other. And if that isn’t bad enough, NBC seems to have made it their goal to mention Russia’s stance in opposition to homosexuality, at every opportunity. But even with all its flaws, the Olympics give us a picture of heaven that is unlike any other.

And they sang a new song, saying, “Thou art worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof; for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, from every kindred and tongue, and people and nation, and hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth.” -- Revelation 5:9, 10

For a brief moment, as the people of the world gather to participate in the Olympics, we see something similar. As we watch the athletes march in to the Olympic stadium, we see “every kindred and tongue, and people and nation.” At least, we see an approximation of that, since not every nation participates. But it gives us an idea of what heaven will be like. But there will be many more people in heaven. “Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11) There may even be some nations represented that we never knew existed.

But we also see a picture of heaven in the contests that take place at the Olympics. I don’t suppose we’ll spend our heavenly days running a race, but many of the Olympic sports have judges who must decide who is worthy of being rewarded the gold metal. It used to be that Olympians were crowned with a wreath. Compare that thought to what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:8:

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

At the closing ceremonies of the Olymipics, we’ll once more see the nations of the world march into the stadium. Many of the athletes will be wearing the metals they have won. That is very much like the picture the Bible paints of heaven. The day will come when the saints will be judged according to the work they have done for Jesus. And when we’ve received our awards, we’ll go out and take our place on a new earth.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why Not 8?

We’re going through deacon training, so I looked online to see what other people are saying about the subject. It is interesting that nearly everyone mentions Acts 6:1-7, which is calling of the first deacons, but they don’t mention verse 8 and following, and they don’t mention chapters 4 and 5.

I can understand why they don’t mention chapters 4 and 5. These chapters don’t have deacons mentioned at all. But they do give us an understanding of what is meant in Acts 6:1 where it says, “their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Or as some versions say, “the daily distribution of food.” In the early church, some had a lot and some had very little. Those who had more started selling their possessions and the money was used to buy food for everyone—not just the widows—everyone. The food was distributed daily, but somehow, the Grecian widows were being overlooked and going hungry. It may have been a cultural thing. It may have been a language thing. It may have been an age thing. Whatever it was, they weren’t getting their part. Perhaps there wasn’t any particular person responsible for the food distribution until the seven were appointed over it, but it was for that cause that the first deacons were chosen, freeing the Apostles to continue in prayer and the Word of God.

But verse 8 is a little harder to explain, both in what we ought to do with it and in why preachers don’t usually include it when they are talking about the calling of the first deacons, Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus. In verse 8, we see the words, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” If you keep reading, you see that there were people from the synagogue that tried to dispute with Stephen, with no success. So they found some false witnesses and put Stephen on trial. And in Acts 7, we have one of the most powerful sermons you’ll ever read.

Verse 8 is clearly connected to the writing concerning the seven deacons. We’ve just been introduced to Stephen, Philip and the others and we’re about to see what these men did. The problem is that Stephen and Philip don’t fit the division of labor we think of in the church. There are two offices in the church, pastor and deacon. The pastor is the guy who is the primary leader and is the guy who stands behind the pulpit on Sunday and preaches. The deacons are the guys that do the other stuff, so the pastor doesn’t have to. If we had a common food pot, they’d distribute the food, like in Acts 6. They’re supposed to look after the widows and needy (benevolence). They look after the physical needs of the church (building and maintenance). They monitor whatever budget, so the money goes where the church intends. At least, that’s the idea we have concerning deacons, and if you read Acts 6:1-7, you can kind of see that. But what deacons don’t do—never, ever, ever—is preach. That’s the pastor’s job. The pastor is supposed to be the one out front talking. The deacons don’t have to talk (and some seldom do), but serve as an example by getting their hands dirty.

I suppose someone forgot to tell Stephen and Philip that. The other five, may have fit our expectations of a deacon very well. They may have distributed the food, collected the money, and had very little to say. The fact that Stephen was a preaching deacon doesn’t mean that every deacon is supposed to preach, or even that most deacons are supposed to preach. But at the same time, we know that Stephen wasn’t wrong to do what he did because the Bible makes it very clear that he was “full of faith and power.”

What do you do with that if you’re trying to teach deacons their role? “You’re supposed to take the load off the pastor, so he can pray and study the Word and otherwise prepare sermons that lead the church. It isn’t your role to be a preacher. And as your example, the Bible provides Stephen who is known for his preaching, and Philip, who is known for soul winning.”

While it is necessary for us to read verse 8 and the verses that follow if we hope to know all that God intends for us to know about the early deacons, and while the deacon Stephen preached the longest sermon recorded in Acts, it tells us nothing about pastors. What I mean by that is that even if Acts included a sermon from each of the seven deacons, the position of leadership and the responsibility to shepherd the church is not removed from the instructions the Bible has for pastors. The pastor’s responsibility to lead in the spiritual affairs of the church is not lessened by the fact that when the Holy Spirit grabbed ahold of a couple of deacons, they went out and started preaching. Nor is it a reason for deacons to decide that the Lord didn’t really intend for them to be leaders in the temporal affairs of the church.

The men that the Lord leads a church to ordain as deacons will have a diversity of gifts and skills. Some, when obeying the voice of the Holy Spirit, are gifted teachers and soul winners, as Stephen and Philip were. Some have a knack for visiting the sick. Some may be as introverted as can be, but put a hammer in their hands and they will build things that will amaze you. Others have skills that lend themselves to keeping the financial records in order. One of the things that verse 8 and the verses that follow tells us is that the diversity of gifts that God gives these men goes beyond the division of labor many people carry in their mind.

But the strength of Stephen’s preaching was also necessary for the path the Lord had laid before him. Because of the power of Stephen’s preaching, the Jews disputed with him, but to no avail. They hated him so much and the message he preached, they stoned him. And the gospel began to spread. If all Stephen had been doing was distributing food, I very much doubt he would’ve been killed. Even that was the will of God. The preaching deacon Stephen was able to look up into heaven and report that he saw Jesus standing on the right hand of God. By that, Stephen was an example to the saints, not only how we should live, but how we should die.