church Posts

When does patriotism become idolatry?

The Church in America is at a crossroads. In this cultural moment of instability and polarization, many have turned to a new kind of Christian Nationalism as the answer. I’ve seen a shift among some, from a grateful and healthy patriotism, to a nationalistic idolatry. Christian Nationalism threatens the Church, the witness of believers, and the advancement of the Gospel. It is important to recognize that many politicians have taken on the name of Christ and co-opted the Church for political purposes. Non-Christians attach the beliefs and actions of these leaders to the broader Christian witness. This, of course, is not new, but it has revealed an underlying syncretism of faith and politics that threatens the clarity of the Gospel. This syncretism is the result of a fear-based response to a growing sense that the Church is losing ground in the culture wars. Lacking faith that Christ and His Church can stand alone, many have Christian leaders have co-opted government to accomplish a “kingdom” agenda. The dearth of moral leadership in the public sphere and a polarizing president have magnified the tension and division among Americans. Regardless of what side you fall on- and most tend to fall heavily on one side or the other- we all know these are challenging days in America. We are as divided as I’ve seen in my lifetime. So, as we celebrate the 4th of July (more explicitly, our freedom and those who have made it possible), it is important that we do so thoughtfully, intentionally, and from a biblical perspective.

Once upon a time, “Jesus is Lord”, was a political statement. So political, in fact, and such an affront to the Empire and the Emperor who sat on the throne, it led to capital punishment. The Roman government had declared you could not worship two masters; it was Caesar and no one else. As a result, early believers (our ancient brothers and sisters) were martyred for their faith in Christ. It was not the declaration that, “Jesus is Savior” that shook the Empire but that, “Jesus is LORD”. This confession of faith flew in the face of the State because it meant that Christ alone is the King, the Ruler, the One with all power and dominion, and that there is no other. Allegiance is to Him alone.

If Christ is Lord of our lives, we are devoted to Him above all else – above our nationality, race, ideology, ethnicity, political leader, or party. Most Christians know the difference and seek Christ above all else, but we all wrestle with idolatry, more than we know. Calvin noted that, “The human heart is an idol factory”. Idolatry is most often making good things God things – even God-given things – and trusting in these things more than God. Idolatry can include comfort, security, wealth, success, power, and approval. It can include our spouses, families, jobs; even religion or doctrine can become an idol. Most Christians commit idolatry without knowing it. I’ve learned that idolatry is so insidious and subtle in my life, that it requires a humble and thoughtful scrutiny. It’s been helpful for me to understand that my deepest emotions point me to my idols. What makes me anxious? What makes me angry, nervous, extremely happy or sad? Something has become an idol if the thought of losing it would make me question if life is worth living. Something has become an idol when I think that in it or through it I find meaning, happiness, and worth.

Let me be clear that patriotism is not idolatry. A grateful and passionate patriotism is a proper response to the blessings that come from living in our country. Not everyone can celebrate their country, their founding fathers, and those who have given their lives for the freedoms we enjoy in America and often take for granted. But patriotism can become idolatry.

When does patriotism become idolatry?

  1. Christians practice idolatry when they believe that a political leader will bring the social change necessary, more than Christ.

At first glance, this seems absurd, but for many, their functional savior is a political leader or party, and not the Lord Jesus Christ. I know this because some are more passionate about politics than they are about Jesus. They read more, think more deeply about, and study politics far more than they study their Bible or pursue theology. I know this because many watch political news more than they read their Bible and they engage in political conversations (most often with others who agree with their disparagement of certain opposing political positions) than they engage in spiritual conversations with others about Jesus. I know this because of the fear, anxiety, and anger I see on social media platforms. I see Christians who are more passionate about defending a political view or partisan position than they are about defending the Gospel and the truth of Christ. I know this because I see Christians who support and defend a candidate or leader carte blanche, even when it is clear that he/she is speaking or acting in ways that are clearly not the Way of Jesus. All leaders are flawed and surely no one person or party is right on every political matter.

I can’t imagine Paul wringing his hands, anxiously praying for the Father to place a certain Emperor on the throne in Rome so that the Gospel could finally advance in the Empire. Paul and the early followers of Jesus did not rely on a political leader or the State for any power or authority to advance the Gospel. They knew who their Leader was and they were operating out of all the power and authority they needed, given to them by Christ, through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine Jesus endorsing a certain candidate in our day, with the expressed position that through him/her the kingdom agenda would finally become a reality? Praise God we live in a free democracy and that our leader is not a totalitarian dictator (as in Paul’s day). We need to remember that our national leader is just a president who has 1/10th of the power of any totalitarian dictator. Regardless of your political persuasion we can all praise God for the genius of the “American Experiment”, with our Constitution and our three branches of government with its checks and balances. Let us be thankful for our democracy.

  1. Christians become idolatrous when they believe in the ability of the State to affect change, more than the Church.

Christians practice idolatry when their focus for change is on what the State can do more than on what can be accomplished in and through the local church. Many believe the State will bring necessary change, instead of embodying that change and living out the Gospel in every domain of culture. When one’s energies are spent electing one candidate up against another more than on the ministries at his/her church, which can bring about effective and lasting change locally, it has become idolatrous. Patriotism can be idolatrous when our hope is in the State and when our “agent” of change is the government, or an election or specific candidate or party.

I know that some trust in the State more than Christ because I see those who claim to have been transformed by His love, but do not love others as He has loved us. These days we are quick to label, categorize, and demonize people (and those who agree with them), so that thoughtful dialogue and civil discourse becomes impossible. If you categorize and tag people, calling them names or placing labels on them, it dismisses them from having a thoughtful perspective. And it dismisses you from thoughtfully and respectfully listening to them. This lack of engagement will never lead toward empathy and understanding. This is the lost art of American politics. For the Christian, the hope of the world is Jesus Christ and His Spirit alive and active, embodied in the Church, as the People of Jesus live out their faith.

  1. Christians become idolatrous when they spend more time and energy on political matters than on a pursuit of Christ and the making of disciples.

An obsession with politics may reveal a misguided focus for the believer. This is not to say that we do not need Christ-centered politicians and Spirit-led leaders in government. Surely we do, as in every cultural domain. But when we find that our time spent serving in and through our local church, is less than the time spent reading about, and watching news about the State, elections, parties, or working for political change, we’re out of balance.

But can’t we be both patriotic and politically informed and involved? Certainly we can, and that is not my concern here. My concern is that too many Christians spend too much of their God-ordained time and precious energy supporting partisan politics, believing that they are furthering justice and advancing the Gospel – thus revealing a syncretism at best and idolatry at worst. We advance the Gospel by advancing the Gospel. It is Good News that needs to be shared. In the end, people don’t care about our opinions. They care about our love. What they need is Christ-like love, empowered by His Spirit within us. Our opinions don’t change lives but our love does. His love does. No one is argued into the kingdom.

When it comes to seeing real change in our culture, where do I focus my energies? Is it engaging my neighbor or ranting on social media? Who or what do I think is the real agent of change? What do my anxious thoughts and actions reveal about where my allegiance lies? Jesus said that whatever we value most is where our thoughts and actions will run. So, I urge us all to take a hard look our lives and where our minds and hearts are going. And then celebrate with unbridled joy the God-given privilege of living in America, where we are free to worship Christ above all else and share His Gospel unhindered.

Pastors: How to Celebrate Jesus on Mother’s Day

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Is the church able to suffer with those who suffer while rejoicing with those who should be honored? I think so, and Mother’s Day gives us a chance to prove it. Mother’s Day is always a challenge for pastors and congregants as we seek to honor and celebrate our moms in appropriate ways. Most pastors will receive an email or a letter telling them how they should have done it differently or been more sensitive or more celebrative. Some say, do nothing because it’s too painful for some, others say, honor moms but acknowledge the pain that is in the room, and still others say it’s all about moms, so go all out, rejoicing over the wonderful gift and influence of motherhood. After all, everyone has a mother and it’s all about honoring their sacrificial example and influence in our lives.

But isn’t worship all about Jesus? Have we placed undue pressure on the pastor and our congregations by focusing too much on Mother’s Day? The true focus and celebration of motherhood should take place in the family, and from one person to another. More than anything my mom will want to hear from me on Mother’s Day, not be recognized as a mom at church. Stacy will want to hear from our children, about how much they love and honor her life and influence.

I know women who will not come to worship on Sunday because it is too painful – having just lost a mom, or longing to be a mom and unable to be so. Perhaps the pain is the result of an unnecessary or exaggerated emphasis on moms. Our focus in worship is always Jesus. In many ways, Mother’s Day feels like the Sunday that lands close to July 4th or Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day. Those are wonderful days to focus on our freedom, those who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and for those who have served our country. But is this a church thing? And should it be a priority for the short time we have in worship together? Hallmark has challenged us to bring our attention to certain holidays when some have very little to do with the church and the advancement of the kingdom. Over time, it seems we have adopted (again) the stuff of this world and “baptized” it into the church to become a part of our liturgy. I’m all for celebrating moms, but let’s the keep the focus where it needs to be. For every motherless child, Jesus is the answer. For every childless woman, Jesus is the answer. For every miscarriage, adoption that didn’t come through, for every death, or struggle with infertility, Jesus is the answer. We will do well to make sure He dominates our attention and affection this Sunday and every Sunday.

At PCBC, we will share a version of the words below. In another venue we will share a responsive reading together, sharing the same essence, acknowledging the pain and grief of motherhood. I want our entire congregation to feel what others feel and for everyone to know we are in this together. We are a family. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Acknowledging the Wide Continuum of Mothering – by Amy Young

  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child – we celebrate with you
  • To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
  • To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away – we mourn with you
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
  • To those who have disappointment, heartache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
  • To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
  • To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
  • To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
  • To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be
  • To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren – yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
  • To those who placed children up for adoption – we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart
  • And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

I’ve often said that, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” The greater the love, the greater the grief. There is no grief greater than the grief of a mother, because there is no love greater than the love of a mother. This Sunday, let’s honor our moms appropriately, teach the church to be the church, but let’s keep our minds attention and our hearts affection on Jesus, the Giver of all good gifts, including (and especially) our moms.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

 

 

Refugees, Immigrants, and the Law of Love

Turkey syrian refugees kurdsa recent post for the IMB – Dr. Jeff Warren

North Dallas is known as a place of prosperity, posterity, power, and position. Though not as endearing, some would add privilege, even pretention to that list. I serve as the senior pastor of an amazing church in the center of North Dallas. The Park Cities Baptist Church is located in the township of University Park, one of the most affluent zip codes in the nation.

Now, come with me on a trip less than two miles to the east on Northwest Highway and you will experience another neighborhood of North Dallas. Go past North Park Mall, across Central Expressway, and we will come to Vickery Meadow. Take a walk around the neighborhood and you will meet people from around the world. As you pass by the aging apartment complexes, you will likely hear one of the 50 languages spoken here. Listen and you will hear songs in Arabic, Spanish, Somali, Burmese, or Hindi. You’ll catch the aroma of Ethiopian, Indian, and Mexican food unlike anything you’ll find in the upscale restaurants, of the Park Cities or Lake Highlands, just minutes away. No wonder this slice of North Dallas is known as the “Little United Nations.” 35,000 people live in this 3.3 square mile area, the highest density of people in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Nearly every resident lives in an apartment and 60% speak Spanish, though only 10-15% are from Mexico. Vickery Meadow has the highest population of U.N. resettled refugees in the U.S.. 99% of the people live below poverty level and over 50 different languages are spoken at Conrad High School. It was here that the Ebola virus first showed up in the United States, contracted by a Liberian man visiting immigrant family members. It is here, as Teri Heard, one of our ministry champions in this area noted, “God is bringing the nations to us.”

The rule of love

In light of recent debate over issuing bans and building walls, our church family has been faced with the very real question: What is the Christian’s response? How do we live in this tension between upholding the law and displaying love to the most vulnerable among us? Augustine spoke of the profound unity of Scripture, reflected in his famous “rule of love”? According to Augustine, whoever “thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation on them that does not tend to build up the twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought” (Christian Doctrine, 1.26.40). Love of God and love of neighbor is our final exegesis. It is, in fact, the final proof that we are followers of Jesus.

We must always follow the rule of law while always practicing the law of love.

Jesus’ challenge to “render unto Caesar”, challenges us to ask two questions: “What does not belong to God?” And, “Doesn’t Caesar himself belong to God?” I’ve told our congregation that we will leave the security and safety of our nation to our governmental leaders. But we do not need politicians to tell us how to treat outsiders. 1 Peter 2:14 says that those who govern over the nations are “sent by Him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” The first priority of government is the safety and security of its citizens. We believe that we must live in a land of law and order. There must be a rule of law.

Chosen leaders are called to protect their citizens.

As Christians, we know too that we are citizens of another kingdom and we are ambassadors of another King. Exodus 23:9 says, “Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” Jesus told us we are to invite the stranger in. We are to give to the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger who is sick or needs clothes to wear. In fact, He so identifies with the outsider, He says when we serve them, we are serving Him (Matthew 25:25-36). Galatians 5:14 says, that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul tells the church to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6).

The rule of law and the law of love

John 13:34-35 says “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We are filled with the Spirit, united in the Spirit and we love all people as Christ has loved us. Exodus 34:6-7 says, “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness… forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…” The rule of love has order built into it.

Our church family is constantly confronted with the fact reality, “to whom much is given much is required” (Luke 12:48). One of the core values that drives us is, “overflowing generosity”. Our church is filled with generous Christ-followers who are eager to give away and to share with others. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Our members have been serving the Vickery area for over 30 years. I t all started as God prompted a few of our members to start a Bible study for a small group of Spanish-speaking women. After years of ministry in the area in a variety of ways, we began a Bible study in our mission office that soon grew into it’s own service and finally became one of our five venues on campus every Sunday morning. It is a bilingual service, but the members are integrated into our ministry programs, mission efforts, camps, Wednesday night opportunities, and Connect groups. In every way, this a portion of our congregation, are valued members as much as any other group within our church family. We have several deacons who have come out of the “PCBC En Espanol” portion of our congregation. They are a vibrant part of our family who are teaching the rest of our congregation how to pray, serve, and worship the Lord with great passion and energy.

A long-lasting legacy of love

Out of this single Bible study years ago has come multiple Bible studies, women’s groups, and mentoring for children through the years. Annually we have served the community at the beginning of the school year. Most recently we provided 1,200 backpacks, 350 teacher supply boxes, 300 eye exams, 100 athletic physicals, and 500 immunizations. We have had 15 different teacher appreciation lunches and breakfasts in Vickery Meadow schools. We have distributed food backpacks on the weekends for the most needy children. We also provide a kind of Spring cleaning, refurbishing, and landscaping. We currently support eight refugee congregations: Burmese, Nepalese, Kenyan, Indian, Arabic, and several Spanish-speaking congregations.

God’s love for this community is leading us to the completion a 6,500 square feet, Community Care Center for training refugee and immigrant pastors, ESL classes, after school care, church planting, healthcare, women’s groups, and a ministry among the Royhinga people group, of which, there are no known believers. Jana Gardner, one of our church members, started Healing Hands, a Christian clinic for the uninsured. Last year Healing Hands served 12,000 patients, nearly all refugees and immigrants. Over 100 people have come to Christ, and they are ready to plant a church for the new believers.

Most recently, our church hosted a city-wide leaders’ meeting for those who serve refugees and immigrants. Our purpose was to equip ministry leaders with accurate information, resources, and best practices for caring and serving those in need. Among the leaders present was Mike Rawlings, the mayor of Dallas, our county judge, pastors, ministry organizers, volunteers, and others who simply want to get involved. It was a wonderfully diverse gathering that brought factual information to many who are misinformed. We also heard from a refugee family, the struggles of a father and his children, who were present as well. Leaders shared best practices and we provided opportunities to get involved. We experienced again, the very presence of Jesus, who told us that when we serve the most vulnerable among us we are actually serving Him.

I challenge every pastor, church planter, ministry leader, and every church to pray, look around you, and see if God is calling you to serve refugees and immigrants. We care and serve, all in the Name of the One who was Himself an immigrant, living in a foreign land. He came from the very top, all the way down to where we are, to lay down His life so that we too might live. The Gospel drives us to go do likewise. May we follow Him, and none other, to be salt and light to the misplaced and marginalized, to the immigrant and refugee.

 

 

 

 

 

The American Dream is derailing the American Church.

The American Church is losing her way. I write this in hopes of helping some of us get back on track. In recent days our passion, even anger, around non-core issues has revealed that we’ve forgotten who we are and Whose we are. Our early brothers and sisters knew that they were “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) in a foreign land. Not once do we see them demanding that the Roman government get on board with their agenda. I can’t imagine Paul thinking, “If we could only get the right emperor on the throne in Rome we could finally advance this Gospel.” Instead, he taught what Peter, and every other apostolic leader taught, that in Christ we now belong to “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). I think Jesus would tell us we’ve been fighting the wrong battle, with the wrong weapons.

If our deepest emotions reveal our idols, then the current anxiety, and anger of some, has exposed our misplaced values. Augustine defined sin as “disordered love”, having highest affections for good things, but not the Supreme thing. Instead of a passion for Christ as Lord and a devotion to love as He has loved us, it seems we’ve come to believe that the kingdom will be ushered in through the White House, rather than through God’s House – through God’s people.

We’ve baptized our own version of the American Dream, with our own American Jesus. The American Dream, that has produced (in my view) the greatest country on earth, has created a national ethos founded on the wonderful ideals of freedom, prosperity, and success for all. Driven by a desire for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, Americans have opportunities that others around the world can only imagine. Today, we pause to thank God for those who have gone before us who have established the God-given principles that guide us. But let’s be sure that we separate the Bible (that helps us live as “aliens and sojourners”, following Jesus every day) from the Constitution (that helps us live as law-abiding Americans everyday).

In his book, “On Two Wings”, Michael Novak explains the context out of which the “American Experiment” was born. Novak states that the way American history has been told for the last century is incomplete. Secular historians have “cut off one of the two wings by which the American eagle flies.” The founding generation established a compact with the God of Israel “and relied upon this belief. Their faith is an indispensable part of their story.” But, as aliens and sojourners, we must remember that there were two wings that established the greatness of America. If one wing was a Judeo-Christian (mostly Christian) ethic and biblical worldview, the other was driven by the Enlightenment, with an emphasis on reason, a secular point of view detached from God. John Adams and others, representing the Christian wing and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others representing the secular wing, hammered out through compromise, a constitution they could all agree upon. Indeed, history has proven it was brilliant and unmatched.

Christians today need to remember two things: First of all, the Constitution is not our Bible. The Constitution governs our nation while the Word of God governs our daily lives. Secondly, we need to recognize that diversity was a central part of our Constitution from the beginning. Therefore, everyone has a seat at the table. The atheist, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the homosexual, the straight, the Christian, the agnostic (you name it), all have a seat at the table. If we pause to consider what we love so much about America and what true religious freedom really is, we realize it must be this way. Christians today need to understand the rules of the game. The great tragedy in our nation today is that we can’t sit down with tolerance and enter into conversation. This is true on all sides of the table. Christians should model a different way, one that James described as being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). In fact, it’s possible to agree constitutionally with a decision made by the Supreme Court and at the same time, disagree with it biblically (again, the constitution is not our Bible). The frustration for many Christians today is that it seems we’re no longer able to leverage political power to help make substantial decisions that sway public policy and opinion. But we need to recognize that it’s never been that way, not regarding decisions that will ultimately change the course of our nation and the advancement of the Gospel. The Gospel will advance (as it does in every nation) as followers of Jesus live their lives fully devoted to Him, sharing His Gospel with a lost and dying world. We need to be able to move into the new normal with a balance of grace and truth. Only Jesus, Himself “full of grace and truth” lived this out perfectly. So, as we fail to do so, may we constantly point to the One who did so perfectly on our behalf. Let’s point them to Jesus who is not simply our Example but our Substitute. He alone has lived the perfect life for us, taking on our sin and shame upon the cross, and rising again so that we too might live as a resurrected people, all to His glory.

Anne Lamott wrote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” May love be the supreme descriptor of God’s people, in America, and in every nation on earth. Today is a good day to celebrate our freedoms and the founding fathers who made them possible. It’s also a good day to think deeply about where our faith truly lies. I am very hopeful for the American Church. I just returned from a week with hundreds of students who are carving out a new path for the advancement of the Gospel for this emerging generation. I see young people who, like their counterparts of the early church, refuse to allow the emperor his preeminent place and instead call Jesus alone, Lord and King. Let us live as He truly is.

Millennials, Worship, and the Church

Recently, Relevant Magazine posted an excellent article by Sarah Held Evans, entitled, The Church Needs to Stop Pandering to Trends . As usual Sarah brings her gracious and thoughtful perspective, representing many millennials’ views of the church. She points out what I’ve observed for years; “Millennials are not looking for a hipper Christianity. They’re looking for a truer Christianity”. Surely Jesus surrounded Himself with mostly uncool people, in the eyes of the world. They were more like misfits, outcasts, the under-resourced, and the marginalized. God has always chosen people like that. It’s possible for young people in some churches today to believe that being “cool” is a prerequisite to being “Christian”. Jesus taught nothing like this.

My specific love and concern is for the congregation that I’ve been called and am privileged to shepherd, the Park Cities Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas I hope my thoughts here will be helpful for other pastors and leaders who are seeking to guide their congregations toward God-honoring worship as well. Many pastors I talk with believe that our attention has turned to non-core issues and way too much time is spent talking about secondary matters. Of course this is nothing new to the church. But a hyper-focused return to the Gospel is our only solution. This is why I constantly seek to keep the attention on what matters most: Christ, the Good News of His rescuing grace, and the attempt to join Him in the renewal of all things. Even still, conversations around forms, styles, music, space and such, though non-core, can be helpful.

Please read the above link to Sarah Evan’s post and particularly the Barna Research that prompted her article. I read over this research in November of last year (it was first released 10/2013). It was Luke Sammons, our High School Minister, who pointed me/our team to it. It very much confirmed our direction, and what we knew: Praise God for the amazing worship space that He has given us at PCBC! For those unfamiliar, we worship in our Sanctuary , built about 60 years ago, our gym , constructed about 50 years ago (and remodeled about 4 years ago), and in our Great Hall completed about 10 years ago. Our own local community survey conducted by Auxano confirms the information found in the Barna Research. The survey of our local context also focused on sermon content, driving values, programs and ministry preferences. It also revealed that corporate worship that includes classic/more formal elements, such as a choir, and worship that is led by a band/praise team, are both desired by people in our demographic. Our local survey revealed what the Barna survey shows on a national level: Millennials are drawn to a mix of “casual”, “classic”, “quiet”,”down to earth”, “modern” elements, and participatory/experiential worship. Our study confirms much of what we’re doing at PCBC and also points to what we wrestle with each week: Our Great Hall, though excellent space, is a wonderful speaking room but not the best worship/singing room (it’s challenging acoustically). Our team has been aware of this and is working to improve the congregational singing in the room. As a result, we’re singing better in the Great Hall than we ever have. Our Sanctuary, on the other hand, is an amazing singing room, but I sometimes hear from members who have trouble hearing the spoken word. We are constantly seeking to improve that as well, and progress has been made. Praise God for our wonderful tech team.

The trend Sarah Evans is referencing is one of millennials moving toward a more classic (in her case, Episcopalian) liturgy and a desire for a broader, historical connection to the Church. She says,”I think our reasons for leaving church are more complicated, more related to social changes and deep questions of faith than worship style or image.” “We need to creatively re-articulate the significance of the traditional teachings and sacraments of the church in a modern context.” I agree with her. We must continue to be creative with each new generation to re-articulate, to help them re-discover, the ancient and timeless truths of the Gospel through all we do.

Sarah left the evangelical church because of a growing need for things, “like space for silence and reflection, a focus on Christ’s presence at the Communion table as the climax and center of every worship service, opportunities for women in leadership and the inclusion of LGBT people.” I love her openness and desire for grace to all people, but I think we would disagree with her on several points. I like to remind millennials and church planters that “we didn’t just show up yesterday”; that we are part of a powerful heritage, and this critical connection helps us know who we really are in Christ and where we fall in His ongoing mission in our world. We see locally what Sarah is referencing (and what the survey points out) in churches like the The Church of the Incarnation near Uptown, in Dallas, reaching lots of millennials through historical liturgy (the Apostles Creed, Common Prayer, weekly communion), and a more open, generous orthodoxy. In terms of style or form, in the end it’s a blend of ancient liturgy, sacred space, modern instrumentation (primarily acoustic), and a more casual dress, perceived as more “authentic”, raw, down-to-earth in its expression. Like us, and other churches reaching across the generations, the Church of the Incarnation offers multiple service options. We’re also seeing churches like Watermark Community Church that are reaching millennials by the thousands through very modern expressions. Not surprisingly, in our own context at PCBC, we see that our more contemporary forms are reaching a younger crowd as well. We also see some younger couples drawn to our traditional forms. Most of our preferences in worship are tied to our past experiences. What we’re seeing in our day is that fewer and fewer worshippers have had an experience in churches like the one I grew up in (with traditional Baptist worship). We’re seeing the results of that as the number of such worshippers is declining annually.

The key is authenticity among the leaders and worshippers whose whole lives are focused on Christ alone. People show up where God is active and alive in the hearts of the people. Millennials (indeed, all of us) are seeking real, honest, even raw, broken people, like us all. I also appreciate the desire toward more quiet moments, more “God time” as I call it, space for us to be silent before Him. We’ve been talking a lot about this lately in our worship planning. I love the multiple expressions we have at PCBC – Great Hall, Sanctuary, gym, all reaching different kinds of people. Though these articles are helpful, I always want to move our conversations away from music, buildings, forms, and on to worship. That’s where they need to stay. Deeper thought regarding the essence of worship, the Object and Subject of our worship, acceptable and unacceptable worship, etc. will point us to proper expressions of worship. I will continue to teach and guide us toward these things. Stephen Carrell, Justin Hornsby (Associate Pastors of Worship), and Ronny and Denny Robinson (who lead in our Hispanic service) will do the same. That’s what I LOVE about our church- we have the unique opportunity and resource (praise God) to reach a broader number of people in our ever-growing, and ever-more diverse population. What unites us is not music, but it is the Gospel; Jesus is the One who unites us. I love that we seek to do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ in our context.

Every church has its own unique collective potential (the people and resources that God Himself has assembled), in our own unique local context, guided by a specific group of leaders (lay and clergy) whom God has called out to lead. These factors all guide us and inform each church as they worship. Indeed all programs, forms, structures, etc., are informed by His mission for us. His Person and His mission drive everything. Clearly at PCBC, a more traditional/formal expression of worship helps so many people connect with God in corporate worship and a more contemporary form does as well (as does our Hispanic expression). Of course, this creates a real challenge for a pastor/leaders – and the members – as we must all learn to celebrate various forms and rejoice in them as they are pointing so many to Jesus, which is all we want to do. And we must guide our people not to discredit one person’s expression of worship over another that we might prefer. That’s my constant prayer for us in regard to worship – that we honor all types, extending grace and celebrating one another as we celebrate Jesus. Strange as it sounds, you know you’ve shifted to “worship” music and not Jesus when you feel you must fight for your personal preference over others. We’ve lost the focus at that point. We all have preferences – though I’m one of those who loves all kinds of worship forms and styles equally (which I’m sure is one of the many reasons why God brought me to PCBC to be the pastor). I think it’s hard in a church like ours to honor, love and respect one another when we don’t see each other in the other venues. We’ve learned what other churches have seen as well – that some prefer their personal preference of music (be it “traditional” or “contemporary” or something else) over the desire to be together as a church family. I understand that reality in churches which have determined to offer multiple expressions of worship in an effort to reach a diverse cultural setting. It is difficult but a necessary reality that brings about a complex leadership structure. One solution, or help, is to come together periodically and worship Jesus together, blending styles and forms, which many churches do weekly.

The pastor’s goal, and the worship leader’s goal, is to always exalt Jesus alone. We must keep the conversation on Jesus, the Gospel, and the essence of worship, not forms and personal preferences. Each of us must simply respond to Jesus, His Gospel of rescuing grace, and His unending love for us. Then you will “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20