October 26, 2012

Kids Worship

Churches all over the place frequently struggle and wrestle with the issue of having children in their worship services. If you simply attend a church (which is another issue for another day) you may wonder, "Is this seriously an issue?" Absolutely! And many hours of many staff meetings are spent hashing it out each week. In fact, Newspring Church in Anderson, SC, does not allow younger children in their worship services at all. On there website they let newcomers know this:

"We are so passionate about kids learning about Jesus in a way they can understand that we do not allow them in our service designed for adults and students (6th grade and older). All kids (babies through 5th grade) attend Kidspring each Sunday."

I bring this up because I think it's worth having the conversation and helping people understand why this is such an important issue to consider. At The Brook, there are not many things we openly, publicly FORBID. We don't have any signs that read: NO KIDS IN THE WORSHIP SERVICE! At the same time, I (and all of our staff and leadership) would completely agree with Newspring's philosophy and reasoning behind this. I want to explain WHY we think this is the best option for everyone.

First off, as Newspring puts it on the website, kids don't learn like adults. I know most people read/hear that and think, "Well, duh." But the fact is, while most people believe that they don't always act on it. Not only are our worship services designed to draw in and reach people 16-18 and older, our kids worship service is completely geared toward them. And if you took a Sunday and joined in on what happens in Faith Factory (our service for kids K-4th Grade), you'd see that kids not only learn differently than we do, they seem to worship differently as well. A very GOOD differently! They aren't inhibited. They aren't worried about whether or not someone cares if they bust out in dance. I think they figure, "The Bible says to dance, sing, shout, and celebrate who God is!", so let's do it. Why would we want to squash that? If we allow a generation or two to truly learn what it means to freely worship the Lord, maybe they'll come into our services and start to shake the place!

On this same note, we hear all kinds of reasoning behind why parents sometimes bring their kids into the worship service. Here are a couple:

"My kid just doesn't feel comfortable in the kids service." 
Guess what? If they never go, they never will. Consider this: Could it be much more to their benefit for YOU to go with them for awhile, until they become more "comfortable", rather than bringing them with you so they can draw on a bulletin or play Angry Birds for 45 minutes? Something to think about.

"My son/daughter just seems to be more mature than what they're doing in the kids service."
Really? If that's the truth, then for the sake of all the other children, please allow them to GO to the kids service and rub off on all the other children! If they're that "mature", then they'll certainly see the role of spiritual leadership that the Lord is calling them on to as a mature believer. You know, like it says in Hebrews 5:11-6:1. There are a TON of ways they can be leading! 

Another factor in all of this is a concept that I think we often fail to consider: other people. When a child starts talking - squirming - yelling - it distracts everyone around them. And we're not just talking about the person in the seat behind you. People on the complete opposite side of a sanctuary start bending their necks, trying to figure out, "Where is that noise coming from?" The pastor or preacher, attempting to deliver a message that they've (hopefully) spent a LONG time preparing and praying over is stopped dead cold in the middle of a train of thought, often left fumbling to remember, "What in the world was I saying?" Are we considering the 100-150-300 other people who are present?

One last thing I think is worth discussing. I firmly believe that there are some parents - and I think (hope & pray) that they are few and far between - who bring their kid(s) with them to the worship service as an excuse. An excuse to not pay attention themselves. An excuse to get up and walk out early. An excuse of "They need to hear this more than I do!" If you've struggled, wrestled with, or been guilty of this, I hope you'll begin to understand: Your child is not an excuse. Don't use them as one. You will regret it and so will they.

We work incredibly hard at The Brook to craft an opportunity every single week for our kids to fully experience the power and presence of God - and to do it in an environment designed uniquely for them. As a parent, we encourage you to take full advantage of this. And remember: ALL KIDS WORSHIP. It's our responsibility as parents to teach them WHO it is that they were made and designed to worship. 

October 19, 2012


If I had to guess, I would say my posture probably isn't the best. I have a tendency to be sway-backed, stress out my neck and shoulders, and most likely slouch a bit. (And by "a bit", I mean "a LOT") And of course I love sitting in my recliner, where slouching is the whole purpose. But with a herniated disc in my lower back and a bulging disc in my upper back (neck), the reality for me is that posture is an enormously important thing. Yet, most of the time, I don't care. It's not like I don't CARE, but the fact that I do nothing about it and keep on slouching and stressing reveals that I really don't care. At least enough to do anything about it. It would do me a world of good to start paying closer attention to my posture. What about you?

How about in your worship? Does our "posture" matter?

Psalm 95:6 says, "Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker, for He is God. We are the people He watches over, the sheep under His care." Paul tells us in Philippians 2 that one day "every knee will bow" before Jesus Christ, giving Him the praise and glory and honor that only He deserves. Throughout scripture, there's evidence that our physical posture - the way we physically come into the presence of God to praise, celebrate, revere and adore Him - has significance in our worship. When David's son was ill (due to David's own sin) he "went without food and lay all night on the bare ground." David is found leading the nation to "fall down with their faces to the ground" and another time, in celebration of the victory the Lord had given the nation, dancing through the streets. (A bit naked, from what I understand.) Our physical posture says something. What it reveals is the posture of our heart.

On any given Sunday in any worship service at any church gathering, you're likely to find all sorts of postures. I often have opportunity to observe this from 2 different perspectives: sitting behind everyone in our worship center, seeing the posture of their bodies, and from the platform, with the expressions on their faces in full view. I am almost always moved by seeing a woman, standing to her feet, arms stretched to heaven, as if to say, "Lord, all I have is yours! All I am is yours! Take it all Lord!" I'm equally stirred by seeing a man, on his knees at the altar or the foot of the cross, knowing that he's pleading to the Lord on behalf of his wife, children, and family. Posture matters. Posture says something.

It also says something when you see the individual - in the midst of a mass of worshipers, pouring out their hearts and lifting their voices singing, "Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me!" - slouched down in their chair, arms folded, eyes rolled back in their head like mine were in College Algebra class. What their posture says is something to the effect of, "I think I'm in hell, I'll never cheer up, you ought to give up on me." That posture says, "I don't care. I have no idea why I'm here. Please put me out of my misery."

What does your posture say?

Please hear me: If someone doesn't know the Lord and they've come to check things out - skeptical - observing - guarded - and we expect anything different from them, we're kidding ourselves. If their heart hasn't yielded to the Lord, then why on earth would their face or their actions? This is about us. Those of us who claim the name and the shed blood of Jesus Christ over our lives! Those of us that have been eternally, radically, forever transformed by the life-changing news of the Gospel! What does our posture say?

Before you gather for corporate worship this weekend - as you hopefully withdraw for private, intimate communion with the Lord - ask the Holy Spirit to prepare your heart, and as a result, to take control of your posture. 

May our body language say, "Bless the Lord, oh my soul. And all that is within me bless His holy name!"

October 18, 2012

Bad Advertisers

I'm currently reading The Tangible Kingdom, by Hugh Halter. I will very soon be writing on, reviewing, and regurgitating much of what Hugh has to say about missional community, it's biblical foundation and origin, and its powerful return as the main driver of the gospel to the lost world we live in. And when I say "lost world", I'm referring to the very culture, city, and neighborhood where you set your security system and shut your garage door. If the church - not "the place where" but "the people who" follow Jesus Christ - doesn't return to missionary, exile living (and abandon our sheltered, attractional ways), we will very quickly see that the Lord's main sending agent into the world has rendered itself irrelevant in America. But on to the real reason for this post.

In The Tangible Kingdom, Halter makes this statement:

"Advertisements by their very nature are intended to coerce thinking and behavior. They are needed when there is no personal relationship between the seller and the potential buyer. This type of coercion is expected when you're trying to decide what beer to drink or car to buy, but it's highly offensive when people try to tell you important truths without any tangible relationship."

In my first 2 years of college (when I was a Telecommunications/Marketing major at Texas Tech University), I was armed with just enough marketing and advertising knowledge to be dangerous - to myself and others. That said, it has actually been of enormous help to me as a pastor and as someone who knows that the power of influence is crucial. The above statement is spot on. And here's why it's important to those of us who are already IN the church: 

We're quickly becoming "advertisers" with NO credibility to sell a product.

NO. I am by NO means suggesting that Jesus is a "product" (OR) that we are door-to-door salesmen. But that's my point. We act like we are. And the worst part is we really suck at it. What we ARE good at is the old "Bait & Switch". Of course the above billboard is going to get some folks attention. But when they show up and the Jesus you sell them is only half as interesting as Justin Timberlake, they're done. Seriously? Jesus is bringing sexy back? 

If you don't agree with me, or you're just plain agitated with what I'm saying, then think about this question for a moment: Why do churches need to "advertise"?

Shouldn't the lives of "the people who" call themselves "the church" be so powerfully impacting the lives of those around them that the idea of needing to put a mediocre commercial on cable TV borders on absurd? Should we be "coercing" people to visit "the place where" or should "the people who" be influencing them in such a way that they just long to be a part of this thing called the family of God?

This is not a post against commercials. I have friends who make commercials.
This is a question about HOW we're attempting to reach people. 
Are we even making an attempt?
Are we broken for those around us who are walking in darkness, bearing the weight of hopelessness?
Are our lives building credibility to the message our lips should be speaking:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come."

October 16, 2012

The LAST Thing Should Be the FIRST Thing

I don't know about you, but it seems like most of the time the LAST thing I do winds up being the FIRST thing I should have done. Whether it's taking action, caving in to worry and anxiety, assuming the worst about someone or something (or some circumstance that's even more out of my control than what I really realize), or even planning for the future, I often tend to walk these paths only later to look behind me - catch a glimpse in my rearview at the wake of what I've left behind - and wonder, "Why didn't I pray?" Have you been there? Are you there now?

I don't just mean throw up a few "Hey, God...if you're listening..." heaves of desperation, I'm talking about communing with the Father. Coming "boldly to the throne of our gracious God" and begging for His wisdom, discernment, guidance, and simply to rest in His presence. Why is this often the LAST thing we do?

This morning I was reminded that in "church work" (whatever the heck that actually means) we are sometimes more guilty of this than anyone. We get so entrenched in the DOING that we run away from the Lord, like a little kid at the mall. Only kids at the mall run ahead of their parents. We don't get AHEAD of God, we just wander off in what we think is the right direction. "Hurry up, would you, Lord! We don't have all day!" Where the Lord got my attention this morning was in Matthew 9:35-38. Jesus took pity on the crowds because they "were like sheep without a shepherd". So his instruction to the disciples was to "pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send out more workers for His fields." Take a minute and study those words carefully. Seriously. Read them again.

Notice a few things:

  • Jesus did NOT say, "Men, get your butts in gear and start recruiting more people. Come up with a better way to market this, fellas. Stop sitting around, waiting on them. Go get'em!" The FIRST thing He tells them do is PRAY.
  • Those of us in "the ministry" often get delusional - almost dizzied - and start confusing things, thinking that WE are in charge of "the harvest". We would be wrong. As Paul says in Corinthians, it is "God, not us, who make it grow... You are God's field, God's building - not ours." We're the workers. HE owns the field.
  • It is the Lord who does the sending - the calling and drawing - not us. The Spirit of God speaks, lures, breaks, captivates, and calls to the heart of the Father. We can't do that. Yet, if we're being honest, we often live, act, preach and lead like we think we can.
What are we called to do? PRAY.
What is NOT a means to end - a desperate cry for the greater work to take place - but actually the greater work itself? PRAYER.

Where is the need around you? Are you seeing that "the harvest if plentiful"? Have you prayed? Have you asked the One in charge of the need to do something about it?

We are called to make disciples.
We are called to "equip the saints to do the work of ministry".
We are called to plant, to water, to cultivate, and yet to always remember that it is ONLY the Lord "who makes it grow"

Let's return to the mandate of our Savior and consistently, constantly, fervently "pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; asking Him to send out more workers for His fields." Let's stop allowing the FIRST priority to be our LAST resort!

October 12, 2012

Come early. Park far. Sit close.

Come early. Park far. Sit close.

We came up with this little mantra earlier this year, preparing our people to actively make a difference for the guests who would show up at our services on Easter Sunday. When we first began challenging our church family with this idea, it was almost overwhelming how many people responded. We had several individuals and families who not only took the exhortation seriously; they even switched to our early (9:00) service to make more room for guests in our late (10:45) service. It was incredibly encouraging.

Since that time, knowing that the newness and impact of the phrase (and with it, the idea itself) has worn off, many people have drifted back to the way things were before; showing up late, parking as close as they can (since they’re already late and need to get in quickly), and coming in and filling up the back seats. Old habits die hard.

I’d like to take a few minutes and explain why this is more than just a catchy mantra or passing catch-phrase; that it’s actually a window into our worship.

First off, why “Come early”? Our consumer culture (even penetrating into the church and Christianity) believes that it’s “all about me”. We would never say this, but most folks come shopping (call it hunting, if it makes you feel better) and looking for a church that “meets my needs” or that does music the way we like it. It’s initially about ME. That said, it can’t stay about me. At some point, it has to become about others. And to take it a step further, it’s actually all about God! So when we encourage our people to come early, it’s for several reasons:
  • ·      If we discipline ourselves to come early, then we are much more likely to discipline ourselves to prepare our hearts before we even arrive.
  •     When we come early, we’re here – ready and available – to greet guests who come in, creating a welcoming environment of hospitality. Most of us forget what it feels like to not know anyone.
  •     Do you show up for your job late? (If your answer is “Yes”, then we have another conversation that needs to take place.) What about sporting events? My son and I arrive at Tennessee Football games 2-3 hours before the kickoff! We don’t want to miss a thing that happens! It’s a matter of priority. Are you making corporate worship a priority?
  •     Our worship team spends 3-4 hours preparing for what they’re going to do to lead us on Sunday mornings. When you miss the first 10 minutes, you are saying to them without ever uttering a word, “I don’t care about your time.” You might not mean this, but it’s the message that’s being sent.
Moving on, why does it matter where we park? The answer is simple, really. Our desire is not only to honor our guests – to make them feel welcome and wanted – but to make things as easy as possible for them. The more parking places there are at the front, the better. It also leaves room for pregnant mothers, senior adults, and families with special needs. (And do we even need to mention that most of us probably need the exercise?)

You came early, and you even parked in the north 40, but why should you “Sit close”? The answer to this question is much like the last one. The people we expect to come in a few minutes late are our guests. Maybe they couldn’t find The Brook, they got lost, or they just wanted to slip in unnoticed their first time here. We extend them this opportunity when we leave the back few rows empty and open. But when the first place people gravitate is toward the back, those guests – or anyone, for that matter – who walk in late are forced to feel as though they’re “making a scene”, parading in front of everyone. And it can actually be a huge distraction, not only for those sitting around them, but also for those leading.

Come early. Park far. Sit close.
This is way more than just bumper sticker material; it’s a worldview. It’s a window into how you look at life, your hunger for God, and your love of others. I want to ask you to prayerfully consider taking this challenge with us. And even if you don't go to The Brook, I know this would apply at your church as well. I have overwhelming evidence that as you take this step to bless others, you will be blessed in the process.

October 10, 2012

Don't Waste the Whiteboard

Over the past few years I've become a fan of the whiteboard. In our offices we keep a stocked arsenal of dry erase markers. I like to be ready at all times! In most cases when my chicken scratch winds up on the wall, it's for one of a couple purposes: 1) to take notes of a conversation our staff is having on a current issue or 2) for brainstorming. (I've been known to bust out the whiteboard during my sermons now and then, but that's mainly just to put a visual to the teaching. Different scenario.) When we use the whiteboard to keep a visual record of our dialogue, I now take a picture with my phone and clip it into Evernote so that I can follow up with it later. It's incredibly helpful. But then...there's the brainstorming. What about the brainstorming? What do we do with that? Maybe an even better question for us to ask is WHY? Why do we brainstorm? This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

Humor me, if you will, but I've recently wondered, "If the whiteboard could talk, what would it say?" After our staff - or one of our teams - or you and your team - huddle together, attempt to let our minds go "outside the box", spew our humble, yet hopefully creative musings all over the wall in full color display, what would the whiteboard say to us? Here are a few things that I think we might possibly hear:
  • Is that all you've got?
  • They're never going to say everything they're thinking for fear of your criticism.
  • Why did you quit? Right when you started to get somewhere...you quit.
  • What's the point if you don't risk something? What's the point if you don't go out on a limb and put this to the test?
The definition of brainstorming could be described as "an exercise in which members of a group attempt to creatively solve a problem by gathering a list of spontaneous ideas". (I borrowed a morsel from the Wikipedia definition) So a few things have to actually happen for brainstorming to occur:
  1. You have to have a group. Rarely can brainstorming be a solo activity.
  2. Members of the group can't enter the session with preconceived ideas. This would not be spontaneous.
  3. Members of the group have to trust each other. NO ONE will feel the freedom to spout out off-the-wall or (potentially) crazy or risky ideas when the fear of criticism or rejection hangs looming over their heads.
  4. There has to be an understanding that for a certain period of time - even if it's just for a few minutes - anything goes. If you're really striving for "spontaneous creative thought", you can't be afraid of the ridiculous. [And there has to be an understanding that a vital part of brainstorming occurs afterwards: weeding out the ridiculous to find the potentially real game-changer. While I have to feel the freedom to inject my thoughts without limits, I also have to be mature enough to see them thrown out later.]
  5. And finally, if you're the leader - if you're the one organizing, moderating, and leading the brainstorming session - and you're not really at the end of the day wanting the creative input of others - if what you actually want is for someone to rubber stamp or affirm your own ideas - don't waste the whiteboard! Don't waste the time and energy and brain-power and God-given courage for spontaneity of those who are willing to lay it out there. Just do it the way you want it done and be done with it.
Brainstorming is risky. It's time-consuming. It's work. But if you're willing to do the work, take the time, and (most importantly) take the risk, it will be worth it in the end. Because if all you come away with is ONE really good idea, you've got so much more than what you started with. So do the work. Take the time. And take the risk!

October 4, 2012

The Church & The Children

Parenting. There is no job on earth like it. You don't punch a clock or get a lunch break. In fact, it's not a job at all; it's a God-given honor and responsibility. So much so that scripture says in Psalm 78:5-7 that the Lord "commanded our fathers to teach their children, that the next generation might know...and arise and tell their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments." The greatest calling of discipleship that God has placed on us happens in our own home - our children. There is no greater calling. (See also Deuteronomy 6)

How does the church fit into this? This is a question I addressed in my sermon this past Sunday. [You can listen to the podcast here: The Next Generation
2 important points I made were:
  • It's the church's responsibility to equip/train parents to equip/train their kids.
  • It's the parents responsibility to teach their children WHO God is and WHAT He's done.
Church - train parents.
Parents - train children.

Obviously close to nothing on earth is actually this simple. Yet, we tend to make it a whole lot more complex than it is. Traditionally and culturally - if you've "grown up" (and I use that term loosely) in the church - the tendency is to think  that the local church needs to provide all kinds of opportunities, events, and programs for kids. If there's a void, we tend to look to the church to do something about it. But I would challenge that, while the void felt is real and legitimate, the seemingly natural solution to the void is not. It's not the church's responsibility to train your children. It's yours.

At the end of the day, I think most Christians believe this. At least, they'll say they believe this. Which is why it's incredibly confusing that some Christian parents seem determined to find one more thing for their kids to "do". As if one more program at the church is going to radically transform their life. (And while I know that there are actually some parents that are ultimately just looking for a safe place to "dump" their kids, I operate under the hopeful assumption that this is NOT the motive of most.) I would ask: Isn't the greater possibility that the void is in the home? Could it be that the void being felt is that we feel completely inadequate and ill-equipped to train these little people up in the ways of the Lord? Yes. This is the more likely source of our frustrations. So the real question becomes, "What are we going to do about it?"

While I can only speak for myself and our church, we have determined that we are going to continue taking steps to train and equip parents. At the same time, we're going to lead, encourage, challenge, and exemplify to them what it means to leave margin in your life (lives) to actually be able to LIVE OUT the faith that we are teaching them. We are not going to create more calendar chaos to inhibit or paralyze our people from actually "training up their children". We're going to do the opposite. I believe that if we take the guidance and mandates of the Lord from scripture (Deut. 6, Psalm 78, Matthew 28) and read them as one, we can hear Him telling us, "As you're going to soccer practice, as you're having breakfast together, as you're cooking out with your neighbors, as you're tucking them into bed - everywhere you go, as you go - teach them. Train them. Tell them WHO I am. Tell them WHAT I've done! Show them the evidence in your own life that I am Almighty, most Holy, Sovereign, Faithful, Wonderful God. Tell them WHO they are in me - sons and daughters. Show them what to do - follow Jesus. And let me know that this life is ONLY lived through the power of my Spirit working through them. Train them. Teach them. Show them. Always!"

This is the relationship between the church and the children.
This is the greatest burden and responsibility we bear as parents.
This is the greatest honor and privilege we know.
We bear this burden together. No one can do it alone.

Have you felt this burden or void? Do you feel this inadequacy? 
Is your church train you to train them? Or are they just "taking care" of your kids?

More to come....