Thom Rainer Helping Revitalize Churches—YES!

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Churches usually fall into one of four categories:

  • Established (a.k.a., traditional);
  • Plants (less than 3-4 years old);
  • Legacy (churches within a year of closing their doors).

God wants His churches healthy.  For each of these churches, particular challenges abound.  But have no fear—Thom Rainer is here.

At his new website, Revitalized Churches, Rainer puts out a series of videos on how to revitalize a plateaued or declining church.  In one of his videos, he outlines seven reasons why some churches experience revitalization, and others don’t:

  1. The leaders and members faced reality. One of the reasons most churches don’t experience revitalization is their unwillingness to “look in the mirror.” Denial leads to decline which leads to death.
  2. Many in the church began explicitly praying for God to revitalize the church. I know of a leadership group in one church that prayed every week for over two years. The church is now in true revitalization.
  3. The churches had an explicit and clear focus on the gospel. Preaching became clearly gospel-centered. Ministries became gospel-centered. And many members began intentionally sharing the gospel, which brings me to the next reason.
  4. Members did not just talk evangelism; they did evangelism. I did not see a specific approach or methodology to share the gospel in these congregations. It was clear, however, that there was a more focused intentionality on sharing Christ than in many previous years.
  5. Many members in these churches began focusing on serving Christ through the church rather than seeking their own preferences. Another way of stating it is that these members became other-focused rather than self-focused. This attitude seemed to be directly connected to their prayers for revitalization.
  6. These churches raised the bar of expectations. Thus membership in these congregations became meaningful. Members moved from spectators to participants.
  7. The churches developed a clear process of discipleship. The members became more immersed in the Word. There was a clear and cogent plan to help members grow in their walk with Christ.

Go to the website and watch the videos.  I know that our church will see these very, very soon. 

Balancing our Fandom for our Sports Teams

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As some of you know, I write on Mondays for a sports blog called the Burgundy Wave, a sports blog for our Colorado Rapids Soccer Club.  This past Saturday, my daughter and I went to see the final home game of the season between our Rapids and FC Dallas (‘FC’ means ‘football club’—what every other country in the world calls soccer).  I write for them because it helps me stay connected with not only other Rapids fans, but also my community in a non-church environment. 

The last home game was also Fan Appreciation Day.  My daughter and I had a great time where we watched our team play in fantastic fall weather, eating nachos, and just soaking it all in.  A Rapids representative asked us if we would like to participate in  a ‘jersey off their back’ event after the game on the field.  We would pick a card that contained the uniform number of a player on the Rapids roster, who would then give us the ‘shirt off his back’ and sign the card.  What a surprise.

Keep in mind, the Rapids lost 1-0, continuing an abysmal 12-game winless streak (their last win?  July 25 against Chivas USA).  But meeting the players, hearing their heart about how much they appreciated us even as they’ve disappointed us by their performance—I saw a bit of the drive of these professionals who want to win, but still were grateful that we’ve stuck it out.

Feel free to read the article at the BW here.  I’m hoping it provides a balance for fans in supporting the players, but holding leadership accountable as well—not an easy balance to strike.  Here are the four main points:

  1. The players hate losing worse than we hate them losing.
  2. They appreciate us more for sticking by them even in this ghastly streak.
  3. When you see how badly these professionals hate losing, your heart goes out to them.
  4. We need a balance as fans to support the team and players, while keeping the ownership and FO informed and accountable.

P.S.  Below is a picture of my daughter with Marlon Hairston.  He’s a 20-year-old rookie from the University of Louisville, who I hope will be an integral piece in their rebuilding process moving forward.  This picture honestly made our year.  What a nice, gracious young man he is!

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Sunday Hymn: Holy Father, Hear My Cry

Holy Father, hear my cry;
Holy Savior, bend Thine ear;
Holy Spirit, come Thou nigh;
Father, Savior, Spirit, hear.

Father, save me from my sin;
Savior, I Thy mercy crave;
Gracious Spirit, make me clean:
Father, Savior, Spirit, save.

Father, let me taste Thy love;
Savior, fill my soul with peace;
Spirit, come my heart to move:
Father, Son, and Spirit, bless.

Father, Son, and Spirit—Thou
One Jehovah, shed abroad
All Thy grace within me now;
Be my Father and my God.

(Horatius Bonar, 1843)

Links of Interest (10.18.2014)

A good Saturday morning to you!  Here are some links from this past week that I found interesting–and maybe you would as well.

Helpful Articles on the Houston Mayor and Her Subpoena of Sermons

What Christians Should Know About the Ebola Crisis (TGC)

Irrational Atheism (Crispin Sartwell, The Atlantic):  … and this from a non-theist!

The Mars Hill Postmortem (Trevin Wax):  Looking at where Mars Hill goes from here in the wake of Mark Driscoll’s resignation.

The Hopeless Marriage (Ed Welch, CCEF): What to do when mutual dislike occurs between spouses and things seem, well, hopeless!

Did the Roman Catholic Church Change Its Position on Divorce and Gay Marriage? (Denny Burk)

What Every Man Should Known About Sleep (Brett and Kate McKay, Art of Manliness):  Sleep needs as much attention as diet and exercise when it comes to our well-being.

How Listening to Bach Helps My Preaching

If you were to ask me what I believe the greatest piece of music ever composed would be, I would answer Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Movement 1 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), along with the Prelude to his Cello Suite No. 1.  To my mind, my ear, and my soul, I hear completion in these pieces, a stirring satisfaction both emotionally and technically.  You do not need to be a conservatory trained musician to appreciate Bach, and that’s the beauty and timelessness of his music.

When I’m listening to this music with my kiddos in the car, they ask questions about this music.  I must say, first of all, that they love listening to this.  My youngest daughter insightfully said, “This music is much more interesting than most music.”  Indeed!  But I showed them how the main theme keeps coming back around, sometimes in the same key, sometimes in a different one, sometimes as a supporting theme to a secondary theme, etc.  That’s Bach’s genius: the orderliness in making sure that the primary theme of the piece remains, well, primary.

When I preach, my primary theme must be Christ!  And I must always come back around to Christ, regardless of what key.  It’s my primary and supporting theme–it’s my only theme, in reality.  Sure, other themes and topics will arise in preaching, but they must always come back to Christ, else they are not a theme worth pursuing.

Good ol’ Bach!  He hasn’t let me down yet.

Worship Standards: The Wholeness and Harmony of our Hymnody

Two nights ago, our pastors and I attended our state convention’s annual meeting, hearing so many good reports about what Christ is doing among Colorado Baptists.

Part of our time together involved singing many songs regarding our faith in Christ. Many newer songs are gaining traction into the arsenal of our worship songs we sing (for which, for the most part, I’m thankful).

But when songs such as “Come, Thou Fount,” or “Amazing Grace,” or “How Great Thou Art,” or other classic hymns were sung, the volume and power went up fourfold. Sure, these hymns have a running start on these newer songs, but there’s more to it than that.

A parallel exists in the secular world in the area of jazz standards.  Jerome Weeks notes that “a song only becomes a standard when enough other musicians respond. They agree, this is worth playing – and re-playing. The ‘forefathers of jazz’ often determined what songs mattered, and if the up-and-coming musicians wished to be hired, they had little choice but to learn these songs.  Soon, those songs became part of the jazz canon, and soon became part of the culture of the succeeding generations.

Through time and interia, certain songs rise to the top and transcend the generations–and usually this is found in our hymnody.  Certain hymns like the Doxology (1515) are still sung, along with Isaac Watts (1674-1748), Charles Wesley’s (1707-1788), and Fanny Crosby’s (1820-1915) to name a few.  Like jazz standards, it’s difficult for a song to break into that ‘canon,’ if you will, because it hasn’t become part of the DNA of the church.

What helps a song become a church ‘standard,’ and what type of modern song has any hope of breaking through?

  1. Be singable.  Many of the worship songs on the radio are written for soloists, not congregations.  Thus, the range (are all men tenors now?) and the syncopation make it difficult for some songs to catch on.  Most hymns that have lasted last because of their singability, the range and just-enough-repetition in the melody, along with the steadier syncopation of most songs, make it easier to catch on.  (One example of a popular hymn which has a troublesome syncopation for most is How Great Thou Art, coming in on the second half of the third beat of a measure–followed by not really knowing how long to wait after “O Lord, my God. . . .”  If you go by how George Beverly Shea and many sing this by feel, versus how it’s written in the hymnal, it makes it tough at first.  Yet, the climactic chorus more than makes up for any issues during the stanza.)
  2. Be metrical.  Many do not realize that the hymns are actually the texts, not the tunes.  At the bottom of the pages of the hymns, you see these interesting little numbers at the bottom, such as or, and the like.  This stands for the number of syllables in each line, marking the meter.  While handy for switching up tunes that have the same meter, it also gives a rhythm to a song that helps a group (congregation) sing together.  Syncopation is difficult for a mass audience.  For many choirs, they take numerous rehearsals to ‘get’ a syncopated rhythm, unless they have musical training and actual music (which is often absent in congregational settings if the music is new and not notated in a collection).   Learning new words is difficult enough–learning new rhythms and new words?  Well…
  3. Be doctrinal(ly sound).  By this, I mean that the writer aimed to communicate some significant truth about Christ or some other issue from Scripture.  The majority of hymns were written as stand alones, with the music added later.  One wonders if today that the modern worship songs have the music written first, with the words added later.  Songs that say little will not last long-term.   Songs that promote false doctrines will fail before they fly.  Songs that possess rich, biblical truth will last.

What think ye?