Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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My Frustration with Sunday Morning Worship

church worshipI’ve been leading worship for about a decade on a week to week basis. Over half of that time the worship leading has been part of my vocation and calling as a pastor.

During this time of leadership I have advocated for and led what are often called contemporary worship songs. I often think of it as “four songs and a blaze of glory” (cause you’re always winning when you make reference to church and Bon Jovi at the same time). In this, the goal is musical excellence for the sake of glorifying God, while putting on a concert-like experience for the church. It’s loud. It’s relevant. And I’m tired of it.

In recent years I’ve grown weary of the kind of congregational worship I previously advocated for if a church had any desire to reach younger individuals. I’m tired of “worship” being 99% pop-rock, with similar lyrical format and focus. But this is what the majority of Christian artists and churches are releasing, so I’ve followed along because I’m always drawn to that which is accessible and projectable.

Last Sunday

This past weekend our time of congregational worship included a corporate prayer, read at the beginning and end, mixed in was a chorus that we sang throughout three separate songs. Also included was a quote from G.K Chesterton, and a Scripture reading from Psalm 8, all meant to highlight God’s creation as we looked at Genesis 1.

We still sang four different congregational worship songs:

  • Hallelujah What a Savior (full band hymn arrangement from Austin Stone Community Church)
  • Our God Alone (a church favorite about God’s creation by the band The Brilliance)
  • This is My Father’s World (well known hymn on God’s creation)
  • The Stand (song our church knows well by Hillsong)

Despite doing just as much music as is typical, a lot of people said to me afterward, “that was different.” I took it as a compliment, even if they were confused at times. 21st century evangelical Christians are too programmed for 4 songs that begin and end on their own, leading into a message. Little time for prayer. No theme. Just something relevant, something that sounds good and looks good.

What’s Your Liturgy?

Every church has a liturgy, it’s just that many churches go with what works instead of thinking deeply about what reflects the nature and character of God.

Part of the reason music and song is a powerful form of congregational worship is because those words and tunes stick with us. I grew up singing “God is Good All the Time” so clearly one of my main desires is for lyrics to reflect the depth of phrasing found within the biblical text. The fact that many within our churches have no idea what Augustus Toplady meant by “double cure” should give us pause. Why can’t our rich musical songwriting be reflected in a beautiful tapestry of words?

Let me be clear, what I am not advocating for is the re-arrangement of old hymns, despite my gravitation toward them. If we come to church and sing four modernized hymns leading into a sermon we’re just changing the lyrics not the feel—like choosing different colors for drapes, the room is still the same.

A New Goal in Mind

What I desire is for my church body to associate congregational worship with them—that they have a role to play beyond singing whatever the lead singer is leading. I also desire for my church to have the idea that worship is not simply easy-to-sing music reinforced by our Sunday gatherings.

It takes three times as much effort but I’m constantly working to find Scripture readings, congregational prayers of confession, petition, and consecration, and responsive readings. What is often lost in our churches is that Christianity is a historical faith—many men and women have gone before us—their ideas for the church gathering deserve a voice in our church bodies, even if relevance is lost.

And it could be that losing relevance is the actual thing that gains it.

It is difficult to find resources that meld more traditional elements with contemporary instrumentation and music, but I’m thankful for these few that I would recommend to you:

  • Sojourn Church Worship: Mike Cosper and Bobby Gilles and the people around them do a wonderful job of bringing traditional and contemporary together. Each piece of their church gatherings is carefully thought through. I have taken many of their ideas and adapted them to fit my own context.
  • Cardiphonia: A great online resource touching on a variety of subjects related to this post.
  • Indelible Grace: They were adapting hymns to modern instrumentation before the cool kids were.

This is just a beginning of the many resources out there. Feel free to post your recommendation in the comments.

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A Theology of Place (Why We Bought a House in the Place I Didn’t Want to Live)

Two years ago I moved my wife Rose to my hometown of Salem, Oregon, taking her away from a city we loved, Portland, Oregon. It’s hard to explain why we did this other than by saying God pushed us where we didn’t want to go. And when God speaks, you follow.

new house door

Opening the front door to our house for the first time!

I imagined the move to be a 3-5 year sort of thing. A chance to gain some church ministry experience in some different areas than I had previously. But in the process of going to this place we didn’t want to go, God began to change our hearts and our perspective.

Throughout this calendar year I’ve had the subject of “theology of place” on my mind. Theology meaning study of God. A theology of place meaning what does a study of God indicate about the place I put my life?

In preparing to speak to my church on the subject, three stories in the Bible came to mind, illustrating different aspects of a theology of place.

Esther, through circumstances only the hand of God could orchestrate, became queen despite her Hebrew brothers and sisters finding themselves in exile. Her position gave her a voice toward the king, but it was also a risk because the king could just as easily dispose of her. God, through the influence of Mordecai, shifted Esther’s perspective of protecting her life, to instead fight for the Nation of Israel.

God’s perspective on place is not self-focused, but others focused. 

Jesus, in planting himself next to the well of Jacob in the middle of a Samaritan town, is fixing to meet up with someone who wants nothing to do with him. Sure enough the Son of God lovingly confronts a sinful Samaritan woman as she gathers her water at a time when no one else will bother her. This is clearly not a happenstance interaction.

God’s perspective on place is specific. Specific people. Specific place.

Philip is generating some success speaking in Samaritan towns following the persecution that scattered the church. God’s spirit speaks to him, telling him to walk on a road from Jerusalem to Gaza. No immediate purpose or goal is given. In the middle of his walk he encounters a man who is reading in the book of Isaiah. God’s Spirit tells Philip to interact with that man. Not long after Philip baptizes the man in the name of Jesus. Philip is in the moment enough to hear the still small voice of God instead of focusing on the task at hand of walking to the end of the road.

God’s perspective on place is in the moment, not in the dreams of far off goals.

friend family house warming party brauns

Friends and family at our house warming/gender reveal party. Pink won! (Photo credit: Jim Baggett)

In my younger years I didn’t understand why people would “settle down.” My desire for parish pornography led me to believe God had something much more “prosperous” in mind for my family and my ministry. A month ago Rose and I bought and moved into our first home. We are consciously and purposely settling. These three Bible stories I referenced highlight why.

A biblical theology of place has me pursuing life in a specific place with specific people, desiring to know them and serve them, all while trying to focus on the current step of life instead of one much further down the road.

Salem, we are calling you home for the foreseeable future and we can’t wait to see what God does as we link arms with you.

Come on over!

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How to Overcome the Obstacle of Insecurity

Note from Tyler: Today’s post is from Jonathan Malm. Outside of being the creative force behind many church stage and platform designs (which is what we have interacted about in the past), Jonathan is a creative thinker who desires to serve the church. Jonathan just released his first book and wrote about that process for all of you to read about today.

Created for More MalmI was sitting at my desk, considering how great my job is, the day my boss called me to his office to fire me.

“We love you and we’ve really enjoyed working with you. We think you’re a great person. And we wish we didn’t have to do this. But after much consideration, we’ve decided you aren’t the right person for this job. We’re going to be looking for someone else to fill your position here.”

Getting fired from my job was a serious blow. It hurt.

But I realized the biggest thought going through my head was a worry that nobody would ever take me seriously again. It was pure, concentrated insecurity that was taking over me.

I was working at my dream job. I was somebody. A year earlier, a company approached me to direct a conference for creative people. They wanted to pay me to do what I was passionate about. I got a great budget to work with, a fantastic team, a beautiful salary, and an office—everything I could have possibly asked for in a job.

I had just finished directing the first conference. Over 1,000 people attended. We had speakers like Donald Miller, Jon Acuff, Matt Chandler…some of the big names in Christian circles. And I was the guy who people saw making it happen. To me, the conference went perfectly and I couldn’t ask for a better role in the scheme of things. I was ready to hit the ground running on the next event.

And then my boss called me in for the talk.

I went through the usual gamut of emotions. I felt angry, then hurt, then anxious, then confused… It was a thirty-minute emotional roller coaster of a meeting. But the thing that dominated my mind the most was a fear of what others would think.

I was sure my professional life was over. Nobody would ever take my seriously again. I had reached what I thought was the pinnacle of my career, and I had failed miserably. I was sure people would see I wasn’t made for this sort of thing.

Over the next few days I processed the ordeal.

I got over the initial pain of getting fired. But I had a much harder time getting over my insecurity.

I felt shame. I didn’t want to tell anyone what had happened to me.

So what did I do? The only logical thing there was: I set myself up for more rejection. I sent an email to a publishing company with the manuscript for a book I’d been writing all year.

I was sure they would reject the book—especially if they found out what happened to me. (I was up front about the situation. I didn’t want to lie to anyone.) The crazy thing was; I got a positive response!

They were interested in the book. They were interested in me. I couldn’t believe it. I was fairly certain that I was damaged goods.

I’m about to release the product of this story—it’s a devotional to help people see their work and their world differently. And I’ve been amazed to see that the insecure voice inside my head that day I got fired was completely wrong. It lied to me and almost held me back.

I couldn’t see it in myself, but I had far more potential than I knew. No amount of failure could negate that potential. The only thing that could hurt me was letting my insecurity hold me back—fearing what others might think or fearing that I didn’t have what it took.

But I’ve seen this: If God has given you a dream (and He has given you a dream), He has already given you what you need to make it happen.

You do what you can do, and He’ll do what He can do. We can’t afford to let insecurity hold us back. It doesn’t matter how badly we’ve failed or what others say about us.

Murder that lying voice of insecurity.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How has insecurity lied to you? What will you do to push through the insecurity and reach a life of significance?

Jonathan Malm is a creative entrepreneur and writer. He is the author of Created for More, a 30-day devotional to help you develop a more creative mind. You’ll find him in San Antonio, Texas, roasting his own coffee beans and enjoying life with his Argentine wife, Carolina.

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My Video Podcasting Debut

You don’t get a chance to see my face too often. I keep this blog primarily devoted to the written word. Today, however, I thought I’d share a video podcast I recently did with the good folks at Goodberry.

In the conversation we touch on subjects like why I became a pastor, why I’m so focused on my generation, and what it means to live a holy life. Hope this is helpful for you. I should have thrown in some humor but we did this at 8am on my day off, so cut me some slack :)

(If you are reading this in an email or RSS feed, click here to watch the video)

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The Church and White Privilege

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Two pictures of racial tensions in the US, taken 50 years apart.

History may view this statement as hyperbole, but I’ll go for it anyway:

The events taking place in Ferguson are a watershed moment for racial reconciliation (or the lack thereof) in America. And if the church stands idly by as this watershed moment takes place the Gospel will be further relegated to a place of obscurity within that same culture.

Thankfully, the church of Jesus Christ has leaders who are speaking up, and guiding us with wisdom. One of those leaders is Matt Chandler. He is one of the most influential Christian leaders in the world. I don’t listen to sermon podcasts anymore, but when I did his was always my go-to. I have much respect for Matt, and it has grown after he spoke on the subject of white privilege last Sunday (listen to the full message here). In a post from earlier this week he clarified some of what he shared during his message (read the full post).

The challenge with white privilege is that most white people cannot see it. We assume that the experiences and opportunities afforded to us are the same afforded to others. Sadly, this simply isn’t true. Privileged people can fall into the trap of universalizing experiences and laying them across other people’s experiences as an interpretive lens…

What is so deceptive about white privilege is that it is different from blatant racism or bias. A privileged person’s heart may be free from racist thoughts or biased attitudes, but may still fail to see how the very privilege afforded to him or her shapes how he or she interprets and understands the situations and circumstances of people without privilege.

I want to piggy back on Matt’s post by sharing one more post also related to Ferguson. Thabiti Anyabwile is in the process of moving back to the United States following a time of serving the church in the Cayman Islands. Thabiti is a black man, and on Monday he shared that he has one main fear of moving back to the US:

Truthfully, the Lord has kept us from any fears that we can discern about planting the church or living in Southeast. If I have a fear it would be one thing: bringing my son Titus to the United States. He’s so tender and innocent and the States can be very hard on Black boys.

That’s my one fear. This country destroying my boy. Ferguson is my fear. I could be the black dad approaching a white sheet stained with his son’s blood.

My friend Kyle pointed out last night about how sad it is that Christians get more upset about Gungor’s beliefs about Creation and the flood in Genesis than they do about race relations, specifically the situation ongoing in Ferguson. Considering we just engaged the issue surrounding Gungor last week, this is worth examining.

Ferguson is an opportunity to look at the blind spot so often ignored. Let us dive into it deeply, with humility, and with a posture of listening and learning.

How long, oh Lord?

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Shortcuts are Detrimental to Your Soul

Fork_in_the_roadI spend around 15-20 hours praying, studying, and writing anytime I’m scheduled to speak at our church on a Sunday morning. Inevitably, I run into all sorts of hurdles. It’s difficult to stay motivated for the finish line when the beginning process feels like an insurmountable mountain.

After I’ve studied and determined an outline I write out the whole message into a manuscript. Usually about a page and a half in I’m looking for shortcuts. 2 or 3 hours into typing and the ideas seem to flow less quickly. I begin to feel less confident in the arc of the message I’m preparing. I think to myself, “a quick google search for a good sermon illustration would get the job done.” Or, “you already know what you want to say there, just wing it.” Or, “there’s bound to be an answer if you open Facebook and Twitter” (ha!).

The allure of the shortcut is powerful when the work seems endless and the creative juices are lacking. Typically we refer to shortcuts as pure laziness, but I would say they are in fact much worse.

Taking shortcuts circumvents the Holy Spirit’s desire to work with you into the mystery of creation. Whether we’re lazy or impatient or on a deadline, taking the shortcut is the answer for finishing a job without doing the work—another task completed with unfinished interior development.

In referring to pastors and shortcuts, Eugene Peterson says, “Impatience, the refusal to endure, is to pastoral character what strip mining is to the land—a greedy rape of what can be gotten at the least cost, and then abandonment in search of another place to loot” (The Contemplative Pastor, pg. 57).

Creativity and the toil-some process of beginning something from nothing, and following it to the end is the stuff that makes people who they are. We don’t need more pastors who can preach like Mark Driscoll. We don’t need more musicians who can play like Mumford and Sons. We don’t need more writers like Anne Lamott.

We need people who are going to make the effort of allowing God’s Spirit to do the slow work of creation in their hearts that inevitably bleeds onto the page, even if it doesn’t follow their own deadlines.

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