How ‘church growth at all costs’ mentality weakens worship


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THE CHURCH HAS LOST ITS THICKNESS — WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

TOM LAMPRECHT: Harry, I’d like to take you to an article written by John Stonestreet out of Breakpoint. The headline is “Are our churches truly leaving a mark on people? Or, another way to think about it, are our churches thick or thin? What’s the difference between a job and a vocation? David Brooks of The New York Times writes, ‘The difference is thickness. A thick institution,’ Brooks writes, ‘becomes a part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person, head, hands, heart and soul.’” John Stonestreet asks, “Are our churches thick enough?”

DR. REEDER: David Brooks has brought something up and let’s build on his metaphors. One time, I was watching my mother fix some gravy and she said, “Well, that’s not thick enough,” and I said, “Oh, what do you do?” She said, “Well, here’s what you need to add,” and she began to add some things. Then I remember her language, “Gravy needs to have texture and it needs to have a little thickness to it in order to be tasteful.”

WORSHIP HAS CHANGED — BUT FOR THE BETTER?

Well, I think the same thing’s true in terms of the church. What we have been through, Tom, is a series of years where the church growth mentality has so dominated the thinking of the leadership of the church that the notion is not simply, “We need to simplify,” but, “We need to make less challenging the message of Christianity,” and it’s been seen particularly in how we do worship.

Worship has not only taken on an entertainment dynamic and the whole notion is, “How is the audience receiving this and will it attract an audience? And we need to have worship services that attract. Well, the culture uses entertainment to attract so we’ll make our worship services entertainment.”

We introduce video cuts, we introduce drama, we introduce dance and we introduce all of these things which, actually, I have no issue with in, let’s say, an outreach event or a concert or something like that. However, worship is something different. Worship is something unique and wholly other.

WORSHIP SERVICES SET THE TONE FOR THE WHOLE CHURCH

Now, why am I saying this? Because I believe worship services set the thermostat for the life and texture of the church. Worship has to have gravitas. Some people, in an effort to have gravitas, reach for complicated liturgy and some reach for gravitas in terms of the performance of the leadership on the stage but, historically, evangelical Christianity — and if people will allow me to talk about my own branch of Christ’s church, the Presbyterian Church — we have said that there needs to be simplicity, not shallowness, but simplicity in worship.

Worship needs to be preaching, and prayer, and confession and the sacraments but there’s not this complicated liturgy that complexity is the notion of substance, but there is substance because of the weightiness of the Word.

Therefore, in our effort to be entertaining, we have cut back on the message and we have cut back on our worship in order for it to be just a simple gathering of entertainment where everybody feels good and has a great experience and, “By the way, won’t you come back to be a part of this church?”

Well, the objective of Christianity is not for people to become a part of our church. The objective of Christianity is for the church to present Christ in all of His glory — that means His transcendence as well as his imminence. That means not only the simplicity of our intimate relationship with Him, but the majesty of our transcendent relationship with Him.

WORSHIP MUST LEAD US TO THE GREATNESS OF GOD

I was looking as I was going through the cathedrals of Europe and I was looking at where they once were in these massive cathedrals that were declaring the transcendence of God. Well, that is something that, historically, has been there, that the transcendence of God is declared in worship and then the imminence of God is taught in worship — that He is with you, that He loves you, that He dwells within you.

“But who is this that dwells within me?” It is not some watered-down version of a God, but the God of the Bible, Who speaks and the winds obey His voice, and the mountains quake and all of the universe stands in awe of Him. And it is this fear, or awe of the Lord, that would then penetrate the worship of God because he is so majestic.

And then comes the message that this God has loved you, He has given His Son for you and He will send His Spirit to live within you so you can be right with this majestic God and this majestic God is right within you.

SET-APART AND HOLY WORSHIP IS BIBLICAL

Tom, the real point of this thing is worship. Worship sets the thermostat. There’s an interesting moment when Moses is telling Pharaoh, as the spokesman for God, “Let My people do that they may go three days out to this mountain and worship Me.” And, in the sixth plague, Pharaoh says, “Listen, we’ll let you worship. Here, I’ll create a nice little place for you here. You don’t have to leave, but you can stay here and worship.”

And then there’s an interesting thing that Moses says to Pharaoh, as this mouthpiece of God, and that’s this: “Our worship will not be understood by your people. We must go out to worship.” Worship is a wholly other event. It’s not a concert. It’s not an entertainment. It’s not a lecture. It’s not a classroom. It is a moment where the people of God have assembled together in the presence of God and the glory and majesty of God is being lifted up and praise is given to God. That’s what brings gravitas to the church because then you can deal not only with the simplicity of the Gospel message, but also the depth of the Gospel message.

The church has lost its texture. It’s lost its tastiness. Why? Because it’s lost — and I’ll use David Brooks’ metaphor — it’s lost its thickness. What we have said, historically, is the church is five miles wide and one inch deep. And then you have reactionary churches that are one inch wide and five miles deep.

Well, I think what the Bible is telling us is that the church is to be five miles wide and five miles deep. There is a texture, there is an expansion of it and there is a depth of it — a thickness of it. And that’s what draws people, not this simplicity of another faddish organization, but the embassy of the kingdom of God has shown up. Look at the depth of the relationship that the people have with God, look at the majesty of that God and then look at the intimacy they have with God and with each other.

CHURCHES AND OUR CHRISTIAN IDENTITY

TOM LAMPRECHT:  Going back to David Brooks’ analogy, he writes, “Some organizations leave a mark on you and some pass through with scarcely a memory.” Harry, are our churches leaving a mark?

DR. REEDER: He’s put his finger on it — no. You can take them and leave them because they’re not all that significant. They have no demands any longer. “Wouldn’t you like to join our church? By the way, it’s nothing much. Can you come, maybe, once a month to a worship service and, by the way, give a little bit of money every once in a while? Would you join up for a little project?”

There’s this minimizing of expectations even though all of the analysis tells us it is the heightening of expectations. Now, we obviously want to be Biblical in this. What does it take to join the church of Jesus Christ? It takes one basic thing: a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. However, what are the vows of that membership? The vows of that membership is not that this is an incidental organization that I may stop by periodically. By the way, how many meetings do I need to come to, to be a member of the Rotary Club?

That’s not the way you look at the church of Jesus Christ. This is a covenant commitment to the one organization that Jesus died for. God, as creator, has put a sacred institution — it’s called the family. God, as provider, has put a sacred institution — it’s called government. God, as redeemer, has put a sacred institution — it’s called the church, which is called the family of God, which is called the body of Christ, which is sprinkled clean with the blood of Jesus.

CHURCH LEADERS, ASSESS YOURSELVES

And Jesus said that, “I have loved my church and given myself for her. I have purchased her with my own blood.” Therefore, there is a commitment we make that reflects the depth of the commitment of the Savior.

However, here is the point. The leadership of the church has got to renew our commitment to making sure that the door and threshold of the church is simple Gospel message, but the life of the church has depth and texture — it’s tasty because there’s something to it. There is gravitas.

And, finally, my proposal is this: the worship service sets the thermostat for the thickness and the thinness of the church. It sets the thermostat. Worship is the key element.

Dr. Harry L. Reeder III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham.

This podcast was transcribed by Jessica Havin, editorial assistant for Yellowhammer News, who has transcribed some of the top podcasts in the country and whose work has been featured in a New York Times Bestseller.

1 hour ago

Ivey urges patience as vaccine rollout picks up pace; State still compares poorly to others

Governor Kay Ivey is urging Alabamians to be patient with the rollout of their state’s coronavirus vaccination system. Her comments come as Alabama has received criticism for its slow process compared to other states, though the pace has increased in the last week.

Compared to other states and territories, Alabama has ranked at or near the bottom in terms of shots given per thousand people, and in terms of the percentage of doses in its possession that it has gotten into arms.

The pace of administration notably quickened in the last five days, rising from 87,138 total shots administered as of Monday to over 130,000 on Friday, meaning around 50% of the state’s shots given out have been administered in the workweek ending on January 15.

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According to the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) dashboard on Friday afternoon, 130,394 doses of one of the two coronavirus vaccines have been given out of the 370,575 that have been delivered to the state.

“[State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris] and his team are continually working to more efficiently get this vaccine into the arms of Alabamians,” promised Ivey on Friday.

Since receiving its first doses in December, Alabama has focused on vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents.

On Monday, January 18, eligibility to get the vaccine expands to any Alabamian aged 75 and over, along with first responders like police officers and firefighters.

ADPH announced earlier in the week that the hotline it created to handle appointment calls from people in the newly eligible categories was beingly regularly overwhelmed, and all slots to get a vaccine at county health departments have been filled through the end of January.

The agency said only eligible citizens, can still call the hotline and have their information added to a waiting list.

“Callers will be contacted as soon as more appointments are available,” relayed ADPH. The number for the hotline is 1-855-566-5333.

RELATED: Jefferson County running independent COVID-19 vaccination process from rest of state, creates separate hotline to call

“I am thankful so many Alabamians are willing and ready to get their COVID-19 vaccines. Please continue to be patient as we are in the very early stages of distribution,” said Ivey on Friday.

The Anniston Star reported in recent days that an online web portal to schedule vaccine appointments is in the works, but still a ways off.

Both vaccine products approved for use, from medical companies Pfizer and Moderna, require two doses given three to four weeks apart before their effectiveness takes hold.

Alabama has roughly 326,000 health care workers and around 350,000 citizens aged 75 or above, according to ADPH. Recent estimates of the number of police officers and firefighters in the state were not readily available.

The federal government has currently allocated Alabama 640,150 doses of coronavirus vaccine.

“Our current supply remains limited, but we are committed to vaccinating as many Alabamians as possible. We will get shots in the arm and off the shelf. In the meantime, be patient, wear your mask and practice good common sense. Let’s get this thing behind us,” Ivey concluded.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Former Crimson Tide national champion Martin Houston running for mayor of Tuscaloosa

Tuscaloosa businessman, pastor and former University of Alabama football player Martin Houston on Thursday announced his entry into the Tuscaloosa mayoral race.

During a press conference at his campaign headquarters in downtown Tuscaloosa, Houston was introduced by Crimson Tide legend Gene Stallings, who was Houston’s coach during Bama’s 1992 national championship season.

Watch Stalling’s remarks and the entirety of the announcement here.

Speaking to a small group of supporters and media at the live streamed event, Houston laid out his vision for Tuscaloosa, focusing on increased transparency, inclusion, diversity and economic growth.

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“I first knew that Tuscaloosa was an extremely special place during an official college visit to Alabama in 1988,” said Houston, who played fullback and running back for the Tide for the 1989-1992 seasons. “What I thought was just a four-year decision to play football turned into something much more. Tuscaloosa is where I married my childhood sweetheart, raised our children, and found my purpose. For 32 years, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to serve as a businessman, a pastor, a volunteer, and a coach here.”

At the university, Houston received both the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence and Charlie Compton Christian Leadership Awards. He was also the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ “Christian Athlete of the Year” in 1992. He went on to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1993 until a knee injury ended his NFL career.

Now, Houston is senior director of Membership Growth for Alabama One, serves as the lead pastor at Harvest Church in nearby Coker and hosts “The Martin Houston Show” on Tide 100.9. Additionally, he is a faith-based, inspirational speaker and is the chief empowerment officer/lead communicator for “The Empowerment Center.”

Houston and his wife of 31 years, Cassandra, have four children and three grandchildren.

“We all know the potential that our city has. It’s time to raise the bar and take Tuscaloosa from being just a good city to a great one,” he remarked on Thursday.

“I know that many of you feel disrespected, disconnected, and disenfranchised,” Houston added. “I want everyone to know that I hear you. Everyone in Tuscaloosa deserves a place where they can be heard. When I’m your mayor, everyone will have that place—that seat at the table.”

The pastor noted, “Tuscaloosa needs a candidate who is of the people, by the people, and for the people. I am running so I can make Tuscaloosa a better place for everyone to live, work, play and worship.”

“We can and will do this with focused, determined efforts to be an economically sound City driven by innovation, diversity and inclusion at every level,” he pledged. “Your voice matters and in the coming weeks, I look forward to earning your trust, your respect and your vote.”

Earlier the same day, incumbent Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox announced that he is seeking reelection to a fifth term. This will be Maddox’s first municipal bid since being the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2018.

He released this campaign video on Thursday:

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Tuberville: Trump made a ‘mistake’ at rally but ability of armed intruders to get into the U.S. Capitol ‘very concerning’

Trump ally Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Auburn) admits President Donald Trump made a “mistake” with his rhetoric at a rally staged in Washington, D.C., before a joint session of Congress met to certify the 2020 Electoral College results. However, he also said he had questions about how the event unfolded.

During an appearance on Mobile radio’s FM Talk 106.5, Tuberville explained the challenges Trump has faced, even as his term is coming to an end, adding that the president may not have been aware of how influential he is with his base. However, the football coach-turned-U.S. Senator said there were some peculiar circumstances regarding the crowd that day.

“[A] lot of people up there cannot stand an outsider being in office, and that’s Donald Trump,” he said. “He made a mistake last week. I don’t think he even really realized how powerful he is with his base. Now, I watched all the footage of the riot. I’d never seen a Trump rally, which he has had over 600 of them, with people come wearing helmets and backpacks and those things. I don’t know who was involved in it, but it happened, and it should have never happened.”

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Tuberville also said he had concerns about the incident and what could have been done to prevent it, noting the FBI did not relay the threat to Trump.

“[It’s] very concerning,” he said. “I live next to the Capitol. I walk around it every day. I get up early in the morning, and I can walk to work. I get up, do a little exercise. It is a beautiful place. We have 2,000 people that work for the Capitol Police that day, obviously. Now my understanding is that the FBI knew they had gotten word there was going to be trouble at the Capitol the day before it happened. That word never got to the President of the United States. As a Senator, I want to know why that wasn’t passed on down the line. Is the FBI holding secrets? I don’t understand that. But, you’ve got 2,000 Capitol Hill police, and my understanding is they thought, ‘Hey, there are never any problems with Trump rallies because they come and they go.’ There’s been 600 of them, but this was different. I don’t know why it was different. I don’t know why we had people get involved in the things that they get involved in. We had people killed in this. We had a policeman get hit with a fire extinguisher. He got hit in the head, and he later passed on. We had a lady that was a veteran that was shot.”

“I went home about four in the morning, that night after we went on with confirming Joe Biden,” Tuberville added. “I was just taken aback from knowing our country is much, much better than what we went through that day. And it should never happen. Now you can see — they’re probably going overboard now. There are going to be 10,000, 20,000 National Guard people around every building. It looks like a third-world country, and it makes you feel bad for what our forefathers had built.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

3 hours ago

Mo Brooks says Democrats looking to censure, expel and prosecute him are behaving like communists

Much to the pleasure of the Alabama political media, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) is right in the firing line when it comes to the Republicans the national media and their Democrats are attempting to blame for the riot at the U.S. Capitol last week.

There have been numerous reckless reactions to this by in-state media, who claim to be above political mudslinging and who supposedly just want to bring the facts to the people.

Al(dot)com’s John Archibald declared that the announcement that the Space Command HQ was coming to Huntsville was “sedition on commission.”

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The Space Command HQ was a payoff, for sedition, Archibald claims. Alleging a crime without reason or merit. Journalism.

His colleague and intellectual equal J.D. Crowe drew a picture depicting Brooks and every other Alabama Republican who voted for election oversight as members of the Klan and accused them of treason.

Alleging a crime without reason or merit. Journalism.

All of this is based on three accused wrongdoings:

1. Brooks was an outspoken proponent of having votes on election irregularities, even though he knew those votes would fail.

This is a completely legal and justified action provided for in the U.S. Constitution.

2. He spoke at a rally six hours before the shameful and seditious actions that took place that day and used the phrase: “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

Not great stuff here by Mo Brooks, but it is not a crime, and it is pretty amazing that a prosecutor is suggesting it be prosecuted.

3. He planned the rally itself.

This allegation is weird, and, until Thursday, Brooks had not been asked about the allegation directly.

It is based on the now-deleted Periscope video by Ali Alexander in which he claims, “We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting.”

What does this mean?

That Brooks himself worked to book the space, the sound equipment and sent the mass emails for the riot.

That seems unlikely. A pressure campaign on members of Congress to vote with him? That’s not normal.

The obvious implication that whoever planned the rally also planned the siege is not backed up by facts.

Brooks was asked about the allegation, if you can even call it that, during a Thursday appearance on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show.”

He said, “I don’t recall ever having met the guy, ever having communicated with the guy, ever having seen the guy. I don’t know where he’s coming from.”

But don’t let that stop the mob from alleging a massive conspiracy, which they are doing by tying in guided tours of the U.S. Capitol in the days preceding the riots.

Brooks thinks Alexander may have been “inspired” by his appearances on radio and TV, suggesting that may have led to him wanting to plan the rally.

But Brooks also pointed out that the rally was not the issue (which it wasn’t).

“[F]rankly, a rally is a great idea …  that was a great rally,” Brooks advised. “The rally wasn’t the problem. The problems were these militant groups, along with rally attendees at the U.S. Capitol. That was the problem.”

He continued, “I did not invite anyone, I did not set the time, I did not set the speakers.”

“I have had no communications with anybody involved in the operational planning,” Brooks added.

But this is not going to stop anytime soon. Censuring is all but a certainty; expulsion seems unlikely because of the hurdles required. But an attempted prosecution could be in the congressman’s future because Democrats are emboldened and want to hold as many Republicans as they can accountable.

The District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine is looking for charges.

“I know I’m looking at a charge under the D.C. Code of inciting violence, and that would apply where there’s a clear recognition that one’s incitement could lead to foreseeable violence,” Racine stated.

If all of this seems like a far-fetched nightmare where political speech is criminalized, you are right.

Brooks compared this reaction by his Democratic colleagues and D.C.’s attorney general as dictatorial forces like you would see in communist China or the Soviet Union.

Based on their fervor to make their political foes pay right now, you would be hard-pressed to describe it any other way.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN.

3 hours ago

Where to get locally made king cakes in Alabama

It’s officially Carnival season — the period of time after epiphany (January 6) and before Lent (starts Ash Wednesday) — which means Mardi Gras celebrations are beginning to kick off. And you know what goes hand in hand with Mardi Gras? King cake. No Mardi Gras would be complete without this sugary sweet delicacy topped with colorful icing. Thought to have been brought from France to New Orleans in 1870, king cake tastes like a cross between coffee cake and French pastry. Sometimes stuffed with filling and always stuffed with a plastic baby, the oval-shaped cake is iced with the colors of justice (purple), faith (green), and gold (power).  If you can’t make it to New Orleans this year, here’s where you can get locally made king cakes in Alabama.

6 Places to get King Cakes in Alabama

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Edgar’s Bakery – Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, multiple locations in Birmingham

The king cake from Edgar’s Bakery has been named one of the best king cakes in the nation, according to USA Today. This popular bakery offers traditional or filled king cakes (choose from strawberry, cream cheese, or pecan praline). And the best part about Edgar’s king cakes is that they can be shipped nationwide. So if you don’t have a location near you, don’t fret, sweet goodness can still come your way!
Price: $30

Savage’s Bakery & Deli – Birmingham

Savage’s Bakery has been making their famous cookies, cakes, and pastries since 1939. It’s no surprise they also make a killer king cake. They offer a filling of traditional cinnamon or cream cheese and two sizes of the cake. Savage’s also ships nationwide.
Price: $16 (small), $21 (large)

Pollman’s Bake Shop – Mobile

Pollman’s is known as THE spot in Mobile to get a king cake. They’ve been pumping out king cakes — made fresh every day during Mardi Gras season — since 1950. In fact, they were the first bakery in Mobile to make king cakes. The thick king cakes come in three sizes and are topped with colorful sugar. Pollman’s also makes cute decorated Mardi Gras cookies. You can order Pollman’s cakes to be shipped.
Price: $16.99 (small), $18.99 (large), $32.99 (extra large)

(Angie Mosier for Hero Doughnuts/Contributed, YHN)

Hero Doughnuts & Buns – Birmingham

Hero is known for its huge, fluffy, brioche-style donuts (and handmade buns for sandwiches). In Mardi Gras season, they make king cake donuts and full king cakes (which they call King Rings). The donuts are available daily during season, and King Rings are made to order with a 48-hour notice. The cakes serve 14–16 people. This shop is the king cake hero you didn’t know you needed.
Price: $30 (King Ring)

Mason Dixon Bakery & Bistro – Huntsville

Mason Dixon Bakery is known for being a place that’s inclusive of all dietary needs and offers allergen-friendly foods and baked goods. During Carnival, they offer a traditional king cake as well as a dairy-free option for those with sensitivities. The cakes are large enough to feed 12.
Price: $35 (standard), $40 (dairy free)

Sugar Rush Donut Company — Mobile

This donut shop offers king cakes year-round, so you can get your fix anytime. Covered in a generous amount of icing and sprinkled in the traditional colored sugar, they are decadent and delicious. The donut shop also offers king cake donuts, when you want a quick fix on the run.
Price: $18.99 (small) or $24.99 (large)

Julia Sayers Gokhale is a writer and editor who has been working in the lifestyle journalism industry since 2012. She was Editor in Chief of Birmingham Magazine for five years and is now leading Yellowhammer News’ lifestyle content. Find her on Instagram at @juliasayers or email her at julia@yellowhammernews.com.