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.

SchoolFest sets the stage for Alabama children

The following is the latest installment of the Alabama Power Foundation’s annual report, highlighting the people and groups spreading good across Alabama with the foundation’s support.

 

Plato said art imitates life. Oscar Wilde said it was the other way around. It’s an argument that continues. However, one art form brings us face to face with the connection between art and life, perhaps better than any other: theater. It’s here people act out stories, hoping their audience forgets for a moment that it’s all make-believe. Were it not for the SchoolFest program of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF), many Alabama children might never be exposed to the magic of theater.

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Every year, 40,000 students attend SchoolFest in Montgomery. From the professional actors to the costume and set design, the productions are the same as those presented to other ASF audiences. Thanks to grants from the Alabama Power Foundation and others, ticket prices are discounted and many schools attend for free, exposing students from all walks of life to art.

For some, it’s an experience they’ll never forget. For others, like Emily Prim, it’s life-changing. Prim is assistant wardrobe supervisor at ASF. She remembers distinctly when the “theater bug” bit her. “I was in seventh grade at St. James School in Montgomery. We had a field trip to SchoolFest, where we saw ‘James and the Giant Peach.’ I remember it so well, because there was a Ferris wheel on stage that was the peach, and I thought that was so cool. I was sorta thinking about theater, because of shows we had done in school and stuff, but when I came to see ‘James’ here, it made me start thinking that this is something I could do after I graduate,” Prim said.

Prim’s experience is what ASF is all about. Executive Director Todd Schmidt put it this way: “It’s really a bedrock of our mission at ASF, which is to create communities through transformative theatrical experiences. It’s a lot of kids’ first introduction to theater. It’s important to do that, especially in this time of continued cuts in arts funding.”

Shakespeare Festival’s SchoolFest puts the arts at center stage for Alabama students from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Just in the past year, students have seen productions of “The Sound of Music,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Our Town,” “Steel Magnolias” and “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963.” The latter featured 24 students from Montgomery Public Schools in the cast. Schmidt chooses shows that are appropriate for audiences of all ages. SchoolFest builds many of these productions around school curricula.

“We put our programming out to schools, and then they select what they think is relevant to what they’re doing and what they want their kids to be exposed to,” Schmidt said.

What started decades ago as productions appropriate for students has continued to expand. In addition to SchoolFest, ASF offers educational programs. There are theater classes for adults and children, and summer theater camps for students. ASF has hosted a series of conversations that are tied – at least in part – to the shows. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell spoke alongside a cast member from “Four Little Girls: Birmingham 1963.”

“These are not about our productions, but they focus on themes of the productions,” Schmidt said. “There’s one coming up that talks about women dealing with glass ceilings, working in fields normally dominated by men, which ties somewhat into the production of ‘Steel Magnolias’ and a new production, ‘Into the Breeches.’”

Lonny Harrison, director of theater at St. James School in Montgomery, has been bringing students to see productions at ASF for 21 years. “We have some students who, up to the point they’ve hit SchoolFest, have never seen a live production outside of a school play. This definitely helps get them more into the arts.

It seems like kids respond differently to every show, but whether it’s something that’s the most amazing thing to them, or something that makes them think more critically, it at least makes them think about it. When we left ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the other day, kids were saying, ‘Let’s do some Shakespeare!’ I had to tell them, ‘Small steps.’”

Harrison has a long history with SchoolFest. He saw stage productions at ASF when he was in school. His experience echoes that of many Alabamians. Were you to poll the state, you’d likely be amazed at the number of people of all ages who’ve shared the marvel of live performance in a theater at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

In Alabama, it’s a generational thing. When it comes to the art imitating life vs. life imitating art question, perhaps Shakespeare got it right when, in the second act of “As You Like It,” the character Jaques said, “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”

The parts being played by the men and women of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival are a rich and vital service to the people of our state. These are the people who transform our children, who show them a new and lively way to understand stories, and life – its comedies and tragedies. These are the “players” who expand the minds of our young people, and show them a world that lives within their own ability to imagine.

For more information on the Alabama Power Foundation and its annual report, visit here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

4 hours ago

Aderholt’s advice for Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate candidates: ‘Make it very clear that they’re supportive of the president’

Although it is still the early going of the 2020 U.S. Senate Republican primary election campaign, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville) has some advice for the handful of candidates seeking the GOP nod.

When asked what he saw as important to him and his constituents in Alabama’s fourth congressional district, he said it was support for President Donald Trump.

In the 2016 presidential election, Trump dominated Aderholt’s district by winning more than 80% of the vote and was the only district in the country to break the 80% threshold.

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“They’ve clearly got to make sure that they make it very clear that they’re supportive of the president,” Aderholt said. “I mean, this president has as much support of any since I have been in office. I have never seen a president that has the support this president has. He has, everywhere I go, people are very optimistic that they are very positive about what he is doing. And they’re optimistic about the future. So I would first of all — they need to let their constituents, future constituents that are voters, know that they’re someone who would stand with the president.”

“As someone who is in another branch of government, we always want to make sure we don’t do just exactly like the executive or the president wants to do regardless of who it is,” he continued. “The Founding Fathers wanted the different branches to be a watchdog on each other. But, as I have seen from this president, the things that he is doing is consistent with what the voters want and what has been good for America. I’m fully supportive of this president. I think they need to communicate they’re supporting the president. I think that is probably the biggest thing right now. Alabama is a very pro-life state, and I think they need to communicate that, which again is consistent with the president’s message.”

Aderholt also suggested the Senate candidates should be supportive of Trump’s efforts to renegotiate NAFTA.

“I am also getting the feedback that the Mexican-Canadian trade agreement that the president is trying to negotiate — to redo NAFTA, people are very supportive of that,” Aderholt added. “But again, the president has been very supportive of these issues. What the president is doing, I’m very supportive of. I don’t see any issue as far as supporting what the president’s issue is.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

4 hours ago

Georgia-based Colonial sues contractor over Alabama spill

Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline Co. has sued an Alabama contractor over a spill that threatened gasoline supplies along the East Coast three years ago.

The pipeline operator contends faulty work by the Birmingham-based Ceco Pipeline Services caused a crack that spilled at least 250,000 gallons of gasoline in rural Shelby County in September 2016.

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The spill shut down a major pipeline for weeks, tightening gasoline supplies along the Eastern Seaboard.

The pipeline carries fuel from Houston to metropolitan New York.

With headquarters near Atlanta in Alpharetta, Colonial Pipeline filed the federal lawsuit Friday seeking an unspecified amount of money.

Ceco Pipeline Services has not filed a response in court, and general manager Luke Hotze declined comment Monday, citing the lawsuit.

Hired to replace coatings that protect the pipeline’s exterior, the contractor failed to adequately replace dirt around the pipeline after maintenance work, the suit said.

The failure left a void beneath the pipe, which bent as it sagged.

The bend caused cracks that led to the breach, according to the suit.

The failure cost Colonial Pipeline lost income, plus money spent on repairs and cleanup, the lawsuit said without specifying an amount.

The lawsuit said Colonial Pipeline transports an average of 100 million gallons (378 million liters) of refined petroleum products daily through a system that includes more than 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) of pipeline.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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‘School choice’ also means ‘tax choice’ in Alabama

It’s back-to-school season and for some parents, this is a happy time.

But for those whose children are stuck in underperforming schools, or schools where they are bullied or are in danger, this is a heartbreaking time, especially if they cannot afford to move or go to private school.

“There was fighting every day. People wanted to shoot me, kill me, and everything,” said Calvin Coleman in a speech about his experiences at his Mobile public high school.

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Did you know that you, or your company, can help students like Calvin by donating a portion of what you already owe in state income taxes to a program that funds scholarships for low-income families in Alabama?

“When my son Carlos was in the fifth grade, he was constantly bullied and I wanted to desperately put him into a private school,” wrote Nyenya Webster of Montgomery in Alabama Daily News. Every day was a struggle, she added. “I was at a loss as to what to do to help my son.”

Then Webster learned about the tax-credit scholarship program created in 2013 by the Alabama Accountability Act that serves roughly 4,000 low-income, mostly minority Alabama students.

She applied, and Carlos received a scholarship to attend Success Unlimited Academy in Montgomery.

“Success Unlimited has been a lifesaver for my son,” Webster wrote. “He … is now considering college. My son never talked about going to college before Success.”

For those who want to help other Alabama families break the cycle of poverty through education, it’s a no-brainer.

“For a donor, it doesn’t cost them anything,” said Warren Callaway, executive director of Scholarships For Kids, one of the scholarship granting organizations funded by the program.

That’s because a tax credit is different from a charitable contribution. When you make a charitable contribution to a non-profit organization, you deduct a portion of that on your income tax. However, a tax credit allows you to take a dollar for dollar reduction in your state income tax.

“Basically, donors are redirecting some of their state income tax liability to a [scholarship granting organization],” Callaway said. “So, if you give $100 to us, you can reduce your state income tax by $100.”

Who benefits from the donation?

“The average household income for these students is under $30,000 so these are families that would have no other way of choosing the school that is best for their child,” said Ryan Cantrell, director of state strategy and political affairs for the American Federation for Children, during an interview of the 1819 podcast.

Higher-income families have always had school choice, Cantrell said, but “it’s the low-income families who get stuck with no options in under-performing schools or schools that don’t work for their child.”

There are $30 million in tax credits available and, so far, only about a third have been claimed, according to the Department of Revenue’s My Alabama Taxes website.

Here’s how you can reserve your tax credit before the December 31, 2019, deadline:

Step 1: Estimate how much income tax you or your business will owe Alabama next year by checking how much you paid last year. Individuals and corporations can donate up to 50 percent of their tax bill, and while individuals are limited to $50,000, corporations are unlimited.

Step 2: Visit the My Alabama Taxes website and follow instructions for reserving an Alabama Accountability Act tax credit.

Step 3: Send a check to one of the seven scholarship granting organizations in Alabama within 30 days.

Step 4: When you do your taxes next year, fill out an Alabama Department of Revenue Schedule AATC form to reduce your income tax bill by the amount you donated.

For more help, individuals may call the Alabama Department of Revenue at 334-353-0602 or 334-353-9770, and corporations may call 334-242-1200.

You’re already going to have to write a check for your state income taxes. Why not control where some of that money goes, especially when it has the power to change lives?

“It was a relief that nobody would understand,” said mother-of-five Alleane West in an Alabama Opportunity Scholarship video about the program’s impact on her family. “You know, you’re a single mom with boys trying to not make them a statistic.”

Watch:

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is a senior fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. Connect with her at rachel@alabamapolicy.org or on Instagram @RachelBlackmonBryars.

5 hours ago

Ivey to toll detractors: ‘Nobody wants to pay for anything — We just always want the benefits’; Calls for other ‘reasonable solutions’

On Monday, the political battle over the proposed tolling for the new I-10 Mobile Bayway Bridge escalated when Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth came out in opposition to the toll. Following in Ainsworth’s footsteps and coming out against the proposal as well was another heavy-hitter, State Senate President Pro-Tem Del Marsh.

Tuesday, Gov. Kay Ivey, who has insisted on the necessity of the project and warned that “cost of doing nothing” was too high, offered a response to detractors.

Ivey indicated to Matt Murphy and Andrea Lindenberg, co-hosts of Birmingham radio Talk 99.5’s “The Matt & Aunie Show,” that a reaction to a toll was to be expected. She also said she would listen to alternatives at the Alabama Toll Road, Bridge and Tunnel Authority meeting scheduled for October 7.

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“Nobody wants to pay for anything,” she said. “We just always want the benefits. If somebody has got a better idea of what the toll should be or if we should never toll. That’s the reason I’m hosting the October 7 meeting at the State Capitol for the Toll Bridge and Road Authority – so people can put reasonable solutions on the table. How do we pay for the bridge?”

“Everybody would be for not having to have a toll,” Ivey added. “I just haven’t found that option yet. It’s the reason we’re hosting this meeting with state legislators, congressional delegation, constitutional officers have all been invited to come and be specific and offer some reasonable solutions of how we can pay for the bridge without using a toll or a lower toll.”

Earlier this year, the Alabama legislature raised the state’s gas tax, part of the Rebuild Alabama Act. That had some questioning the timing of the toll coming on the heels of a gas tax increase. According to Ivey, gas tax revenue alone would hardly cover the cost of the bridge.

“When we paid the gas tax, we only did 10 cents,” she said. “It’s a lot of money for some folks, but 10 cents only brings in $320 million annually for roads and bridges across the state. The bridge itself costs $2.1 billion … the gas tax is for statewide projects, not just one project.”

When asked about the timing of her awareness of a toll for the project, Ivey did not offer a specific time. However, she did mention a specific each-way price tag of $2.25, which varied from the $6 each-way toll in many reports.

“They’ve been talking about this bridge for 20-something-odd years for the environmental impact,” Ivey said. “I don’t know when exactly I heard the proposal but $2.25 one-way doesn’t seem too unreasonable.”

According to the governor’s office, the $2.25 Ivey cited referred to the average for the frequent user. The $2.25 cost would be the average price for five days a week for four weeks with the purchase of the proposed frequent user pass at a cost of $90 per month. Also, with the proposed pass, crossing the bridge would unlimited, and the $2.25 average could vary depending on how many times a pass holder crosses in a given month.

When asked about the prospects of additional toll projects throughout the state, Ivey told Talk 99.5 she was unaware of any.

“I’m not aware of any, and the toll roads we do have are on private property as far as I know now there are no other plans for a toll road on state or federal highways,” she said.

When asked about those suggesting U.S. Highway 280 in Birmingham or other roads being tolled, Ivey decried it as “misinformation.”

“So much misinformation out there is intentional,” Ivey said. “It’s just unconscionable for folks to be considering such information. It’s easy to verify what you hear before you spout it. I just encourage everybody to look on the big side of prosperity and let’s build the bridge so we can strengthen commerce and strengthen public safety, and keep our state productive.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.