How ‘church growth at all costs’ mentality weakens worship


Listen to the 10 min audio

Read the transcript:

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.

17 mins ago

Why Governor Ivey is the champion Alabama’s prisons desperately need right now

Alabama’s prisons are a dangerous place to be. Alabama’s prison population sits at over 160% of its designed capacity, with a homicide rate nearly nine times the national average. In 2019, there were 14 homicides in state prisons. This does not include the number of suicides or drug overdoses, which are also high in the state’s prisons.

But thanks to Governor Kay Ivey, Alabama’s correctional system is undergoing a vital transformation. This is especially important as prisons across the U.S. continue to pose a high coronavirus risk. There have been no diagnosed cases of coronavirus in Alabama’s prisons yet, but the governor’s COVID-19 task force has been at work with the Alabama Department of Corrections on a proactive plan to stop the spread of the virus in prisons.

585

Furthermore, in January of this year, Governor Ivey convened a Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy, which is an example that other states struggling with prison violence and high crime rates should draw from. The Group is bringing an informed, thoughtful and research-based approach to modernizing Alabama’s justice system to create safer and more thriving communities than the way our country has approached incarceration in the past.

I commend the governor for the steps she is taking for Alabama’s future – both before and during the coronavirus pandemic. In February, Governor Ivey endorsed several justice reform initiatives that will increase safety in the state’s prisons and support rehabilitation efforts. The measures include a revision to the oath of office taken by correctional officers that emphasizes rehabilitation; increased funding for prison education and mental health services; a requirement for prisoners to undergo mandatory supervision before their release to reduce recidivism; and eligibility for revised sentences for nonviolent crimes.

Measures like these do not make our communities less safe; in fact, they do the opposite. With justice reform measures being taken in both the federal and state systems at unprecedented levels, violent crime has decreased 5% over the past three years. According to criminology experts, incarceration actually has a marginal impact on crime, especially violent crime; in some cases, research has shown that incarceration can actually increase crime. This has been referred to as “the prison paradox.”

What does decrease crime? Education. Substance abuse services. Mental health services. Employment assistance. All of these have been proven to lower recidivism and crime. Since 2007, more than 30 states have passed reforms that address these issues and prioritize prison beds for serious offenders. Indeed, if smart and measured approaches recommended by the Study Group on Criminal Justice Policy are adopted by the legislature, Alabama can see its crime rates drop, its overall prison population drop, and its state prison budget drop.

Justice reform is one of the rare issues that is receiving bipartisan support – not just in Alabama but across the country. America’s high incarceration rate – the highest in the world – takes a massive human toll on families, individuals and communities. But increasingly, leaders like President Trump on the federal level and Governor Ivey on the state level are proving that you can be both “tough on crime” and “smart on crime” at the same time.

Moreover, the goals of justice reform measures are consistent with faith-based values. These values balance personal responsibility with forgiveness, compassion and mercy. This is an issue that can’t wait for attention. It’s also an issue that will allow us to pull together at a time when we face an unprecedented “invisible enemy” in the coronavirus, when we are divided by political partisanship and are facing an uncertain economic future. In this time of anxiety for vulnerable family, friends and loved ones, Governor Ivey is taking the necessary steps to bring change to Alabama’s justice system. I support Attorney General Barr’s recent order to the federal Bureau of Prisons to grant home confinement to many sick and elderly inmates during the coronavirus, and hope similar steps are taken in state and local prisons across the country. And I urge Alabamans not to forget about the incarcerated as they consider the future of their communities and their country.

Timothy Head is the executive director for the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a national grassroots movement of over 2 million conservatives and people of faith in support of time-honored values, stronger families, and individual freedom.

Byrne: Hope in the time of the coronavirus

In Genesis 2, God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” He made us for Himself, but he also made us for one another. We are intimately connected to one another, and separation, even though for our own physical health, and even though on a temporary basis, is painful for us all.

John Donne, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the 17th century, said, “No man is an island, entire unto itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” He went on to say, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”

We are not “islands,” we are part of the “main” of all humans and “involved” in the life of the world here and now. Disease and death diminish us all. But, they don’t have to defeat us. We can and will defeat this disease.

1514

This fight against the coronavirus called COVID-19 is hard. We are forced to separate from one another, a necessary infringement on our humanity, and however necessary, an infringement on basic liberties. Our economy is sorely wounded. Worse, our neighbors are infected with this disease, some fighting for their lives, some tragically losing that fight.

We are better, stronger than this disease. Brave men and women on the frontline, doctors and nurses, first responders and health paraprofessionals, pharmacists and those working to provide us food and necessities, are showing the indomitable American will, the will to win. And, yet, all of us have a role to play, to responsibly social distance from one another, to practice proper hygiene and to know when its time to be tested and/or to quarantine ourselves.

We have weathered diseases before in our history. The 1918 Flu Pandemic. The Polio Epidemic of the 1950s. Yellow Fever ravaged early Mobile and all of Alabama off and on during the 19th century. But, in all of those we didn’t have the public health resources in near the abundance we do now.

The public health professionals tell us that we must slow down the spread of the disease so it doesn’t overwhelm our hospitals and health care providers. That’s why we have social distancing.

We know the disease is spread person to person or when one of us touches a surface where the virus is still alive. By stopping our natural human contact, in our jobs, our schools, our restaurants and bars, our non-essential retailers, our group meetings, our social meetings and even in our worship services, we stop the spread and give our health care professionals the time and resources to help us, to heal us and, for some, to save us.

This obviously hurts us economically and socially. And we don’t need to continue it one minute longer than is needed. We will know when we can start to relax the mandates against social mingling. It will be when the number of new cases starts to come down on a sustained basis; not when we have no new cases, but when the number of new cases, or the rate of new cases, comes down day after day. As we get more tests out there, and new tests are increasing at a fast pace now, we will have a lot more cases. That doesn’t mean it’s spreading at that rate. In part, it just means that we are seeing the natural result of all this new testing.

A couple of data points are important to keep in mind. Only between 10 and 15 percent of all people tested in the US at present are testing positive. The vast majority tested here don’t have the disease. And remember, we are in many places only testing those at risk. As testing gets far wider, that rate may come down. Of those who do test positive, 80 percent have no or only mild symptoms. But, 20 percent need some form of significant care. They are of all ages, by the way, so the fact that you are young doesn’t protect you. And, tragically around 1 percent to 1.5 percent die. That may not sound like much but it’s 10 to 15 times higher than the flu.

Meanwhile, all levels of government play an important role. Our governors and mayors, as well as public health officers, must issue the appropriate orders to protect us all. Closing restaurants and bars, beaches and parks, small retailers and large group meetings, are each hard decisions. The economic and social ramifications are far-reaching. They must start, and they must end, at the right times, based upon sound medical and professional advice, and plain common sense.

We at the federal government must work with state and local leaders to inform their difficult decisions and help them, where appropriate, carry out these tough decisions.

The fathers of two of my House colleagues have served at the highest level of our government. I asked them both if their dads had seen anything like it. Jimmy Panetta, whose dad, Leon Panetta has been White House chief of staff, secretary of Defense and CIA director, said his father had never seen anything like it. Liz Cheney, whose dad, Dick Cheney has been vice president, White House chief of staff and secretary of Defense, said the closest experience in her father’s career was 9/11. Jimmy and Liz, Leon and Dick, Democrats and Republicans. We’ve rarely, if ever, seen anything like this.

When last week’s unemployment insurance filings were reported at over 3 million, the highest ever by far in our history, and when the number of cases and deaths dramatically expanded, it was clear we had entered truly extraordinary times, calling for extraordinary government action.

So, with broad and deep bipartisan support, we passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security Act (CARES Act), providing over $2 trillion in support for individual citizens, workers who have lost their jobs, small businesses so that they will not close or lay off their workers, larger businesses in the way of loans and not bailouts, healthcare, education, transit, and more. Unprecedented resources have been quickly directed for more tests, more personal protective equipment, research and development for treatments and even a cure, and ultimately a vaccine.

I don’t like everything in the bill. In fact, there were parts that I strongly disagreed with. The time to talk about those, and how they came to be stuffed into an otherwise crucial bill, will come later, and those responsible will be named. But, our people are hurting, our way of life threatened, and this is no time to let these issues slow down the effort to get the job done. Indeed, I had hoped that the vast majority of us in the House could have avoided having to take the risk to actually travel to Washington and be in a room with hundreds of others as we have ordered the rest of the country not to do, but one member threatened to further delay the bill and so I and another 200-plus members made the trip and got the bill passed.

Like most of you, I am working from home and maintaining social distance. My staff is also working and our offices open for you but we ask that you call and not try to come in. We have helped repatriate a number of citizens from our district who have found themselves stuck in a foreign country closing its borders. We are answering many phone calls on the laws we have passed to respond to this disease and with questions about the disease itself.

I must confess, I don’t like to be kept at arm’s length from the people I serve. It runs against everything in me, but I recognize the wisdom of it. We in positions of public authority have the heavy responsibility of gauging how long this must continue and I pray that it is a matter of weeks, not months. But, unfortunately, the virus dictates that; I just want us all, at every level of government, to exercise good common sense. In the meantime, I feel like the words of the old song by one of Alabama’s sons, Hank Williams: “I’m so lonesome I could cry.”

Last week, I was on a number of conference calls with groups in the district and a teletownhall with nearly 4,000 constituents. In one, a person asked me to give them hope. I was struck by that simple request, that we provide hope.

So, here goes.

We are a great and powerful nation. We were born in an uncertain and dangerous revolution, invaded even in our Capitol by the greatest power in the world just 40 years after our founding, suffered a civil war costing 600,000 of our lives, fought two desperate world wars, watched our economy nearly disappear in a Great Depression, tore ourselves apart in the social upheavals of the 60s, and endured an attack by terrorists on our largest city and the center of our national defense. And yet, after each one we Americans not only survived, we learned how to make our country greater, how to perfect our union.

The prophet Isaiah, writing during the Babylonian captivity, put it in beautiful language:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

And, as we approach Passover and Easter, let us remember the hope expressed in the miraculous delivery of the Jewish people from slavery and the resurrection of Christ who defeated death itself. Indeed, Solomon said in his Eighth Song, “Love is as strong as death.”

That’s the ultimate reason for hope: God’s love for us all overcomes death.

As we mourn those we have lost to this disease, as we continue to miss the physical presence of one another, as we struggle with the testing and spread of the disease, and as we fight to preserve our economy and our way of life, let us be confident in the ultimate result, using our own strength and leaning on God’s.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope.

2 hours ago

‘We Are Magic’: Video highlights resilience of Birmingham in face of coronavirus, urges support of local businesses

Birmingham-based Telegraph Creative on Sunday released a moving video entitled, “We Are Magic,” showcasing the spirit of optimism, unity and hope that Magic City residents are displaying in the face of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Coronavirus continues to impact the city in unprecedented — and sometimes devastating — ways, but Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who narrated the video, praised locals for being “people who dig deep and don’t quit.”

Woodfin pledged that “we will thrive the only way we know how — by lifting each other up, and helping our neighbors.”

In keeping with the theme of the project, every aspect of the video is local.

400

Just over two minutes in length, the video was shot in Birmingham and features local talent, businesses and business owners, as well as music by a local musician. Some recognizable faces include Ezekiel Hameen from Z’s Restaurant; Chris and Idie Hastings from Hot and Hot Fish Club; Andrew Collins from Cayo Coco; Tim Hontzas from Johnny’s; and Kristen Hall and Victor King from The Essential and Bandit.

Telegraph Creative CEO Cliff Sims advised that the company created the video as a way to bring people together at a time when everyone is having to keep their distance in an effort to stop the virus from spreading. To keep all involved parties safe and healthy, social distancing rules were observed during the making of the video.

“These are difficult and uncertain times. We are fighting an invisible enemy that’s tearing through our communities, and it’s taking a toll on all of us,” Sims said in a statement.

“Our team created this video to show the spirit of unity that’s building, even in the midst of hardship — people buying a little extra to support local shops, tipping a little more to help out their favorite restaurants, and smiling a little longer to comfort a stranger across the street. Mayor Woodfin perfectly sums it up when he says, ‘The real magic of the Magic City is us, together. Even when we’re apart.’ The spirit of Birmingham is unbreakable,” he concluded.

Watch:


Full video transcript as follows:

They call her “The Magic City.”

She earned the name because
she rose up from nothing, seemingly overnight,
forging a place of her own.
Birmingham rising
was truly a thing to behold.

On downtown streets born from industry,
where neighborhood shops line the same cobblestone alleys,
Birmingham’s history looms over her present,
like an inventor over her apprentice,
imploring us to keep the magic alive.

Birmingham’s magic is more than a nickname.
It’s the people who dig deep and don’t quit,
with the grit and determination to build something incredible.
It’s the steel-clad bonds that make a community,
and an iron will to survive.

If we have learned anything, it’s that
the spirit of Birmingham is unbreakable.
And we will thrive the only way we know how —
by lifting each other up, and helping our neighbors.

The real magic
of the Magic City
is us, together.
Even when we’re apart.

We are Birmingham.
We are magic.

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

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

2 hours ago

Merrill outlines how Alabama will spend election-related federal stimulus money

Included in the recently enacted $2 trillion federal coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus package was $400 million to be allocated to the states to protect the integrity of the nation’s electoral process.

Alabama Secretary of State John H. Merrill’s office on Monday released information detailing that the Yellowhammer State will receive $6,473,611, which will further be matched 20% by the secretary of state’s office ($1,294,723) for a total of $7,768,334.

This funding will cover both the primary runoff on July 14 as well as the general election on November 3.

“Our intentions are to use this funding to reimburse counties for various preparation and election expenses including, but not limited to, masks, gloves, disinfectant spray, hand-sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and professional cleaning services to return the polling places back to their safe and sanitary pre-election condition,” the secretary of state’s office stated.

241

An application for county commissions to request reimbursement will be provided on the official website of the secretary of state’s office as soon as the money is made available to the State.

Additionally, $900,000 of the total will be allocated to reimburse absentee election managers for increased costs resulting from the lengthened absentee voting period, and $1,000,000 will be used to compensate poll workers with an additional $25.00 on Election Day.

“I am extremely grateful for the leadership displayed by Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Richard Shelby and for their listening to the concerns I expressed as well as the advice and guidance provided by other chief election officials from across the country. It is important that those at the state and local level are granted the flexibility to address the needs of their respective communities,” Merrill said.

“This funding will protect the health and safety of our voters, poll workers, and others involved in the electoral process,” he added. “I also appreciate the assistance provided by Governor Kay Ivey’s Office, the State Comptroller’s Office, and the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.”

Reports of state spending will be submitted to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission for full transparency and public inspection. All resources must be expended for these purposes no later than December 31, 2020, Merrill’s office advised.

RELATED: Keep up with Alabama’s confirmed coronavirus cases, locations here

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

3 hours ago

Ivey urges Alabamians to practice social distancing — ‘With faith and perseverance we’ll get through this together’

Governor Kay Ivey released a video Monday urging Alabamians to practice social distancing, staying six feet apart from each other, during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“For now and for the foreseeable future please consider staying safe at home,” says Ivey near the beginning of the video.

The governor’s video comes on the same day President Donald Trump approved a State of Emergency for Alabama that will make it easier for the federal government to provide assistance in recovering from the coronavirus.

76

Ivey tells the public that now is a time for neighborliness. She urges people to let others help them if help is needed.

To conclude the message Ivey quotes part of 1 Peter 5:10. She says, “The God of all grace, after you have suffered a little while, will restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Watch:


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