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.

14 mins ago

Doug Jones to host second annual HBCU summit at Miles College

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is inviting Alabamians to his second annual HBCU summit. The 2020 version of the summit will be at Miles College in Fairfield on February 14.

The event will have a student career and employment opportunities from across Alabama in addition to two panels moderated by Alabama’s junior senator.

Doug Jones has made championing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) one of the cornerstones of his time in the U.S. Senate.

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In 2019, Jones took to the Senate floor to say, “HBCUs are the leading educators for African American PhDs in science and in engineering. They are foundational to building generational wealth in communities that have long faced headwinds in doing so. They are doing amazing work. ”

Alabama is home to 14 HBCUs. Jones helped guarantee the continuance of their federal funds by co-sponsoring the FUTURE act with Senator Tim Scott (R-SC). The bill was signed in to law by President Donald Trump in December 2019.

The effort received praise from the leaders of Alabama’s HBCUs, many of whom will be joining Jones for the two panels during his summit.

The two panels, as follows:

Women in the Lead: How Six Alabama HBCU Presidents Are Raising the Bar
Dr. Patricia Sims, President, Drake State Community College
Dr. Cynthia Warrick, President, Stillman College
Dr. Martha Lavender, President, Gadsden State Community College
Ms. Bobbie Knight, Interim President, Miles College
Ms. Anita Archie, Interim President, Trenholm State Community College
Dr. Shirley Friar, Chief of Staff, Tuskegee University
Moderator: Senator Doug Jones

Student Voices: How Alabama HBCU Student-Leaders Are Lifting Up Their Campuses
featuring student representatives:
Miss Keila Michelle Lawrence, Miles College
Mr. Jacobi Gray, Alabama A&M University
Miss Arin Massey, Shelton State Community College
Mr. Amani Myers, Talladega College
Mr. Dakus Sankey, Jr., Trenholm State Community College
Moderator: Senator Doug Jones

Those interested in attending the summit can go here.

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

1 hour ago

Birmingham marketing firm tapped for Super Bowl ad

Birmingham-headquartered marketing firm Big Communications has made a Super Bowl ad promoting the Fox broadcast of the 2020 Daytona 500.

The firm was tasked with making the ad by Fox Sports’ marketing team. When the ad airs on Sunday, it will be the first time in Big’s 25-year history that one of their ads will broadcast during the Super Bowl, which is the advertising industry’s biggest event of the year. Recent Super Bowls have averaged around 100 million American television viewers.

Blake Danforth, vice president of marketing for Fox Sports, credits Big’s award-winning work on Valvoline’s Never Idle campaign with piquing his interest in the firm.

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In a statement, Danforth said, “Big’s creative team had a genuine understanding of exactly what makes NASCAR fans love the sport with such an unrelenting, unrivaled intensity.”

“Promoting something as huge as the Great American Race on the biggest stage in all of advertising — that’s kind of a big deal,” commented Ford Wiles, Big partner and chief creative officer.

“This is the kind of moment that we live for — putting Alabama’s talent on display for the world to see,” Wiles concluded.

You can view Big’s Super Bowl ad here.

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

Monument to gold star families will be added to Huntsville’s Veterans Memorial

The Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial, a park on the north side of Huntsville’s downtown area, will be adding a monument to gold star families in 2020.

Gold Star families are those who have lost a member during service in the United States Armed Forces.

The monument is the final planned addition to the veterans memorial, a project that was first dedicated on 11/11/2011. Its origin dates back to 2000 when a half-sized replica of the Vietnam memorial was temporarily displayed in Huntsville. Some residents wanted something more permanent.

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“The Veterans Memorial has been erected not to commemorate the glory of battle or triumph of victory, but to honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans, and to pay homage to those heroes we have lost,” said Brigadier General (Retired) Bob Drolet, chair of the Huntsville-Madison County Veterans Memorial Foundation.

The monument to the gold star families is designed and aided by the Hershel “Woody” Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, a foundation that has helped install similar monuments across the United States. To date, the group has placed 59 monuments across 45 states.

An identical monument was recently announced for installation in Mobile.

The primary sponsors of the Huntsville installation are Mike and Christine Wicks.

The Gold Star Family Memorial to be installed in Huntsville will be the first of its kind in Alabama.

The four panels on the back of the monument will read, “Homeland, Family, Patriot, and Sacrifice.”

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

3 hours ago

Bruce Pearl praises religious freedom in Alabama — ‘I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith’

Speaking to members of the media Monday on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Auburn University head basketball coach Bruce Pearl lauded the religious freedom he enjoys living in the state of Alabama. He also called for unity and spoke strongly against anti-Semitism.

Pearl last spring became the fourth Jewish head coach in NCAA history to take a team to the Final Four. He was the first president of the Jewish Coaches Association.

“Today has always been a difficult day for me as it Holocaust Remembrance Day,” the coach said on Monday in the opening statement of his press availability.

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“I was born in 1960, 15 years after we opened up the gates in Auschwitz and discovered the atrocities,” he continued. “We vow to never let that happen again to anyone. Anti-Semitism is a terrible thing. As a Jewish man, I’ve lived with it my whole life and I’ve seen its ugly face many times.”

Pearl explained, “That’s why I’m so blessed to live in this country where there is great religious freedom. I can live here in Auburn and practice my faith.”

“The great challenge for me has always been that we are brothers. We are all brothers. We are all sisters. We are all related,” he outlined. “Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. That makes us brothers because we have the same father – Abraham the father of many nations. Jesus was born a Jew and he died a Jew. That makes me brothers with my Christian brothers. If we can focus on that, whether you agree with it or not, that’s not my point. The point is we have a lot more in common than we have apart. We should celebrate those. We should never tolerate racism or something like anti-Semitism. What I would ask you all to remember is: never again.”

RELATED: Bruce Pearl slams AOC for ‘concentration camps’ tweets: ‘Attempt to rewrite the Holocaust’

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

3 hours ago

Ivey previews 2020 State of the State — ‘Challenges to address’

MONTGOMERY — Speaking at a gathering of the Alabama Council of Association Executives at Montgomery City Hall on Tuesday morning, Governor Kay Ivey gave a glimpse of her top priorities heading into the 2020 state legislative session.

The session gavels in at noon this coming Tuesday, February 4 — seven days from Ivey’s remarks. Her 2020 State of the State Address will follow the start of the session that evening, before President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address.

Ivey took to the podium Tuesday morning to an enthusiastic standing ovation.

“Already, 2020 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for our state and our people,” the governor said.

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While noting the “great things” going on with the Yellowhammer State’s record-breaking economy, Ivey added, “But y’all, we do have some work to do and some challenges to address.”

She urged everyone to tune into her State of the State Address next week for more specifics while broadly underlining some of the “challenges” she will discuss in that speech and tackle this year.

The governor listed “the upcoming Census, our prison concerns, healthcare, mental healthcare and education reform” as the top 2020 issues.

“2020 will be a make or break year regarding our Census. … I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a full, accurate count in the 2020 Census,” Ivey stressed. “These numbers directly impact our representation in the United States House of Representatives and directly impact billions — with a ‘b’ — of dollars that come to our state, including funds for community programs, healthcare, education and job opportunities.”

“Ten years ago when we had the [last] Census, an estimated one million children went uncounted [in Alabama],” she continued. “Folks, we’ve got to close this gap and be sure that every person who’s living and breathing in Alabama completes a Census form and returns it — parents do it for their children. This is a must.”

Transitioning to her next priority, Ivey lamented, “Another large issue that has gone unaddressed in our state for decades is our heinous prison conditions.”

She acknowledged the state’s prison problems as “multifaceted and longstanding.”

In turn, Ivey said, a “multifaceted solution” will be needed.

“Y’all, this is an Alabama problem, and we’re going to have an Alabama solution for it,” the governor added. “It’s absolutely imperative we in the state of Alabama solve our prison problems. If we don’t, the Department of Justice will come in, take over, control the administration, control our funds … so failure is not an option.”

Ivey subsequently urged all Alabamians to vote “yes” on statewide Amendment One on March 3. She referred to this as the type of “bold action” needed to improve the state’s public education system.

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