Question of the Week: How Far Is Too Far With Worship Ministry?

There are usually two ends of the spectrum when it comes to worship ministry.

On the one hand, there are those who see the modern influences of technology, modern music, multi-media, and other production elements as extremely negative. I’m not just talking about the King James only, Retirement Community only churches of America. There are people of all ages and backgrounds, in churches all over who fear the modern shift in worship ministry. They go out of their way to avoid the modern eases.

On the other hand, there are those who embrace every aspect of the modern. They have multi-media presentations on the highest quality projectors money can buy. Their bands are made of all studio musicians and the light shows rival broadway.

As a worship pastor, sifting through what’s right and wrong with regard to method is important. I think anyone attending church, especially with any role of leadership needs to ultimately wrestle with this issue. What is the balance? Should we refrain from any modern influence for fear of going too far? Just because we can do something with regard to production and technology, should we?

How far is too far with worship ministry? In a recent article in Relevant, they asked ten worship leaders questions along these lines. Be sure and check it out as you work through this and weigh in below with your thoughts. Has worship ministry gone too far with technology and where is the balance?

5 Reasons People Still Predict the End of the World

Even in Jesus’ day, his followers were obsessed with knowing when his promised return would be. While sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples approached him and asked when the end of the age would be (Matt 24:3). Right before ascending up to heaven in the beginning of Acts, his disciples ask if it was the end of time when he would restore the kingdom completely. In both instances, Jesus responded with the most challenging answer human ears can hear: “You will never know!” Jesus tells them that there will be certain indications that it is near, but we will never know the exact time of his return. Jesus describes his Second Coming as a thief who breaks into a house in the middle of the night. No one will expect it. This is what the Bible guarantees.

Jesus’ promise of our ignorance has not stopped people from predicting it. The Seventh Day Adventist were formed when William Miller predicted the end of the world would be in 1843. Harold Camping originally predicted the end of the world would be in September of 1994. When September of 1994 came and went without any sign of apocalypse, Harold re-predicted the end of the world as May 21, 2011. If you have been driving down a major highway in America, you have probably seen the billboards guaranteeing it.

I am baffled that despite the incredible clarity in the Bible that we will not know when Jesus is coming back, people still predict it and are believed. What is it that drives so many people to buy into these predictions? What is the motivation behind the billboards seen all over America?

Here are 5 Reasons why people predict the end of the world:

1. We Can’t Stand Not Knowing – From the oracle at Delphi saying, “Know thyself,” to Nietszche’s famous quote, “Knowledge is Power,” knowing has been one of the most significant driving forces for progress and sin in human history. It’s what got Adam and Eve in trouble. They wanted the power behind behind the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. People just can’t stand not knowing. So instead of accepting Jesus’ promise that we will never know, we turn to all kinds of kooky numerology and other strange methods to predict it.

2. We Want to Control Our Fate – It brings chills down the spine of most Americans to hear the last two lines of the famous poem, “Invictus.” “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Unfortunately, this line just isn’t true. There are certain things in life we can control. Our ultimate fate is not one of them. By predicting the end of times we take what was meant to be hoped for in faith into something we control. If we know when the world will end, we can plan accordingly. We can control things.

3. We Want to Make Money – I know this might seem strange to you, but there is a lot of money in end of the world predictions. Harold Camping is currently worth 25 million dollars with his company, Family Radio, netting over 177 million dollars. Once you predict the end of the world, you ask people to give all their money to the cause of getting the word out, which doesn’t cost nearly as much as is earned through people’s donations. Thus, profits. People predict the end of the world in order to prey on the above mentioned impulses of other people. It may seem sleazy, but it works.

4. We Don’t Read the Bible – At least, we don’t read the Bible in its entirety. If you already have an idea of what you want the Bible to say, you can make it say just about anything. However, anybody who reads the Bible in its entirety and without a severely debilitating preconceived notions would predict the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus himself tells us we can’t. However, if we don’t read the Bible, it is not difficult to claim that it supports our whack job theories.

5. We Want the Publicity – Nobody in America should know who Harold Camping is. But we do. Enough said.

Jesus doesn’t want us knowing because the Christian life is supposed to be lived by faith. If his return is immanent but unknown, it should cause us to be constantly living in expectation and sharing the good news of salvation through Christ. I look forward to seeing you all on May 22, 2011.

On a related note, the zombie apocalypse is totally legit. Watch out!

Question of the Week: How Has Your Past Affected Your Present?

I recently began reading through one of my dad’s books, Grace Based Parenting. In the first chapter it talks about the role someone’s past has on his present. In the context of the book, it is referring to parenting. If someone has a positive experience from her parent’s methods, she is likely to follow suit. If negative, she will likely overcompensate in the opposite way.

Cody Kimmel as a kid

One example of me growing up to be something I was as a kid

I’ve heard this before, and this isn’t something only true for parenting. It had just been a while since I had thought about it. My past affects me more than I realize. Even while reading my dad’s book, I was struck how similar my writing style is to his. I’m not only learning my parenting techniques and spiritual values, but even things like my writing voice.

In a bigger way, the way we experienced God as a kid, whether in church or out of church, with a supportive family or a hostile one, has effected the way we experience Him now. I grew up in a strong Bible church without much presence of charismatic giftings or worship style. As an adult, my faith is now very Bible-driven and I have a difficult time with charismatic expressions in worship. I’m not even talking about things like tongues or prophecy, but stuff as basic as lifting up hands in worship.

My question for you this week is how has your past with God affected your present with Him?

How are you different because of your childhood?

There are a lot of things in the Christian life that we may elevate because of our own past, not necessarily because it should be elevated. Take some time this week to reflect on this and if you would like, share it here.

What Parents Need to Know about Postmodernism

The Postmodern Parent written by Cody Kimmel

Today I had the privilege of once again guest posting on my parent’s ministry blog, Family Matters. In this guest post I begin a three part series examining the language of postmodernism and what parents need to know. The first part is dedicated to the underlying distrust of our generation towards authority, the reasons why, and how parents can deal with it. Here is an excerpt:

Postmodernism can be defined many different ways depending on the context, however one of the constants is the suspicion of the “because-I-said-so” explanations.  This new culture is one existing in the shadow of two world wars, genocides and oppression, and an overall abuse of power in every sphere of cultural life. Because of this, the postmodern generation is suspicious of authority. They are suspicious of people who say they need to believe something just because they say it’s true. This new paradigm of suspicion poses an interesting challenge for parents.

We now live in a culture that does not support parent’s authority. If the people in charge are under suspicion in a postmodern world, parents often become public enemy #1 in the eyes of their children. So what are we supposed to do? Do we just surrender and let our kids disobey and question without any reaction?

Fortunately, there is a way to communicate in an authoritative way to a postmodern culture! The postmodern generation doesn’t reject authority because they flat out hate it (although it might seem that way to parents sometimes), they suspect authority because they don’t trust it. Now more than ever, it is essential for us as parents to earn the right to be heard by our children.

You can read the whole article HERE!

What Does it Mean to be a Worship Pastor?

I’m going to confess something. There are times when I wonder if I should be a worship pastor. In high school, I started learning acoustic guitar because I wanted to be a part of the high school worship band and hopefully help lead worship. Although my motivations weren’t always selfless, I have always enjoyed using music to give God glory and helping other people connect with God. But now that I am a worship pastor with over ten years of leading worship under my belt, I find myself doubting my career choice.

What does it mean to be a worship pastorI think a lot of my angst over being a worship pastor springs from what I have perceived of its role in the church over the last ten years. The current status of worship ministry is in many ways more like a music and production business than a pastoral church office. The teaching pastors are the “theologians,” whereas the worship “pastors” are the rockstars, the artists, the cheerleaders and glorified karaoke machines who lead people through songs talking about God, (some of the time).

This is a hard reality I have grappled with over my career leading worship. On the one hand, I love creating and writing music. I love the artistic elements and the aesthetic nature of it. On the other hand, I have been disappointed by the lack of “pastoring” present in worship ministry. It’s not expected for worship leaders to know the Bible well or have any training in exegesis and counseling. Outside of Sunday, there really aren’t many responsibilities for worship pastors apart from making sure the program runs smoothly.

This is why I have doubted my career choice lately. Can a worship pastor be more than a song leader? Should there be more expected than a smooth, professional music section on a Sunday morning service?

Over the last few months, I have been working on a paper on the role of worship pastors and I have been unveiling some of that research on the blog. A few weeks ago I discussed the idea of worship ministry as dialectic liturgy. This is really just a fancy way of saying that worship ministry is the unique ministry of dialoguing with God. Whereas preaching is more rhetorical and does not demand interaction, worship ministry is interaction. It is on this point that I’ve seen a glimmer of hope. The last ten years of developing as a worship leader may not have been completely in vain.

If worship is dialectic, then worship ministry is the overseeing of dialectic liturgy. The role of the worship pastor, if working from that premise, is so much more than a song leader on Sunday mornings. A worship pastor creates the atmosphere, space, context, and modes for the church to actively interact with God and know Him dialectically.

This does not discount the role of music in the dialectic worship of God. However, effective worship ministry is one that sees music as part of a greater culture of interaction with God and not as the only medium through which people can know and respond to God in a worshipful way. True worship leaders are liturgical architects.

In part two of a theological look at worship pastoring, I discuss four practical ways dialectic liturgy can be lived out.

  • Return to pre-Modern liturgy
  • Contextualize Song with Narrative
  • Use Art as a Deconstructive Aesthetic
  • The Aesthetic of Justice

Am I alone in wrestling through this? If you are a pastor, worshipper, or just interested, I desperately seek your input. The job description for worship pastors must be re-written for the sake of maximum impact. Will you help me re-write it?

Happy Mother’s Day! What I’ve Learned From my Mom

My mom and me at my wedding

So in case you, the reader, were unaware, I have a mother. In fact, I have an incredible mom to whom I owe much of my character and personality. Although she was most certainly the smartest of everyone in the family and probably could have been some high powered lawyer somewhere, or a leading scientific researcher, or an astronaut, she decided to pour all of her intelligence, passion, gifts, and time into raising me and my 3 siblings. I am truly blessed to have her, I don’t tell her enough. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned from my mom over the last 26 years.

1. Your past doesn’t have to define your present – Without going into detail, my mom didn’t have the ideal upbringing. The main issue was her dad, who didn’t find Jesus till much later in his life. Christianity was not present nor encouraged. This made her home life challenging in many ways. I’ve met quite a few people in my life with similar histories, and for the most part, all wear the scars to prove it. Whether its a lack of trust in people, debilitating insecurities, indiscriminate affection, or just unhealthy distancing, people raised in a hostile setting show it in their lives.

If my mom has scars from childhood, they are not visible now. She is confident, unbelievably gracious, elegant, trusting, and secure. She has not allowed any of the hostility experienced as a child play out in her own life as a mother. I had a great childhood, but there are even times when I am tempted to let my past mistakes define how I act today. I’ve learned from my mom, and the example of what Jesus did in her life, that my past doesn’t have to define my present.

2. Unique memories are worth the effort – For most of my childhood, we had an extra storage unit to store Christmas decorations. That’s right, we had so many decorations, we needed an entire storage unit! We now have a giant shed in our backyard for storage, but regardless, it is overwhelming. Growing up, the day after Thanksgiving was always dedicated to making multiple trips back and forth from the storage unit to the house bringing our THREE Christmas trees and boxes back to our house. My dad, my brother, and I would do this, not always cheerfully, because my mom loved decorating for Christmas. She loved listening to the music, making the house look beautiful, and maintaining the traditions surrounding the holiday. We all knew what to expect at Christmas time because my mom and dad worked very hard to maintain consistency with regard to tradition.

I didn’t appreciate all the work my mom put into Christmas time until I went away for college. I was surprised how much I missed the decorations, the schedule, and the Mariah Carey Christmas album being played ALL the time in our house. I even downloaded that album one year to secretly play in the car so I could remember home. It was a lot of work on my mom’s part, but she created a unique memory that I will always carry with me. Mariah Carey’s “Silent Night” reminds me how much I am loved. So many events and holidays, especially now, are haphazardly approached. I’ve learned from my mom that good memories take work, but have incredible lasting effects.

3. There is wisdom in talking less – The first time my wife, Lauren, had a meal with my whole family, she was shocked by how loud it was. My family is very close, but we’re all pretty loud and opinionated. So our meals together usually consist of debating politics, theology, philosophy, or just trying to one up each other on jokes. In the course of events, all of us end up saying at least one stupid thing that we wish had never come out of our mouths. All of us, except my mom. Like I said before, my mom is by far the smartest and most eloquent one at the table, but instead of talking too much and putting her foot in her mouth, she just sits back and watches the trainwreck of a conversation crash in front of her. This is a lesson I have barely learned. But any restraint I show in conversation, I learned from my mom.

4. Grace is beautiful – It probably won’t surprise many people, but I did a lot of stupid things growing up. I embarrassed myself and my family and I have no doubts there were times my mom would have rather wrung my neck than hugged me, but she didn’t. I was never shamed by my mom, I was never guilted. Despite the stupid things that I did, I always felt safe in talking to her about them. Now my mom is a beautiful and elegant woman, but a beautiful person without grace can quickly become ugly. My mom has grace, and it makes her beauty all the more incredible. I have learned the power of grace in the way my mom treated me growing up and the way she deals with my idiocracy still.

…….

I know this is cliche, but the list could definitely go on and on. I’m very blessed and I hope my mom has a great Mother’s Day. I love you, mom.

On another related note, the example my mom set for me made the standards for who I married incredibly high. Lauren has exceeded them. If you want to read more from another incredible mom, check out Lauren’s Little Blog Book or my wife’s newest blogging adventure, Dallas Moms Blog.

Family in Flagstaff

Karis, Lauren, Mom and me in Flagstaff, AZ

Will Osama Eventually Be In Heaven? The False Dichotomy of Religious Expectations

Sunday Night, the greatest villain in the Western mind was announced dead. Ever since the tragic attack on September 11, 2001, Osama Bin Laden has grown to be the face of evil to an entire generation and as the news quickly filtered through Social Media sites, news station, and then finally declared by President Obama, the mantra “Justice Has Been Done” echoed through the night and has continued ever since.

Bin Laden not only orchestrated the killing of thousands in the attack on the twin towers, but has led a subversive radical regime which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives since its inception. The label “evil” is appropriate for him. Throughout history, when evil people finally got their just desserts (Hitler committing suicide, Bundy getting executed, Hussein being executed), the world rejoices over the justice that has been done. Regardless of the progress of human history, there is something inherent that enjoys seeing evil punished. Civilization is reassured that despite the overwhelming evil that goes unpunished, sometimes evil is conquered. Justice is done.

Prior to the events of Sunday night, the topic of heaven and hell dominated theological conversation and debate. With the release of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, the question of how a loving God can sentence people like Gandhi to eternal hell just because he didn’t believe in Jesus has come into the forefront. While many in the Evangelical community have written Bell off as a Universalist, the overwhelming popularity of the book indicates that Bell’s concerns with the traditional understanding of hell are shared by many in America, especially amongst the younger generation.

Although I personally disagree with Bell, I do however understand the angst and difficulty of reconciling a loving God with hell. What I found lacking in the conversation prior to Sunday night is the other side of the argument, a side that has been made explicit in America’s reaction to Bin Laden’s death. If we refuse to accept that Gandhi will spend eternity in hell for rejecting Jesus, and that he, through God’s love, will eventually be brought into heaven, then the same must be true for Bin Laden. It seems almost cool to ask how a loving God can send people to hell. But is it equally cool to ask how a just God can let evil go unpunished? Will Osama eventually be in heaven without any repentance or contrition? Can a just God truly ignore the overwhelming evil of this man?

There is a false dichotomy in the religious expectations of Americans. On the one hand, we want to believe that God’s love will just turn a blind eye towards our sin and allow us into his presence. On the other hand, we see the death of Bin Laden and the hell awaiting him as justice and we revel in seeing it. We want a love that ignores evil while at the same time wanting a justice that punishes it. In a recent article in the New York Times by Ross Douthat, this same problem is discussed. He takes the example of the fictional Tony Soprano and asks if we really believe a guy like that, his archetype, could ever be accepted into heaven by a just and loving God.

A few weeks ago, I asked the question of whether or not hell exists. Hell may not be popular to a Western World that has been overwhelmingly anesthetized to the true effects of an evil world, but for those who have seen first hand violent oppression, genocides, terrorism, and holocaust, its hard to imagine a spiritual realm without hell. If God is just, there must be a real punishment for evil. Justice must be done. As Psalm 11:5-6 says, “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. 6Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. 7For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.”

As we process the news of Sunday night, I hope we can take a deeper look at our religious expectations. It might be easy to shrug off hell as an outdated dogma used by the church for control. But if we do that, what will we do with evil men like Bin Laden? Furthermore, what about all the evil in the world? Can God’s love be applied like a band-aid to the massacred flesh of a world infused with evil, or does Jesus’ death mean more than that? Is more action required from God for justice to be done?