Friday, September 30, 2016

InCite 16 Leadership Conference

Today is an awesome day and a day I have been looking forward too for almost one year.  Today I depart for a conference in Durham, NC.

This evening I will be sitting in the Worship Center of New Hope Wesleyan Church in Durham, NC.  I am so excited to hear special guest Pastor Mark Batterson bring the message. 

Tomorrow will be a day of inspiration as        I attend a workshop featuring General Superintendent Dr. Wayne Schmidt.




Here is the email I received yesterday to prepare for this great event:


Dear Rick, 

I sure hope this email finds you doing well and excited about InCite '16 this year! It is going to be an amazing two days together and it all starts TOMORROW! Thank you for registering for this leadership conference. You are going to be so glad you did!

 
The Bible says in Romans 12:8, "If you have the gift of leadership, than lead diligently." Plain and simple, our focus this weekend is to help us all lead more diligently to the glory and honor of Jesus in the market place and through His Church! We are so thrilled that you are going to be a part of our Incite '16 Leadership Conference! This is a yearly event at newhope church andwe can't wait to get it all started TOMORROW night at 7:00 pm!
 
Here are some important details to keep in mind as you prepare for the conference:
  • Registration begins at 6:00 pm tomorrow evening. We have streamlined our registration process, so all you need to do is show your ticket on your phone or print out your InCite '16 ticket and bring it with you, and turn it in for your Conference SWAG Bag! This will be your entrance into the conference, so if you've registered a group of people, or if you used the same email for everyone in the group, make sure everyone in the group has a ticket.
  • Arrive early so you'll have enough time to grab something to drink in the café and find your seat(s). Trust me, you do not want to miss a single minute of the beginning of Worship and what will be taking place as God meets with us! 
  • Following the Friday night session, please join us for, "The Night Awakens". There will be all kinds of games, food, and a local band, Delta Son. This will be a wonderful evening to connect with friends, meet new ones and celebrate the very first night of InCite '16!
  • Saturday morning begins at 9:00 am. Again, you definitely want to arrive early. I encourage you to arrive around 8:30 am, enjoy the café, and find your seat(s).
  • We will have food trucks on site for lunch, for those who would rather not worry about fighting the crowds at local restaurants. You can simply walk to your favorite looking truck, buy lunch, and hang out at the church! There will be seating outside as well as inside for lunch.
 
Please join me in prayer. I have been praying for you and the entire weekend for months now. I sense in my spirit that God is about to do something incredibly powerful through InCite '16, and I can't wait to get it started tomorrow! Please let us know if you need anything. We are honored to serve and we thank God for you and your leadership!
 
Because of Jesus,

Pastor Benji








Thursday, September 29, 2016

Is Our Worship Too Loud!


Is Our Worship Too Loud?


A few years ago, after our worship gathering one Sunday morning, two very different people came to me. One was a young man in his late 20s, and the other was an older woman in her late 50s. After they spoke to me, I realized that there are two profoundly distinct “worship experience cultures” gathering in our churches today—and their diverse perspectives on worship are making the creation of effective gatherings a tremendous challenge.

The astute young man came to me first. “I hope you don’t mind me saying this. The music is too soft. We can all hear each other singing, yes, but the energy has left the room. You guys are up there giving everything you’ve got, and the sound is at a level that sucks the life out of the music you’re making. If you notice around the room, many people aren’t engaging. When the volume is up, and the energy is high, the room rises. And that matters because people are inspired and stirred in their faith. Truth is, you guys seem like you’re hearing something different through your monitors than we are, which makes you act like there’s energy in the room that isn’t actually there. Your passion leads us, but the soft music is distracting. It actually separates us rather than bringing us together.” 

The second older woman said, “Can I talk to you? The sound is too loud during the worship set. I can’t hear those around me singing, and sometimes I feel like you’re trying to be louder than the voices in the room. I find it difficult to connect when the music is louder than us singing. Could you please turn it down?”

Who is right? Do these different responses simply have to do with the volume of the music in the room?

The truth is, after over 25 years of worship leading, I think they both are. These two people represent two ends of a spectrum emerging over the last 40+ years of contemporary worship culture. One is Worship Accompaniment Culture, and the other is Worship Immersion Culture. Still other subcultures fall in between these two, but they represent the ends of the spectrum when it comes to the music of worship.


Worship Accompaniment Culture—Support Us With the Music

The first subculture within our congregations is what I call the Worship Accompaniment Culture. When the musical portion of worship is happening, either on a Sunday morning or at an event (everyone is more forgiving, it seems, at non-Sunday a.m. events), they want to be accompanied and supported by the band. For them, hearing the voices of others around them, mingling in harmony or shared enthusiasm, is their ideal worship environment. Sure, they may have listened to the music “loud” when they were younger, but “loud” had a different meaning than it does today.

I’ve also noticed that this culture is often more “melody” driven—in other words, the more melodic, straightforward and singable the song is, the better. It’s all about us singing together. A president of a respected seminary in Canada is a friend of mine. One time we were sitting across from each other at a table at an award ceremony. He leaned in, and with passionate curiosity said, “Dan, please explain to us why so much worship music today lacks a memorable melody. I can’t stand it, but many of my students love it. Why? I can barely sing it with them!”

My friend represents the Worship Accompaniment Culture, in many ways. He wants us to sing together, and to hear each other singing as we do it. In some cases, this group can handle high performance moments, such as choirs, instrumentals or other expressions that are less explicitly corporate in nature. But make a performance out of the 15- to 30-minute worship set, and even have some of it be inaccessible melodically? Then we have a problem.

Imagine this worship subculture in our churches gathered around a piano. This is their vision of what feels “right” in worship.
To some degree, I can identify with this worship subculture. I get it. I am drawn to very acoustic environments where our shared sense of camaraderie in worship is very high.

A good friend of mine, Jeremiah Carlson of the band The Neverclaim, suggests that there is a significant transition going on between generations in worship environments, and it complicates how we think about worship leadership. There was a time when people were singing about God, and the great shift in congregations and individuals was that they began to sing directly to God in their songs. Enter the contemporary worship movement of the ’70s (almost 50 years ago), ’80s and even ’90s. While that was a precious and important shift, he suggested that something else is emerging with the younger set raised in the environs of the ’90s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s (we’re almost there).

These people represent what I will call Worship Immersion Culture, and I strongly identify with this group as well.

Worship Immersion Culture—Surround Us With the Music
Worship Immersion Culture is not primarily drawn to sing about God, nor even do they always feel a need to sing to God. Rather, they are a generation that wants to sing with God. They want to participate in God’s life, and be propelled by worship encounters into a world that is begging them to live out their worship incarnationally—manifesting Christ’s presence in all aspects of life.

Raised to listen to their music in headphones and concerts, they want to be surrounded by the music in a corporate environment. In many cases, they don’t feel as though they must sing in order to engage individually—or even corporately. They are content to experience the beauty happening in the room—they want to feel the music and the lyrics in their bones. They feel close to others in the room when we are all sharing the same experience—when we are all surrounded by, and participating in/with, the music filling our shared space. (I might suggest that while many of my friends are critiquing this idea as malforming, even as they read this, I would suggest this subculture may ultimately be less “churchy” in their approach to Life Worship than preceding worship cultures.)

They appreciate melody it seems, but appreciate ambiance, environment, groove and texture just as much. Like standing under Michelangelo’s dome in St. Peter’s Cathedral or listening to a magnificent choir, they are content to be a part of something that requires reflection as much as it does an internal participation. 

They are content to be moved, as well as to move with the music.
Imagine this worship subculture, in contrast to the first, 
surrounded by the band. This is their vision of what feels “right” in worship. Us, together, in a room, having a shared experience with God.

We Are Formed by Our Worship Habits

Now, for this post, I am speaking to churches engaged primarily in contemporary worship practices. I am a fan of Jamie Smith’s Cultural Liturgies Series (some of my favorite worship work to date), and I understand the formation/malformation that is occurring when our service orders are minimally participatory and not critically thought through in how they are forming us as real disciples. 

I am for patterns, for liturgies, for the “expected” and for the “extemporaneous” within the expected. One of my dearest friends is the Chaplain for Robert Webber’s Institute For Worship Studies, and many of my dearest friends have studied/are studying the riches of the four-fold service and more. In fact, I’ve taught courses on the historic four-fold service through Indiana Wesleyan and St. Stephen’s University.

But I’m also a contemporary worship leader in the Vineyard movement of churches, and I know the transformation that can occur in people when they are given a long time to sing to God, about God and with God in a thoughtful worship environment. I’m also not averse to the music playing a larger role in a worship gathering, and to it being loud enough to move feet and hearts that welcome being surrounded by the music. And while the medium is the message, yes, I think sometimes our Worship Cultural paradigms are a lens through which we are seeing as we eschew another’s approach to worship.

The problem is not just our volume or song selection—it is also our approach to participation in our services.

Fixing the Problem of Participation—When the Music Is the Only Opportunity

I’m going to contend that both worship cultures I’ve mentioned have a different vision of participation in worship, and neither is perfect.
Because many more contemporary church movements have removed highly participatory, few thousand-year-old worship elements from their weekly gatherings (Eucharist/communion, responsive readings, corporate prayers, passing of the peace, fellowship), the music must be everything when it comes to corporate participation in worship. The pastor will speak for 30-45 minutes, and people are starving to participate (in a non-personally intrusive way) when the dominant part of their gatherings is teaching—and long teachings at that.

Today, however, many of the Worship Immersion Culture ilk are excited to re-integrate a variety of more participatory worship experiences, from singing together, to experiencing beauty together, to weekly communion, to responsive prayers, to the passing of the peace and much more.

They don’t need the music to accomplish all things participatory in the conventional sense of the word. They can be surrounded by the music in one moment, and breaking the bread together with a few shared words in the next. In fact, the aesthetics of the building, the type of art adorning the building, the fellowship spaces (cafe areas, etc.), and the missional spaces (food distribution areas, etc.) matter to them as much as the music. Buildings, for the Worship Immersion Culture, matter beyond their function. 

They are a part of the message being communicated about how we live, as friend James Bryant Smith and Renovare call it, the With-God Life.

We should all be asking the question: What are our opportunities for deep community participation on a Sunday morning, and are we discipling our entire congregation by our planning?

When we name our target group according to age or demographic, we must embrace that it means something for the way we handle the music—from the volume, to the presentation, to the way we host worship gatherings.

Getting Our Worship Cultures Out of a Rut

I’ll shoot straight. When it comes to planning a Sunday morning, in my experience many pastors are not thinking much beyond the worship conventions with which they grew up or in which they had their first encounters with God. I include myself in this; it’s not easy.
But if we’ll recognize various worship cultures exist in our churches (over time it does get more homogeneous), care about how people are being formed by our worship habits, and tend to who God has called us to uniquely be as a community, we’ll find our local stride in leading people into worship places that are truly forming them in Christ-likeness.

If forming people in Christ is the business of the church, then worship is the business of the church. Let’s be about our business.



Question: How can we better handle, in our churches, the tension of serving both worship cultures mentioned above in our planning? Where do you fall between these two approaches?  


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Five Categorical Lies about Pastors

I’ve had enough.

I’ve heard the lies too many times. It’s time for them to end. The lies are about pastors and staff. They are false statements that seem to have some traction. 

They are diminishing the respect of pastors. And, for the most part, they are undeserved.
Sure, I know there are some bad apples in the bunch. Those bad examples make the news, the gossip groups, the blogs, and social media. But those bad examples are the exception. They are not the norm.
It is ridiculous to assume an entire family line is bad because one or a few of the family members brought shame to themselves.
It is absurd to state that an entire race or ethnic group is bad because of a few bad exceptions.
And it is totally wrong to make categorically false statements about pastors because you know a few negative examples.
Please stop the lies. Here are five of the most common:
Lie #1: “Pastors are in it for the money.” Are you kidding? Have you truly seen the financial struggles of most pastors? Have you ever seen a pastor purchase a car, only to be castigated by a church member who decides the pastor is making too much? Most pastors could make a lot more money in another profession with a lot less stress.
Lie #2: “Pastors work a few hours a week.” Yes, there are some church members who really believe a pastor works about ten hours a week. I challenge those members to look at the lives of pastors. Look at how pastors are on 24/7 call. See the pastor called back from vacation to do a funeral. Wake up with the pastor who was at the hospital all night with a family whose child was in an auto accident. See how long it takes to prepare a good sermon. Look at the total expectations of pastors by church members.
Lie #3: “Megachurch pastors don’t care about the members.” Pastors of large churches and megachurches (over 2,000 in average worship attendance) are getting the brunt of these criticisms. The assumption is that large is bad and unloving. Here is the reality. A church of over 150 in attendance is a large church compared to most of the 350,000 churches in America. And even the pastor of a church of 150 cannot give ongoing personal attention to every member. Most large church and megachurch pastors do really love their flock.
Lie #4: “Pastors have adopted the CEO mentality.” I’m not sure most of the critics even know what they mean by this barb. I guess it something like autocratic leadership (which is a bad CEO model itself). No, most pastors are servant leaders. Don’t assume they are dictators just because they demonstrate a modicum of leadership.
Lie #5: “Pastors only care about ‘nickels and noses.’” I want my pastor to know how many people are present. I want my pastor to know the stewardship realities of my church. But that does not mean my pastor cares about numbers more than people. Critics often set concern about people in opposition to numerical awareness. They are not mutually exclusive. And most pastors love the Lord, their families, and their church members before they ever think about the statistics of the week.
No pastor is perfect. And there are a few pastors who do indeed bring shame to the calling. Almost everyone knows such an example. But the great majority of pastors are dedicated, hard working, and servant-minded.
It’s time to stop the lies.


Contributed by: Thom Rainer

Monday, September 26, 2016

A quote from Abraham LIncoln that speaks for today

In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said:

 "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. 



We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. 

Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us."

Sunday, September 25, 2016

This Morning at Gastonia First Wesleyan

This morning I am still on our annual family vacation.  Wow - This year has been filled with transitions and my learning curve has grown since relocating to Gastonia to begin my ministry as Lead Pastor of Gastonia First Wesleyan Church.  Today, Pastor Graham Smith will bring the morning message, continuing in the current teaching series on the Beatitudes. 


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Bible Verses on Mercy

We have a powerful and merciful God. He knows we have all fallen short of His glory, but His mercy is incredible. That is why Christian need to always be aware of His love and His mercy. A day shouldn't go by without us praising God. We may be barely able to comprehend His mercy, but we know that it is there.

Christians are sinners, yet God sent his only Son to die on the cross for our sins. That is why God's Mercy is so great; Jesus was willing to die for us, those people are who so imperfect! So let us never forget God’s mercy toward us during our day to day lives!

The Bible describes God's mercy and grace in several scriptures. You can read Godvine's Bible verses about mercy to help guide you on your Christian path. Christian mercy can sometimes be hard to keep... but after reading scripture on mercy you can become a better Christian.


2 Samuel 24:14 And David said to Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.


Psalms 86:5 For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy to all them that call on you.


Psalms 145:9 The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.


Luke 6:36 Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.


Ephesians 2:4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us,


Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;


Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.


1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...




Lord, deal kindly with 

me; in your generous

mercy rescue me, 

 for I'm wretched and 

poor, my heart 

pierced.







Saturday, September 24, 2016

Six Reasons Why Your Church Members May Not Be Friendly to Guests

It’s one of the biggest lies in churches.
Of the thousands of on-site and virtual consultations I have done, it is the most common sentence I hear from church members: “We are the friendliest church in town!”


With rare exceptions, it’s just not true.

We surveyed guests who visited the church and found a dramatically different perception. Their most common comment is:

“The people at that church aren’t very friendly.”

So how do so many church members have such a disconnect with reality? I see six common reasons:


1.   The holy huddle syndrome. Church members naturally gravitate to people they know when they go to a worship service. They already have relational connections. The members thus perceive they are friendly because they are friendly to each other. Unfortunately, guests are not included.


2.   The stand-and-greet satisfier. Many churches have a time set aside in the worship service for people to greet one another. I have written before about the dreaded stand-and-greet time. For most church members, those three to four minutes of shaking hands and speaking to someone constitute friendliness. To guests, it often seems contrived and inconsistent with what they see beyond the “official” welcome time.


3.   The “ I-don’t-live-here reality.” Church members know the facilities of their churches. They know where to park. They don’t need good signage. They know where to sit. Guests are, well, guests. They often come to the worship services frustrated because of poor signage. One guest tried to open three doors before she found the right one. And she was a single mom with three kids in tow. For many guests, they form a quick opinion that the church is for insiders only.


4.   The insider language mystery. Often those who preach or make announcements speak in words and acronyms that only the members understand. It seems to be an insider code without any consideration to those who are making their first visit. The guest feels like he or she is on the outside looking in.


5.   The unhappy kid/unhappy parent problem. Regardless of the adults’ experience at church, if their children do not have a good experience, it will be clearly reflected in the parents’ attitudes. Some churches go out of their way to make the children safe, secure, and happy. That’s good. Some don’t. That’s bad.


6.   The 6 + 1 dilemma. Most Christians are not prayerfully and intentionally trying to reach non-Christians through word and deed. How can we expect those members who don’t have a friendly attitude toward the outsider six days a week to change it dramatically for one day a week? The truly friendly people I see in churches are showing love, concern, compassion, and friendliness toward others the other six days of the week.


Guest friendliness is important. Indeed, it can make an eternal difference in the guests’ lives. But guest friendliness is not natural in most churches. And, unfortunately, most church members do not even realize they aren’t friendly to guests.


It’s a problem. The first step is realizing how unfriendly your church may really seem to guests.



Let me hear from you.



Contributed by Thom S. Rainer

Friday, September 23, 2016

To Be Loved By God

Beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 
                                     (Jude 20–21)

How remarkable that we are charged to keep ourselves in the love of God.

Of all God’s perfections, why highlight his love? When encouraging fellow Christians to persevere in the faith, why not pinpoint his justice or his patience, or even his mercy?
We dare not ignore Jude’s charge or minimize the Father’s love. As Charles Spurgeon put it, “When the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, the idols will soon depart and the love of sin will take its flight.” Holiness is about new affection, not mere avoidance. We are to keep ourselves in God’s love in order that we might expel the idols of our hearts with the light of his affection.

But what exactly do we mean when we say “the love of God”?

The Beam of God’s Love


We learn from 1 John that if we do not love, we do not know God, because God is love (1 John 4:8), and the full revelation of his love has come in Jesus Christ. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).

Jesus Christ, and all that he accomplished, is the climactic expression of God’s love. And what exactly has Jesus accomplished? Reconciliation: the restoration of relationship. God has overcome the disunion in which we once lived—by reconciling us to himself through the life, death and resurrection of his Son. Jesus leads us to the very fountain of eternal love. John Owen beautifully paints the picture:

Though there be no light for us but in the beams, yet we may by beams see the sun, which is the fountain of it. Though all refreshment actually lie in the streams, yet by them we are led up to the fountain. Jesus, in respect to the love of the Father, is the beam, the stream; wherein though actually all our light and refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself. (Communion with the Triune God, 112)
Those of us whose lips are parched from sucking on the sands of idolatry, whose souls are shriveled from being hidden under the shadows of lesser loves, whose hearts long to drink full from his cup and be flooded with an inextinguishable light, we need only turn to Jesus.

In Jesus, we experience the love that the Father has for us.

See and Receive God’s Love


Keeping ourselves in God’s love begins with vision. It begins by asking the Spirit to help us see the Father rightly. And not only see, but also then believe that the Father’s heart toward us—no matter our circumstances—is for our ultimate good.

In order to kill the idols in our hearts and keep ourselves in God’s love, we need to recognize his heart toward us is one of love, not criticism. It begins here—seeing the Father’s heart as kind, tender, loving and pleased with us in Jesus Christ. We plead with the Spirit, who pours the love of God into our hearts (Romans 5:5), to help us see and believe the Father’s love, rather than our own natural notions of what God must be like toward a sinner like me.

Many of us are weary in our communion with God because we’ve passed over this step—we haven’t received his love—and as a result, our hearts are restless. Our souls are on a 24/7 mission to find their rest. We are restless because we struggle to simply see him as loving.

Again, Owen helpfully notes that “every discovery of God without [seeing him as loving] will but make the soul fly from him.” Why will every other discovery of God result in our flying from him if we don’t see and believe his love for us? Because if God’s sovereignty and authority were at work against us, rather than for us, we would all rush to hide from him. We would buckle under the weight of living to gain his approval versus living as approved sons and daughters.

So we begin our communion with God resting in the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ and our adoption into the Father’s family by seeing and believing the Father’s unchanging love. And we don’t just begin here. We continue.

We expend effort to keep ourselves in his love.

Feed the Flame of Godly Affection


Very practically, our communion with God should incorporate asking the Spirit to help us see and believe who the Father is toward us in Jesus. We linger over his promises in Scripture and ponder our debts to God that are absolutely overwhelming, and in so doing we let our affections rise with the Father’s love and see our hearts enflamed to delight in him because he first loved us. As C.S. Lewis observed in his famous sermon “The Weight of Glory,”

To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.

Seeing the Father’s heart toward us as loving will feed the flame of our godly affection. And as we see and believe the love of God, we will delight in God and learn what it is to walk in joy, by faith, even when our circumstances in this life seem anything but joyful. 


BY: Joseph Tenney

Joseph Tenney (@josephtenney) is the music and arts pastor at Church at the Cross. He lives in Texas with his wife, Kimberly, and their two girls, and is a singer-songwriter in their band March of Morning