Some fifteen hundred adults across the nation were asked to which degree these seven things were important to them:
1. Sermons or talks that teach you more about scripture;
2. Sermons or lectures that help you connect religion to your own life;
3. Spiritual programs geared toward children and teens;
4. Community outreach and volunteer opportunities;
5. Religious leaders who are interestingand inspiring;
6. Social activities that allow you to get to know people;
7. A good choir, praise band, cantors or other spiritual music.
As one can see from the results below, respondents identified sermons as the primary factor they go to church.
In fact, more than nine out of ten respondents said the sermon—both to learn about scripture and to help connect religion to one’s own life—was a factor in their decision to attend religious service; three in four respondents said it was a "major factor" they attend.
What ranked last? Music. Just 38 percent said it was a major factor for them.
I found this last item amusing, surprising, and telling. A lifelong Protestant, I grew up in a small-town Pentecostal church. Since that time, I’ve mostly been a free agent, playing the field for numerous other evangelical teams—Baptist, Lutheran, non-denominational, and probably other denominations I can’t remember. (My excuse for this lack of religious fidelity: I moved a lot.)
Each church, to one degree or another, had different theologies, religious dogmas, and social protocols. But the one thing they had in common: lots of music. I mean lots of it.
Some of the music was good; much of it, in my opinion, was less than good. Regardless of the quality of the music or the talent of the performers, attendees were of course expected to worship God to the music and be deeply moved.
Between me, you, and the internet—I never liked this part ofchurch very much. This is not the fault of the performers. I’m simply not a hip-swaying, hand-waving guy. I saw Florence and the Machine live last year; I was the one guyin the Xcel Energy Center who never budged.
I bring all this up because I’ve always assumed evangelical churches feature music heavily because that’s what people want and demand. But this Gallup poll suggests that might not be the case.
The poll made me wonder: When and why did musicbecame such a prominent part of evangelical services? And are these churches missing out by focusing on music at the expense of other aspects of church life?
I suspect the former question might be linked to the increasing need for people in our culture to beentertained.“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other," Neil Postman famously wrote in his 1985 bookAmusing Ourselves to Death. "They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images.”
I’m not suggesting churches need to stop playing music. I’m merely wondering if dedicating nearly half of a church service to musical performances is the most efficient use of time.
One wonders if people in pews would not receive more spiritual nourishment from other church-led activities: An extended reading of scripture? Silent prayer? A longer sermon?
I’m curious what readers think.
Jon Miltimore Is The Senior Editor Of Intellectual Takeout.org. He Previously Was The Senior Editor Of The History Channel Magazine, Managing Editor At Scout.com, And A Reporter For The Panama City News Herald. He Served As A White House Intern In The Speech Writing Department Of George W. Bush. He Received Degrees From The University Of South Dakota (M.A.) And The University Of Wisconsin-Platteville (B.A.), Where He Studied History And Literature.
WHEN JOHN STOTT CONFRONTED BILLY GRAHAM May 8, 2013
What happens when two of the most influential evangelicals of the 20th century don’t see eye to eye on an issue with important theological and practical implications? A public showdown. That’s what happened with John Stott and Billy Graham in the mid-1970’s regarding the role of social ministry in the mission of the church.
The year was 1974. 2500 evangelicals from 150 countries and 135 denominations were in Lausanne, Switzerland for the International Congress on World Evangelization. In his biography of John Stott, Godly Ambition, Alister Chapman describes the background for the confrontation:
The central purpose of the congress was to galvanize evangelicals to finish the task, to ensure that the gospel finally reached every corner of the earth. Its theme, emblazoned above the podium, was “Let the Earth Hear His Voice.” By the time of Lausanne, Stott had come to the conclusion that God called his people to care about society and politics as well as evangelism. Many at Lausanne agreed with him, especially people from churches associated with the WCC (World Council of Churches), where social and political issues were high priorities. However, the belief that preaching the gospel was all that really mattered was still common, especially in the United States. Talk of social action brought to mind the dreaded social gospel, which many saw as a chief culprit in the theological drift of America’s historic denominations. At Lausanne, Stott wanted evangelicals to take social action seriously. The twist in Stott’s message to the congress was his argument that the Great Commission itself demanded that Christians pay attention to people’s physical and social needs, as well as their spiritual ones. He did this by focusing not on the standard version of the commission, namely Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, but rather on John’s account of Jesus telling his disciples that as his Father had sent him, so he was sending them. And just as Jesus’ mission had involved caring for people’s bodies, as well as their souls, so should that of the church. The Lausanne Covenant reflected Stott’s vision. It was primarily focused on evangelism, but included a secondary section on social responsibility. As time went on, however, it became clear that the committee tasked with continuing the work of Lausanne was not fully on board with the Covenant’s inclusion of social ministry.
… Stott discovered that the powers that be in this American-led movement had not really accepted the covenant’s dual emphasis on evangelism and social action… Stott was adamant that Lausanne should be about social action, as well as evangelism. The committee had already been stacked against him, however. So, as Stott arrived in Mexico City in January 1975 for the first meeting of the continuation committee he knew it would be an uphill battle. Billy Graham addressed the meeting on the first night. “What I counsel…” he said, “is that we stick strictly to evangelism and missions, while at the same time encouraging others to do the specialized work that God has commissioned the Church to do.” Stott stayed awake for several hours that night, formulating his response to Graham’s proposal. By morning, he had decided to confront Graham, who was bankrolling the meeting and the movement. As business began, Stott stunned everyone by saying that he would resign from the committee if Graham’s vision for the movement prevailed. Stott demanded that the Lausanne Covenant’s emphasis on the social implications of the gospel be reflected in the organization’s ongoing work. Stott and Graham had known each other since Graham’s crusades in England in the mid-1950’s and they had become personal friends. But Stott’s challenge was still bold. The committee was shocked. Many in the room disagreed. For them, social concern had occupied just one paragraph of the covenant and little of the congress’s discussions, whereas evangelism had dominated both. Many evangelicals still saw the world very much as Stott had done back in the 1950’s: caring for people’s physical needs was important, but getting them saved was much, much more so. But losing Stott would have been a big blow. Some felt he was blackmailing the committee. How was this disagreement resolved? It wasn’t. Not totally anyway. Here’s what happened…
In the end, they locked Stott and Peter Wagner, a Fuller Seminary professor who wanted Lausanne to focus on strategies for evangelism, in a room and told them to come up with a compromise. The result was a weak reference to “the total biblical mission of the church” in the committee’s statement of purpose. Graham made sure that his relationship with Stott was not breached, writing to him in April to say that “there is no man that I respect, love, admire and would gladly follow more devotedly than I would you.” It was a mark of Graham’s humility that he did not use his enormous capital to press his point at the meeting at Mexico. When I think of John Stott and Peter Wagner locked in a room, I only wish they’d locked a tape recorder in there with them. For more information on Stott’s life and ministry, I recommend Godly Ambition by Alister Chapman.
Prince of Peace: From the Cradle to the Crown and Beyond
Beyond the Resurrection: Jesus’ “Real” Crime
This past week we have been focusing on Beyond the Resurrection, and have addressed discipleship topics that we need be cognizant of for our own spiritual growth and to disciple others, including: the Significance of the Resurrection in our lives, Jesus’ promise of peace in the midst of our circumstances, the Christian conspiracy of love,spiritual growth from the inside-out, the powerful effect of having faith the size of a mustard seed, and today we will wrap up the series of posts with our final subject, Jesus’ ‘Real’ Crime.
Have you even been falsely accused of something that you know you did not do? I’m sure that most, if not all of us, have encountered such situations in our lives or have heard of this happening to others. There is the conundrum of deciding if false accusations warrant legal action, either criminal or civil. In either case, we have access to legal counsel and representation. However, Jesus was not afforded such legal counsel or representation, and He didn’t receive a fair trial, but one that was conducted secretively in the dead of night by the religious leaders. Eventually, even though He was taken to Pilate to receive His punishment (because the Jews didn’t have the legal authority to put Him to death), Pilate found Jesus blameless. In spite of this, He was given over to be flogged and executed in the name of ‘keeping the peace’.
But what were the actual charges that were brought against Jesus? The primary indictment was that Christ claimed to be the King of the Jews, which was a volatile political statement that was sure to attract the attention of the Roman Governor, Pilate. However, when Pilate questioned Jesus, Who noted that His Kingdom was not of this world, he found no support for the indictment, (Jn. 18: 36; Lk. 23:14). Not to be deterred, the religious leaders brought out their laundry list of miscellaneous charges and falsely accused Jesus of inciting and misleading the people, advising the Jews not to pay taxes to Caesar,and blasphemy, (Lk. 23:2, 5; Jn. 19:7; Mt. 26:). Ironically, Jesus—blameless of inciting the Jews—was given over to be crucified to keep the peace of the mob stirred up by the religious leaders.
But what was Jesus’ “real crime”? While I was studying for this series of devotionals, I came across a phrase that immediately resounded in my spirit. As I studied the Gospels I realized that the religious leaders had wanted Christ dead for some time. Many who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus from the dead were spreading the word in the swelling crowds entering Jerusalem for the Passover. The excitement resulted in a “…welcoming parade. [And]The Pharisees took one look and threw up their hands: “It’s out of control. The world’s in a stampede after him,” (Jn. 12: 18-19, MSG). Plus, they were peeved that Jesus had reduced their profit margins when He cleared the merchants and bankers from the Temple courts. Thus, in a nutshell, Jesus’ “real crime” was that His teaching and compassion for the people resulted in the religious leaders being jealous of Christ’s popularity with the people, which caused the revelation, “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyonehas gone after him!”
The Great Commission is not to figure out how to conduct fund-raising activities to build bigger churches, nor how to create better tracts to drop on unsuspecting people, but to present to them Jesus’ love and His compassion for His people. We won’t need to beg people to get saved; we merely serve as channels to direct them to Jesus, and they will become part of the ‘everyone has gone after Him!’—we have, right?!Amen!
Thank you for joining me on this Lenten journey from the Cradle to the Cross, and Beyond (the Resurrection). I pray that you have also found encouragement, hope, and renewal during this holy season.Amen.
Prince of Peace: From the Cradle to the Crown and Beyond
Beyond the Resurrection: Mustard-Seed-Sized Faith
Beyond the Resurrection is an important subject to address, because the Great Commission is to make disciples versus believers. In keeping with discipleship we have, in a concise manner, touched on the Significance of the Resurrection; Jesus’ Promise of Peace; Conspiracy of Love (a.k.a. “The Great Commission”); and Inside-Out (Temple of the Holy Spirit). Today we move onto “Mustard-Seed-Sized Faith”.
Measuring and sizing-up is a daily natural human activity. For example, we calculate and assess situations, people, opportunities, progress, and success. If we’re cooking, we use tools to measure the exact amounts of ingredients needed for a recipe. When our children are growing up, we may annually mark their height on a wall or door frame. When we’re shopping for groceries, we keep a running total in our heads. We assess (and sometimes judge) other people that we know, and often total strangers. For personal safety, we evaluate our environment (e.g., parking in a well-lit area at night versus in a dark area).
Gardening and farming are also activities that require measuring and sizing up. When we bought our first home in 2009, my husband and I discovered we had entered the weather-watchers club. We switched from checking the weather to know how to dress for the upcoming day to anxiously watching the sky for signs of rain in our drought-ridden area and setting up rain barrels to catch every precious drop. Suddenly, our focus was on how to protect newly-planted flowers, shrubs, trees from being damaged by extreme temperatures, wind storms, and animals. One of my favourite garden activities is worshiping through singing and meditation. For example, I am impressed by how well weeds grow in our red clay; because I think that if the weeds can grow so prolifically, then there’s hope for our plants to thrive. And in the spring, the new growth in our garden beds reminds me of the parable of the weeds growing with good plants and the possibility of pulling up the plants by mistake, (Mt. 13: 24-30, 36-43).
The Parable of the Mustard Seed is another gardeners’ allegory about the size and effect of the mustard seed, (Mt. 13:31-32; Mk. 4:30-32; Lk. 13: 18-19). The tiny mustard seed was used as a metaphor for the growth of the Kingdom of God, (Mk. 4: 30-32).The Amplified Bible provides a footnote concerning the size of the mustard seed: “Mark 4:31In ancient Israel the mustard seed was the smallest known seed, and in rabbinic teaching the mustard seed was used as an example of something very small (in the Talmud). Jesus also compared faith to the size of a mustard seed, emphasizing that everything is possible with faith—even a little faith, (Mt. 17:20). It’s true that the Old and New Testaments are filled with stories about giants of the faith (e.g., Heb. 11). Nevertheless, having a little faith is a starting point, but we need to “…go on instead and become mature in our understanding,” (Heb. 6: 1, NLT).
Isn’t it a huge relief to know that even if we only have a little faith, Jesus hears and answers us? And this is the message that we need include in our discipleship/mentoring of others.
Prince of Peace: From the Cradle to the Crown and Beyond
Beyond the Resurrection: Inside-Out
The “Beyond” of our series focuses on post-Resurrection events, including directives or admonitions for Christ’s followers (i.e., Christians). Thus far we have briefly contemplated the Significance of the Resurrection, the Prince of Peace Promises His Peace, and the Conspiracy of Love (a.k.a., “The Great Commission”). There are three remaining posts in this series: “Inside-Out”; “Mustard-Seed-Sized Faith”, and “Jesus’ Real Crime.”
Today we will explore the concept of “Inside-Out”. When we hear the words inside-out we may think about clothing being put on inside-out. We teach children to look for clues when they are dressing (e.g., the tag inside clothes ‘goes in the back’ or ‘the tag goes on the inside’). Getting organized is another idea that zeroes in on the inside-out process. For example, Julie Morgenstern’s book, “Organizing from the Inside Out”, combines personality and habits to create a practical plan to get organized. Having a workable plan for our spiritual growth also begins from the inside-out, but it’s the Holy Spirit that does this work in us.
We recently examined Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple at the beginning (Jn. 2: 13-17) and at the end (Mt. 21: 12-16; Lk. 19: 45-46) of His ministry. After preaching about the Kingdom, and how to enter it, the second purification must have been even more dismal than the first. Once again, Jesus had to give an eviction notice to the merchants’ avarice and the bankers’ reminding them that the Temple was a house of prayer and not an overpriced farmer’s market (Mt. 21:13). But is that the only reason that Jesus returned to purify the Temple a second time?
Jesus’ purposes for cleansing the Temple included introducing a New Covenant. The Temple, along with the sacrificial system, was part of the Old Covenant. However, the inflated price for livestock and charging people exorbitant amounts in currency exchanges had become part of the corruption of the old system. Furthermore, the Old Covenant--based on rules-- underscored the fact that people couldn’t live blameless lives. So Jesus established a New Covenant, in which He is the Temple, and He made this clear: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken,” (Jn. 2: 19-22, NIV).
Thus, Jesus referred to His body as the Temple, and Paul pointed out that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?If
anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is
sacred, and you together are that temple,” (1 Cor. 3: 16-17, NIV). We need
to avoid the temptation to engage in anything that would corrupt the New
Covenant (e.g., we must avoid being pretentious or showing
favourtism). Additionally, we must be cleansed and changed from the
inside out. Similar to Jesus purifying the Temple, we accept and
invite Him to purify us (Ps. 51:10). Let this be our prayer: