Category Archives: worship

Emerging Church / Alternative Worship

Someone asked me recently if I still keep up with Emergent/Emerging Church “stuff.”

Not really, though its hard to say these days – what constitutes “emerging” anymore? If we’re talking Peter Rollins, I’m still intrigued – but that’s because he’s actually doing some theology. (I’m looking forward to picking up his new book Insurrection next month.) For the most part I’ve backed away from Emergent not because I think they’re too liberal or because I’m afraid of some kind of guilt by association.

I’ve backed off because frankly, I got bored with the whole alternative worship conversation.

This of course is a gross overgeneralization, but it seems that after a while what I was hearing/seeing in this conversation was just 21st century hipster modernism. We find an old warehouse, add candles, sit in the round and viola – we’re emergent. And yet the conversation is still focused on what we do during the once-a-week event. When our theology makes implicit claims on our living based on explicit claims on our gathering, I don’t really think it matters how good it is – it stops short.

I recently saw Kester Brewin’s article titled Into the ‘Year of Opposition’ (thanks to Tony Jones’ fb post) in which a side comment was made suggesting that New Monasticism may be a redressing of the old while the “alternative worship” types represent the radical new. I’ve already admitted that I’m somewhat out of the loop here – I’m not entirely sure what “stuff” Brewin’s been doing that is gaining opposition, so I need more before I make too many assumptions.

There may be much more to the conversation than I’m currently aware, but I have a hard time seeing that alternative worship will truly be the more “radical” position – even compared to fairly liturgical contexts in which many new monastic communities worship. The reason? The aim of new monasticism is first about incarnating the gospel in community and only then about how that calls us to gather for worship, whereas the alternative or emerging worship stuff seems to go the other way around. I could be wrong here…and if anybody who’s more in the know wants chime in, I’d appreciate it.

I still find some of McLaren’s stuff interesting and helpful – I highly recommend his recent book, Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In 12 Simple Words. Brian is certainly still a figurehead of emerging church – but he tends to focus on more broad issues of ecclesiology than just the setting/focus of the worship gathering.

Maybe once I get this dissertation finished I’ll catch up on what I’ve missed – who knows, there may be a new depth to the conversation.


"Five OverReactions…" by David Fitch

The following is a post by David Fitch – author/professor/church planter in the Chicago area – copied with permission from his blog: Reclaiming the Mission.

Recently, we had the opportunity to interview David, along with Jamie Arpin-Ricci and Jason Coker, for the Missional Monks podcast (not posted yet…hopefully soon.) I very much appreciate David’s leadership and his commitment to cultivating healthy communities of faith that “reclaim the mission” of the church without jettisoning the healthy contributions of the past.

Five Over Reactions That Kill Community: Navigating Community in the Post-Evangelical Backlash
by David Fitch

Most of us have faced “church-abuse” in one way or another. Perhaps we’ve experienced the abuse of “being judged,” the abuse of being manipulated to do something by someone telling us it is Biblical, the abuse of being manipulated to do something  by a leader for his/her cause under the auspices that this is God’s Mission, the abuse of being manipulated to support more programs at your local church under the guise that this also is God’s Mission, or maybe the abuse of being manipulated to “make a decision” for Christ and/or get someone else to make this decision under the fear that we’re all going to hell if we don’t. Have you experienced sany of these abuses?
I think you could interpret alot of post-evangelicalism as a reaction to these abuses. In their wake, we get overreactions. So we often hear people gathering for church saying: all judgment is bad, the Bible’s authority is purely personal, all authority in the church cannot be trusted, we don’t need organized church, and conversion is abusive. We overeact to these things by rejecting these things. I contend such an overreaction to the point of rejection is catastrophic for the formation of church life together, family life and personal transformation into Christ. These days, every pastor has got to be able to lead through these overreactions and keep them from becoming rejections. Here’s the five rejections with some of my observations on how to think about them in shaping a community of Christ for His mission.
1.) Rejection of organization: Many of us have been turned off by the excessive programming of modern evangelical church. They are tired of being over busy. They find church controlling as it centers everyone’s life in the church organization away from mission. Soon, life becomes about keeping the organization going as opposed to living in Christ for God’s Mission in the world. Many (especially us missional’s) as a result reject organization. I think we who are pastoring need to nurture this reaction into a healthy appreciation for organization that facilitates mission. WE need to nurture a healthy resistance to organization whenever it deviates from mission. We need to cultivate organic organization that organizes around life in the neighborhoods. Yet we must pay attention to the organizing that is necessary to bring people together into networks for life together (1 Cor 12, Eph 4 etc.).  Let our organization stay organic, de-centered, de-programmed always directing people into becoming the social presence of Christ in the neighborhood. Without such organization, the community will be a frustrated morass.
2.) Rejection of Authority in Leadership: Many of us have been abused by the pastor  who acts like an autocrat ordering the whole congregation (and staff) under his/her rule for the purpose of achieving “his” vision. The reaction by many has been to disavow leadership in toto (I get accused of that a lot). We who are pastoring need to nurture this over-reaction into a culture that recognizes the decidedly servant-charactered leadership of the Christian community. Always acting in submission to one another, the pastors model the shared nature of life together under His Lordship. This is a flat leadership led by multiple pastors who are empowered to act in the authority of their gifts. This in turn empowers the congregation to recognize authority in their own gifts. Without such leadership the community will die. I have written much on this elsewhere
3.) Rejection of Judgment: Many of us have been abused by harsh judgment by people who don’t know us, who do it out of a sense of superiority, and who do not empathize or bring love/forgiveness/hope in Christ Jesus. This kind of judgment in the church is a denial of Christ. This has led us to reject judgement altogether. Yet we need judgements – i.e. discernments of the truth in our lives. We who are pastoring need to nurture this overreaction into a culture of love where love means commitment to the growth of the other in Christ. This demands we learn how to speak truth ONLY in love and care for the other. We start by admitting we are incapable of telling the truth to ourselves apart from a community of the Spirit. And so without truth-telling in love and submission to the other, we will all go on in our lies. We need to learn how not to lie. There will be no healing, no salvation part from learning the truth about ourselves. We do this by learning to live together out of His love, acceptance and humility always willing to hear and confess our sins (Eph 4:14-15; James 5:16). Such a culture of love will not judge those outside the community(1 Cor 5:12-13). For those inside the family however we are committed to judge/discern as we do it together in mutual submission. We need truthtelling, discernment and judgement for life itself . Without it the community will dissolve into a mutually enabling sin addicted dysfunctional mess.
4.) Rejection of authority in Scripture: Many of us have been abused by heavy-handed abusive narrow interpretation of Scripture by pastors. Pastors have taken Scripture and abused it to manipulate people into their own agendas under the auspices of the Scripture as God’s Word. This has led us to reject the idea of an authoritative Scripture altogether. It then becomes a book of human experiences with God to get in touch with individually. But this is the Story of our lives in Christ. It orders the way we see the world and participate in life with God and His mission.  We who are pastoring need to nurture this overreaction into a respect for the authority of the text as it carries the authority of Jesus handed to the apostles and then to us. We must preserve its unique authority in our midst and learn how to read it together as a community in submission to the Lord always holding interpretation up to the confirming work of the Spirit in our midst.  Without the Scripture the church becomes an identity-less people without a Story.
5.) Rejection of Conversion. Many of us have been abused by altar calls, by threats of going to hell, all in the name of getting a decision.  This sometimes excess coercion/manipulation has led us to reject conversion altogether. But there can be no entrance into the Kingdom’s dynamic power apart from repenting and entering what God is doing through Christ in the bringing of His Kingdom into the world (Mark 1:14). We who are pastoring need to nurture this overreaction into a full appreciation of each one’s intentional entrance into God’s Kingdom and what He is doing in the world. We need the means to invite those who “belong before they believe” into the Kingdom life via a conversion – a move from one world into the next. This is personal and intentional. This is baptism. Without conversion, the church will forever wander in the wilderness, never being intentional about what God has done, is doing, and will do in and among us.
Hope this helps. What other abuses in the church have led to overreactions that can in turn be nurtured towards a new faithfulness?

a Missional Theology: part 2

I recently posted a podcast at our new site – – titled “a missional theology,” which addresses my understanding of who we are called to be as God’s people. I decided to post the transcript of that podcast here. Its a little long, so it’ll show up as a series of three posts (this is part 2 of 3).

Note that its entitled “a” missional theology…not “the” missional theology. What I attempted to describe are some basic understandings of functioning as God’s community of ambassadors to all creation. There is plenty of room here for the different denominational distinctions and doctrines – I didn’t even try to get in to all the finer points of systematic theology here. So, if you think that something I added is wrong, please feel free to open dialog. If you think I left something out…I did. Add it and serve faithfully.

If you aren’t interested in reading 3500 words over three posts, you can listen to nearly the identical thing at – the “music” player is in the left hand column – its just under 30 mins including the intro (shorter than most of my sermons…). Whether you read or listen, I’d love your feedback.

Towards a Missional Theology
part 2

And so, because we are not God and in too many ways we are not like God, we are called to discipleship in the way of Jesus – which teaches us, conforms us, transforms us not into gods…but more fully into our humanity, which was created in the image of God. Discipleship is more than just Christian education. Learning what the Bible says is a fundamental aspect of our life…but merely knowing Scripture does not make you a disciple any more than knowing the menu at a fancy restaurant makes you a chef.

This may sound obvious, but experience suggests that it might not be. I was raised in a culture that seemed to equate bible knowledge with being a good Christian. We seemed to think that if we could just raise the level of biblical literacy then all our problems would be solved. I began to suspect this wasn’t the case as I got to know some pretty nasty individuals who could quote whole books of the Bible.

Discipleship should certainly include a familiarity and love for Scripture, but it must go beyond that. Discipleship is about committing our lives – every aspect of our lives – to learning the way of the one we follow. Like an apprentice to a master we learn the way of our teacher not just so that we’ll know what they know, but so that we can do what they do.

Becoming a disciple carries a recognition that we are not a master, but what kind of apprentice would attach themselves to a master if they never had any intention of taking on the master’s trade? That isn’t a disciple. That’s a groupie.

So being a disciple will entail regular excursions into the realm where our master is at work. We’ll be uncomfortable at first, but we keep pressing on. Periodically we withdraw to process, rest and prepare for our next adventure. But these periods of rest should follow and precede engagement, they shouldn’t exist to simulate or worse, replace, them.

I love the TV show Scrubs…no apologies, I love that show. There is an episode that guest stars Dick Van Dyke as an extremely well-loved older doctor. There is a point in the show where it becomes apparent that he simply hasn’t kept up with the advancements in medicine through the years. His practice was stagnant and because of that it actually put a patient in danger.

There is a great need for practice. I don’t mean practice in the way that the Dallas Cowboys really need to practice more during the week. But practice in the way a doctor practices medicine. As Scrubs reminds us, we need ongoing practice in our practice, continuing ed credits as my teacher friends are familiar with.

In addition to our need for discipleship, we who are not God and are thus finite and imperfect, need a set of spiritual practices that keep us grounded in a rhythm of connection to God and the world. This spiritual formation goes hand in hand with discipleship.

Spiritual Formation
Spiritual formation has been very important to me for a long time. I absolutely love opportunities to help others learn and embrace practices that can have a lifelong impact on their spiritual health. BUT I’d be a big fat liar if I pretended that my deep interest in spiritual formation didn’t come, at least somewhat, from my own need for formation. I have a theory that for many of us, the things in faith that we are most drawn to often come not from a place of abundance but a place of poverty. I love prayer and meditating on scripture, but I am so prone to stumble through my life dealing with whatever is right in front of me. With all honesty I will admit that without serious intentionality – and usually unless I have friends helping me – I will go days, even weeks without any significant time spent in prayer or reading scripture outside of preparing to help someone else.

But I can say with a tremendous degree of confidence that you can trace many of my highs and lows spiritually by tracking how intentional I was about cultivating spiritual practices at that time.

Christians throughout the ages have referred to an intentional plan or rhythm of spiritual formation as a Rule of Life. Whether you call it that or not, if you are not God, a Rule of Life is an important aspect of faith that many of us are missing out on. I’ve only recently come to realize the value of developing a communal Rule in addition to a personal one. I can’t say that we’re models of this, but some of us in Christ Journey have experienced the benefit of ordering our life in connection with others; joining one another in a rhythm of prayer, scripture reading, service to others and shared meals. Not all of our spiritual formation looks that “spiritual” on the outside. I’ve found that committing myself to a place – such as my favorite booth at Denny’s – on a regular basis has opened up unbelievable doors for my own spiritual formation – in addition to placing me in the midst of God’s work in others’ lives.

Because we are not God. Because we’ve seen the master at work as we’ve engaged in discipleship. Because we’ve reflected on God’s greatness in the midst of our spiritual formation. Because we’ve opened our eyes, just a little, to see what God is doing all around us, the other natural response is worship.

Some say worship is where we go to get recharged as Christians. Sure that is sometimes the case. But worship is not about me getting my batteries charged – in fact, if we follow Jesus’ example, our batteries will be charged as we do God’s will…as we follow our master into his workshop and join him in his craft. Worship, properly understood, is where we respond the charging we’ve received. It is where we share stories of the master at work with one another, where we debrief by telling the tales of a God who is not like us, but has invited us into community nonetheless. Worship is where we shout with joy for the great things we’ve witnessed, weep together over the brokenness that has yet to be healed and approach God on behalf that brokenness.

This doesn’t only take place in a “worship gathering” – though I’ve come to appreciate those times so much more as I’ve slowly learned that they aren’t about the worship style, location or presentation.

Worship takes place anytime we are moved to respond to God – in praise, thanksgiving or lament.

It is important that we remember we are not God. It is important that we commit ourselves to discipleship, spiritual formation and worship BECAUSE we are not God. However, if we only recall how we are not like God, we miss out on the greatness of what we are created to be.

to be continued…

The Banquet

There was once a group of friends who lived an exciting life. Everyday was filled with adventure and risk. Each morning as they awoke the possibilities of the new day would flood their minds and they could hardly get through their morning routines fast enough before heading off to see what they would see.
This group of friends had been brought together by the most extraordinary leader. A principled yet compassionate visionary, he never seemed to need sleep and yet always found time to rest and relax with the friends. He never grew hungry, and shared all he had, yet seemed to enjoy meals more than anyone.
He was confident and competent and yet quick to empower others. No one ever had any doubt that this leader would be fine without them but neither did they fear he would ever choose to leave them.
Each day, their adventures revolved around the magnificent tasks that the leader was busy completing. It seemed that no matter how early they got started, they always found him there – wherever “there” happened to be – before they arrived.
Sometimes the tasks seemed menial, mundane and extremely normal. Sometimes the friends found themselves in the midst of monumental revolutions. Always, no matter how small or grand the task, they walked away knowing that the world was now a little better place.
Most agreed however, that the most amazing thing was the food. People everywhere were hungry. Food was scarce and often only obtained through incredible effort.
You would think that all this time spent working on the leader’s tasks would leave the friends little time to grow, buy or scavenge for sustenance. But no, somehow this leader threw extravagant feasts and provided the friends with more food than they could eat. The food was not only delicious, but it nourished their bodies better than any other food they had access to. They were strong and healthy, full of energy and passion.
Over time they began to realize that something should be done with all this food, it wasn’t right to keep it to themselves. And so they decided to host a banquet in the leader’s honor each week…seriously, there was a lot of food.
They would come together and share a meal from what they’d gathered during the previous week. They would invite other friends, neighbors, the poor people they passed on the street, anyone they happened to encounter – why should anyone go hungry when so much was available?
And they would raise their glasses in a toast to their benefactor and would share their stories of adventure. They began to realize that the more they gave away – both food and stories – the more they seemed to possess. Others began to inquire if they too could join this group of friends in their journey.
This pleased the leader tremendously. In fact, it had been the plan all along. He had seen the way other leaders, kings, presidents and dictators had used power and coercion to establish nations. He had noticed that a philosophy of scarcity seemed to keep people in their place. But this baffled him and so he set about quietly transforming the lives of a few people…knowing full well that when others heard about a life of plenty; an abundant life rich with meaning, a new society would be inevitable.
Over time this small group of friends did in fact grow to become a large society, but a sad thing began to happen.
Some people began to realize that they could stay in their beds, remain in their houses and skip the adventures entirely. When the end of week came around they could just listen to stories of other people’s adventures and share in the abundance of food that was provided. In fact, if they were careful and rationed wisely, they could gather enough food during the banquet to last them all week!
And so they would raise their glasses and toast the wise leader. Their eyes would tear up as they heard stories that warmed their hearts. They would shake their heads in bewilderment that there were still those who had not cast their lot with this group of friends. And then they would go home with pockets full of food.
Years went by and the number of people who found this loophole not only grew, but it came to be expected that only a chosen few would join in the leader’s adventures. A few more were selected to run the banquets. Afterall, the number of people participating had grown so much that it was only right to bring some order to the relational chaos that had developed. Elaborate banquet halls were constructed. Rules were established for proper dispersal and handling of food, with fewer and fewer people having access to the store rooms.
Most people found themselves quite content with just attending the banquets anyway. They didn’t have the same adventures as others, but then again, perhaps not everyone was cut out for such a life of risk. Besides, they rationalized, this way they could spend their time doing other worthwhile tasks around their house.
For the most part, the lives of the friends once again became dull and mundane. Mornings grew to be dreaded because they knew that today would be just like yesterday – boring and filled with a growing hunger.
Eventually, there were enclaves all over that were filled with friends whose bodies were no longer strong and healthy. In fact, without the sustenance they gathered at the weekly banquet, they could barely survive. They no longer understood the banquet’s primary purpose to be sharing an abundance of food, but rather the place where they procured enough for their continued existence. It was actually rare to find a banquet where the participants had even seen the leader during the previous week, let alone joined him in any adventures.
To make matters worse, as the number of people working with the leader decreased, so did the amount of food that was available. It wasn’t that the visionary leader had less to distribute, it was just that no one had gone to collect it. Most of the friends seemed completely unaware that everyday the leader was still out working on his amazing tasks…
And so, many people began to stop attending the feasts all together. They were angry with the leader for his apparent unfulfilled promises. Some began moving from banquet hall to banquet hall in search of one that would feed them sufficiently. Some gave up completely and went out in search of other food. It may not be as wonderful as the meals they’d heard about in the stories…but they hadn’t experienced those very often anyway.
Where the banquets were lacking in food, they were rich in ritual. Food became a metaphor today with the promise of real food in the future, once the leader finally and completely replaced the old societies with his new society; the toasts became perfunctory requirements; stories were memorized, analyzed, stylized, digitized and programitized… A competition began to arise between different groups of friends as to who could host the most beautiful banquet with or without food.
Other friends rejected the value of a “beautiful” banquet and focused instead on putting together properly orchestrated banquets. Without anything of immediate value to share with others, it became rare for anyone to invite a neighbor to the feast…afterall, there wasn’t much feasting taking place anyway. While a few people saw it as their calling to proclaim a feast in the future for those who would have the faith to wait for it today, most people didn’t feel they had the persuasive ability to convince friends to come and sit in anticipation of something they couldn’t prove.
And everyone sent fervent messages to the leader to send more food.
And a question began to form in the minds of people everywhere: Is there still any adventure or abundance in the world?
They say that if you listen carefully you can hear the leader whisper in response, “Come and see.”
Some say its just a story, as if any truly great story could ever be “just” a story…

Listening From the Hallway



Last week was a really interesting experience for me. I “audited” a grad class at ACU. For those that don’t know, you can sit in on a Bible class at ACU for $35 – you don’t have to take the tests and you don’t get college credit, but you get to participate at learn at whatever level you want. 

I received an M.A. in Christian Ministry from ACU in 2005 – that two year program took me 4.5 years since I was also in full-time ministry through the whole thing. A couple years ago I decided I wanted to pursue a D.Min (doctor of ministry) and that meant I needed some leveling work (my MA was a 54 hour degree and I need an MDiv, which is at least 72 hours). I think I’ve taken all the classes I need (I’ll find out for sure in a couple weeks). So I’m currently in a rare season of NOT being in school! (with the exception of a few semesters here and there, I’ve been in college and then grad school since 97!) 

So…when I found out that Chris was taking a class on Christian Worship, my inner nerd began shouting. I decided that it would be good  to sit in on the class with him so that we could process through the material together. This was a class that I’d wanted to take in grad school but didn’t “need” and never had a free January to squeeze it in.

Overall it was really good. Chris and I spent a lot of time discussing what went on in the class and came away with a few ideas. It was encouraging because we’re already doing   most of what we talked about. 

One component of the course involved the students (many of whom are full-time ministers) being placed in groups and preparing/leading a time of worship for the class. The two that were the most impacting to me were the first and last of the week. The final group led a lament service that did not in any way feel like a group project – it was one of the most profound times of worship I’ve experienced…certainly at ACU and maybe ever.

The first service impacted me in a very different way. Where the last was powerful because of the authentic and transparent nature of entering into communal and personal lament, the first was powerful because I was unable to engage in such a way.

A few of us had lunch with a professor (not the professor teaching our class) and we were late returning. I, being just a lowly auditor, dropped Chris off and went to find a parking place. By the time I got there the worship had already begun, so I stood in the hallway so as not to disturb (afterall, I didn’t know how nervous the group members were and I could hear what was going on anyway.)

Standing in the hallway during a worship gathering was interesting. I found myself, though somewhat self-conscious (since there were other people in the hallway), engaging at points in the singing and silence. I found myself listening intently to the readings. And yet I couldn’t really engage because I wasn’t fully engaged with the community. I found myself wondering what was happening when I could hear the sounds of movement but couldn’t see what people were doing. There were times when I really wanted to participate with them, but simply couldn’t because there was a barrier between me and everyone else (of course, all I had to do was open the door and go in…but I didn’t). At other times the distance and separation led my mind to wander; I found myself distracted by the things going on around me, disengaging because I wasn’t really a part of the proceedings.

And that got me thinking. How many people sit in the midst of our worship gatherings every week and experience precisely what I was going through?

There are times when they are drawn into the worship but even then they feel uncomfortable because they don’t feel like they’re really a part of the community. There are times when they can “hear the sounds of movement” but don’t really understand what’s going on. In other words, because what we do is so foreign to them, they can tell that something significant is taking place but they don’t understand and so feel like they’re listening to things happening on the other side of closed door.

How often do people disengage because they never fully engaged to begin with? And what are we doing or not doing to draw them in and welcome them? I don’t blame anyone in our class for me being outside – it was a choice I made. However, the simple truth is, right though it was, I stood in the hallway because when I approached this worship the door was closed to me.

I was unsure about whether or not I was allowed to open the door and so I stood at a distance. 

My prayer is that Christ Journey, and any gathering of Christ’s disciples, will always be aware of closed doors. Sometimes the door is closed for good reason and that means we need to be aware of anyone who may be on the other side of that door longing to join us. What happens behind the door is important and valuable – and so is what’s happening outside. 

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