Friday, December 30, 2016

Disappointing Christmas Worship Services

I am curious about your Christmas worship experience at your church. Churches today have different philosophies and styles concerning Christmas and I'm wondering if I am out of touch with my expectations.  My wife and I were invited to a friend's church for worship the week before Christmas. We went with high expectations because the church is a traditional large main line denomination with a solid reputation. We were looking forward to singing some Christmas carols which our church, a small satellite church, was not singing in their morning worship services. 
We sat through the worship service, literally, and left very disappointed, trying to make sense of what we had just watched.  

The service started with a choir singing a somewhat different rendition of a familiar Christmas carol. Dancers with flags came on stage and moved around the stage in sync to the song. This was followed by a couple of songs that we had not ever heard before sung by a praise team with more dancers.  We were given candles and during the third song and had a lighting ceremony.  The song ended and we kept holding the candles awkwardly not knowing what to do with them.  There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for the candles except that we needed to have a candle lighting time during the service. 

The two traditional hymns were altered with different arrangements as if the soloists were singing on The Voice and were changing a well-known tune to make it their own. All the songs were performed well enough.  But it was definitely a performance. We never stood or sang along with the choir or praise team. The only participation was the candle lighting ceremony.  The pastor preached his sermon and we sat and listened to two more Christmas songs, including a solo of another odd arrangement of Silent Night.  My wife said it should be illegal to mess with Silent Night!

After the service I realized we had sat through the entire service and never sang along to any of the songs. We were never prompted to sing. I'm not sure I've ever gone to a worship service and did not participate at all. My friend who had invited us, was also confounded over the service. Later in the week during the same church's Christmas Eve service, my friend who is a 40 something former pastor, texted me to let me know that the church was consistent in this service also, singing mostly secular Christmas songs. He texted, "you won't believe their first song, "Feliz Navidad"! Then later said they had another candle lighting ceremony to a rock in roll version of Joy To The World. He was beside himself, wondering just who was in charge.  

To me it seemed as if the church was trying a little too hard to be cool or culturally relevant. I'm not sure how others perceived the services but when a somewhat traditional church does this, it can come across as pretentious and contrived, even hokey. This church has a new pastor, (middle age) so I'm guessing they are trying to reach younger generations. But it reminded me of the a 70's style traditional church trying to be contemporary by playing 80's music. It doesn't work and can turn off not only your older members but the younger ones you are trying to reach as well.  

I feel for my friend who attends the church. My advice to him was to talk to the pastor and share in a loving way your feelings. He needs the input of experienced leaders.  He doesn't need to hear complaints and whining but constructive critique that will help going forward. 

Also, I received this post from church leaders.com after I had written this blog as if God was speaking to me. Ironically it is also titled Disappointing Worship Services. The final paragraph is great advice:

As we worship Christ together this week, may he give us this expectation. May he rewire our hearts so that our joy and goal would be found in honoring him. The Father is working the entire universe toward that glorious end. May we relinquish our selfish expectations for our church’s surroundings, people and future, and instead take up the expectation that Christ will be honored in our worship service, and in lives of worship. Place your hope in that invincible purpose, and you will never be disappointed.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Study reveals a lack of discipleship for a shocking percentage of evangelicals

A recent study conducted by Lifeway and Ligonire ministries indicates a distressing amount of evangelical Christians don't believe foundational Christian doctrine.  

When asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statement, God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam, 46% of self-identified evangelicals agreed or somewhat agreed.  

Another statement in the study that raises some questions about what Christians believe was about salvation:
By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven. A third of the evangelicals agreed with this statement.  I would not be surprised if this was the response of Christians in general but to have a third of those who profess to be evangelicals say that salvation is based on some works is a head scratcher.  

There is an emphasis on discipleship in many evangelical churches today but I wonder just what we are teaching Christians theses days if so many don't believe in the basic tenets of the Christian Faith.  Are we failing to disciple believers or have we not taught and emphasized the basics in our discipleship?

There was a period of time where discipleship focused on teaching doctrine but we seemed to drift away from the basics to arguing about lesser doctrinal differences. Perhaps we got lost in the details. In the past few years evangelicals have shifted discipleship to more practice, missions and application of our faith, all good things. But have we so focused on the mission that we have forsaken the basics?  Have we just assumed new believers had a foundational belief system that you are saved by grace through faith and not by works? Have we forgotten to emphasize that Jesus is the way, truth, and life and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus.  

These two tenets of our faith pave the way for the way we see the world and live in it.  But they are not politically correct and go counter to the world's values of "inclusion" and "tolerance". However, if we compromise on these beliefs then we don't have the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have a pagan synchronized religion.  Perhaps we need to go back to the Gospel 101 and re-educate every believer about the pillars of our faith and how these are what distinguishes Christianity from all other religions.  

Thursday, December 8, 2016

How to help your child, employee or congregation take more responsibility


I've had several conversations recently with frustrated parents and grandparents over the lack of responsibility their older children or grandchildren have even as teenagers and young adults. One mark of a mature person is the ability to make wise decisions.  And the same goes for a company, church or organization.  What makes them successful (bear fruit) is their ability to make good decisions from the leadership down through all of the organization. And the one big obstacle that hinders good decision making skills is the inability for the leaders to know when and how to release control and delegate responsibility and decision making to others. Too early and bad choices are often made.  Too late and the leader gets burdened with an overload of stress and work which can also lead to bad decisions.  

In a family, do you give your teenage son or daughter the authority to make decisions on their own? Sure there are many things you would like for them to decide for themselves each and every day, but there are other decisions that need to be made with the parents approval. How do you conclude which decisions they can make on their own and how do you communicate this?

Here is a great visual tool (The Decision Tree) that will help you as a leader or parent in the decision making process from the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. The Decision Tree will help your organization be more productive (bear fruit) by identifying clearly, which categories decisions and actions fall into, so that an employee, child or volunteer knows exactly where he or she has the authority to make decisions and act and how to grow and empower others to get along without you. 

Decisions are arranged in categories based on their importance and impact on the organization. The analogy of root, trunk, branch, and leaf decisions indicates the degree of potential harm or good to the organization an action is taken at each level.
Poor decisions at any level can hurt an organization, but if you unwittingly yank a leaf off a tree, the tree won’t die.   A Root Decision if poorly made and implemented could cause major harm to the person or organization.  Giving a teenager or employee this visual picture and using it to categorize your decisions will give them a better understanding of what choices they can make on their own and what needs to be decided by the group.

Leaf Decisions  Make the decision. Act on it. Do not report the action you took.

Branch Decisions Make the decision. Act on it. Report the action you took daily, weekly, or monthly.

Trunk Decisions Make the decision. Talk about your decision before you take action

Root Decisions  Make the decision jointly, with input from many people. Leadership gives final approval.

The goal is to provide employees or volunteers a clear upward path of professional development. Progress is made when decisions are moved from root to trunk to branch to leaf.  As an employee demonstrates a track record of making good decisions in the trunk category, for example, it will be satisfying to both the employee and the person to whom she reports when those decisions can be moved to the branch category.  This works similarly with a child. The more responsible he or she is making branch decisions, the more responsibility they will be given to make decisions. 

The Decision Tree also raises the level of personal accountability.  Whenever we work diligently and brilliantly, without having to be told exactly what to do, it gives more ownership to the employee and unburdens the manager or executive of work.  It also teaches the child responsibility, confidence and increases their decision making skills. 

Where might the Decision Tree work in your life?

Work place.
Church.

Home, with your children.  

How to choose the right path

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and ...