Thursday, December 11, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 5. Technology is Not Optional

Technology is Not Optional

My family has long been involved in public education, and in recent years there has been a push to "use technology" in the classroom. This thinking misses the mark when it comes to connecting to students. Students don't think in terms of "using technology," they just use it. It's part of the language they speak. So "using technology" does not typically produce a wow factor; it's just expected.

Technology is no longer optional; and simply having a website doesn't cut it anymore. You have to connect with people where they are. Connect with people via podcast, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. To not have these things in the 21st century is like a church not having a phone in the 20th century. It's a must.

Use text-messaging to connect people to the service and to the staff. Ross Sawyers at 121 Community Church gave out his personal phone number for people to text if they wanted to talk about what it means to trust Christ.

Technology should be a big part of the services. Going digital costs money, but the things mentioned above do not. Also, going to church Online is gaining a lot of attention these days.

We are now 67 days away from the nation-wide switch from analog to digital television. In response people have purchased converter boxes or have gone ahead and made the plunge into the world of HD television.

On February 17, 2009 the television airwaves go digital and many churches become obsolete. No longer will the overhead-projection-on-a-bedsheet or flannel-board methods be sufficient.

When my home church, Waxahachie Bible Church, built a new sanctuary in 2002, they included widescreen projection screens because the worship pastor, Jay Trull, saw where digital technology was headed. They have not made the conversion to HD yet, but the infrastructure is in place for them to do so when it becomes financially possible. Bent Tree Bible Fellowship completed their new facilities this fall and have gone full HD in their services and so have several other churches we have visited.

Certainly finances are a consideration in this discussion, but embracing technology does not have to be cost-prohibitive. The web is full of free resources to connect people within your church and to introduce new people to your church. Making technology a priority will speak volumes to people who are visiting because it will be communication that is on their terms, using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

What are some ways you are utilizing technology to connect with people? What are some ways that you would like to do so, but haven't yet?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Big News!

Many of you probably know from Facebook or Twitter, but last week on Tuesday, my wife gave birth to our first child, Malcolm Nathaniel Smith. For some reason people (read: ladies) are interested in stats like the size and weight of the child. I think videos are much more interesting, so here are a couple for you.










I also highly recommend the camera I used to shoot these videos: Flip Video Camera

Flip

This is a standard definition camera that has a usb connection built into it making it compact and very easy to save videos to your computer without messing with firewires or usb cables. It uses flash memory which is nice because you don't have to mess with tapes, but it does limit you to an hour of video that can be stored on the camera at any given time.

If the standard def is a problem, you should know that they have an HD version available now that records at 720p.

Thanks to my good buddy Chris Tonick for lending me the camera to capture the first few shots of Malcolm.

Update: I realized after reading this post to my wife that I gave more stats about a camera than my son! So here you go.
Born: 12-2-2008 11:25 pm
Weight: 6 lbs 12 oz
Length: 19 3/4 inches
I claimed that he was the best looking baby in the hospital, but my wife disagrees. She says he's the best in the world. Either way, he's pretty darn cool.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 4. Missions

Missions is Mandatory

Saying the words "missions" or "missionary" to many people in the church it conjures up images of never-ending slideshows illustrating the oppressive need of people who live in mud huts and eat bugs out of either preference or necesity. Of course, missionaries living in places like Hawaii and France have a much more difficult time demonstrating that the work they do is really "missionary" work.

Unfortunately, for many of us, our experiences have created a false idea of what missions in the church really looks like. For a lot of people it is just writing a check once a month or promising to pray for someone you'll likely never see again.

No longer constrained to mud huts on the other side of the world, missions has become a reality in the day to day lives of the people in many of the churches we have visited. It shows itself through tales of evangelistic efforts from people within the local church, service efforts to minister to the local community, or through the emphasis on overseas missions. Different local churches have their focus on differing parts of the overall unifying mission of the Church.

While missions to the "mud huts" must continue, there is a real need to share the gospel through word and deed in the steel and glass "huts" where many of us live and work every day.

Monday, December 1, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 3. Sunday School is Passe

Sunday School is Passe

Growing up Sunday school meant two things: felt boards and donuts. In high school, Sunday school dropped the felt boards, but retained the donuts, so I was still okay.

Then upon graduation, I was thrust into the world of Adult Sunday School, a place completely void of felt boards, and the donuts were mysteriously replaced with bran muffins and bagels, which are like donuts minus all the "good."

From what I've seen through my whirlwind of churches is that many churches have done away with the idea of formalized adult sunday school programming in favor of some type of small-group model. Children and youth up through high school typically have some contextualized programming while the adults attend the main worship service.

This has the potential to be a good move as small groups tend to encourage more interaction between the people involved. This is especially important as churches grow and it becomes harder for visitors to connect with the members of the church. While small groups can have their share of pitfalls too, I think this will ultimately be where most churches end up in the years ahead.

But small groups would be better if they came with donuts, of course!

Monday, November 24, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 2. That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named

That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named

This article from Hartford Seminary claims that 1,200 protestant churches are considered megachurches and while only representing less than 1% of all protestant churches, could represent as much as 50% of the total weekly church attendance.

Dallas and Houston have a total of 56 megachurches, which constitutes 4.5% of the total number of megachurches.

When I read these figures to my wife, Amy, she said, "Wow. That many church in Dallas are megachurches? Which ones do you think are megachurches?" When I told her that a megachurch is a church with 2,000 or more in attendance weekly she kind of rolled her eyes and said, "Well, yeah, there are that many here!"

And she's right! There are probably 5 such churches within a 5 minute drive from our apartment!

You'll find that many of the whirlwind of churches I have visited over the past few months fall into the megachurch category and of the few that don't, I feel that many of them will be there within the next 5 years or so.

I'm about to write something that is not popular among a number of my friends and colleagues. If you find yourself in either category, please skip the next sentence. For the rest of you, I will whisper.

I believe one indication of success is: Numerical Growth


I want to make it very clear that this is only one indicator of success, not the indicator of success. It's very possible for a church to be successfully changing lives through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and not see much growth at all. But I believe this is the exception, not the rule.

Rick Warren said, "We count people because people count." I think that's a good way to think about it. Growth is not about the number of people, but about the number of people who are affected by the gospel. This is easy to forget when we're looking at a chart or spreadsheet, but each of those dots and numbers represents a person that Jesus cares about.

Also, Luke uses the numerical growth as an indicator of success in the early days of the church in his book of Acts.

Acts 2:41 - So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added.
Acts 2:47 - And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved.
Acts 5:14 - More and more believers in the Lord were added to their number, crowds of both men and women.
Acts 6:1 - Now in those days, when the disciples were growing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Greek-speaking Jews against the native Hebraic Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
Acts 6:7 - The word of God continued to spread, the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith.
Acts 11:21 - The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Acts 11:26b - So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught a significant number of people.
Acts 17:12 - Therefore many of them believed, along with quite a few prominent Greek women and men.


The point is that I believe a church involved in evangelism and outreach is very likely to grow over time. It is not a measuring stick, however, to say that one church is better than another because of size. It's just one indicator of success.

Friday, November 21, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - 1. Changed Lives

The 1st Characteristic of a Successful Church is undoubtably the most important:

Changed Lives
Are lives being positively transformed through the ministry? Are people being transformed to reflect the image of Jesus Christ with their lives? Note that this is not necessarily connected with how much theology they know or how many Bible verses they can quote from memory. Are the people learning to live Christ-honoring lives and to do so in order to bring Him glory?

Be careful if you're examining your own church or ministry. External changes are easily mistaken for genuine life-change.

3 Things People Mistake for Changed Lives:
1. Theological Knowledge
If you spend enough time in a church that's teaching anything you're bound to learn something. If a guy goes to an evangelical church enough times he's going to learn John 3:16 and John 14:6. We evangelicals like the book of John. He also might learn a few new words and phrases such as "Son of God" and "Trinity," but nevermind that he probably doesn't have a clue as to what the theological implications of those terms are.

2. Church Happy-Face
There is a difference, however, between churches where lives are truly being transformed and churches that encourage people (hopefully unintentionally) to put on a happy-face for church. It makes you wonder how people sing the old lyrics "And now I am happy all the day!" in good conscience when you see how they treat one-another in church and how they respond to the pastor when he says something that steps on their toes. As a person who has been the toe-stepper-onner, I can assure you that good, solid Christians are most certainly not "happy all the day."

3. Borg-like Assimilation to Christian Culture
As a person attends an evangelical church, the songs on his iPod slowly begin to change. Is language changes into something he can use in church without getting weird looks. Soon he looks just like the other church-goers around him and late at night when nobody is around he watches The Office, but is afraid to tell any of his new friends even though they watching The Office too.

Note: This is part 2 of the 12-part series "11 Characterics of Successful Churches."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Free Video Teaching

The guys over at Swerve, the blog for LifeChurch.tv, announced preparations to launch a new website to connect churches with free video sermons: VideoTeaching.com. The site is still being developed but you can sign up for email updates.

This appears to be an extension of the idea that led to Open, which LifeChurch uses to distribute sermon series complete with high-quality trailers, video teaching, graphic design, and notes to churches for free.

If you're in a church where your pastor might need to take a break one Sunday, or you're the pastor who has preached 51 of the last 52 weeks, the resources at Open, (and soon VideoTeaching.com), might be a good help for you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

11 Characteristics of Successful Churches - Part 1

Dallas Skyline at NightAs a north-Texas native, I have been blessed to live in an area that is known for three things:
1. The world's best bar-b-que
2. Solid sports teams (Stars, Mav's, Cowboys)
3. A near saturation of churches

I know many of you are thinking, "I thought Dallas was known for racially tense politics, a nearly-broke school district, and abject materialism." But let's think positive!

With so many churches it's pretty easy to look around and wonder what makes one church so effective while another church nearby is struggling to survive one week to the next.

That's why I've put together my list of 11 Characteristics of Successful Churches based on my experience at 15 Dallas-area churches.

In order to keep this from being a wall of text, I've broken it into eleven separate posts. They are listed and will be linked below as they are posted over the next few days.

1. Changed Lives
2. That-Which-Shall-Not-Be-Named: Numerical Growth
3. Sunday School is Passé
4. Missions: Not Your Granddad's Slide Show
5. Technology is not Optional
6. Proper Branding Cannot be Underestimated
7. A Church of Pastors
8. Focus on your Mission
9. Find Your Niche
10. Be Fearless
11. Be Dangerous

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Whirlwind of Churches

Over the last several months my wife and I have had the pleasure of visiting about 15 churches (mostly) in the Dallas area, so I thought I would share some of the things I have learned from this experience. It has been a joy to see how the different people worship and praise the same Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Here is a list of the churches we visited in the order that we experienced them.

1. Waxahachie Bible Church
http://www.waxahachiebible.org/
My wife and I consider this our home church. Pastor Bruce Zimmerman is a great preacher and a pastor who dearly cares for people.

2. Fellowship Bible Church Dallas
http://www.fellowshipdallas.org/
Amy and I attended here for a few months when we first moved to Dallas. Great worship and preaching. And they meet in a remodeled movie theater, which for some reason is totally cool to me!

3. Highland Baptist Church
http://www.highland-baptist.org/
We visited this church while they were between pastors. Highland Baptist recently hired a new pastor, but met Pastor Grant Gassiott before he was the pastor and thought he would do a great job in that position.

4. Ennis Bible Church
http://www.ennisbiblechurch.org/
I was the founding pastor of this church. This church has a promising future and is a fresh alternative to the other wonderful, but more traditional churches in Ennis, Texas.

5. Northwest Bible Church
http://www.northwestbible.org/
I heard Pastor Neil Tomba deliver one of the most amazing chapel services I attended during my five years at Dallas Theological Seminary. Northwest has a refreshing blend of tradition and contemporary music. Neil didn't preach the week we visited, but the person who filled-in did an excellent job.
Click here to watch the chapel service.

6. Watermark Community Church
http://www.watermark.org/
Watermark's service production is very well-done. The music is always top-notch and the preaching is very engaging. Their website is one of the best-looking sites I've come across.

7. The Episcopal Church in Lincoln County
http://lincolnepiscopalians.org/
My parents took Amy and me on vacation to Ruidoso, NM. My side of the family is almost all Episcopalian, so while we were out there, we visited this little Episcopal church.

8. Irving Bible Church
http://www.irvingbible.org/
I've written several times about Irving Bible Church. Like this post. Or this one by guest blogger, Justin Hentschel. Regardless of what you think about women's roles in ministry, this is a great church that's doing amazing things with an emphasis on the arts, social justice, and firm a commitment to the gospel. I have also started meeting with a group called "Lead Time" from IBC that discusses leadership in ministry. If you're in the Dallas area, come join us Tuesdays at 9:00 am in the Alcove! Lead Time on Facebook.

9. Bent Tree Bible Fellowship
http://www.btbf.org/
We visited this church because I follow Greg Atkinson's blog. This church is literally in the shadow of the massive Prestonwood Baptist Church (or Prestonworld as it's affectionatly called by the locals), but reaches their community through highly creative communication. When we were there they did a mini-musical to tell the story of the prodigal son and it was tremendous!

10. Rockett Baptist Church
http://rockettbaptistchurch.org/
This is the church where my in-laws attend. This is a small-town church where everyone knows each other, but are involved in quite a bit of local outreach. My brothers-in-law (ages 11 and 12) love going to church here! It was great to meet the young and energetic pastor, Cory Mullins.

11. Denton Bible Church
http://www.dentonbible.org/
If I could use only one word to describe Denton Bible Church it would be this: Missions. This is the most missions-focused church we've visited. Pastor Tommy Nelson is a great preacher, but the music was surprisingly traditional in style.

12. St. Paul Episcopal Church
http://www.stpaulwaxahachie.org/
This is the church I grew up in as my family is Episcopalian. This church is full of great people and has a very nice traditional service.

13. LifeChurch.tv - Edmond Campus
http://www.lifechurch.tv
This is probably the complete opposite of St. Paul Episcopal! LifeChurch's Edmond campus probably had the best production of a worship service I've seen. I was very impressed with how the people responded to Pastor Craig Groeschel's message that was delivered at another campus. He asked people to raise their hands or read along and the people at the Edmond campus responded accordingly. I've never seen a church that uses technology as well as LifeChurch. Check out this video they made discussing church unity.


14. Church of the Holy Apostles
http://www.holyapostlesfortworth.org/
Another Episcopal church for the list! This is the church my aunt and grandmother attend in Fort Worth. Almost all Episcopal services are the same, but the thing that stood out about this church were the stained glass windows which highlighed each of the Apostles along one side of the church and notable saints of old along the other side.

15. One: Twenty One Community Church
http://www.121cc.com/
This is a smaller church (for the Dallas area) that I would guess has around 1,500 in attendance. We went to this church because I follow Tilling the Soil blog, by Ryan Brymer, who is in charge of hospitality at One: Twenty One. Here's a video highlighting that ministry from Tilling the Soil and One: Twenty One.


16. LifeChurch.tv - Fort Worth Campus
http://www.lifechurch.tv
This was our most recent church to visit and while the Ft. Worth campus is surprisingly small (I'm guessing 500-1000 people), but has a huge vision for reaching it's community through creative communication. Here's a service intro video to check out.


Those are the churches we have visited and we have learned quite a bit about different approaches to ministry through this process. If you know of other churches in the Dallas area that I should visit, let me know! I'm always interested in learning more and seeing different types of services!

The next few days I will share some of the things we have learned through this process. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

3 Blogging Roadblocks

There are basically three things that can keep a person from blogging as often as he or she should. There are probably more than three things that prohibit regular blogging, such as lack of food, electricity, or the occassional forgetting of a password. None of these were the cause, however, of my recent hiatus.

1. Failure to keep up-to-date with other similar blogs.
Since I do most of my work from home these days, I have very little use for my laptop on a regular basis and choose to work on my desktop most of the time.
Monitors

While this does offer me a much more comfortable place to get things accomplished with the 700 gigs of harddrive space, 2 gigs of RAM and plenty of desktop real-estate, I quickly realized that I was failing to follow my fellow bloggers closely because the feeds are all saved on my laptop.
For this reason I will be switching to a web-based RSS reader this week. It may take some time to move over all of my feeds and to organize them. Any suggestions for which feed-readers to use would be greatly appreciated. Right now I'm looking at going with Google Reader, but I'm open to suggestions.

2. Pregnant Wife
You might not want to use this excuse unless it's true otherwise in a few short months your readers may be asking, "What about the baby?"

Just so everyone knows, it is true and the due-date is December 7. And before anyone makes the joke, it's December 7, 1941 that will live in infamy; December 7, 2008 will just live in famy. Needless to say, our lives have been frantic, but fun the last few weeks in preparation for our new arrival. We have a name picked out, but we're not telling anyone. We're also open for suggestions here too!

3. Political Season Goes into Hyperdrive
I try very hard not to talk about politics on DigitalWorship as I do not think this is the forum for those types of conversations. That being said, I am a political junkie, so most of my posts undergo a multi-layered filtration as to not contain some political shadings. Growing up, elections were like the Super Bowl. No. I take that back. Mid-term elections were like the Super Bowl. Presidential elections were like the Olympics.

(For readers from other countries, the US has a presidential election every 4 years and every 2 years we have elections for Congressional seats as well as most state governors. Thus, 2008 is a presidential year (as I'm sure you are aware), and 2010 will be a "mid-term election" as only congressional seats are up for election on the national scene. Each of the 50 states has it's own state election cycles, but still fall with regularity on the even-numbered years.)

If you're interested in discussing politics I am much more active in that area on Facebook and Twitter. This is a picture of where I watched the debates on my desktop computer and Twittered my thoughts on my laptop. My wife's computer is the one on the left, but she was using her laptop at the time.
Watching the Debate


These three things have consumed my thoughts over the last few weeks. I have some cool stuff to report in the area of the internet and the church, so keep your readers pointed to DigitalWorship and I'll pass those stories along to you in the coming days.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What Are You Known For?

I was scanning the stats on DigitalWorship traffic, and I came across something very interesting.

Irving Bible Church and Jackie Roese are by far the most googled terms that have brought people to the site. Mostly thanks to Justin Hentschel's contribution and the discussion that was going on among Christian bloggers about Jackie preaching at Irving Bible Church.

But the next favorite terms that have brought traffic was not something cool like "virtual church" or "ministry to millennials." At least I could be proud of those!

The most third and fourth most popular search terms that bring people to Digital Worship are:

"Deep Fried S'mores" and "Chocolate-covered strawberry waffle balls"

If you searched those terms and found us here, please know that if my browser didn't have a history feature, I would be googling those terms all day every day!

But also know that it is my hope to share the amazing things churches are beginning to do to engage with and serve people through digital means. If you're someone who has never felt comfortable in a church or you've just never found a church where you feel like you fit in, please know that there are lots of different churches out there that are not like you visited with grandma (and a lot that are if that's what your looking for!).

If you need help finding one, leave a comment I will help you find a place just for you whether its the old-school church with a steeple or a place in the virtual world like Second Life or one of the online church campuses.

So poke around this blog a bit, even if it's not exactly what you were searching for because you may find exactly what you need.

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Virtual" Ministry

If you get a chance, head over to Mark Brown's blog and check out a blog post I wrote for him called "The New West."

Mark is currently leading an Anglican church in Second Life and asked me to write a little something for him. I encourage you to explore his blog a bit and see what kind of unique opportunities and stuggles have arisen with this "virtual" ministry.

Also note above that it's the word "virtual" that is in quotes not the word ministry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Update

I haven't written in a while, but I'm working on a few new things that I hope to share with everyone soon.

Also, I started teaching an ESL class and I am enjoying it. I'm getting to practice a lot of Spanish and they are getting to practice a lot of English, so it's a pretty good time.

Don't worry. I haven't disappeared. Keep checking in and drop me a line on Facebook or Twitter!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Living TV-Free

While some of you already know this, I thought I would share something very personal about myself.

I never watch television.

Before you close your laptop in digust because of this seemingly over-pious statement of my ability to live without something that many people feel they can't live without, please hear me out.

My decision is not one of piety, but one of necessity. You see, I have a perfectly functioning 27" widescreen HD-ready television sitting in my living room. The problem is that I have yet to find an antenna that will give me much more than a snowy signal, which is surprising as I live not 10 miles from downtown Dallas. The other option is getting cable or satellite, which is not really an option because my wife pays the bills! (and earns the money).

So I have discovered over the past couple of years that with a normal DSL connection and a functioning computer one can stay as entertained and informed as the next person, although it does take a bit more effort to do so.

3 Words: Hulu-dot-com
The major networks offer full-episodes of the most popular TV shows on their websites. They are uploaded anywhere from a few hours to a few days after the original broadcast. If you don't find the show on the networks website (or even if you do) go check out Hulu.com Hulu offers full episodes of TV, and feature length movies for free, online, when you want to watch them. And no, this isn't some kind of website that hosts the videos on some floating barge in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in order to escape international copyright laws and taxes. That would be Google.

Why it's better than regular TV: Oh let me count the ways. There
are fewer commercials with the online broadcasts. And when a show abandons you, you can abandon it. I'm looking at you Lost. And you don't plan social activities around when "your show" comes on. That's just stupid nowadays.

Fair and Balanced Reporting
Ever watched MSNBC and thought, "Wow! That's pretty biased reporting." Apparantly those attending the RNC Convention agree. So you turned over to FoxNews and thought, "Wow! So is that!" The internet offers you a middle road or allows you to put your feet in both partisan pools in order to recognize the middle-ground. Both FoxNews and CNN offered uncut, unedited live feeds from both the RNC and the DNC conventions without any "commentators" to get in the way of the broadcast.


The problem with that type of coverage though is that it was done the same way for most of the Olympic games on NBC. You don't realize how stunningly boring it is to watch gymnastics or archery without the announcer telling you about how this young lady's family all came down with smallpox, but she continued to shoot her bow and arrow in spite of the disease to make it to Beijing in 2008. As you can tell, I made up my own hearstring-tugging stories to make the sports more interesting.

Oh! And Michael Phelps is over-rated. (But I'll leave that for another post.)

Why it's better than regular TV: The lack of commentary does make things better in that the discussion isn't skewed by usually pointless discussion they have during political events, but it does make it more interesting. The thing that really makes it better is that you can watch video of world events as they happen in real time rather than wait for the news to get around to showing it. And, like the TV shows, it is commercial-free most of the time. Now that's 24-hour news coverage!


Why does all of this matter?
People in your churches and ministries likely finding ways that technology bends to their will and allows them to have lives that remain fully connected and completely free to live life. Try to think of some ways you can connect with people that reaches them in their timeframe.

Or you can communicate with your lowly blogger using this same theory!
Follow me on Twitter!
Or friend me on Facebook!
Or just mail me a letter and I'll get it in a few days.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Welcome to the Fourth Screen

A couple of days ago I was watching this Ted Talk entitled "Why We Don't Understand as Much as We Think We Do"


And while it's a good talk proposing the need for hands-on learning, I was more intrigued by the Nokia ad at the end of the talk. If you don't want to find it in the above clip, here is a lower-quality version of the ad.



I remember seeing this ad a few months ago, but had forgotten about it. How do you think the church can utilize the "fourth screen" in ministry?

Here are a few ideas that I had, but I would love to hear what you think too. The iPhone opens all kinds of options to the possibility of communicating with people via handheld devices.

Twitter - set up a Twitter account for your church or ministry to keep people updated on events that are happening. Think that sounds a little wierd? Consider this: The Mars Phoenix Lander twitters its goings-on. Follow it here. But it's out of contact for the next couple of weeks while Mars is on the opposite side of the sun from us.

Q&A - immagine interacting with people during a conference or meeting by having them text in questions or responses to discussions to allow everyone to be involved in the conversation.

Immediate Poll Results - Utilize text messaging to get feedback from the congregation on-the-fly by having people text their responses to questions and showing the results of the poll on screen. For example, "What's the biggest concern to you today?" Finances, Relationships, Work, etc.

Live blogging - in addition to streaming video of services, maybe you could do live blogging from events and have people send in photos or short videos to fill out the blog posts with images during the event.

What are some way you can think of to utilize the "fourth screen?"

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Never Forget...

Over the course of the last seven years I have told this story countless times, but I have never recorded it anywhere. Perhaps it is due to the strength of the emotions I feel about this day that I've never written it before. Perhaps it's due to the failure of this limited English language that cannot capture just how deep the events of this day struck me. But today, for the first time, I record my story of September 11, 2001, the day when evil cowards struck a civilian target and inadvertently rallied a nation.



I was sleeping soundly at home on a warm Tuesday morning in Arlington, Texas. Amy was in the bathroom getting ready to leave for school when my radio alarm clock awoke me from a perfectly good state of of sleep. I slowly opened my eyes and laid in bed as the radio played a song. I have to admit, I was listening to Kidd Kraddick and I think they had a guest in the studio playing some song that I don't rememeber at all.

After the song finished Kidd came on the radio and said, "We didn't want to inturrupt the song, but there's news that an airplane has crashed into the World Trade Center in New York."

I jumped out of my half-sleep/half-awake state and yelled into the bathroom, "Amy! Come out! Turn on the TV! An airplane crashed into a building in New York."

In hindsight her reply was more poignant that I could have ever imagined. She asked, "Was it an accident?"

"Of course it was an accident!" I replied. "Why would someone do that on purpose?"

We turned on the TV and saw a building a cloud of black smoke coming out of the top of it. This is similar to what was on the screen.
9/11

I thought it was a tape of the crash and since I could only see one building on the screen, my first thought was, "That building's already on fire. What's going on?"

Then the commentator said, "Oh my God! A second plane has just hit the other tower."

Then I, along with the rest of the country thought, "We're at war."

Amy and I sat and watched in horror as the time clicked closer for us to go to class. Then there was a report of an explosion at the Pentagon. When that news broke, I new the world had changed. This would be a day that none of us would ever or could ever forget.

Amy and I just kept asking each other, "What about all of those people? How are they going to get them down?" The most terrible thing I have ever seen came across the screen.

People.
Jumping.

How bad must it have been up there for people to make the decision that it's better to die falling from 90+ stories in the air?

I called my mom, who was already teaching her third grade class. I asked the front desk to put me through to her. She picked up the phone and said, "Hello?"

I said, "Are you watching TV?"

"No," she replied. "I'm teaching."

Tears began to blur my vision and weeping cracked my voice. "Turn on a TV. Someone has attacked us. They flew 2 planes into the World Trade Center and we just heard they've hit the Pentagon."

"What?"

"Yeah... someone... terrorists... something. We're under attack."

After hanging up with her, it was time to go to class. I'm still not sure why Amy and I went to class that day. On the way there, we heard on the radio that the second tower to be struck had collapsed.

At this point it was impossible to comprehend the devestation of what we saw and heard that day. We thought it couldn't get any worse.

Until the other tower fell too. I sat in class listening to the radio, not paying a whole lot of attention to the teacher who was trying to lead a class discussion, but nobody wanted to discuss anything.

He released class early and I raced back home to see what else had happened and to call my boss to see if I needed to come in.

I was working at a hotel in the middle of DFW Airport at the time and, to be honest, I didn't want to go anywhere that had planes flying nearby constantly. He said to come on in, so I prepared to leave for work.

All of the flights in the US were grounded. This is what the traffic around DFW airport looks like most of the time.

Photobucket

Imagine looking up and seeing no airplanes at all. It's as if the sky has actually fallen. The air traffic is as regular as the sun and stars.

Driving into the airport was surreal. There was very little traffic. No planes were taking off or landing. When I got to the hotel, however, things were very different.

There were people EVERYWHERE! Thousands of people were stranded in Dallas since their plane had been diverted to the nearest airport. We had televisions set up all over the hotel and clumps of people gathered around them to see what was happening.

I went about my job, removing the AV equipment from meeting rooms and setting it up in other rooms. One of the meetings had just let out about 4:30 and I heard a couple of the gentlemen talking.

One guy said to the other, "Well I need to run before I miss my flight."

I inturrupted, "Excuse me, sir. I don't think your flight is going to be leaving today."

He said, "What?"

I explained, "Well..." choking back a tear, "all air traffic has been suspended in the country."

"What? What happened?"

I couldn't believe nobody had told the people in this meeting, so I said, "I think you need to go to the lobby and watch the TV's up there."

It was a long night working until 10:00. I made my way home and gave Amy a hug as we sat down to talk about the days events and watch the search and rescue people in action on the pile of rubble from the disasterous morning. Early estimates were that it would take months to clean up the mess and there was little hope of finding anyone alive.

What a terrible day. We must never forget.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Google Chrome Launches!

So our good buddies at Google have released their long-awaited browser, Google Chrome.  I say "good buddies" in hopes that Sergey Brin will take me to space with him.

I've never been a fan of Firefox, so I can't make any comparisons with that, but I have to say Chrome looks much cleaner and friendlier than Internet Explorer.

Some features I find particularly interesting so far are
  • Crash Control - Each tab is its own application, so if a website crashes your window, you don't lose the other browser windows you also had running.
  • Advanced Search - The address bar also functions as a search bar, so use the same field for both directly visiting a website or searching the web.  And no, you don't have to use Google, but why would you use anything else?
  • Easy to Switch -  Chrome imported all of my favorites and links when I installed it, so testing the new browser on my favorite websites was quick and painless.
  • New Tab Feature - Whenever you open a new tab, a grid of your most-visited sites shows up, so you can quickly access the sites you use the most.
See the full list of features for Google Chrome here.

I still haven't found a RSS reader plug-in like IE7 has standard, so I remain a little hesitant to make the switch completely.  Let me know if you find a solution out there!  

The only browsers I've used to any great extent were Netscape Navigator, which is discontinued, and Internet Explorer.  Which browser do you prefer and why?  What do you think of Chrome?

Friday, August 29, 2008

iTunes' "Feature"

So I recently discovered that the reason I haven't been getting updates for some of my second-tier podcasts. (First-tiers are ones I listen to right away when they are released. Second-tiers are the ones I listen to when I get a chance.)

Anyway... the reason I haven't been getting the updates? An heretofore unknown "Feature" that iTunes has.

It stops updating podcasts you haven't listened to in a while!

iTunes

I'm sure glad my RSS reader doesn't unsubscribe from feeds for me. As of this morning I have around 600 unread posts (that's not an exaggeration) from the many blogs I follow.

Is this really a feature? Aren't hard-drives big enough and iPod users savvy enough to manage the extra information you might download with a podcast you neglect for a couple of weeks? And does anyone out there know if there is a way to turn this "feature" off?

Next week I will introduce some of the podcasts I listen to, but it's up to you to figure out which ones are first-tier and which ones are second-tier.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Irving Bible Church - An Example to Us All

Yesterday I linked to this story from the Dallas Morning News about Irving Bible Church's decision to have a woman preach at their Sunday morning service.

Guest Blogger - Justin Hentschel
Today I welcome the contribution from guest blogger, Justin Hentschel. Justin is a close friend of mine who recently graduated with honors from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has served as the interim youth pastor and later the jr. high youth pastor for Waxahachie Bible Church in Waxahachie, Texas.

Irving Bible Church - An Example to Us All

I learned about Irving Bible Church’s decision on women in ministry a couple of months ago, a few days after they announced their conclusions to the congregation. After reading their 24 page summary on Women and Minstry and looking at their webpage, one thing became clear to me. Whatever your stance is on women in ministry, you could see that IBC believe that they were seeking to follow the Bible. Perhaps they are wrong, perhaps not, but their intention was to remain faithful to Scripture and to God. That seemed abundantly clear.

Or so I thought. In the Dallas Morning News article that followed Jackie Roese’s message, a prominent Dallas pastor, Tommy Nelson, compared their decision to a virus for liberalism. He understands IBC’s stand as not merely a wrong interpretation of the Bible, but a dismissal of the Bible as a true and authoritative.

Since I have a great deal of respect for this pastor, these statements trouble me a great deal. I wonder if he read IBC’s material. One may disagree with IBC’s conclusions, but they definitely have a deep respect for Scripture as God’s inspired text. Part of me wants to shame this pastor for suggesting otherwise, but then...

...I remember how often I do the same thing.

My interpretation of the Bible always seems biblical and those who disagree me are setting aside clear Scriptural teaching. My views on controversial topics are pure and unbiased, while others are skewed by their own prejudices. How easy it is for us to see the interpretative plank in others’ eyes, but not our own?

This is why I respect Irving Bible so much. I've seen both sides of this issue demean, strawman, and demagogue the other, while IBC presents their position with grace and humility. May we all show Christ's character as they have.


Discaimer: The preceding article is the work of Justin Hentschel, and does not necessarily reflect the position of Waxahachie Bible Church or DigitalWorship.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Woman Preaches at Irving Bible Church

According to another article from the Dallas Morning News, This past Sunday, Irving Bible Church had a woman, Jackie Roese (pronounced Reese), preach at the Sunday morning service this week.

This has been coming for a while, as a few months ago the elders of Irving Bible released a statement entitled "Women and Ministry at IBC," or you can read the short version at this part of their website.

Whatever side you come down on the issue of women's roles in ministry, I think anyone can respect this decision by Irving Bible Church in that it is something they appear to have carefully studied and struggled with the pertinent scriptural passages. And that they have given more than just words to this study and they decided to act on their convictions.

Listen to Jackie's message from Sunday, August 25 on John 4.

What do you think about this decision that Iriving Bible Church made? What do you think of her message?

Special thanks to Justin Hentschel, who emailed me this story this morning. Justin is a fellow graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has played a significant role in the way I read, understand, and express my thoughts on scripture.

Update: Justin will be sharing his thoughts on this topic here at DigitalWorship tomorrow. Trust me, you don't want to miss it, so keep checking back or subscribe to the RSS feed and get updated as soon as his thoughts are posted.

Texans Determined to Die Early and Happy

As the summer begins to wind down and temperatures begin to cool down to the balmy mid-90's, thoughts turn to what the fall has in store for us. We don't think of changing leaves and blustery fall afternoons that call winter to our doorsteps. No. Our minds become fixated on the coming State Fair of Texas and the question,"What miraculous goodies will they try to fry this year?"

In recent past we've seen the unveiling of several heart-stopping favorites such as:

Fried Oreos
Fried Oreos

The not-fried-but-fun-to-say-aloud Chocolate Covered Key Lime Pie on a Stick
Key Lime Pie on a Stick

and, the unlikely, Fried Coke
Fried Coke


But this year I do believe the state fair has outdone itself. The following is the list of this year's Big Tex Award finalists.

Fernies All-American Fried Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Fried Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Without trying it I would say: This sounds like the poor man's montey cristo. Although raspberry dipping sauce sounds a whole lot tastier than "tomato soup dipping sauce," which is what this treat comes with according to the Dallas Morning News. (Frappuccino not included.)

Chicken Fried Bacon
Chicken Fried Bacon
Without trying it I would say: It costs 12 coupons and 2 years of your life. For a healthier choice, you can go with the honey mustard or the ranch dressing rather than the gravy as shown above.

Fried Banana Split
Picture unavailable - It's basically banana and peanut butter rolled into a ball, then topped with all your normal banana split toppings. Oh... and the banana-peanut butter thing is dipped in batter and fried.
Without trying it I would say: This is one of the first ones that sounds like it might be good. The real problem is no matter how much you walk at the fair, you will still have a net gain of calories for the day.

Texas Fried Jelly Bellies
Jelly Belly+ Funnel Cake
Without trying it I would say: Don't eat this around friends otherwise you will get jokes all day about your newfound fried jelly belly.

Deep Fried S'mores
S'more
It's like this, but far less healthy.
Without trying it I would say: It seems like someone should have come up with this before. I don't really care for s'mores all that much because they are too hard to eat without getting it all over you, but maybe the batter helps that problem.

Fire & Ice
Picture unavailable - Description from the Dallas Morning News reads, "A pineapple ring battered and deep-fried, topped with banana-flavored whipped cream that’s been frozen in liquid nitrogen. The smoking concoction is covered in strawberries and syrup."
Without trying it I would say: Did that really say "liquid nitrogen?" I'm thinking the selling point for this one is that, unlike the rest of these, you'll never be able to try to make it at home.

Fried Chocolate Truffles
Tuffles, but wrapped in batter.
Without trying it I would say: Deep frying chocolate truffles seems akin to painting some touch-ups on the Mona Lisa. It might help, but it could turn out disasterous, so why risk it?

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Waffle Balls
Picture unavailable - According to the Dallas Morning News, "Fresh strawberries covered in a thick chocolate shell, dipped in a waffle batter and deep-fried. Dusted with powdered sugar and served on a stick."
Without trying it I would say: Everything about that description sounds good to me. It has three things going for it: 1) it's got fresh strawberries, so, therefore, the illusion of healthy. 2) waffle batter sounds much better than the funnel cake batter the rest of these claim to use. 3) it's on a stick, so it's portable. Perfect for walking the calories off as you consume them.

For the record the only food on this entire list I've ever had was the chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick and that was mainly because I liked saying it so much that I wanted to say "chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick" to the guy selling them.

Which one sounds the best to you?

Read the full story at the Dallasnews.com.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's Finally Here

After a few snags along the way, I finally got around to creating a PDF of my research paper from Dallas Theological Seminary. I would love to hear your thoughts on it, so please leave a comment or message me on Facebook because I'm sure there are things that I haven't thought of concerning this topic.

An Argument for the Legitimacy of an Online Church

Update: This link broke somewhere along the way. I'm working on another solution right now.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

12 Second Gospel

There was some talk over the last couple of months about expressing the gospel as a tweet on Twitter (See "Tweet the Gospel" by Brian Baute).

Yesterday, I came across this fancy site called 12 Seconds. The basic idea is that this website allows you to create 12 second videos in order to connect with friends and family. The cool part is you can use your phone to record and upload the videos, so theoretically you could do this without being tethered to your computer.

This is how I understand it translated into an SAT analogy.

Twitter : Blogging :: 12 Seconds : Video Blogs

So, that begs the question. See if you could share the gospel in a 12 Second video. It will really challenge you to think about what is truly fundamental to the gospel.

What are your thoughts on 12seconds.tv? What do you think about condensing the gosple into these ultra-short expressions?

Edit: 12Seconds.tv is still not open to the public yet, but you can still see what the videos are like and, if you're interested, request an invitation to the alpha testing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What is a Church?

Today over at Swerve, LifeChurch.tv's blog, they are discussing the definition of a church in a post titled Defining Church. You can also read my contribution to the Swerve community here.

As you may or may not know, I would consider LifeChurch to be one of the more technologically astute churches out there, as they utilize lots of different approaches to reach people with the message of the cross. Some of their more creative approaches are an Internet Campus and also a Second Life Campus.
LifeChurch SL Campus

Several people have asked for a copy of my research paper on the online churches. I do intend to make it available for people to read, so if you would like a copy of it, leave a comment and let me know and I'll get one to you as soon as possible. If you already asked for a copy of it, and have been waiting for some time now, I want you to know I haven't forgotten about you.

Keep checking DigitalWorship for a link in the next couple of days. Or subscribe to the DigitalWorship Feed and get updates as soon as they are posted!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bears in Dallas

Monday I was out playing disc golf with my wife at B.B. Owen Park (join me sometime if you're in the Dallas area!), and we had decided that we would only play the front 9 holes as the weather was kind of rainy. We have to take the cool days when we can get them in Dallas, you know.

I decided to play the 10th hole before we headed back home. Stepping onto the pad, I proceed to launch my disc into a heavily wooded area and it looks like it went in pretty far. It's a strange part of the park where this bamboo stuff grows rather than the native Dallas vegetation. My theory is they put the bamboo out there because of it's unique ability to gobble up discs that go awry.

Amy and I spent the next 10 minutes looking for the thing through all kinds of wet leaves and the whole time she's informing me that we wouldn't be doing this had we just stuck to the plan of playing only 9 holes to start with.

After searching in futility, I started to lose hope of finding the disc. Before we left I decided to give one more area of bamboo a good shake, when all of a sudden the trees started to move and bend like on the first episode of Lost. Fear overwhelmed me as stepped back from the trees.

I couldn't figure out what was coming out of the forest at me! Was it another golfer's disc that missed it's mark? I hadn't seen anyone else out there. Could it be a someone who lives in the tree-covered areas of the park? Perhaps.

These are the thoughts of a rational person though.

My first thought was, "Bears!" (For readers who are not familiar with Dallas, Texas, the chances of seeing wild bears in Dallas are about as good as finding a solid gold bar that's enclosed in a protective casing formed out of a flawless diamond on your front porch one morning.)

Amy of course is just laughing at me the entire time because she sees that the commotion in the woods was caused by none other than my disc falling from some of the upper branches.

The lesson: You thinking there are bears can be almost as deadly as the actual presence of bears since both situations have roughly the equal chance of causing you to have a heart attack before your 30th birthday.

The other lesson: Don't get attacked by bears when your wife is around because she might just laugh at you.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

quick update

I commandeered a friend's iPhone and decided to just leave a quick greeting to everyone! Had a great time camping and at the beach. I will update you all about my trip later on.

Have a great day!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Our Modern Struggle

Sure gas prices are high, stocks are shaky, and our political climate is in upheaval. But the real issue facing many Americans today is this:

How do we blog while we're camping?

Rather than attempt to leap this seemingly insurmountable hurdle, I will do what those who camped before me so long ago did: Take a break.

Other solutions exist, of course, but given my limited time before my trip and my current financial situation, these are now unavailable to me.

Allow me to address any concerns you may have about my upcoming absence.

Question: "Blogger lets you schedule posts! Why not just get ahead and then we would never know you were gone?"

Answer: That's what a person who had planned their blog better might have done. Taking a break is also a strategic move to help you realize how much you miss me when I'm gone. (See the previous month's complete void of posts for evidence of this.)


Question: "Just use your iPhone to update your blog!"

Answer: Actually, it's an iPod touch. It's like an iPhone, but with an extra bit of disappointment to those who think it's an iPhone at first glance. I can't tell you how many times I've had this conversation with people. Anyway, to use the iPod I would need a WiFi connection at the campground. I don't think there is one, but I'll keep the iPod with me just in case. Oh, and that wasn't a question. Try again.


Question: "Can't you just find an internet cafe or something when you go to town?"

Answer: This is camping. It's not your sissified form of RV camping. We're talking real tents and dirt and snakes and everything. We're only bringing the bare essentials, such as a propane stove, a dutch oven, cookie dough, a generator, a window unit to cool the tent (this is south Texas after all), a coffee grinder/maker, and a campsite within walking distance of a Starbucks. Just kidding. We are actually camping though.


Question: "Who cares if you're gone? Just think hard while you're away and give us something good when you get back!"

Answer: Good point. It may be hard to see the implications of technology and the church out in the woods, however these next couple of days may help me see some of the technological items I use on a daily basis in their proper perspective... Actually that's probably not going to be the case at all. It will likely reveal a heretofore unrecognized reliance on technology which I will begin to realize within 12 hours of our trip and beg the group to find me a way to check my email, facebook, and blogs before I go bonkers.


All of that is to say this: Thank you for reading Digital Worship. I will be away for a few days, but don't worry. I will return on Monday eager to type and enjoy communicating with each of you very soon.

Have a great weekend and I'll see you on the other side.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Am Rich - Finally!

Tonight I was scanning the Guiness Book and came across a cracker that sold for $7,840 at auction. "What kind of cracker was this?" you may ask. "Who would pay such an outrageous price for a cracker?" others my question?

The cracker was from the one of the Shackelton expeditions to the south pole (if you've never heard of these expeditions, you MUST read the Wikipedia entry at a minimum).

And the purchaser of this cracker was Johnny Van Haefton, great-nephew to Sir Philip
Brockelhurst, who was a member of Shackelton's crew. You can debate whether this cracker is worth the price paid because of sentimental value or becuase it is a part of history. More than likely, however, it's a status symbol.

Status symbols come in various shapes and sizes, and those wealthy enough to afford extravagance can now take a step away from the cars (which will likely depreciate) and houses (which will likly appreciate) to purchase something that is completely worthless the moment you buy it.

I give you....
I Am Rich
"I Am Rich," the most expensive downloadable app for your iPhone and iPod Touch. According to Fox News, the app sells for $999.99 and performs absolutly no function other than showing the picture of the glowing red gem. Some have speculated that the "i" in the lower right hand corner will give you wise counsel on maintaining your decadent lifestyle.

Owning an iPhone no longer places you in an elite group (you never were in one, by the way, since Apple has the goal of bringing a total of 10 million people into your exclusive group before 2009 begins).

If you want to be in the real elite, you must purchase "I Am Rich."

But remember, it's only a matter of time before Apple reduces the price of "I Am Rich" to $500 and releases "I Am Richer" for download for $1199!

Disc Golf, Bowling, and New Friends

My 12 year-old brother-in-law, Alex, was once sitting in his kitchen, eating one of his favorite breakfasts: leftover hot-wings. My wife entered the room and said, "Good morning."

Alex replied with a grin on his face, "I'm eating hot wings for breakfast and I'm wearing a soft shirt. Today is a good day!"

Alex has a way of putting things into perspective for you. No matter what else the day brings him, hot wings and a soft shirt are enough to make it a good day.

For the last few days I have felt down about things as I continue my job search and my wife, Amy, prepares to return for another year teaching. I have needed something to give me a boost.

Yesterday evening, I enjoyed 27 holes of disc golf, bowled a couple of games (145 was my best), and had dinner and coffee with some new friends. As my eyes grew heavy at the end of it all, I knew it was a good day.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lewis and Clark

Over the last few nights, my wife and I have watched "Lewis and Clark" by Ken Burns. As such, I have developed a great respect for these men and the Corps of Discovery that crossed the North American continent.

When the team set out from St. Louis in 1803, Meriwether Lewis was just one year older than I am. Two years later, he and his team had crossed the great plains and were making preparations to cross the rocky mountains. Lewis had accomplished more in these 24 months than anyone could have dreamed possible, and yet he wrote the following words in his journal on the night of his 31st birthday.

This day I completed my thirty first year, and conceived that I had in all human probability now existed about half the period which I am to remain in this Sublunary world. I reflected that I had as yet done but little, very little indeed, to further the hapiness of the human race, or to advance the information of the succeeding generation. I viewed with regret the many hours I have spent in indolence, and now soarly feel the want of that information which those hours would have given me had they been judiciously expended. but since they are past and cannot be recalled, I dash from me the gloomy thought and resolved in future, to redouble my exertions and at least indeavour to promote those two primary objects of human existence, by giving them the aid of that portion of talents which nature and fortune have bestoed on me; or in future, to live for mankind, as I have heretofore lived for myself.

As I examine my life, I recognize that I have wasted more hours than I have put to good use. Failing to rise to the challenges that this modern life presents, I disply my own weaknesses.

My desire is that each of us can look back over these few short years we have "to remain in this Sublunary world" and see that we have "further[ed] the happiness of the human race" to the glory of our God who deserves no less.

Read the full text of the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

America's Most Beautiful Corner

Tonight I found the most beautiful corner in America. It is the intersection of a not-so-very-busy street and a very busy street that has restaurants and shops along either side. My family sat on a section of the green grass that flanked the edges of the road and waited.

Nobody else was around for a while. And we waited.

A few people whom I have never met before came and sat with us. And we waited together.

As the sun slipped below the horizon to illuminate the billions of people who would likely never see this beautiful corner, the sky erupted in percussive blasts. With each shower of light my body trembled with the thunderous booms of the celebration.

Then another sound began to break through the fireworks. Voices. Voices that carried wonder and amazement. Voices that pointed out the colorful display to children seated in their parents laps. Voices that were saying the same thing, but in many different ways.

I heard Chinese, Spanish, and English in all sorts of accents all around me. I looked around and noticed that of the five other families sharing this street corner, none looked the same as the other. Yet there we gathered for probably the first and only night of the year with one purpose: to celebrate the freedom that we have.

At the point of this realization, I knew that I was sitting on the Most Beautiful Corner in America, and I suppose that many of you will find yourself on the same corner in the next few days. Perhaps it won't be in Addison, Texas, but we will share the corner together, remembering and celebrating the freedom that we have.

God bless each of you this holiday weekend and God bless America. And to my non-American readers may God richly bless you and whatever country you find yourself in today.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

5 Tips For GenY

I recently came across this article from PC World listing 5 ways to make a Gen-Y friendly workplace. The five suggestions they offer are


  1. Offer Attractive Benefits

  2. Promote Work/Life Balance

  3. Narrow the Rungs of the Corporate Ladder

  4. Ensure Managers are Enganges and Accessible

  5. Foster "Face Time"



While (most) people don't come to church looking for promotions, some of these suggestions do carry over into the way we think about and do church.

But, I decided that as a member of Generation Y (or the tail end of X by some estimations), I would give some helpful tips to those who are now peering into almost complete void of ministries that exist to equip young adults today.

1. Change churches
When I graduated from high school in 1998, I, along with many other people who were in my high school youth group, had no where to turn in the church. We had a booming youth ministry and lots of "adult Sunday school" classes, but there were not many options for the 20-somethings to get connected in the adult ministry.

If you want to be treated like an adult, you need to find people who didn't change your diapers. No matter how old you get, whenever you get up to teach that Sunday School class and you imagine your audience in their underwear in order to calm your nerves, many of them still see you crying because of a poop-filled diaper.

Some good qualities of a new church home are
Out of state (or oversees if you can swing it)
Near a major university
Plays U2 for 80% of the worship set
The pastor wears jeans

2. Get Married
If you decide to stay with the church you grew up in, I applaud you. But in order to show your adult-ness, you need to take on some responsibilities. You might think that helping with the hospitality ministry will do the trick, but you are mistaken. You're still a kid, but now you get to hold a stack of church bulletins that everyone will read while you teach Sunday School (see above).

3. Have a Baby
It is very likely that after getting married, you still won't be a "real" adult in your church. I don't know how many times my wife and I have heard this said, "You can't really understand the love of God until you've had a child." And we don't have a child yet, so how can we argue with that? I like to say under my breath, "You can't understand the complexities of God until you've built your own computer." So if you've gotten married, and still feel out of place in your church, try having a baby. I'll let you know in 6 months if this works or not.

Note: This only has the potential to work if you are married. If you are not married and attempt this solution, it will backfire tremendously.

4. Facial Hair (guys only please)
So you've tried everything so far. If you're lucky you went the marriage and baby route since now you can really understand the infinite transcendent God. If that whole marriage thing seems too far away or way to scary, allow me to suggest a simpler solution you might try. Grow facial hair.

If you're anything like me, this will not work. When I try to grow facial hair, I look like a fat homeless man suffering from mange. (When I shave, I just look like a fat homeless man.)

If you are fortunate enough to grow a distinguished beard or a classy goatee, then give it a shot. Maybe it will be enough of a disguise that people will forget you are that kid who stole snacks from the youth pantry and stored them above the ceiling tiles for increased snackability later on.


5. Volunteer to Assist with the Youth Ministry
This is your final line of defense and can be very effective. The pros, of course, are that you already know the ministry. You know every little thing about each of the current youth leaders like what time they go to bed, how soundly they sleep during mission trips and youth camp, and what their price is to let you off the hook. But you should follow some guidelines before jumping in with both feet.

Wait at least 18 months before volunteering. You may be tempted to get involved right away, but this can be dangerous. Allow me to illustrate. Remember that cheerleader you had a crush on in April? Well it's June now, she still has another year of high school and you just graduated. Unless you want to go from everyone thinking you're still "one of the kids" to "that creepy youth leader," trust me, take a break from any and all youth ministry related activities.

During your 18 month break, try to do #1 and #4 of this list.

Remember that volunteering for youth ministry does not make people view you as an adult, but it does keep you relatively out of sight from most of the people who would give you a hard time about it. And you still get to act like a child much of the time, which is the ultimate goal anyway. Right?

Conclusion
Please know that all of this is very tongue-in-cheek, but allow me to be serious for at least the next five sentences.

Whatever your age, life status, color, ability, knowledge or anything else, you are an important part of your church. Even if you feel overlooked, overworked and underappreciated, you are important. If you are young, you bring excitement and creativity that your church needs. If you are older, you bring the wisdom of your life experiences. Wherever you find yourself in your church, serve others with others to transform people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Communication - A Terminal Condition

If you've been involved in Christianity, especially evangelical Christianity, you've had this experience before. You're driving along the interstate and you pass a car going rather slowly compared to the rest of traffic, but rather the speed "limit" as the local authorities have defined it. You notice in your haste that this SUV has anywhere from 3 to 17 bumper stickers on it, so you decide it's well worth your time to investigate what causes this car has decided to champion. As you ease off the accelerator, you begin to read the first one.

Next to the obligatory Jesus fish you see the number one must-have Christian bumper sticker of all time.
No Jesus No Peace

You think to yourself, "Not bad. I know Christians love a good pun, but I can see what they mean." Then you see the next one.
1 Cross + 3 Nails

After doing a little math and figuring out the pun at 70 miles per hour, you think, "Okay. I get it." Then you see the best one yet.

In case of rapture


While these bumper stickers may cause someone to think for a minute or to consider their lives, they do require a certain level of knowledge about Christianity to start with. But I think the last one is far too cavalier.

The first issue is that the bumper sticker assumes that the average reader will know what this "rapture" is and the significance of that event.

The other issue is that someone with this bumper sticker on their car more than likely believes in a pretribulational view of the rapture. If that's the case, then it's very likely that person is aware that the rapture that they are looking forward to so eagerly, is not a laughing matter for those who will not be raptured. It marks the beginning of a very terrible time for anyone left on earth. Millions upon millions of people will die in period that follows it.

We cannot be so concerned about making cute bumper stickers (or church marquees) that we grow callose to the very real plight of those in our world who have never trusted in Jesus Christ. The rapture, the tribulation, and hell should not be laughing matters to us, but rather a call to action. Share the love and grace found through faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for us.

Share the gospel on their terms using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Communication - Their Terminology

Fact: Many Christians don't remember what life is like outside of Christianity.

I believe the Gospel should be presented to the secular community on their terms, using their terminology, so their condition isn't terminal.

Sometimes the the communication process begins to fail before the channel is even utilized at the point of encoding. Far too often we explain the gospel using one of two things:


  1. Christianese - n. the acquired second language spoken by members of the Christian community which consists of words that have either different or no meaning at all to the larger secular communities. Christians typically use this language to identify one another and/or determine the spiritual health of the speaker.
  2. Seminarese - n. the acquired third language spoken by members of the Christian community after prolonged isolation in institutions of higher learning away from the larger Christian community. "Seminarians" typically use this language to determine probable GPA of the speaker.

The Gospel in Christianese
Here is what a short gospel presentation would look when the speaker chooses to encode the message into Christianese.

"I'm not going to tell you about my religion because Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship. When I found Jesus I knew that my life had more meaning because now I can glorify God better than I ever could before. The wages of your sin will be that if you die without accepting Christ, you will recieve eternal death. The Word tells us that Jesus Christ gave himself for your sins so that you can go to heaven when you die. Do you want to ask Jesus into your heart today?"

If read the above and think, "What's wrong with that?" then, congratulations! You are fluent in Christianese. Note the use of phrases that would only be understood by people who are already Christians.

"A relationship, not a religion." - I know what you're saying and you know what you're saying, but to the untrained eye, Christianity looks an aweful lot like a religion with all it's worship, holy book, special music, and rules that people say you don't have to follow, but you're not allowed into their church if you don't.

"Ask Jesus into your heart." - When I was a kid people used to tell me that Jesus lives in our hearts, so I seriously thought that Jesus was a few inches tall and kept things going down there.

"going to heaven when you die" - Believe it or not, if I'm not a fan of Jesus and God and everything, spending eternity with them does not sound like a whole lot of fun. Then the unbeliever finds out that a bunch of Christians will be there and it seals the deal for them. (You may think I'm being sarcastic, but read Job 21:13-15 and see how those who refuse to worship God respond to Him even in the afterlife.)

The Gospel in Seminarese
In order to counteract the much too muddled language that Christianese offers, speakers of seminarese tend to overcorrect a bit. The gospel in seminarese as precise as it is baffling.

"The omnipotent, omnipresent, immutable triune God, eternally exists in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to become incarnate by the power of the Holy Spirit, being born of a virgin. Jesus Christ, being tempted in every way, did not falter in His life, but was delivered into the hands of evil men and was crucified. The hypostatic union of Jesus Christ shows us that He is the full and perfect vicarious sacrifice to the post-lapsarian condition of man. He died as the substitutionary atonement for you. On the third day He was resurrected showing us His victory over death. The first steps of your soteriological journey begin by trusting in Jesus Christ as the propitiation for your sins so that you can dwell eternally with Him in the eschaton. When you begin this soteriological endeavor, He will send the Holy Spirit who will indwell you and comfort you as you await the day of your resurrection."

Too much to comment on here. It's completely incoherent. If you do understand it, congratulations! You're thousands of dollars spent at seminary is starting to pay off.

Conclusion
Speaking to people on their terms does not have to be hard. When you are sharing the gospel with someone, think to yourself, "What am I really saying? Would I understand this if I were not part of the Christian culture?"

Encode the message using their terminology. We have the only life-giving gospel and the world cannot afford for this message to be lost or misunderstood simply because we choose to encode it in such a way that only other Christians can understand it.

Remember - Communicate on their Terms, Using their Terminology, so their condition isn't Terminal

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Communication - On Their Terms

Yesterday I shared this diagram with you.
Communication Model

I believe the gospel should be shared with people on their terms using their terminology so their condition isn't terminal. The first portion is the focus today, and it relates to the channel in the communication model above.

Their Terms
One of the problems we face when we're presenting the gospel is that we often fail to use the appropriate channels of communication. In some models the channel will have a jagged line in the middle of it to represent noise or interference. At the most basic level this means is that the channel of communication is insufficient in some way. (Hint: Every channel has some noise.) The communicator has the responsibility of choosing the channel with the least amount of noise in it.

Some insufficient channels we Christians tend to use to share the gospel are

Bible Studies
"Bible Studies" are the silver bullet of the Christian community. Need counseling? Bible Study. Need time away from the kids? Bible Study. Need friends? Bible Study. Need Jesus? Bible Study. If you're not sure about this, then think about it from the other direction. If you were going through life, oblivious to the eternal consquences of sin, would you ever dream of going to something called a "Bible Study?" What if you were a Christian who just didn't feel comfortable in their church anymore. Are you going to head for a Koran Study?
They do have their place, but if they're going to be evangelistic in nature, I think they really need to be purposeful in their approach.

Tracts
I was walking down the street with my wife one evening in a somewhat trendy part of town. A man dressed like Ward Cleaver handed me a piece of paper. (I always take tracts because I like to see what type of presentation they use. If it's from a cult of some sort, I try to take as many as I can!) This one was from a Christian church in the area and it had a picture of a teen with a boombox on his shoulder who was rocking a sweet mullet. I'm not exagerating, I swear. The title said, "Hey Teenager!" and when you opened it up, this little booklet walked you through the dangers of rock and roll music, then explained how all those hot women, cool music, and great clothes could be avoided by trusting in Jesus Christ. I don't think it had the desired effect.
While many tracts are pretty good as far as offering a clear gospel presentation is concerned (see EvanTell's May I Ask You A Question), many are not so good. I'm not entirely convinced that in this post-modern (some say post-christian) culture we're living in that these little booklets are as effective as they once were. It seems like as the world shifts toward postmodernism, people need to see the Christian life lived out in front of them in order to see that it is genuine.

Christian Concerts
Many Christians think that Christian music will save their friends from eternity in hell with its uplifting lyrics (read "not cussing") and its great beat (read "stolen from secular bands"). Christian concerts attract one audience primarily: Christians. It's great to have them, but please don't consider them as a viable means to share the gospel because any messages are quite literally preached to the choir.

Conclusion
Please understand that I'm speaking in generalities here. I know someone will say, "Hey my brother was saved at a Bible study!" or something like that. Occasionally someone will end up at one of these events and realize they've just been playing the Christian game all this time, and now they truly get it. I've even heard of this happening in a seminary or two, though I did not witness it myself. I do believe these cases are the exception and not the rule.

Some solutions that I think would be more effective in sharing the gospel in our postmodern culture are through hands on ministry services or talks on current events topics as seen from a Christian perspective. The methods you use are going to be dependent on the specific culture of your area, but to do it well, you will need to think like a non-christian for a few minutes and ask yourself, "Would I want to go to this?"
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