Mess of Pottage Blog

Luke's "Pro" Blog

Worship Leaders Tip

Donald Miller: the difference between an artist an an entertainer. We want our worship to be enhanced by the contributions of artists. We don’t want entertainment. (Truthfully sometimes we do want, but it’s a desire we should resist.)


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The Seminary Bubble

Via Twitter, I saw a fascinating article on Forbes’ blog about the “Seminary Bubble.” Excerpt:

After all, what matters more to the customer, the member: the ability to discuss the relationship between Paul Tillich’s theory of ultimate concern and Karl Barth’s version of neo-orthodoxy in light of the demythologizing textual hermeneutic of Bultman, or the ability to keep the congregation/audience’s attention for twenty minutes with a relevant sermon about family life? Seminary tends to give you loads of the former and little of the latter.

I might quibble with the word “customer” there, but then, I’m seminary-trained and quibbling is my stock-in-trade. Other than that, there’s a lot of truth to it. The theological gibberish in that quote is spot-on. God forbid I ever say anything that stupid from the pulpit.

I’m not sure 20 minutes is the target any more, either. It’s still the norm in the mainline, but the point of the article is that the mainline is hardly a standard any more. My guess is that a lot of “customers” want more than 20 minutes worth of sermon. Anything worth doing is worth doing. Also, as people become less and less familiar with Christianity, liturgical rites and ceremonies are increasingly arcane. You can’t devote most of an hour to incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo and assume it’s relevant to people just because you’ve eliminated references to Barth and Tillich.

(As an aside, the writer says the disconnect also has to do with politics. This is a stock complaint. “The mainline denominations are populated, barely, with Prius-driving Democrats, while evangelical churches are packed with Nascar fans who vote Republican.” That may be true, but 1800 years ago, the Temples were filled with rock-ribbed devotees of Juno and Apollo, and Christians were in the arena. So what?)

That’s not to say there aren’t some real insights in the article. Read the whole thing. The gist is that seminary is expensive but doesn’t necessarily produce people who “succeed” in ministry. (That’s another word I can’t help but quibble with: success in ministry isn’t necessarily measured in a church’s budget or seating capacity.)

When I speak with less-well trained ministers, the less tactful of them tell me something that boils down to: “we equip the called, and [your denomination] calls the equipped.”

Maybe. But my guess is it has at least as much to do with assuming pastoral ministry is something you can learn in school. It’s not a question of who’s called, or not always. It’s a question of how you equip them.

Paul didn’t send Timothy off to seminary. A lot of people at “successful” churches — especially church planters — have spent a fair bit of time either in what amounts to an apprenticeship, or belong to networks that provide more support than a denominational superstructure provides. (For a hilarious-but-tragic example of denominational indifference, see Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant.)

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Purposeful Worship

Have you ever stopped to wonder why we worship? What’s it for? It’s the most salient feature of church life; in fact, people often use “church” as shorthand for “worship.” If someone says, “Let’s go to church this Sunday,” for example, it’s shorthand for, “Let’s assemble at the customary place for gathered worship.” But why would we do that?

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Kids in Church

I was recently at a conference where I was startled to notice this sign on the doors to the worship center:

No Kids or Drinks

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“Pastor, when are you going to start wearing your robes again?”

Several of you have asked me that question. As you know, I’ve worn a minister’s robe in worship since arriving at Desert Hills. But I quit this summer. Now fall has come, and soon winter will be here, and I haven’t resumed wearing the robes. Why not?
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Fall Season – Huddles

This post appears, in slightly-altered form, in the September Panorama:

Here it is, almost fall again! Where did the summer go?

A highlight of the summer for me was our brief trip to the Navajo Nation in Arizona. We were privileged to visit St. Michael’s Association for Special Education and the evangelical (Protestant) church at Hunter’s Point, along with several others from our church.

This type of ministry is the essence of what Jesus meant when he told us to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). Too often, we assume that someone else will do it for us. “The church does that,” we think. But “the church” can’t go on mission trips. The church can’t visit someone in the hospital. The church can’t tutor someone who’s trying to learn to read or to speak English. People have to do those things, and I’m so happy that people who do, call this church home.

The church, of course, has a role in carrying out the mission of Christ in this world. Sometimes, we have to partner with others in our church to achieve what Christ calls us to do. As just one example, there are homeless people in our community who could actually afford to rent an apartment–except for the startup costs (first and last month’s rent, utility hookups, etc.). Believers at Desert Hills help to address that need by giving A.R.C.H. money through their contributions to the church’s mission budget. (For another example, see the article in this issue. We support the food pantry individually by donating food, and together as a church with our contributions.)

The second thing our church does is equip the saints (you and me) for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). The things we do as the gathered church–our Sunday worship, fellowship activities, and education programs –all function like the “huddle” a football team goes into before each play. When we’re finished with our “huddle” we disperse, going back into the world to carry out our Commission.

With summer winding down, we will be resuming our second worship service. Last spring, our two services were practically identical; the only significant difference was that the choir sang in the first service. This fall, we’re going to be looking for ways to give each service its own flavor. The choir will participate in the first service, as before. In the second service, I’m going to begin using multimedia (i.e., a projector). I have some ideas about how that can enhance the worship experience. This will give me a “laboratory” to experiment, by projecting scriptures and prayers on the screen, referring to other scriptures, including visual aids, and so forth.

No matter which worship service you prefer, you will be able to participate in a Bible Study this fall. If you come for the first service, stay for a Bible study afterwards. Or come for a Bible study during the first service, then join us in worship afterward.

It’s always exciting in the fall as we shake off our summer doldrums and ramp up our programs. I think our “huddles” will be even more helpful to us this fall. But nobody goes to a game to watch the huddle. What really matters is what we do after the huddle. If you’ve got ideas about things we can do as a church to help one another carry out the Great Commission between Sundays, give me a call. I’d love to talk with you about them. And until next time, be a blessing!

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O God, Thy Being Who Can Sound

I recently happened to hear the hymn “O God, Thy Being Who Can Sound.” (Here.) It’s a beautiful arrangement, and I wondered that I hadn’t heard the hymn before. I googled for it awhile, but couldn’t find it.

But it kept bugging me, so I posted an inquiry on Facebook, and someone there found it here on (That was a particularly helpful link, since I hadn’t stumbled upon before. Now I’ve bookmarked it for future use.)

As for the hymn, now that I have lyrics, I see it is a great example of traditional hymnody:

Eternity thy fountain was,
Which, like thee, no beginning knew;
Thou wast ere time began his race,
Ere glowed with stars the ethereal blue.

This is why so many hymns are inaccessible to so many Christ followers today. The language is both dated (“wast,” “ere,”) and esoteric (“ethereal”). It is also poetic, and, as a result, difficult to follow — especially when you don’t have written lyrics to parse. The syntax in the first line is inverted, and time is personified in the 3rd line. Say what you will about “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” but it doesn’t take much effort to understand what the lyrics are about.

Now, the music for “O God, Thy Being Who Can Sound” was very nice (to my ear; I’m no expert). But you would expect that, with J.S. Bach having improved upon what the Geistliche Lieder gave him. But music comes and goes. How many hit singles did Bach have last year?

And yet, for all its difficulties, it would be a shame if this hymn disappeared. How many songs can you think of which distinguish between time and eternity? That’s pretty deep theology. And it’s just one verse out of six!

Let the record show, by the way, that I like praise music. Well, mostly. I tend to grit my teeth after about four choruses of anything, even my favorites. But if I’m in the zone, I can put up with more. And I’m a whole lot more likely to become en-zoned with praise music than traditional hymnody.

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