Monday, April 30, 2012

My Humber Pun

image found on
          Little known fact about me: I am, likely, the lone White Sox fan in Wisconsin's lakeshore. I grew up during the Frank "Big Hurt" Thomas era. Their loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1993 ALCS was the reason for my very first (and last!) sports-related temper tantrum. I've been to three games at Comiskey Park and was thrilled to see them sweep the World Series in 2005, even though those four games had some of the lowest viewership.
          In any case, I was thrilled to know that Philip Humber, a White Sox pitcher and fellow believer, threw a perfect game recently. And it's taken me since that time to think of a good pun and get around to posting it! Here it is:

          God exalts the Humber and Humbers the exalted!

          I know you wish you would have thought of it first, but I claim the trademark!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My 2012 Church League Mock Draft

          The following is intended as agenda-free parody to commemorate the NFL Draft, taking place tomorrow. All names and stories portrayed are fictional and any similarity to actual persons or events is coincidental. 
          Annually, late April and May is an exciting time for all churches in the U.S. It’s right after Lenten season and it’s the time when most seminaries are having their graduation ceremonies and sending a plethora of promising talent into the ministry market. Many commentators have been weighing in, but here is my guess as to how the top recruiting churches will partake of the upcoming draft.
          No. 1 Pick - Maplestream Community Church -  John Patterson, Senior Pastor, Stott Seminary
          This pick is almost obvious. Maplestream is recovering from a rough year. Their previous senior pastor left to serve as a missionary trainer in Uganda, but unfortunately the rest of the staff has been struggling to properly restructure. The well-known megachurch dropped its attendance by 30% in 8 months. Most would be surprised if they didn’t utilize their awarded top pick on Patterson.
          Unlike a lot of recent seminary graduates, Patterson enters the ministry market for the second time. He’s a good exegetical communicator and an experienced shepherd, and has led a few church plants and small, sometimes dysfunctional churches for 25 years and has just finished his formal education, magna cum laude. Add to that the fact that Patterson has background in the metropolitan area where Maplestream resides. A minor question mark is if he can handle a megachurch.
          No. 2 Pick - West Bluff Church - Devin Castigliano, Worship Arts Pastor, Wyclif Divinity School
          West Bluff is trying to end the plateauing period of what was once impressive growth in membership. Rumor has it that the elders and the program staff have been frequently talking about the strong possibility of venue services. Castigliano finished his MDiv while serving as a top Associate Worship Leader at Benchmark (a venue service church)under the mentorship of the well-known Josh Rafael, and he has the qualifications and experience to oversee multiple services.
          However, Castigliano’s skills could be rendered useless if the West Bluff leadership decides to remain with its “blended services” approach (which is not arguably efficacious in West Bluff’s context) or if the current worship leaders can accept his oversight.
          No. 3 Pick - Elk Path Baptist Church - Ryan Britten, Youth Pastor, Edwards Seminary
          The membership of Elk Path went down, mostly estimated due to the absence of a strong Christian education program for teens and young adults. If Britten is drafted, he would be Elk Path’s first youth pastor. Britten only has part-time experience (though significant) under his belt, but he showed great skills, promise and humility at the scouting combine. The question on the minds of most commentators is if Elk Path’s leadership is expecting the “attraction model” (now being reevaluated by bloggers), because Britten will probably bring something else.
          No. 4 Pick - The bridgeCROSSing - Phineas Murphy, Lead Pastor, San Luis Obispo Theological Seminary  
          The bridgeCROSSing is the latest addition to a fast-growing church planting movement in the Portland area, started by pastor/author Kyle McLellan. Unfortunately, two of Portland’s well-known companies had to make a lot of layoffs that same month, diverting the attention McLellan and other leaders from helping bridgeCROSSing during its public launch, including the appointment of a lead pastor. The bridgeCROSSing has been having only intermittent growth while juggling guest preachers, so Murphy, with his education, experience and West Coast background, is an apparent-best pick for this leader-less church with potential.
          No. 5 Pick - Woodfield Bible Church - Jeff Gundersen, Executive Pastor, Kletos Seminary
          While the senior pastor at Woodfield Bible is an educated and charismatic visionary, the church has mostly plateaued in its membership and struggled financially and organizationally since their relocation to a newly-built facility. 
          Gundersen, arguably, has the most eye-catching testimony of all the draft picks: a successful CEO, who stepped down after his conversion and felt call into ministry, he’s been well-funding ministries and charities all across New England. 
          If he’s Woodfield Bible’s first Executive Pastor, there’s no doubt he would help to get things in order and add to the community. There is question, though, what his job description would be, including in relation to the senior pastor, his younger superior. There’s also been talk of Woodfield Bible trading down.

Monday, April 23, 2012

It’s Also About Smaller Groups: A Defense of Venue Services

          Carl Trueman wrote a mild-to-moderate critique of simulcast services recently. It’s gotten around the blogosphere a bit, so I thought I’d try to answer a few of his questions as a pastor of worship arts in a multi-service church that has dabbled in the practice of simulcasting.
          His blog makes some good points about the importance of physical presence in preaching and leading worship, but I feel he makes some assumptions and over-simplifications about the reasoning behind simulcast services, the role of technology in community-building, and a few other things. But he raised some good questions, and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can.
          Why a live band, but not a live preacher? This seeming double-standard really fascinates Trueman, and he assumes it’s simply because there are more musicians/worship-leaders in the world than pastors. The necessity of a live band “concedes” the importance of physical presence in worship services and, therefore, that standard should apply to preaching as well (then, out of curiosity, what use are Christian radio CD’s and worship albums?).
          If you ask me, the necessity of a live band is, first, because a professional and live audio “mix,” that captures the same dozen-instrument balance in one room and places it in another, is technically near-impossible. This certainly was the case when I was the sound guy for a women’s webinar broadcast to my church (I was the only sound guy available). A singular speaking voice is not as technologically difficult to mobilize into another room.
          Secondly, many venue services are utilizing the multiple sites to employ different musical styles of worship, a musical submission to Paul’s encouragement in 1 Cor. 9:19-23. But a musical styles debate is another can of worms I won’t open here. 
          There are good arguments against simulcast services, but this isn’t one of them, not in an age where technology (aside from its aforementioned struggle) has drastically improved recording quality since the era of classic rock and Marlon Brando, which Trueman refers to. Modern recording artists embellish tracks in the studio in ways they could never imagine executing on tour. Movies have cameras that can zoom in on a character or a set/story’s graphic details and also have special effects. The vast majority of movies and music today are experienced through headphones and screens. 
          What about cross-cultural contextualization? This is a very good question, but Trueman’s response may indicate an over-simplification on his part as to the reasoning behind simulcast services. Indeed, if all simulcasts were operating with the same seeming consumerist, impersonal mass-media approach, then I’d be on the exact same page as Trueman here. 
          But churches simulcast for a variety of reasons. This past Easter, my church staff set up a live-feed venue in another sanctuary for potential overflow. We also have live-feed in a lobby for mothers with restless children. 
          Outside of contextualization, some big churches across the world have purposely gathered at the same time and simulcast to each other, purposely portraying the edifying and exhilarating truth that Christianity is global.
          I’m very much a supporter of communication to culture and a shepherd-like approach to preaching and leading worship, and the wise employment of simulcasting (e.g. within the church body) is not necessarily a threat to that. I’ll expand on this point later.
          What about physical presence? Yes, physical presence is important, but technology is not the inherent enemy to physical community. It, actually, can be a wonderful tool in ministry that can lead to physical community, as well as being a good and edifying complement when physical community is not possible. This is why I, for example, blog and encourage theological and community-building conversations in cyberspace during the week, but I discourage attending church at Second Life.
          Here’s an interesting question, though: as a church attendant, imagine two scenarios:
  1. You attend church in a smaller, intimate sanctuary with people you’ve gotten to know and some you’ve invited. You’re led in worship by a band you know well. You see a pastor on a screen this week (he’ll preach in this room the next week), but you know you can talk to him across the hall about his sermon right after the service.
  2. You attend church in a large sanctuary. You grabbed the best seats you could, but you’re surrounded by complete strangers who don’t seem very talkative. You can hear the pastor just fine, but you can’t make out his face. Good thing there’s live screens of him just above the stage. However, there’s almost no chance of you getting to talk to him or get to know him after the service. There’s so many people here, and he usually exits quietly.
          Which service would make you feel more “pastored” and part of a community? The latter is somewhat the typical mega-church experience. With all the effort in accommodating a large audience, community-building and shepherding are difficult, almost impossible. (But at least the pastor is physically present). Partially because of this, many young pastors (myself included) are re-evaluating and questioning the essence and efficacy of the megachurch concept.
          The former is what I know many mature large churches (even megachurches) are striving to be through simulcasting. They see “venue services” as an opportunity to build more community through preaching to smaller “audiences” at a time. In an era where people long for community, it’s a way, through technology, to help make big church smaller. It’s a step away from the consumerist and impersonal aura of the megachurch, not a further embrace of it.   
          Concluding. Trueman and I agree on some very important things. I have church planting in my background, and I would argue, like Trueman, that church should be about preaching Truth and building and impacting community. And that a pastor should better resemble a shepherd rather than a speaking commodity or a CEO. 
          Yes, in a perfect world, churches should accommodate their growing numbers with church multiplication and new leadership appointment rather than, in my opinion, megachurch construction. Where Trueman and I differ is that I see simulcast services as a stage towards that perfect world, whereas Trueman sees the bad apples of simulcasting and wants to throw out the baby with the bath water.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Fun: Jenny & Tyler's "One-Eyed Cat"

          My wife emailed me a link to this video the other day, and I think it's especially appropriate since my church is hosting a marriage conference tomorrow. Jenny & Tyler, a dynamic, Christ-following musical duo, co-write and perform a cute-but-poignant, testimonial romantic song called "One-Eyed Cat."
          This love song derives its title from Jenny's former pet cat, Stewart. I use the word "former" because Jenny had to leave her longtime cat home with her parents as she went on to marry Tyler, who is cat-allergic. The song contains reflections on a few types of sacrifices, from menial to more significant, but the explicit conclusion is pure joy. As the choruses say: "I didn't mind much giving it up, cause I got even more of you."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

When You Talk About God and Church, Exact Words Mean Everything

          From Ghandi to the Huffington Post, there have been hackneyed slogans, titles and discourse that discuss or criticize the current state of “church” or compare “church” or “religion” to Jesus. And this isn’t just from those who don’t regularly attend church or consider themselves biblically illiterate. Author Dan Kimball and the ministry Spoken Word have partaken as well. 
          Of course it is the admonishment to every Christian (of which the Church consists) to strive to be more like Jesus in their life and work, but the problem with these eye-catching and popular editorials is that they sometimes speak in so many unqualified terms and phrases (on which they don’t elaborate) that I often don’t really understand what they’re trying to say. (Some of these are the words in quotes in the above paragraph). And sometimes their operating definitions (more likely a connotation I don’t know) are just plain wrong. 
          Take, for example, Andrew Sullivan’s Christianity in Crisis - Forget the Church; Follow Jesus, which made the cover of Newsweek. What does he mean by “church”? Churches with certain teachings or practices? A certain denomination? All Christian organizations? All gatherings of (or individual) Christ-followers altogether? Readers are somewhat left to either wonder or interpret for themselves in radically and eerily different directions. Also, when he said to “follow Jesus,” did he flesh out that concept using the stories of Jesus’s actual followers? No, he actually used Thomas Jefferson’s incomplete picture of Jesus that more portrays a passive, overtly-apolitical, non-impacting, ascetic lifestyle of privatized spirituality. That’s not following Jesus. And what does he mean by “crisis”? I could go on.
          To be fair, ambiguity and error in terms, I believe, happen within the Church as well. Spoken Word’s video “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” made a lot of rounds in cyberspace and even got a review in Christianity Today. But its definition of “religion” was largely limited to American self-righteous legalism and hypocrisy, whereas the definition of religion (even if we’re just talking about Christianity) encompasses much more. The video might have left some confused about the relationship between law and grace, and it certainly poisoned the well of all local churches who don’t suffer from Pharisaical aspects.
          Also, the appropriate response to questions can heavily depend on such definitions. When Diana Butler Bass of the Huffington Post writes that Americans long for churches without “inflexible dogma,” what does she mean? If she’s referring to theological and cultural non-essentials (e.g. philosophy of education, musical preference, earth’s age, etc.) that a church has wrongfully canonized on par with Gospel Truth, then yes, I understand her allegation. But if this “inflexible dogma” refers to the deity of Jesus Christ, the Doctrine of Atonement or another essential where the Bible seems clear, we can’t compromise on that. Again, I don’t know what Bass is referring to. Otherwise, I could provide a response.
          Choose words wisely. No doubt that some ambiguity and exaggeration using certain words was intended, perhaps for more readership or spice, but people that are striving to be mature Bible-readers and Jesus-imitators, like myself, honestly want to have a productive conversation. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New York Times Editorial Realizes Dangers of Premarital Cohabitation

          Normally, the editorials of the New York Times are not exactly a bastien of holistic thought that give a respectful ear to the culturally-conservative values that myself and other Christians strive to live by. However, a fellow alumnus of my grad school pointed out this article. The columnist does not take a firm stance, but the post is dominantly statistics and valid points that suggest that (increasingly common) premarital cohabitation is very threatening to a marriage, actually regardless of one's politics, education or religion.
          And the article points out that premarital cohabitation is deceptive in its seeming practicality (e.g. split bills, preview "life with a spouse"). This deception was certainly the case when I and a few other Christian friends gently advised curious co-workers not to live with their serious boyfriends. The columnist, a clinical psychologist, closes the article, curiously, by saying:

          A mentor of mine used to say, “The best time to work on someone’s marriage is before he or she has one,” and in our era, that may mean before cohabitation. Read the rest here.

          But, if marriages are best prepared for without cohabitation, I have some advice for male-female couples who are arguably prepared for marriage: skip cohabitation and get married! (Even better if you do so at a church where the officiant forbids cohabitation, requires premarital counseling, and hosts a biblical welcoming community!). The findings in this (religiously unaffiliated and unbiased) editorial point to the fact that Scripture-derived practicalities for marriage are wise, truthful and conducive to relational flourishing and God's honoring. 


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Is 2012 the Vikings' Last Year in Minnesota?

AEG's rendering of the interior Farmer's Field to be built in L.A.,
the new potential home of the Vikings roster, found on
          I rarely take a break for personal or off-topic posts, but this is a bit of a doozy. I've posted earlier about my potential dilemma, should the Vikings leave the state of Minnesota. Sure, the battle of paperwork and political leverage has hit near-crippling roadblocks before, but I've rarely -no, never- have heard some usually-optimistic leaders of the charge be so cynical after this.

          "The House Government Operations and Elections Committee defeated the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill by a vote of 9-6 earlier this evening, killing any hope of a Vikings stadium in this legislative session . . . barring a miracle, the Vikings time in Minnesota is coming to an end. Expect [owner Zygi] Wilf himself to start dropping threats to move, or hosting potential suitors willing to buy the team."

          You can read the rest on a well-informed (but PG-13 rated) Vikings blog here. I might have to look to the draft next week as an historical event: the last draft involving the Minnesota Vikings. Because next February, unless some drastic progress occurs or patience is gained, the Vikings could file paperwork to leave the state, and my football loyalty would become a free agent.
          P.S. No, I will not become a Packers fan. 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How to Download a Cool Song and Fight Human Trafficking at the Same Time

          To all Simon and Garfunkel fans, Jenny & Tyler fans, and people who would like to contribute towards an effective effort against human sex trafficking, you might want to listen up.         
          I attended a concert of Jenny & Tyler, a little Christian musical duo that could, last night, and they announced that they have a downloadable single of their rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence." The vast majority (approximately 90%) of profits from these downloads goes to the International Justice Mission (IJM), a charity of integrity and efficacy (according to CharityNavigator), whose primary work involves the liberation of sex slaves worldwide.
          Having more-than-average familiarity with Jenny & Tyler and IJM, I can assure you that these are not questionable people, no matter you who are. Having done missions work in Romania (considered to have one of the highest rates of child sex slavery), I can assure you that this is not a negligible cause. So, please consider downloading Jenny & Tyler's rendition of "Sound of Silence." You won't regret it.
          Here's the link again.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Happy Belated Easter!

          Happy Belated Easter, dear readers! Like many pastoral staff, my schedule during the last few days of Holy Week was fairly demanding, so I haven't had much time to write online.
          And I'm taking a short vacation from blogging. For the next week or so, you'll only hear various random tweets and see various links.
          Hoping you had a worshipful and reflective Resurrection Sunday!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Deaths in the "Family," Please Pray

photo from Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News
          This tragedy hasn't gotten much attention in the news, but an expelled nursing student from Oikos University, a small (a few hundred students) Christian college in Oakland, CA, walked onto campus and went on a shooting spree, killing seven people and injuring a few others. He's now in custody and may receive the death penalty. More info can be found here. Supposedly, the culprit had felt unfairly treated by students and staff, and felt that the school owed him money. He supposedly has anger management issues and a history of disputes (e.g. his former landlord in Virginia still believes he owes rent).
          Oikos University gets its name from the Koine Greek term for "household." It's a common word in the New Testament and one of the first learned in my ol' Greek classes. Supposedly this university has a ministerial sweet spot for Korean-Americans. Please pray for the families of the victims and all involved. They are members of our family in Christ.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Modern Palm Sunday

picture from
          A few years ago, on a previous blog, I tried to imagine if Palm Sunday took place in the 21st century in America. I know this is belated, but enjoy!

          Nashville, TN (AP) -- I-65 will never be the same. The serene and scenic highway that runs south from near Chicago’s congested web to the southern tip of Alabama is soon to host a social celebrity’s grand entrance into Nashville, and many don’t simply know what to make of the whole phenomenon.  The “celebrity’s” name is Josh Daub.  He is a Christian, what we might call a “conservative evangelical.” 
          Originally from the very small town of Hiawatha, IA, he had come very quickly to national attention.  Not only was he a riveting preacher on tour who walked the walk, he was proactive in whatever community he stumbled upon. Reports and investigations have shown that, when Mr. Daub visits a town, he usually gives a few sermons and does some counseling, but more unexpectedly, he rallies and leads his new congregations to action.  Even after he leaves, his congregants remain committed visitor-volunteers to homeless shelters, child and family associations, crisis pregnancy centers, tutoring schools and prisons.  One police officer from Kansas City reported that four ex-cons, prostitutes, now attend his church wearing modest clothes that Daub’s church had bought them.  A teacher from the South Side of Chicago claims that she’s started to get calls and wealthy donations for a new school to be built, saying they were encouraged to do so by Mr. Daub.     
          If you visited any village where Mr. Daub had just been, you would sense positive change.  As the rest of the media has followed his movements (double-entendre fully intended) for the past three years, they’ve found that the towns he’s visited, because of the hope and inspiration he’s given the citizens, have stabilizing economies. Statistics of poverty, illiteracy and crime have gone down, and the immeasurable auras of morale and community have gone up.
          But little is known about Mr. Daub before he was spotted on the media’s radar. He has no formal education in theology, public speaking, engineering, economics, culture or social work.  Those outspoken and well-versed thereof (especially in theology) have challenged him and his works to frequent debate, to no avail. His positive influence and large appreciation seem to speak for themselves. All the while, he seems to know how exactly to best give what he calls “new life” to whoever he sees, both on earth and what he believes to be eternal life, through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Understandably, church attendance has also gone up.
          Here north and outside of Nashville, a large group of people, numbering about 108,000, are waiting alongside I-65 for him to arrive in his humble ’89 Civic.  This group from across the nation includes everyone from homeless people, telemarketers, a few CEO’s, pastors, and construction workers.  They’ve actually covered the road with tarp and some of their own clothes. They’ve brought homemade welcome signs and seem very unified in their anticipation, as if they were all from the same town, one that Daub visited.
          Nashville was once arguably the Christian capital of the nation. Now known for country music, it has lost much relevance in the cultural and political evolution in the country.  It is now in Washington’s spotlight.  
          What will the rest of the country make of this event? Some believe that Mr. Daub, while his social work and charity has done undeniable good for portions of the nation, is only another conservative evangelical, spouting intellectual nonsense and, like many Christians, hoping for a restoration of Church-serving government that he supposedly misses (some Christians do hope for the latter). Others believe, though, that he is of a line of innovative ministers of God’s Word that actually can and do “change the world,” and in a good way.
          However Nashville and the country respond to Mr. Daub and his message over the next week will reveal much about us, and maybe humanity as a whole.