Category Archives: church

intriguing perspective on mega-churches

Clint Rainey, an intern at the Dallas News, has written a very interesting op piece on why his generation is becoming disenfranchised by mega-churches (free registration required). it would be interesting to track a group of students growing up in the new boon of mega-youth-groups to see what really happens to them 10 years later. and, it sure will be interesting to see what the mega-church movement looks like in 20 more years. mclaren — i think it was in ‘a new kind of christian’ — says, just like the horse-drawn buggy did to transportation during the first couple decades of automobiles, they’ll continue growing and shaping the evangelical church landscape in america for a while longer. but how long? and what should this say to us in youth ministry — especially those of us in big churches?

thanks to bob carlton, the uber-cyber-finder, for the tip to this article.

my favorite senior pastor has resigned

Gordon Kirk has been the senior pastor at Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, CA, for 14 years. no SP is perfect — but this guy was darn close. visionary, compassionate, insightful, wise. and, what can i say? he believed in me when i was a punk junior high pastor, and asked me to be the executive pastor at a 100+ year old church of 6000 people. it was unheard of. some of the church leaders thought he must have had a serious brain-fart.

any institution of 100 years needs a continuous process of change, or atrophy will (or has) set in, usually followed by death. gordon knew this, saw it, and — for the most part — was able to articulate a path forward. he was passionate about lake ave not being an oasis of middle-class white people in the midst of a completely diverse (racially and economically) neighborhood; and the church has made massive strides in this direction over the last 10 years. i’ve really been hoping and praying that lake avenue would become a model of a big ol’ church that was found a path from mono-cultural, through multi-racial, though multi-cultural, all the way to kingdom-cultural. at this moment, i’m feeling a bit less hopeful. the youth ministry of this great church is well on the way to living this reality — please, lord.

gordon’s resignation was due to ongoing attacks and nipping and plain-old wearing him down by critics.

i would absolutely not be sitting in my seat at ys today if gordon had not believed in me.

why lucas is the right guy to lead spanish ys

there are so many reasons why lucas leys is abso-freakin’-lutely perfect to be our ys spanish guru. but here’s a great example:

the most popular worship band in latin america – rojo – was playing in the general session this afternoon. they’re really fantastic, and they rock the house. and people know their songs, so the singing was very loud. you can picture the scene — 1200 latin youth workers, moshing, jumping, worshipping. then, after too few songs for the crowd (they were begging for more), the band steps off stage, and… a classical choir, in tuxes and formal dresses, with a chamber orchestra (all of whom were ready and set-up on a side-stage, start singing a gorgeous hymn. while this band had been fantastic worship, this move not only validated the worship of those were weren’t connecting with the rock-and-roll worship, it also deconstructed the hero-worship and cult-of-personality that often surrounds modern rock worship (in north america, and very much so here in central america). the crowd hushed. the mosh-pit stood still. slowly, people began to sing along. the room was filled with absolutely stunning hymn singing.

ah. lucas gets it.

i followed all this as the speaker in this general session (maybe lucas doesn’t get it!). i talked about the quicksand we in the church so easily step into by believing that conformity is a good thing; that our churches often act as sand-paper, trying to produce sameness and niceness and complience in us. but god made us unique and odd and strange, as a gift to the church and the world, and we each need to embrace that.

opening general session

i just came from the opening general session of the youth workers convention in guatemala.

wow. [choke]

wow. [choke]

it’s so difficult, as i’ve found in the past, to describe how amazing this is. i mean, i love our youth workers conventions in the states too. but there’s something intangible here, something that ramps things up a bit. i’m sure it’s a combination of things:
– the fact that there has never been a youth ministry gathering anywhere close to this size in central america. so these people are in no way numb to the overwhelming emotion that comes with being in a room of 1200 people who share the same passion and calling.
– for many, especially the gautemalans, the event brings a palbable sense of holy revolution, that significant change (in their churches, in their cultures, in the lives of the teenagers they love) is right at the fingertips of their hearts.
– and, then, i’m sure some of the excitement is just cultural — they’re a less jaded and cynical group than we are in the states. there are none of those “backward baseball cap wearing, tattoo sporting, neu-fundamentalist, i’ll keep my arms folded or my hands in my pockets unless you get a mosh-pit going” youth workers here.

anyhow. it’s wonderful and beautiful. i hardly understood a word, but could tangibly sense god’s spirit in the room. maybe that was especially true since i couldn’t understand a word. no cognitive stuff to distract me!

more random thoughts and memories of singapore

dan’s moment of awkward silence
i laughed to myself in the car on the way to ys this morning, remembering dan’s first awkward moment up front. this is the exact “transcript”…
Dan: so… if you’re from the states, you greet someone with “hello”, so, say “hello”… (marko comment: i’m thinking to myself, um, that’s how you greet someone in singapore also)
Crowd, compliantly: hello
Dan: and… if you’re from Minnesota, like tony, you say “howdy”. everyone say “howdy”… (marko comment: at this point I’m thinking, what the heck, no one in minnesota says “howdy”)
Crowd, compliantly and awkwardly: howdy
Dan: and if you’re a fan of the Ramones, you say “hey, ho, let’s go”, so say that…
Crowd, compliantly, awkwardly and reservedly: hey, ho, let’s go
Dan and crowd: awkward silence, crickets chirp

the new colonialism
very interesting comments from sivin and danny here, about the importation of american churchianity, what tony called “the new colonialism”. i’d love to hear more thoughts on this from asians (living in asia, not just asian-americans). or, frankly, from anyone in a non-caucasian-dominant country. i’ll be in guatemala later this week, and will bring this up with lucas leys (our ys spanish director), and junior zapata, the emergent-savvy local host of our event.

i guess i’m “the ho”
margaret cho, the korean commedianne, has a very funny bit proposing that anytime you see a trio of girlfriends, they fall into the same three roles — one is the smart one, one is the sweet one, “and then there’s the ho” (she goes on to say that if your last name happens to be ‘ho’, this doesn’t mean you fill that role). cho talks through a few famous female trios to show us how this works, like charlie’s angels and such. so, i was talking to my wife and her friends mindi and beth (the three of whom just wrote an article in youthworker journal about community) about this sometime ago, and they loved it, agreeing that beth is the smart one, jeannie is the sweet one, and mindi is the ho (which really isn’t true at all — it’s only funny because mindi is the single friend).

last night, in my kitchen, i was telling beth, jeannie and lilly lewin about a post i read by a guy who was at the event in singapore (the friday, july 8, post, if you look at the link), who spent a good deal of the post writing his impressions of “the three speakers”. but really, since dan and tony were the primary speakers thursday and friday (i spoke all-day saturday), and all i did was intros, Q&A, and lead games, he didn’t have anything to say about me. so, there’s a LONG description of tony as “the intellectual one”, and a pretty long description of dan as “shy” and “humble”. and, at the end of the post, he says “more on marko — the ‘funny’ one — tomorrow”. beth and jeannie started laughing, and both said, “you’re the ho!” i was confused. they clarified: tony’s the smart one, dan’s the sweet one… and then there’s the ho.

dan kimball w/o ‘the hair’
sunday afternoon, after all our duties were wrapped up, the three of us tried to get in a little shopping. but, for the first time all week, it was pouring rain. to be honest, this added to the experience. but we all got drenched. and as hard as dan tried to protect his hair, it was not fully possible. and by the time we were in cab on the way back to our hotel, he had limp-locks. it was wonderful! tony laid down the gauntlet and suggested dan wear it that way to dinner at morton’s later that evening. dan was reluctant. tony countered, “dan, you’re in singapore — where else could you wear your hair down if you can’t do it here?”

dan relented, and came to dinner with a neat little part-on-the-side comb-over style. it actually looked good on him; but it certainly made him look like a different person. unfortunately, dan is the only one who had a camera that night (and he DID take a pic of the three of us). but i doubt he’ll let that photo see the light of day, or the light of your computer monitor!

almost home

i’m in the san fran airport (yes, i looked for the TSA guy when i came through security; thought i might be ready to report him if i could spot him — no luck). flew from singapore to tokyo, had an extremely short layover, and flew on to SFO. my plane to san diego from here just got delayed 90 minutes. ugh. i’m ready to be home, hug the kids and jeannie, go swimming to get the plane off me. and tonite, lilly lewin (and a couple others, i think) are staying at my house, and i volunteered to grill dinner. lilly is in town to work on prayer stations for the general sessions at the national youth workers conventions this fall (a new addition), as part of a team my wife is working on also. it will be fun to see lilly — though i may be a bit loopy from lag.

the singapore trip was good on many levels. but i think this fourth time really needs to be my last trip there for a few years. i found myself quite a bit more cynical this time around (maybe the presence of tony!). the people are wonderful and good-hearted, generous and earnest. but all three of us grew frustrated with the quantity of american, british and australian influence on the church culture there. as i hinted in earlier posts, the worship bits might as well have been hillsong videos. every tilt of the head, finger-point to heaven and cliche prayer phrase were straight out of hillsong, willow or saddleback (or, for the one more rockin’ band: delirious). we talked about this with our hosts at one point. part of the problem is that singapore is unique in asia, in that it doesn’t really have it’s own culture. they are so proud of their cultural mix (which is good), they haven’t given space to anything indigenous.

tony commented that it felt like “new colonialism”, which was accurate enough to make me wince.

the youth ministry event itself went well. next year they want to do a focus on junior high ministry, which is ALMOST enough to tempt me back one more year. but i promised my wife i would take a break — there are enough other opportunities.

there are a few people in singapore i truly consider friends; so spending a bit of time with them was certainly a highlight. and getting to know sivin was worth the trip in itself. what an amazing guy. our final night tradition of eating at morton’s of chicago, in the oriental hotel, was a good memory-maker for all three of us — freakin’ huge perfect steaks with the best bernaise sauce on the planet, amazing service, grand marnier souffle and godiva molten-chocolate cake.

i’ll be in the office at ys tomorrow and part of wednesday. then liesl (my 11 year-old) and i head to guatemala wednesday evening for our spanish youth workers convention there this weekend. i’m supposed to do a general session, two seminars, and a 3-hour critical concerns course — none of which i’ve prepared a speck for yet.

An ode to the tambourine

After worship this morning, I felt compelled to share my deep and abiding respect for an often-overlooked worship tool.

Ah, the tambourine. That venerable praise instrument: there is no other instrument that so quickly ushers us directly into the presence of God. And, the tambourine is the only remaining praise instrument to be handed down, generation after generation, from the times of Jesus, all the way to our modern worship services.

Originally made of large dried segments of gourd with small, paired pieces of hand-hewn metal tied on with leather strips, the tambourine is much like the gospel: ever-changing, yet always the same. The modern word tambourine is a derivation of the original Hebrew words tambler (meaning “to shake”) and shourine (meaning “earnest”). Throughout the ages, praise leaders have found this ever-changing, always-the-same God-shaker to be the tipping point between mere singing and true worship.

Proper use of the tambourine in praise leadership has been highly refined over the years, and can be seen in many hillsong-influenced cultures around the globe today: first, it’s helpful to have a high-tech tambourine, the kind made of composite materials, in the shape of a crescent, with a polyurethane hi-grip/no slip handle weighted close to the middle. Second, there are only two effective body positions for a praise leader utilizing the tambourine:
a. Big smile, big eyes, bouncing at the knees and a mock-rock eagerness. This is used for upbeat songs, and calling the worshipping audience to intensified emotional excitement. It has a similar effect as slapping one’s knees in front of a dog and saying, “here boy, here boy,” which is why it looks so similar.
b. The second effective body position while tambo-leading is used for slower songs (worship, instead of praise). Every aspect of this is essential (as is clearly seen by its universal global usage). First, the worship leader’s eyes must be closed. Open eyes communicate to the audience that you’re not really focusing on God. Closed eyes = sincerity. Second, one hand (obviously, not the one holding the mic) must occasionally be raised throughout the entire song (the only exception to this rule is when that same hand must be used to give signals to the praise band). Admittedly, this is tricky to do while playing a tambourine, and practice, in front of a mirror, is encouraged. Two effective ways (not really rules) for adding flourish and power to this position are: tilt the head slightly, and – for that little added worship push – point one finger on the mic-holding hand toward heaven. This reminds the audience of whom you are singing about.

We can only speculate about the future of this truly anointed praise instrument. Electric tambourines? Digital tambourines? Tambourine “machines”? Who can say (except the Lord)? What we can be sure of is that the tambourine will be around for years to come, and will be a centerpiece in our glory-day praise in heaven one day. Shake it!

singapore day two highlight

at the end of the day today (which was the end of the 2-day “postmodernism and youth ministry” part of the event – tomorrow i present year 1 of the CORE), a handful of people came up to offer contexualized responses. this was excellent, as it grounded the discussion of the past two days in singapore and malaysian culture and context.

the highlight was a beautiful small mandarin-speaking woman from malaysia who understood english enough to attend the event, but wasn’t comfortable speaking english. she spoke very passionately in mandarin, with sivin kit translating for the rest of us, about her small chinese-speaking church in malaysia, and how much all of this applies to her context. it was a gorgeous snapshot of the church.

i need to have my mohlers removed

call me thin-skinned, al mohler. ok, i guess you already did.

on one hand, there should be no reason to get bugged by crappy criticism. we should just dismiss it, right? but crappy criticism from smart often-insightful people who are just completely missing the point and doing hideously lousy research (or a complete lack of research) before promoting their absurdly reductionist and cartoon-like criticism — well, that gets about as old as this sentence.

if i read any polemic book (especially a poorly researched piece of opinion posing as scholarly thought) that summarizes and opinionates about a group of people, and i draw all my opinions about that group of people from that reading, i’m an idiot, right? yes, i most certainly would be.

please, al.
dr. mohler

this and this and this. maybe i’m thin-skinned. but this kind of thing just drives me ape-crazy.

sentences like these:

This is our proper epistemological humility – not that it is not possible for us to know, but that the truth is not our own. We are dependent upon the Word of God.

cause me to leave my hair very short, out of concern for otherwise tearing large chunks of it out. that’s humility? wow.

ok. i should not be surprised. i just wish smart peeps would offer smart criciticism.

i suppose if i’m going to rant like this, it would be good if i offered an alternative. so…
i haven’t read their blog lately (so this is a largely uninformed), but i’ve found “the a-team blog” to be an exception — i don’t agree with them on many, many points and approaches; but have found them to be interested in engagement, not uninformed lobs. they bothered to come to the emergent convention, and actually ask questions.