Learning the Stories of Christian Missionaries

John G. Paton
John G. Paton- the man could grow a beard.

One point of application I took away from Nic’s sermon yesterday came right off the bat- as he mentioned John G. Paton’s story and how reading about missionaries has encouraged and inspired him, I decided I wanted to do more of that myself. I suggested he put out a blog post with some recommendations…he responded by assigning me the work instead- well played. Here is the fruit of that discussion:

Why Read Biographies of Christians?

John Piper wrote a short chapter on why to read Christian biography in his book Brothers, We are Not Professionals. He points out that Hebrews 11, a summary of many of the greats of faith in the biblical story, is written to compel us to run the race of our faith well. If an author of Scripture sees value in sharing stories of faith lived out to spur his readers on, it makes sense for us to seek these too. Continue reading Learning the Stories of Christian Missionaries

The Gospel For All Nations

High Point Church has always been a missions church. We have never been afraid to believe the gospel is for all people. And there have always been people within our movements who have risen up to answer the call to foreign fields. High Point is just over 50 years old, and over 50 years global missions has changed a lot. Very few new missionaries hear what John Paton (sailed from Scotland to the New Hebrides April 16, 1858) was told, “You will be eaten by Cannibals!” (He almost was.) Missions looks a lot different, even though we are often doing many of the same things we have always done. We are translating the Bible into new tongues. We are helping people and economic squalor apply basic technologies for better lives. We are teaching indigenous missionaries to preach the gospel. We are sending Western missionaries into countries with no indigenous witness – especially in Muslim lands.

Continue reading The Gospel For All Nations

Worship Series Takeaways

I really enjoyed the worship series. Like most series, we only scratched the surface – or better, only dealt with a very narrow sliver of the subject of worship. In fact, the main thing we focused on was what we called ‘church’ – or the weekly gathered worship service.

We always have to remember that people are skeptical about worship – and even more so about the weekly worship service. Many churchgoers, and most non-churchgoers feel a sense of cynicism about worshiping God in general. Because they confuse the ugly reality of human self-importance with the impossibility of divine self-importance, the logical fallacy produces cynicism.

For others, the cliché of not wanting to be part of organized religion which sometimes comes from actual bad or hurtful church experiences carries a lot of personal weight. But in a faith mainly designed around loving each other, being with each other in regular and meaningful ways cannot be discounted. Have a listen to sermon one or two to review my arguments on this.

Third, people just don’t feel like the investment is worth it. I think it’s important to acknowledge that going to church is a burden, and that it is a responsibility with real weight. You are making an investment of real-time, energy and life. The question is, is the burden worth it? And I argued that the burden is lighter than we think and its contents, like a backpack, are more important than we anticipate.

But one of the biggest misconceptions is that people are confused about why we get together in worship services. The point of worship services does include worshiping God. But in the New Testament, the main focus is building each other up. We do church to build each other up in Christ. We come together for each other to use every resource God has given us to deepen and build our faith in the gospel and to accelerate the transformation of our life around the Savior.

In order to really get what we should out of worship, we need to consistently do three things.

  1. Remembrance – We need to see it as an opportunity to remember what we constantly forget
  2. Expression – we need to actually grow in expressiveness and worship. For some people, that may be just singing and actually praying. For others it may include more. But we need to be full participants, and do everything we can to be fully engaged.
  3. Celebrate – joy and thankfulness are the fuel of Christian motivation. Being happy in God is critical to loving and obeying God. When we come together we should expect to celebrate – whether it is the consistent reliability of the character of God, or the events God has brought about by his working in Providence, or the evidence of his gracious work in the life of those around us. We should be celebrating. (Here are two videos {video one} and {video two} that we showed during the service.)

The biggest take away I would suggest from the series is not to underestimate God’s purpose in creating the actual local church and commanding us to be part of it. It is always folly to underestimate God’s commands. The whole reason he has to command them is that he knows they are true and we won’t believe them unless they are commands rather than suggestions. Therefore, every command ought to get our attention. The less you think you need the church, the more you do.

I shared in one of the sermons, that one of the reasons I got into ministry was because I thought church was terrible. Most of my church experiences were incredibly boring, anti-intellectual, hokey, and I felt embarrassed to bring non-Christians. But when I realized loving Jesus was loving the church, I only had a few choices – and one of them was to jump in and fight for the church. That won’t mean going into ministry for most people. But if you are committed to the church like you’re committed to a marriage – then you are much more likely to fight for her health and vibrancy. When done with some humility, that usually leads to great things for churches and those they are intended to reach.

Read more blog posts on the Worship Series. 

Take Aways from the Worship Leader Gatherings

If you aren’t aware: on Wednesday nights this past month, I met with the worship leaders and team so I could explain the theology behind worship at High Point Church. While we will have separate bands, I wanted to make sure we had one unified theology of worship that was the backbone of the teams.

WHAT WERE THE BIG TAKEAWAYS FROM THE LEADER GATHERING?
Well, one is that snow comes in winter and the classes are sometimes canceled. The last gathering is still a week away.We started off with a number of directives from the elders for the worship team leaders. We were attempting to be noncontroversial and helpful, and I think there was some clarification and realization that will lead to unity. The main issue that seems to interest people is how we talk about and labeled the stylistic differences between the two services. In-house, we have called them upbeat and edgy. Those words aren’t all that clarifying. In some ways, to get different styles, you can only identify bandleaders and tell them to do what’s in their hearts.

However, that didn’t stop us from spending a good bit of time trying to explain the difference between the two.

The picture to the right, recognizes that the two styles need not diverge very far to radical extremes, but should diverge enough to reach people of tastes sufficiently divided that we need to offer another environment to better reach them. (This is my very own drawing… aren’t you impressed?)

TWO STYLES BUILT ON ONE THEOLOGY
The catchphrase to take away is:
two styles built on one theology. Many churches have one or two services built on no theology. And theoretically, a church could have 25 different styles built on a single theology for different kinds of people. We would expect this if two people with the same theology built churches in radically different world cultures – one in Atlanta and the other in Beijing. Yet sociologically, there are very different cultural profiles just within the city of Madison, even just on the west side. Age has some effect on this, but age is not the determining factor of the two sentimentalities.

PLAUSIBILITY STRUCTURE AND SENTIMENTALITIES
Two categories we talked considerably about are: plausibility structures and sentimentalities.

SENTIMENTALITY: an emotional structure that causes us to relate to something positively and emotionally even if we can’t explain why. Imagine a story or song that causes you to cry, but then you look to the person next to you and they are clearly not even engaged. Why does that happen? It is usually not because one person has emotions and the other doesn’t. It is because that particular song or story “touches” one person, and does not have that effect on the other. This is because of their sentimentalities.

PLAUSIBILITY STRUCTURES: are simply our structures of thought that make things sound plausible or implausible. We are have sets of beliefs we are already committed to, and these make other claims sound plausible or ridiculous.

Because worship is always in the “short form argument” (they can’t take the time to make substantive arguments that would change somebody’s sentiments or plausibility structures) worship has to teach and seek to connect in relationship to the sentimentalities and the plausibility structures that already exists in the people present, or those we are trying to reach. Any context in which a full and substantive argument can’t be made is one in which a short form arguments must be – and worship leading is one of those situations. That is why an extended sermon can do things that a worship set simply can’t. But it is also worth noting that worship sets can do things that sermons can’t.

WHAT WE ALL SHARE
But whatever the sociological differences are between the people we seek to reach, we spent two weeks talking about what we all share: theology, anthropology and psychology. That is, no matter what someone’s culture is, who God is doesn’t change. What a human being is doesn’t change. What happens inside human beings doesn’t change. Even though we need to have different cultural expressions, we are not dealing with a different kind of human, a different kind of heart, nor are we glorifying a different God. The unity of these three things should allow us to have a single and unified church even while having truly different worship styles.

And if we understand these things well (multiple bands and multiple styles), we can still lead towards a single unified goal. There is always temptation along the way for ungodly competitiveness and jealousy. But this is the case even within one worship style if we will give our hearts to jealousy and competition rather than focusing on the mission and the priorities of reaching those far from Christ and teaching Christ more deeply to those who follow him. To make true disciples of Jesus for the Glory of God and the good of all people.

Is worship a kind of primitive barbarism?

Some kind of worship can be found in the archaeological history of virtually all cultures. People have always been religious and have always believed that the gods demanded something of them. Some believed they demanded human sacrifice. Some believed they required food. Some believed they required elaborate and ecstatic rituals. Some believed they required esteem and reputation. We now consider this a primitive notion, foolish and ignorant. But if Christians accept that the ancient barbaric view of worship was more insightful than today’s snide rejection, we can see how big a job it was for God to enlighten us through the progressive revelation of Scripture, especially in the special Revelation of himself in the God-man Jesus Christ.

Continue reading Is worship a kind of primitive barbarism?