Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Church and the Future

Our church (Village Seven Presbyterian Church) has a Christian school called Evangelical Christian Academy (ECA). We do this in partnership with our mother church, Grace Presbyterian Church. In 1985, Grace was comprised of about 350 people. Today, it is less than 70, most of whom are over 70 years of age. The church is no longer capable of maintaining her property or providing for her pastor. Most likely, the church give the property over to ECA, which is an act of incredible generosity and grace.

I have thought about Grace Pres. a lot lately. Their pastor, Rick Fite, is a wonderful man and an excellent pastor. The congregation is full of people who love the Lord deeply and want to see God exalted. They have sacrified to support ECA even though they receive no direct benefit from it. They care about taking the gospel to the nations. For over 50 years, they have been a light in our community. I am so thankful for the tremendous ministry that Grace has had throughout the years. The ministry of Grace Pres. will continue for years to come through ECA, Village Seven, and the many lives touched there by the gospel. In this, we rejoice.

Yet, what is happening at Grace is the natural course for every church and should be a warning to us. We are seeing this all throughout my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. If the church is not intentional in reaching out--particularly in reaching the next generation--it will die. Even more, it is not enough for a church to have ministries to children, like Vacation Bible School or Christian school, it must be a place that is intentionally for the next generation without neglecting those who are present.

Dr. Bryan Chapell, in his wonderful book, Christ-Centered Worship, says, "A church also has no future if leaders only consider how to minister to the present generation. We are mistaken, of course, to let our children determine what our worship should be; we are also mistaken not to consider how their children may need to worship" (p. 131). Dr. Chapell is not advocating the "dumbing down" of worship. Just the opposite. Rather, like the Reformers, he is advocating rich, Reformed worship that is in the language and forms that the worshipper understands.

The church must continually think through all of its ministries to ensure that they are both biblical and effective. Programs that worked in 1970 will not always work today. Communication styles that worked in one era are not always effective in other eras. For example, read John Piper (21st century), Jim Boice (20th century), Charles Spurgeon (19th century), Jonathan Edwards (18th century), John Owens (17th century, and John Calvin (16th century) to see how different these great preachers were. All were biblical. None were shallow, but each fit in his own cultural context. The music and educational formats in each of these eras was different as well.

Our city needs more healthy, biblical churches, not less. Therefore, we must continue to work hard to ensure, not only our present health, but our future ministry at Village Seven. We must continually ensure we are effective in reaching the next generation and start new churches that will share in this vision. If we keep our eye on the Lord and put His mission before our desires, then I trust God will continue to bless us as we seek to be a life giving church to Colorado Springs, the West, and the World.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Recommended Summer Reading

It has been a while since I posted anything here. For posts related to my sermon series, check out the official Village Seven Presbyterian Church blog. Also, because of a very busy schedule, I haven't read as much lately. Still, I want to pass on some recommendations.

Recommendations Related To Ephesians

If you attend Village Seven, we are studying Ephesians. Ephesians focuses on the church. Here are a few books I would recommend that would be good companion studies.

Why We Love the Church by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. This book actually praises the institutional church. A good read both for those who are not sure about the institution of the church and those who love it.

Life Together by Deitrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer gives a realistic view of what it means to live in true Christian community.

Everybody's Normal ('Til You Get to Know Them) by John Ortberg. Ortberg covers a lot of the same themes as Bonhoeffer. He is a very good writer who knows how to make his teaching accessible to all. I love his humor.

Ephesians (Reformed Expository Commentary) by Bryan Chapell. While this is a commentary on Ephesians, it reads like a devotional. If you want to get to know Ephesians but are intimidated by scholarly commentaries, this is a great help. Even if you like scholarly commentaries, this is very helpful.

More Recommendations

Knowing God by J. I. Packer. This is a modern classic. Christians will be reading this book 100 years from now. It is that good.

The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller. These are short reads, but give the foundations of the Christian life. Read these along with Jerry Bridges The Bookends of the Christian Life and you will get a good model of what it means to grow in Christ.

A Praying Life by Paul Miller. We recently read this together as a church staff. This book has made a real impact on how I pray. Another good book on prayer is Praying Backwards by Bryan Chapell.

The Holiness of God bv R. C. Sproul. I don't know how many books Dr. Sproul has written (it is a lot), but this is his best. Chosen by God is another good one, but make sure you read The Holiness of God.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Immature Men

Just a quick note to refer you to an interesting article. George Will wrote an article at Newsweek on immature men. You can read it here. It seems we have failed to teach men to be men. We are reaping the results. This is a both a great challenge and opportunity for the church.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Christ-Centered Worship

Starting next week, D.V., we will have a new blog on Village Seven's website. When it is up, I hope to do a weekly post on the topic of worship and related matters. In the meantime, I thought I might do a quick post on Dr. Bryan Chapell's most recent book, Christ-Centered Worship.
Dr. Chapell is president of Covenant Theological Seminary, the denominational seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America. He has written numerous books. Two of his most influential books are Christ-Centered Preaching and Holiness by Grace. I imagine this book will make its way onto many pastors' shelves and even some seminaries' curricula.

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 - Gospel Worship is the meat of the book. Part 2 - Gospel Worship Resources provides some guidance and some resources on how to implement the different elements of worship.

In Part 1, Dr. Chapell outlines and compares various historic church practices that have influenced worship in the western church. For those who do not have an interest in church history, this may appear to be rather dry. However, what Dr. Chapell does with this survey is very helpful. He shows that, historically, the church's worship has been shaped by the gospel story. Here, Dr. Chapell makes a strong case that the order of a worship service should not be governed by whims, or simply manipulating emotions, but should be shaped by the gospel. He notes, "Church leaders understood that if the message was inconsistent with the means by which it was communicated, then the message could easily get lost" (p.17). So, the very shape of the liturgy, together with its content, tells the gospel.

Not only does the shape of the liturgy tell the gospel, but the gospel drives our decisions about how we do worship. He writes, "Since our worship should have a gospel pattern and purpose, the only biblical way of prioritizing legitimate, but competing, worship concerns is to consider how our worship practices are consistent with our understanding of how we would present the gospel in our context" (p. 122).

Often, you will hear people (usually pastors) say that we do not come to worship to get, but to give God glory. In a chapter entitled, "Re-Presenting" CHrist's Story, Dr. Chapell cuts through this false-dilemna fallacy that pits God's glory against the needs of the people. As he notes, "Making God’s glory the exclusive goal of worship sounds very reverent but actually fails to respect Scriptures own gospel priorities" (p. 119). Instead, "Worship must be offered with concerns for God’s glory and the good of his people. Worship cannot be a reflection of the gospel without both concerns" (p. 121).

In his chapter on The Mission of Christ-Centered Worship, he develops this theme even further. In this chapter, Dr. Chapell gives some clear guidance to churches that have faced the worship wars. Too often, the debate has focused on personal preferences of musical style, with one group seeking to claim biblical superiority to the other. However, as Dr. Chapell points out, "If gospel priorities do not determine worship choices, then people’s preferences will tear the church apart" (p. 130). It is this focus on mission, realizing that the church has been placed by God in a particular context at a particular time, that should shape much of our stylistic decisions in worship.

One of the challenging issues that many churches face is how to blend people together from different generations. Dr. Chapell touches on this issue when he writes, "A church also has no future if leaders only consider how to minister to the present generation. We are mistaken, of course, to let our children determine what our worship should be; we are also mistaken not to consider how their children may need to worship" (p. 131).

Another controversy that faces many churches is, should the church minister to believers or to "seekers?" Chapell again points out that this is a false dilemna. He demonstrates, both from Scripture and church history, that the church has always had three audiences in mind in its worship services: the communicants (adult believers), the catechumens (children and new believers learning the faith), and seekers (those examining whether they will claim the truths of the gospel). He notes, "Being entirely “seeker-oriented” is not really an option for Christ-centered worship. But being “seeker-sensitive” is still an appropriate way to think about worship" (p. 139).

There is more that I can say, and will at a later date, but let me commend this book to you. It will help you think biblically about worship.