My Favorite Stuff of 2014

2014 ReviewIt’s no secret that I love year-end lists. I mean, come on. For someone perpetually interested in popular culture, it’s the most wonderful time of year. You get to see what other people liked and didn’t like. You get to be introduced to new things you would have otherwise missed. And you get your own disproportionate sense of self-worth inflated when the “real” publications agree with your great taste. What could be better?!

So, every year I not only read many year-end lists, I like to compile my own. It’s more for me than anyone else but I have found that some people find them interesting, so I post them for all the honest world to feel.

In keeping with last year, my list originally appeared at Habañero Collective. But I do want to take some of your megabyte space and add some elaboration  on some of my picks. I want to share some thoughts about a few of them. So, we’ll start with listing lists of lists:

My Favorite Music of 2014 (In Approximate Order)

  1. Modern Kin by Modern Kin

  2. Everything’s Different, Nothing’s Changed by Armon Jay

  3. Live In Ravenna by Moon Duo

  4. Sunday ’91 by Annie Eve

  5. Lost Colony by William Tyler

  6. Singles by Future Islands

  7. Dark Was The Yearling by the Bones of J.R. Jones

  8. Dark Night Of The Soul by Jimbo Mathus the Tri-State Coalition

  9. Our Lobe by Caribou

  10. Single Mothers by Justin Townes Earle

  11. You’re Dead! by Flying Lotus

  12. Heal by Strand of Oaks

  13. Lese Majesty by Shabazz Palaces

  14. Invisible Hour by Joe Henry

  15. Small Town Heroes by Hurray For the Riff Raff

  16. They Want My Soul by Spoon

  17. Forget Where We Were by Ben Howard

  18. Intensity Ghost by Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band

  19. Blind Water Finds Blind Water by Adam Faucett

  20. Way Out Weather by Steve Gunn

  21. Skinned Alive At The Last Exit by Shawn Skinner

  22. Benji by Sun Kil Moon

  23. Metamodern Sounds in Country Music by Sturgill Simpson

  24. Lateness of Dancers by Hiss Golden Messenger

  25. Lost In The Dream by the War on Drugs

My Favorite Song Of 2014 Was Not Released In 2014, Sorry
OK, OK, OK, I will go ahead and point it out but my favorite song of this year wasn’t actually released in 2014. This song first appeared on a live release from October 2013. There are unreleased demos of the upcoming Shawn Skinner and the Men of Reason album but those cannot be shared yet (but trust me, they are excellent).

But this song has meant more to me this year than any song actually released in 2014. This year has been one of some major transitions  (read here and here) and the themes in this song have meant quite a bit to me. Lines like: “letting go and holding on, not so young and not so strong. With no need to get ahead, just thankful for our daily bread. And even when the sunset seems so far away, you’ve got to hold out hope for a better day.”

There is something about this seeming contradiction about letting go of what you can’t control while holding on in faith that has really been my theme for 2014. The fact that this song was written by one of my favorite people on the planet who is not my wife makes it all the more powerful. There is hope, even when the daybreak seems so far away.

Stream “Letting Go and Holding On” by Shawn Skinner.



  • Read some thoughts on my list here.
  • Stream a mix of my favorite songs of the year right here:



The Weekly Town Crier

YeOldeTownCrierIsn’t that always the way? Instead of being thankful that I’m back with another installment of the Weekly Town Crier, all you can think about is that I missed last week and instead posted a video of Don Edwards yip yipping on the Facebook page instead.

Well why don’t you think of someone else for once in your life, alright?! I am a very busy person and, as much as I exist to serve you, I don’t always have enough time to do everything well. And, gosh dangit, if I can’t do it well, I’m not going to do it. That’s something I learned from my Dear Old Dad.

Well, I guess that implies that today’s Town Crier is excellent. That may or may not be the case. That’s up for you to decide.

You can buy my original pieces at my new Etsy shop and you can orderprints (framed or un) and shower curtains and duvet covers and such sundry items at my Society6 page.

It’s time again once again for the year-end list round-up.Year-End Lists, Year-End Lists, Everybody Loves Year-End Lists!:

  • Browse All Songs Considered‘s “Year In Music” roundup.
  • Browse American Songwriter‘s picks for the  “Top 50 Songs Of 2014″.
  • Browse Aquarium Drunkard‘s picks for 2014.
  • Browse AV Club‘s picks for the “Least Essential” albums of 2014.
  • Browse Christianity Today’s picks for books of the year.
  • Browse Consequence of Sound’s picks for the best live acts of the year.
  • Browse Consequence of Sound‘s picks for the best music videos of 2014.
  • Browse as the Drowned In Sound staff picks their top three of 2014.
  • Browse Drowned In Sound‘s picks for the best live sets of the year.
  • Browse Gorilla vs. Bear‘s list.
  • Browse Mojo‘s top 50 albums of 2014.
  • Browse Paste‘s top 50 albums of 2014.
  • Browse Paste’s top songs of 2014.
  • Browse Pitchfork‘s songs of the year.
  • Browse PopMatters’ picks for the best “Indie Rock” of 2014.
  • Browse PopMatters’ picks for the year’s best “Americana”.
  • Browse Rolling Stone‘s picks.
  • Browse Sterogum‘s picks.
  • Browse Time‘s favorite albums of the year.
  • Browse Time’s picks for the worst songs of the year.

Watch Bob Dylan perform a private concert for a single fan.

Watch Michael Stipe Reminisce About R.E.M. On CBS This Morning“. I don’t know about you, but there’s something disheartening seeing one of my favorite artists from my youth on CBS This Morning. I guess we all have to grow up sometime.

Pope Francis says dogs can go to heaven“.

Read “The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report that Invisible Children is shutting down.

Read this report that “Industrial band Skinny Puppy sent a $666,000 invoice to US Department of Defense for allegedly using its music to torture prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.”

Apparently, Doctor Who and Sherlock are both becoming theme park attractions.

Ever wonder “What Colour Is It” right now?

See 30 celebrity mugshots. Because celebrities are cool, right?!

Read Fact‘s report that one million plays on Spotify will get you $60.00. I’ve often wondered who is trying to make their living off of Spotify. I get the artist issues, but this is also one million plays you might not otherwise have gotten. Musician friends, help me out here.

Register to win a Big Star Box Set!

Read AV Club‘s report that Netflix is going to regularly announce which titles are coming and going.

Read as American Songwriter picks Crowded House‘s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” as its “Lyric Of The Week”.

Get your own A Tribe Called Quest sweater just in time for Christmas!

Read Stereogum‘s report that iTunes recently agreed to stop distributing some “white power” music while Amazon has declined to do so.

Watch a “mini documentary” on Future Islands.

Read about the Walking Dead spin-off that will take place in Los Angeles.

Some Year-End Music Thoughts

2014 ReviewWell hello there. Now that you’ve seen my list of favorite things of 2014, allow me to indulge myself and offer some expanded thoughts on some random pieces.

One of the things I appreciate is how subjective year-end lists really are. Who am I to say that these were “the best of the year”? These were my favorite things for sometimes very personal reasons. So why not pull back the curtain a bit and offer some insight behind the picks?

Eclecticricity
I know that it’s sort of cliché to point out how eclectic you are, but I really do love the fact that I live in a world where Sturgill Simpson and Flying Lotus play alongside William Tyler and Caribou. I love the fact that sites like Pitchfork (regardless of your thoughts about them) are helping to de-value the idea of genre boundaries. It used to be that people would listen to one genre of music and little else. I love that there is so much good music out there in so many genres.

Un-signed Artists
The appearance of Leon Bridges and Shawn Skinner underscores the face that we are seeing the music industry in the midst of an identity crisis. It used to be that I never would have even heard of artists like these without label support.

But the process of discovering new music has always been a social one for me. There are friends or publications that I learn to trust. The fact that record labels are becoming increasingly irrelevant means that this is all the moreso true. The “middle-man” and the taste-makers are becoming the gateway for many people. Be vigilant in finding new music! Find people you trust and people who challenge you. And let’s all discover new music.

A New Evangelical Ecumenicalism

10511268_10152952001991450_2281633900746319744_nOver the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the ideas surrounding “vocational ministry”. As I pointed out, I am not in a bad place at all, just one of public wondering. I would love to see some meaningful dialogue in the Christian community about some pretty fundamental issues like: has our pervasive model of “doing church” succeeded in making, maturing and multiplying disciples. If it has, great! Let’s find ways to improve. But, if it hasn’t . . . then we’ve certainly got problems with our cheeseburgers in paradise. I’m not a betting man, but if I were and if there were a market for betting on such things, I’d bet that, deep down, most Christian leaders would say we have a long ways to go in the area of actually encouraging and equipping people to resemble Jesus more and more.

When asking deep questions about the “how and why” of what many now consider to be “tradition” (it’s the way we’ve always done it!), we must continually walk the path of humility. It is easy to become bitter when recognizing our failures and it is certainly tempting to point out other people’s failures. It’s far too common for those who begin by asking good questions to end up with an “I’ve got it all figured out” attitude. Neither is helpful for biblical.

But it is also true that we will not grow without the humility to wrestle with our family issues, pushing ourselves and one another to mature, especially when we may not see eye to eye on everything. This certainly takes humility but it also requires open forums in which we may be forced to be a bit uncomfortable.

I am fortunate to live in Phoenix (I never thought I would say those words!) at this time because I am seeing a spirit of what I call “A New Evangelical Ecumenicalism”. Over the past several years I have seen pastors around the Valley coming together in cooperation for THE Kingdom rather than their individual kingdoms. I have lived in the Phoenix area most of my life and I can say that I have not seen anything like this here.

In fact, I have come to wonder whether we are seeing a new understanding of ecumenicalism. I have to clarify here that I am speaking from and about my own experience which has shaped my understanding. Somewhere along the line, I was led to a particular understanding of what “ecumenicalism” meant and why it was bad. It was thought that, since each tribe’s “hard borders” were its doctrines, and of course, our slice of the pie is the “right pie”, those whose borders are too far away from our own may not even be in the same country as us. In fact, they might just be our enemies.

In other words, different strands of Christianity were not pictured as separate but intertwining threads, they were seen as some sort of self-contained unit, a closed circle, which a gate (that group’s pet doctrines). To enter that group, you had to cross through that gate. All of this, of course, led to the idea that cooperating with another family of Christians who might have some different beliefs than us (forget whether or not both groups are well within “orthodoxy”, we just don’t like “other) meant shattering our borders and also compromising our beliefs.

This meant that, at least in my city, there has not always been a tremendous spirit of cooperation amongst local churches. In fact, you might even say that some pastors view other churches as competition and might even fit the description: “territorial”.

But I have been joyfully watching a new understanding of ecumenicalism (at least for my context) lead to a new practice of cooperation. Certainly all the churches of Phoenix do not agree on everything. We all have our own approaches and boundaries. But I think that the renewed emphasis of a missional understanding and practice of our faith has led us to give the border guards a break. That doesn’t mean we will sacrifice orthodoxy but it does mean that, in the words of Hirsch, Frost, and others, that we are seeing a willingness to move from a “bounded set” Christianity to a “centered set” faith.

Instead of viewing each of our individual camps as held together by the outer fences that divide us, what if we were all bound together by our mutual dependence on a well? Some may be closer or further from the well and many will come from many different directions, but we’re all heading to the well, which, of course is Jesus. If you and I are both trying to be closer to Jesus and made more like Him, why would I let our differences lead me into believing that we were not heading towards the same goal? What’s more, why wouldn’t I want to help you on your journey?

32358464-four-arrows-pointing-into-the-center Now, before I hear from the curmudgeons that are not me, I am not saying that everyone is a Christian. I do believe that, “Orthodoxy” eventually must have boundaries. That’s what makes one thing “Orthodox” and something else “Un-Orthodox”. For the sake of this conversation, I would point to the Great Creeds of our faith (the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creeds in particular). There are people who are outside of even the widest boundaries of accepted Christianity. But that’s not who I’m talking about.

I am seeing a lot of local Christian churches who once saw each other as closed-off encampments cooperate together without sacrificing orthodoxy. They may grow and mature (which, means, “GASP!” change) by interacting with one another, but as long as they’re all heading towards Jesus, they’ll be the better for it.

It’s encouraging people to see their differences as talking points rather than dividing lines. In other words, “unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things”.

Why Do We Make It So Difficult (03): Emotionalism/Performance, And, “I Don’t Feel Close To God”

Emotional-TradingOver the past week or so I’ve been wondering whether our current system of “American Church” actually makes our fundamental task (Make, Mature and Multiply Disciples) more difficult than it ought to be. We’ve looked at questions like: “What is the Call To Ministry” and we’ve examined why many seemingly qualified men often feel discouraged from ministry as well as the idea that our current system actually promotes passivity rather than active faith.

We’ve also taken a moment to point out that voicing questions/concerns does not mean that I’m bitter in any way. I’m really not. But I am in a place of wrestling with a lot of really big questions which I feel deserve open consideration and public dialogue.

Today I want to consider another issue that I’ve thought a lot about over the years. As you might guess, I wonder if there aren’t many ways in which our current system have actually made following Jesus more difficult than it was meant to be. I’ll be open and say that, though it’s been many years since I’ve read Neil Postman’s essential Amusing Ourselves To Death (seriously, if you haven’t read it, please do so), his notion that “the medium is the message” has stuck with me as I’ve considered American Evangelicalism both as a pastor and church planter.

I have come to wonder whether the very systems we have adopted are actually distracting from discipleship. I believe that one of the main places where we see this disconnect is given birth in our Sunday Gatherings but matures in personal quiet times. Let me explain.

Though there are certainly exceptions, I’ve come to wonder whether American Evangelical “worship gatherings” can be separated from emotional appeals. The very notion of our Sunday gatherings has borrowed so much from the entertainment industry that I’m not sure they can be separated. We borrow our seating structure from entertainment venues, with the “crowd/congregation” seated as spectators and the “leaders” on a stage with cool lighting and a professional speaker. I’ve been to worship gatherings that were indistinguishable from rock concerts and that should be at least a bit disconcerting.

Many people describe their favorite concerts as “religious experiences”. There is something special about losing yourself in the moment to the power of music/crowd/shared experience. But I wonder how much of that we have set out to re-create in our Sunday gatherings. The most famous “worship leaders” are often the ones who can most consistently get an emotional reaction. The most famous preachers are also those who are typically the best public speakers. We have come to believe that the most “effective” worship gatherings are those during which we were most emotionally moved.

This, of course, carries over into the personal Christian Life. We have come to believe that we are most close to God when we “feel” most close to God. Our “most powerful” quiet times are those that are the most emotional. In other words, though it begins with our production/performance based Sunday gatherings, it certainly extends to our personal spiritual disciplines. We have have come to equate spiritual growth with emotional experiences.

I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me as a leader and said that they just “don’t feel moved” in their quiet times, so they must not be “close to God”. I get it. I mean, there are times in marriage when you “feel” closer to your spouse, but (hopefully), your commitment does not waiver when the emotion is not there. Yet, somehow, we have come to believe that our faith is in danger when our emotions aren’t moved.

If the medium is the message, as Postman asserts, then many of the ways we have adopted in following God owe more to American entertainment culture than with genuine faith. If emotionalism can weave and wane in a marriage, surely we will not always have an emotional response in worship or Bible reading/prayer. And I’m not so sure this should be as much of a concern to us as it seems to be.

In fact, the more we equate emotional experience with spiritual experiences (which are, undoubtedly often emotional), we are setting ourselves up for a never-ending cycle of theatricalism in our churches. Once a specific church hits a “dry spell,” many might head to the church down the road who has the “fresh experience”. When we don’t always feel “moved” in our quiet times, we will be tempted to substitute time with God’s Word for time with things that tug on the heart strings.

Many of us have wholeheartedly devoted ourselves to the chase of emotional experience while we hope that spiritual growth will follow. But what if spiritual growth is not always accompanied by emotional experiences? I have grown the most in some churches many would consider “dry” simply because I was regularly encouraged to place myself in an encounter with God’s truth. The speakers weren’t always dynamic nor the music moving but the truth was impressed in my heart.

I worry that by adopting so much of our systems from the entertainment industry, we have communicated that “church” is just another form of entertainment. Hopefully you’ll grow during the performance, but at least you’ll leave wanting more.

It has become so confusing that I have to wonder what it might look like to remove the performance aspect from our Sunday gatherings. Is it even possible any longer? And, while there is certainly an emotional equation to our faith, God’s move will always produce emotional responses in His people, but I’m just not sure that emotional experiences will produce the movement of God. Have we muddied the waters and made it more difficult than it was ever meant to be?

Just In Time For Christmas!

Holiday At The Sea Fine Arts

Self-promotion is always a difficult thing. But if you’re going to pursue what you love, I suppose it comes with the territory, right? I mean, after all, if you believe in you’re doing, you’ll want to promote it, right? You’ll want others to share in the delight a pursuit brings you.

Or something like that.

I don’t know.

I started creating art pieces as a form of self-therapy/relaxation. Because I’m an American Narcissist I posted them online and I received some positive feedback. This positive feedback stimulated the pleasure zones in my brain and made me want to put more art into the public sphere so that I could feel better about myself. Then people started asking where I was selling my pieces and I began to feel really good about myself, so who am I to argue with the masses? I’m just here to give the people what they want. I’m here to serve. You called down the art, now get out your checkbook.

OK, not really.

But seriously, you can buy my original pieces at my new Etsy shop and you can order prints (framed or un) and shower curtains and duvet covers and such sundry items at my Society6 page.

Yes, all of your holiday wishes can come true.

 

 

 

 

The Weekly Town Crier

YeOldeTownCrierDon’t call it a comeback . . . well, I guess you could call it a comeback, seeing as how I haven’t done any version of the Weekly Town Crier for a very long time.

So welcome to the Weekly Town Crier’s comeback! This is where I gather mildly interesting articles and such to suck away time from your real life and the things you should actually be doing. It’s all part of a vast conspiracy to keep the population from rising up and paying attention for a change. Who knows what might happen if the sleeping giant was akoken.

Some weeks there will probably be more weeks. Other weeks there may be less. Deal with it.

Welcome one, welcome all.

Buy my art (please).

See pictures of the “Black Seadevil.”

Browse Paste‘s list of “The 30 Best Sitcoms on Netflix Streaming”.

Browse AV Club‘s list of “13 shows that reference their own cancellation”.

Listen to Bob Dylan’s first audio interview in 10 years.

Watch the only color concert footage of The Velvet Underground.

Read Slate‘s report: “Americans Now Drink More Craft Beer Than Budweiser.”

Read All About Jazz‘s interview with Daniel Lanois.

Well golly gee dan wilickers I love year-end list time. And guess what?! It’s time for the year-end lists to list themselves:

  • Browse All Songs Considered‘s “Year In Music” roundup.
  • Browse American Songwriter‘s picks for the  “Top 50 Songs Of 2014″.
  • Browse AV Club‘s picks for the “Least Essential” albums of 2014.
  • Browse Consequence of Sound’s picks for the best live acts of the year.
  • Browse Consequence of Sound‘s picks for the best music videos of 2014.
  • Browse as the Drowned In Sound staff picks their top three of 2014.
  • Browse Drowned In Sound‘s picks for the best live sets of the year.
  • Browse Gorilla vs. Bear‘s list.
  • Browse Mojo‘s top 50 albums of 2014.
  • Browse Paste‘s top 50 albums of 2014.
  • Browse Paste’s top songs of 2014.
  • Browse PopMatters’ picks for the best “Indie Rock” of 2014.
  • Browse PopMatters’ picks for the year’s best “Americana”.
  • Browse Rolling Stone‘s picks.
  • Browse Sterogum‘s picks.
  • Browse Time‘s favorite albums of the year.
  • Browse Time’s picks for the worst songs of the year.

Browse Flavorwire‘s “Official Formula for Boring End-of-Year Album Lists”.

See Africa’s first underwater hotel.

 Listen as NPR’s Here and Now profiles St. Paul and the Broken Bones.

You can now order Girl Scout cookies online.

Stream a new Sleater-Kinney song.

Read this report that Ridley Scott is considering directing a Blade Runner sequel.

Stream a new Purity Ring song.

Browse as Yahoo ranks Pandora’s holiday stations.

Read about Kathleen Edwards quitting music to open a cafe.

Read an interview with composer Terry Riley.

Watch Larry King interview “Progressive Christian” Jay Bakker.

Apparently, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is adapting Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman into a movie.

Watch Prince make a surprise appearance with a jazz band to cover the Beatles.

Read as Justin Taylor highlights Martin Luther King Jr.’s response to the idea that you can’t change heart’s through legislation.

Browse the first round of Grammy nominees.

Read Habañero Collective‘s report that AZ rabble rousers Some Dark Hollow have finally released their EP.

Why Do We Make It So Difficult (02)? Missional Living And The Plague Of Passive Christians

cemetery-church-416587-mOver the past ew months, I’ve thought a lot about various aspects of the way we “do church” in America. Though there are certainly variations on a theme, many if not most American Evangelicalism churches look pretty much the same. Though one may have “young adult contemporary with a hint of edginess to attract the Millennials” style worship while the church down the road maintains “traditional values”, chances are, the basic structure of what they do, (order of worship, ministry structure, classes offered, etc.) is probably pretty similar. You can repaint the barn all you want but it’s still a barn.

The other day I considered whether the American approach to “church” tends to exclude otherwise qualified men or whether I’m just a curmudgeon. By the way, I did get one vote for curmudgeon from a friend on FB, so that is still a real possibility. Just like I have come to wonder whether or current models of ministry tend to favor certain personality types over others, I wonder whether the current model of church has actually hindered rather than fostered discipleship. The primary thing Christians have been called to do may actually be stunted by our approach to try and fulfill the commands of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

While I love that there are exceptions, the general rule seems to be that the American church produces passive Christians. I have been part of the missional conversation since I was encouraged by my Acts 29 Assessment team to attend Soma School in 2008. Since then, I have been challenged to actively live out my faith and I have given my life to equip others to do the same. We tried to plant a church that would require people to participate. We have participation in our sermons. We are structured around Missional Communities, we limit our church programs, etc. After all, Paul is very clear that it is the people of the church who are to be responsible for the majority of its ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13).

And we have seen God change people’s lives! We have seen people not only learn their neighbors’ names but build relationships with them. We have seen families open up their homes for foster care and adoption. We have seen people learn to identify and de-throne the idols they worship. We have seen people increase in love for God and others.

But it has been a slow and sometimes discouraging process. It has meant that we have to be sensitive to the fact that many people are simply not accustomed to their local church expecting a lot (other than maybe money and volunteer time) from them. Jesus certainly gave people pause before following Him, reminding them to count the cost. Following Jesus will often cost us in life because Jesus expects our entire lives to be devoted to Him. The local church is the avenue in which and through which we live out this life-encompassing call. If you are never challenged or made uncomfortable by your church, you might have reason for concern.

God’s people have been blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2). God calls us to bless the cities in which we live, even if we feel captive (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Jesus  calls His people “salt and light” (Matthew 5:13-16). But I often meet Christians and pastors who feel like they just don’t know how to tangibly live out their faith.

Why have we made it so difficult for Christians to actively live out their faith in natural, unforced ways in everyday life? Why have we made it so difficult for so many Christians to talk openly and welcomingly about their faith? Why have we made it so difficult that throwing parties and serving others seems so unnatural? Why have we made it so difficult for people own their own spiritual growth?

I have come to believe that many of the challenges American Christianity faces are a direct result of the methods we have adopted in living out our faith. These methods have actually created a culture of passive Christians who need to be awoken, energized and equipped to put feet to their faith.

Though there are certainly other factors, I think that at least a few reasons we seem to pump out passivity, such as:

Theology (or lack thereof) of Place: American Evangelicalism generally seems to have a poor theology of place. Instead of challenging commuter culture, we have adopted it wholesale. We have removed most churches from their local context. Sure their property sits in a particular geographical area but it is increasingly rare for those surrounding communities to feel that the church is a blessing.

We need to regain and live out the notion that faith is put in to practice in everyday life. Local churches should be involved in their local communities. If we have been blessed to be a blessing, our communities should have tangible blessings to point out. Instead, they complain that our mega-services cram up the traffic and we take tax breaks from our communities rather than pouring in to the city.

The issue here is probably bigger than just a theology of place.

A n0n-holistic Gospel Leads to Christian Isolationism: Though the Evangelists and Revivalists of recent ages past certainly meant well, American Evangelicalism seems to have learned from them that the salvation of souls is the most important thing. But if all of creation has been affected by sin, surely the Gospel impacts and will someday redeem all of creation. The Gospel is not about getting in to heaven when we die, it is about living out the Kingdom here and now.

One practical result of this disconnect is directly tied to our poor theology of place. Not only have we disconnected the local church from its neighborhood, the separation of salvation from everyday life has only led to the fact that Christians like to clump together, removing ourselves from the “secular” world. We create our own sports leagues, reading clubs, etc. It is entirely possible for a Christian to have no contact whatsoever with those who believe and live differently. We can eat Christian toast, listen to Christian radio on our way to our Christian job, having lunch at the Christian coffeeshop, and then go to Bible study before going to bed.

As Francis Chan says in Crazy Love  (a book itself devoted to shaking Christians from passivity):

“Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly.”

Christians were never meant to separate themselves from the rest of the world (John 17). Not only does isolationism separate us from those who don’t yet believe, it increases passivity. Though I may be challenged on the certain nuances of particular ideas, when I’m surrounded by those I generally agree with, stagnation is usually close by.

The Professionalization of the Pastorate Has Led to Poor Equipping: Though Paul clearly say the five-fold ministry as given to the church to equip Believers for the work of the ministry, we have relegated this “work of the ministry” to those paid to do it. Instead of viewing themselves primarily as equippers, many pastors are forced to live as doers. Part of this is related to the fact that seminary is probably not the best way to train equippers and we primarily seem to have seminaries in general because we wanted legitimacy from the academic world, but I am digressing and hope to address some of those issues later.

The very fact that John Piper (regardless of your thoughts on him and his ministry) felt the need to write a book called Brothers, We Are Not Professionals reminds us that this is indeed a real issue amidst American Evangelicalism. Many Christians have adopted passivity because they have come to believe that that’s what they pay others to do. And, instead of encouraging people to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth, we have turned spiritual growth over to the professionals.

Consumerism and An Entertainment Culture: Very few would argue that American culture has not willingly gift-wrapped itself in consumerism and the desire to be entertained. But, as Neil Postman has pointed  out, the medium is the message. Our news shows are more scripted drama than simple reporting of events. And our worship gatherings are often more about entertainment than they are equipping Believers.

As Hirsch and Frost and others have pointed out, the very fact that our congregations are lined up in rows facing a stage means that the gathering will typically mean a passive audience. Top this off with the unhelpful aspects of “seeker sensitive churches” and we have many churches that will adopt the “USA Today” model of preaching, never challenging above a seventh-grade level. The music is led by slick emotionalists and the message is delivered by a professional public speaker.

Another side of this is the self-righteously Reformed folk who have adopted the notion that the sermon is the time for lessons in doctrine and the transfer of information. I was heard a famous preacher say, more than once, that if a pastor wasn’t spending 40 hours a week in their study, they had no business stepping behind a pulpit. While not necessarily entertainment driven, this approach certainly promotes passivity rather than engagement.

As I said the other day, I am not bitter towards the church. But I am in a personal place where I feel the need for public dialogue. Over the years, I have asked hundreds of people if they thought the American church was rocking it at actually making, maturing and multiplying disciples. I have not had a single person say that they think we’re doing a great job. That should prompt some deep self-reflection and some really big discussions.

As Einstein reminded us, insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Even though we have painted the barn lots of different colors over the years, it is still a barn. If our current system does not excel at the one main task to which we have been called and, in fact may have not only discouraged some men from serving but encouraged passivity, (and I am open to the fact that you may have had a different experience and that I may actually be wrong) we need the humility to talk openly about our shortcomings.

Make A Difference By Building Community

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 6.34.12 AMI know you want to make an impact with your life. I know you want to make a difference by creating community. You’re just wondering where such an opportunity like this might fit in your crazy life, right? Right.

If you’re in the Phoenix area, please join me tonight to find out how you can make a difference and get discounted rent by simply being there for people. This is an amazing opportunity to make a difference in apartment communities throughout the Valley.

We place teams of two (called CARES Teams) in apartment communities. CARES Teams live onsite, with significantly reduced rent, and help the apartment owner create community by welcoming new residents, hosting monthly events, and CARE-ing for neighbors in need. This helps apartment owners with retention, marketability, and overall satisfaction, making it a wise business move.

Here’s a quick video with more information about Apartment Life. If you want to apply to become a CARES Team, please take a minute to fill out our Information Form online.

Find out more and RSVP for tonights event on Facebook.

I am also available to do informational meetings at your church for others who are ready to make a difference.

Let’s Pause For A Concern About Concerns

CONCERNI am a verbal processor. I know that sounds like I’m saying I’m a computer, but I glean a lot by throwing ideas out and working through the feedback they generate. I like to present ideas as questions, often holding back my own personal opinion until I’ve had a chance to look at it from several different angles after gathering some feedback.

This is fine in and of itself, but but it can sometimes lead to some confusion and misperception. Lately, I have been “thinking out loud” about a number of ministry-related issues, from my resignation, to the call to ministry, my own personal experience, and whether or not the current model of American church actually hinders some otherwise qualified men from the ministry.

Taken as a whole, I realize that it might seem like I am having some struggles, doubts or jaded feelings. In fact, last night I received an e-mail from someone I respect very much expressing concern that it seems like I am wrestling with some pretty dark thoughts towards the church in a pretty public forum. I appreciated this e-mail because I sometimes don’t stop and consider how my verbal processing approach might mean that it sounds like I’m just unloading a bunch of complaints. Nothing could be further from the truth (at least in intent) so if I have come across as negative or biting, please forgive me and please don’t hesitate to point it out.

So, with that being said, I want to take a moment and just throw a few things out there for consideration:

  • The views expressed here are entirely my own. I do not speak here for the people/leaders of Church of the Cross. I hope that’s a given but let’s state it clearly anyways. This is my personal website containing personal views and opinions. I love my Church of the Cross family dearly but as with any family, there are often very different perspectives. We find beauty when we find ways to express those opinions in exchange for thoughtful dialogue and we all grow in the process. But your crazy uncle does not speak for you. And, on this website, I do not speak for Church of the Cross.  When I have written something that does speak for the Church of the Cross family, it has appeared on the Church of the Cross website.
  • Church of the Cross is healthy and has not been the impetus for the questions and concerns raised so far. Please do not read into my ramblings that I am frustrated with Church of the Cross in any way. Due to God’s leading through life’s circumstances, it is just time for me to step aside. I am not upset. In fact, I believe that CotC is an extremely healthy church and I don’t just say that because I planted it. My family and I plan on staying. They are family and most of my philosophizing is not about them, our structure, our leadership, etc. My comments from life in the American church as a whole and from relationships. In fact, just so you know, yesterday’s piece questioning whether the American model of church is geared more towards certain personalities was prompted by the experience of several friends rather than my own experience. If the piece had a heavy tone it was because I hurt for these friends.
  • I can only speak from my experience. I realize that many people have had terrific experiences with the mainstream American church. God uses all kinds of churches for His glory and our good. Voicing concerns about mainstream practices is not the same thing as discounted your experience or the people behind it. But God often uses broken things and through years of personal experience in various churches and church culture, I have come to believe that we need to start talking openly about what may be broken. If your experience has led you to different conclusions, let’s compare them and learn together. Part of the reason I put stuff in the public sphere is because I need to hear from people with different experiences.
  • Humble dialogue is necessary for the church to grow. That will certainly mean that we must own “our” collective shortcomings  and strive to correct them. But that means that we must openly discuss whether the typical American church succeeds at making, maturing and multiplying disciples. If so, great, let’s just perfect the status quo. But if not, then we’ve got some BIG discussions to have. That means that concerns will be raised but egos should not. We should believe the best of all and our speech, even when raising concerns, should convey a heart of unity. Concerns and corrections must be filtered through love. That is a difficult task, and one that I often fail at.
  • I too often speak from cynicism rather than optimism. Please forgive me.

I hope this helps set a healthy tone for open dialogue about real concerns. I am wrestling with some pretty big questions about the way we, the “American church as a whole” do things. I could certainly be asking the wrong questions and coming to wrong conclusions so that’s where I’d love for you to chime in. Let’s help each other grow.