Here’s what matters: hordes of American Christians are far less committed to their local church because they are committed to doing “kingdom work.” Kingdom for many means the bigger things God is doing in this world. A proper kingdom theology leads people to the middle of the church, not away from it. So it makes a difference when church is on the decline and people are saying they are committed to the kingdom but not so much to the church. You can’t have kingdom without church.

New Songs Worth Singing: This I Believe (The Creed)

The other day on Twitter, Seedbed and I were included in a request to feature new songs that are coming out that would be worth leading in a congregational setting. So I’ve decided to try to do just that. There are a ton of songs coming out all the time, and this may help some of you worship leaders/designers find new songs that are worth singing in your churches. 

This week: Hillsong’s This I Believe (The Creed)

When I first listened to this album, this track (which opens the album) caught me completely off-guard. Not because I had never heard anything like it (for a lot of Hillsong stuff sounds almost eerily similar), but because I had already heard it so many times before. As the subtitle of the song implies, the (Apostle’s) Creed is the foundation of the song. That means that this song is inherently both confessional and doctrinal. The song names core truths of the orthodox Christian faith, but does so in a way that we (as a congregation and individuals) sing them as a confession of our faith. This was a very strong choice by writers Ben Fielding and Matt Crocker. 

And we need more songs like this. Why?

1. They teach the congregation what it means (and has meant historically) to believe. The global church has stood on these truths for centuries, through all forms of prosperity and despair, blessing and persecution. These revelations anchor us in the story and person of God, for they are what God himself has revealed to us about who God is and what God has, is and will do. 

2. They teach the congregation to believe what we confess. It is not enough to know the tenets of our faith; we must live by faith in them. What does it mean to believe in the virgin birth? To believe in the holy church? In the resurrection (meaning both Jesus’ and ours)?  As we lead the church in Creedal-based songs, we are asking them, “Is this your faith? Because this is our faith!”

3. They teach the congregation how to confess what we believe. In many ways, the creeds of the church formed in the knife-fight of the early theological debates in the church. The nature of God, of Christ, of the story of God - all of these doctrines saw heresies raise up to challenge them, and the creeds, in many ways, were created for the church as an apologetic of the faith. These are Christianity 101, and creeds teach us how to name what we believe in the midst of a world filled with heresies. 

How I Would Use This Song In The Church

First, I structure all of our service at Hope around the basic rhythm of Gather-Reveal-Respond-Send. You can learn more about that from reading worship theologians like Robert Webber (or the super-practical book The Worship Architect by Constance Cherry). All of the components of our services aim to join God in doing one of these four things (If you want to hear more about that, let me know and I’ll type up some basics). 

This song can fit in any one of the four moves mentioned above:

  • It can function to gather the people of God together by naming the markers of our faith community (we believe X - this is who is gathering). 
  • It can function in the part of the service where God’s word is central (revelation), as it name how God has revealed himself and his works to us, though this might be the toughest fit of the four. 
  • It can function as a confessional response to the Word, as we sing together of our faith in the person and works of God. 
  • It can remind us of who we are as we are sent, though you would want to pastorally frame this as a sending song if you chose to use it as such. 

My leanings as a leader, though, would be in either the gathering or the response section of the service. It could also be used in a series where the basics of the faith were going to regularly be discussed and unpacked. 

Let me know what you think. And if there are albums/songs you’d want me to look at. 

Four Big Ideas from New Room 2014

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(pic by @katieheckel via twitter. I am not sure if she sketched these ideas, but it is fantastic work!)

Last week, the fine folks at Seedbed hosted the New Room Conference in Franklin, TN, and I had the honor not only to attend, but to help lead worship in a few ways. It has been a long time since I’ve been to a conference like this. It was part family reunion, part Wesleyan camp meeting, and full of people who deeply desire to see renewal in their lives and their churches, as well as the world around them. Actually, if I could use one word to describe the people who attended New Room, it would be “hungry” - hungry for a fresh move of God, hungry for the Word of God to resound in hearts, hungry and humble and attentive to the move of the Spirit. 

In the upcoming weeks, Seedbed will release audio and some video from the conference, but until then, I wanted to share some of my big takeaways from the conference, both for the sake of sharing and the sake of processing some of the deep truths we explored further:

1. Christianity begins and ends with love. Dr. Joe Dongell, one of my New Testament professors at ATS, invited us into his journey of revisiting the complete writings of John Wesley over the past few years.  He began to see a theme in Wesley’s writings that he didn’t really want to acknowledge, but because it was so pervasive in every part of Wesley’s thought, he actually indexed all 14 volumes of his works to tease this thread out.

The theme? Love.

Despite the sentimentality attached to the term and the numerous ways “love” has lead into heresy, pluralism and loads of other theological problems, for Wesley love was the beginning and end of our faith. Love is more than an emotion (thus the use of the word agape over other words for love in the NT), and contrary to our cultural leanings, love is something deeper than our actions (meaning love is NOT primarily a verb). If the cross is a demonstration of God’s love, God’s loving actions stem from the much deeper love that is a part of God’s very essence.

All love, then, is a gift from God. And the only loving things done for others are those that draw from this gifted love to act. For we love only because we were first loved. How many seemingly loving actions could be done in our world, even in our churches and homes, that do not stem from this given love of God? It is scary to think about. 

Dongell also emphasized how this Wesleyan prerogative leads followers of Jesus to recognize their deep need to abide in the love of God. Love cannot be diffused to the world that has not first been infused into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Our capacity for love, mission, and holiness will only be limited by our willingness to be deeply loved by our missional and holy God. 

2. Incarnation is the mode of ministry our world needs most. We had a couple of different interactions with Alan and Debra Hirsch at New Room, and their overarching message was simple: if you are not willing to do the work of incarnation alongside people, you are not willing to do what Jesus would do. The act of positioning and posturing yourself among those you are called to reach is missiology 101. We can no longer expect people in our communities to do the work of crossing boundaries to come into our churches. We must take up the uncomfortable work of being all things for all people. 

In a way, one of the other amazing talks at New Room emphasized the same ideas. Justin Wise taught on social media and its role in our churches, and simply noted that social media is part of our world’s native tongue now. If we refuse to speak it, we are like missionaries who refuse to learn the tongue of the people we live among. 

The big question we kept hearing was, “To whom are you being sent?” How you answer that questions will tell you a lot about what it means specifically to be incarnational in your context. (For me, it might mean watching more UK basketball. I hope not.)

3. Love the Word for yourself. Jessica LaGrone brought a simple and powerful message to us about learning to love the Word again. In a world where there are more devotional materials and bible studies than every before, we have a more and more biblically illiterate church everyday. This could be, in part, because we are looking to others to do for us what we are actually called to do ourselves: to learn to and then read the Bible for ourselves. In her words, “If you were a matchmaker, and you made a successful paring, you would not continue with the couple on the date. You would leave so the magic could happen. So why do we keep looking for the middle man in our relationship with God’s Word?”

4. Systems have to learn to repent, not just people.  Alan Hirsch also talked about how systems die when they do not learn to un-learn and re-learn in the face of the problems they face. This is repentance: turning from what we know to be false or fatal and embracing what is true and life-giving. Churches and institutions, and leaders as well, have to be able to un-learn and re-learn if they are going to grow and change. Your system is perfectly designed to achieve exactly what it is achieving; if anything more will come, you must repent and change. 

There are a number of other things I am still processing from the conference, but these ideas were huge for me. When the audio/video posts from Seedbed, I will make sure to post links so you can connect with some of these ideas for yourself.