To Our Muslim Neighbors

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A week before we were supposed to light the candle of peace for advent, all kinds of atrocities were happening that were being attributed to Muslims. On top of that, famous people were saying horribly racist things against them and it seemed the world was living in fear. Since our church is located across the street from the only mosque in Jackson, one of our congregants told me they thought we should do something. I agreed, and so she ran out to buy some cards for the congregation to sign at church the next day while I ran out to get a fruit basket.

The next day we put the fruit basket and blank cards up on our communion table, lit the candle of peace a week early and I read aloud a letter we would be sending to our Muslim neighbors as a church body:

Dear Neighbors,

We felt God impress on our hearts to reach out to you, so we wanted to take a moment to send you a letter. We have witnessed the way that your community cares for and loves one another and it is a beautiful thing to see. Your mosque is not only a neighbor to our church, but many of those in your mosque are neighbors to many of those in our church. Our faith calls us to love our neighbors, and so that is part of the reason we write to you today.

Next week our faith traditionally practices lighting a candle that represents peace. As we approach this tradition, we wanted to send some peace your way as we know that both your race and religion have been under attack and profiled, especially in the past few weeks. We do not align ourselves with the statements made against you. In fact, we know all to well what it is like to have fellow Christians commit extremist acts in the name of Christ. In those moments we find ourselves saying, “No, this is not who we are!”

Included with this letter are the signatures of those in our congregation, all of us offering our love and peace to you this morning. You’ll also find a fruit basket, which we simply offer as a sign of support during these difficult times. Please let us know if there is any way we can help you in the future. We are here for you.

In Peace and Love,
Your Friends

As I finished reading the letter the congregation applauded loudly. We then opened up the communion table for everyone who wanted to come up and sign the letter. The aisle filled faster than ever before.

A few weeks later, on Christmas Eve, the mosque’s Imam stopped by the church to drop off a letter and present for our church. I left them sealed until the service that night. The church was deeply moved as I read their response aloud.

To Our Kind Neighbors,

This is in response to your kind comments we received, via letters and postcards, along with marvelous gifts. We want you to know that we have accepted your thoughts, prayers, and gifts with an open-heart and great pleasure.

We also want you to know we are proud of being a part of this beautiful community where we respect each other’s freedom, culture and religion. We established our mosque with the intention to not only bring peace and harmony, among our local Muslim brothers and sisters, but also to show to the community-at-large, how Islam is supposed to be practiced. We are really pleased to know that our neighbors have found us as peace-loving, law-abiding citizens.

Finally, please pay our highest regards to each and everyone who took their time to write their thoughts on postcards. We want them to know that we have read all of your comments and we share the same message for our neighbors. Rest assured as Muslim followers of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) we will continue to promote peace and love among the believers of different faiths in our community.

May God bless all of you from his unparalleled mercy and guidance.

Thank you.

God Bless America and the world-at-large.

Sincerely,
Your Neighbors

We then opened the present to find a giant box of chocolates. The church ate all of them following service.

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What the Church Can Learn from Jurassic World

The first time I saw Jurassic World I didn’t go to gain any kind of revelation—I simply went to see a movie. I know people are a bit split on this prehistoric thriller, but it has been one of my favorite movies released this year. So after having snagged it off of iTunes, I gave it another watch and walked away with a few thoughts pertaining to the church.

Art by Pixel Jeff


Bigger and Louder

“Our DNA excavators discover new species every year. But consumers want them bigger, louder, more teeth.”

If you haven’t seen the movie, the plot is pretty simple: scientists make their own dinosaur and it doesn’t work out too well for them. In order to keep their park financially afloat, they need new attractions that will continue to bring people in. In this fictional tale (note: fictional), people are quite familiar with dinosaurs and so they’re not attending the park as much as they used to. If consumers are really going to pay the money to make the trip to this dino-zoo, there had better be something more thrilling than a T-rex.

Enter the church. One day we realized that we weren’t communicating with modern culture much at all anymore. Our services were old and our numbers were declining. So in response we revolutionized our services. It started slow for the most part. We introduced drums and the electric guitar to our congregations (a few decades late I might add) and began to experiment with some new ideas.

But those new ideas evolved too quickly for us. Within a short amount of time we became all about entertainment. “If we are going to reach the lost with the message of Jesus, we are going to have to keep them coming,” we say. “So grab a few more secular songs that have a little bit of a spiritual tone to them. Also, let’s plot out this song to the metronome so we play it for exactly 3 minutes and 18 seconds before our 34 second prayer into the next song that’s 4 minutes and 32 seconds long. While we’re doing that let’s make sure we get an artist on the left side of the stage and a dancer on the right. Then let’s cut to a skit right before we head into the message. Do we have stage design done? Good. Pastor, you have 28 minutes and 12 seconds to get through your speech, then let’s hit them hard with a theme-matching song that will bring them to their knees. Oh, and band, you better have your hands in the air at that point. You’re leaders, dang it—so lead!”

Bigger and better often equals more teeth.

We hit a home run one week and then attempt to hit another home run the next that goes just a bit further than the last. And then the next week, we want to hit another one just a bit further than that. We literally burn ourselves out trying to impress and entertain people, all the while fueling our pride.

A life full of home runs is artificial and often there’s illegality involved to get there. In real life, sometimes you only made it to first base. Sometimes you bunt. Heck, sometimes you just get hit in the chest with a curveball and other times you straight-up strike out.

Church is not meant to be artificial. It’s not meant to be crack. It’s not meant to be bigger and better every week. And often when we go to these lengths, we add a few genetic modifications into what the church really is and suck the colostrum right out of milk we need to feed those entering into new life.

A youth group culture geared toward entertainment is not working. Face it: We cannot out-entertain the world. If discipleship programs hinge on amusement, they’ll come now but won’t stay later. Why would they? Believe it or not, kids crave depth. They want to grapple with theology. They’re malnourished from too much spiritual soda pop and they want wine. By attempting to attract them with cultural relevance the church accidentally became irrelevant. (Jen Hatmaker in For the Lovepg 101)

While this quote comes from a chapter aimed at children, many of us grown-ups are saying an amen because of our own experiences with the mega-church mentality that we tried out for a time. We’re tired of entertainment. We just want whatever church really is, no matter how difficult the real thing might be. We want to get away from this monster we’ve created.


People Are Not Numbers

“These are living, breathing animals, not numbers on a spreadsheet”

I’ve never been good at math and numbers. And I hate how they fit into church half the time. I mean, I get it—stats are stats, and in order to do ministry, they’re good to take a look at. But numbers are calculations, not people. And because our culture worships numbers for some reason, the church gets super confused about what it’s actually supposed to be doing.

My heart in pastoring has much been aimed at discipleship, and discipleship is an incredibly slow process that can’t really be charted. It relies completely on people, and seeing as how everyone is unique, there isn’t exactly a method in place that is comprehensive enough to fit every person. You figure out where people are at and you work with them from there.

Watching people grow is a joy to me and that’s why it internally ticks me off when I talk with just about anyone outside of our church.

“Oh, you’re a pastor? How many you running?”

“Probably around 60 during the school year.”

“Oh, I see. How long you guys been around?”

“About 4 years.”

“Oh. Well keep at it.”

I just had this conversation this past weekend. Twice. In one day. One person tried hard to disfigure their face and give me one of those, “We’ll be praying for you,” type responses.

Wait. Did you think I thought that 60 was bad or something? Because in my thinking I’m almost half-way to full capacity. I have no desire to ever go to two services. That’s just two different churches that are just going to segregate by age, race, and other cliques and preferences, only ever meeting up to awkwardly greet each other at quarterly events.

How many people can make up a healthy church community before it’s time to plant another church? How many people can a few pastors serve before they’ve stretched themselves way thinner than they should have? Maybe about 150 or so based on your neighborhood? That seems about right to me. At that point, perhaps it’s time to send some of your discipled congregation to start a new church in another strategic part of your area.

People are people, not numbers. They have real problems that don’t calculate. They have real growth that can’t be charted. They have real life that is demeaned when turned into math trophy for a pastor to carry.

Yes, of course there are healthy churches and sick churches and numbers can reflect that. But I guarantee you that numbers are not the determining factor. Yes, my church is smaller than most I’ve been a part of, but you know what? It’s also the healthiest church I’ve ever been a part of.

If the church continues to hail this mighty idol, expect our methods to come with more teeth as well.

Numbers are not the goal. If you make numbers the goal, you will do ungodly things to get there. (Dr. Ben Sigman, Free Methodist General Conference 2015)*


*To balance Dr. Signman’s quote, please note that he said this after speaking well of numbers, and stated it to balance out any extremist ideas.

Spiritualizing Pants

Sometimes the things we spiritualize are just downright laughable. Remember what the Pharisees said in Mark?

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (Mark 7:1-5)

We’ve all been scolded by a parent to wash our hands, but probably rarely by religious figures for religious reasons.

“Ah, Peter—I didn’t see you using soap! You don’t want to go to Hell do you?”

We laugh, but we do the same things. To quote Jesus who quotes Isaiah in Mark 7:7b, we teach “as doctrines the commandments of men.”

“When you come into church, you better be wearing your best. What are those there on your legs son?”

“Oh. They’re called blue jeans. It’s a new thing. Everybody’s doing it these days.”

We see examples like this and we laugh. The fact that we could be classified as good or bad Christians based off of if we washed our hands, brushed our teeth, or showered that morning is about as ridiculous as it gets. I mean, sure, good hygiene is a pretty good practice to have, but to spiritualize it is as odd as spiritualizing what kind of pants you wear.

But the truth is, we’ve all been there. We all know what it’s like to be so upset with a person that we judge them by the stupidest things. We all know what it’s like to call our enemies out on the most minuscule of actions. We all know what it’s like to intentionally look for problems in a person we’re not getting along with.

And we’re also familiar with the awkwardness we feel towards people who have different practices than us. Strangely enough, that awkwardness causes us to question if they’re really a good person or not in the first place. Why didn’t they wash their hands? Why aren’t they living under our traditions and practices and doctrines?

We can spiritualize pants, people!* When we embrace the ways of the Pharisees, we find that there is nothing under the sun that we can’t spiritualize and judge people for.

To quote Jon Foreman in Fiction Family, “Put your God badge down and love someone.”

*Note the comma. “Pants People” are not a thing—to my knowledge anyways.

Spirit-Led Worship

I got a chance to preach about letting the Holy Spirit invade our lives and church services at Revive Worship Conference this past week. Thanks to Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church for having the video available.

An Accountable Community

Today, I gave one of the harder messages I’ve ever given, but I believe I did so Biblically and at an appropriate time to do so. Take a listen if you want a good challenge and want to deal with some of the harder passages in the Bible.

They Are 1208 Greenwood

I have never known a group of Christians like those at 1208 Greenwood. Every one of them is truly spectacular. They are accepting and loving towards neighbors. They are passionate and eager to make an impact. They are courageous and intentional in their living. They are patient and smart when facing difficulty. They are diverse in race, age, and social life.

They embrace both structure and flexibility. They aren’t thrown off by the genre of worship or the various physical expressions of praise taking place in the room. They have no need to point out the spec in each other’s eyes because they are aware of the 2×4 in their own.

They dream of community gardens, meals for the poor, and small groups that leave an impact on the city. They desire to get involved to the point that they need to step back and make sure the other good and important things in their life fit as well.

They complain about next to nothing. Is the music too loud? Yes, but it’s not going to ruin their worship and they aren’t going to yell at the sound man. Are the children racing through the sanctuary left and right and not obeying anything they ask? Yes, but they are more concerned about loving them than teaching them a lesson.

They are more than a community. They are more than friends—they are a family. And like a loving family, they are there for each other even when they’ve let each other down. They climb back down into the pit of each other’s life even when it’s the hundredth time they’ve done so. They demonstrate the unconditional. When they err, they err on the side of grace.

They are all around the most unique church I have ever encountered and they show me who Christ is more and more, every week. I am a better person just being around them. They are what I aspire to be and an image of what I believe we as a church are to look like: the repaired and the broken; the weak and the strong; the poor and the rich; the starving and the hungry; the addicted and the free—and everything in between.

We are a group of believers that meet in an old radio factory on the corner of Greenwood and McNeal on the outskirts of downtown Jackson, Michigan. Our name is our address: we call ourselves 1208 Greenwood.

Singing New Worship Songs in Church

My following post is actually more or less a reaction to an article I read today which you can read for yourself here. In the article they make a lot of good points, but I varied a bit in opinion. He’s my response to it:

While I think these are good thoughts and I’m sure there’s truth to it, I wouldn’t agree with everything you’ve said due to my own experiences. Some people care about familiarity, others don’t. There is, I believe a balance that should be held. “New song overkill” is just that: overkill.

But in this article you said, “People can’t sing songs they’ve never heard. And with no musical notes to follow, how is a person supposed to pick up the tune?”

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While that statement seems to make sense, I noticed something strange last month. Our worship band played a song that I had written and only the band had heard it before—no one else. And yet so many people (specifically college students) picked up on it so quickly that when people (including my wife) found out that I had wrote it, they were confused. They figured they simply didn’t know the song because those college students were singing it so loudly from the get-go. They had no idea it was the first time anyone had heard it.

The way we do music in our churches today has definitely changed, but I think the generation who has grown up with that change has adapted to it. Those from an older generation and a traditional or evangelical church background didn’t latch onto the song I wrote as quickly as the somewhat charismatic/pentecostal-like college students did, but it still was sung and it still worked out great for worship.

I don’t believe today’s generation cares about having musical notes to follow. They pick up on songs all the time without it. They’re driving down the road listening to the radio and before the song’s half-way over they’ve already learned the chorus and the melodies to everything. Many young church-goers today are aural harmonists—they hear the music and they know how to reciprocate it. They feel it. They don’t need the music theory portion.

That especially hits home for me because I eventually had to drop out of my worship arts major in college partially due to the fact that I could not wrap my mind around music theory. I’ve never been good with math and numbers. But hand me an instrument and tell me to lead worship and I can do that like someone who knows the theory.

I add new songs into our worship sets all the time. I also, however, pay special attention to those songs the first 2-3 times we play them. Some catch on with the church easier than others and those ones stay. If they don’t catch on and I don’t feel a special calling to continue playing it, I’ll put it in the pile I don’t typically touch.