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Carrie Dedrick

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My (very traditional) church just recently installed two 80-inch screens in the sanctuary. One is in the front, for the congregation to see, and the other is in the rear of the church facing the choir. 

The decision to install the screens came after a “Technology Committee” met periodically for three years to determine what technology best suited the church’s needs, then pitched the idea of screens to the congregation, who voted to spend thousands of dollars on the project. 

The screens are now used to scroll church announcements before the service begins, to display Scripture as it is read, to show photos of mission trips and service work, and can be used to play videos that complement the sermon. 

There is one thing the screens do not do: Show the lyrics of the hymns we sing. 

It would certainly be possible for the video screens to display the lyrics of “Amazing Grace,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” but they won’t because the church found it of utmost importance to continue to use our hymnals. 

A physical copy of a hymnal might not seem that important when you can display the same words of a song on a screen. However, when we cast aside our copies of hymnals in favor of technology, we lose more than some dusty old paper. 

Blogger Tim Challies writes that his church is one of the many that has put away their hymnals for good. And while this is not inherently sinful or wrong, he points out that there is value in taking note of what is lost when technology takes the place of tradition. 

1. You lose an established body of songs. 

Challies writes, “Hymnals communicated that a church had an established collection of songs. This, in turn, communicated that its songs were vetted carefully and added to its repertoire only after careful consideration. After all, great songs are not written every day and their worth is proven only over time.”

There is something to be said about having songs documented for years and generations. Another church I attend uses the PowerPoint method, and while I truly enjoy the songs, I couldn’t even tell you most of the titles (and I am on the worship team!). 

2. You lose a deep knowledge of your songs.

“As we add new songs with greater regularity, we sing old songs with less frequency. This reduces our familiarity with our songs so that today we have far fewer of them fixed in our minds and hearts,” Challies writes. 

New songs are great, but that doesn’t mean we should lose the old ones. When the old ones are catalogued in hymnals, they are less likely to be forgotten altogether. 

3. You lose the ability to do harmonies. 

This is the reason that my church said that our shiny, new screens would not be used for singing. We are a church that still reads music and harmonizes. The congregation as a whole felt it was important that we keep this part of our identity, despite introducing our church to the 21st century. 

As Challies says, “Hymns were most often written so they could be sung a cappella or with minimal instrumentation. For that reason, hymnals almost invariably included the music for both melody and harmonies and congregations learned to sing the parts.” 

4. You lose the ability to sing skillfully. 

With the loss of the hymnal comes the loss of reading music. And with the loss of reading music comes meager worship. 

“We tend to compensate for our poorly-sung songs by cranking up the volume of the musical accompaniment. The loss of the voice has given rise to the gain of the amplifier. This leads to our music being dominated by a few instrumentalists and perhaps a pair of miced-up vocalists while the larger congregation plays only a meager role,” Challies writes. 

5. You lose the ability to have the songs in your home.

Challies says, “Hymnals usually lived at the church, resting from Monday to Saturday in the little pockets on the back of the pews. But people also bought their own and took them home so the family could have that established body of songs there as well.”

My parents still have a hymnal in their home, even though their church switched to screen-singing years ago. I would often (badly) bang out the tunes on the piano, but my grandmother (the church organist) would play them as they were intended to be played. But the loss of the hymnal would make family worship look very different today. 

As I said before, your church has not sinned if you’ve already packed away the hymnals. As long as you are still singing and worshiping God, you’re obeying Scripture. 

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” (Psalm 100:1-2)

Crosswalk.com contributor Dawn Wilson writes, “...singing in church is powerful to help unbelievers know more about God and His ‘wondrous works’ (Psalm 105:1-2), but it also builds up the Body of Christ. We are strengthened as we hear people confessing truth together, taking on the enemy together. Singing builds unity with purpose. 

“It’s not the style, but the focus of the song that unites believers. Jesus, our Savior, must be at the center of our singing. He is to occupy the core of our worship, because He is the reason we can praise.”

 

Carrie Dedrick is an editor of Crosswalk.com. When she is not writing or editing, she can usually be found teaching dance classes, running marathons, or reading with at least one adopted dog on her lap. 

Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/Ingram Publishing

Truth has always been of utmost importance to the Christian faith. After all, Jesus calls Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

However, in a postmodern culture steeped in relativism, subjective truth, and now “alternative facts,” it can be extremely challenging to not only remain grounded in the truth of Scripture, but also to fight for that truth, to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).

Writing for Relevant Magazine, Aaron Ross encourages Christians to continue contending for truth within a secular culture that is often diametrically opposed to the uncompromising aspects of Christianity.

In his article “Christians Must Fight to Protect Truth--Now More Than Ever,” Ross mentions two covers of TIME magazine. The two covers ask “Is God Dead?” and now, in a follow-up issue, “Is Truth Dead?”

This questioning of God and truth is indicative of our secular culture, Ross writes, and is all the more reason Christians need to know clearly what they believe and know how to defend it in the best way.

“Truth cannot be anymore dead than God is dead, because all truth is God’s truth,” Ross writes.

We, as Christians, are convinced that God is not only alive, but powerful and working in the world and in our lives. We also believe that Jesus and the Bible are the ultimate source of Truth.

The goal, writes Ross, is to know how to live out this belief and communicate this truth with integrity. Sometimes, in our efforts to convince others of our point of view, we can give in to the temptation to use “alternative facts,” to manipulate data, history, or even personal experience to better fit our argument.

Although this may seem like an ends-justifies-the-means situation and may seem to help defend the truth in the short run, in the long run this will hurt our witness.

Christian professor, writer, and pastor Ed Stetzer gets at this point in his recent article “Facts are Our Friends: Why Sharing Fake News Makes Us Look Stupid and Harms Our Witness.”

Stetzer’s article particularly focuses on politics, but is relevant for all aspects of life. He notes the importance of integrity for Christians:

“Integrity should matter for Christians, but too often it does not. Scripture is clear, especially in Proverbs. Proverbs 28:18 explains, ‘The one who lives with integrity will be helped, but one who distorts right and wrong will suddenly fall.’”

He goes on to say that many in our society and in the media do seem to be opposed to Christians and to the issues important to us, but nevertheless, “this doesn’t mean that we should be so desperate to find stories to prop up our view that we indiscriminately accept anything that supports the person that we like (or disparages the person we do not). We should be those who seek truth no matter what.

Christian, if you post fake facts, you reflect on the faith—and that’s bad for the gospel and it hinders the mission.”

So, as you seek to engage the world with the truth of the gospel and of Jesus, remember that the truth is something we are entrusted with to defend and protect, but we should do so with integrity and trust that bending the facts for the ultimate goal will not help our cause in the end.

As Ross states, “God, and therefore truth, will never go away, and never die. But God or even the truth can be ‘killed’ when we stop desiring actually to know God and know the truth, because we would rather accept the “facts” that support our claims, our desires or wants—even if we wrap up those desires in a spiritual guise.”

 

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/olm26250

Publication date: March 29, 2017

Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com

 

Thinkstock

While God’s Word will never change, and our churches should never compromise on biblical doctrine, there are changes that need to take place in our congregations. Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, has a name for churches that will die if they don’t make changes; he calls them “the urgent church.” In his article, “Urgent Church: Nine Changes We Must Make or Die,” on thomrainer.com he writes:

If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.”

He offers nine key changes that churches and their congregations must make, and none of these are easy. These changes are only possible through God’s power. Here are five of Rainer’s points:

1. Congregations must stop lamenting the death of cultural Christianity.

Did cultural Christianity make the lives of Christians in the West easier and more comfortable…yes—but is it necessary for continued church growth and gospel sharing…no. Christians can no longer sit in their churches and expect that people will come if they want to simply based on the fact that the church is located along the commute of a certain part of the area’s population. Rainer advises,

Such whining does us no good. Easy growth is simply not a reality for many churches. People no longer come to a church because they believe they must do so to be culturally accepted.”

But when someone does walk through that door whether they stumbled upon your church, planned a visit, or were invited make sure they feel welcome. Look for new faces, don’t be afraid to ask people if they’re new (either way they’re new to you), and ask them if they’d like to sit with you or your family. As Crosswalk contributor Brittany Rust states, “This could significantly change their church experience.”

2. Congregations must stop viewing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of a changing world.

God’s truth and His Word are unchanging, and He will always bring us comfort—but that doesn’t mean that churches can’t and shouldn’t make changes to how they approach growth or the traditions they implement. Rainer states,

Indeed, we must learn to be uncomfortable in the world if we are to make a difference. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is a death declaration.”

Crosswalk Contributor Ron Edmondson explains,
“The old got you to where you are today. It’s not bad. In fact, at one time it was very good… the best. The old was once new. The new is simply where the most energy is at currently. (Someday it will be old.)”

3. Congregations must abandon their entitlement mentalities.

If we’ve been a long-standing member, a frequent volunteer, and a faithful tither sometimes we may feel like we are entitled to certain privileges in our churches. Yes there are certain Sundays where the music may seem too loud or too different (maybe even too old), or the temperature is too hot or too cold (it might be time to make those paper fans popular again), and maybe your stomach is starting to grumble after the sermon goes longer than it usually does.

Just this past Sunday, a pastor commented on how a member of the congregation had joking said to him, “The sermon today is going to be shorter with the March madness games right…ha-ha” I did a mental eye roll, as I have heard people make these “jokes” to pastors before. As annoyed as I get with these people, I am just as guilty in other respects. Everyone in the church is. We are far more similar to the culture, which we like to identify as separate from, than we realize. 

Rainer expresses,

Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last.” 

4. Congregations need to start doing.

It’s so easy to talk about doing things; we can have numerous meetings and come up with elaborate plans before we realize we still haven’t done anything. This not only goes for evangelism and outreach, it also goes for serving in the church.

We seem to hear a lot of “the church needs to do this, the pastor needs to do that, and we need to have this available.” Sometimes, we have to be part of the change we want to see in our church. Many times the people voicing their opinions far outweigh the people willing to put the time in to accomplish these changes.

If the same group of people serves on a regular basis, they will eventually burn out. The work should be shared, and everyone is valuable and able to contribute. If you feel like you don’t have what it takes or that you don’t have the knowledge or experience that others who are serving do follow Rainer’s tip:

Try a simple prayer and ask God to give you gospel opportunities. You may be surprised how He will use you.”

Every time I feel like God hasn’t placed an opportunity in my life that I think should be there, I stop and ask myself: Have I really prayed about this? Praying will help us see the opportunities God has placed in our lives vs. the ones we would like to see. 

5. Congregations must stop spending so much time on minor issues.

Oh there are so many minor issues in the church; too many to even begin to list! There are committees on top of committees, weekly and monthly meetings, as well as sessions—and to be honest some of these are not productive and keep our focus too long on things that shouldn’t carry the weight that they do.

Why do we do this? Maybe because it gives us a sense of control, maybe it makes us feel like we are accomplishing things. This is of course not to say that some committees, meetings, and sessions aren’t important…they are! But we should reevaluate how much time is spent in this area and how productive the time is.

Rainer points out,

Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.”

To read Rainer’s other four changes that churches need to make please visit thomrainer.com.

Rainer concludes,

Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent.”

Do any of these changes need to be made in your church? Ask your church to pray about these things with you.

Crosswalk.com Contributor, Scott Slayton, writes,
“In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul encourages us to, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” We have limited time here on earth, have limited attention and focus to give, and limited energy to expend. Shouldn’t we give our time, attention, and energy to things that really matter while learning to ignore the rest?”

Related articles:
5 Helpful Tips to Cultivate Selective Ignorance
6 Ways to Reach Out to the Lonely Church-Goer
4 Hidden Issues that Divide the Body of Christ
10 Things I’m Learning Leading Church Change
5 Things Church is Not About

Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Kalulu

Publication date: March 27, 2017

Liz Kanoy is an editor for Crosswalk.com.

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