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Is the New Evangelical Liturgy Really an Improvement?

Aug 01, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Every church has a liturgy. Traditional congregations have a general order to worship. So do contemporary congregations. So do funky, artistic ones. Church leaders do not have time to reinvent their services every week. Congregations are not capable of learning new forms, new songs, and following a new order every week. Even the most spontaneous and creative church will flounder without some predictability and commonality from week to week. Even the most conscientious pastor or worship leader will eventually settle into a basic template for worship. Every church has a liturgy.

But not every liturgy is as good, or strong, or deep, or biblical, or gospel-centered as every other.

If I’m not mistaken, there is a New Evangelical Liturgy which is increasingly common in our churches. You find it in Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches, free churches, and non-denominational churches. It’s familiar in rural churches and city churches. It can be found in tiny churches and megachurches. No one has written it down in a service book. No council or denomination is demanding that it be done. No pastor is taught this liturgy in seminary (um, probably not). But it has become the default liturgy nonetheless. It looks like this:

Casual welcome and announcements
Stand up for 4-5 songs
During the set, or at the very end, add a short prayer
Sermon
Closing song
Dismissal

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this is the basic liturgy from which most evangelical churches operate. To be sure, there are slight variations. The announcement may go after the praise set. There may be an offering in there somewhere, possibly with a special music number. The service may be tweaked a bit when there is communion or a baptism. But overall, if I were to visit 50 different evangelical churches over the next year, this is what I expect to find most of the time.

The simple question I want to ask is this: Is this New Evangelical Liturgy really an improvement?

Please hear me. I’m not talking about instrumentation or worship style (though form is not irrelevant). And I’m not suggesting God doesn’t take pleasure when his people worship him in Spirit and in truth from all sorts of templates. I’m not saying people won’t be saved or edified in churches that use the New Evangelical Liturgy. I’m certainly not saying they won’t like it. What I am suggesting is that by no biblical or historical consideration can we conclude that the New Evangelical Liturgy is an improvement on the old liturgy.

What do I mean by the “old liturgy”? I mean the traditional Protestant order of worship that stretches back to Luther and Calvin (despite their important differences), runs through Westminster, and used to be what churches did when they didn’t know what else to do. Was it rote at times? Sure. Did some churches use it too rigidly? No doubt. But it was also a better default.

I’m talking about an order of service that included a call to worship, multiple Scripture readings, Psalm singing (along with old hymns and new songs), a Scriptural benediction, historic rubrics like the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments, and many kinds of prayers (e.g., invocation, prayer of adoration, prayer of confession, prayer of intercession, prayer for illumination). I’m talking about what Mike Horton calls “the drama of Christ-centered worship” or what Bryan Chapell calls “gospel ‘re-representation’”–a carefully constructed, though flexible, liturgy which progresses with a distinct gospel logic: adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, petition, instruction, charge, and blessing. The traditional Protestant liturgy has an Isaiah 6 movement to it where the gospel is not just preached in the sermon or even sung in the songs, but embodied in the entire order of the service.

For whatever appeal the New Evangelical Liturgy may have in American culture, and for whatever abuses or doldrums may be associated with a more traditional liturgy, I don’t believe it can be argued, by objective measures, that the new is superior to the old. Which liturgy has more prayer? What one has more Scripture? Which one does more to accent sin and forgiveness? Which ones anchors us better in the ancient creeds and confessions of the church? Which one is the product of more sustained theological reflection? Which is more shaped by the gospel?

I’m not sure where the New Evangelical Liturgy came from. Maybe its origins are in revivalist camp meetings. Maybe it goes back to the seeker movement. Maybe it’s a reflection of the juvenilization of American Christianity. Maybe pastors have taken the basis pattern of Christian conferences and assumed it was meant to be the order for weekly worship. Wherever it came from, I encourage pastors, worship leaders, and churches to consider whether this New Evangelical Liturgy is the best we can do. It may be familiar. It may be simple. It may even be popular. And it may still not be an improvement.

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Let Us Not Be Martyred in a Languid Fashion

Jul 31, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Provocative words from the inimitable G.K. Chesterton:

We have already noted that this paradox [of being despised and feared at the same time] appeared also in the treatment of the early Church. It was important while it was still insignificant, and certainly while it was still impotent. It was important solely because it was intolerable; and in that sense it is true to say that it was intolerable because it was intolerant. It was resented, because, in its own still and almost secret way, it had declared war. It had risen out of the ground to wreck the heaven and earth of heathenism. It did not try to destroy all that creation of gold and marble; but it contemplated a world without it. It dared to look right through it as through the gold and marble had been glass. Those who charged the Christians with burning down Rome with firebrands were slanderers; but they were at least far nearer to the nature of Christianity than those among the moderns who tell us that the Christians were a sort of ethical society, being martyred in a languid fashion for telling men they had a duty to their neighbors, and only mildly disliked because they were meek and mild. (The Everlasting Man, 182)

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One of the Great Hymns You May Not Know

Jul 30, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Words by Isaac Watts (1707), sung here by Bob Kauflin and thousands of pastors at T4G.

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Why Did They Crucify Jesus?

Jul 30, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Among the many sweet sounding platitudes in our day, one I hear often is that Jesus was killed for being exceedingly inclusive and kind. He was crucified for welcoming the outcasts, it is said. He was murdered for hanging out with prostitutes and half-breeds. He was killed because he was so courageously loving and his enemies just couldn’t take it anymore.

Much is true in these statements. Everyone who truly knows Christ will embrace his amazing grace, celebrate the expansiveness of his mercy, and shudder to be among those who do not know what it is to be forgiven or what it is to forgive. But this does not make the platitude true; neither does it make it harmless. Many Christians, many churches, and not a few once proud Christian institutions have so swallowed our culture’s values that sentimentality now passes for theology and slogans get mistaken for exegesis.

For the facts of the story—which the gospel writers everywhere try to belabor—are that Jesus was crucified for his God-like behavior and his outrageous claims to deity.

Matthew 26:63-66 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”

The people grumbled against Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 15:2), but they killed him for claiming to be the Son of God and the King of Israel.

Matthew 27:39-43 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

Jesus consistently upset Jewish scruples about Torah, but it was his self-identification that drove them to murder.  “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).  “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:58-59). Before another commentator or pastor or journalist suggests that Jesus was hated most of all for being so good and tolerant, we should recall that the Jews said explicitly, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33).

Did Jesus upset the delicate scruples of the perfunctorily religious? Yes. Did he anger the hard-hearted with his soft heart? Yes. Did he bother the gatekeepers by offering forgiveness for any sinner who repents and believes? Indeed he did. But let’s not sell off the scandal of the gospel story for a mess of populist porridge. What infuriated the establishment most were the claims to Lordship, the posture of authority, the exalted titles, the exercise of Messiahship, the presumed right to forgive, the way in which Jesus put himself in the center of Israel’s story, the delusions of grandeur, the acceptance of worship, and the audacity of man being God. Jesus did not die because the Jerusalem nasties couldn’t stand a souped up incarnation of Sesame Street. He died because he acted like the incarnate Son of God, spoke like the incarnate Son of God, and did not deny the accusation when the world hated him for being the incarnate Son of God.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 29, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Never underestimate the value of a good vocabulary.

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Guest Post: How to Love Dramatic Girls (part 2)

Jul 26, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

This is a guest post from Jackie Knapp. We were privileged to have Jackie work at our church as the Associate Campus Ministry Director for three years. Before that she was a Resident Director at The Master’s College. Be sure to check out her new blog.

 *****

As we talked about yesterday, there are deeper things going on beyond just drama. Here are five practical ways to help a girl in the midst of an emotional breakdown:

Help her take care of her body

As I was recently talking to a girl in the midst of full-blown hysteria, she mentioned that she hadn’t slept, eaten or been outside of her apartment in two days. Red flag! Before attempting any sort of meaningful conversation, I made her leave her place and get something to eat. She was much more rational after eating and getting outside. For most girls, the three big physical factors are food, sleep, and hormones. All three can drastically affect the ability to reason well, or at all. We had a rule in the dorm that no one could make life-changing decisions during certain weeks of the month and I’d like to think this helped prevent many impulsive mistakes. So, don’t skip these steps – it’s amazing how some fresh air, a nap and a sandwich can make the world look a whole lot better.

Help her feel safe

The setting and timing of conversations is important, especially because many times there is a lot of fear behind the outburst. If we are in a group, I usually try to take her away from the group, and ask if she is ready to talk. If not, I wait and try to find a good time to follow-up. If you want her to feel safe, she must trust you, especially if she is a fearful person. She will not be completely honest if she does not trust you. Push a little beyond where she would naturally go, but do not force her disclosure, especially if you are man in an authority position. Be calm and clear but not condescending. The more logical, less emotional you are, the more patience it will take to try to understand. Be gentle and persistent and try to find out what is happening underneath the exterior. This may take more time than you would like, but if you earn a place of trust in her life, God can use you mightily to speak truth when she needs it most.

Help her see her self-absorption and sort through what is true

Seeing the world and the situation for what it actually is will not be her strong point. This is one area you can help immensely by gently but honestly, beginning to point out how she is focused on herself. (If she is a Christian, she will want to hear this, even if initially she is angry or hurt. If she is not responding at all to this honesty, it is a starting place to show her her need for a Savior.) She will most likely have swung to one extreme of blaming everyone else and not taking responsibility or the other of blaming herself entirely for what is not her fault, something common in abuse victims. You can help by asking questions, and helping her see what is true, and what is her responsibility. She will probably also need help learning to pray through these situations and asking God for wisdom to see clearly.

Help her learn to laugh at herself

Thoughtful humor is helpful, and every dramatic girl becomes a much more pleasant person once she learns to laugh at herself and her violent explosions of crying, screaming, and over-reacting. If you can gently help her see that she is being ridiculous, you can get a long way. Again, timing is very important, and obviously, this will back-fire if she feels like you are making fun of her, but using humor can lighten up the situation a bit and help her see some perspective. Effective strategies include, but are not limited to: sharing some of your more embarrassing outbursts or stories, well-timed jokes, and an occasional Mean Girls reference. Because laughing is always better than crying, right?

Help her learn to have honest conversations

With most young girls I have worked with, honest conversations with their friends, parents and boyfriends are not commonplace. It definitely was not my strong point growing up either, and I think of the heartache and trauma that could have been avoided if I would have engaged in real conversations in the midst of conflict, misunderstanding, and difficult situations. Many dramatic situations can be helped immensely if both sides are willing to have honest conversations shortly after the conflict. This may be a new concept for her, and something she has no idea how to begin. You can help by practicing the conversation, showing how God calls us to speak the truth in love and following up after she has hard conversations.

In all of this, in the midst of frustrations or discouragement, remember you have a great opportunity to love and help this ball of emotion, tears, and frenzy become a mature and stable woman. Hopefully she will look back on this time and thank you for talking her off the cliff, listening to her rant, and showing her the Savior. An added bonus: she owes you big time if you are ever falling apart.

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Guest Post: How to Love Dramatic Girls (part 1)

Jul 25, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

This is a guest post from Jackie Knapp. We were privileged to have Jackie work at our church as the Associate Campus Ministry Director for three years. Before that she was a Resident Director at The Master’s College. Be sure to check out her new blog.

 *****

You know you’ve lived a weird life when during an average work day, it’s more normal than not to get a crying phone call or panicked text from a student. Needless to say, spending lots of time with high school and college girls in the last decade, this has become my normal. I remember one staff meeting at URC a few years back when a girl literally burst in the the room, weeping. All of the pastors’ eyes turned to me, and I said “Okay, I’ve got this one guys.” (Although if any team of men can handle weeping girls, these men can!) It’s not anyone’s favorite thing to deal with an emotional, sobbing girl.

Whether you are a parent, a youth worker, a boyfriend, husband or friend, at some point, you will encounter a dramatic female, unless you become a hermit, I suppose. But that’s a different issue altogether. As a recovering drama queen myself, I’m allowed to say some things here that may come off “insensitive” if someone else said them. I’m incredibly thankful for all of those who have and continue to love me well during my dramatic moments. And I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to love all of these girls, even in the craziest times.

In this post, I’ll talk more about the big picture of caring well for girls in the midst of dramatic reactions to life. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss more tangible, practical ways to help. What do I mean by dramatic reaction? There are many different expressions, but what I’m referring to is extreme reactions, whether blowing up or shutting down, impulsive decisions, or irrational thinking about any given situation. I’ve had girls chase each other down the hallway in anger, run away from home, randomly break off engagements, and drop out of school. Others love their friends, hate their friends, gossip about their friends, and love their friends again all within the hour.

How do we love these girls? Here’s the main point for today: there is a reason for the drama, and to care for this girl, you need to patiently dig to find that reason. It may be easier to want to shake her and yell “Why are you crying? Stop crying! Get over yourself! Now!” And although this tough love may become necessary at points, you aren’t ever going to have a real relationship with her if this is your only tactic.

Instead, we have to think well about the reasons behind the drama. What is the  sin and suffering happening here? We can easily see sin, often immense self-absorption, and lack of seeing others’ perspective or needs. Girls can be nasty to each other, often in conniving and manipulative ways. But in most cases, there is suffering too. There is something real and hard that happened in her life, even if you don’t perceive it as an actual hardship. There is fear and insecurity, shame and panic, perhaps abuse or mistreatment.

Everyone has a story. Even if you know this girl well, you might not know the inner workings of her heart as well as you think. I don’t say this to take away the responsibility of her sin. But an alarming amount of the girls I have dealt with have been raised in families that did not have functioning, loving relationships or good communication. Many others have been treated poorly or abused by someone who was supposed to be trustworthy. While neither of these challenges are an excuse, they do deeply impact a person’s ability to communicate without fear or extreme emotional reactions. Many don’t know how to handle a situation in godly ways, they only know how to do what they see their mothers, friends, or celebrities do when life gets hard. And as seen on TV, drama is what our culture does best.

Part of your role is to take the time to find out what is going on behind the drama. For whatever reason, God has you right in the middle of this messy situation to help her learn to work through hard things. As you try to sort through the information she is telling you, here are three simple questions to ask. What are the facts? What are her feelings? What are her fears?

The facts and feelings may take some time and tears to get to, but with patience, these will come to the surface. Understanding her fears and how these impact her may take more time. Most girls struggle on some level with one or all of these fears: what people will think of her, that what she looks like isn’t good enough, and that no one loves her. If there has been been abuse or rejection, these are intensified. The more she struggles with insecurity, the more she will use drama to draw attention to herself. The more you talk and build trust, the more clearly you will see the reasons for the drama.

I’ll leave you with a bit of hope. At a recent reunion with a bunch of girls, we were laughing as everyone recalled their biggest breakdown during college. The stories were pretty outrageous, and I’ll leave the details for another time. But the amazing thing was to see how distance and perspective changes things, how these girls have become women who love the Lord and have learned to deal with their fears. They aren’t perfect or drama-free, but I am continuously thankful for how they have grown and fought for faith when life has been hard.

 *****

See part 2 of “How to Love Dramatic Girls.”

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Guest Post: Learning to Ask for Help

Jul 24, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

This is a guest post from Jackie Knapp. We were privileged to have Jackie work at our church as the Associate Campus Ministry Director for three years. Before that she was a Resident Director at The Master’s College. Be sure to check out her new blog.

 *****

Somehow in the midst of younger and more idealistic days, I came to believe that anyone doing full-time ministry, counselors, and especially anyone living overseas, was above the problems of everyone else, that these people didn’t struggle with normal human pain or sin. I’m not exactly sure what is to blame for this, but I do know that I sauntered into full-time ministry wearing some very rose-colored glasses.

Needless to say, I was in for a painful wake up call. I already suffer from a large dose of “the helper syndrome,” the tendency to help everyone else without accepting any myself. I would rather listen than tell someone my problems, give money instead of ask for support, and hear someone else unload than bare my own soul. I was quick to surround myself with needy people, but never wanted to be the needy one or receive more than I was giving. The problem is that in many helping professions, this is basically the job description, so it rarely gets addressed.  As Christians, we are supposed to be living and loving sacrificially, and so often our motivations are never questioned.

As I moved through ministry, I only let very specific people into my life in ways I controlled. I was leading and counseling many women, yet I was not asking for or even admitting that I needed support to do my job well. I was living in a way that acted as if I was above the need for grace, and the counsel and ministry that I was so willingly offering to others. I also didn’t really think I needed help from God. I would passionately tell you I did, and give you lots of verses about how I couldn’t do anything without Him, but I wasn’t living like I actually needed help unless things got really, really bad.

God began to press in on this area of my life and pursued me in some very difficult ways. He started to reveal that I needed help, that I couldn’t hold it together any more, and He gave me enough grace to reach out and ask Him and others for help. This was not an easy process, and I am extremely grateful for the care of people around me as I struggled. As I began to be counseled instead of being the counselor, God worked mightily to open my eyes.

One of the biggest turning points was seeing that my refusal to ask for help is pride, not selflessness, as I convinced myself it was. It’s clearer now that my insisting on giving and never receiving is a great amount of arrogance on my part, and so easily cloaked in a false sense of servanthood and martyrdom. I felt safer and much more comfortable being the the rescuer than asking for someone to listen and admitting that I need a Savior myself.

In Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp bluntly addresses this issue. “Pride causes you to accept more responsibility than you can bear. Arrival allows you to assign more ministry work to yourself than you can realistically accomplish. Self-glory causes you to think that you are more essential than you actually are and more necessary than you will ever be. It’s pride, not humility, that makes it hard to say no.”

The ironic thing is that once I have people helping me, praying for me regularly, and once I truly believe that I need God to intervene and work, I actually love people better. It is then that I am giving people something I am actually experiencing and living rather than something I am robotically reciting. It is out of my weakness, not strength, that God actually gets glory and recognition, because it is then that my ministry is not about me. And it is through an honest community that I am safeguarded from arrogance and asked why I am doing what I’m doing.

I’m thankful for the severe mercy of these lessons, for a God who continuously saves me from myself. I’m thankful for new eyes to see that people in ministry aren’t super-humans. I know I have a long way to go, but I want to keep learning to ask for help, from others, but most of all from God Himself.

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Guest Post: Why College Ministry Needs the Local Church

Jul 23, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

This is a guest post from Jackie Knapp. We were privileged to have Jackie work at our church as the Associate Campus Ministry Director for three years. Before that she was a Resident Director at The Master’s College. Be sure to check out her new blog.

 *****

For the last few years I have had the privilege of working for a church that prioritizes campus ministry. No, they didn’t bribe me to write this and no, I am not ranting against para-church organizations. Instead, these are a few thoughts to consider why the local church is so helpful in the life of college students.

1. Students greatly benefit by having perspective outside of the college scene.

Many students never really interact with anyone outside of the 18-22 age bracket. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is not exactly the most balanced world-view. One of my favorite things is to come into church and see students interacting with young and old, building relationships and remembering that there is more to the world than classes, Friday nights, and YouTube. When college ministry is an integrated part of the church, real relationships have a chance to form in a much different way than if a student simply shows up to a church on Sunday but doesn’t know anyone.

2. It’s much better when the campus ministry doesn’t have to fight for time separate from the church.

When I was an undergrad and later working for a Christian college, there was a constant tension for students between church involvement and leadership involvement in campus ministries. Students usually had to pick one or the other, either to be with their friends serving on campus or to be involved in the local church. If they tried to do both, they were often exhausted and became ineffective and burnt out quickly because of the intense time commitments. When college ministry is part of the church, this tension is largely eliminated. It has been great to see how retreats, monthly family groups, and even some spring break service projects incorporate members of the church instead of fighting for the students’ time to be committed to one or the other. Another benefit is the consistency of teaching and unity of the leadership when everyone is working together. Students hear a coherent message during large group on campus and on Sunday mornings.

3. The church leadership is an important resource for the campus staff.

Most campus ministry workers are between the ages of 22-35, probably because there is a point where sleeping on the floor and planning scavenger hunts until 2 am becomes less physically advisable. Like students, we can spend the majority of our time with 18-22 year olds. And like them, we can have a narrower and limited perspective on life and ministry. Being under the leadership of the church is a necessary balance and support to our ministry. I have loved having the input of the elders who have decades of experience working with people, that I can run something by a pastor when I am struggling, and that I can easily set up counseling with an older woman and a student struggling with an abusive past. These mature believers help us have a longer-term view of caring for people beyond four years, see what is actually important, and give us much personal support. This interaction is a vital part of our health and balance as young, passionate, and sometimes impulsive staff.

4.  College students bring energy and passion to the church.

From the other side, the church can also benefit from having a campus ministry. The students have idealistic energy and passion to learn, grow, and challenge, which is good for the church to wrestle with, especially in combination with the wisdom of the older generations. Somehow most of our churches have become separated into ages and stages of life, so that we have lost the essence of family, the wisdom of the older being poured into the energy of the youth. Students will usually be more flexible and willing to try new things while older people can be more resistant to change. Most major movements and revivals have begun with students, and the local church is helped when this fire, energy, and life are a part of the body.

So if your church is considering college ministry, know that loving students isn’t always the easiest. They will probably eat you out of house and home without saying thank you, want to blare music at a much higher decibel than you would choose, and may even wreck your church van without reporting it. But they will also play with your kids, be willing to take risks, and genuinely want to learn from you. Please don’t let those inconveniences keep you from welcoming and incorporating young people into your church life. This generation desperately needs leadership, examples of godly families, and love to help them navigate an ever-changing and increasingly confusing world.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 22, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Watching some of the British Open this weekend made me wish ESPN had these guys reporting…

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